Monthly Archives: March 2015

Mythos Academy (series)

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After my last post, I needed some popcorn lit.  And Jennifer Estep’s six book Mythos Academy series fits the bill as an easy chick lit romance, with a few supernatural twists.  It’s not Shakespeare, but it’s fun.

Gwen Frost is a 17 year old Gypsy girl with the gift of psychometry, or the ability to know an object’s history just by touching it. Which she likes. She likes being able to find out secrets with or without their owners’ knowledge, but it is not always innocent.  Sometimes the secrets are dark, and lead to tragedy.

After one such incident with her magic, Gwen’s Grandma sends her off to Mythos Academy, a school for the descendants of the ancient warriors races of Spartans, Celts, Valkyries and Amazons, etc.  She doesn’t know why she’s there, it’s not like she fits in, or has friends, or even the potential for friends.

She is an unlikely heroine in a world full of warriors and magic that she doesn’t believe in.  An evil god, Loki, is trying to take over the world, and Gwen is the key to stopping him.  She is not only of ancient warrior blood herself, she is another god’s champion – the best of the best.

The Academy is teeming with different characters; Amazon and Valkyrie mean girls abound, and the boys, who all seem to be gorgeous, roam the halls, ready to fight the Reapers if called upon.

But I do have a few cons about the series.

The series ran too long.  I usually love each and every book in a series that extends my reading pleasure.  The problem I found with Mythos Academy is that the author seemed to lose focus, she didn’t know what to do next.  With every book, she recapped the story, and repeated facts.  It took too long to get to the point.

And REALLY not a big fan of the double standard.  A girl sleeps around, she’s a tramp.  A boy?  He’s hot.  Aren’t we past that yet?

I feel like it has been done, and done better. Hex Hall was good.  Percy Jackson and Harry Potter were there first.  I want to believe when I read a book.  And with this series, I couldn’t.  Even something as simple as Gwen not believing in magic.  She has magic!

That said, the final book wrapped everything up well, leaving no loose ends.  All in all, the series was fun to read.  Take it for what it is, easy, fun escapism, and you will have a good time.  Great for the dock this summer.

The Mythos Academy series is published by Kensington Publishing Corps.

When Everything Feels Like the Movies

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A tough one.  Winner of the Governor General’s Award in 2014, this story is inspired in part by the 2008 murder of gay teenager Lawrence King in California.  King’s shooter pleaded not guilty, and blamed King himself for the shooting, saying the boy had sexually harassed him and made him the victim of bullying.

When Everything Feels Like the Movies doesn’t hide the tragic ending.

Jude (nicknamed Judy by his homophobic classmates) is an outcast.  Everyone in his middle school falls into one of three categories, except Jude:

I definitely wasn’t a part of the Crew; I wasn’t about to be involved in anything unless it was court-appointed. I wasn’t an Extra because the last thing I could ever be was anonymous. But I wasn’t a Movie Star either because, even though everyone knew my name, I wasn’t invited to the cool parties.  So there was me, the flamer that lit the set on fire.

In his eyes, he’s destined for stardom, for the admiration and the scandal that is part and parcel.  He sees his life in movie scenes, and writes the characters and endings to suit him.  But the novel itself is not about stardom; rather, it is about Jude’s attempt to break away and save himself.

Jude suffers daily abuse from schoolmates, both physical and mental.  They consider hash tagging suggestions of his death a sport (#WhyJudyShouldDie), and ambush him whenever possible, in the toilets, in the park.  His stepfather hates him, and beats him at the slightest provocation, real or imagined.

He does have some support.  His younger half-brother Keefer adores and protects him, and his mother, while torn between her abusive husband and her son, shows flashes of love for him.  Mr Dawson, his closeted English teacher, tells him it is better to be hated for who you are, then loved for who you aren’t.  But sporadic love cannot overcome the hatred he faces.

BFF Angela is different.  While she loves Jude, she is out for herself.  She is sleeping her way through the school, keeping a list, using abortion as birth control.  The extent of her final betrayal was a shock, but as I considered it, it seemed more in character than I first thought.  Strike out in a manner that would hurt the most; consequences are never considered.

