Fiction, Reviews, Young Adult

The Name of the Star

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it’s the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago.

Soon “Rippermania” takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn’t notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.

Maureen Johnson is an author I’d enjoyed in the past, but kind of forgot I liked. I saw The Name of the Star mentioned on another book blog some time ago and purchased it on my Kindle. I started it when I found in need of some distraction during my lunch break.

Johnson has a very engaging style that is every bit in evidence here. I really enjoyed the character of Rory… From her first chapter, I loved her stories about her eccentric family in the south. She was overall a great lead.

The storyline was intriguing and great… Someone is repeating the Jack the Ripper murders. I loved the mix of history in this YA, set in an old city, at a boarding school (honestly, she had me at boarding school). The time period of the history is also one of my favorites… Victorian.

Supernatural twist: Did not see that coming/ was not prepared for it. But it totally made the book great.

I’m stoked to read the next books in this new series. The Name of the Star was pretty addicting and I’m sure the others in the trilogy will be as well, knowing Johnson’s writing.

Fiction, Young Adult

Shadowlands

Shadowlands by Kate Brian

Rory Miller had one chance to fight back and she took it. Rory survived… and the serial killer who attacked her escaped. Now that the infamous Steven Nell is on the loose, Rory must enter the witness protection with her father and sister, Darcy, leaving their friends and family without so much as a goodbye.

Starting over in a new town with only each other is unimaginable for Rory and Darcy. They were inseparable as children, but now they can barely stand each other. As the sisters settle in to Juniper Landing, a picturesque vacation island, it seems like their new home may be just the fresh start they need. They fall in with a group of beautiful, carefree teens and spend their days surfing, partying on the beach, and hiking into endless sunsets. But just as they’re starting to feel safe again, one of their new friends goes missing. Is it a coincidence? Or is the nightmare beginning all over again?

As part of my new decision to review everything I read, I’m going to be letting my geek flag fly. I love YA. I really, really do. Kate Brian’s Private series is one of my favorites. Over the years I’ve read a few of her stand-alone novels as well as her Privileged series. Shadowlands is the start of yet another series.

I didn’t know all that much about this book before I got into it. I figured it’d be similar to Private and Privileged. I was not expecting things to take a … supernatural twist. Well, I guess the title is Shadowlands after all.

I really enjoy Kate Brian’s writing and Shadowland was no different. Her characters feel very life-like and altogether normal. She’s a fan (in most cases) of using the rather average, slightly self-deprecating protagonist. Because doesn’t every girl kind of feel like that inside?

That aside, this book was creepppyyyy. It’s about a girl named Rory who finds herself targeted by a serial killer. When she manages to escape, she and her family enter the witness protection program.

Unlike Brian’s other works, this is told in alternating viewpoints: Rory and the serial killer, Steven Nell. And Nell is creepy as anything. He reminds me of Hannibal Lecter. That level of creepy.

Also, I’d love to go to Juniper Landing and stay in the house her family goes to. The island sounds amazing and the house adorable. Even with the weird fog stuff.

It’s hard to talk about this book without giving away the twist. Because once you know the twist, it completely flips your perspective on everything.

Have you read Shadowlands? Or any of Kate Brian’s other books?

Fiction, Young Adult

Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature

Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande

Your best friend hates you. The guy you liked hates you. Your entire group of friends hates you.

All because you did the right thing.

Welcome to life for Mena, whose year is starting off in the worst way possible. She’s been kicked out of her church group and no one will talk to her—not even her own parents. No one except for Casey, her supersmart lab partner in science class, who’s pretty funny for the most brilliant guy on earth.

And when Ms. Shepherd begins the unit on evolution, school becomes more dramatic than Mena could ever imagine . . . and her own life is about to evolve in some amazing and unexpected ways.

This is not the first time I’ve discussed having a book on your shelf for literally years (I would say a good five for this one), only to finally take it down, read it, and be completely blown away.

Blown. Away.

As usual with highly-charged issues, I don’t want this to devolve into a discussion or intelligent design vs. evolution vs. a combo of the two. I just want to talk about this book, which happens to handle that subject with a delicacy and aplomb rarely seen.

Mena was the perfect protagonist for this book. She feels as we all feel….sometimes you can’t just stop life from battering you on all sides. She feels like crumbling. Routinely. She doesn’t consider herself to be a strong person. And she’s not. But there is strength in her ability to get up and go to school every day, especially when her parents are freezing her out, too.

Then, Mena comes into contact with some amazing, passionate, devoted people, and her life changes. She evolves, for lack of a better word. Mena learns that she is more than she thinks she is and that she can be whatever she wants to be. More importantly, she learns that there are sides to everything. That sometimes middle ground isn’t an illusion created by people who want peace. Sometimes it’s a valid argument and an even more valid territory to occupy.

All of the characters were well-drawn and complex, even Mena’s ex-friends. People can be misguided and hurtful, but it doesn’t mean they’re evil. They just don’t see any alternative to believing what they believe. They don’t see grey areas or middle ground or any validity in another’s viewpoint. But it doesn’t make them evil.

