Lady Sybella’s life is a living nightmare. Trained as an assassin by the killer nuns of the convent of St. Mortain (God of Death) she has been assigned to spy on the house of Count d’Albret, a noble who is staging a deadly coup against the young duchess of Brittany. The count is notoriously brutal, simply murdering any and all who oppose him. Sybella’s life is constantly on the line as she gathers information to send back to her Mother Superior, who is on the side of the duchess. She knows that if she is found out, a fate worse than death awaits her. Because Sybella is not just an ordinary spy. She is also d’Albret’s abused daughter. When an order comes from the convent that she must free a highly valued prisoner from d’Albret’s dungeon, she uses the command as an excuse to escape with her wounded charge and join her assassin sister Ismae. This one decision sets her destiny spinning in a direction she could have never anticipated, a future where love and death are intertwined and at any moment she could be utterly destroyed by one or the other. Because war is coming. And d’Albret is used to winning. This smashing second volume in His Fair Assassins series (volume 1= Grave Mercy) is way more bloody and fast paced than the first but just as deliciously juicy. Sybella is a terrific heroine—damaged, self-doubting, angry as hell and ready to take her rage out on the world at large—until love comes along and turns her wrath into righteousness. Though you could read this one as a stand alone, why would you want to? I’d advise digging into Grave Mercy before taking a stab at Dark Triumph. An awfully good sequel to what is shaping up to be a spectacular series. Coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you April 2013.
“We are born in one day. We can die in one day. We can change in one day. And we can fall in love in one day. Anything can happen in just one day.” Allyson is on her graduation European tour bored out of her ever loving mind. Instead of having the time of her life, she’s watching movies in her hotel room and counting the days until it’s time to go home. Then IT happens: a chance encounter with a mysterious Shakespeare street performer named Willem who charmingly asks Allyson to skip the rest of the tour and spend the day with him in Paris. She knows what she should do. “It’s totally crazy. I don’t even know him…all this could go disastrously wrong in so many ways…but that doesn’t change the fact that I want to go. So this time, instead of saying no, I try something different. I say yes.” Under Willem’s heady influence, Allyson abandons her rule following ways and adopts the persona of Lulu, a daring girl who isn’t afraid to take risks. But then Willem disappears. And Allyson must go back to her real life and take up the challenges and expectations of college. Except she can’t stop thinking about Willem and Lulu. And who she might have become if she had had just one more day. While it may seem to have all the traditional trappings of a romance, this stunningly good story of self-discovery by the acclaimed author of If I Stay is so much more. It’s a deeply felt character study, an intriguing mystery and a free European tour all in one. Because Allyson does go back to find Willem. But what she discovers is something else altogether. And if the cliffhanger ending kills you as much as it killed me, no worries. Willem’s story comes out fall 2013!
It totally sucks being the new kid in high school. So Sadie comes up with a fool-proof plan to win friends and influence people: pretend she has a peanut allergy. After all, what makes a better lunch time conversation starter than a life-threatening medical condition? The plan goes swimmingly at first. Sadie orders a medic-alert bracelet as visible proof of her peanut-free status and soon has a new circle of concerned friends willing to throw themselves on legumes for her if necessary. But things get complicated fast. She is afraid to invite people over for fear that her mom will accidentally rat her out. Her friends keep snatching stuff out of her hands when she forgets to check the list of ingredients on food packages for peanut oil. Worst of all, the school nurse gets wind of the fact that she has an allergy and wants her to get an Epi-pen–which you can’t get without a prescription. Now it’s just a matter of time before she puts the wrong thing in her mouth and the truth of her fictional affliction comes out. If her lie comes to light, will Sadie’s new friends stick by her? Or will they peel away like dried up peanut butter? This charming little graphic novel about going to extremes when it comes to fitting in will feel very familiar to anyone who’s ever tried to break into a new table in the cafeteria. While I found Paul Hoppe‘s whimsical style a little young looking for a high school audience, I thought Ayun Halliday‘s dialogue and depiction of adolescent relationships was achingly realistic and adored the character of Zoo, Sadie’s techno-phobic new boyfriend. No one could possibly be allergic to this delicious and down to earth Peanut.
Four girls live on a tropical island where they attend school and are cared for by a man and a woman who are not their parents. The man and woman have told them that their parents died in a fiery plane crash and they are orphans. The four girls believe this to be true. The four girls each have a different name and a different hair color, but in thought and word they are almost identical. The four girls are happy, or at least believe they are. And then a fifth girl washes up on their shore. Her ship went down and she was the only survivor. She is different. Her skin is different, her hair is different, her voice is different. She also is different in that she believes nothing the man and woman tell her. She thinks for herself, and her thoughts are identical to no one’s. The four girls are confused. The four girls are intrigued.The four girls start questioning each other. The four girls start to question everything. And then everything changes. This mind-bending science fiction hurt my head in the best possible way. It is a fascinating puzzle of a book where you only know as much as Veronika, the red-headed girl. Her narrative voice is oddly formal and her cadence is strange. You have to read her words more than once and even then they don’t always make sense. But hidden in them are small clues that let you know these four girls are not what they seem. Clues like, “We never used Irene’s clips, because we needed our hair like it was, hanging down and wiped clean to catch the sun.” As I gathered the clues, I began to see that I was on an entirely different island than the one I had started with. And it was AWESOME. I was shocked. I was surprised. I was impressed. I knew immediately I was going to have to go back and read it again. I also knew it was going to be one of the most talked about books of the year. And so will you, when it comes to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you February 2013.
