The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Chaos Walking #1)
Prentisstown isn't like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone's thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. But in a town where privacy is impossible, there is a secret so awful that Todd, still a month shy of being a man, must run for his life. But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?
My friend has been trying to get me to read this book for months, and now that I finally have, I could kick myself for not reading it sooner. I need the sequel - as close to now as is humanly possible.
The Knife of Never Letting Go feels nothing like traditional science fiction, and yet it's one of the best science fiction books I've read recently. The Noise completely sets it apart; alternately used a plot device and a part of the conflict, it helps set a well-timed pace for the action. Even better, adventure replaces the cliched loves scenes that have been cropping up in YA sci-fi. There is no love triangle!
The near-constant action and/or suspense of the book kept me reading way, way past my bedtime. I became incredibly attached to the characters very quickly (especially Manchee, the goofball). The fact that Ness managed to turn a dog - who has a vocabulary of maybe twenty words - into a complex character speaks to his brilliance. The human characters, both good and evil, were equally complex, even the ones that only appeared for a few pages. Todd himself is a great protagonist - occasionally mistaken and interesting as hell.
The awful secret Todd uncovers is somewhat predictable, but Ness added in plenty of surprises along the way. I am obliged to warn you that some of those surprises were heart-wrenching. And the book ends on a cliffhanger. Which, of course, means I'm going to be reading the sequel even sooner...
Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Emily Bird was raised not to ask questions. She has perfect hair, the perfect boyfriend, and a perfect Ivy-League future. But a chance meeting with Roosevelt David, a homeland security agent, at a party for Washington DC's elite leads to Bird waking up in a hospital, days later, with no memory of the end of the night.
Meanwhile, the world has fallen apart: A deadly flu virus is sweeping the nation, forcing quarantines, curfews, even martial law. And Roosevelt is certain that Bird knows something. Something about the virus--something about her parents' top secret scientific work--something she shouldn't know.
The only one Bird can trust is Coffee, a quiet, outsider genius who deals drugs to their classmates and is a firm believer in conspiracy theories. And he believes in Bird. But as Bird and Coffee dig deeper into what really happened that night, Bird finds that she might know more than she remembers. And what she knows could unleash the biggest government scandal in US history.
Beauty of the Broken by Tawni Waters
Growing up in conservative small-town New Mexico, fifteen-year-old Mara was never given the choice to be different. Her parents—an abusive, close-minded father and a detached alcoholic mother—raised Mara to be like all the other girls in Barnaby: God-fearing, churchgoing, and straight. Mara wants nothing to do with any of it. She feels most at home with her best friend and older brother, Iggy, but Iggy hasn’t been the same since their father beat him and put him in the hospital with a concussion.
As Mara’s mother feeds her denial with bourbon and Iggy struggles with his own demons, Mara finds an escape with her classmate Xylia. A San Francisco transplant, Xylia is everything Mara dreams of being: free-spirited, open, wild. The closer Mara and Xylia become, the more Mara feels for her—even though their growing relationship is very much forbidden in Barnaby. Just as Mara begins to live a life she’s only imagined, the girls’ secret is threatened with exposure and Mara’s world is thrown into chaos.
Mara knows she can't live without Xylia, but can she live with an entire town who believes she is an abomination worse than the gravest sin?
The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond
It's been nearly 80 years since the Allies lost WWII in a crushing defeat against Hitler's genetically engineered super soldiers. America has been carved up by the victors, and 16-year-old Zara lives a life of oppression in the Eastern America Territories. Under the iron rule of the Nazis, the government strives to maintain a master race, controlling everything from jobs to genetics. Despite her mixed heritage and hopeless social standing, Zara dreams of the free America she's only read about in banned books. A revolution is growing, and a rogue rebel group is plotting a deadly coup. Zara might hold the key to taking down the Führer for good, but it also might be the very thing that destroys her. Because what she has to offer the rebels is something she's spent her entire life hiding, under threat of immediate execution by the Nazis.
Schizo by Nic Sheff
Miles is the ultimate unreliable narrator—a teen recovering from a schizophrenic breakdown who believes he is getting better . . . when in reality he is growing worse.
