Friday, 20 July 2012

Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta

My relationship with this book is full of mixed feelings. On one hand, I love Froi almost as much as I love Melina Marchetta’s writing style. On the other, this book was just so…long.

Quick plot summary. Froi gets sent to Charyn to assassinate the king. Charyn is under a curse (similar to Lumatere’s) where all the women are barren and the men are infertile. The princess, Quintana, is totally crazy (not in a partying type way, in a random-prophecy-spewing, frequent-personality-swinging way). She claims that she will birth Charyn’s first child, and that it will be fathered by a last-born. Froi is ordered by his captain not to get mixed up in the affairs of Charyn, but since he is a disobedient little twerp, he does anyway. When chaos reigns in Charyn, he has to save Quintana and find out who he really is *insert dramatic trail-off here*.

The mysteries and intricate plot are similar to Finnikin of the Rock; if you didn’t like Finnikin, you’re weird, and don’t read this book. The writing is excellent, as per usual. The adventure, fighting, and betrayals were exciting. The romance was a break from the typical ones I see in teen books over and over again, mostly because the girl is utterly unattractive. So why, oh why, does this book fall flat?

It’s mainly because of the length. Some of the scenes just really aren’t necessary. I’m going to try and give an example without giving a huge spoiler. Froi leaves multiple times. And every time, I’m like yeah, you’re going to come right back. And then he thinks of the faces of the people he’s leaving behind and does just that. I mean, come on! We don’t need scene after scene after scene to show us how insecure and doubtful Froi is! The repetitiveness of other things, such as interactions with Quintana and all the betrayals, gets really annoying too. 

The other thing with the length was that things get more complicated than they need to be. I will admit: I found parts (small parts, mind you) confusing. There’s a lot of information given at the beginning that gets tied up at the end. But the end is so far away that you’ve forgotten the little hints that were dropped in the beginning so you’re mixed between Where the heck did that come from? and Okay, I really couldn’t care less.

There were good parts. Truly they were. But they were hidden by the sheer length and repetitiveness of the book. The ending was dynamite, though. I’m holding out for the third book- Quintana of Charyn. I feel like the ends may justify the means in this situation.

If you liked this book...
...see suggestions on the Finnikin of the Rock review 

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Porcupine by Meg Tilly

No author has been able to give me warm and fuzzy feelings like Meg Tilly. I’m pretty sure I was smiling as I read this book, which is weird for me, because I usually have a poker face when I read.

After Jack’s (her real name is Jacqueline, but she’s a tomboy) father dies while fighting in Afghanistan, she and her siblings Tessa and Simon move to live with their grandmother. But this isn’t a sweet old grandma who bakes cookies and knits 24/7. She’s tough as nails, hard on the kids, and makes them do all sorts of work. Jack’s mom totally breaks down, and through the story she becomes one of the most interesting characters.

While my plot summary doesn’t sound super exciting, the real beauty of this story doesn’t come from the action-packed, fast-paced-ness of it all; it comes from the interactions between the characters and how they grow to the end of the book. I loved Jack’s care for her siblings, and even though I don’t have siblings myself, that kind of fierce protective love rings true somewhere. And how her perception of her grandmother changes…oh, it’s just so good! There are so many truly sweet moments. Through pretty much the entire second half, I was beaming the entire time. It’s impossible not to. This is such a heartwarming book. 

If you loved this book, you'll like:

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klager
Janey's Girl by Gayle Friesen
Men of Stone by Gayle Friesen
Losing Forever by Gayle Friesen (and sequel, For Now)
Criss Cross by Lyn Rae Perkins
Alice, I Think by Susan Juby (and series)
Getting the Girl by Susan Juby

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Matched by Ally Condie

People are calling this book ‘the next Twilight’ and ‘the new Hunger Games’. But it’s so much more than just a copy. It’s marketed as this superhot romance thingy, but honestly, it has a lot more depth than you might expect.

Cassia lives in a dystopian world where the Society pretty much controls everything. I actually found the descriptions of daily life very natural- they didn’t seem like they’d been conjured up to make the book ‘cool’. The Society decides where you work, what you eat and how much, and who you marry. During the Matching ceremony, Cassia is matched with her best friend/secret admirer Xander. Everything’s rosy until she opens a box full of information about her Match (this is really too complicated for me to explain), she sees another face: Ky. I know what you’re thinking, and to be fair I was kind of thinking it too: Okay, so now the rest of the book will be about how Cassia deliberates back and forth over these two guys and eventually she’ll decide she likes the danger/badboy aspect of Ky and run off with him into the sunset.

