fiction · YA

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Phillippe

I can’t seem to stop reading cute high school romance books even though they are really not my favorite. I thought the premise of this book sounded fun – a fish out of water story told from the boy’s perspective – but when I cracked into it I know I emitted a loud sigh. High School was not my favorite. I absolutely see why someone in high school would want contemporary books but I don’t enjoy revisiting the endless drama. Then I noticed that the main character is from Canada. I can’t get enough of Canada! So, I forged onward.

northamericanteenagerThe Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Phillippe is the story of Norris who grew up in Montreal, Canada. He and his Mom have relocated to Austin, Texas for her job after the divorce. And, of course, poor Norris now has to combat with the heat, the culture and high school. I know we have probably all read this story one-hundred times but paired with genuinely sweet friendships and a slow burning romance I found the story sweet and fun to read.

Admittedly, Norris is difficult to like at first. His quick wit and over use of irony and sarcasm give him a hard edge. This, oddly, is completely acceptable in a female character (usually white) who is dealing with high school life. I was really struck with how little patience friends of mine had for Norris as, apparently, dudes aren’t supposed to have all the feelings. I loved that Norris was unlikeable at first. It made him feel genuinely teenager-y. Now, if he hadn’t developed and changed as a person through the book that would be a different story but he did and it was enjoyable to watch. As his friendships grow and change Norris has to decide whether he is going to take a chance on being himself or not.

Like many books set in high school, the background cast of characters is essential to creating a balance to the story. This is especially true when the main character is abut off a butt. Surrounding Norris are my two waring favorites; Maddie, the cheerleading overachiever who guides him, and Neil, the awkward rich kid who wants to learn hockey. There is also Aarti Puri, the girl of Norris’s dreams and the character I actively didn’t like.

Unlike many other teenage stories, I really appreciated the constant presence of Norris’s mother. So many stories featuring kids in high school have a glaring absence of parental involvement. In The Field Guide not only is Norris’s Mom involved in his life in a consistent and positive manner, but his friend Maddie’s Dad is incredibly involved in her life. It was a relief to see a teenagers talking to their parents instead of just a stock character there for the kids’ to hide their emotions from throughout the story.

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager was a truly enjoyable read. Norris may not be perfectly likable from chapter one but the person this character develops into is worth the read.


Tell me, please!

What is your favorite fish out of water story?


 

historical fiction · YA

My Plain Jane by Hand, Ashton and Meadows

I will freely admit that my hatred for Jane Eyre is as long as the endless night I was forced to read the entire novel. Of course, perhaps I would have enjoyed it more had I not procrastinated myself into an all-nighter but what is done is done. Since that horrible incident I have had a massive chip on my shoulder for all things Bronte. But, I am constantly shocked by how differently I feel about the books I hated being forced to read when I pick them voluntarily (hello Great Gastby). So, when I received My Plain Jane from my OwlCrate subscription (in July) I vowed to read it with a fresh unbiased mind. And then I promptly shelved it for more than six months. But, when I cracked into it this weekend I did so with an open mind!

MyplainjaneMy Plain Jane is written by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows and is their second collaboration. Their first, My Lady Jane received rave reviews everywhere but I had not yet read it. Typically I enjoy formulating my own synopsis of the book but this particular novel has me stumped on just how to do so. There is a lot of adventure squeezed into this story! Therefore, I give you the official blurb:

 

 

You may think you know the story. Penniless orphan Jane Eyre begins a new life as a governess at Thornfield Hall, where she meets one dark, brooding Mr. Rochester—and, Reader, she marries him. Or does she?

Prepare for an adventure of Gothic proportions, in which all is not as it seems, a certain gentleman is hiding more than skeletons in his closets, and one orphan Jane Eyre, aspiring author Charlotte Bronte, and supernatural investigator Alexander Blackwood are about to be drawn together on the most epic ghost hunt this side of Wuthering Heights.