Driven to the point of obsession to find his missing younger brother, Teddy, and wrapped up in a romance that may or may not be the real thing, Miles is forever chasing shadows. As Miles feels his world closing around him, he struggles to keep it open, but what you think you know about his world is actually a blur of gray, and the sharp focus of reality proves startling.
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.
Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.
Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.”
Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.
Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond
A ballerina, twirling on a wire high above the crowd. Horses, prancing like salsa dancers. Trapeze artists, flying like somersaulting falcons. And magic crackling through the air. Welcome to the Cirque American!
Sixteen-year-old Jules Maroni’s dream is to follow in her father’s footsteps as a high-wire walker. When her family is offered a prestigious role in the new Cirque American, it seems that Jules and the Amazing Maronis will finally get the spotlight they deserve. But the presence of the Flying Garcias may derail her plans. For decades, the two rival families have avoided each other as sworn enemies.
Jules ignores the drama and focuses on the wire, skyrocketing to fame as the girl in a red tutu who dances across the wire at death-defying heights. But when she discovers a peacock feather—an infamous object of bad luck—planted on her costume, Jules nearly loses her footing. She has no choice but to seek help from the unlikeliest of people: Remy Garcia, son of the Garcia clan matriarch and the best trapeze artist in the Cirque.
As more mysterious talismans believed to possess unlucky magic appear, Jules and Remy unite to find the culprit. And if they don’t figure out what’s going on soon, Jules may be the first Maroni to do the unthinkable: fall.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
After Huckleberry Finn's drunken father returns to town, demanding Huck's money, the young boy and an escaped slave named Jim set off on a raft down the Mississippi River. They run into storms, schemes, a king, a duke, and numerous other adventures as they make their way south.
My thoughts on this book are tangled in more knots than headphones that've been in your pocket. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would, but I can't say that I really enjoyed it, either.
For one thing, it was a struggle just to read the book, what with the improper grammar and spelling. After a while I got used to Huck's misspellings and could understand him a lot better, but some of the other characters were just hopeless. Twain notes that he studied the dialects of the characters extensively, and took great care to show the differences in their pronunciation. Although this added a lot of realism, it also made it impossible for me to understand what some of the characters were saying. I found myself skimming over most of Jim's dialogue without comprehending most of it.
Anybody who had read this book for English class or Banned Books Week knows about the controversy surrounding it. Twain (or rather, Twain's characters) uses racial slurs rather liberally, and his descriptions of black characters aren't exactly politically correct. Jim is portrayed as dim-witted but loyal, and even though Huck befriends him and comes to care about him he often talks about that friendship damning him to hell. I'm not going to discuss whether the novel is racist or not at length (I'm sure your English teacher would be more than happy to), so I'll let you make up your own mind about it.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was entertaining enough that it wasn't torture to read it, but there are certainly more compelling books out there. Even during the numerous scrapes Huck and Jim found themselves in, I didn't get particularly excited. Some of the scenes were funny - especially with the king and the duke - but not hilarious, and some of them were exasperating (I'm looking at you, Tom Sawyer).
I can't recommend this book based on plot or characters or overall message, but I am recommending it. You should read this book simply because it's become such an important part of American literature - but I suggest you get it from the library and keep your ten bucks.
Solitaire by Alice Oseman
My name is Tori Spring. I like to sleep and I like to blog. Last year – before all that stuff with Charlie and before I had to face the harsh realities of A-Levels and university applications and the fact that one day I really will have to start talking to people – I had friends. Things were very different, I guess, but that’s all over now.
Now there’s Solitaire. And Michael Holden.
I don’t know what Solitaire are trying to do, and I don’t care about Michael Holden.
I really don’t.
This book just got better and better the more I read. I started off vaguely intrigued but unsure if I was going to like it, and by the end it had totally blown my mind. The concept of Solitaire and its mission was engrossing (and there is definitely some influence from tumblr ideologies in there).
Tori isn't immediately the most likable character (she's sort of a downer, and she doesn't like books), but the more I read, the more I liked her. The more I related to her - and not just on a blogging-teenager level. She is deeply flawed, in the sort of way most human beings are, and that made her feel very real. I almost feel like I've been snooping in my friend's diary, to be honest.
