Tag Archives: YA

Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury

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This was a book that I was drawn to by the cover, which I don’t usually say. The art is gorgeous, as you can see. It looked like an interesting book, right away – and it was!

Agnes is a reluctant debutante (were they all reluctant? Or just the ones worth writing about?) in 1800s England. She speaks about 14 languages (felt a LITTLE far-fetched to me, but I suppose there are people that talented. Unlike me.), she’s obsessed with Jane Austen books (before Austen had been revealed! The books were by “A Lady” then!).

Sorry, that’s a lot of parenthesis. Moving on. Agnes is awesome, and she is dragged around to dress fittings and garden parties by her lovingly enthusiastic mother. The mother actually reminds me of the mom from “She’s the Man”, which I mean as a compliment. She’s not mean, she’s not trying to force her daughter to do these things – she just sees it as a coming of age and a very exciting time, and wants desperately to be there herself again. And she loves the gowns, and the fuss. Agnes does not, nor does she like the man who half of London is expecting her to marry. Lord Showalter is a bit of a snob, though Agnes has a hard time thinking anything really mean about him. He’s just boring, and she doesn’t love him.

But, she plays nice, and lets herself be courted. It’s at one of Lord Showalter’s parties that her life changes drastically. He has hosted an “unwrapping party” – which was apparently in vogue – rich people would buy mummies for the museums, and then host these parties, where their guests got to hack the wrappings apart and keep little trinkets from the body – charms and figurines buried with the mummy. The remains of the remains went to the museums, and they were glad to have them, I guess. Makes me cringe to think of how badly those precious relics were butchered and scattered. Erg.

Anyhow – Agnes is first up at the mummy, and though she and I agree on the whole hacking apart mummies thing, she goes for it anyway so she doesn’t look like a coward. In the wrappings, she finds a small metal figurine of a dog’s head. She gets to keep it – at least until the museum realizes that the party got the wrong mummy, and they actually need this one back, and everything that was wrapped with it. Agnes keeps the figurine, for reasons she manages to justify to herself.

Then someone is killed, houses are ransacked, and everyone is convinced there is a curse of the mummy – and he’s after the figurine Agnes kept! Agnes is mortified that she kept the figurine, but doesn’t want to raise a fuss or admit to anyone that she had it. So, she sneaks to the British Museum and enlists the help of a young – and very gorgeous – museum worker. Agnes and Caedmon (excellent name!) become friends and partners in solving the mystery of the figurine – which turns out to be the key in an international conspiracy plot by Napoleon himself!

The stakes get quite a bit higher now that Agnes realizes crown and country are in danger. She and Caedmon must outwit some very clever bad guys to save their country and their own lives.

In general, I liked this book. Agnes is a great heroine, very down to earth and I loved her inner monologue. I was a little skeptical of the ending, it felt very convenient, and not terribly realistic. But it made you cheer for the characters nonetheless. I really enjoyed the historical fiction aspect, I really had no idea Londoners unwrapped mummies like this! The author does note at the end that she messed with the timeline a little to fit her plot, but I’m fine with that. It certainly made for a fun story.

The little romance was very cute as well. Again, little too happy of an ending, but hey – isn’t that what novels are for sometimes?

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

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This book is adorable. And rather hard to put down. Anna is a fun character with a bleached streak in her hair and the unusual goal to become a movie critic. We meet her on the eve of being shipping off to boarding school in Paris. She’s less than thrilled. This was a tough moment for me, since I would be jumping up and down like a mad thing if I got the chance to go to school in Paris. But I totally get that she’s mostly mad that she didn’t get a choice, and also pretty scared about being on her own in Paris at 17. She’s leaving her disfunctional-but-loved family, her best friend Bridgette, and her almost-maybe-boyfriend-guy Toph.

When she gets to Paris she is pretty timid, and refuses to go out by herself or order food in French. But she quickly gets absorbed by a wonderful group of friends who help break her out of her shell and get her to love Paris. There’s her neighbor Meredith, soccer (sorry – football!) nut and chocolat chaud lover. There’s the couple, Josh and Rashmi…and then there’s Etienne St. Clair. The beautiful boy with the British accent, the perfect hair, and…the girlfriend.

Anna is instantly smitten, but talks herself down time and time again, knowing he is in a serious relationship. They become great friends, and spend a lot of time together exploring Paris. Etienne seems attracted to her, but still spends time with his girlfriend Ellie, which confuses Anna to no end. Etienne tells her that she is beautiful, and he relies on her heavily when his mom is diagnosed with cancer. They are the only ones in the dorm for Thanksgiving break, which leads to all sorts of wonderful moments – this was a highlight of the book for me. They are so sweet and confused and innocent. Like I said, adorable. However, even after their amazing Thanksgiving together, Anna and Etienne are still confused and awkward. Ellie is still in the picture, and Anna is getting frustrated and decides to revisit the idea of dating Toph. Even with the tension between them mounting, Anna and Etienne talk constantly while they are apart for Christmas break. Etienne is the one Anna calls when she finds out that her best friend Bridgette has started dating Toph. Anna and Etienne seem on the verge of something great, but it all falls apart when they get back to school.

