Discussion: The Selection by Kiera Cass

Book: The Selection
Author: Kiera Cass
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: April 24, 2012
Source: Borrowed ebook from library
 
Summary from Goodreads: For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in the palace and compete for the heart of the gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself- and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

I’m trying something different today. Instead of straight-up reviewing this book, I want to open it up for discussion. I’d like to try focusing less on dissecting a book and more on analyzing my experience of reading it. Please join me in the comments!

**As this is a discussion, please be aware that there will be some slight spoilers!**

Let me start by saying this – I liked this book. But I recognize that this book has a capital-H-History, particularly on Goodreads. I was not expecting to like this one because of some of the reviews I read by people who I find to be trustworthy.

Yet. It’s YA! It’s dystopian! It has a Bachelor-like competition! What could there possibly be not to like? So when I saw it available through the library, I figured I’d go for it.

And I liked it. Really liked it, in fact. The writing was breezy, the characters were interesting, the competition was heating up…so I started to wonder what the big deal was with this book. I texted my sister, who also loves a good YA dystopian, and asked if she could read it if I bought her a copy. She could, and she did. Hooray for discussion! We texted about it for a while (much like we had with Divergent), and I started to realize that though I recognized many of the book’s flaws, I still liked the book. Thus the need for a discussion post.

The love story

Putting aside the bad names, I found America and Maxon to have good chemistry. A good love interest will carry me pretty far through a series (Twilight, I’m looking at you, kid), and I found the scenes with America and Prince Maxon to be delightful and full of the intense awkwardness of teen love. It’s that kind of realism that I connect with as an avid YA reader, and it took me back to thoughts of my own first kisses and first dates.

My sister didn’t find the America and Maxon love story believable, however. It irritated her that America could act like the horrible wench that undoubtedly makes it on The Bachelor every year, and yet we (and Maxon) were expected to not want her to get kicked off. She treats Maxon like dirt, is still in love with Aspen back home, and is staying in the competition for the food and money. She’s in it for all the wrong reasons, but Maxon agrees to keep her around. In my sister’s view, this makes America unlikeable and Maxon a fool.

I, however, appreciated that America was up front with Maxon. On The Bachelor, we only ever despise the girls keeping secrets about former boyfriends or illicit affairs with producers or who are in it for the wrong reasons but keep playing the game. America’s not hiding anything – she admits she has feelings for an old boyfriend at home, and that she needs to stay to help out her starving family. That Maxon lets her stay, while also hoping to win her heart anyway, is a nice gesture. America is more real with him than any of the other contestants, so why not let her stay? In my view, Maxon was simply grasping at anything that had substance over superficiality. Does that really make him a fool?

Root, root, root for the…

My two major complaints with the book were that A) the world history didn’t make a lot of sense and was thrown in without much context; and B) that there was no conclusion to the story. I would have liked more information on the growing conflict outside the palace walls (and sometimes within the palace walls). What do the rebels want? Who do we, as readers, want to win? I needed a cause to root for, other than just hoping that the poorer castes get a better life. I also really, really wanted to see the competition through to the end. I felt the ending of this book did not have a natural or satisfying conclusion.

So yes, there were some problems, but I still found America and her situation to be a cool way to explore young love. It’s fun to watch these strangers try to navigate their forced camaraderie, and discover that they both care about their country and doing what’s right. I want to see what happens next, and how America deals with her feelings for Aspen and her growing feelings for Maxon.

Have you read this book? Did you find the love story believable? If you haven’t read it, do you plan to? Let’s talk!

Rating: 3/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

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Review: The Girl in the Park by Mariah Fredericks

Book: The Girl in the Park
Author: Mariah Fredericks
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Release date: April 24, 2012
Source: eARC from NetGalley
 
Summary from Goodreads: When Wendy Geller’s body is found in Central Park after the night of a rager, newspaper headlines scream,”Death in the Park: Party Girl Found Strangled.” But shy Rain, once Wendy’s best friend, knows there was more to Wendy than just “party girl.” As she struggles to separate the friend she knew from the tangle of gossip and headlines, Rain becomes determined to discover the truth about the murder. Written in a voice at once immediate, riveting, and utterly convincing, Mariah Frederick’s mystery brilliantly exposes the cracks in this exclusive New York City world and the teenagers that move within it.

