Wild Swans

Thanks to NetGalley, I was fortunate enough to read an early copy of Wild Swans, the latest novel from Jessica Spotswood. I finished the book late last night, and, while I’m paying for it today (seriously, there is not enough coffee to get me going), the time I spent reading this riveting book was well worth it. It is a great example of contemporary YA fiction, and I think many libraries that serve teen readers will be adding it to their shelves.

Ivy Milbourn knows a little something about pressure. Her grandfather drives her to be the best (at nearly everything) and live up to the Milbourn family legacy. But what legacy is that? Using her talent to achieve success? Dying too young? Or abandoning her family?

A few Milbourn women took care of those first two things, and Ivy’s own mother handled the last. Ivy wants to be successful–without being driven crazy–but she also wants to prove that she’s nothing like her mother, a woman she hasn’t seen since she was two years old. Ivy is looking for a way to stand out, but she’s constantly tormented by her own feelings of mediocrity.

Well, this summer, which Ivy thought was going to be relatively pressure-free, may just be the one that breaks her and forces her to really examine what it means to be a Milbourn woman. Ivy’s mother, Erica, has come back home…with Ivy’s two little sisters.

Ivy doesn’t quite know how to handle her mom’s sudden reappearance, especially when faced with Erica’s blatant animosity. Why does her mom hate her so much? What could a two-year-old have possibly done to earn so much loathing, and why does this virtual stranger seem to delight in making Ivy miserable now? What’s more…why does Erica insist that Ivy’s sisters never know of their true relationship?

As if this huge mess with her mom and sisters is not enough, Ivy is also dealing with a changing dynamic between her and her best friend, a potential love interest (who is also one of her grandfather’s students), and the continuing struggle to both live up to and break free of her grandfather’s expectations and the Milbourn family legacy.

Will Ivy be able to handle all of the burdens on her young shoulders? Will she crack under the pressure or find some way to rise above it all while remaining true to herself?

Discover the answers to these questions and many more when you read Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood.


Any reader who’s ever dealt with family pressure will find something to relate to in Ivy. (Doesn’t narrow the audience down much, does it?) Ivy didn’t always handle things in the best way, but she did experience quite a bit of personal growth throughout the course of the book. She learned to speak up for herself and let others know how they made her feel. It wasn’t easy, but Ivy came to realize that it was necessary. That’s a lesson that many adults–myself included–have yet to learn.

As much as I liked this book and most of the main and supporting characters, I have to say that I loathed Erica. (Kudos to the author for making me despise someone so much.) This woman’s behavior was absolutely atrocious for the vast majority of the book. Erica is definitely a character that readers will love to hate, and they’ll cheer when Ivy finally confronts her. Even though there is a hint of redemption for this troubled woman by the end of the book, she still comes off as the villain of the piece…as she should.

Wild Swans, which will be released on May 3rd, is a good fit for teen readers. I wouldn’t recommend it for middle grade readers, simply because there is some frank talk of sexual situations, a lot of underage alcohol use, and a fair amount of swearing. (Having worked in a middle school, I’m not stupid enough to think that some middle school students don’t have experience with that stuff, but I am certain that they’re not mature enough to deal with a lot of it.) This is a book for high school libraries and YA collections.

If you’d like more information on Wild Swans and other books by Jessica Spotswood, check out the author’s website as well as her Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, and Goodreads pages.

Everything, Everything

I decided to read Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon on a whim. It wasn’t on my to-read list. It was barely on my radar. Basically, it was the first available book I saw when I logged onto Overdrive the other day. (By the way, if your school or public library offers Overdrive, USE IT! If they don’t, ask for it. It’s awesome!) I read the synopsis and said to myself, “Why not?” That impulse served me well.

Everything, Everything, which has been out for a few months now, is a quick, easy read, but it does pack an emotional punch. It’s a great piece of contemporary YA fiction, and I think it will find an audience with fans of  wonderful authors like Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Stephanie Perkins, Gayle Forman, and many others. Also, I think it’s pretty great that the main character, Madeline, comes from a background that we don’t see a lot in books for teens. (Her mom is Japanese American, and her dad is African American.)

Madeline Whittier may as well live in a bubble. Seriously. Madeline has SCID (severe combined immunodeficiency), so the least little thing could make her extremely sick. She can’t remember the last time she left her house, and her only human interaction is with her mom and her nurse.

It’s not all bad, though. Madeline reads all the time, she has game nights with her mom, and she can connect with the world online. She’s never really known anything different, and she’s (mostly) accepted that this is her life.