265 pages that completely blew me away. Whatever your opinions on the subject matter, pick this book up for a fun, exhilarating, and well-crafted read.

Fiction, Young Adult

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical.

I am steadily working my way through the entire canon of John Green and David Levithan. I think I’m somewhere at five each.

This book had a great premise and it didn’t disappoint. For the most part. I really enjoyed this book, but I had the same issue with it that I did with Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy. It seems a terrible thing to say there’s not enough anti-homosexuality sentiment in the two books, but there’s not. While I love that these characters get to exist in a world where no one is constantly insulting them and bullying them because of their sexual orientation. It’s not realistic. And as there aren’t a heck of a lot of YA novels about homosexual characters, it’s hard to defend a complete departure from realism. People love to read characters they can relate to. I’m not sure what gay teenager can really relate to Tiny Cooper, except as maybe something to aspire to? I’m not sure.

With that out of the way, I can discuss the things I liked. One of the things that was really great about this novel was that, despite the title, the novel is really about Tiny Cooper. Will Grayson and Will Grayson narrate the whole thing and have their own stories, but only in the intersection of the two characters, do we see the protagonist beyond.

I liked how Will Grayson and other Will Grayson (o.w.g.) ended up being very different, but sort of the same. Will Grayson tries to repress all his feelings about everything and o.w.g. is depressed, so his social life is so non-existent he seems as if he’s repressing everything, too. The interesting thing is that, once o.w.g. meets Tiny Cooper, his life starts to flip around and much faster than one would expect. So suddenly you get this idea of Will Grayson as the more destructive individual, instead of o.w.g.

Another nice touch in the novel is that o.w.g.’s sections are written either in AIMspeak or the lingo of the internet. So, run-on sentences, no capitals, little punctuation, certainly no quotes. This helps to make the contrast of the latter part of the novel that much more apparent.

John Green is so great at writing these absolutely insane, larger-than-life characters. Tiny Cooper is such a character. Like Augustus, Alaska, and Margo, Tiny Cooper is one of those characters you wish were real so you could be their best friend. Seriously, these characters are fantastic.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a solid offering from two of YA contemporary fiction’s best authors. Also, the version I took the image of, includes a commentary from the two in the back, which is just fabulous and so worth reading.

Fiction, Reviews, Young Adult

Boy Meets Boy

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

Love is never easy. Especially if you’re Paul. He’s a sophomore at a high school like no other– and these are his friends:

Infinite Darlene, the homecoming queen and star quarterback

Joni, Paul’s best friend who may not be his best friend anymore

Tony, his other best friend, who can’t leave the house unless his parents think he’s going on a date…with a girl

Kyle, the ex-boyfriend who won’t go away

Rip, the school bookie, who sets the odds….

And Noah, The Boy. The one who changes everything.

I’ve been wanting to read another Levithan book since I read The Lover’s Dictionary. While I was at the library, I grabbed this and another Levithan book on the shelf. I was also hoping to read a book about the experience of gay teens and young adults. I haven’t read one since Absolute Brightness (which I need to re-read, so I can properly review it, but I remember it being exquisite!) by James Lecesne.

I’ll admit, I almost gave up on this book because it was so far outside of what I was expecting. It’s not really a spoiler since it says it right on the back of the book (which I didn’t carefully read), but Paul’s world is not really like our world. His school is populated by openly gay, lesbian, and bi characters. There are even characters who cross-dress. And nobody makes fun of them. There is none of the homophobia one would expect in a novel about teens outside the status quo.

If you think about it, it’s kind of sad that that was the reason I almost gave up. Because it was too idealized. Because it looked too much like how the world should be.

In the novel, the only characters who display any sort of homophobia, are Tony’s super-religious parents. I could dissect that as well, but I won’t. Suffice it to say, Boy Meets Boy isn’t your average book.

Once I got past the initial shock of Paul’s world, I was hooked by Levithan’s unique story-telling voice. Like his compatriot, John Green, Levithan knows how to create vivid characters. And to make first love appear every bit as poignant as we remember it to be.

As The Lover’s Dictionary was written for adults, this novel lacks a lot of that particular brand of charm. But where Levithan waxes poetic, one could easily decry it as melodramatic. Or, you could roll with it. As I did. And it’s beautiful.

I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that, contrary to this utopia-land Levithan drops us in, not everything turns up rainbows. Not everyone is happy or satisfied at the end. Not every relationship is repaired. Which makes this novel all the more delightful. The collision of idealism with realism.

Have any of you read it? What did you think? I was surprised I liked it as much as I did—I could easily have seen myself swinging the other way.

Fiction, Young Adult

NPR’s 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels

Nina posted this up on Nina Reads, but I loved the idea so much I couldn’t resist doing it myself. Books I’ve read are in bold.