And there is Luke.  While Jude fantasizes about him, he also acknowledges he isn’t in love with him.  He just wants Luke to want him.

Jude is a vibrant and vulnerable character. He accepts himself, even as he wishes for a different life.  In many ways, he courts the abuse, seeing the attention as part of his stardom.  He leaves the graffiti  “faggot” on his locker as a tribute, and flirts with the more homophobic amongst his classmates.  He definitely does not want to be abused, but he feels more in control if he “asks” for it, acts like it doesn’t matter. He wants the right to be.

The book is well written. It is amazing. It isn’t … enjoyable to read.  Or easy.  I put it down several times, even while wondering what happens next.  Which is fine.  Books should challenge and even horrify you, if that’s what it takes to get a story told.

Raziel Reid writes a GREAT story, but I think it is written too old.  The sex, the drugs, the multiple abortions, they just didn’t ring true for middle school, on that scale.  That said, if his intention is to shock, he succeeds.  And most likely, the book would not have the same impact without the graphic scenes.

This book will make you think.  While it is YA fiction, I would say for the upper end of the age bracket, not the lower.

When Everything Feels Like the Movies is published by Arsenal Pulp Press.

Fangirl

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Rainbow Rowell has done it again with Fangirl.  Her captivating characters and twisting and turning storyline will have you up all night; why waste time sleeping when you can find out what happens with Cath?

Cather and Wren are twins (unexpected ones, and as their mother didn’t have another name she liked, she divided one), who have lived their entire lives as a pair.  They have lived and breathed Simon Snow (an alternate universe Harry Potter) novels for years; the fantasy world helped them through the tough years when their mother disappeared from their lives.  Their biggest disappointment when they turned 18 was realizing they were too old to attend Warwick School of Magicks!

The twins are starting college in Nebraska, and Wren pulls away from Cath, needing to have her own identity as they move away from home.  She wants a new roommate, different classes, and different friends. Cath is more reserved, and cannot understand why Wren is suddenly so different.  She still lives in the world of Simon Snow and the Mages, writes fanfic, quotes canon, worries about her unstable father, and fears the unknown.

But even her fanfic cannot keep her from reality.  Her new roommate, Reagan, is a tough, worldly girl from a small town, with a best friend Levi, who hangs around and disrupts Cath’s life even more.

Levi and Reagan are great charcters.  I love Reagan’s toughness, and her overwhelming practicality and acceptance of life being what it is.  Levi’s existence seems to be based on making sure everyone around him is relaxed and having fun.  They are both kind, even if it is not obvious at first blush. Cath takes her classes, writes with Nick in the library (we do NOT like Nick), and gradually creeps out of her shell.  So gradually, she doesn’t seem to realize it is happening.  And she doesn’t recognize her own strength when dealing with difficult and challenging situations.

Like Eleanor and Park, Cath and Wren are very much alive, dealing with real failures and real triumphs.  They both had the capacity to annoy me, and make me laugh.  Rowell has a natural voice with her characters, and loves a happy ending.

My only criticism is the “exerpts” from the Simon Snow books and Cath’s fanfic seemed to be filler.  I did read them in the beginning, but did not find that they were adding to the story, for me.  Yes, there were parallels to Cath’s life, and yes, they fit in well with her obsession with Simon, but the time it took to read them took me away from the story I cared about, without enhancing it.

Appropriate for all teens.  Rowell deals with the issue of mental illness in the story, honestly, as well as some PG-13 discussion and hints of sex.

Fangirl is published by St Martin’s Press.

We Were Liars

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E. Lockhart writes this beautiful, heartbreaking novel about young love and loss, about coming to terms with life.

Cadence Sinclair Eastman is almost 18 years old, living in Vermont with her  divorced mom, and their 3 dogs.  She has spent all the summers of her life with her extended family at the family compound, on private Beechwood Island, off the coast of Massachusetts.  The summer she turned 9, she met Gat. The summer she turned 16, she loved him.

