ARC Review: Run by Kody Keplinger

BookReview

Written by: Kody Keplinger
Release Date: June 28th 2016
Pages: 288, hardcover
Series: standalone
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BookBo Dickinson is a girl with a wild reputation, a deadbeat dad, and a mama who’s not exactly sober most of the time. Everyone in town knows the Dickinsons are a bad lot, but Bo doesn’t care what anyone thinks.

Agnes Atwood has never gone on a date, never even stayed out past ten, and never broken any of her parents’ overbearing rules. Rules that are meant to protect their legally blind daughter — protect her from what, Agnes isn’t quite sure.

Despite everything, Bo and Agnes become best friends. And it’s the sort of friendship that runs truer and deeper than anything else.

So when Bo shows up in the middle of the night, with police sirens wailing in the distance, desperate to get out of town, Agnes doesn’t hesitate to take off with her. But running away and not getting caught will require stealing a car, tracking down Bo’s dad, staying ahead of the authorities, and — worst of all — confronting some ugly secrets.

LetsTalk

As anyone who knows me can probably tell you, I live for books focusing on friendship, especially female friendship. While the book world has given me more of these stories lately (thank you, book world) there still aren’t nearly enough. So when I read this book’s summary, I basically whispered “thank god” to myself. And when I read the book itself, my heart basically turned into a pile of jelly and I cried a lot because the story was so beautiful.

Run is up there with Code Name Verity for me as one of the loveliest friendship love stories in YA. The POV is split between Agnes, a legally blind girl heavily sheltered by her parents, and Bo, who has a troubled home life and a bad reputation. Agnes narrates the past, telling the story of how the girls met, while Bo’s POV’s show their escape months later. Both Bo and Agnes have authentic and distinct voices, and I loved the ways they helped each other grow. Both Bo and Agnes feel trapped in their small town, and both know what it’s like to be boxed in by others, seen as a stereotype rather than a full person. By the end of the book they’re each other’s home and I cry a lot.

I can’t talk enough about how gorgeous this book is. Kody Keplinger builds this vivid rural setting and makes it feel so vivid and so suffocating. Bo and Agnes’s friendship is sincere and gutwrenching, as is their amazing development throughout the book. In addition, Kody Keplinger, like Agnes, is blind, making this a really important portrayal of disability in YA. Run is gorgeous, and a must-read if you’re interested in contemporaries that focus on girl friendship or accurately portray disability.

Didn'tWork

I’m starting to understand why Sondra has so much trouble with this section. I did rate this book 4.5 rather than 5, but that has less to do with any concrete issues I had and more with the fact that I save my 5’s for books I want to shout to everyone I ever met about, and this book isn’t quite that, although now that I’m writing the review I’m thinking it might be. I maybe would have liked more fall-out after the end (but I’m also fine with the way it was).

DidWork

Bo and Agnes are just 100% solid characters. They may seem like archetypes at first, and maybe they are, a little, but Keplinger’s writing fills out the lines and makes them so heart-achingly believable, and they don’t always make the decisions you would expect them to make based on their descriptions. And the character development! Agnes standing up for herself and actively pursuing her independence, Bo learning to run to people instead of just running away…it all felt so beautiful and nuanced and real. And I’ve already talked about how much I love the friendship, so I’ll just leave this here.

The pacing is excellent, and I love the format with alternating POVs. Agnes shows us a beautifully developing friendship and the frustration of growing up with such a limited future, and Bo’s chapter’s are basically a combination of tension and excitement and PAIN. I always felt like we spent just the right amount of time in one POV before switching over to the other. The book kept me waiting for the reveal of why the girls ran away, and when I got there it was worth the wait.

As noted before: Agnes is a blind character written by a blind author, and even though I don’t know enough to comment on specific details, I could absolutely tell the author understood what she was talking about.

Other things I loved: Bo’s bisexuality. The fact that Agnes has to grapple with her religious beliefs when she finds out that Bo is bisexual (because that kind of thing is rarely ever included, and even more rarely given the nuanced treatment it has here). Believable secondary characters. Poetry.

PickupPick up. It will make you feel things.

Sondra

Book Review: Soldier by Julie Kagawa

BookReview

Written by: Julie Kagawa
Release Date: April 26th 2016
Pages: 380, hardcover
Series: Talon, #3
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Book
The price of freedom is everything.