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. The Hunger Games (series), by Suzanne Collins
3. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
4. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
5. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
6. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
7. The Lord of the Rings (series), by J.R.R. Tolkien
8. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
9. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
10. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
11. The Giver (series), by Lois Lowry
12. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (series), by Douglas Adams
13. The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton
14. Anne of Green Gables (series), by Lucy Maud Montgomery
15. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
16. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
17. The Princess Bride, by William Golding
18. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
19. Divergent (series), by Veronica Roth
20. Paper Towns, by John Green
21. The Mortal Instruments (series), by Cassandra Clare
22. An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green
23. Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes
24. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
25. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
26. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
27. Twilight (series), by Stephenie Meyer
28. Uglies (series), by Scott Westerfeld
29. The Infernal Devices (series), by Cassandra Clare
30. Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt
31. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
32. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (series), by Anne Brashares
33. The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
34. Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green, David Levithan
35. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
36. Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones
37. Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli
38. A Separate Peace, by John Knowles
39. Vampire Academy (series), by Richelle Mead
40. Abhorsen Trilogy Old Kingdom Trilogy (series), by Garth Nix
41. Dune, by Frank Herbert
42. Discworld Tiffany Aching (series, by Terry Pratchett
43. My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult
44. The Dark is Rising (series), by Susan Cooper
45. Graceling (series), Kristin Cashore
46. Forever…, by Judy Blume
47. Earthsea (series), by Ursula K. Le Guin
48. Inheritance Cycle (series), by Christopher Paolini
49. The Princess Diaries (series), by Meg Cabot
50. The Song of the Lioness (series), by Tamora Pierce
51. Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
52. Delirium (series), by Lauren Oliver
53. Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins
54. Hush, Hush Saga (series), by Becca Fitzpatrick
55. 13 Little Blue Envelopes, by Maureen Johnson
56. It’s Kind of a Funny Story, by Ned Vizzini
57. The Gemma Doyle Trilogy (series), by Libba Bray
58. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs
59. The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros
60. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
61. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
62. Just Listen, by Sarah Dessen
63. A Ring of Endless Light, by Madeleine L’Engle
64. The Truth About Forever, by Sarah Dessen
65. The Bartimaeus Trilogy (series), by Jonathan Stroud
66. Bloodlines (series), by Richelle Mead
67. Fallen (series), by Lauren Kate
68. House of Night (series), by P.C. Cast, Kristin Cast
69. I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith
70. Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlsit, by Rachel Cohn, David Levithan
71. Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver
72. Unwind, by Neal Shusterman
73. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
74. The Maze Runner Trilogy (series), by James Dashner
75. If I Stay, by Gayle Forman
76. The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley
77. Crank (series), by Ellen Hopkins
78. Matched (series), by Allie Condie
79. Gallagher Girls (series), by Ally Carter
80. The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale
81. Daughter of the Lioness Tricksters (series), by Tamora Pierce
82. I Am the Messenger, by Markus Zusak
83. The Immortals (series), by Tamora Pierce
84. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (series), by Patricia C. Wrede
85. Chaos Walking (series), by Patrick Ness
86. Circle of Magic (series), by Tamora Pierce
87. Daughter of Smoke & Bone, by Laini Taylor
88. Feed, by M.T. Anderson
89. Weetzie Bat (series), by Francesca Lia Block
90. Along for the Ride, by Sarah Dessen
91. Confessions of Georgia Nicolson (series), by Louise Rennison
92. Leviathan (series), by Scott Westerfeld
93. The House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer
94. The Chronicles of Chrestomanci (series), by Diana Wynne Jones
95. This Lullaby, by Sarah Dessen
96. Gone (series), by Michael Grant
97. The Shiver Trilogy (series), by Maggie Stiefvater
98. The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley
99. Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson
100. Betsy-Tacy Books (series), by Maud Hart Lovelace
I’ve read 41, with more already on my bookshelves. How about you?

Fiction, Young Adult

Paper Towns

Paper Towns by John Green

Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back into his life—dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge— he follows. After their all-nighter ends, and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues— and they’re for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees the girl he thought he knew.

This is only my second John Green novel. I read The Fault in Our Stars a couple months ago. After greatly enjoying it, I was more than ready to take on a second Green novel.

This one did not disappoint. I really enjoyed the relationship between Q and Margo. I understood Q, because I was a little bit of a Q in high school. Margo Roth Spiegelman is a great character: she’s adventurous and crazy. She’s even inspired me to have my own Margo-esque adventure. By the time you read this, it will be done and I will hopefully have not been arrested, fined, or otherwise penalized. 🙂

Most of all, I was again blown away by the sheer genius that is John Green. It would be a major spoiler if I told you exactly what a Paper Town is (of course, you could Google it). But it’s so perfectly obscure and clever and interesting that I am astounded. John Green is the perfect example of what writers try and cultivate: observant sponges. In the two novels I’ve read, both feature things that are so obscure they are only happened upon by chance. But of course, literally anything and everything can serve as inspiration. Keep your eyes open to the world around you. Anything can stumble in, if you provide the path.

The ending took me a bit by surprise. I didn’t really see it coming, but in retrospect, if Green had done anything else I would have been disappointed. It’s kind of hard to review this novel since so much of it would be spoilers. But suffice it to say, I loved it. Go read it. Just do it.