Tag Archives: YA

Graceling – Kristin Cashore

Review (Amazon): Kristin Cashore’s best-selling, award-winning fantasy Graceling tells the story of the vulnerable yet strong Katsa, a smart, beautiful teenager who lives in a world where selected people are given a Grace, a special talent that can be anything from dancing to swimming. Katsa’s is killing. As the king’s niece, she is forced to use her extreme skills as his thug. Along the way, Katsa must learn to decipher the true nature of her Grace . . . and how to put it to good use. A thrilling, action-packed fantasy adventure (and steamy romance!) that will resonate deeply with adolescents trying to find their way in the world.

My Review (SpOiLeRs!!!):

Executive Summary: a fun escape

The book is set in the Seven Kingdoms which were originally ruled by the same family, but now many generations later, each has a different ruler–some good and some bad. In this land, certain children are born with two different colored eyes and a special skill of some sort. These children are called Gracelings and their skill is called their Grace. The main character Katsa is a Graceling who is from the Middluns and her Grace is killing.


As it is the protocol in most of the kingdoms, Gracelings are given to the ruler once their Grace appears and the ruler can determine whether the Grace is of use. (If your Grace is holding your breath underwater for a long time, it might not be. If that’s the case, you’re sent home to your parents.) Katsa’s mother was the sister of the Middluns king so either way, she ended up as the king’s ward at a young age when her parents died. Once her Grace appeared at age 8 as she accidentally killed her distant cousin, a creep who liked little girls and tried to touch her, the king put her to work.

It was a lonely childhood as most view the Graced as people to avoid–a sort of curse. Especially in Katsa’s case. Her only friend was the King’s son Raffin, her cousin. Eventually she also gained the confidence of Captain Oll who helped her train as well as a woman named Helda who was the nurse of the royal nurseries, but who had a son who was a Graceling who she had left behind so she took a particular fondness to Katsa.

As Katsa grew older, she trained in all fighting skills and did King Randa’s dirty work. She continued to get more and more disenchanted with it. She, Raffin, and a few others decide to start using their skills for good and assemble a council.

The book begins with a mission. Katsa, Captain Oll and Giddon (one of Randa’s right hand men) were in the dungeons of Sunder to rescue the father of the King of Leinid (Prince Tealiff) who had been kidnapped. During the process while Katsa knocks the guards unconscious and gives them some sleeping medicine developed by Raffin, she encounters another Graceling, a Lienid, who she wasn’t expecting. She doesn’t want to kill anyone but she also doesn’t want her plan foiled. She debates what to do with him and eventually leaves him unconscious like the others. They rescue the Prince and take him back to Middluns to hide him and figure out who kidnapped him and why.

They immediately thought of the kings of Wester, Nander, and Estill as they were typically the most troublesome. King Randa for the most part minded his own business so he wasn’t likely to blame. King Ror of Leinid was the least troublesome and well-liked by his people. Even King Murgon of Sunder where the Prince was found was typically only doing someone else’s bidding, not plotting something on his own. The only other kingdom was Monsea who was ruled by King Leck whose wife was a Leinid and also the daughter of Prince Tealiff. Monsea was separated geographically but the general view was that King Leck was well liked and kind to children and animals. However, the word was also out that the queen had locked herself in her room after hearing of her father’s disappearance.

After returning to the kingdom after some time away, it turns out that Prince Tealiff hasn’t spoken. She asks Raffin if he had ever heard of a Graceling Leinid and Raffin mentions that he’s the son of King Ror and is in the Middluns castle at the moment as he is searching for his kidnapped grandfather. On the way to her rooms to dress for dinner, she sees him a floor above and feels his gaze on her.

At dinner, she is seated next to Giddon and next to the next potential suitor, Lord Davit, that King Randa has arranged, except this one has come to inquire about the Council. Katsa overhears the King telling a story about her and gets enraged and leaves the dinner to go for a walk. The Leinid Prince, Po,  finds her at the archery range. He explains that he is no good at fighting with weapons but is graced with hand to hand combat. He’s looking for his grandpa and he fights Katsa, an even fight, to get some answers, and he is invited to that evening’s Council meeting.