All of that changes when she hears the moving truck next door. With one look out her window, Madeline knows that her life will never be the same. One glimpse at Olly is all it takes. (And the feeling seems to be mutual.)

They start out just looking and gesturing at each other through their bedroom windows. (Nothing creepy, I promise!) They then progress to texting and emailing. But soon that’s not enough for either of them. They want to meet in person. But how can they when Olly would have to get past Madeline’s mother and undergo a fairly extensive decontamination process just to get in the door? Well, as it turns out, Madeline’s nurse can be persuaded to keep a secret…

It doesn’t take long for Madeline to realize that she could be in some serious trouble with Olly. Her growing feelings for him–and his for her–could turn out to be very inconvenient. Aside from the fact that her mom would freak out if she knew of their relationship and his visits, Madeline doesn’t see how they can have a future together with her illness getting in the way. It’s not like they can go out on dates, take a walk, or do anything “normal” young couples do.

Or can they?


I’m going to leave you hanging on that note. If I keep going, I’ll give too much away…like how the ending totally threw me for a loop. 😉

If you’re looking to add Everything, Everything to your library, I would have to say that I recommend it for teen and adult readers. There are some sexy times–which are obvious but not gratuitous–that some middle grade readers may not be ready for (I hope).

For more information on Everything, Everything and Nicola Yoon, visit the author’s website, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram.

Bone Gap

I finished reading Bone Gap by Laura Ruby a couple of days ago, and I’m still trying to decide how I feel about it. It was beautifully written, kind of creepy, and kept me guessing, but I don’t know that it was one of my favorite books. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe I’ll figure it out as I’m writing this post.

The people of Bone Gap don’t know what happened to Roza, a young woman who left the town as mysteriously as she entered it. Maybe she went back to Poland. Maybe she left for greener pastures. Maybe she just had enough of living with the O’Sullivan brothers. Or maybe the younger brother, Finn, had something to do with her disappearance. No one knows the truth, but they’re not really looking for Roza, either.

Well, no one except Finn.

Finn O’Sullivan knows that Roza was taken by a strange man, but nobody believes him. Finn can’t recall what the man looks like, just how he moves. Finn looks for the man everywhere he goes, and he catches glimpses of him a couple of times, but the people of Bone Gap continue to think that he’s making up a crazy story.

Even Finn’s big brother Sean, the guy who was probably closest to Roza, refuses to believe Finn, and the situation is driving the brothers apart. Only Petey, a girl with her own experiences with Bone Gap’s rumor mill, seems to believe Finn. She eventually comes to realize that maybe there’s a reason why Finn can’t remember what Roza’s abductor looks like.

As for Roza, she is being held captive by a man who wants to make her his. This man has been obsessed with Roza for a long time, and he gives her everything she could possibly need…except her freedom. Roza wonders if anyone is looking for her or even cares what happened to her. She searches for ways to escape her situation, but all seems lost…

…or is it?

How can Roza flee from a man so powerful that even the dead obey his commands? Can Finn find a way to save Roza even though everyone around him thinks he’s crazy…or worse? Whatever happens, what will it mean for the O’Sullivan brothers, Roza, Petey, and the people of Bone Gap?

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I don’t know if I’ve made it clear here, but Bone Gap has a bit of magical realism in it. It’s rather subtle in the beginning, but it’s more and more evident the longer you read. I guess maybe I wasn’t expecting the mystical elements of the book, and that’s why I’m not sure how I feel about it. Truthfully, even though I love books with magic in them, I would have liked this book more if there had been a more realistic explanation of Roza’s disappearance and several other occurrences in Bone Gap. (I know I’m probably in the minority on this. That’s fine with me.)

Bone Gap is a good addition to libraries that serve young adult and adult readers. I think it may be a little too deep for younger readers (and some older readers, to be honest). There’s also some mature content that could keep it out of middle school collections.

Bone Gap was a finalist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, so that might tell you a little about the quality of this book. (If you’re curious, the winner of this year’s prize went to Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. I haven’t read it yet, but I hope to get to it eventually.)

If you’d like more information about Bone Gap and other works by Laura Ruby, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with her on Twitter and Tumblr. I also found a book trailer for Bone Gap on YouTube. It captures the mood of the book fairly well.

 

Born to Endless Night

This post revolves around the ninth story in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy. At this point, if you haven’t read everything Cassandra Clare has written about Shadowhunters, I don’t know what to tell you.

As you’ve likely gathered, I recently finished reading Born to Endless Night, story #9 in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy. I don’t know that this is my favorite story in the bunch…but it’s definitely in the running.