First impressions: I had not heard much about this book. I requested it on NetGalley because I thought the story looked interesting and different for the YA market. As soon as I started reading it, I was so happy with my choice to try out this book. It draws you into the mystery from the first pages, and Rain is a terrific teen character.

Lasting impressions: YA contemporary meets mystery/suspense thriller? Full of win! 

Conflicting impressions: Okay, so the killer is kind of easy to spot. Luckily there’s a whole lot more happening in this book.

Overall impressions: It would be so easy to just say, “Yeah, this is a murder mystery about a rich private school girl who liked to party.” That screams Law and Order: SVU doesn’t it? It sounds like it’ll be this quick read about a girl who runs off and gets drunk at a party and winds up dead and her friend saves the day by catching the bad guy.

It’s so much more than that.

It’s about how the persona one high school girl chose to present to her classmates warped their perception of her death. It’s about secrets and the price we pay to keep them. It’s about how love and attraction can be mishandled and exploited. It’s about the media’s role in victim blaming, and how the public uses it to feel safer. In short, there’s a lot under the surface of this seemingly simple story.

I appreciated following this plot through the naive eyes of Rain – a girl still recovering from a painful speech impediment and trying to finish high school without drawing more wrath from the popular crowd. Wendy, a vivacious outsider desperate to either fit in or make waves (whichever is more convenient), befriends Rain when few else will. It is that loyalty that drives Rain to find out what really happened to Wendy after she is found dead in Central Park.

Rain struggles to marry the Wendy she knew with the Wendy splashed across tabloid pages and whispered about in the halls. She pushes to find the truth, often through conversations with people she’d rather not have to speak with, and as the events of that night start to unravel, Rain gains the courage to keep right on pushing. She has to make difficult decisions – when to tell the truth, when to state suspicions, when to break a confidence – and she also has to deal with difficult consequences. The question she must answer time and again is “How far will I go to honor Wendy?” Finding the answer to that question is half the fun of this delightful mystery.

Highly recommended to whodunit fans and YA contemporary readers.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

 

Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Book: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release date: May 3, 2011
Source: Bought from local bookstore
Series: Divergent #1

 

Summary from Goodreads:

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtueâ??Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really isâ??she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself. 

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really areâ??and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she lovesâ?¦ or it might destroy her.

Debut author Veronica Roth bursts onto the literary scene with the first book in the Divergent seriesâ??dystopian thrillers filled with electrifying decisions, heartbreaking betrayals, stunning consequences, and unexpected romance.

First impressions: I picked this one up, read through the first few chapters, and then put it down for months. I did not find the beginning of this book that compelling.

Lasting impressions: However, once I got into the story, I had a hard time putting it down. The plot moves swiftly and it’s easy to get swept away in this one.

Conflicting impressions: I spent too much time wondering A) why more people weren’t Divergent; and B) what was so bad about being Divergent. 

Overall impressions:  A well developed world is the key to success where dystopians are concerned. As a reader, I need to know  the rules of the current society and why they were created. Why are there factions? How do they function to protect the people? How important is their existence to the ruling powers? What is at stake if they fail? How does Divergence factor into this all? Roth does a fair job at trying to answer these, and some were more satisfactory answers than others. 

Beatrice (Tris) is a pleasant enough protagonist. I appreciated that she wasn’t the best at everything. In several scenes we actually see her overpowered and humiliated by her fellow faction-mates. She’s not helpless, though, and she certainly proves her value as time goes on. Four, the love interest, is somewhat bland, but I found the supporting characters to be interesting and vivid. While Tris is completing her faction’s initiation, there is a Hunger Games-like feel to things, where this group of young people is going through hell together, but also competing against one another. It makes for a great dynamic.

As much as I liked the initiation process, it took up too much of the plot for me, to the detriment of the development of the larger conflict. Only after initiation is nearly complete do we start to understand the bigger issues at play in this world, and the climax of the book seemed cramped into too few pages as a result. I wish we had gotten more insights into the inter-faction rumblings beyond some seemingly benign animosity between Erudite and Abnegation. Perhaps it’s my own interest in politics that had me craving more of this, but I think it would have been helpful to know.

I can see why this series has inspired so many rabid fans. It’s heavy on action with an exciting setting, and there’s a nice romance that I can appreciate (even if it wasn’t my favorite). For me, however, this one failed to live up to the hype.