“My mother’s a prostitute. Not the filthy, street walking kind. She’s actually quite pretty, fairly well spoken, and has lovely clothes. But she sleeps with men for money or gifts, and according to the dictionary, that makes her a prostitute.” In 1950’s New Orleans, Josie couldn’t be more different from her mother, a woman who cares about herself first and her daughter only when she manages to remember she has one. Luckily for Josie, her mother’s madam Willie, a smart, sassy businesswoman, has always looked out for Josie and kept her separate from her mother’s sordid life. But now Josie has graduated from high school and wants to be more than just a bookstore clerk and Willie’s sometimes housekeeper. She dreams of attending Smith College in Massachusetts and escaping the sleaziness of the Big Easy forever. But when a wealthy tourist is murdered in the French Quarter and Josie’s mother and mobster boyfriend are fingered for it, Josie becomes caught up in a dangerous game of cat and mouse that could bring a messy end to her college dreams. And there is also the little matter of deciding between the two boys she’s grown up with and loves for different reasons: Patrick because he shares her passion for books and reading, Jesse because shares her feeling of being an outsider always looking in. Can Josie flee her painful past in order to forge a bright new future? Or will her illicit origins dog her footsteps for the rest of her life? Ruta Sepetys, author of the achingly sad Between Shades of Gray, has penned another unusual and provocative historical fiction that goes straight to the heart. But don’t expect heart-pounding action, this is a smart, slow-boiling thriller that focuses more on identity and relationships than strip teases and gun play. If you like the character-driven mysteries of Judy Blundell and Kathryn Miller Haines, then you’ll want to snatch this one up from your nearest library, bookstore or e-reader when it arrives in February 2013.
Rory Deveaux can see dead people, and it’s no picnic in the park. After a run in with a homicidal ghost in the bathroom of her boarding school that almost made her ephemeral, (see Shades of London, bk. 1) Rory is back at Hawthorne and struggling to pick up the pieces of her academic and social life after being Exhibit A in the scandalous Ripper murders. And the worst part is not being able to tell anyone the truth about what really happened.”You cannot tell your therapist you have been stabbed by a ghost. You cannot tell her that you could see the ghost because you developed the ability to see dead people after choking on some beef at dinner. If you say any of that, they put you in a sack and take you to a room walled in bouncy rubber and you will never be allowed to touch scissors again.” But the past won’t leave her alone. When she discovers that the owner of a nearby tavern was brutally murdered under suspicious circumstances, she teams up with her old ghost hunting team: Steven, Boo and Callum to find out if the perpetrator was paranormal. Meanwhile, she’s trying to keep up her grades, maintain a romantic relationship with her crush object Jerome and deal with the fact that since her recent brush with death, she suddenly has the ability to zap ghosts into oblivion. Which makes Rory of great interest to the many different shady organizations around London who would like to harness her power for themselves. My only beef with this second book in the Shades of London series is that there wasn’t enough BLOOD. This time around there is much more about Rory and her relationships, which is great because I quite enjoy Rory’s sarcastic voice, but I did long for more, well, HORROR. However, the book ends on such a gruesome cliffhanger which promises more madness and mayhem to come, that I felt a bit better about the lack of glorious GORE. Intrigued? You should be, these books rock. All your questions will be answered when The Madness Underneath comes to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you February 2013.
Once again, dear teen readers, it’s Top Ten time! Please note that there has been absolutely no attempt to balance this list by age, gender or genre. These are just my “from-the-gut” favorites of the books I read this year. (While I love all my Top Ten books the same, there just might be a slugfest going on in my heart between THE DIVINERS & SAILOR TWAIN:) Click on the title to go right to the review.
Bray, Libba. The Diviners.
Coats, J. Anderson. The Wicked and the Just.
Green, John. The Fault in Our Stars.
Griffin, Adele. All You Never Wanted
King, A.S. Ask the Passengers.
Lanagan, Margo. The Brides of Rollrock Island.
Laybourne, Emmy. Monument 14.
McCormick, Patricia. Never Fall Down.
Siegel, Mark. Sailor Twain or The Mermaid in the Hudson.
Strayed, Cheryl. Wild.
Greetings, teen peeps!
