Review: Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott

Review: Heartbeat by Elizabeth ScottHeartbeat by Elizabeth Scott
Published by Harlequin Teen, MIRA on 2014-03-01
Pages: 256
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Life. Death. And...Love?

Emma would give anything to talk to her mother one last time. Tell her about her slipping grades, her anger with her stepfather, and the boy with the bad reputation who might be the only one Emma can be herself with.

But Emma can't tell her mother anything. Because her mother is brain-dead and being kept alive by machines for the baby growing inside her.

Meeting bad-boy Caleb Harrison wouldn't have interested Old Emma. But New Emma-the one who exists in a fog of grief, who no longer cares about school, whose only social outlet is her best friend Olivia-New Emma is startled by the connection she and Caleb forge.

Feeling her own heart beat again wakes Emma from the grief that has grayed her existence. Is there hope for life after death-and maybe, for love?

Thoughts: There aren’t many books I’d give the “For fans of The Fault in Our Stars” label to. Actually, before Heartbeat, there were exactly zero. But while reading this fantastically emotional book, I couldn’t help but remember my experience reading TFIOS. This isn’t a cancer book, but it is a book about love, loss and happiness… rather key themes of TFIOS, as well.

Heartbeat is one of those books that hits a little bit too close to home. A girl loses her mother but is forced to keep seeing her everyday. When she loses her mother, she loses the rest of her family too. And while that is all hideous, what’s worst is the shock of it all. Her life changes in less than a second. There was no time for goodbye, no time to prepare.

That she finds someone to love during this tragedy may seem unrealistic, but it is a bond forged with a shared understanding of loss. It felt real and it also felt healthy – so I wholeheartedly approved. Perhaps they weren’t a swoon-worthy couple, but hey. It’s hard to be charming when you are sobbing.

Speaking of which: add Heartbeat to the “Made Me Cry” pile. And, for the record, they weren’t tears of joy. Sometimes life really sucks for fictional characters, and us real-life characters are allowed to cry about it.

That said, I wasn’t quite as enchanted with Heartbeat as I was with Scott’s Stealing Heaven. While Scott is certainly an expert at packing a big punch into a little book, Heartbeat was just a tad too short for its content. At times, I felt like Scott was trying to jump to the next plot point without a proper emotional transition… it was a bit jarring at times, but didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the book.

Bottom line? Elizabeth Scott is a fantastic author and Heartbeat is another gem in her treasure-chest of novels.

Guest Review: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Guest Review: The Dream Thieves by Maggie StiefvaterThe Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
Series: The Raven Cycle #2
Published by Scholastic on 2013-09-17
Pages: 448
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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If you could steal things from dreams, what would you take? Ronan Lynch has secrets. Some he keeps from others. Some he keeps from himself. One secret: Ronan can bring things out of his dreams. And sometimes he’s not the only one who wants those things. Ronan is one of the raven boys — a group of friends, practically brothers, searching for a dead king named Glendower, who they think is hidden somewhere in the hills by their elite private school, Aglionby Academy. The path to Glendower has long lived as an undercurrent beneath town. But now, like Ronan’s secrets, it is beginning to rise to the surface — changing everything in its wake.

“Boys like him didn’t die; the got bronzed and installed outside public libraries…His voice was full of the honey baked accent of old Virginia money.”

In full disclosure, one of the reasons I’ve latched on to this series is because I just moved to a quiet, unexplored corner of Virginia. This story, which is full of so much crumbling grandeur, sad wildness and…well and magic…it lends my loneliness a romantic edge.

This book brought an unforgotten nostalgia for my own childhood and the wishful half-belief in the sorcery of deep woods and hidden creeks, which transforms moss and vines into bowers, thorns and mud into dark fey, power lines and clear cuts into the ravages of orks or – far worse – the inevitable encroachment of men into the holy places of the world.

“…Blue thrilled again and again with the knowledge that magic was real, magic was real, magic was real.”