Rating: 3/5 stars 


Click the stars for a description of my rating system

 

 

Review: Wings of the Wicked by Courtney Allison Moulton

Book: Wings of the Wicked
Author: Courtney Allison Moulton
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release date: January 31, 2012
Source: Borrowed ebook from library
Series: Angelfire #2

 

Summary from Goodreads:

Life as the Preliator is harder than Ellie ever imagined.
Balancing real life with the responsibility of being Heavenâ??s warrior is a challenge for Ellie. Her relationship with Will has become all business, though they both long for each other. And now that the secret of who she really is has come out, so have Hellâ??s strongest reapers. Grown bold and more vicious, the demonic threaten her in the light of day and stalk her in the night.

Sheâ??s been warned.
Cadan, a demonic reaper, comes to her with information about Bastianâ??s new plan to destroy Ellieâ??s soul and use an ancient relic to wake all the souls of the damned and unleash them upon humanity. As she fights to stay ahead of Bastianâ??s schemes , the revelations about those closest to her awaken a dark power within Ellie that threatens to destroy everythingâ??including herself.

Sheâ??ll be betrayed.
Treachery comes even from those whom she loves, and Ellie is broken by the deaths of those who stood beside her in this Heavenly war. Still, she must find a way to save the world, herself, and her love for Will. If she fails, there will be hell to pay.

First impressions: Courtney Allison Moulton writes one heck of a battle scene, and the opening of this book starts out with a doozy. Hooray for kickass girls with swords!

Lasting impressions: Though the first half of this book was gripping and exciting, it lost steam toward the end.

Conflicting impressions: Ellie may have a typical selfish teenage outlook, but that didn’t keep me from thinking she sounded like a spoiled brat most of the time.

Overall impressions: The majority of this book I actually liked better than the first book, Angelfire. Ellie has settled into her role as Preliator a bit more, she and Will have built up a nice rapport, and we get lots of interesting plot points developing. When she’s not being super whiny, Ellie is kicking major ass. I love that part of her.

I also love the expanded role that Cadan gets in this book. Though not quite a full on third wheel in the love triangle game, he does give Ellie a counterpoint to Will’s service and devotion to her. I like the conflict he represents in that he is a demon capable of good. He sacrifices quite a lot for Ellie and I’ll be curious to see how things continue to develop between these two.

The last half to third of this book really dragged for me. Ellie and Will continue their back-and-forth over why they can’t be together despite their love for each other. Ellie still wants a normal high school life despite her destiny as Preliator. So the book sort of meanders through these conflicts for far too long without giving equal attention to the larger conflict with Bastian. I struggled to finish this one.

Fans of the first book will surely love this second installment, and though I liked parts of this one better than the first book, I’m not sure if I’ll continue with the series. 

Rating: 3/5 stars 

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Review: Vanish by Sophie Jordan

Book: Vanish
Author: Sophie Jordan
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: September 6, 2011
Source: Borrowed ebook from library
Series: Firelight #2

 

Summary from Goodreads:

To save the life of the boy she loves, Jacinda did the unthinkable: She betrayed the most closely-guarded secret of her kind. Now she must return to the protection of her pride knowing she might never see Will againâ??and worse, that because his mind has been shaded, Willâ??s memories of that fateful night and why she had to flee are gone.

Back home, Jacinda is greeted with hostility and must work to prove her loyalty for both her sake and her familyâ??s. Among the few who will even talk to her are Cassian, the prideâ??s heir apparent who has always wanted her, and her sister, Tamra, who has been forever changed by a twist of fate. Jacinda knows that she should forget Will and move onâ??that if he managed to remember and keep his promise to find her, it would only endanger them both. Yet she clings to the hope that someday they will be together again. When the chance arrives to follow her heart, will she risk everything for love?

First impressions: The beginning of this book picks up almost immediately after the events of book one, Firelight. There were just enough details to remind me of what transpired without bogging us down in a full recap. Nicely done.

Lasting impressions: The threat of the draki hunters pervades this entire book, which I found raised the stakes of this plot when compared to Firelight. I love danger!

Conflicting impressions: While I love the draki shifter world, I don’t find Jacinda and her love interests to be totally swoon-worthy. These books are fun reads, but don’t quite get me to gush.