Po remains in Middluns until they decide what to do, practicing fighting with Katsa which continues to make Lord Giddon upset.  Katsa and Po get to know each other out of the ring too as Katsa has never really met any other Gracelings. She learns that he has six older brothers, his own castle, and has never felt weird about his Grace. In the meantime, Lord Randa sends Katsa to do his bidding. When she arrives, she makes the decision to not follow orders because she knows the King can’t actually harm her. She also refuses Giddon’s proposal for marriage but something he says gives her cause for concern–it’s an exact phrase that Po has said to her. When she returns to Middluns, she confronts Po that his Grace is not what he has said–he is in fact a mind reader. Katsa is furious, but Po eventually convinces her that he has to keep it a secret so that he can lead a relatively normal life. He tells her that he is leaving the following day and asks her to come with him.

Before she can answer, she gets called in to see the King for her disobedience. The king has lined up all his best soldiers to confront her, 10x more than the usual amount. Instead of unleashing her fury, she listens to Po’s voice in her head and tells the King how she could defeat all the soldiers and still get to him and then tells the King that she will no longer be his pawn and is leaving the following day with Po.

As she and Po travel, she becomes more accepting of his Grace and they figure out a way to make it work. He openly shares with her and she practices on guarding the thoughts that she doesn’t want him to outright know and also how to communicate with him without speaking. He boosts her confidence, first by suggesting that she keep in mind that she started the Council so therefore is not completely evil and only good for doing the King’s bidding and then leading to her revelation that in fact, her Grace is not actually fighting–it’s survival.

Po also tells her the tale of the King of Monsea. The previous King and Queen of Monsea yearned for a child but never could have one. One day, a young boy arrived, wearing an eye patch, and charms the King, Queen and the rest of Monsea. The King and Queen take him in, feeling pity for this poor boy who has no home and has lost an eye. So a few years later, when the King and Queen still do not have an heir, they name him the heir. Only a few days later, the King, Queen and their closest advisers had all died.

They collect information along the way which leads them into changing their plans to head to Monsea instead to talk to King Leck. And then they realize that his eye patch might mean that he’s actually Graced and has used the patch to hide it. They suspect that King Leck’s Grace is distributing misinformation. So they head that way and assume that Po’s Grace will protect them. As they travel, both Katsa and Po hone their Grace. Po begins to be able to sense things around him, even inanimate things that could not be thinking of him. Katsa and Po also begin to think about each other. Katsa does not want to get married or have children, and Po is OK with that.

When they arrive in Monsea, they stumble across a scene–a woman is running from an army of men, led by a man with an eye patch. The woman is shot in the back trying to escape. Po tells Katsa to kill King Leck, but he sees them and goes on about what a terrible accident the whole thing was so Katsa doubts what she has just seen and puts down her bow. Po and Katsa run into the woods although Katsa’s thoughts are blurry and disoriented and she doesn’t understand what is going on. It takes a while for her to realize that she was fooled by Leck’s Grace. He shot his own wife in front of Katsa and he was still able to convince her that it was an accident.

They hide out in the woods until they believe that it is safe (that King Leck’s men aren’t looking for them) and they go off in search of Bitterblue, the King’s daughter who took off and is hiding. Luckily Bitterblue’s mom thought about where Bitterblue was hiding as she died so Po has a good idea of where it is.

Once they find Bitterblue, she reinforces that her father needs to be killed. He tortures children and animals. And her mother locked the two of them up so that her father couldn’t get to Bitterblue. King Leck stole Prince Tealiff to try to blackmail Bitterblue’s mother into changing her mind. Po is to set out early to find King Leck and kill him. However, he returns very injured and King Leck is very much still alive. Po remains in hiding because he will slow them down due to his injuries. Po gives Katsa his ring so that his parents will trust her, and Katsa and Bitterblue set off to Leinid. They take an impossible pass since Leck and his minions will be watching for them at the obvious ones.

The journey is incredibly difficult but Katsa’s Grace protects them. Eventually they arrive at Po’s castle and his whole family is there…with King Leck. King Leck has the entire family in a trance. Luckily Bitterblue has fought against him long enough to be able to combat his trickery some. King Leck wants to talk about Po–where he is and how he is doing. When he begins to suggest that Po’s Grace is more than just fighting, Po’s mom and Katsa become agitated and Katsa kills Leck with a dagger to the throat.

It takes quite a while for the effects of Leck’s spell to stop but eventually Po’s family realize that they had been tricked. They set off the next morning to take Bitterblue back to Monsea where she will be the new queen. They make their way back to find Po. He has healed some but Katsa finds him depressed and not the fun loving person she left. Eventually, she realizes that he is blind–blinded during his fall into the river after his attack with Leck’s men. His Grace keeps the others from realizing what has happened. Katsa begins training him as well as Bitterblue so that Po can get back to full health and Bitterblue can learn to protect herself. She decides to take her skills on tour–starting in Monsea where she continues to teach Bitterblue along with other girls how to fight. The book ends with her planning to meet Po back in Leinid in the fall.

