Book: Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz
Genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Fantasy
Be careful what you believe in.
Rudy’s life is flipped upside-down when his family moves to a remote island in a last attempt to save his sick younger brother. With nothing to do but worry, Rudy sinks deeper and deeper into loneliness and lies awake at night listening to the screams of the ocean beneath his family’s rickety house.
Then he meets Diana, who makes him wonder what he even knows about love, and Teeth, who makes him question what he knows about anything. Rudy can’t remember the last time he felt so connected to someone, but being friends with Teeth is more than a little bit complicated. He soon learns that Teeth has terrible secrets. Violent secrets. Secrets that will force Rudy to choose between his own happiness and his brother’s life..
I've never read Hannah Moskowitz's work before, though I'd heard great things about her contemporary writing. She's also a regular contributor to the AbsoluteWrite forum's YA sections (and an advocate of never holding back when it comes to language or content in YA -- her post on 'edgy YA' is well worth a read).
So when I heard she had a fantasy novel coming out nicknamed the "magic gay fish" story, I added it straight onto my preorder list. I wanted to try out her work, and that nickname sounded like it would be strange, shameless and right up my street.
Hannah's style is easy to read, dialogue-heavy and snappily paced. The dialogue feels very honest, which means very profane, and while some readers may find that off-putting I enjoy it. It makes for the most realistic teenage male narrator I've read in YA fiction.
There's only a small cast of main characters in this story, and they're all flawed and dysfunctional in one way or another. Rudy is a lonely boy, worrying about his future and his little brother, and Teeth is an ugly, angry fishboy who learned most of his words from the local fishermen and can barely construct a sentence without a f-bomb in it.
The secondary characters are less fleshed-out, which is a shame as I'd like to know more about some of the parents struggling on the island.
Trigger warning: There's also some very frank, bleak scenes of repetitive sexual abuse. This whole book is dark to the extreme, and though the abuse is portrayed extremely negatively I think it would be just too difficult and depressing for some readers.
The ending really caught me off-guard. The twist that led to it was brilliant, completely shocking me, but the actual closing chapter left me feeling disappointed. I wanted more of a sense of closure, and instead I got quite an abrupt cut-off.
I think the ending is supposed to tie into the underlying metaphors and hidden meanings in the story, but I wasn't reading this book for the metaphors about the environment or government -- they were nice elements, but not what drove me to pick this book up. Also (and I fully acknowledge that this is an issue with my personal tastes and expectations as a reader, not the writer's fault) I really wanted things to turn out differently.
Despite my dissatisfaction with the ending, I really loved Moskowitz's style and her way with describing characters. I hope to check out her contemporary YA very soon.
This book was a personal purchase. I have no connection to the writer or publishers involved.
Book: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Series: Seraphina, Book 1
Genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Fantasy
Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.
Why is it that the books I really loved are always the hardest to review?
I usually try to keep my reviews balanced with the good and the bad, but it's so difficult for books like "Seraphina" when there really isn't anything to fault with it.
The dialogue was snappy, true-to-life and very quotable. The plot twists were great. The usual issues I get twitchy about (gender equality and representation of different sexualities and races) were comfortingly absent. As for the world building... oh boy, I could gush about the world building for hours. Every aspect of this book is richly written, from the background religions and cultures to the draconian species.
"Seraphina" is set in a world where, after a massive war between humans and dragons, a shaky treaty has brought peace and dragons now walk among humans in almost-human bodies. But when a member of the royal family is murdered in a draconic style, Seraphina (court musician, secret half-dragon, and generally awesome young lady) decides to help the young Prince investigate and find the murderer before the treaty falls apart.
It's no secret that I love dragons, and this book handles dragons with style and grace. You won't ever mix up a dragon character with a human one. They're inhuman even in their human disguises, lovers of maths, and they avoid our confusing human emotions at all costs along with pointless niceties like saying "hello" or "goodbye".
If you like dragons, pick this book up. If you like flawless high fantasy, pick this up. This is definitely one of the best YA books to come out of 2012.
A review copy of this novel was provided by Random House in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Random House!