What’s so great about it, you ask? In a word: Malec. (For those who aren’t familiar with this series, this is the “couple name” for Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood.) Yes, Simon continues to play a big role in this story (as he should), but the focus this time is on Magnus, Alec, and the little newcomer who is going to change everything…

Magnus Bane, the High Warlock of Brooklyn, thought this was going to be a fairly uneventful trip…even for him. He’d give a few lectures at the Shadowhunter Academy, spend some time with Alec, and go on his merry way. He couldn’t know that something is about to happen that will throw his entire world into a tailspin…

Shortly after Magnus arrives at the Academy, several young Shadowhunters-in-training, including Simon, discover a small bundle at the Academy entrance. Everyone is shocked to discover that this bundle is a baby with navy blue skin. A warlock child. The baby has been abandoned by his mother, and Simon immediately thinks to go to Magnus about this situation. Surely, he’ll know what to do.

As it turns out, it’s not Magnus that jumps in and takes charge. It’s Alec. Alec cares for this blue-skinned child as if he were born to do so. And the entire Lightwood family jumps in to help. While Alec seems totally sure of what needs to happen with the warlock child, Magnus is the one who is uncertain. In all of his centuries on earth, he’s never encountered a situation like this one. What is he supposed to do, and how will all of this change his relationship with Alec?

_______________

I’m going to stop here before I give away every single thing that happens in this story. I will say, though, that I loved seeing more of Alec. I think he’s often overlooked–especially when either Magnus or Jace are around–so it was wonderful to see him get his chance to truly shine…and he did. And even though I didn’t mention it in my little recap above, I also liked how both Alec and Magnus reassured Simon about his actions–both past and present–and his place in the larger Shadowhunter world.

With that, I guess we move on to story #10 in the Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy collection. This final installment, Angels Twice Descending, will focus on Simon’s Ascension ceremony, and it will be out on November 17th. I don’t know what to expect at this point, but I’m fairly certain that it will be a story to remember…and should be a great lead-in to Lady Midnight (out on March 8th).

Speaking of Lady Midnight…have you all seen that absolutely gorgeous cover? If not, check it out below.

Pretty, pretty, pretty. I eagerly await what is sure to be another fantastic book in Cassie Clare’s Shadowhunter saga. (I’m also pretty stoked about the TV series which premieres on ABC Family–soon to be FreeForm–on January 12th at 9/8c. I’m not a huge fan of the time slot–that’s when I watch Agents of SHIELD–but I’ll still be tuning in.)

For more Shadowhunter fun, click here for the official TV series website and here for the novels’ website.

Another Day

Another Day is a companion novel to Every Day by David Levithan. I strongly recommend you read Every Day first. Is it absolutely essential? Well, no…but it will help to alleviate a bit of confusion if you read A’s story first. (There will still be some confusion, but that’s to be expected with books like these. If you don’t already, you’ll soon realize what I mean.)

Two years ago, I read Every Day by the wonderful David Levithan. I admit that I wasn’t totally sold on the book at first. The more I thought about it, though, the more intrigued I became. So when I got the opportunity to read the long-awaited companion novel, Another Day, via NetGalley, I jumped on it. Well, as it so often does, life interfered with my reading plans, and I wasn’t able to finish Another Day as quickly as I would have liked. (I wanted to read it before its release on August 25th, but I didn’t quite make it.) Anyway, I finally finished the book last night, and I think I liked it even more than I did the first book. It may have had something to do with the protagonist being a little more relatable. I don’t know, but I’m hoping another book in this series will help me–and the characters–figure things out.

For Rhiannon, each day is basically just like every other. She deals with her parents (who seem to be totally checked out), she goes to school, and she tries to figure out what kind of mood her boyfriend Justin is in. Sometimes he notices and seems to appreciate her presence; at other times, he’s distant, moody, and even mean. She never really knows what she’s going to get with him, but it’s never what she wants.

One day, though, Rhiannon notices a change in Justin. He’s nice to her. He’s attentive. He wants to spend the day with her. Has he turned a corner and realized just what she means to him? It certainly seems so when he suggests they skip school and spend the entire day at the beach. They really talk to each other for the first time, and Rhiannon feels like she’s seeing a whole new Justin, a Justin who is the boyfriend she’s always hoped for. Unfortunately for Rhiannon, this perfect day cannot last…

When Rhiannon encounters Justin the next day, he’s distant once more and doesn’t remember much about their day at the beach. Rhiannon isn’t sure what’s going on, but she knows it’s something big. She just doesn’t realize how big or how this something is going to change her life, her relationships, and how she perceives the world as a whole.