Overall impressions: Secrets are a big part of life when you’re a shifter. In Jacinda’s case, she can shift into a draki – a dragon-like creature able to fly. Jacinda has the added ability of being a fire-breather, which makes her something of a rarity in her community. In the first book, she was forced to deny her draki self and live as a normal high schooler (the horror!), where she met and fell in love with Will.

In order to save his life, Jacinda betrays the draki and is forced to flee back to her home among them, where she is shamed and reviled. While the first book saw Jacinda struggling to keep her draki nature a secret, in this book she’s trying to keep her feelings for Will a secret. Meanwhile, Cassian is a powerful young draki who wants to win her heart. 

Jacinda’s conflicted feelings about Will and Cassian and her destiny are vivid and entertaining. She also experiences a huge turn of events with her sister, who once used to be ignored and cast out by the draki but is now one of the revered among them. Jacinda goes from hot commodity to yesterday’s garbage, and I found her emotions believable and sympathetic. Yet I would have liked to have seen even more conflict from her sister – their bond seemed less heartfelt and more like a plot device at times. 

The action is exciting, and there are several awful villains to root against. I especially loved getting to see Jacinda fly again, and hope we get another entry in this unique series.

Rating: 3/5 stars 

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

 

 

Review: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Book: Grave Mercy
Author: Robin LaFevers
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release date: April 3, 2012
Source: eARC from NetGalley
Series: His Fair Assassin #1

 

Summary from Goodreads:

Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous giftsâ??and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittanyâ??where she finds herself woefully under preparedâ??not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Deathâ??s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

First impressions: YOU GUYS. LADY NUN ASSASSINS. Enough said.

Lasting impressions: Ismae may be one of my favorite heroines of all time. She’s up there with Claire Randall, vying for the top spot. She’s smart, humble, kind, merciful, and oh yeah – a stealthy handmaiden of death.

Conflicting impressions: While the convent was a large focus of the first part of this book, the ending didn’t tie up many loose ends in that regard. I have a feeling much of this information will become the focus in later books, but I felt a little jilted in this book when it came to Sybella and some of the other sisters.

Overall impressions: It’s a historical novel with courtly intrigue and a protagonist who is a kick-ass murderer. But a nice kick-ass murderer. I would have bet anyone a million dollars that I would love this book.

Guess what? I win!

The premise of this book could never hold the weight of its own ambition without a heroine that makes the reader care about her. From the very first page, Ismae stole my heart. Trapped under an abusive father, marked by Death himself to be an outcast, and thrust into a marriage with a disgusting pig of a man, I couldn’t help but want something more for her. When she is offered a home and a purpose for her miserable life at St. Mortain’s convent, Ismae can finally start to believe in herself. 

The bulk of the novel focuses on one of Ismae’s first major assignments. She is assigned to play mistress to Lord Duval and accompany him to the Breton court to ferret out traitors that need assassinating. There is a delectable romance that builds between the two unlikely lovebirds, and I appreciated that LaFevers devoted more time to personality based obstacles than class driven ones. Yes he’s a Lord and one of the most influential men at court, and she’s just the lowly peasant girl, but that never seems to be the focus for why these two shouldn’t fall in love.

Perhaps why I loved Ismae so much was precisely because LaFevers made her more complicated than the usual historical trope. Despite her training and occupation, Ismae is an Everywoman. She’s unsure of herself and makes mistakes. She follows at times she should be leading. She trusts when she shouldn’t. Yet we don’t fault her for any of it. We understand why she makes the decisions she does, and it makes her all the more believable and compelling. 

Do I think this story needed to meander through nearly 600 pages? No. There were moments where the pacing lagged and Ismae got a bit repetitive with her musings. At its core, however, this novel has a pure soul that guides us carefully through morally complicated situations that at times benefited from a lengthier examination. As Ismae determines her true calling as Death’s handmaiden, the book culminates in one of the most spiritually enlightened moments I’ve ever experienced in fiction. 

The vast depth to this book offers pure pleasure to the reader. If you’re willing to invest the time, it will heap its rewards upon you. There’s a reason for the hype, and this one definitely lives up to it.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

 

Review: Spellcaster by Cara Lynn Shultz

Book: Spellcaster
Author: Cara Lynn Shultz
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release date: March 27, 2012
Source: eARC from NetGalley
Series: Spellbound #2

Summary from Goodreads: Finding your eternal soulmate – easy.