Book: Pandemonium (Delirium #2) by Lauren Oliver
Series: Delirium, Book #2
Genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Sci Fi/Dystopian/Romance
the memory of my nightmare,
pushing aside thoughts of Alex,
pushing aside thoughts of Hana
and my old school,
like Raven taught me to do.
The old life is dead.
But the old Lena is dead too.
I buried her.
I left her beyond a fence,
behind a wall of smoke and fame.
I love that title, even though I always feel like it needs an exclamation. Pandemonium! It's such a great word:
I've had a complicated relationship so far with Lauren Oliver. While I loved her debut, "Before I Fall", and the concept of "Delirium", the actual book left me flat due to it's confusing ending. I also get grumpy about the UK cover redesigns, though "Pandemonium" and upcoming final book "Requiem" have much nicer covers and I've actually grown to like them and how they fit in with the "Before I Fall" cover.
Thankfully, "Pandemonium" was full of pleasant surprises. It's a much tighter-written and ambitious book than "Delirium" was, alternating between the past and the present as Lena adjusts to a hard, scraping-for-survival life in the unregulated Wilds outside the city ('before') and sneaks into New York City to tail the son of the president of Deliria-Free America, an organisation that viciously promotes the idea that love is a disease and the only safe humans are those 'cured' by a lobotomy-like procedure ('after').
Lena is a stronger person, even as she deals with her grief over "Delirium"'s events realistically, and she's a much more enjoyable character to follow this time round. Oliver also expands the world laid out in the previous novel, taken it from a sketched-out dystopia into a realistic future society with a lot of moral grey areas.
The scenery descriptions are nicely done, though occasionally repetitive (snow seems to crackle a lot in the Wilds), and the new characters introduced are varied and feel like they have a lot of depth to them. The two story lines also alternated nicely, with very little opportunity for confusion, up until the merging point which felt a bit unclearly defined.
I'm very happy with how "Pandemonium" turned out. While a lot of middle trilogy books can be weak and plotless, "Pandemonium" is miles stronger than "Delirium" and restored my faith in Lauren Oliver's writing. I'll be looking forward to reading and reviewing "Requiem" closer to its March release date.
I bought a copy of this novel myself for personal reading, but I'll note that Hodder & Stoughton have previously provided me with review copies of "Delirium" and "Requiem" in exchange for honest reviews.
Book: Batman: Year One by Frank Miller (Writer), David Mazzucchelli (Illustrator), Richmond Lewis (Colorist)
Genre: Fiction/Graphic Novel/Comic Book/Superhero
From master storyteller Frank Miller ("Batman: The Dark Knight Returns", "Sin City") comes the most incredible Batman story of all...and the inspiration for the worldwide smash-hit movie "Batman Begins!"
Lieutenant James Gordon takes up a new post in the crime-ridden and corrupt city of Gotham, while billionaire Bruce Wayne returns to the scene of his parents' deaths, intent on avenging their memory. Each faces trials and challenges of their own, only for their lives to become irrevocably and potentially tragically intertwined...
This all-new, deluxe edition features new introductions by Miller and Mazzuchelli, pencils, promotional and unseen art, script pages and much more.
When DC decided to modernise their characters, they ran into a problem with Batman: his dark origin story already fitted the direction they were trying to go. Instead of redoing his origin story, they decided to fill in the blanks with Year One.
Year One tells the story of Bruce Wayne stepping back into Gotham City, finally ready to avenge his parents. It's also the story of Gordon, not yet a commissioner, who takes a job in Gotham for the sake of his wife and learns just what it takes to be a cop in the world's most corrupt city. Lastly, it's the story of Selina, who realises she can escape her life as a Gotham prostitute for a much more fun career.
The included extras are some of the best I've ever seen. There's cover art from the printed single-volume comics and previous collections of Year One, scripts, a short autobiographical comic by David Mazzucchelli with examples of his older work, and some examples of the colouring differences between the original comic and the printed collections. I'm particularly fond of the last two extras: the autobiographical story is a short and fun read, and the colouring comparisons really showcase what a great change the new colours make to the story.
Book: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Anna was looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. So she's less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris—until she meets Étienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, Étienne has it all . . . including a serious girlfriend.