Tori narrates the way teenagers think, which most YA authors get wrong. (This may be due to the fact that Oseman was eighteen when she wrote Solitaire, but that only makes me more impressed with her.) She also recognizes when she's being thickheaded or irrational, which makes her more likable. Plus, all of the main characters undergo a bit of character development - the most remarkable being Tori's, of course. Even Becky, who starts out a little flat, becomes a really interesting character.
Oseman deserves some serious congratulations for Solitaire. This book is 400 pages of distilled teenagedom - with some anarchy thrown in. Teenagers will be able to relate, and older readers will thank God they survived this craziness.
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems beside the point now.
Maybe that was always beside the point.
Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.
When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.
That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .
Is that what she’s supposed to do? Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?
I am convinced that Rainbow Rowell lives in a radioactive library, because she has writing superpowers.
Landline is just as fabulous as all her previous books (which I love with all my heart), and maybe even more so, because it's adult fiction. I don't read much adult fiction for the simple reason that I have nothing in common with forty-somethings worried about high school reunions and impending divorce. Not only that, but a lot of those forty-somethings are insufferably whiny.
In swoops Rowell to save the day!
Landline tells Georgie and Neal's story in what is essentially three parts: the time they met, 1998 (where Past-Neal is), and the present day. The writing is gorgeous, the love story sweet, and the conflicts realistic. Georgie and Nearl have a much more believable love story than three quarters of the fictional couples out there. And they deal with their problems like normal people instead of reality TV stars.
Every character in Landline is one-of-a-kind and gorgeously written. They are all lovably flawed, and some of them are hilarious, and the kids are adorable. Even the side characters are fantastic. There's even a touch of diversity!
With a magic telephone, Back to the Future refernces, and fantastic writing, Rowell has taken the cake in adult romance. I don't have enough adjectives to describe this book. Ingenious, brilliant, and witty come to mind, with about a hundred others.
How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran
It's 1990. Johanna Morrigan, fourteen, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there's no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde—fast-talking, hard-drinking gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer. She will save her poverty-stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer—like Jo in Little Women, or the Brontës—but without the dying-young bit.
By sixteen, she's smoking cigarettes, getting drunk, and working for a music paper. She's writing pornographic letters to rock stars, having all the kinds of sex with all the kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less.
But what happens when Johanna realizes she's built Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters, and a head full of paperbacks enough to build a girl after all?
Shadows Fall Away by Kit Forbes
Mark Stewart is one incident away from becoming a juvenile delinquent, and his parents have had enough. They ship Mark off to London to stay with his eccentric aunt Agatha who is obsessed with all things Jack the Ripper. After a strange twist of luck, Mark is struck by lightning, and he wakes to find himself in 1888 Victorian London.
His interest in a string of murders Scotland Yard has yet to solve make him a likely suspect. After all, why would a young boy like Mark know so much about the murders? Could he be the ripper they've been searching for? Convinced the only way to get back home is to solve the murders, Mark dives headfirst into uncovering the truth.
Mark's only distraction comes in the form of the beautiful Genie Trembly, a girl who is totally out of his league and who may have already caught the attention of the infamous ripper. To save her, he'll endanger both their lives, and risk being trapped in the past forever.
Adrenaline Crush by Laurie Boyle Crompton
Seventeen-year-old Dyna comes from a family of risk takers and is an avid thrill-seeker herself, until the day she splinters her ankle in a terrible fall. Her whole life goes from mountain biking and rock climbing to sitting at home and attending group sessions at the bizarre alternative healing center that her hippie mother found. The boy who witnessed Dyna’s accident believes her injury is a wakeup call and he encourages her mild new lifestyle, but a young Afghanistan War veteran she meets at the healing center pushes her to start taking chances again. Forced to face the consequences of her daredevil impulses, Dyna finds herself in danger of risking the one thing she’s always treated with caution—her heart.
Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper
Sixteen-year-old Avery Roe wants only to take her rightful place as the witch of Prince Island, making the charms that keep the island's whalers safe at sea, but her mother has forced her into a magic-free world of proper manners and respectability. When Avery dreams she's to be murdered, she knows time is running out to unlock her magic and save herself.
Avery finds an unexpected ally in a tattooed harpoon boy named Tane--a sailor with magic of his own, who moves Avery in ways she never expected. Becoming a witch might stop her murder and save her island from ruin, but Avery discovers her magic requires a sacrifice she never prepared for.
Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld
Darcy Patel has put college and everything else on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. Arriving in New York with no apartment or friends she wonders whether she's made the right decision until she falls in with a crowd of other seasoned and fledgling writers who take her under their wings…
Told in alternating chapters is Darcy's novel, a suspenseful thriller about Lizzie, a teen who slips into the 'Afterworld' to survive a terrorist attack. But the Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead and as Lizzie drifts between our world and that of the Afterworld, she discovers that many unsolved - and terrifying - stories need to be reconciled. And when a new threat resurfaces, Lizzie learns her special gifts may not be enough to protect those she loves and cares about most.
On a Clear Day by Walter Dean Myers
It is 2035. Teens, armed only with their ideals, must wage war on the power elite.
Dahlia is a Low Gater: a sheep in a storm, struggling to survive completely on her own. The Gaters live in closed safe communities, protected from the Sturmers, mercenary thugs. And the C-8, a consortium of giant companies, control global access to finance, media, food, water, and energy resources—and they are only getting bigger and even more cutthroat. Dahlia, a computer whiz, joins forces with an ex-rocker, an ex-con, a chess prodigy, an ex-athlete, and a soldier wannabe. Their goal: to sabotage the C-8. But how will Sayeed, warlord and terrorist, fit into the equation?
Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
With a career, a boyfriend, and a loving family, Piper Kerman barely resembles the reckless young woman who delivered a suitcase of drug money ten years before. But that past has caught up with her. Convicted and sentenced to fifteen months in the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, the well-heeled Smith College alumna is now inmate #11187-424 - one of the millions of people who disappear "down the rabbit hole" of the American penal system. From her first strip search to her final release, Kerman learns to navigate this strange world with its strictly enforced codes of behavior and arbitrary rules. She meets women from all walks of life, who surprise her with small tokens of generosity, hard words of wisdom, and simple acts of acceptance. Heartbreaking, hilarious, and at times enraging, Kerman's story offers a rare look into the lives of women in prison - why it is we lock so many away and what happens to them when they're there.
One of the more surprising things I realized while reading Orange is the New Black is just how little most people know about what goes on in prisons. Movies and such paint it as a place where everyone is your enemy and you'd be dumb not to carry a shiv, while a few people describe minimum security as a retreat! And most people don't even give a second thought to what happens to prisoners - out of sight, out of mind.
Kerman breaks down a lot of misconceptions about prison life. She highlights the strong bonds forged and tough lessons learned behind bars while also showing the triviality of many rules. Some of the stories she tells - about prisoners locked in solitary for no good reason or the apathy of staff towards prisoners - clearly point out where our justice systems fails. More than just telling her story, Kerman's memoir is a call for prison reform.
Kerman's intent is clear, and many of her stories highlight it, but Orange is the New Black reads more like a series of anecdotes than a political argument. She writes very well, portraying the women she was imprisoned with distinctly and without reproach. Kerman never talks about the other women in Danbury as if they're below her, and she takes full responsibility for her crime several times throughout the memoir.
Orange is the New Black is a powerful new perspective. Kerman is respectable and familiar, challenging stereotypes left and right. She writes with sentiment but without getting sappy, and she buffers her personal experience with factual statistics - both of which give the book more credibility. I would recommend Orange is the New Black as both an entertaining true story and as an expose on the federal penal system.
(And because I know you're wondering - no, the book is nothing like the TV show. Netflix's version is much more dramatic, sexual, and stereotypical than Kerman's memoir, although the general idea is the same).
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Dante can swim. Ari can't. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari's features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself.
But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other―and the power of their friendship―can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side.
This book has so much representation I might just have to happy-dance. Not only are the two main characters and their families people of color, but there are several gay characters - and none of them are portrayed badly! Plus, aside from being wonderful examples of diversity in literature, all the characters are layered and interesting. Dante and Ari are a bit too immature for fifteen at the beginning of the book, but they get more believable after their birthdays.
The entire book gets better the more you get into it, really. Most of my thoughts on it were gibberish and "awwww's" for the first few hours after I read it. I'm still not entirely sure how to convey my feelings for this book except to say that I really, really love it. I absolutely adore Ari and Dante, their story, the way Sáenz writes - let's just say it's not hard for me to imagine why Aristotle and Dante won all the awards on its cover.
