Sweetly by Jackson Pearce
Series: Fairytale Retellings #2
Published by Hodder Children's Books, Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Genres: Fairytale Re-tellings, Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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As a child, Gretchen's twin sister was taken by a witch in the woods. Ever since, Gretchen and her brother, Ansel, have felt the long branches of the witch's forest threatening to make them disappear, too.
Years later, when their stepmother casts Gretchen and Ansel out, they find themselves in sleepy Live Oak, South Carolina. They're invited to stay with Sophia Kelly, a beautiful candy maker who molds sugary magic: coveted treats that create confidence, bravery, and passion.
Life seems idyllic and Gretchen and Ansel gradually forget their haunted past -- until Gretchen meets handsome local outcast Samuel. He tells her the witch isn't gone -- it's lurking in the forest, preying on girls every year after Live Oak's infamous chocolate festival, and looking to make Gretchen its next victim. Gretchen is determined to stop running and start fighting back. Yet the further she investigates the mystery of what the witch is and how it chooses its victims, the more she wonders who the real monster is.
Gretchen is certain of only one thing: a monster is coming, and it will never go away hungry.
Thoughts: About a billion years ago (read: 2010), Jenny from Wondrous Reads told me I absolutely had to read Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce. “No way,” I cried. “Wolves suffer from enough stigma already – I’m not supporting an author that villainizes them, even if they are the fairy-tale versions.” I was about to start my Masters dissertation on the non-scientific, fallacious beliefs society has of wolves – and how that has translated into our fairy-tales. “Wolves as bad guys? That’s so 1812.”
Why am I telling you this? Because I want you to understand how skeptical I was about starting Sweetly. As companion-novel-of-sorts to Sisters Red, I went into it with my finger already hovering over the eject button. One sign of iffy wolf-ness and I was off.
There was none… OK, yes, the word “wolf” was used in connection with a few unsavoury characters but it was just slang (albeit, slang I would rather done without). So, in spite of myself, I really, really enjoyed Sweetly. In fact, I thought it was rather brilliant.
Sweetly is a play on the Hansel & Gretel tale – while the inspiration is clear, the plot is not. While there is a lot of “action” in this novel, Sweetly really felt more like a mystery. Instead of there being a clear good-guy/bad-guy plot, most of Sweetly is spent uncovering precisely who knows what, who is guilty of what and wondering just how much Pearce would stick to the original tale. It kept me on tenterhooks, to be perfectly honest.
Along with the fabulous mystery-vibe was the lovely, brilliant, fantastic protagonist, Gretchen. (I quite liked her, in case you couldn’t tell.) Having lost her sister years ago under circumstances so unreal even she doesn’t believe them, Gretchen is an appropriately scarred individual. But while she is full of fear, she doesn’t let that stop her. I absolutely loved how as soon as she got the chance to find out the truth behind what happened to her sister (and other girls) she grabbed it head on. She didn’t shy away or give up, and that’s something I think every YA heroine should have.
Bottom line? This is an utterly unique novel that pulls no punches. It’s got mystery, betrayal, romance, candy and good ol’ fashion shoot outs. Read it!
Quantum Drop by Saci Lloyd
Published by Hodder Children's Books
Genres: Science Fiction YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Anthony Griffin is an ordinary kid caught up in a dangerous world. The boundaries between real and virtual are more and more blurred, and when Anthony’s girlfriend is taken out in a gang hit, he has to venture into the underground world of the Drop to flush out her killer and bring him to justice.
Thoughts: Let me just start off that Quantum Drop was exactly what I want in a YA novel. Saci Lloyd doesn’t shy away from real-life issues, she doesn’t consider the status quo sacred, and she sure as hell isn’t afraid of calling out our species for, well, sucking. I love that, because she’s so right, but no one ever seems to want to say it. The fact that she not only does, but puts it into a kick-ass book? Brilliant.
But, I have to admit that Quantum Drop is probably not the book for everyone. If you aren’t in the mood for a book that needs your brain to be “on” the whole time (which I totally get, by the way), then wait for a while before you pick up Quantum Drop. Otherwise you just won’t enjoy it as much.
Now, apart from Saci Lloyd’s oh-so-accurate insights into humanity, I also really enjoyed the setting of Quantum Drop. Anyone who has been round the East End will recognize the familiar-yet-futuristic “Debtbelt”. Saci Lloyd has kept the verse just post-modern enough to be recognizable – so much so, I barely felt the sci-element of the book. That said, the characters spend a huge part of the novel in a virtual world known as “the drop” (which, if I had to describe it, I’d liken to The Matrix). Super futuristic stuff that, for some reason, felt totally normal.
The characters in Quantum Drop were complete stand-outs. They aren’t the middle-class, worried-about-prom lot that we typically see in YA – instead, they have grown up with the odds stacked against them, and they know it. They are swimming against the tide, trying to do what is right while staying afloat. The main character, Anthony, wants justice for his girlfriend, but he also has a legitimate fear for his life and the life of his family. It’s easy to just give up – so when many of the characters do, it’s also easy to forgive them. This made Anthony’s struggles all the more impressive.
Bottom line? Quantum Drop is one of those books that makes you think (about life, the universe and everything) while telling a hell of a tale along the way. Pick it up if you are looking for something different in your YA.
Last Chance by Sarah Dessen
Published by Hodder Children's Books, Speak
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
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Colie expects the worst when she's sent to spend the summer with her eccentric aunt Mira while her mother, queen of the television infomercial, tours Europe. Always an outcast-first for being fat and then for being "easy" - Colie has no friends at home and doesn't expect to find any in Colby, North Carolina. But then she lands a job at the Last Chance Café and meets fellow waitresses Morgan and Isabel, best friends with a loving yet volatile relationship. Wacky yet wise, Morgan and Isabel help Colie see herself in a new way and realize the potential that has been there all along.
Published as Keeping the Moon in the US.
Thoughts: Sarah Dessen is one of those authors I’ve heard a lot of rave things about; she’s considered one of the very best Contemporary YA writers. And though I was not over-the-moon for Last Chance, I was certainly hooked on its author.
Last Chance is a novel about overcoming one of the toughest things in life: the terrible perception you have of yourself. The main character, Colie, has had a life of bad experiences – and she’s learnt to expect more of them to come. But while I really loved what Dessen did with Colie over the course of the novel, I can’t say I ever came to love her. She was fine, but I never really “got” who she was. Her main role was as the “doormat”, but taking that away seemed to leave a blank slate.
Which, now that I think of it, might have been what Dessen was going for. I guess Colie was still working out who she was – as a “work in progress”, I guess a blank slate would be just what she wanted. Hmm…
Anyhow, the real standouts of Last Chance are Colie’s supporting cast of characters. There’s Isabel, the bitchy, so-truthful-it-hurts, supermodel-look-a-like waitress who starts off as the main antagonist but slowly becomes the greatest friend you can have (and my favourite character in the novel, to boot). Morgan, the soft-hearted waitress with hearts in her eyes and a quick temper. Mira, the eccentric artist-turned-card-writer who sees a good side to everything – even the most broken of appliances. And Norman, the boy who is written off as an “artist hippie type” but turns out to be the most observant of the lot.
Gorgeous, gorgeous characters. I am going to miss them. And are they worth picking up the book for? In a word: yes.
Bottom line: Overall, a great introduction to Dessen’s writing. While I wish the main character had had a bit more character, her friends more than made up for her.