When forced to choose between safety with the dragon organization Talon and being hunted forever as an outcast, Ember Hill chose to stand with Riley and his band of rogue dragons rather than become an assassin for Talon. She’s lost any contact with her twin brother, Dante, a Talon devotee, as well as Garret, the former-enemy soldier who challenged her beliefs about her human side.

As Ember and Riley hide and regroup to fight another day, Garret journeys alone to the United Kingdom, birthplace of the ancient and secret Order of St. George, to spy on his former brothers and uncover deadly and shocking secrets that will shake the foundations of dragons and dragonslayers alike and place them all in imminent danger as Talon’s new order rises.

LetsTalk

Ohh these Talon books. I know so many who have DNF’d them (My lovely co-blogger Polina for one). These books aren’t hard hitting ground breaking Throne of Glass type books. They just quite simply aren’t. But with all of that being said there is one more super important thing to say: I. Love. Them. When I was at TLA and they were giving out the finished copy of Soldier I waited in line for nearly an hour until they closed down the both to be handed it. I didn’t even care that the other booths were handing out arcs, I needed Dragons in my life.

I was not disappointed.

I should note here that I actually was able to keep spoilers pretty much out of this entire review so no matter what you can read this one.

This book was, pretty much as promised, Garret’s story, which I am always here for. Garret somehow is one of those characters that I just love and adore and I want to put him in a special padded room that keeps all authors away from him. Don’t ask me exactly what it is about him either, I’m not sure. But point is that I was thrilled to see so much of his past and what made him who he is.

But rather than this turning into another letter to Julie to leave Garret alone we’ll just move forward with the review.

Didn'tWork

So let’s be honest here there’s a reason why the series gets DNF’d a lot. We hinge on a Love Triangle more than Twilight does in these books. I’m still not sure where the love triangle is gonna go here because it isn’t obvious like a lot of books. I know where my heart is pulling me and I know where Kagawa had better go, but we’ll just wait and see I guess. In Soldier that gets brought to the front more than any other, we see Ember struggling with her choices from the last book, and maybe, maybe(?) making a choice. But with two more books to go it wouldn’t surprise me to see things spiraling again.

Since I am such a free floater with this book I let a lot of things slide, I have no doubt. I go into these books with low expectations and so it meets them every single time. Do I understand that a book like this has flaws? Oh lord yes. But do I let myself dwell on them while I’m reading them? Nope.

Once again Julie, that cliffhanger. I’m serious. You’d better fix this. FIX IT WOMAN.

DidWork

Alright so here’s the thing about these books. Take all of that Did Not Work stuff and put it with this. This book is the one that you can read while it’s raining outside and you just settle in with these characters, because even though things are rather simple, the truth is? The characters are wonderful, the plot is easy to follow and keep up with, it’s a simple little float along book. There is nothing I love more in this world than that….and dragons.

Dragons. Period. End of did work. Dragons. D R A G O N S.

Ember is finally making really smart choices, she’s starting to come into her own and she’s starting to realize this is a war and she’s gonna have to fight in it, but that doesn’t mean she has to lose herself while she fights in it. Yes she’s growing up, but she’s holding onto who she is in essence.

Pickup

So if you’ve made it to book three with Talon I highly doubt my words here will or won’t get you to pick up, especially after the cliffhanger that was Rogue. BUT if you haven’t picked up Talon? Try it out. Seriously. You might find a new series that you really love.

Sondra

DNF Review: Ugly by Margaret McHeyzer

Written by: Margaret McHeyzer
Release Date: October 26, 2015
Pages: ???
Series: Standalone
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Thanks so much to NetGalley for this eARC!

Book

If I were dead, I wouldn’t be able to see.
If I were dead, I wouldn’t be able to feel.
If I were dead, he’d never raise his hand to me again.
If I were dead, his words wouldn’t cut as deep as they do.
If I were dead, I’d be beautiful and I wouldn’t be so…ugly.
I’m not dead…but I wish I was.

*This is a dark YA/NA stand-alone, full-length novel. Contains violence.

DNF

Around 70%. For a while I was going to finish it because I was curious to see how it ended, but then school started and my reading time was cut in half and I’m not going to waste what little I have on a book I’m not really enjoying.

LetsTalk

I really wish I liked this book better than I did. I respect what the author was trying to do–show the effects of abuse on a young woman, and how, with the help of those who loved her and through her own strength, she survived the horrors of her past and built a life for herself. Unfortunately, the writing in the book was so cliche and lacking that, as much as I appreciate the intentions behind it, I can’t appreciate the book itself.