Anna has reached the end of her patience with the Etienne/Ellie situation, and she has a sort of breakdown. She makes some bad choices, and does a lot of yelling. It was a low point for the character, but I was also proud of her for telling Etienne that she was upset with his choices and telling him what she wanted. I alterenated between being all “oh, honey no, don’t do that…” to cheering for her in the next chapter. All in all, pretty natural teenage reaction.

I won’t spoil the end, but this is a romantic book, so I’ll leave it at that.

All in all, pretty sugary, but I loved it. Loved the Paris setting, really enjoyed the characters, both main and secondary. The situation and reactions were realistic. Very cute. Good for Sarah Dessen fans. Looking forward to reading Perkin’s other book – “Lola and the Boy Next Door”. I read that it’s a companion novel, I’m interested to find out how – there was no Lola character in “Anna”.

The Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

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This was an epic, haunting, mythological story. Karou is the main character, a high school student living in Prague (though she has not always lived there). She attends a fabulous high school for the arts that I am supremely jealous of. However, her life is strange, even for an art student. She was raised by a strange creature called Brimstone, who might possibly be a demon. He calls on her at all hours to run weird errands all over the world (through magic portal doors – I want one!). He requires teeth – human and animal, and the payment is wishes. Karou doesn’t really question this – after all, she grew up with it, but she does have a lot of questions about her origins, and these errands are starting to overwhelm her. Her best friend is a wonderful, feisty character called Zuzana who keeps Karou rooted in the real world. While Zuzana has seen Karou’s sketches of Brimstone and the other strange creatures in her life, she assumes they are fantasies.

Karou is starting to feel a bit put-upon and rebellious towards Brimstone, when suddenly an errand goes terribly wrong, and she ends up in a fight for her life with an incredibly beautiful angel. The angel, Akiva, is working with a group of angels called The Fallen to close the magic portals and get rid of Brimstone and the other Chimera.

However, even as the portals burn, Akiva finds himself leaving his fellow Seraphim and going to find Karou. They are drawn to each other, but soon Karou discovers they are mortal enemies in a supernatural and ancient war. Regardless, they fall in love. Such a good love story. Can’t say too much or I’ll spoil it, but this is not your run of the mill Romeo and Juliet story.

This is the first in a series, which I didn’t know until the end of the book came like an unexpected wall in the dark. I was so swept up in the gorgeous writing and the epic plot, then WHAM. Over. I think I actually gasped a little when I realized I wasn’t getting any more answers. This whole world opened up, and you just get a glimpse, and then it’s gone until the next book.

Karou is a fantastic character. She’s smart and sarcastic, but genuine and loyal to the people she cares about. Her apartment is decorated with finds from markets all over the world. One of her wishes from Brimstone gave her bright blue hair without needing dye. She jaunts around the world like it’s no big deal, having had these portals since childhood – she actually grumbles about having to go to Paris. Lucky girl. I just loved her, and I want to be her.  And the writing – oh, it’s beautiful. Classic Laini Taylor. There were sentences I just had to read again and again to savor the words. So lyrical and unusual.

I can’t say enough about this book! So many stars! It’s so unusual in such a good way – the setting, the characters, the language – it’s nothing we’ve seen before, thank goodness! In a world full of copycat books, this is a pure original.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

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This was such a gorgeous and harrowing book. It is the story of 15 year old Lina, a promising artist with a close family who is taken in 1941 from her home in Lithuania by the Russians and put into a labor camp. She manages to stay with her mother and younger brother, but their father is taken seperately, and jailed far away from the rest of the family. Lina and her mother and brother are forced on a terrible journey in a dirty train car to Siberia. They form unique bonds with their fellow travellers, and everyone copes with the events in their own desperate way. They end up at a forced labor camp, and are cruelly worked with very little food. The illness and humiliation are horrible.

But somehow, Lina and her fellow prisoners find ways to survive. They steal food and firewood from the soldiers, they hold secret Christmas parties, and Lina draws pictures. She draws the people she has met, maps the places they have been taken, and hopes to pass these drawings along, person to person, until they reach her father in prison.

Lina also has a romance, with fellow prisoner Andrius. The circumstances are obviously not ideal for falling in love, but the two learn to help and trust each other. I loved their romance, and how they managed to communicate even when Lina gets taken to a new camp far away – with a book that Andrius gives her.

This was so well written. Such a good cry, and good history. It made real for me a period in history that gets skipped over in school. A period in history none of us should forget.

Also loved all the comments about the artist Munch. He’s Lina’s favorite, and she talks about him and his work all the time, and draws strength from it.

Gorgeous book, and something I think people need to read. Good for a large range of ages, but it does get a bit graphic in parts, describing all they go through.