While I won’t reveal who she ends up with, I will say that the book is so much more than just a romance. And it has more shades than black and white. Though Cassia becomes increasingly disillusioned with the Society, I really like how the author included the other view, highlighting all the things that the Society was good for: the stronger people, the peaceful dying, and even the Matching. She painted her Society not to be some kind of dictatorial, oppressive regime that was clearly Bad with a capital B- most of the things the Society did…they just made sense, and that served to make the book feel more realistic and deep. This book subtly hints that absolute power and control corrupts, which is a pretty interesting and current topic. I mean, if I were to rule the world one day, I would probably do some of the same things, so it’s interesting to see the negative consequences of such good looking decisions. And speaking of good looking, I’ll talk about the romance, ‘cause it was like whoa. Not as scorching as reviews would have you believe, just kind of simmering there. There’s no screaming arguments or passionate love scenes or dramatic heartbreaks, but the gentle intimacy of some of the scenes was shiver-inducing. Another thing I really gotta give props to is the writing. WOW it’s good. There are so many metaphors in the writing, which, for a huge book/writing nerd like me, is amazing. I haven’t seen that kind of symbolism since A Great and Terrible Beauty. This book will absorb you, entrance you, and leave you on your library’s website, watching the number of holds go down until you can devour the second book, Crossed.

Loved this book? Then you’ll like:

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Uglies by Scott Westerfield (and series)
The Dirt Eaters by Dennis Foon (and series)

Friday, 6 July 2012

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Judge this book by its cover. Seriously. Like the cover, this story is quirky, dangerous, and full of intriguing details if you look close enough.

The premise isn’t difficult to wrap your mind around. A plane full of Teen Dream beauty pageant contestants crashes, stranding a group of them on the island with few resources. While this may sound like a cheesy mashup of Survivor and Miss America, the story is pulled off seamlessly. Without the pressures that they face back home, the girls open up, reveal their secrets, and learn something about themselves.

This book is hilarious, in a witty and satirical way. Product placement, clueless blondes, and crazy pop culture references (with no possible inspiration from our pop culture nowadays, of course) make this book an original and refreshing read. It attacks the perceptions that our society has about the ways girls should act, think, and look with a lighthearted and sardonic tone. As you get into the heads of different girls each chapter, you get a unique look at what drove them to compete in a pageant, their insecurities, and the things that they’re hiding. There are more than enough surprises and mysteries to keep things interesting! While some people will complain the dialogue can be sappy, the realizations forced, and the storyline unbelievable, I think this book is like its characters: you shouldn’t take it too seriously, but it definitely has something special to share with you. At the end, you’ll feel tears prick your eyes- proud tears, because you will have watched a group of girls grow in so many ways and you won’t want them to let them go. An enjoyable, empowering, and unforgettable story.  

Loved this book? Then you'll like:

Alice, I Think by Susan Juby (and series)
Books by John Green
...yeesh, I don't know. I can't think of another book that matches the randomness and off-the-wall humour of this one.

To give you a sense of the writing style, here's the opening few lines. "This book begins with a plane crash. We do not want you to worry about this. According to the U.S. Department of Unnecessary Statistics, your chances of dying in a plane crash are one in half a million. Whereas your chances of losing your bathing suit bottoms to a strong tide are two to one. So, all in all, it's safer to fly than to go to the beach." -Libba Bray, Beauty Queens

It goes on like that, but a little more on topic, don't worry!

Monday, 2 July 2012

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

Okay, so this isn’t technically a teen book. But I think everyone should read it, so I’m going to ignore that right now.

The Underneath is a touching tale about the love between a dog and a small calico cat and her kittens (cue Awwwwwww!). When the calico cat, with kittens in her belly, hears the mournful baying of Ranger, the bloodhound, she seeks him out. In spite of their many differences, she befriends him. Ranger names one of the kittens Sabine, and the calico cat names her other kitten, a boy, Puck. Sabine and Puck grow up together in the Underneath, the dark and holy Underneath, a space under the porch. This sounds nice and rosy, but the cuteness ends here. The reason they must hide in the Underneath is because there, they are safe from Gar-Face, a man who would use a cat for bait to try and catch the Alligator King. He had previously shot his dog- Ranger- in the leg and chained him up (cue gasp). But one day, Puck ventures out of the Underneath, and the series of events that follows are not what he expected, wanted, or meant…

Meanwhile, there is another story going on- that of Grandmother Moccasin, a large snake, who is consumed by hatred for everything. She remembers all those who betrayed her as she is trapped in a jar, waiting for a chance to escape.

While the storyline may sound childish, it has a lot to offer for anyone reading it. First things first though, I really gotta pay homage to the writing. The poetic writing style of this book is to die for. I’ve never seen an author who uses words to lull the reader down the river of her story, and while that sounds overly metaphorical, that’s what it feels like. Sometimes I had to read a few lines over again, whispering the words, because it was just so delicious. If you’re a writer, you have to read this book for at least research purposes. (This story will change my writing style dramatically, I’m sure of it). The story itself was suspenseful, though it’s not one of the breakneck-pace thrillers crowding our bookstores today. I looooooved the ending because it tied up everything, down to the hummingbird. Without giving too much away, the power of love reaches it’s climax point and everything’s just so sweet and sad at the same time. This is the kind of book you read slowly, and then you read parts over again, just to savour every bit of it. 

If you loved this book...

You're an awesome person. Yes, I'm using compliments to cover the fact that after years of searching, I still haven't found another book quite like this one.