Most of the characters are just so one-dimensional. Stereotypical abuse victim, stereotypical abusers #1 and #2, stereotypical best friend, etc. Once you get beyond the tropes, there isn’t much to them at all. Lily, the protagonist, is by far the best developed, but even she feels thinly sketched out. Everything is completely black and white. Every other character is either perfectly supportive and thinks Lily is the best thing under the sun, or they’re cruel to her For The Evulz and probably kick puppies in their spare time.

It also doesn’t help that the dialogue is so cringeworthy. Nearly every line that Lily’s father and Trent said was so over-the-top, look-at-me-I’m-a-terrible-person that I found myself rolling my eyes a lot. It didn’t feel like the dialogue came from the characters–it felt like they were saying it because it was something an abuser would say. It felt more like a health class PSA than a book.

Actually, the overall writing is…not great. Lily’s voice sounds the same when she’s twelve, seventeen, and twenty-five. At first I thought it was intentional, to show the effects of her abuse. After all, having no contact with anyone but her abusive father her entire life would definitely have an effect on her development. But I kept reading, and even when Lily grew, her narrative voice didn’t.

Finally, certain bits of the book just seemed very implausible. For example, at one point Lily’s principal calls her to the office to tell her that she had been sent full scholarships from a bunch of universities she hadn’t applied to, and that admission officers from the universities (the top universities in the country!) had contacted him to find out why she hadn’t replied. Now, Lily’s GPA of 3.9 is a good one, but thousands of teenagers all over the country have GPAs that high and higher, and a lot of those teenagers also have extracurricular activities and leadership experience, and, oh yeah, actually applied to these schools. That kind of thing was overly convenient and just lazy writing.

DidWork

Even if the portrayal of abuse was cliched, it was realistic. The long-lasting effects of the abuse Lily experienced were accurately shown, and watching her struggle to overcome them made for some genuinely powerful moments. Her growth and her journey towards hope and happiness felt true-to-life and very satisfying. I appreciated that Margaret McHeyzer directly challenged victim-blaming mentality and showed why it was so difficult for abuse victims to leave their abusers (but also showed that it could be done).

I also enjoyed some secondary characters, such as Lily’s best friend Shayne and Shayne’s husband Liam. They were so wonderfully supportive of Lily that it warmed my heart, and they were responsible for some of the funniest lines in the book.

At the time I left off, there was a guy who it seemed was being set up as a love interest for Lily. I like that, while said love interest was helpful to Lily, he was never credited as the one who “saved” or “healed” her; that honor would go to Lily’s friends and to Lily herself. There are so many stories about love healing someone from a traumatic experience that it was really refreshing to see Ugly deviate from that. (Also, he has a stutter, which isn’t something I’ve seen in his type of character before. That was a nice detail.)

tl;dr: I wish this book had been better written, because it has some messages a lot of people need to hear. Unfortunately, instead it was…this.

Sondra

ARC Review: What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

Written by: Robin Talley
Release Date: October 27, 2015
Pages: 416, hardcover
Series: Standalone
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Thank you to Harlequin Teen for sending me an ARC!

Book
From the critically acclaimed author of Lies We Tell Ourselves comes an emotional, empowering story of what happens when love isn’t enough to conquer all.

Toni and Gretchen are the couple everyone envied in high school. They’ve been together forever. They never fight. They’re deeply, hopelessly in love. When they separate for their first year at college—Toni to Harvard and Gretchen to NYU—they’re sure they’ll be fine. Where other long-distance relationships have fallen apart, their relationship will surely thrive.

The reality of being apart, however, is a lot different than they expected. As Toni, who identifies as genderqueer, falls in with a group of transgender upperclassmen and immediately finds a sense of belonging that has always been missing, Gretchen struggles to remember who she is outside their relationship.

While Toni worries that Gretchen, who is not trans, just won’t understand what is going on, Gretchen begins to wonder where she fits in Toni’s life. As distance and Toni’s shifting gender identity begins to wear on their relationship, the couple must decide—have they grown apart for good, or is love enough to keep them together?