Alright, Jane doesn’t marry Rochester – color me intrigued! This has always been the worst part of Jane Eyre for me. Rochester is stupid. And the way My Plain Jane handles that gave me no end of joy. I also really loved both Charlotte Bronte and Alexander Blackwood and the cast of supporting characters that all came together to crate a fantastic collection of personalities.

I will admit that I had difficulty getting into the book which is most likely due to my previous experience reading Bronte. Also, there were times when I was slightly frustrated when the authors constantly broke the fourth wall and the ever present commentary about the corsets became a small annoyance. Typically I don’t mind a fourth wall peek-through but it was done a bit inconsistently and it threw me off. Still, I consumed this 450 page book in a little over two days and I just couldn’t put it down! There were enough twists and turns and those together with the lovely female friendships meant that I ended up having a great time reading this book.

I read Jane Eyre in high school and my memory of it contains only my disgust for Mr. Rochester. So, you do not need to have read Eyre to enjoy My Plain Jane at all, nor, does it seem do you need to check out My Lady Jane before picking up this book. But, if you are interested in a paranormal historical fiction this is an absolutely fun read!


Tell me, please!

Am I the only one that hated Rochester?


 

Fantasy · series · YA

The Wicked King by Holly Black

wicked kingThe Wicked King, the sequel to Holly Black’s fascinating dark faerie tale, debuted just after the New Year but because of my self-imposed book buying restrictions I had to wait until the library saved me a copy. Thankfully, my library is the best so I didn’t have to wait too long for the second in The Folk of the Air series.

I had a few complaints about The Cruel Prince, mostly in regards to the occasionally slow pacing. Like so many first in a series books, The Cruel Prince had to lay an extensive foundation for the entire series in book one and the action suffered as a consequence. However, as Holly Black had given me some truly remarkable and unusual characters all was forgiven. Not to worry, there were no such problems with pacing in the second book!

If you have not read the first book and you are interested in the series you can check my review here. It is nearly impossible to review a series book without spoiling the prior publications and so I must warn you: there are spoilers for The Cruel Prince below!

The Wicked King begins a few months after the Cruel Prince dramatic ending. Jude Duarte’s brother Oak may be the heir of the Faerie but Cardan has been crowed King. In return Cardan has sworn to follow all of Jude’s directions for a year and a day. That gives Jude a limited amount of time to ensure her brother’s safety and manipulate herself into a position of greater power. While she finds her human ability to lie invaluable, she can never forget that truth and lies often come in subtle shades of grey and the Fey live in a world of secrets. Between her attempts to control Cardan, her investigation into Maddox’s plots, and a threat that comes from the surrounding Oceans, is it any wonder that a traitor could tip the balance of power so completely? But who is plotting against Jude?

This second book was action packed! I consumed the book and, unlike the first one, I could hardly wait to see what would unfold. I also enjoyed that Jude was more confident which I enjoyed tremendously. Holly Black paints a perfect picture of having a crush on someone you despise as Jude attempts to ignore her feelings for Cardon.

If I had one (very minor) complaint it would be that all of this action and focus on Jude meant that nearly everyone else was a static background character until the last few pages. Still, I cannot imagine how the author could have given me such an explosive and surprising ending as she did without leaving me in the dark as to the other character’s movements and secret desires.

All of my childhood I wished that Fairies were real. Holly Black has convinced me of two things: I would hate these Fairies and I cannot wait to see what happens next.


Tell me, please!

If you could only pick one is the pace or the characters more important?


Fantasy · SeriousSeriesLove · YA

Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

I didn’t want to read Scythe by Neal Shusterman last year but I not only read it, I deeply enjoyed it. You can check out all of my thoughts here. I immediately bought the second book. Then, as was my tendency, I stuck on my TBR shelf. But, now that I have made my 2019 New Year’s Reading Resolutions I have been making real progress reading the books I actually own. This is how I found myself reading Scythe‘s sequel, Thunderhead. I must say, it absolutely consumed me. I’m not sure if it caused this week’s insomnia but it certainly made for exciting after-midnight reading! If you haven’t read Scythe, there are spoilers below. Just know that I fully recommend this series!


thunderheadThunderhead begins with Rowan illegally donning black voluminous robes and claiming the identity of Scythe Lucifer. He is meting out his own form of justice by targeting Scythes he deems unworthy. Meanwhile, Citra has formed her own style of gleaning, one that has drawn the attention and ire of her peers.