Stopping a true-love-hungry evil – not so much…

After breaking a centuries-old romantic curse, Emma Connor is (almost) glad to get back to normal problems. Although…it’s not easy dealing with the jealous cliques and gossip that rule her exclusive Upper East Side prep, even for a sixteen-year-old newbie witch. Having the most-wanted boy in school as her eternal soul mate sure helps ease the pain-especially since wealthy, rocker-hot Brendan Salinger is very good at staying irresistibly close….

But something dark and hungry is using Emma and Brendan’s deepest fears to reveal damaging secrets and destroy their trust in each other. And Emma’s crash course in über-spells may not be enough to keep them safe…or to stop an inhuman force bent on making their unsuspected power its own.

First impressions: I was really happy to get back into the lives of Emma and Brendan and Angelique. Starting this book felt like slipping under a favorite blanket – warm and comforting. I appreciated the quick recap that Shultz was able to work in so I remembered where everything left off last time, and it didn’t feel out of place or like an interruption of the narrative.

Lasting impressions: With a lightning-quick pace and lots of action, I tore through this one. I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next. A pure joy to read.

Conflicting impressions: There were two big things that kept me from loving this one as much as last year’s Spellbound. The first was the too-obvious villain, and the second was the narrative jump at the climax.

Overall impressions: Cara Lynn Shultz has a definite knack for engaging the reader. She doesn’t just make you want to read the book. She makes you want to devour it. The last few months have not been good reading months for me, and very few books made me excited to pick them up again – until this one. As soon as I started it, I settled easily into the story and the pages flew by.

Emma and Brendan are such a likable pair, it’s hard to not enjoy reading about their lives. Private school wealth with down-to-earth personalities, these two are further kept in check by Angelique’s snarky barbs and the good humor of bright and bubbly side characters. Everyone in this series feels like a real person, and someone I would want to spend time with.

The witchcraft gets an expanded role in this book, with Emma starting to explore her own powers with help from Angelique. She’s under attack again, and the suspense of this plot keeps things chugging along. Lots of obstacles and fights, as well as the usual teen angst about relationships and intimacy. It reminded me a bit of one of my favorite guilty pleasure movies – The Craft.

Perhaps because of this familiarity with that movie’s plot of witch-gets-power-and-turns-evil, I found the antagonist in this book very easy to spot. Since it takes Emma and crew a while to wise up to this, I got a bit impatient in the middle sections of the book. When it started to snowball toward the ultimate showdown at the climax, I was excited to see it all play out nevertheless.

But.

***POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD! (Highlight text to read)***

In a frustrating move, Shultz interrupts a pivotal decision-making moment for Emma during this climactic battle to transfer the narrative reins to Angelique. We wind up backtracking and following Angelique’s experience of the events, leading up to her reuniting with Emma after the battle. Only then do we find out what happened and what Emma decided – we get it told to us instead of experiencing it.

***END SPOILERS***

The narrative switch happens one other time at an earlier point in the novel, so it wasn’t completely out of left field, but the placement of this one really bothered me. If the story needed the benefit of multiple viewpoints, perhaps a move to a close 3rd person narrative would have been better. I felt like the voices between Emma and Angelique weren’t distinct enough, and would have enjoyed the story just as much if we’d been freed from Emma’s limited perspective. Since Shultz chose to stick with 1st person, however, I really wanted to see the ending play out in full. I felt cheated by the decision to take us out of Emma’s head at such a crucial point in her story.

If you liked Spellbound, this is a great follow-up story. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and hope this isn’t the last I see of Emma and Brendan.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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Review: Ashfall by Mike Mullin

Book: Ashfall
Author: Mike Mullin
Publisher: Tanglewood Press
Release date: October 11, 2011
Source: Borrowed from a friend
Series: Ashfall #1

Summary from Goodreads: Under the bubbling hot springs and geysers of Yellowstone National Park is a supervolcano. Most people don’t know it’s there. The caldera is so large that it can only be seen from a plane or satellite. It just could be overdue for an eruption, which would change the landscape and climate of our planet.