LetsTalkWhat We Left Behind is different from other YA books in three major ways. First, it takes place in college–pretty self explanatory, and an interesting change of pace for me, since I am also a college student. Second, it focuses on a romantic relationship between two characters who have already been together for quite some time, who obviously love each other a lot but are going through a difficult period. Again, a pretty different dynamic from a whole lot of contemporary YA, which focuses on the process of getting together. But of course, there’s more to it than that; people change, situations change, relationships change. The book dealing with this gave it a more mature edge that I liked a lot. Third, one of the two protagonists, Toni, has an arc focusing on exploration of gender identity, which, for obvious reasons, is something we need more of in the book world.

To be honest, I don’t know if it handled the issues it wanted to handle as well as it could have; I plan to talk about some of the problems I had later on. The book also didn’t always keep my interest, and I sometimes had trouble keeping track of the secondary characters. Compared to Lies We Tell Ourselves, I actually found this book pretty disappointing. However, I loved the relationship between the two main characters, the way both of them grew throughout the story, and the portrayal of long-distance relationships. More than anything, I hope the ideas discussed in this book will act as a stepping stone for more representation of different gender identities in YA.

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ARC Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Written by: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Release Date: October 20, 2015
Pages: 608, Hardback
Series: The Illuminae Files, #1
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Thanks to RandomHouse for the ARC!

Book

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.

This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

LetsTalk

Alright, Illuminae. Who isn’t talking about this book? Who hasn’t heard about this book already? It seems like everyone has been super crazy excited about this one. For those of you who don’t know about the book, yes it’s a space age war with a pandemic, and a good old evil Artificial Intelligence(AI) thrown in for balance. But the thing that sets Illuminae apart from every other book you’re going to read this year is it isn’t set up in the typical book format. The story is told through documents, transcripts, sometimes even drawings or propaganda that’s been found. It’s all compiled by the Illuminae group for reading.

There are few things I love more than high fantasy but sci-fi is one of those things. But it has to be well done sci-fi. Or else I wind up comparing it to my one true love: Star Trek. I’m such a Trekkie it’s a life-long problem honestly, and I’m okay with that, it’s in my blood. My mother watched Next Generation as it aired live, I watched from my high chair ‘cause I was three. (Fun side story: My parents had a groomsman in their wedding that had a hanger set up as the full deck of the Enterprise, and he and friends dressed up and acted out episodes. Forever will I be angry that I never got to go.)

But back on track now, Illuminae, and my love of it. I feel like I could make my entire review ALDFJLEIORHALSDKJ and still not fully encapsulate how much I LOVED THIS BOOK. But I swear I’ll get more in depth of this book once I get through this next section…somehow.

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ARC Review: This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzie Lee

Written by: Mackenzie Lee
Release Date: September 22, 2015
Pages: 384, Hardback
Series: Standalone
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Thanks to HarperCollins and Edelweiss for the e-ARC!

Book

In 1818 Geneva, men built with clockwork parts live hidden away from society, cared for only by illegal mechanics called Shadow Boys. Two years ago, Shadow Boy Alasdair Finch’s life shattered to bits.

His brother, Oliver—dead.

His sweetheart, Mary—gone.

His chance to break free of Geneva—lost.

Heart-broken and desperate, Alasdair does the unthinkable: He brings Oliver back from the dead.

But putting back together a broken life is more difficult than mending bones and adding clockwork pieces. Oliver returns more monster than man, and Alasdair’s horror further damages the already troubled relationship.

Then comes the publication of Frankenstein and the city intensifies its search for Shadow Boys, aiming to discover the real life doctor and his monster. Alasdair finds refuge with his idol, the brilliant Dr. Geisler, who may offer him a way to escape the dangerous present and his guilt-ridden past, but at a horrible price only Oliver can pay…

LetsTalk

I won’t lie, this book would’ve been one of those books that I added to my TBR on GoodReads, completely forgot about, and then years later gave up and deleted off. It happens to far more books than I’m cool with admitting. But a few things wound up happening that changed that, namely I met the author while she was working. I kinda stalked her, then all awkwardly jumped over and asked her to sign my autograph book. It was such a fun interaction that I knew this book had to be bumped up my list and started ASAP.

This Monstrous Thing does start out with a huge impact, it’s the classic Frankenstein scene that we all have seen portrayed in some format or another (Pretty sure my first time watching it was Veggie Tales, but I digress). But from that one iconic moment forward everything is changed and rewritten. Not only do we jump forward two years in the lives of the characters, but everything has seemingly fallen apart for Alastair, he’s suddenly seemingly alone, there’s also no sign of his monster, or the girl he was in love with, Mary.