The Summer I Learned to Fly by Dana Reinhardt

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This was a quick read, but very touching and real. Drew is a quiet 13-year-old with no true friends besides her mom and her pet rat, Hum. She helps out at her mom’s gourmet cheese shop in a city in between LA and San Francisco. Drew keeps to herself, pondering the weird world of Jr High and reading “The Book of Lists” – a notebook written by her father, who passed away when Drew was three.

Then one day she meets Emmett Crane, a boy who is constantly hungry, and bears mysterious scars. They are drawn to one another, but it takes a few rocky starts before they trust each other enough to divulge secrets. Drew finds out that Emmett has run away from home, and is seeking a miracle. He plans to find a hot spring that was in a legend he was told as a child. This hot spring is supposed to bring healing for the people you love. Emmett’s brother never learned to talk, and they have no money to get him help. Emmett is willing to risk everything to help his brother, and Drew quickly gets swept up in helping him reach his goal. She has to make some big decisions, and risks damaging her relationship with her mother in order to start breaking some rules to help her friend.

I loved this book – it felt so real. Drew and Emmett are such great characters, and their friendship is great. They’re 13 and 14, so there is plenty of awkwardness and tension, but also just real, genuine friendship. I loved that they were a boy and a girl who were just friends – the author didn’t feel the need to pair them off, send them to college together and live happily ever after. They share one sweet kiss, then part ways.

I also loved the mother-daughter relationship. Since it’s been just the two of them for so long, they have a fun and trusting relationship, but Drew is classically 13 – pushing boundaries and feeling misunderstood, yet missing all the struggle her mother is going through. Drew never sets out to hurt her mother, but ultimately puts her through a lot of worry. On the other hand, her mother doesn’t really take the time to listen to WHY Drew is suddenly breaking rules. In general, very realistic and believable.

Loved it. Go read it!

The Dagger Quick by Brian Eames

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This is a classic young-boy-falls-in-with-pirates story, but man is it good! Kitto has a clubfoot, and is convinced by his father that this makes him unfit to follow his dreams and go to sea. When his mysterious pirate uncle shows up and his father is killed, Kitto heads off on the adventure of a lifetime to avenge his father and save his mother and brother. Kitto’s ship is full of pirates, but they are realistic in that they are a rather motley crew who are just trying to make a living. The other ship, however, is more your typical pirate villians. A creepy captain with a severed nose and a fondness for murder and mayhem has Kitto’s remaining family on board his ship as ransom. Kitto is determined to rescue them, but his uncle is feeling torn about surrendering the barrels of expensive nutmeg that he has waited many long years to reclaim. The Uncle is a great character, very well-rounded and has many human failings, but ultimately has you cheering for him. Kitto is pure gold – love him. His mother taught him to visualize the outcome he wants and believe with all his heart that something will be so. This helps him through countless dangerous and difficult situations. He is so determined and brave and real. Just lovely. The minor characters have great backstories and depth to them as well, even characters that only get one or two lines.

This book was clearly well researched, and Eames teaches middle school, which has helped him find a voice that young readers will love.

This is a must read, and would appeal to many ages and both boys and girls.

Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series

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The Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld

I flew through these books (pun intended.) – loved the steampunk world, the alternate history, the characters…ooh everything. This is going to be a very gushy review, bear with me. It has World War 1, but with genetically fabricated creatures, mechanical creatures and crazy machines. The alternate history didn’t feel far-fetched, and we still got all the classic things that make the World War 1 era so fascinating. It was such a time of change and discovery – something which Westerfeld uses to great advantage.

The main characters, Deryn Sharp and Prince Aleksander were fabulous. Deryn dresses as a boy to join the British Air Service on board the Leviathan, a fabricated “beastie” that resembles a giant whale. That flies. When the ship is shot down in the middle of the icy Alps, she meets Alek, a prince on the run from the people who killed his father – who just happens to be Franz Ferdinand. No big deal. The two form a deep friendship and become allies even though they are technically on opposite sides of the war. Deryn trusts Alek, and even starts to feel something more than friendship, but can she trust him with her greatest secret and reveal her gender? Alek’s journey is complex and well-written. He must break free of the sheltered world of his childhood and become an independent person. He is dealing with the guilt of feeling as if his birth caused the war, and wondering if he has a way to put it to a stop.

This is such a fast-paced, detailed series – I’m glad I started reading them right before the third book (Goliath) came out. Waiting around for these would have been awful! These could be great for a large age range. There isn’t anything really “grown-up” in these books. The characters swear, but Westerfeld has made up his own new lexicon of creative swear words. I haven’t seen many kids reading these – not sure the steampunk genre has taken off in the real world like it has in my head…but I’d love to get these more popular. They’re just fascinating, and the illustrations by Keith Thompson (no relation!) are superb.

And the ending. Oh, the ending. The trilogy kept me on the edge of my seat, and did not disappoint in the least at the end. It was one of those endings that had me tearing up and cheering at the same time. I don’t want to spoil anything, but…just…oh. So good.

Easily the best YA books I’ve read recently. Go read them!

Scott Westerfeld’s Website: http://scottwesterfeld.com/