In a way, my memories are a compliment to Maggie’s lovely book. Within her words I rediscovered the enchantment, and she doesn’t patronize those experiences by turning them into figments of a character’s imagination.

Isn’t that the most irritating thing? When the desires of your heart are made flesh, and then you’re supposed to wake up, grow up or die  – and learn something from it.

The Dream Thieves, like The Raven Boys, has buckshot of loss spattered through it. In the morning light, she somehow makes me feel like the day is already done – simultaneously experiencing a moment and mourning its passing. And the Kavinsky/Ronan Janus-dynamic illuminated the delicacy of the balance between creation and destruction.

The characters are so vivid – from golden boy Gansey and our girl Blue to the interesting supporting characters like Calla and Mr. Grey.

 “In that moment, Blue was a little in love with all of them. Their magic. Their quest.  Their awfulness and strangeness. Her Raven Boys.”

Me too, Blue.

Except maybe Noah.  Poor fellow. But that there’s unworked land. I’d like to be given the chance to fall in love with Noah. Right now he seems kind of pathetic. Smelly. Dead.

I’ve enjoyed witnessing Maggie Steifvater develop as an author.  The Wolves of Mercy Falls series was good, but I never really understood the hype. In my opinion, The Scorpio Races was much more interesting, and the Raven Boys series is top notch — Definitely one to curl up alongside the other keepers in your mind.

I can’t wait to see which character we get into next.

 Kelly IzlarKelly is a science communicator and writer. She recently completed an internship with the US science communication team for the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and is currently freelancing in rural western Virginia. Kelly likes swimming, hiking, eating good cheese and reading young adult fiction. Visit www.kellyaizlar.com/ or follow Kelly on twitter @KellyIzlar

 

Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Review: The 5th Wave by Rick YanceyThe 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Series: The Fifth Wave #1
Published by Penguin Random House on 2013-05-07
Pages: 480
Genres: Science Fiction YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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The Passage meets Ender's Game in an epic new series from award-winning author Rick Yancey.

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it's the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth's last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie's only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

Thoughts: To hear some people put it, The 5th Wave should have been called the The 2nd Coming. The hype surrounding this novel was crazy. Absolutely crazy. So much so, that it was hard for me to separate the book from the hype even while I was reading the thing.

But now, having let it stew in my mind for a good long while, I can see why people were excited when it came out. It’s got the right mix of action, fantasy, dystopia and romance in it to appeal to a wide spectrum of readers. This is mostly down to the multiple narrators: we’ve got a mix of genders and ages (oh, and species) telling the story, and I can see how that makes the book more appealing to publishers and booksellers alike.

“Lovely, Kay. Nice insight into marketing. But was it a good read?,” you ask.

Not really.

Sorry people, but the truth is I had to force myself to finish The 5th Wave. While I could appreciate what Rick Yancey was shooting for, I found the jump between narrators extremely frustrating. Just as I was starting to become emotionally invested in a character, we would switch over to someone new. Then, by the time we’d get back to the original subject, I had lost the emotional tie I had previously had.

You  play two great symphonies at once, and they’ll just become noise. The 5th Wave was a very noisy book.

So despite the body-snatching aliens, the child soldiers, the Walking Dead style of survival, my main takeaway from The 5th Wave was a lesson in how not to structure a novel. Intellectually, I am interested in knowing how the series ends, but if everyone dies in the end, I wouldn’t really mind. Never a good sign.

Bottom line? The 5th Wave lacked any and all emotional pull, and I can’t say I’m rushing to recommend it. But if you adore multiple narrator books, perhaps you’ll love this book.  

Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John GreenThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Published by Penguin Random House
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

Thoughts: Everything there is to say about John Green has already been said. He’s one of those authors that (almost) everyone adores. He makes writing and reading YA fiction something an adult can be proud of, while simultaneously appealing to every teenager ever. It’s kind of ridiculous.