Ashfall is the story of Alex, a teenage boy left alone for the weekend while his parents visit relatives. When the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts unexpectedly, Alex is determined to reach his parents. He must travel over a hundred miles in a landscape transformed by a foot of ash and the destruction of every modern convenience that he has ever known, and through a new world in which disaster has brought out both the best and worst in people desperate for food, water, and warmth. With a combination of nonstop action, a little romance, and very real science, this is a story that is difficult to stop reading and even more difficult to forget.

First impressions: With regard to how I came to read this book, the phrase “borrowed from a friend” is not entirely accurate. Let’s call a spade a spade – I was book bullied into reading this. One of my pals in our writing group went on and on about how scary and awesome it was, so she happily pushed it into my hands. I’m so glad she did!

Lasting impressions: This book could actually happen. Which is definitely equal parts scary and awesome (as a reading experience, not as life).

Conflicting impressions: Alex may have needed to know how to kill and skin animals. I didn’t. Too real for me.

Overall impressions: Have you heard of the supervolcano underneath Yellowstone? You haven’t? You should Google it. It’s terrifying. I first learned of it through another fiction writer, James Rollins, and it is not outside the realm of possibility that it could blow in my lifetime. That kind of real, impending natural disaster is ripe for the picking when it comes to good stories.

Mike Mullin does not disappoint. Our young protagonist, Alex, is home alone when the volcano erupts and his neighborhood is quickly decimated by falling ash. Determined to try and escape the deteriorating conditions, Alex heads east across Iowa trying to reach his family across the Mississippi in Illinois. He straps on a pair of cross country skis and heads out.

This version of post-disaster American life is dark, frightening, and full of danger. It quickly becomes dog-eat-dog, and Alex runs into his fair share of unsavory characters out only for themselves. He does all he can to survive, relying on his own skill, luck, and occasionally the kindness of strangers. Just when you think he’s found a bit of peace, something else goes wrong and he’s forced to move on. It’s gut-wrenching.

It would be unfair to give away too much. Will Alex find his family? Will he figure out how to survive in this new and dangerous landscape? What will happen to the U.S. in the aftermath of this horrific eruption? We get a great story full of action and terror, and the promise of more with the reveal at the end. I can’t wait for the next installation in this series!

Rating: 4/5 stars

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Review: Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

Book: Pandemonium
Author: Lauren Oliver
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: February 28, 2012
Series: Delirium #2

Summary from Goodreads: Iâ??m pushing aside the memory of my nightmare,
pushing aside thoughts of Alex,
pushing aside thoughts of Hana and my old school,
push,
push,
push,
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 flame.

Lauren Oliver delivers an electrifying follow-up to her acclaimed New York Times bestseller, Delirium. This riveting, brilliant novel crackles with the fire of fierce defiance, forbidden romance, and the sparks of a revolution about to ignite.

**slight spoilers for book one contained in this review**

First impressions: I had no clue what to expect with this book. I liked Delirium, but had some major issues with the premise of a society that views love as a disease. It kept me from fully enjoying Lena and Alex’s story, despite beautiful writing. I went in to this one with some hesitation as a result, which turned out to be completely unnecessary.

Lasting impressions: This may be one of the only times I recommend reading a first book just so you can read the second one. This sequel was a thousand times more enjoyable for me than Delirium, and no matter what your feelings on the first book, this is a fantastic read that nearly stands on its own.

Conflicting impressions: I thought Julian changed his ideals and morality a bit too quickly and conveniently. It definitely added tension to Lena’s storyline, but I found it hard to swallow that he would be so afraid and disgusted by Lena’s affliction of delirium, only to fall victim to it a few days or weeks later with no internal conflict.

Overall impressions: When we left Lena at the end of Delirium, she had made it past the wall into The Wilds, and her love Alex had been captured in Portland. This book picks up immediately after, with Lena injured and heartbroken at the assumed death of Alex. She is saved by a group of people on the outside, who take her into their community and nurse her back to health. As she gets stronger and more determined to live life free of the cure, she begins to take on more advanced assignments within their group’s resistance efforts.

Lena experiences some major growing pains in this book. She is alone in spirit, fending for herself for the first time. She makes some acquaintances with her new family in the wilderness, but on the outside people are harder and have been through so much pain that they build emotional walls to fill the place of the physical ones of their old lives. Raven, the mothering leader, is tough as nails while holding tenuously to her desire to care for others. She and Lena have an interesting dynamic that is at times competitive and at times friendly. It’s hard to fully trust her, despite the fact that she seems to do what’s best.