At the conclusion of Scythe we see the Thunderhead, the all knowing brain of the world, speaking directly to Citra. Until that moment, the reader has no idea how involved the Thunderhead is with a typical citizen’s day to day existence. Ponder this issue no longer! In this second book we meet Greyson Tolliver. A lonely young man, Greyson has been raised by the benevolent voice of the Thunderhead all his life. When Citra’s life is in danger, the Thunderhead sends Greyson to save her and forever changing Greyson’s life. Meanwhile, old foes continue to threaten the delicate balance of the world. The real question is what role Rowan, Citra and Greyson will play the ensuing chaos.

As with ScytheThunderhead is crafted to keep you entertained. The shifting narratives begin completely disconnected and as they dodge and weave their way towards intersection – the action climbs. The final pages of this book will leave your heart pounding and, if you are anything like me, you will immediately try to figure out when the third installment is being published (no date yet!!).

Unlike ScytheThunderhead has almost no quiet and reflective moments. This second installment is action packed. Furthermore, the second book spends much less time reflecting on life and death and more on the balance we seek and the role we take to achieve that life. The author is not afraid to take you on an adventure. Honestly, that ending….whew!

I highly recommended Scythe and now I must all but insist on two things. First, please read them both so that we can talk. Second, can we get that third book already Neal?!?


Tell me, please!

Why do we ever read series books when they aren’t all available?


FrighteninglyGoodRead · Middle Grade · YA

The Last of the Frighteningly Good Reads

Happy Halloween!

My favorite of all holidays is today! Dressing up (Edna Mode, thank you very much) and festive candy eating is the only thing that will distract me from the end of Frighteningly Good Reads 2018. I have had a wonderful month reading spooky, scary and suspenseful stories and I hope you all have found one or two that have tickled your terror needs.

I do have two more I finished just yesterday that I would like to highlight. The first is a middle grade book Small Spaces and the second is The Bone Witch. Both were excellent reads and were a perfect way to wrap up FGR!

smallspacesSmall Spaces is a middle grade story by Katherine Arden. In it, a girl names Olivia (Ollie) meets a distraught woman tearfully attempting to toss a book into the water. Like any good and dedicated reader she bravely saves the book. When her class goes on a field trip to a local farm she is surprised to see the woman from the edge of the water there – and she is the farm’s owner! Soon terrifying things begin to happen. Is it the book? Or the woman?

Small Spaces may be for middle grade readers but I thoroughly enjoyed every page. Ollie was a complicated character and watching her befriend two classmates, Coco and Brian, while running for her life was great scary fun. The author kept the tension going long enough for it to be delightfully spooky and never boring or repetitive, a difficult feat! I loved it.

The Bone Witch by Rain Chupeco is the first in a YA trilogy. In this story, Tea (pronounced Tee-ah) accidentally raises her brother from the dead. After doing so she is labelled a bone witch and is carried off to meet the King and be placed in school that will train her to become an Asha – more specifically – a Dark Asha. Since Tea and only one other Dark Asha exist, it is their sole responsibility to raise and order back to the dead eternal creatures of the enemy.

This book, as is true with many YA series, is set in a complicated world. The first third of the book is full of wonderful other-world explanations and adventures and while the middle third of the book lags, it more than makes up for it in the ending. Now, as is also true of most YA series, I feel the strong need to read the next two books. I foresee a complicated romance for young Tea as well as an adventure fraught with peril!

And so completes Frightening Good Reads 2018! Next Month is Non-Fiction November and I am thrilled to be participating. You can look forward to seeing a number of new non-fiction books here.


Tell me, please!

What do you prefer, spooky or non-fiction?