Here in waterlogged NYC, we are pumping, dumping and trying to towel off after Hurricane Sandy. I hope all my East Coast readers are warm, dry and with power. While my family was extremely lucky in that we weathered the storm unscathed, my heart goes out to those who lost loved ones or suffered damage to their homes or property. To find out more about how you can help those who were hit hard by Sandy, check out these websites:
In other not-so-big-news, Reading Rants will be taking a break during the month of November so that I can give some much needed attention to a big writing project I’ve been trying to finish since the summer. And speaking of big writing projects, did you know that November is National Novel Writing Month? Maybe you have a long form story inside that you’re just dying to get on the page. Well, here’s your chance! For more information on how to kick start your novel, visit these websites for encouragement and inspiration:
Finally, don’t forget to check back with me in December, where I will post some reviews of hot titles to look forward to in 2013 and my 2012 Top Ten Books List. Hang tight, stay safe and happy reading & writing until then, friends.
Most of us can remember the first time we encountered a little book called THE GIVER. Maybe a friend passed it to you between classes, saying “Read this, it’s really good!” Or your librarian gave it to you in middle school when you asked her or him for a “fantasy that wasn’t too long.” Or maybe your teacher assigned you to read it and you thought it was going to be boring, but guess what, it wasn’t and soon it was your favorite book and you were passing it to someone else, saying, “Read this, it’s really good!” However you came across it, the story of a boy named Jonas who lived in an orderly community where there was no pain, but also no love, stuck with you. And even though there have been other books related to the world of THE GIVER, it is only in SON that Lois Lowry completes the journey she set Jonas on so long ago (1993 to be exact!)
Claire is fourteen when she first gives birth to a “product,” or #36—the 36th child to be born into the Community that year. But when something goes wrong with the Task, Claire is relieved of her duties as Birthmother and moved to the Fish Hatchery. Though she has been assured that the baby is healthy, she can’t stop thinking and worrying about him. Her son. Soon she is creating excuses to visit him in the Nurturing Center and make conversation with his Caregiver, who has a son of his own. Then, without warning, #36 goes missing and Claire must set off on a dangerous quest to recover what was hers. While the first third of the book that focuses on Claire’s growing unhappiness with her lot resonated the most with me, it is nevertheless a deeply satisfying and emotional roller coaster of a read (that often feels like the little brother of this book). SON not only answers any questions you had from the ambiguous ending of THE GIVER, but it also neatly knots together the two companion books in the series– GATHERING BLUE and MESSENGER–into a pretty little bow. And no worries if you happen to stumble upon SON and read it first–it stands just fine on it’s own. But if you want to get the full effect of these powerful dystopian novels, you should probably start with THE GIVER. (I’m pretty sure you’ll like it—after all, everyone says it’s really good!)
It’s 1986 in Omaha, and sixteen-year-olds Eleanor and Park are about to fall in love. They just don’t know it yet. Park is half Korean, loves to read Watchmen comics and listen to punk music on his Walkman. Eleanor is the whitest red-headed white girl who ever lived, loves to re-read Watership Down and never listens to music because she is too afraid that her evil stepfather will take it away from her. They meet not cute on their shared school bus and all Park can think is how weird Eleanor seems: “With crazy hair, bright red on top of curly. And she was dressed like…like she wanted people to look at her…She reminded Park of a scarecrow or one of the trouble dolls his mom kept on her dresser. Like something that wouldn’t survive in the wild.” Park feels sorry for the strange girl, so he lets her sit next to him and before he knows it, she’s reading his comics over his shoulder and he’s making her mix tapes of The Smiths and Joy Division because this girl—this bizarre girl is funny and cool and smart and she just gets him in a way no one else ever has. And Eleanor can’t believe that slender, steady Park actually likes chubby, klutzy her: “She hadn’t told him that he was prettier than any girl, and that his skin was like sunshine with a suntan. And that’s why she hadn’t said it. Because all her feelings for him—hot and beautiful in her heart—turned to gobbledygook in her mouth.” But even as their oddball love blossoms in the most Some Kind of Wonderful way ever, Eleanor can’t bear to tell Park the whole truth about herself and her mixed up family. And after she meets his Avon saleswoman mom and ex-military dad, she is sure that Park will never be able to understand the chaos that she comes from. But that’s the thing about love. It can save you if you if you trust it. And when Eleanor finds herself with no one else to turn to, she must trust Park’s love to save them both. This story is not new. If you’ve seen this or this, or read this, then you know the score. But what is new here is how the author portrays young love–with a brio and honesty that just took my breath away, it was so fresh and true. My god, I felt sixteen again (and let me tell you friends, that was AWHILE ago.) If you want to experience what a first love feels like or feel your first love all over again, you MUST read this book. Coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you March 2013. (I know, I know, don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger. Consider this your advance notice for your post-spring-break-reading.)