Things really ramp up when Lena is sent to a public rally to spy on a young uncured named Julian. Lena winds up being kidnapped with him and despite his fear of her as a delirium victim, he feels drawn to her. They share some touching moments during captivity and Julian begins to fall for Lena. As they work to escape, navigating their feelings becomes equally treacherous as their harrowing situations. Lena is conflicted about her remaining feelings for Alex, and Julian has been brought up to despise everything that Lena stands for. It’s an interesting dynamic ripe with tension.

The book is full of exciting action and beautiful prose. I appreciated the chance to follow Lena outside the contstrained life in Portland, and following her through the wilderness and into New York City brought a fresh perspective that was so much fun to read. The story is told through chapters that alternate between a 6 month timeframe, labeled “now” and “then.” In the now chapters, we follow Lena and Julian’s exploits, and in the then chapters we see how Lena made her way from Portland to Raven’s crew. When the stories ultimately collide at the end, Lauren Oliver drops another bomb on us (though ultimately not that surprising) and leaves us with another uncertain ending that begs for continuation. It was an appropriate end to this section of Lena’s story, but I anxiously await the third book to see what comes next for Lena.

Rating: 5/5 stars

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Review: Cross My Heart by Sasha Gould

Book: Cross My Heart
Author: Sasha Gould
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Release date: March 13, 2012
Source: eARC from NetGalley

Summary from Goodreads: Venice, 1585.

When 16-year-old Laura della Scala learns that her older sister, Beatrice, has drowned, she is given no time to grieve. Instead, Laura’s father removes her from the convent where he forcibly sent her years earlier and orders her to marry Beatrice’s fiancé, a repulsive old merchant named Vincenzo. Panicked, Laura betrays a powerful man to earn her way into the Segreta, a shadowy society of women who deal in only one currencyâ??secrets. The Segreta seems like the answer to Laura’s prayers. The day after she joins their ranks, Vincenzo is publicly humiliated and conveniently exiled. Soon, however, Laura begins to suspect that her sister’s death was not a tragic accident but a cold-blooded murderâ??one that might involve the Segreta and the women she has come to trust.

First impressions: Man, I am such a sucker for historical settings. The rich details and ominous beginning had me hooked.

Lasting impressions: A fun historical mystery that’s recommended for fans of both genres.

Conflicting impressions: The romance didn’t feel real for me, and I felt the story could have done without it.

Overall impressions: If there’s one thing I love more than historical fiction, it’s secret societies. This book offered me both, and for the most part I was not disappointed.

Laura is a pleasant protagonist, who is stuck in the most unfortunate situations for much of the book. I really rooted for her, because nobody likes to see nice people in sucky circumstances. Forced to live in a convent while her father uses all the available dowry money to try and marry off her older sister, Laura’s life is bleak. When her sister dies suddenly in a mysterious drowning, her father pulls her from the convent to use as a back-up bride.

Say it with me: ICK.

Laura goes along with this plan while out enjoying society for the first time, but soon learns that her new husband-to-be is a decrepit, dirty old man who promises nothing but a lifetime of misery. He’s skeezy in every sense of the world and I shuddered at the thought of poor Laura forced to spend the rest of her life with him.

Say it with me: DOUBLE ICK.

This is where the Segreta comes in. They are a secret society of powerful women that help make things happen in Venice. They pull strings, using the power and influence of secrets to bribe and undermine the men that rule over their lives. It’s an intriguing concept, and one that I wish had been developed a little more. We are given only the face value of this group, with no explanation into their surely rich history and inner workings. As written, it felt a little like a device used to propel Laura’s story forward instead of a vital, integrated thread of the plot.

Similarly, Laura develops a romance that was very ho-hum for me. I didn’t sense much chemistry or connection between them, and it jumped from friendly to ohmigodpleasemarryme in 4 seconds flat. Though the character provides an interesting subplot to the book, I personally would have found the book more satisfying with more emphasis on the Segreta and less on the romance.

The mystery of Laura’s sister’s death at times gets shuffled to the backburner as the story progresses, but the reveal at the end was interesting and I enjoyed the mystery component. I think fans of Renaissance Italy and mystery books will like this one as much as I did, despite its few small flaws.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system