Atlantia

Atlantia, a stand-alone novel by Matched author Ally Condie, had been sitting on my bookshelf for while. A few weeks ago, I decided to finally read it. It was not quite what I was expecting. I wanted to like it as much as I did the Matched series, but something held me back…and I’m not even sure what it was. For whatever reason, I just didn’t connect to this book. Maybe I’ll be able to work that out throughout the course of this post.

Rio longs to be Above. She’s lived Below, in her underwater home of Atlantia, for her entire life, but she’s never really felt like she belongs here. Even though she’s promised her sister, Bay, that she’ll stay with her Below, a part of her longs for the sand, sun, and sky Above.

It’s understandable, then, that Rio feels a sense of betrayal when her sister makes the stunning decision to go Above herself. Left Below alone, Rio is adrift, torn from the last person who truly knew her and her secrets. You see, Rio is a siren–one of the last of these powerful beings–and she’s always hidden her true voice from those around her. Could this secret have something to do with her sister’s abrupt departure? And could it be the key to Rio finding her way Above?

Eventually, Rio comes to realize that she’s not as alone as she thought. Her aunt, also a siren, is determined to help Rio find her voice and get in touch with her true power. Why though? Can this woman, who was never before part of Rio’s life, be trusted? Does Rio even have any choice in the matter if she wants to be reunited with her sister? What exactly is her aunt’s agenda?

As Rio comes to terms with her own power and her family’s actions, she uncovers some terrible truths about Atlantia itself. It seems that terrible forces are at work that will ensure the destruction of not only Atlantia but every siren who still exists. It also appears that Rio may be the only hope to stop these horrible events from occurring.

What can Rio do to turn the tide? How can she, an untried siren, possibly thwart the powers that would seek to destroy her? Who can she rely on to save herself and the only home she’s ever known?


I would categorize Atlantia as science fiction…even though it’s billed as fantasy. It seems obvious to me that the entire concept of this underwater city comes about because of the damage done to the environment Above. The societies in this book found a way to build a fully-enclosed, underwater city where people could live free of pollution. Once there, sirens–and others with special abilities–evolved due to their new surroundings. Industry revolved around keeping the city intact, and there was a certain amount of interdependence between Above and Below. Even religions changed (or were formed) to explain these new dynamics. Now that I’ve had time to reflect on all of this, I find it fascinating, and it helps me to have a more positive outlook on this book as a whole. (I’m still not overly fond of Rio or the somewhat forced romance in the book, but that’s probably my issue.)

Atlantia, in my opinion, is a good fit for libraries that serve middle grade and teen readers. There are some interesting family dynamics, a decent mystery, supernatural elements, and a bit of romance…something for everyone, I guess. It may not be my absolute favorite book, but it makes me think, and that’s all I can really ask for.

To learn more about Atlantia and Ally Condie, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with the author on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

I’ll Give You the Sun

Sometimes, when it takes me a while to finish a book, it’s because I just couldn’t get into it. (See my previous post.) Other times, however, my reasons are more complicated. My latest read, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, took me about six weeks to get through, but the problem definitely wasn’t that I couldn’t get into it. Just the opposite, in fact.

I’ll Give You the Sun–like the works of John Green, Gayle Forman, and Rainbow Rowell–is one of those books with the power to completely take over everything, causing me to forget to sleep or eat and making me resent going to work. So, I had to force myself to only pick up this book when I could devote all of my attention to it…and I was finally able to do a lot of that this weekend. I consider it a weekend well spent…even with all of the ugly crying going on.

This amazing book tells the story of Jude and Noah, twins who have been torn apart by heart-breaking circumstances. Told in alternating perspectives–the earlier years by Noah and the later years by Jude–this story allows readers to see both sides of a tarnished (yet still beautiful) coin.

Through Noah’s eyes, we see Noah and his obsession with the pictures in his head, the enigmatic boy next door, and his fear that both he and his art are simply not good enough. We see Jude, her wild ways, and Noah’s confusion over why she’s drifting away from him. We also see the pain of being different, Noah’s struggle to find–and accept–his own identity, and how secrets big and small have the power to rip a boy’s soul to pieces.

Through Jude’s eyes, readers see what the twins are like just a few short years later. Jude is no longer the wild child of the bunch. That honor goes to Noah. Jude is now the withdrawn, artistic twin, and she wants to find some way to reach her brother and force him to really be his true self. All the while, Jude is also wrestling with her own ghosts and seeking a measure of peace in her life.