Fantasy · fiction · FrighteninglyGoodRead · YA

FGR #8: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

I am going to confess something. I didn’t want to read this book. I believe that I purchased it two years ago and started it only to quit three chapters in and shelf the book. If not for a combination of Frighteningly Good Reads and my 2018 Resolutions I probably would never have forced myself to read what turned out to be a phenomenal story.

scythe
A figure in a hooded red cape holds a scythe looking like a futuristic grim reaper.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman takes place in a world without hunger, disease, general misery or even death. Unfortunately, without natural death the world’s population must be controlled. Scythes are the only ones with the ability to take a life and Citra and Rowan have just been selected as apprentice Scythes. Now, only one can rise to the rank of a full Scythe. Citra and Rowan must master the “art” of death. As they do so they learn that living in a perfect world comes with a price.

Initially, I didn’t really find any of the main characters appealing. Which is why I put the book away for so long. However, as the story unfolded I began to comprehend the apathy to which these people must be acclimated in a world where there is no reason to worry, no purpose in hard work and the ability to die only to be whisked off to a revival center and brought back to life. If there is no threat of old age then do you lose the thirst and hunger of youth? Certainly when Citra and Rowan are faced with a permanent cessation of their lives their personalities change dramatically into characters that I grew to love and genuinely cared about.

And there in lies the magic of this story. At first glance I believed this was another annoying futuristic tale and the cautionary story of a world without death. Instead, I became slowly aware along with the characters of the importance of death in giving life value and purpose. As I watched Citra and Rowan struggle with that realization and the lengths they would go to in order to continue to live, even if that meant taking lives, I found myself completed immersed in the story. And now, as so frequently happens, a book I thought I would enjoy has become a series I cannot wait to continue!


Tell me, please!

Have you ever started a series determined to hate it only to be won over?

YA

The Absolutely True Diary of Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

absolutely trueThis book was absolutely nothing like what I expected. Perhaps because the cover reminded me of The Indian in the Cupboard I erroneously assumed the story was a middle grade title. Or the inclusion of cartoons lead me to believe this would be a more mature Captain Underpants. Either way, I started the book ready to enjoy a fish out of water tale sprinkled with hilarity. Instead, I found myself reading a raw and undeniably wrenching story of the experiences of a boy growing up on a Reservation.

Junior is a budding cartoonist who is living (or is waiting to die, depending on your point of view) on the Spokane reservation. Sensing that his life would be better if he got off the reservation, he starts attending a neighboring all white school. This experience gives Junior a new perspective that allows him to reflect on his life in a way that would have been impossible if he had stayed on the reservation. Slowly he sees how staying on the reservation will alter his life. But, if he leaves the reservation, who is he out in the world at large?

The author, Sherman Alexie, himself grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. This essential fact dramatically altered the lens through which I read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Without knowing that the author was Native American and had based his writings on his own first hand experience I fear I would have chalked this story up to researched cliches. Instead, it felt like a powerful indictment of the reservation system and highlights the devastating effect alcohol has had on the Native American population.

This book is described as “heartbreaking, funny and beautifully written.” All of those things are true. But this book does more that entertain. It shows, elegantly, that Native Americans on reservations are not unlike other marginalized populations around the world. The more we see a similarity in someone different than ourselves, the more we can work together for change. This book felt vital and important. I only regret that I had it sitting there, waiting, for so long.


Tell me, please!

Have you ever misjudged a book by its cover only to be pleasantly surprised?


Fantasy · series · YA

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

thepiratekingEveryone knows that women aboard pirate ships are unlucky. When I first saw Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller I assumed, erroneously, that the daughter from the title would be another left-behind maiden yearning to travel the sea with her father. I could not have been more wrong.

Seventeen year old Alosa has been raised by her father aboard his ship. She is deadly, demanding, strong, and smart. She has her own ship, a crew of mostly women to which she is deeply dedicated. But, when ordered by the Pirate King to locate a piece of a legendary map she doesn’t balk in getting herself captured aboard a rival’s ship. The only thing between Alosa and successfully completing her mission is Riden, the clever and attractive first mate aboard the infiltrated vessel.