Verdict: 3.5 stars

This book was a fun, easy read. It had a lot of resemblance to Hunger Games but it didn’t feel quite so dark. I did enjoy that while it was still a YA, it wasn’t the traditional “I’m just waiting for that man to come along and suddenly I’ll be smitten and get married and have babies!!!” On the other hand, I wished that we got to see a bit more depth out of Katsa throughout the book. Maybe in the next one.

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We Were Liars – E. Lockhart

2015/01/img_1041.jpgSummary (Amazon): E. Lockhart’s novel, We Were Liars, is clever, alluring, and wildly addictive. Each summer the wealthy, seemingly perfect, members of the Sinclair family gather on their private island.  We Were Liars is the story of those annual reunions; in particular what happened during a summer that protagonist Cadence is unable to remember. Prejudice, greed, and shifting patriarchal favoritism among the three adult sisters contrasts with the camaraderie and worldview of the teenage cousins and their dear friend Gat. Lazy days of sticky lemonades on the roof and marathon Scrabble games give way to twisty suspense, true love, and good intentions gone horribly wrong. We Were Liars is a story that begs to be read in one sitting. —Seira Wilson

My Review (SPOILERS!!! Seriously do not read this review if you want to read this book)

Executive Summary: Shocking

This is the first book for book club for 2015, and I think we started off well! I ended up buying this book (with a gift card my mom got me for Christmas!) because my best friend’s maiden name is Sinclair. And I know she will want to read this book as it’s so like her upbringing. </sarcasm>

The main character of the book is Cadence Sinclair. Her grandparents, Harris and Tipper Sinclair, are rich, and very controlling. Harris and Tipper have 3 daughters–Bess, Carrie, and Penny (Cadence’s mom) who are all useless individuals. They are drunk, unhappy has-beens who are living off of their father’s money, and therefore their father can control them quite easily. Let’s be honest, most everyone in the book (except Gat who is the “normal” voice) is pretty horrible.

The book begins when Cadence is about 14 or so, and from the start, we know that Cadence will be involved in an accident. (The book bounces back and forth between past and present tense.) The book is written in a style that I think really supports the main character’s age. There is a section near the beginning of the book where Cadence talks about when her dad left her and her mother. She writes “Then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest. I was standing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of my rib cage and down into a flower bed. Blood gushed rhythmically from my open wound, then from my eyes, my ears, my mouth. It tasted like salt and failure. The bright red shame of being unloved soaked the grass in front of our house, the bricks of the path, the steps to the porch…” After a few pages later when I realized that she wasn’t ACTUALLY shot, that the whole thing was a metaphor, I realized what a good metaphor that was for a naive (read: overly dramatic) teenage girl.

Each summer, the grandparents and the families of the 3 daughters go to Beechwood Island, off the coast of Massachusetts, which Harris owns. Each family has their own house on the island, and three of the grandchildren–Cadence, Mirren, and Johnny are all nearly the same age. Cadence is the oldest, but only by a few weeks. Starting at the summer when she was eight, a new child of similar age started coming to the island. His name was Gat. And he was the nephew of Carrie’s new boyfriend, Ed. Carrie never marries Ed because her father is a racist, and she will lose her inheritance if she does. Once Gat arrives, the four older grandchildren become known as the Liars, as they are always getting into mischief.

During summer 14, a different sort of relationship begins to grow between Gat and Cadence. They hang out all the time, share books, write love notes on each other’s hands. But they only hang out during the summer. Each of the Liars have their own “regular lives” during the school years. Right before summer 15 is when Cadence’s father leaves them. She’s excited to get to the island to get away and to see Gat, but when she arrives, she finds him mailing roses to his girlfriend. Between summer 14 and summer 15, Gat went on a mission trip to India. So he’s especially antagonistic about these rich people and their private island and all their silly things that they just shrug off like they are no big deal.

Also prior to summer 15, Tipper dies. The dynamic on the island has completely changed. Cadence and the others are instructed to keep it together for Grandpa’s sake.

And sometime on the island, Cadence goes swimming alone. She is found later curled up on the beach wearing a camisole, bra, and underpants. She doesn’t know what happened. They took her to a hospital off of the island, and can’t figure out what’s wrong with her. She has debilitating migraines, and can’t remember anything from shortly before, during or shortly after the attack. None of the Liars are returning her emails.