What could have caused such a drastic personality switch in these once-close twins, and is there any way to heal the wounds of the past and move toward a happy future?

With the help of a couple of people with odd connections to the twins’ past, there may be hope for these two siblings to once again find each other. The journey will not be without its painful revelations, but, if they can make it through to the other side, they may just find everything they thought they’d lost.

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As so often happens with books that grab me and won’t let go, this post doesn’t begin to do I’ll Give You the Sun justice. I laughed, I cried, and I roared at the vindictiveness of siblings, twins who claim to love each other more than anything. I’ll Give You the Sun was an intense, emotional roller coaster, and I honestly wasn’t ready for the ride to end. That may be another reason I took my time with this one. On some level, I knew that this book would be one to savor.

For more information on author Jandy Nelson and this amazing book, I encourage you to visit the author’s website, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

*This amazing book is being touted as one of the great new YA reads, and I totally agree with that. I would, however, caution some librarians, teachers, parents, and others that recommend books to young people that I’ll Give You the Sun does explore some mature themes–sexual identity and alcohol abuse being two of them. Those themes may be par for the course for many teen readers, but I doubt I’d recommend this book to anyone below the high school level…unless that reader showed incredible maturity. Of course, you know the young people in your lives better than I do, so do what you will.*

Fangirl

It probably won’t surprise anyone that a book titled Fangirl really resonated with me. I am a proud member of multiple fandoms (Doctor Who, Sherlock, Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings, Supernatural…just to name a few), and, while I don’t write fanfiction like this book’s protagonist does, I do spend a somewhat unhealthy amount of time lost in these fictional worlds and/or thinking about alternate realities for my favorite characters. I honestly don’t think any of my family or friends really understand how important my fandoms are to me. They don’t get that fictional worlds are often much easier to navigate–and manipulate–than the real world is. Rainbow Rowell gets it.

Cath and her twin sister Wren are off to college. For the first time since ever, the two girls will be separated…totally against Cath’s will. Cath thought that she and Wren would surely be roommates, but Wren had other ideas. Wren wants to live it up at college, and it seems she can’t do that with Cath along for the ride.

Cath, a devoted fan of the Simon Snow book series (which brings Harry Potter to mind), retreats into herself and the fanfiction that means so much to her. She goes to class, studies, eats protein bars in the comfort of her dorm room, stays out of her roommate’s way, and loses her self in writing Simon Snow fanfiction. Soon though, Cath’s roommate, Reagan, decides that Cath is not experiencing anything of college, and she and her friend Levi drag Cath into the “real world.”

Cath is stepping out of her comfort zone just a bit. She’s spending time writing with a cute guy at the library. She’s hanging out with Reagan and Levi more and more. She’s even eating in the cafeteria fairly regularly. Some things, though, are not so great. Cath’s twin seems to be drunk more than she’s sober, Wren is trying to reconnect with their long-lost mother (who Cath wants absolutely nothing to do with), Cath is struggling in her fiction-writing class, and she’s worried about how her father is handling things on his own. As it turns out, Cath has reason to worry…

When things really go pear-shaped, Cath takes solace in her fanfiction writing…and in the arms of Levi. Even when Levi gives Cath reason to write him off, she can’t let go of this boy who accepts her as she is and always has a smile for her (and everyone else he meets). She’s not totally comfortable with this new twist to their relationship, and she often questions what he sees in her and why he bothers with someone who has so many quirks.

As Cath’s freshman year in college progresses, she’ll learn a great deal about herself–her life as a daughter, a sister, a friend, a girlfriend, and a writer. She’ll discover a strength within herself that no one–not even Cath–ever expected. There’s more to Cath than being a fangirl, and, though Simon Snow and Cath’s fanfiction writing still mean a lot to her, she’ll discover that there’s room in her world for so much more.

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I feel like I’ve given too much away in this post, and I’m sorry for that. I hope I haven’t spoiled this book for anyone, especially since I think this book will appeal to so many who frequently visit this blog. It’s a fantastic book that many people–not just fangirls like myself–will find relatable.