Cadence, Mirren, Johnny and Gat.  Gat, Johnny, Mirren and Cadence.  Three cousins and one best friend.  The Liars.  Privileged teens, living their lives, trying to find out who they are and who they each want to be.  Disrupting the quiet of the island, looking for change. They are inseparable every summer, until the accident.

Cadence comes from a wealthy, distinguished family.  The book opens with a family tree and a map of the island; the reader right away gets a sense of importance.  Or, at least, self-importance.  The family is very aware of their status and wealth.  There are expectations.  No one fails, everyone must be beautiful and successful.

Something happens during summer 15.  Cadence has an accident, a traumatic head injury, and loses her memory.  She hasn’t been the same since.  Last summer, her mother didn’t bring her back to Beechwood, wanting to give her time to heal.  This first summer back she is fighting to get her memories back.  No one, not even the other Liars, will tell her what happened.  Physically, she is now fine, except for the headaches; it is her own head keeping her from knowing.  She needs to find out herself.

She spends the summer searching, wandering, trying to remember.  She talks to the other Liars, and they help her, guide her toward the answer.  Her mother hovers and tries to keep her from really knowing.  The discovery, the feeling of betrayal, the loss, all unwind slowly and organically, and beautifully.  Her moment of understanding is heartbreaking.

In many ways, Cady is a poor little rich girl, surrounded by love, who can’t see the forest for the trees.  I thought her self-centredness would annoy me, but it didn’t.  She is normal.  She is a teen, and her world revolves around her.

We Were Liars reads like an epic poem.  The writing style may not be for everyone, but I loved it.   It is fragmented and choppy, and while I would not want to read a ton of books in this style, I like what Lockhart accomplishes with this story.

I can’t say for sure that the twist at the end was entirely unexpected, but it still left me reeling.  I think it was more that I did not want the ending.

We Were Liars is published by Delacorte Press.

The Grisha Trilogy

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Mysticism. Magic. Folklore.  Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy is incredible in its imagery and adventure.

In Shadow and Bone, we meet Alina Starkov, a weak, pale, unobtrusive member of the cartography regiment of the Ravkan army.  She and Mal, her childhood friend and fellow orphan, are about to enter the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with unseen monsters who feast on human flesh. Alina’s regiment is attacked on the Fold, comrades are murdered and Mal is severely injured. In the face of terror,  Alina finds a powerful force in her that saves Mal’s, and her own, life.  This power could be the key to saving her country as well – she is a rare Sun Summoner.

She is taken to the royal court to be trained as a Grisha, one of the magical, mystical elite that lives as she could only have dreamed as a young orphan. Led by the Darkling, a mysterious being with untold power over darkness and, it seems, Alina, the Grisha themselves have mystical powers, over healing, over beauty, over science. But not all is as it seems. The fate of Ravka rests on her young shoulders.

Although the story of Alina and Mal’s relationship runs throughout the trilogy, this is not just a romance.  It is, at its centre, about absolute power and corruption, and how things are not always as they appear.  Alina’s feelings for Mal underscore the power struggle that goes on with the Darkling, and with herself.  Evil is strong. But it is not all darkness; even the Darkling has a weakness for light.

To build Ravka, Bardugo has reached back to Imperial Russia.  The imagery and costumes, the names and places easily transport the reader back to a time when magic could be real and light and darkness could be controlled.

Bardugo develops the characters really well throughout the novels, and her ability to create landscapes in your mind’s eye is incredible.  The Palace and the mountain retreat, the ocean vistas and flying boats, the firebird and the great white stag: you will live them as you devour the story surrounding them.

Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising work on every level.  It is a lesson in power and corruption, a fantastic mystery with hidden villians and unexpected heroes, a romance with twists and turns, and a thrill ride for the reader.

This trilogy is great for anyone who loves the magic and intrigue of far away places and times.

The Grisha Trilogy is published by Square Fish.

Hex Hall (series)

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I picked Hex Hall up but expected to put it back down fairly quickly, bored.  Yes, I did judge the first book by its cover.  To me, it looked like standard chick lit YA romance. You know what?  I was right, but SO wrong.