On the other hand, I can definitely see why some people don't think it quite lives up to expectations. Especially in the first few chapters, the book reads more like a middle grade novel than a YA one, and the dialogue i occasionally stilted. Still, those are relatively small problems. There was much more that went right with this book than wrong. I can't guarantee that you'll love Aristotle and Dante, but I can assure you that I most definitely did. Subtle, profound, and fun to read, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a book you should definitely give a chance.
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything.
So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to?
A.S. King's ability to write a book that feels real, no matter what unrealistic elements are included in it, is one of my favorite things about her writing. Her characters could live down the street from you, or have the locker next to yours. Vera is no exception. Even with a touch of the supernatural (hello, Charlie), Vera's story resembles that of thousands of ordinary teenagers: falling in love with your neighbor, dealing with grief, dealing with your parents and their philosophies...
Vera and Charlie are both brilliant characters; they're complicated and flawed but still likable. Interestingly, they are mirror-images of each other as well. The other characters are also pretty well hashed out, although we don't get as close a look at them. Even Jenny Flick - cast as the crazy, slacker bitch - was reasonably developed.
I absolutely love the way the book is narrated: Vera tells the story with brief, occasionally wise, interludes from her father, Charlie, and the Pagoda. Mr. Dietz's parts filled in the holes of Vera's backstory and explained a lot of her eccentricities (another thing I loved - seeing just how much Vera and Charlie's respective parents influenced them). Having the Pagoda - an inanimate object - interrupt every few chapters was genius on King's part. I feel like that pagoda taught me something about the world, although I have absolutely no idea what it is.
Another stroke of King's genius came in the form of Charlie, the pickle in Vera's Big Mac. King puts forth a very interesting view of death. Charlie's dead, but he isn't exactly in an afterlife, nor is he a typical ghost. As he tries to communicate with Vera and get her to clear his name, the reader learns a little at a time about his death and Vera's life with him. Suspense in waiting to find out how Charlie died, and why his name needs clearing in the first place, is well-paced. I don't think I stopped reading for more than an hour at a time
I would recommend Please Ignore Vera Dietz to A.S. King fans and people who like really good contemporary books. You won't be disappointed.
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire #1)
Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom's protective Wall. At the center of the conflict like the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyeilding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lards and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.
Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no man-made metal; a tribe wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win the deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.
I feel like this series gets a bad rap, mainly because Martin doesn't balk away from graphic topics. There is a lot of gore, and a lot of sex, and some of it is described in detail, without the corny euphemisms most authors have taken to using. But A Game of Thrones, and the whole series, isn't about violence and sex. It's a hugely ambitious, intricately plotted novel that Martin pulls of with a level of mastery most authors can only dream of.
With over 600 pages, a few dozen characters, and the saga of an entire realm, A Game of Thrones is a daunting undertaking even for readers, but it well worth the read. I made my way through this book faster than I've read some 300-pagers, and I was so interested in the story I had no problem keeping the plot straight. With multiple narrators and a handful of subplots, sideplots, and counterplots, there's a lot going on in Westeros, but Martin writes it in a way that makes it easy to understand and remember the important details. A lot of the drama is focused in the political arena: who gets the throne, who's going to war, etc. I am not a fan of politics, but A Game of Thrones was entertaining and intriguing, and I didn't mind the politics at all.
Plus, besides the struggle for the Iron Throne, you've got lies, betrayal, love, war, gallantry, and adventure going on. There is absolutely nothing boring about this book. Martin mixes in elements of the familiar (aspects of Medieval culture, well-known motives, and common fantasy elements) with things we can only imagine, from monsters to winters that last for decades.Princesses, castles, knights, dragons, and magic fill the world of Westeros, just like they filled the fairy tales you loved as a kid. Only this is fantasy for adults (and young adults), and now the prince doesn't always slay the dragon, and the princess saves herself. A Song of Ice and Fire takes everything good about fantasy and raises it to the next level. If you like Lord of the Rings or The Princess Bride, or any other fantasy, I highly suggest you get your butt on over to the nearest book store and buy A Game of Thrones.
Once Upon a Time...
As a longtime lover of stories and a believer in the power and magic of books, I've spent my life seeking out the best reads. This blog is dedicated to reviewing the books I read - good, bad, or magnificent - to help other readers find their next favorite books.