Thursday, February 23, 2012


Hallowed (An Unearthly novel) by Cynthia Hand (NY: HarperTeen, 2012).

This novel takes off where Unearthly leaves off--Clara Gardner has seemingly deviated from her purpose as an angel and rescued Tucker from the fire of her vision rather than Christian.  She trusts her love for Tucker, but still feels uneasy about Christian since their destinies seem inextricably intertwined. Now she's having a new vision in which someone has died, and she's learning more about her role in the world of angels and their enemies--the Black Wings.

Hallowed succeeds in the same way its predecessor, Unearthly did--it is so much more than an angel novel.  Clara is a compelling, engaging, and amusing character who agonizes (but not too melodramatically) over her relationships.  She is honestly confused about her feelings for Christian even as she sincerely loves Tucker.  There's also the mystery of her new vision and how that plays out in the same unexpected way as her vision in the first novel.  It's interesting to see how her interpretations change, though they all seem plausible, until reality strikes. Meanwhile, she's also coming to terms with her angel powers and responsibilities--and how those must shape her future.  An excellent read, highly recommended, for teens 13  up.  Sexual situations, alcohol.

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (NY: Dutton, 2012).

Hazel is seventeen and knows she's dying of cancer.  A fancy drug is retarding her inevitable demise, but her reliance on a portable oxygen tank (by day) and a breathing machine (at night) means her future doesn't extend too far.  And she's OK with that--resigned really. She even goes to the Cancer Kid Support Group when her mom decides Hazel is depressed (!).  And there, one day, Augustus Waters shows up and Hazel's life shifts in ways she never expected, which just goes to show that even dying can take an unanticipated course.

It's a book about kids with cancer, so expect to cry, but also expect an amazing amount of humor and insight.  The characters are pitch perfect, including the parents.  Hazel's best friend Kaitlyn seems like a throwaway, but some of the other secondary characters are mind blowing--in different ways.  The description of  Peter, the leader of the support group and a survivor of testicular cancer, is particularly hilarious, while the details of another group member's experience losing his second eye is searingly sad. Hazel and Augustus's relationship is naturally doomed from the start, yet rivetingly detailed and surprisingly hopeful. Green delivers brilliantly in this lovely, sad, romantic story.  Highly recommended for teens, 13 & up. Sexual situations, language, alcohol, experimental (cancer) drugs.

Where Things Come Back

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley (NY: Atheneum, 2011).

Seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter lives in the small, admittedly dull, Arkansas town of Lily and has low expectations for the summer before his senior year in high school, even after his cousin Oslo dies of an overdose. He loves his brother Gabriel and is happy enough hanging out with his best friend Lucas Cader.  He keeps a journal and frequently records potential titles for future books he will write because he knows he will write, but he really doesn't know much else, especially once the town goes crazy about the alleged sighting of an extinct bird--the Lazarus woodpecker.  Then Gabriel disappears and nothing seems right anymore.  Meanwhile,  Benton Sage  has discovered he's not cut out to be a missionary in Africa, but learns a lot about angels instead.  He aborts his college career after one semester and his roommate Cabot Searcy takes on the angel obsession.  Eventually these two narratives intersect and resolve in a stunning yet highly satisfying manner.

Although this novel sounds a bit odd, rest assured it is amazing.  First, Cullen Witter is funny, though not pathetic, and his narrative realistically depicts the ups and downs of his family's struggles, especially after Gabriel disappears.  Cullen's deadpan delivery demonstrates his funky blend of endearing naivete and caustic cynicism.  His wacky dreams and daydreams about zombies, talking birds, and love conquests nicely balance his growing desolation after Gabriel vanishes and his family fractures into a new normal, all while the town reinvents itself over the possibility of a resurrected bird. The second narrative about Benton Sage and his college roommate Cabot seems utterly disconnected from Cullen's life, though family dysfunction steers it as well--and the odd fixation on otherworldly beings. No spoilers here--this is a novel that must be experienced. Whaley superbly captures the precarious nature of existence in this unpretentious coming of age tale.  Most highly recommended!  Sexual situations and language make it more suited to older teens, 14 & up.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Notes to Self

Notes to Self by Avery Sawyer (Smashwords, 2011); review e-copy provided by author.

Robin's memory of the accident that caused her traumatic brain injury (TBI) is hazy, which is normal.  She climbed to the top of the sling shot ride with her best friend Emma.  It was windy. Emma seemed a bit crazed and reckless.  She asks Robin a question: What do you think will happen to us?  Then Robin's in the neurotrauma center of the hospital waking up and in horrible pain, but Em is still asleep.