On that one perfect day, Justin wasn’t really Justin. He was A, a boy (?) who inhabits a new body each day. Every day, A is someone different, and when Rhiannon is confronted with the reality of what’s happening, she’s confused, disbelieving…and enthralled with this being who goes to great lengths to be with her when her own boyfriend barely notices her.

As A and Rhiannon grow closer, Rhiannon is torn by the double life she’s leading. Part of her still loves Justin, but another part realizes that A is the one who truly loves and sees her. How can she reconcile these two existences? Should she stay with Justin because he’s always the same, or should she take a risk on a very uncertain future with A? Can she cope with the fact that she never knows what A will look like–or even what gender he will be–from day to day?

Very soon, both Rhiannon and A will have to make some difficult choices. Will they try to work things out despite the obstacles? Or will they go back to the lives they knew before? Is that even possible now?

Read Another Day to learn how a seemingly impossible situation opens one girl’s eyes to the truth about love, perception, and relationships worth keeping at all costs.

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Another Day takes a close look at a girl in a bad relationship. No, Justin never hit Rhiannon or anything like that, but he chipped at her self-esteem and made her feel like she had to walk on eggshells all the time. I imagine that quite a few teens (and adults) will relate to this experience. Maybe Rhiannon’s relationships with both Justin and A will help some people to realize that there’s more out there. They don’t have to stay with a person who treats them badly. “At least he doesn’t hit me” is no reason to keep someone around. Good guys (and girls) are out there…but even being alone is better than being with someone who’s bad for you. (I’m personally a big fan of being alone…but that’s just me.)

I don’t know what else I can say about this book. I enjoyed it. I think it was better than Every Day. (I do admit that it’s been two years since I read the first book. I might feel differently if I reread it.) The series as a whole is rather different from most other stuff out there, and I really hope that there’s another book coming out in the future. (I have reason to hope that there will be.)

If you’re intrigued by the premise of both Every Day and Another Day (and the prequel novella Six Earlier Days), you can learn more at author David Levithan’s website. Enjoy!

Never Always Sometimes

Yesterday, I finished reading Never Always Sometimes by Adi Alsaid. (You may recognize the name from his previous book, Let’s Get Lost.) Anyway, this latest book, which comes out next Tuesday, is sort of a coming of age story that John Green fans will probably eat up. In fact, at various points, this book reminded me a bit of Paper Towns. If you’re a Nerdfighter, that’s probably all the recommendation you need.

In Never Always Sometimes, readers are introduced to Dave and Julia, best friends who have done their best to avoid becoming high school clichés. Before they even darkened the doors of high school, Dave and Julia made a Nevers List, a list of things they vowed never to do during their time in high school. Some of the items were:

  • #2 – Never run for prom king/queen, student body president, or any other position that would have its own page in the yearbook.
  • #5 – Never dye your hair a color found in the rainbow.
  • #8 – Never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school.
  • #10 – Never date your best friend.

Now, almost four years later, just months before graduation, Dave and Julia have done a fairly good job of sticking to their Nevers List. Or so it seems.

Dave, for his part, has been in love with Julia for what seems like forever–breaking Never #8–but he keeps his feelings a secret so that he won’t ruin his relationship with his best friend.

One day, thinking she and Dave are missing out on the authentic high school experience, Julia suggests that they use the time before graduation to cross off every Never on their list. As is usually the case, Dave goes along with Julia’s crazy idea, and pretty soon, the two are dying their hair (and Dave is shaving his shortly thereafter), stalking a teacher, running a campaign for prom king, going to wild parties, and doing all the other things they’ve been disdainful of all this time.

Through all of this, Dave starts to realize that maybe he really has been missing out. This typical teenage stuff isn’t so bad, and it’s even pushing him to be social with people–girls–other than Julia. One girl in particular, Gretchen, catches his eye, and Dave begins to think that, as much as he still loves Julia, maybe he should let that hopeless crush go and move on.

What Dave doesn’t know (yet) is that Julia is coming to her own realizations. Maybe she too wants something more from her best friend, the guy who knows her better than anyone else. Maybe they should finally cross of Never #10 and see what happens. What could possibly go wrong?

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How do I feel about Never Always Sometimes now that I’ve finished it and reflected a bit? Well, I’m still not sure. I think it’s a good book, maybe a tad unrealistic, but I kind of wanted to punch the main characters in the face several times when I was reading. Especially Julia. (I guess it’s good that I got so emotionally invested.) She seemed so self-centered to me throughout most of the book, and she tended to drag Dave down with her. Granted, he went–if somewhat unwillingly–most of the time, but I wanted both of them to wake up and see just how codependent they were.