The following summer, Cadence’s father decides to take her on a trip around Europe. She’s upset. She wants to go to Beechwood Island to see the rest of the Liars. Her mother won’t allow her. Her grandfather’s house on the island is being redone so the summer won’t be any fun anyway. She reluctantly goes to Europe with her father and has a somewhat terrible time as she is sick so often.

The following fall, Cadence begins to take some of Gat’s lectures to heart. She begins a plan to give away something of hers every day. Some of the things she gives to homeless people. Some she mails to her cousins. Her mother is upset because spending money is her mother’s favorite activity.

Summer 17 Cadence is supposed to go to Australia with her father. However, she doesn’t want to. She wants to go to Beechwood. She hasn’t been there in 2 years and she wants to see the Liars. Her mother compromises and says she can spend 4 weeks there, but then she is staying with her father in Colorado for the remainder.

Cadence asks her mother what happened with the accident, and her mother is obviously frustrated. She’s told Cadence all she knew about what had happened every day since it happened, but Cadence doesn’t retain it. She asks her mother one last time, and this time she writes it down. She’s on a mission to figure out what happened.

Cadence and Penny arrive on the island for summer 17. Grandpa didn’t just renovate. He tore the entire house down and replaced it with a modern monstrosity with clean lines as opposed to the old Victorian home. He even got rid of the old maple tree with the swing. Cadence is devastated but she holds it together like she’s supposed to. But it’s hard. They don’t even stay at their old house now. Cadence and her mother now stay in the “New Clairmont” with their grandfather. She is expected to be there for all meals and hang out with the little cousins. But she hasn’t even seen the rest of the Liars yet. She finally finds some time to escape and find them. They are staying at Cuddledown, Mirren’s family’s house, together. Unfortunately though, Cadence is still required to stay at the New Clairmont. She catches up with them. Things are a little awkward, especially with Gat.

Cadence continues the summer trying to piece together what it was that had happened. She writes down the memories that return and keeps trying to get more information from her cousins and aunts.

STOP READING NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING. SERIOUSLY

Eventually Cadence remembers that she and the Liars were getting pitted against each other by their mothers and grandfather. They were being used as pawns to get a better share of the inheritance. Penny was using Cadence’s first birth status to try to get more. Johnny’s mother was using his eldest boy status. Mirren’s mother was using the fact that she had 4 kids and the others didn’t. They were all fighting over petty things like table clothes. So the liars devised a plan. Everyone but them was off the island, and they set fire to grandfather’s house. That way there wouldn’t be anything left to fight over. They knew that the fire department would take a while to arrive from the mainland, and they knew that they wouldn’t be prosecuted.

But Cadence was the only one who escaped the fire. Johnny, Mirren, Gat, and the two golden retrievers all died. They weren’t able to get out in time. Cadence burned herself badly in the fire, and the emotional shock blocked most of the painful memories. She’s the only one left of the Liars.

 Verdict: 4 stars

It’s pretty rare that a book fully surprises me, and let’s be honest, especially a young adult book. I even knew there was a surprise ending before reading, and it still got me. For that, it gets four stars. I have read some other reviews that criticized the writing, but to me, it felt very appropriate. It felt like I was reading a journal written by a 17 year old, and I also think that the writing style was critical to the surprise ending. And although my family unfortunately did not have a private island (gasp), I’m certainly familiar with the family drama that accompanies a grandmother dying. I think it’s a relatable theme. All in all, a good way to kick off book club for 2015!

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The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/9e3/45106722/files/2014/12/img_0991.jpgSummary (Amazon):  In The Fault in Our Stars, John Green has created a soulful novel that tackles big subjects–life, death, love–with the perfect blend of levity and heart-swelling emotion. Hazel is sixteen, with terminal cancer, when she meets Augustus at her kids-with-cancer support group. The two are kindred spirits, sharing an irreverent sense of humor and immense charm, and watching them fall in love even as they face universal questions of the human condition–How will I be remembered? Does my life, and will my death, have meaning?–has a raw honesty that is deeply moving.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: realistic

I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while as I like to try to fill in my pop culture gaps, especially when it comes to books. I finally got the chance when I borrowed this book from one of my friends in book club.

The story is pretty simple, and really not that unique. However, the success of the book is in the details. The general premise is that the main character, Hazel, has cancer and has an unknown amount of time to live. She meets a boy, Augustus “Gus”, at her therapy group and they click. See, like I said. Not that unique. But the characters have a compelling mixture of optimism and sarcastic realism that is enticing.