But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss? Stephanie Perkins keeps the romantic tension crackling and the attraction high in a debut guaranteed to make toes tingle and hearts melt.
I'm not usually much of a romance reader, but this book has received so much universal adoration that I had to give it a try. Plus, a fluffy romance book is a good read while travelling.
I've been describing this book to friends as "like a very smartly written chick flick", and now that I'm finished I think it's a very fitting description.
The story is a bit slow to start, but fantastic once it gets going -- it's a sweet, complex story of an American trying to find her way in Paris and all the interesting friends she makes in her year there.
It doesn't shy away from anything, delving head-first into fascinating character personalities and friendships, detailed backstories, and teen issues.
I'll be looking forward to picking up "Lola and the Boy Next Door" when I've whittled down my to-read piles.
Maka is a Meister and Soul is her Weapon. As students at the Grim Reaper’s Death Weapon Meister Academy, their study habits couldn’t be more different. But in battle against the supernatural forces of evil, they’re a freakin’ lethal team.
That’s when Soul transforms – literally – into a razor-sharp scythe, and every defeated wicked soul he sucks down makes him more deadly. That’s when Maka unleashes the merciless slayer within, wielding her partner and dropping monsters. Seriously. Monsters. Like the witches, werewolves, and zombies that lurk in the shadows and feed on the souls of the innocent. Every freakish ghoul Maka and Soul take out strengthens their bond, and fighting alongside their fellow Meister/Weapon classmates, Maka and Soul are the world’s last line of defense against evil.
I just finished watching all four seasons of "Soul Eater". I try to pick up lessons from anything I enjoy that I can apply to my creative life, and Soul Eater was a powerful lesson in both great visual character designs and engaging, unique character personalities.
The main characters all have their stereotypes (Maka is a hard-working student with an angry streak and absentee parents, Black Star is a self-centred orphan with a ego the size of the moon, Death the Kid is a perfectionist with crippling OCD) but there's sides to their personalities that unfold as the story progresses and gives them real depth. Plus, the story has a powerful underlying message about being able to accept your friends, despite how different they might be to you.
It also gained a lot of points by having a central relationship between a girl and a guy, both best friends and fiercely protective over each other, without resorting to romance. I felt like the 'bromance' worked out better for the anime and made their relationship feel much more powerful.
So if you're looking for a new anime, you can do worse than this sweet anime and it's gorgeously designed world. The storyline isn't anything to write home about, with a lot of recap and a few loose ends that never get tied up, but it does the job and the world of the DWMA is beautiful and fascinating.
File Under: Graphic Novel/Comic/Fiction/Young Adult/Fantasy
Anya could really use a friend. But her new BFF isn't kidding about the "Forever" part...
Of all the things Anya expected to find at the bottom of an old well, a new friend was not one of them. Especially not a new friend who’s been dead for a century.
Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya's normal life might actually be worse. She's embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she's pretty much given up on fitting in at school. A new friend—even a ghost—is just what she needs.
Or so she thinks
Comic books are one of those mediums that exists on two separate plains: adult comics, and children's comics. Sometimes they overlap, but there's almost no real middle ground, no equivalent to the YA/teen fiction section of a bookstore. "Anya's Ghoost" is one of those few comics that aims itself directly at teens.
Anya, a Russian immigrant in America, is struggling to fit in: she's dark-haired and curvy when all the popular girls are skinny and blonde, she's only got one real friend, and she's had to spend years getting rid of her accent.
When Anya meets Emily, a ghost who's spent decades at the bottom of a well, a whole world of new possibilities open up. Emily can float around the classroom getting her the right answers for tests, she's someone to talk to at home other than Anya's annoying little brother, and she might even be able to help Anya get together with the cute boy in the class above. With Emily's help, Anya might actually be able to be one of the popular girls -- but at what cost?
"Anya's Ghost" is drawn in greyscale/blue and greyscale with a clear, simple style with smooth lines -- slightly reminiscent of "Scott Pilgrim". It also comes recommended by Neil Gaiman. It's a great, quick read with a lot of positive messages. I wish I had this comic while I was growing up.
Here's a preview of the first pages. I think it might be the US edition only that uses blue shading, my edition uses grey.