If you'd like to see my recent four-plus- and five-star YA recommendations, visit Robin ReadsnWrites.
* I didn't make it beyond the first 20 pages.
** I made it to the end, but I either skimmed or skipped large sections.
*** I might have skipped/skimmed, but I liked it and might read it again.
**** I read at least 95% of the book and it was good -- probably will be reread.
***** I read every word, and I loved it! A favorite and definite reread.
The Bitter Kingdom, by Rae Carson ***** I really did love this -- and all of the trilogy. Elisa is such a wonderfully human and humane queen. Her courage and determination are inspirational -- she's exactly whom I'd like my daughter reading about! And of course, the supporting cast is also amazing: I love Hector's loyalty and bravery; Red is so feisty and faithful; Mara is fierce and strong; Belen is vulnerable and courageous; and Storm is the perfect enemy turned faithful servant. I feel invested in all these fictional folks -- it's like I've visited Elisa's kingdom, met all of them, gotten to sit and chat, and now they're family. Truly a wonderful trilogy! The story: Elisa will not allow Hector to be killed -- so she travels across the land to find him and rescue him. As she does so, she worries about her own kingdom which has been taken over by a traitor. She also worries about the sister kingdoms -- and being Elisa, she begins to hatch a plan to save all of them from any Invierno or other challenges for years to come. Of course, she has to actually accomplish all of this, and finding Hector turns out, as always, to simply be the first step in a very long climb. (YA fantasy, released 8/13, publisher: Greenwillow Books)
United We Spy, by Ally Carter ****+ I loved this too, although it felt a little tired to me. (Not tired as in 'done before,' but tired as in 'this is the 6th book and I might be out of things to say'). Still, especially when taken with the other five Gallagher Girl books, this is an amazing and clean story with strong and compassionate characters -- a win-win, in my view. Cammie is such a fighter, but she also has compassion and is willing to think about the consequences of her actions. I've loved Zach since day one, so it's wonderful to see more of him and learn more about his backstory. Bex, Macie, and Liz are also great characters -- and it was fun to see Liz have a bit more of the spotlight this time. Many things come together here, and although I did think the plot itself was on the thin side, it was good to see a wrap-up (and not everything is resolved -- Macie, especially, has some open threads). The story: Cammie and her friends are seeing the light at the end of their spy school tunnel, as they're only months away from graduation. But the Circle of Cavan isn't interested in their piddly lives and continue to wreak havoc...in fact, their havoc is of the world war kind. Cammie's mom begs the girls to leave it to the professionals, but when Preston (one of Cammie's and Macie's friends) is taken, the girls know they can't simply sit back and wait. So they do what they do best and throw themselves into the fray -- and when Cammie's mom and Joe Solomon disappear, Cammie knows it all depends on what they, a group of four spy trainees (and Zach, of course), can do to save them all. (YA adventure/spy thriller, released 9/13, publisher: Disney-Hyperion)
Taste Test, by Kelly Fiore ****- There were a couple of things I truly enjoyed about this -- the setting (a televised cooking challenge) and the basic set-up (both of which led me to read the whole book) -- but I will say that the characterizations here were pretty disappointing (to me). Nora is one of the more selfish characters I've read in a while, and while that can be good (ie, strong growth can be seen), here nothing really happened. She didn't grow much; she didn't really change. She started out the book thinking mostly of herself, and she ended the book thinking mostly of herself. One of my least favorite aspects was how she and Christian interacted -- neither seemed to have any problem tearing the other down. And even though both seemed to regret it, they still did it again and again...and what a rotten model for relationships! Billy was one of the few decent people, and he was barely in the story -- and he was a pretty one-dimensional character too. I'm not sure I could stand to spend time with these types of characters again anytime soon, even with the temptation of the food-based setting (one of my favorites, I will admit). The story: Nora wins an opportunity to do the hit teen cooking show Taste Test. Although she hesitates to leave her single dad on his own, she goes anyway, unable to resist pursuing her dream. Once there, the constant filming is daunting, but it doesn't stop Nora from making snap judgments about the other characters and getting herself in a rivalry with one of the other contestants -- a boy named Christian. Soon, it's clear that Nora and Christian are two of the strongest competitors, but their antagonism toward one another undermines both of them -- and even when Christian tries to make amends, Nora refuses to believe he could've changed and continues to do her best to tear him down. At the same time, someone clearly has it out for all the competitors as strange occurrences and small accidents begin to whittle down the field even further...and Nora has her suspicions about who's behind it all, if only she can get the others to listen to her. (YA contemporary/mystery, released 8/13, publisher: Walker Children's)
Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell **+ I just have to state right up front that this isn't my type of book. I did skim the entire thing, but it was sooooo angsty and literary (yes, I'm one of the few who would use that as a mark against a book) that I just couldn't take much. For me (and remember, this is very subjective), spending pages and pages trying to figure out why a character feels the way they do (and watching as the character struggles to make any kind of definitive decision) is painful, plain and simple. I had friends like this (so definitely realistic) in college, and it was painful for me then too. :D Perhaps it's simply because I'm not at all like this -- and although I definitely appreciate seeing how folks who think and feel this way tick, I don't want to spend a ton of time with it. Still, I picked this up in the first place because of the rave (and I do mean rave) reviews her other book (Eleanor and Park) received -- and I've heard good things about this one too. I definitely liked the premise (as I also read a ton of fanfic), and I think it's probably fairly relevant to kids these days -- so there's nothing at all wrong with this book. In fact, it's probably all kinds of wonderful...just not for me, personally. :) The story: Cath starts college with some trepidations. First, her twin sister made it clear she wanted to start her own life -- away from Cath. Yes, they're at the same school, but Wren wants to live on her own, with a roommate other than Cath. So Cath is forced to deal with a stranger for a roommate...and the stranger's boyfriend (or ex-boyfriend, as it turns out). Cath, who's not a fan of strangers, slowly navigates her way through the college scene, though she spends much of her downtime reading and writing Simon Snow fanfiction. In fact, she gets so caught up in the fictional world that she struggles to make connections in the real world -- until the roommate's ex begins to make his impression on Cath. Will Cath be able to balance the excitement of her fanfic world with the reality of (the sometimes painful though beautiful) real life? (YA/NA contemporary, released 9/13, publisher: St. Martin's Griffin)
The Darkest Path, by Jeff Hirsch **** Whew, talk about an emotional roller coaster! This is truly dystopic (ie, the worst-case scenario of the future), and my heart hurt for Cal throughout his struggle to make sense of his life. I liked Cal's loyalty and his ability to think through the circumstances around him. He made some hard choices, and some of them didn't turn out well -- but he learned from those mistakes, and I thought that was good. His connection with Bear (a dog) really humanized him, and I thought that was one of the best aspects of the book. It's a dark tale, though, and although the end is hopeful, I suspect there are many more struggles ahead of Cal before he finds his parents. The story: Cal and his brother were taken by the Path six years ago. Now 15, Cal is discovering many sides to the Path (a religious group) that he finds unsavory, but his younger brother (who can't really remember much of his life before the Path) has become quite the acolyte. Cal simply wants he and his brother to be citizens so they don't have to do the grunt work anymore. For this purpose, Cal agrees to help the leaders of the Path take over a small town -- and in the process, he is beaten (to make it look realistic). When Cal sees the Path murder many of the town's inhabitants (including children), he's had enough...and then, he and James aren't even granted citizenship. Cal decides right then he's done with the Path, but James won't leave with him. Soon, Cal and Bear (a dog he rescued from the Path) are on their own, trying to navigate their way from the Path states (in the southwest) to New York, where Cal hopes their parents still reside. But the U.S. is united no longer, and if the Path doesn't have control, the feds do (with help from many different European nations). The world is in turmoil, and everywhere Cal ends up, people are fighting for power -- and dying. In the end, Cal has to decide if he's willing to free everyone from the Leader of the Path or just make his own way...can he let others fend for themselves or can he take a stand? (YA dystopic, released 9/13, publisher: Scholastic)
Currently Reading: Um, nothing...
On Deck: Michele Gagnon's latest, along with many others...my stack is towering, and the time I have for reading is diminishing. *sigh*