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Mini ARC Review: George by Alex Gino

Written by: Alex Gino
Release Date: August 25, 2015
Pages: 240, Hardback
Series: Standalone
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Thanks to Scholastic for the ARC!

Book

BE WHO YOU ARE.

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

LetsTalk

My first reaction to George: I’m just so happy it exists! Considering how many children realize they’re trans in elementary school, it’s kind of ridiculous that there are barely any books like this one for them. (I didn’t fully understand what ‘transgender’ even meant until I was thirteen-ish, which is way too late). Transgender kids need books with characters they can relate to, to show them that they aren’t alone and they can find happiness. Cisgender children need to understand what the word ‘transgender’ means and be able to empathize with and support their transgender peers. This book is so, so important and I’m very glad to have read it.

(Note: I’m calling the main character ‘Melissa’ here because that’s her chosen name; however, for most of the book the narration refers to her as George. I think pairing the name George with female pronouns in the narration and then switching to calling her Melissa at the end was an amazingly effective narrative choice, by the way.)

The book presents Melissa’s struggles in an effective and sometimes heartbreaking way. In one scene that hits me particularly hard, Melissa’s mother (who at this point doesn’t know she’s a girl) tells her, “You’ll always be my baby boy,” and doesn’t realize how hurtful this is for her. I just wanted to give Melissa a hug at this point. I also appreciated this book showcasing how much traditional gender roles are pushed on children, and how badly people can react when someone doesn’t follow their assigned gender role. Even adults who mean well can get it very wrong.

But in general, this is an optimistic book. I was honestly smiling so hard by the end. I was so proud of Melissa for showing everyone who she was. Melissa’s friend Kelly was amazing and supportive and cute, and while her mother didn’t react too well at first, by the end of the book she was willing to accept her. By the last scene, my heart was pretty much bursting with joy.

Basically, I loved this book. It’s short, simple, emotionally honest, and hopeful, and I cannot express enough how happy I am that it exists.

Polina

Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Written by: Patrick Ness
Release Date: September 27, 2011
Pages: 205, Hardback
Series: Standalone
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Book

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

LetsTalk

This review will be pretty short, just as the book was pretty short, but I wanted to express my appreciation for the general amazingness of the story, so here we are! My review will almost definitely not do this book justice, but I want to scream about it a little anyway.

This book is not what I thought it would be from the cover, which seemed to scream “creepy horror story! do not read before bed time!” Really, it was more along the lines of “deeply upsetting story! do not read on public transportation!” (I did, in fact, read a significant part of it on public transportation). A Monster Calls is about a boy who is isolated and angry and hurting. It’s about grief and lies and truth and the power of stories. And even though the topics it deals with are painful, there are notes of optimism.

There’s a bit of a children’s-book feel in the writing, but it’s not really a children’s book, or at least, not just for children. A Monster Calls combines a fairy-tale-like tone with one of the most honest portrayals of grief and loss I have ever seen. It hurts, but in a good way, you know, and in a way that always feels genuine and not manufactured. The sentences are the kind that you reread over and over so they can get into your heart just right. The art is unique and beautiful and strengthens the effect of the words. The story is deeply human, powerful and memorable.

Didn'tWork

I usually have at least one or two nitpicks to put into this section. This time I have nothing, not even “I wanted more of ______”. This book was perfect pretty much the way it was.

DidWork

 

I like the simplicity in this book. Or maybe that’s not the right word, because because behind the simple plot and writing are some beautifully portrayed complicated emotions, but anyway–this isn’t an “everything happens so much” type of book like so many others I’ve read this year. It’s quiet and personal, all the better to keep the focus on the emotions it evokes in the reader. I felt Conor’s pain, and his relationships with his mother and grandmother did things to my heart. And unlike some books, which almost seems to be pushing certain feelings on the reader, the writing here is very subtle and the emotions so raw and honest and effective.

I love this book’s emphasis on stories: their power, their sometimes-ambiguity, the truth they contain. “The power of words” is a pretty frequent theme in books, authors being authors, but the way it’s done in this book is incredibly memorable.

Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?

To tell the truth, it’s difficult for me to pick out individual things I love because this book works so well as a whole. The writing, in all its simplicity, is lovely and lyrical. I don’t think I can talk enough about how much I love it. Likewise, the illustrations are breathtaking.

Pickup

Pick up. I don’t say this often, but A Monster Calls is a book that everyone definitely needs to read.