This is a fun series!  It is teen chick lit, but in a great way.  Teenage witches and demons and spells and all the mistakes that you just know are going to go along with it.  Big mistakes.  Picture delinquent supernaturals, all grouped together in one place.  What could go wrong?

16 year old Sophie is in high school, and a witch.  With no training, a mortal mom, Grace, and warlock father whom she never sees, she is a little out of control.  Due to Grace’s lack of magical ability, she can do little more than ask Sophie to behave herself.  That doesn’t work so well.  Although the teen has the best of intentions, a prom night spell goes seriously wrong. Sophie’s erstwhile dad steps in and sentences her to Hecate Hall, which is basically reform school for the supernatural set.

Beautiful dark magic witches, a vampire best friend with hot pink bangs, and a sexy warlock potential boyfriend set the stage for the mysteries that follow.  Throw in a demon summoning, a murder, a magical Project Runway for the prom, and you have all the ingredients needed for a fun story.  And seriously, when Sophie encounters a werewolf and her first instinct is to yell “BAD DOG!”, it is FUNNY.

The story has all the right ingredients to make for an entertaining series. And Rachel Hawkins has a fantastic writing style; loose, relaxed, great characters that are not so so predictable.  Jenna is the perfect BFF, the dark witches are, of course, gorgeous, and make great mean girls when Sophie doesn’t join them,  and the three books flow nicely from one to the other, for a really good time.

I loved the romantic twists, the story of Sophie’s parents adds some good intrigue, and the story wraps up really nicely in the third book, maybe a little too nicely, too easily, but it was still satisfying.

Young teens will devour this book; it might seem to be a bit young for the older ones at first glance, but they will still enjoy it for an easy escape! And just so you know,  I am NOT Team Archer.  No way.  Team Cal, all the way.

The Hex Hall series is published by Hyperion Books.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

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I almost didn’t read this book.  Sorry to sound cynical, but another book about a teen dying of cancer?  How many do we need?

That’s what I thought this book would be.  It isn’t.  Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a book about a boy befriending a girl, but it not a book about cancer.  The illness is a subplot to a good story about a teen who just wants to coast through life, who hasn’t figured out yet who he is and who he wants to be.

And it is good.  It is well written and absolutely laugh out loud hilarious.  The humour is juvenile and smart, totally what you could picture a teen finding funny.  It never occurred to me (and really, why would it?), that I would burst out laughing at the word “f@&kbiscuit”.

Greg is 17 years old, and has spent his teen years flying under the radar.  He says hello to all the groups at school (jocks, goth, geek, etc), but does not fit in with any specific one.  He has one friend, Earl, a foul-mouthed kid who sees life how it really is, and accepts it.  Earl is awesome. They spend their time playing video games and trying not to get beaten up by Earl’s older brothers.  They fancy themselves filmmakers of a dark sort, and the descriptions of their attempts will leave you howling.  They are two fantastic characters written with great humour.

Rachel is a acquaintance from the past, with whom his mom forces him to reconnect.  She has leukemia, and to Greg’s surprise, the two do hit it off again, and form a friendship. His attempts at humour are actually appreciated, and their conversations are fun and awkward, as you would expect from two teens forced together by their mothers.  They like each other, so, of course, you expect them to find an all-consuming love.

Does not happen.  “She didn’t have meaningful things to say, and we definitely didn’t fall in love.  She seemed less pissed with me…”

Greg feels like he should be changed by Rachel’s illness, and maybe in the end he is, but what I like here is the honesty from author Jesse Andrews that sometimes life just is what it is.  Greg actually doesn’t always want to hang out with Rachel.  Even though he does like her, he wants to keep living his life the way he always has,  and just pretend everything is the same.

This book is good for all teens, and very relatable.  It is well written, the humour is hilarious and inappropriate, but some of the self-deprecating jokes go on a bit too long and lose their impact.  They become filler to an otherwise really good story.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is published by Amulet Books.