Fangirl, in addition to speaking to the fangirl in me, also spoke to me because Cath reminded me a lot of myself in college. I was never the party girl, I was pretty focused on my studies, I had just a few close friends, and I spent much of my time alone. Don’t get me wrong here. I loved almost everything about college, especially my undergraduate years at Winthrop University. (Go Eagles!) Like Cath, though, new situations tend to throw me into a panic, and I’ll usually withdraw into myself rather than enter into an unfamiliar situation. (As you may have gathered, not much has changed since college.) For instance, if I didn’t have a friend to go to the college dining hall with me, I’d stay in my room and nuke some Top Ramen. (I became quite the Ramen connoisseur in college. That cafeteria was kind of intimidating.)

I cannot say enough good things about this book. Like Eleanor & Park, Fangirl really captures what it is to be a young adult. Rainbow Rowell is an author who seems to truly remember what it was like to be a young adult, and that definitely comes through in her books. Her characters are dynamic, sympathetic, and so well-developed that I feel like they’ve become my friends.  I can’t wait to read more from this fabulous author.

For those who’d like to learn more about Fangirl and author Rainbow Rowell, visit the author’s website, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and Goodreads. Also, here’s a very short book trailer for Fangirl that you may enjoy!

*Note: Unlike many of the books I post on here, Fangirl is probably not suitable for a middle school audience. The book focuses on a freshman in college, and those of you who’ve been college freshmen probably know what this means:  alcohol, cursing, sex, etc. Not that I’m saying that all college freshman are drunk, promiscuous, or prone to spewing profanity. I’m just saying that, for some, college is the time when young people rebel a bit and push against boundaries. Be prepared for that when you read/recommend this book.*

With that, I bid all of you a fond farewell. I hope you all have a very happy holiday. I’ll be busy with family today and tomorrow, but I hope to return with a brand-new blog post on December 26th. We’ll see how it goes. Merry Christmas Eve!

Chime

It’s rare that it takes me three weeks to finish a book.  Usually, it’s more like three days.  My latest read, however, almost completely stalled my reading progress, which is a shame because I was so excited about this book when I started it.  This book is Chime by Franny Billingsley.  (If you’ve been following the controversy surrounding this year’s National Book Award, this book might seem familiar to you.)  The cover is beautiful, nearly every review was positive, and the synopsis I read before diving into this book promised an interesting, engaging read.  Well, that might have been true for some readers, but this book just didn’t do it for me.

In Chime, we meet Briony Larkin.  Briony is not an average girl.  She spends her days taking care of her twin sister Rose, avoiding her father, and hating herself.  Why does she hate herself, you ask?  Well, Briony is a witch, and she can feel nothing but hatred for herself.  She cannot cry, she cannot love, and she cannot feel remorse.  She knows she’s a wicked girl, and only bad things will befall her and those around her.  After all, Briony’s jealousy injured Rose and killed their stepmother, right? 

When a young man, Eldric, arrives in the small village of Swampsea, Briony notices a change in herself.  She begins to feel more than just self-hatred.  She’s becoming adventurous, she’s laughing, and she’s having strong feelings for this boy-man.  She’s venturing into the swamp that she’s always been afraid of (and drawn to).  She’s longing to tell someone the truth about herself.  But what will Eldric do if he learns the truth about Briony?  Will he announce to the town that she’s a witch?  Will he watch Briony hang?  Will he keep her secret? 

Join Briony, Eldric, and a host of other colorful characters on a journey through the mysterious mires of Swampsea.  What will they discover?  What secrets will they unearth?  In the end, all truth will be revealed when you read Chime by Franny Billingsley.

Like I mentioned above, this book was not a favorite of mine.  The dialog was as hard to wade through as the swamp-filled setting.  On a more positive note, I thought the ending of the book was pretty good, and I like that this book serves as a stand-alone title (no trilogy in the works that I’m aware of).  If you decide to give Chime a try, let me know what you think of it.  Maybe I missed something that you didn’t.

If you’d like more information about Chime and author Franny Billingsley, visit http://www.frannybillingsley.com/.  I was just browsing this site, and I discovered that Ms. Billingsley wrote a favorite picture book, Big Bad Bunny.  Cool.

Prophecy of the Sisters

Well, judging a book by its cover has finally gotten me into trouble.  I picked up Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink because I thought the cover was cool.  I read the book jacket and thought the story was intriguing.  An ancient prophecy and twin sisters, one good and one evil…I was hooked.  As I got into the story, however, I was less and less intrigued.  I was able to predict a lot of the major story elements.  A few surprises may have been nice.  Also, I didn’t find out until a couple of minutes ago that this was the first book in a trilogy.  While it did explain the total lack of resolution at the end of this book, that information would have been helpful at the start of the book.  I probably wouldn’t have picked the book up if I had known I would be starting a new series.  Oh well…live and learn.