Polina

Series Review: The Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

Written by: Brandon Sanderson
Release Date: July 25, 2006
Books:  The Final Empire (#1), The Well of Ascension (#2), The Hero of Ages (#3)
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Book

In a world where ash falls from the sky, and mist dominates the night, an evil cloaks the land and stifles all life. The future of the empire rests on the shoulders of a troublemaker and his young apprentice. Together, can they fill the world with color once more?

In Brandon Sanderson’s intriguing tale of love, loss, despair and hope, a new kind of magic enters the stage – Allomancy, a magic of the metals.

LetsTalk

I may or may not be screaming internally right now, which is particularly impressive since at the moment I’m writing this, it’s been over a week since I finished the last book. Brandon Sanderson just has that effect, apparently.

As you can probably tell by now, this trilogy is among some of my favorite books of the year so far.

Here’s the thing: I liked Steelheart, the only Brandon Sanderson book I’d read before this, but I didn’t love it the way a lot of other people did. So I was expecting the Mistborn trilogy to have that kind of ‘like-but-don’t-love’ effect on me as well. I already knew to expect amazing plots and worldbuilding and twists from Brandon Sanderson, and this series very much delivered them; I can’t count the amount of times I had to put down my kindle to remind myself to breathe because the plot had taken a turn I really wasn’t expecting. What I didn’t expect was the equally amazing character development, or the emotional hold the story would come to have over me. I read the last half of The Hero of Ages in one day (the week I had a paper due, no less) because I needed to see what happened.

!!!!!!!!!!!

I know the length of the trilogy might be a deterrent for some people, but the only time I really felt the length was during the first hundred-or-so pages of the first book, when I wasn’t fully invested in the world yet and there was a bit of (unpleasant, but necessary) info-dumping going on. After a certain point, though, something clicked between me and the book, and from that moment on I had no problems keeping my interest. Brandon Sanderson’s writing is straightforward and easy to read, and his pacing makes the story flow extremely well. There’s an excellent balance of action and character and world building and everything else an excellent series needs.

I’m just…so impressed by how Brandon Sanderson’s brain works. He plans everything out brilliantly and has so many amazing ideas that he weaves together and never falls for the simplistic solution and always manages to surprise me. If you can’t already tell, I love this series and I can’t wait to explore the rest of his books.

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Book Review: Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Written by: Neal Shusterman
Release Date: April 21, 2015
Pages: 320, Hardback
Series: Standalone
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Caden Bosch is on a ship that’s headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench.

Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behavior.

Caden Bosch is designated the ship’s artist in residence, to document the journey with images.

Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head.

Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny.

Caden Bosch is torn.

A captivating and powerful novel that lingers long beyond the last page, Challenger Deep is a heartfelt tour de force by one of today’s most admired writers for teens.

LetsTalk

Neal Shusterman has been one of my favorite authors since I was in middle school for his clever writing and unique and chilling ideas. Even though Challenger Deep has both of those elements, it is not by any means a typical Neal Shusterman book. (Case in point: this is the only Neal Shusterman *thing* I can think of where Ralphy Sherman does not make an appearance). This book has two intertwined stories that are really one story: we have Caden’s life in the real world, where he deals with the effects of  his mental illness, and we have a different reality that he sees, one that involves an incredibly creepy ship on a quest in the high seas and situations which mirror those he goes through in real life. At first, this can be a little confusing, but after the first few chapters, I understood what was going on and began to enjoy putting the pieces together, especially when it became clear which parts of the storylines corresponded.

I don’t think I’ve read a book where the main character has schizophrenia before. Most of the YA books I’ve read about mental illness focus on depression or anxiety. When we do see psychotic illnesses in YA, it’s usually a parent, and the book explores the effect this has on the child. Or worse, it’s painted as generic-brand “crazy” and used for shock effects and plot devices. So a book like this one, where the author is clearly familiar with the disorder he’s writing about (according to the note at the end, his son, who worked with him on the book, has schizophrenia) and provides both the painful, scary reality and hope for the future, is a book I greatly appreciate.

Challenger Deep isn’t very easy to read. It’s painful, and scary, and there were points where I teared up.  But it’s honest, and well-written. The ship storyline enhances the real-world storyline, and vice-versa. As I’ve said before, it’s different from any Neal Shusterman book I’ve read, but it still feels like a Neal Shusterman book. Above all, it provides hope for people with mental illness and for their families. This is one of my favorite books of the year, and it stayed in my thoughts for a long time after I read it.

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