Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

13206760Scarlet is the second book in Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles and loosely follows the Little Red Riding Hood story. Much like Cinder, what’s old is new again and Meyer successfully manages to imbue new life into the familiar tales. I love how she manages to interweave the fairy tales together creating interesting connections between Scarlet and Cinder that are believable and so much fun.

We pick up right where Cinder left off, switching back and forth between the two girls’ perspectives. I enjoyed each voice equally and wasn’t bothered by the back and forth one bit. The story still manages to keep up Cinder’s non-stop, breakneck pacing with one adventure following the next. I adore Meyer’s female leads immensely. Strong, independent teenagers growing up in a crazy dystopian world where cyborgs, humans, and aliens aren’t managing to get along very well.

As much as I liked Scarlet, Cinder still stands as the better novel. Scarlet abounds in insta-love which is a young adult trope I cannot get on board with. That sucks since Cinder and Kai’s flirting and quietly burgeoning relationship was perfection – one of the book’s most attractive qualities. I guess having two unrequited love stories happening simultaneously might have been too much. However, I’d have preferred no additional love plot line to the insta-love far too often found in YA novels.

I recommend this collection of novels if you’re looking for mostly well-done YA with female leads not afraid to get their hands dirty and kick some ass. Summer brain candy at its finest and earns a deserving spot in anyone’s beach bag!

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

12394100Spoiler alert! I loved every single freakin’ word.

Seraphina is YA fantasy at its best. There’s a whole new world (Aladdin!), dragons, humans, and dragon-human hybrids. The dragons and humans coexist under a tentative peace treaty that is threatening to fall apart. Seraphina looks like just an ordinary, mild-mannered 16 year old music tutor, but she’s harboring a dangerous secret. And…DRAGONS!

Hartman has built a world that was an absolute pleasure to visit. I wanted souvenirs! The two societies have just enough in common to really make their tenuous dealings thrilling and the reasons they are on the brink of war believable. Seraphina herself is the single most delightful teenage protagonist I’ve read this year and might have saved my wavering feelings towards YA. Sometimes I even forgot she was a teenager. That’s not to say she’s really written as an adult masquerading as a kid – not at all. She’s still learning and growing in all the ways teenage girls do, just with additional complexities that allow her some perspective. Loved that.

I’m fairly certain Hartman’s writing doesn’t need any additional gushing from me. She’s won a ton of awards, and I can hardly believe this is her first novel. I read an interview where she stated it took nine years for her to pen Seraphina, and she’s fully admitted to being a writer who can’t write one book a year. Thank goodness. I hate when authors feel so pressured to manufacture subpar works just to satisfy publishers and an audience. I understand that capitalizing on the feedback of the prior book is essential to sales…but it still sucks.

What also pleased me was how the initial main conflicts in Seraphina were mostly resolved by the book’s end leaving me satisfied. I imagine you could read this book as a standalone and be fine. However, her world and Seraphina herself are so engaging that I can’t wait for book two and to see where the dragon/human conflict leads. For once, I’m dying for the sequel. And I’m thrilled to report that Seraphina’s love interest didn’t bother me in the slightest. The love story was a secondary plot line that happened organically and at the slower pace I adore. Kudos!

If you’ve become a bit skeptical of all the formulaic YA out there, pick up Seraphina immediately. It reminded me how amazing literature for youth can be – how inventive, creative, and freeing stories can be. Believe the hype on this one, guys. Don’t be the only one missing out!

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

9464733The premise to Beauty Queens sounded right up my alley. A bunch of teenage beauty queens crash land on a deserted island (or is it?) and have to use their wits to survive. Snarkiness, mayhem, and catfights promised to reign supreme. I could not wait to dive in.

And at first I wanted to throw the book out the window similar to Pat’s episode with Hemingway in Silver Linings Playbook. The girls were one beauty queen stereotype after the next and so incredibly over-the-top with their girly campy-ness. I couldn’t find a single character worth my while and rolled my eyes so many times I got a headache. The only thing that truly kept me reading was Bray’s narrative creativity. The story is told via traditional narrative, commercial breaks, contestant questionnaires, and other random interludes that were a complete pleasure in this satire.

Somewhere around page 100 or so, something magical happened and I started to adore Bray’s every word. The girls began showing honest character development, they were managing to survive and prosper brilliantly, and all of my judgement was thrown back in my face. I realized guiltily how complicit I had been in my own prejudice and preconceived notions about pageant contestants and teenage girls in general. I see what you did there, Ms. Bray, and I loved it!

All of the girls were amazing and I loved each of them individually by the novel’s end. They represented and dealt with an entire range of complex issues such as body image, sexuality, and self-identity. Miss Texas was particularly amazing. I loathed her at the beginning more than any other and she ended up my absolute favorite character. The girls were fierce, strong, capable, and the fact that they loved nail polish and shiny dresses couldn’t (and shouldn’t) lessen their courage and poise.

The best YA I’ve read all year.

Bonus:

There are pirates…ARRRGG!!

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

6936382I guess I just have a cold, dead heart because I thought this book was terrible. Pretty much everyone and their mom thinks this book was super cute and sweet. I wanted to throw it against a wall in anger. What is wrong with me? Or are other people just oblivious?