Prophecy of the Sisters begins with a death.  Twin sisters Lia and Alice Milthorpe have become orphans after the death of their father.  Events such as this often bring siblings together, but Lia and Alice seem to be growing apart.  Lia is even afraid of Alice much of the time.  The reason for this fear and the twins’ differences is soon made clear–an ancient prophecy which involves the sisters.  One sister is the Guardian of this world, and the other is the Gate by which the Beast and his minions can enter the world and wreak havoc for eternity.  (Like I said, this is a pretty cool premise.)

Lia is certain of her role, and she works to reveal the details of the prophecy and her place in it.  But what will she do when she discovers that her role is not as clear as she had assumed?  Can she fight what she was born to be?  Is her sister truly one to be feared, or can Lia find some way to reach Alice?  Nothing is as it seems in this first book in the Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy.

Even though I was not impressed with Prophecy of the Sisters, I will probably still read book two, Guardian of the Gate, released on August 1st.  I’m just curious enough to want to know how the story progresses.  I have high hopes that the second installment will be much better than the first since we’ve gotten a lot of the character introductions out of the way.  Here’s hoping.

Bewitching Season

Well, I’ve finally finished Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle.  To be perfectly honest, I’ve been trying to finish this book for about two months.  It’s not a book I would generally pick up, so I wasn’t really motivated to finish it.  (I finally did because it’s nominated for my state’s young adult book award for next year.)  While it took an exceedingly long time to get interested in this book, once I got about halfway through, I couldn’t wait to finish it.  The action really picks up in the middle, and I could finally say that I was invested in the story.

Persephone and Penelope are about to be launched on London society.  The year is 1837, and the twin sisters are preparing for their first London season.  These aren’t two ordinary sisters, though.  They are witches.  For years, they’ve been training with their governess, Miss Allardyce, who not only teaches them writing and math but also how to use and control their magical gifts.

As the season is set to begin, however, Miss Allardyce goes missing.  Persy and Pen have no idea where to find her.  The two sisters must also deal with unbelievably tedious dress fittings (at least, I found them to be tedious), a nosy little brother, and the inevitable husband hunting of the season.  Persy wants little or nothing to do with the season and would love to devote all of her time to finding her missing governess, but her plans are complicated when she catches the eyes of two potential suitors.

As events unfold, Persy and Pen learn of a foul plot to control the Princess Victoria, heir to the throne, and their missing governess is somehow involved.  Can they thwart this evil plan while maintaining their decorum in London’s most prestigious ballrooms?  Is this even possible?  And how can Persy concentrate on rescuing Miss Allardyce when she’s trying to decide who she should marry or if she should wed at all?  Read Bewitching Season to learn how truly magical Victorian London can be.

While I admit that it took me forever to finally finish this book, I do plan to check out the sequel, Betraying Season, soon.  Now that I’ve read Persy’s story, I’m eager to see how things develop for her sister Pen.

Identical

There are few books that have disturbed me as much as my latest read, Identical by Ellen Hopkins.  In fact, I can only think of two books that creeped me out as much as this one did:  The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold and Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott.  If you’ve read these two books or know anything about them, you know why they are so disturbing.  Hopkins’ Identical is similar to these books, but some of the subject matter is so sickening that I had to put the book down on several occasions.

Kayleigh and Raeanne are identical twins.  Their mother is running for Congress and has no time for them.  Their father escapes into whiskey bottles and uses Kayleigh as a replacement for his absent wife.  Kayleigh feels like she’s dying inside, and Raeanne uses drugs and sex to escape her miserable life at home.

As the problems at home begin to escalate, Kayleigh and Raeanne each face the turmoil in their own ways.  Kayleigh cuts herself and binges.  Raeanne is always looking for a bigger high and a newer guy.  What will become of these twins when one of them cannot harbor her secrets any longer?

As I stated previously, this is a very disturbing read.  At the same time, I cannot keep Ellen Hopkins’ books on my shelves at school.  Identical is no different.  I would caution some students that this is a very mature read, and they should proceed with caution.  Some readers simply will not be able to handle it (adults included).  It is definitely a book that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading it.