So, yeah, The Fault in Our Stars was amazing. Brilliant. Gorgeous. And, well, every other adjective along those lines. But if I hadn’t been sent it for review, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. Because, honestly, it’s a teenage cancer book. As if life weren’t miserable enough already.

I thought I’d list a few reasons for you to read this book in spite of the scary, depressing cancer. Reasons I would have liked to have known, for those of you who haven’t wanted to pick it up:

  • It is a book about a book. This is one of those tropes usually seen in lit-fic, so I was pleasantly surprised to see it in The Fault in Our Stars. I love a good book about characters seeking out an author or obsessing about a sequel/ending that doesn’t exist. The Fault in Our Stars was rather like Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind… only, er, good. 
  • It’s funny. It probably shouldn’t be funny, but it is. The characters are snarky, witty and quick with their comebacks… I loved how their minds worked and highlighted every other line to add to my own repertoire of comments.
  • It is THE cancer book. It’s the only one you ever need to read. Once you’ve read it, the obligation to read anything similar is gone. And despite the cancerous misery, it is also rather life affirming. So… it’s probably as good as cancer books get.
  • You’ll finally understand all the friggin’ references. Alas, not reading this book has become like not reading The Hunger Games. Okay? Okay.

Bottom line? Yes, this book is emotionally manipulative. Yes, it will make you laugh. Yes, it will make you cry. So… just read it already so we can all stop talking about how much we loved it.

Review: World After by Susan Ee

Review: World After by Susan EeWorld After by Susan Ee
Series: Penryn & the End of Days #2
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Also in this series: Angelfall

SPOILER WARNING: I find this summary super-spoilery and would recommend skipping it!

When a group of people capture Penryn's sister Paige, thinking she's a monster, the situation ends in a massacre. Paige disappears. Humans are terrified. Mom is heartbroken.

Penryn drives through the streets of San Francisco looking for Paige. Why are the streets so empty? Where is everybody? Her search leads her into the heart of the angels' secret plans where she catches a glimpse of their motivations, and learns the horrifying extent to which the angels are willing to go.

Meanwhile, Raffe hunts for his wings. Without them, he can't rejoin the angels, can't take his rightful place as one of their leaders. When faced with recapturing his wings or helping Penryn survive, which will he choose?

Thoughts: I devoured World After in a single day. Susan Ee has a style that lends itself to fast reading; her writing is engaging and set with quick chapters that make you feel like speeding ahead.

World After had a lot to live up to. Angelfall was such a knock-out success, I am sure there were worries that Ms. Ee may have been a one-hit-wonder. I am happy to say she is not. Although there is a two-year gap between the books, World After felt as though it was written just seconds after Angelfall. The style, characterisations, everything was exactly as she had last left it. That’s something I feel like most authors fail to achieve: even when you love a sequel, it won’t feel like the same book you read before.

So, in a way, I feel rather weird reviewing World After after reviewing Angelfall… because my comments are the same. World After is a fantastic continuation to an already brilliant series. Ms. Ee doesn’t mess around with my favourite characters and she doesn’t go around randomly adding in a romantic triangle. World After answered many of my “And now what?!” questions without introducing any “How could she do that?!” feelings. Thank friggin’ GOD.

That said, there were a few new additions to this book that I adored. For one, Raffe’s sword played a major role. In fact, it was rather a starring role! When I met Ms. Ee at an event hosted by her UK publishers, I told her that I’d be happy to read an entire spin-off narrated by this sword… and I really do still mean that. I probably sound crazy if you haven’t read the book, but just trust me. This sword is amazing.

I also appreciated how World After gave us a brand-new insight into Raffe’s character. Ms. Ee takes you into his head without resorting to any cliché POV switches (something I find a total cop-out). Raffe lovers are going to really, really happy with this book!

Bottom line? A fantastic sequel to a brilliant novel. There’s a reason Susan Ee is so popular!

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