Anna Oliphant is a high school senior living the normal life in Atlanta, Georgia. She’s got an amazing best friend and a potential love interest so things are looking promising going into her final year of school. All that changes when her writer father decides he’d really like Anna to attend a boarding school in Paris so that he can sound more cultured. Anna is not happy with the decision until she meets her new set of friends, especially St. Clair – a hottie with a British accent.

The Paris setting was superb. I loved walking the streets of France along with Anna. And that’s about the only positive thing I have to say about the book. Now, I understand why young adults would find this little romance swoon-worthy. I get it. But adults? Really?

My biggest problem was that Stephanie Perkins obviously models Anna’s dad after Nicholas Sparks and lets her rage at his formulaic cancer plots shine through rather brightly. And then she goes and does the exact same thing – includes a cancer plot to add emotional depth and suffering to the character of St. Clair. REALLY?

Also, none of the characters are very well flushed out – particularly Ellie, St. Clair’s girlfriend. Yes, you read that right. St. Clair the love interest already has a girlfriend. And yes, there is cheating. I hated that we never got to know Ellie so that we never view her as a character we should sympathize. How convenient. Don’t want Anna and St. Clair to seem like dirty little cheating tramps? Make the actual girlfriend a non-entity.

Don’t get me started on the Atlanta/America-hate that Anna expresses upon her return to the States over Christmas break. Four months in France and Anna’s completely over the shitty country she used to view as home. I know I should let this go because there are probably a ton of teenagers, and hell, adults who would and do act exactly this way, but it still pissed me off. I get a little defensive about Atlanta. I like my home.

As for the romance, blah and yuck. St. Clair isn’t a great romantic lead. He’s a coward who is too afraid to break up with his girlfriend so instead emotionally and then physically cheats on her. How is that sexy? Someone please explain it to me? Several others have complained about how short he is and that shortness is not attractive. SERIOUSLY? And cheating is? Being a complete wuss has you smitten? Now I’m getting all angry and yelling. Please do not be offended if you found St. Clair attractive. I just really did not.

I think I’m getting a little burned out on YA in general so I’m going to read the exact opposite – dull adult non-fiction. Ha! I just need a palate cleanser. YA sucks me in with their shininess and pretty covers, but often fails to deliver anything other than empty entertainment – for me, that is. I’m not knocking those of you who love it. I’m just currently going through a rough patch with my own personal YA feelings. I just wish everything was on Harry Potter’s level. This is quickly turning into an entirely separate post so I’ll stop bickering now!

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

9378297I had high hopes for Anna and all her creepiness. Really high hopes. Some of those expectations were met and others not so much. I hate that I only felt ‘meh’ about this book while so many others adored. I will say that compared to other similar YA novels, this one shines.

In Anna, we meet Cas who is a young, aspiring Dean Winchester. They are the exact same character. And since I loved the first few seasons of Supernatural, I was thrilled with Cas. I even enjoyed the heck out of his cockiness. Anyway, he’s a ghost hunter/slayer with a special knife meant for slaughtering the baddies. He gets wind of a particularly nasty spook dubbed ‘Anna Dressed in Blood’ and heads to Canada with his mom. All of the things go down. The end. Ha!

Now, Anna had the potential to be one bad ass murderous ghost. Our first time meeting her is awesome, gruesome, and exactly what I wanted. Unfortunately, Anna gets neutered far too quickly and that’s when all my problems started. Why did Blake decide to water down Anna so quickly? Such a shame.

(minor spoilers ahead!)

Most of the novel truly does read like a Supernatural episode. What works the most are Cas’s friends – his little circle he comes to know and love. They are fun and not at all the stereotypical group you’d expect from a traditional YA novel. I had some ‘Scooby Gang’ nostalgia going on big time. Even the romantic bits break most of  the normal YA tropes which is a breath of fresh air. Until you realize that Cas and Anna have feelings for one another. That bit lost me as well.

Two things disappointed me more than anything else. Why was everyone so okay with Cas doing what he does? He’s a freakin’ kid whose dad died killing ghosts. Why would his mother so mutely stand back and watch her son continue such violence, particularly at such a young age? Did not ring true to me at all. I know I’m just supposed to suspend belief, but I couldn’t.

Also, why wasn’t this book more frightening? I’m not sure that’s Blake’s fault at all. Maybe I’m just not moved by horror stories? Scary movies are nearly un-watchable, but I haven’t been horrified by a written ghost story in a seriously long time. I want to be scared silly!

I did love the book’s ending. I’m glad that Anna went down with the house – only seems fitting. Blake’s writing was also great, her pacing superb from page one, and she genuinely has some awesome plot moves. I’m mainly thinking of the flashback scene dealing with Anna’s past and how creatively she managed to pull that off. I think I’d have been more impressed if there had been more emotion involved. I wanted Cas’s mom to care more about her son’s well-being. I wanted the town to care more about all the deaths and disappearances – especially of the young kids. And I wanted that damn cat to survive!