As for the ending of the book, it took some doing, but it was sort of satisfying. I wouldn’t exactly call it happy, but given the events that preceded it, it really couldn’t be a totally happy ending for everyone. If anything, I would say that it was fitting and leave it at that.

For those wondering if Never Always Sometimes is suitable for middle grade readers, I would advise against it. It’s great for a YA audience, but the “sexy times” and rather unrepentant alcohol use and rule-breaking make the book much more suited to older teens. Whatever the reader’s age, I’d hope that all of them would have sense enough to know that some of the items on the Nevers List–like “never hook up with a teacher”–should remain Nevers.

As I said previously, Never Always Sometimes will be released to the masses on August 4th. (Many thanks to NetGalley for letting me read it a bit early.) If you’re interested in learning more about this book and author Adi Alsaid, you can connect with the author on Goodreads and Twitter. You may also want to take a look at the book trailer below. It’s a pretty good intro to Never Always Sometimes, but it doesn’t give too much away.

Happy reading!

The Beginning of Everything

Happy Independence Day to all of my American friends out there–and happy Saturday to everyone else. As fireworks are blasting all around me, I figured now was a good time to bring you my latest read. I’m not a huge fan of loud noises, so this is helping me to focus on something other than the idea that my neighbors have spent what seems like thousands of dollars in pyrotechnics. Thanks for that.

Yesterday, I finished reading The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider. This book, which is nominated for the 15-16 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award, is sure to be a hit with readers who love John Green, Gayle Forman, Jennifer E. Smith, and other wonderful authors of contemporary YA fiction.

“Sometimes I think that everyone has a tragedy waiting for them…That everyone’s life, no matter how unremarkable, has a moment when it will become extraordinary–a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen.”

Ezra Faulkner was once the envy of nearly everyone around him. He had the beautiful girlfriend, he was a tennis star, and he was one of the most popular guys in the junior class. All of that changed, though, on one fateful night. One night–and one tragic car accident–that shattered his leg, his tennis career, and everything he thought he knew about himself.

After a grueling summer of surgeries, rehab, and physical therapy, Ezra is returning to school for his senior year. He knows that this year will be different, but he’s not quite prepared for just how different. He’s no longer the school’s golden boy. His former girlfriend has moved on–to the new captain of the tennis team. Some of his supposed friends act like nothing has changed, but Ezra knows that they can’t simply go back to the way things once were. Too much has happened in the past few months.

Now, Ezra is trading the tennis team for the debate team. It is here that he reconnects with Tobey, one of his best childhood friends, and he also meets a few new friends who are much more interesting than his former self would have believed. Ezra also meets Cassidy Thorpe, the enigmatic new girl who sparks his interest and forces him to think about the new direction his life has taken.

Ezra is completely taken in by Cassidy. He feels more for her than he ever did for his former girlfriend, he enjoys being with her, and he appreciates that she makes him think. But Ezra knows that Cassidy is holding something back. She won’t talk about why she’s transferred to his school or no longer competes in debate. She never invites Ezra to her house or introduces him to her family. Why? What exactly is this mysterious girl hiding? Why is she doing her best to drive Ezra away when he thought they were closer than ever?

When Ezra finally realizes what Cassidy has been hiding, the air is knocked out of him. The truth is almost too much for him–and Cassidy–to handle, and this new tragedy, much like the car accident that altered the course of his life, has the power to change everything.

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While I found The Beginning of Everything to be a tad predictable, I did enjoy it. I loved the character of Tobey, who I imagined as kind of a teenage version of Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor. I also liked how Ezra’s character developed throughout the book. Sure, there were times when I wanted to smack him for being wishy-washy, but he did come to realize that he had more to him than tennis and superficial popularity.

I’m hoping that readers will do further research on the the literary and philosophical allusions in this book. There were many references to the PanopticonThe Great Gatsby, Foucault, and other works and ideas that make The Beginning of Everything a much richer read because of their presence.

If I have one big complaint about this book, it was the way it concluded. I wasn’t crazy about the abrupt ending. It almost felt like there were a couple of chapters missing. I went from reading about Christmas of Ezra’s senior year to his first year of college in a matter of minutes. It was a little jarring. I get that the major events of the book had already happened, but a little more stuff would have given me a greater sense of closure that what I ended up with.

If you think The Beginning of Everything sounds like your kind of book, you can learn more on the author’s website. You can also connect with author Robyn Schneider on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and YouTube.