It took me a few chapters to be truly drawn into this story. The capture is exhilarating but then there is a fairly boring cycle of being fake captured, escaping, and being re-captured that quickly grew stale. Still, like most series books, the action increased dramatically in the second half of the story and the culminating chapters left me excited for the next book.

Most of all, Alosa is a wonderful character. Strong, both physically and mentally, she has been raised by her father to be a weapon. As a Princess and a Pirate she must follow his command but she longs for equal independence. Further complicating her life is the legacy gifted to her by her mother. The real question is whether Riden will be her equal in this journey or just another complication? My hopes are pinned on him letting her continue to kick ass. All I know is that I cannot wait to see more of Alosa’s story.


Tell me, please!

What makes a strong female character real to you?


YA

Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills

Reading Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills made me immensely happy. So many YA books, especially those set in high school, are stuck in the doldrums. Foolish Hearts lends vulnerability and nuances to the characters that could have been manipulated in a negative and depressing manner. Instead, each characters concerns and tribulations became platforms for growth. All teenagers are being pushed through the eye of the self-discovery storm. For most of us, we reflect back later on high school and (using the empathy and sympathy we didn’t possess at the time) see people through another lens. Foolish Hearts allows the characters to do this in the moment and I loved them for it.

foolish_heartsFoolish Hearts is told from the perspective of Claudia. She is a senior in a private all-girls school and her only friend is her childhood bestie Zoe who attends the local public school. Since she has a best friend locked in, Claudia has spent the last three years of high school unengaged from her peers. But, when she accidentally eavesdrops on the epic breakup of Paige and Iris, the penultimate couple at her school, she finds herself in hot water with the difficult Iris. After Claudia and Iris are thrown together for a class production Claudia is forced to engage with people and issues and expands her horizons.

While there is a boy in the story and a romantic sub-plot, I wouldn’t consider this book a romance story. Instead, it is a reflection on life. I love this book because the author does an excellent job of reminding the readers that everyone’s life is different under the surface they project or the image you percieve. Everyone has something that you don’t but that means you have something others are lacking. I find this is a poignant reminder for everyone but most pressingly important for children and teens. I appreciated that this book made this point in a positive way and through the shy but insightful Claudia.


Tell me, please!

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts?


YA

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

The first book I read by Becky Albertalli was The Upside of Unrequited Love. It was included in an OwlCrate and I didn’t want to read it. I was coming out of a YA funk so I put it on my bookshelf and left it there for about six months. One night insomnia struck and I cracked it open and consumed it whole. I love that book and, for me, this is the guidepost by which all Albertalli’s shall be measured. Sadly, I lent it to a friend who appears to be keeping it.

simonWhen Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda was published I purchased it and shelved it because I was keeping it for a special time. When I read that she had new books I knew it was safe to use up my lone Albertalli and so Simon went with me to Canada. And, happily, Albertalli has done it for me again.

For most of us, the teenage years are filled with turmoil because we are swimming in hormone-infused water (made from concentrate). It is the deep end of drama. There are venti sized vendettas and crushes as wide as the Grand Canyon. For Simon, his family is extra and his friends are steady so his life is as stable as it can be for a high schooler. Except he has a crush on a boy that he has been e-mailing. And now there is blackmail afoot.

If this book had been published five to ten years ago it would be the disclosure of Simon’s crush that would push the narrative of this book. But, and thank the good Lord for this, it is 2018 and things are finally different. So, while Simon is not sure how to disclose his sexual identity it is Blue, the pen name for the boy he has been writing, that is the impetus for change that Simon resists.

I do not typically enjoy books set in high school. Those were not my favorite years and they remain that way for so many young people. In many books high school characters seem self centered because this is the age where you are beginning to really form your own identity. But a great author takes you through the moment of self-discovery that is so poignant in high school with characters who are sandwiched between self discovery and social pressure. Watching Simon navigate those decisions reminded me that no one really knows what they are doing, especially in high school but watching people develop, change and challenge themselves is a privilege.


Tell me, please!

Does the film hold up to the book?

Are there settings you avoid because they remind you of painful moments in life?