Can’t win them all, I suppose. Anna is still a book I’d recommend to fans of YA horror and paranormal stories. There’s enough in Blake’s novel that feels fresh to entice those readers annoyed with so many cookie-cutter, predictable narratives running around in the world today. There’s also a fun amount of blood and gore for the true horror fans and a fascinating mythology.

I’ll gladly read the second Anna story in this duology. I am thankful that there’s only two novels. If Blake had decided to end after the first, I wouldn’t have been disappointed, but I’m interested to see where Anna ended up! Many other readers haven’t liked the second Anna as much which kind of gives me hope. I tend to like sequels when others don’t. Just one of my many weird quirks.

Requiem by Lauren Oliver (And yes, there are spoilers!)

9593913I finished the Delirium trilogy! I feel like I start so many book series and then never finish them. So to finally notch one completely off my list feels good. Plus, there’s a television show being made adapted from the novels. I’m rooting for the show – hoping it even outshines the books.

As many of you know, I wasn’t a huge fan of Delirium, but Pandemonium completely won me over. For the second book in a trilogy to surpass the first is rare – although most people don’t agree with me about Pandemonium’s clear ass-kicking of Delirium. So I had great hopes for an even better ending. But it was not to be.

Not that Requiem was terrible, not at all. I just was in like with it rather than in love. Mostly because of how Oliver managed to force Julian’s character firmly into a mere plot device and send him on his merry way as soon as was conveniently possible. I respected this love triangle until that ridiculous end. But I guess Alex was always going to win – so why bother with Julian?

And really, the end was the book’s biggest problem. So rushed – almost like Oliver wasn’t allowed to go over her 400 page word count without some sort of unfortunate consequences. Everything just ends and feels so forced. I was majorly disappointed that we have no clue what becomes of Hana despite her being one of the two narrative perspectives in Requiem. WHAT THE HAY?

Up until the end, however, I enjoyed most everything a great deal. I loved seeing the post-cure world that Hana was inhabiting and how the cure affected her specifically. And Lena didn’t even get on my nerves much, either. I didn’t see much character growth this time around for her, but at least she didn’t annoy me too much.

The action scenes were well done and suspenseful although a little too far and few between. Not that the novel reads slowly – I read practically the whole thing in a single sitting while I was sick this week. Oliver’s writing has come a long way since Delirium, in my opinion, and I appreciate her talents and hope to see more from her in the future.

Overall, I’d recommend the series if you want something easy and entertaining to read. Beware of the first book, but the next two make up for it! My biggest problems with the series as a whole was the lack of world building – most specifically, the history of this particular world. I’m still not certain how the US got to the point of curing its citizens of love or how the rest of the world fit into the picture. I’d have loved more back story.

Anyway, happy to be done and now ready to start a new series. I’m going to be giving The Mortal Instruments a read. I read Clockwork Angel last year and enjoyed, so now I’m looking forward to starting with TMI and working my way through all of Cassandra Clare’s backlog. With the movie coming out in August, I’ll be fully prepared!

Ten by Gretchen McNeil

11958033Ten was a specifically chosen read this week because the Litwits are meeting this Sunday to discuss Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Gretchen McNeil’s novel is a YA retelling of Christie’s classic. Since I’ve read ATTWN in the past year, I decided to give Ten a go instead of rereading.

The most basic plot description of both books is rather simple – 10 people meet at a house on an isolated island and start to die one-by-one.

McNeil’s version mostly won me over for nostalgia reasons. I could not help but feel this retelling oozed a little bit of R.L. Stine one moment and a whole lot of Christopher Pike the next (he even blurbed the book!). I cannot tell y’all how many books by those two authors I inhaled as a young reader. They were better than candy. And current YA tends to lack so thoroughly in good old-fashioned fast paced horror that I just sat back and let this book happen to me.

As the teens are slowly and bloodily killed off, you won’t find anything literary or even fresh. This story has been told time and time again with all the red herrings and gimmicks barely doing their job. I knew who the killer was before the book was halfway over, but it didn’t really matter. I liked the suspenseful moments and the psychological torment these young people were facing and how they reacted to their situation.

The dialogue is filled with teen speak which many readers have bemoaned, but really, what else should we expect? These are teenagers after all and slang is fairly normal among even the most mature. Hell, I still use slang all the time and so do y’all! So I won’t fault it too much. I did have slight issues with who was using the slang. Certain times a phrase just didn’t sit well with a male character versus as female character – but those gender slants are my own issue.

And the ending? Cheestastic and the only real disappointment – especially compared to Christie’s.

I’m not going to recommend running straight out and reading this YA horror novel. I’m not even going to recommend it to those readers who read and adored ATTWN. But if you enjoyed Stine and Pike at some point in your life, this little gem will take you back to those days in the best of ways. And if you’re young and have never experienced YA horror – give this one a shot. Yes, there’s some gore. Yes, there’s some foul language and sexual situations, but nothing too graphic! It’s just enough to tantalize the younger crowd without going overboard.

I look forward to discussing Ten with the ladies this weekend. Hopefully, I’ll be able to convince someone else to give this a shot. And I’m convinced more than ever that I need to find some Christopher Pike novels and settle in for a nice, lovely visit with ghosts of my childhood past.