Granted, the brain injury of self-(re)discovery is quickly becoming a standard trope of YA fiction, but to me, at least, it's genuine and authentic.  Sawyer's take is fabulous--starting with how she conveys Robin's confusion about language as she wakes up and has to figure out what words mean again.  Robin's attempts to remember the accident as she deals with more quotidian tasks such as showering move the plot along.  She writes notes to help herself--beginning with a list of steps for showering retrieved from Google!  The notes quickly become more introspective as she attempts to sort out the relationships in her life, most notably with Reno, a boy who was once her best friend, but who pushed for something more, which Robin rejected.  There's also her estranged father, her ambitious mother, and an aunt who writes her letters. The novel's setting in seedy non-Disney Kissimmee, Florida, suits the story well.  Highly recommended for teens, 13 & up. Mild sexual situations, language, drugs, alcohol.

Angel Evolution

Angel Evolution by David Estes (Smashwords, 2011); review e-copy provided by author.

Eighteen-year-old Taylor is a freshman in college who has a sixth sense about people and believes in signs, so she's sure that the four-leaf clover the glowing boy Gabriel just found for her bodes well for her new start despite her scary nightmares of black-caped figures and a red-eyed snake.  Her best friend Sam urges her to take a chance, and Taylor becomes involved with Gabriel, but can she really trust him?

Angel Evolution relies on many of the tried-and-true components of YA fiction, including instalove, angels, demons, ninja fights, and highly wrought melodrama of good v. evil.  There are a few twists in the traditional associations, but truthfully they seem kind of gimmicky to me.  The prose, particularly in the dream sequence that starts the novel, is so overwritten I nearly quit reading, but fortunately the writing settles down with only a few clunkers ("skeins of rain"--think about it...just doesn't work). Overall, not a bad read, especially if you're a fan of angel fiction, but not top notch.  Fine for ages 14 & up.  Alcohol, sexual situations.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Crossed by Ally Condie (NY: Dutton, 2011).

Summary from Goodreads: "In search of a future that may not exist and faced with the decision of who to share it with, Cassia journeys to the Outer Provinces in pursuit of Ky--taken by the Society to his certain death--only to find that he has escaped, leaving a series of clues in his wake.

Cassia's quest leads her to question much of what she holds dear, even as she finds glimmers of a different life across the border. But as Cassia nears resolve and certainty about her future with Ky, an invitation for rebellion, an unexpected betrayal, and a surprise visit from Xander - who may hold the key to the uprising and, still, to Cassia's heart - change the game once again. Nothing is as expected on the edge of Society, where crosses and double crosses make the path more twisted than ever."

I loved Matched--the forbidden romance, the dystopic Society, the suspense.  Crossed has less of each of these elements, and it got bogged down in the middle.  Ky and Cassia are separated for a good part of the narrative (which switches back and forth from their perspectives) as they traverse the interesting landscape of The Carving--an canyon area that sounds a lot like Bryce National Park.  Since they're on the run from the Society, there's not a lot of new material about the Society, which was somewhat disappointing.  Also, there's some information that casts doubt on Rising--the rebel group to which Cassia wants to escape.  Xander's role was small in this novel, and Ky was still keeping secrets, even at the end.  Overall, an OK read, but seems to be setting up for a better final installment.  Fine for ages 13 & up.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Patriote Peril

Patriote Peril, Darmon Mysteries, Book 3, by Thomas Thorpe (Castroville, TX: Black Rose Writing, 2011).  Review copy provided by author.

By chance, Elizabeth Darmon escapes being kidnapped with the rest of her family and then a fire at the remote home in New Brunswick, Halifax, she's been visiting. Alone and far away from her native England, Elizabeth sets out through the rough and wild frontier country out to find her relatives and discover why they've been victimized this way and learns about the political disputes being waged in this new country.

Packed with historical detail, Patriote Peril will undoubtedly appeal to Canadian frontier history buffs. At times the details about the history and politics overwhelmed the plot, which was quite complex with many abrupt shifts in perspective. I enjoyed Elizabeth's viewpoint the most, and found the rapid changes somewhat confusing. The depiction of Indians as painted savages seemed dubious to me. Also, one of the characters suffers a gunshot wound to the head and supposedly has severe amnesia, yet he ends up a folk hero for his role in foiling an assassination. Overall, not my cup of tea, though it started out fairly well.