Hazel’s favorite book is a (fictional) book called An Imperial Affliction. (I love book within book stories. I can’t help it.) She lends it to Gus who also loves it, but they are both shocked by the ending–or lack thereof. In “AIA”, the main character, Anna, has cancer and decides to start a charity for people with cancer who want to cure cholera. Her mother meets a rich Dutch man, who might be a fraud, but her mother is going to marry him. The book ends abruptly, mid-sentence, and Gus and Hazel discuss what happened to the remaining characters. Was the Dutch man a fraud? Did they end up getting married? Hazel has already written the author, Peter van Houten, a bunch of letters with no replies, so she is stunned when Gus tells her that he has tracked down Peter’s email address and has received a response! Hazel summarizes her numerous letters into an email which she also sends. van Houten tells her that he cannot tell her the ending of the story except in person because he doesn’t trust that she wouldn’t publish it without his consent.

Hazel tells her mom who assures her that they would let her go to Amsterdam to meet him in person if they could, but they just do not have the money. However, Gus has saved his Wish (Make a Wish), and he surprises Hazel with a trip. (Hazel used her wish at age 13 to go to Disney World, and Gus justifies including her as she is the one who introduced him to the book.) Despite some hiccups in Hazel’s health, she is approved to go with her mom as a chaperone.

They arrive in Amsterdam and Gus and Hazel have dinner at a fictitious restaurant (yes, I looked) overlooking a canal. The meal was paid for Peter van Houten, and they are excited to meet him the following day. The next day, they arrive at his doorstep and he all but shuts the door in their face. It turns out that his assistant, Lidewij, approved the trip, and he had no idea that they were coming. He proceeds to down a couple glasses of scotch, speaks philosophically to them, and refuse to answer most of Hazel’s questions. They storm out dejectedly, and Lidewij comes out after them. She explains that she thought having people arrive who were lovers of his book would help re-ground him (but obviously that didn’t work). She offers to take them to see the Anne Frank house as a consolation, and they accept. Overcome by emotion in the museum, Hazel and Gus begin a mega make out session that they continue after the tour in his room. Cue the Marvin Gaye music.

The next morning, they have breakfast with Hazel’s mom and tell her about meeting Peter. Honestly, I’m not sure what they were expecting. The ending of a book is the ending for a reason. You don’t get to know what the characters do. Maybe the author doesn’t even know. It’s a book of made-up characters.

And then Gus starts acting weird. And you just know what is happening. His cancer has returned and is all through his body. He found out before they left, but he still wanted to go on the trip. They return to the states and he begins chemo and other experimental treatments. His health declines quickly, but there are still some good days in the midst. When he has one of his last good days, he invites Hazel and Isaac (another friend of theirs who is blind due to his cancer that attended the group sessions) to a pre-funeral so they can read him their eulogies while he can still hear them. He dies soon after.

Hazel speaks at his funeral, although she determines that funerals are for the living, and she revises the eulogy that she read to Augustus. But the biggest surprise at the funeral is that Peter is there. Augustus had been in contact with him after their trip and convinced Peter to attend his funeral to make amends for his terrible behavior during their visit. Hazel refuses to accept his apologies or endings to the story, but she does finally realize that the main character in Peter’s book was based upon his own daughter. She died at age 6, and he has never recovered.

Hazel, understandably, is having a hard time getting over the fact that Augustus has died, and she decides to hang out with Isaac. He tells her that Augustus was writing her a sequel to AIA in his last few days. She decides to go to Augustus’s house and check his room, where she finds nothing. A few days later, his mother calls her to say that she found a notebook with some missing pages. Hazel realizes that perhaps he sent those pages to Peter, so she emails his former assistant for help. Lidewij finds the missing pages, which were a request for Peter to write Hazel’s eulogy. She makes Peter read the letter and then send it to Hazel. You don’t get to choose whether you get hurt in the world, but you do get the choice of who hurts you. Augustus liked his choices, and he hoped that Hazel liked hers. She did.

Verdict: 4 Stars

In terms of young adult books, this is one of the better ones that I have read. Like I mentioned, the story itself is not particularly original, but there are a lot of things that I liked about it. In many YA books, the teenagers run the show. That might be motivational, but it’s not very realistic. In this, all people are strong and fragile, and therefore a lot more believable. Despite the fact that Isaac and Hazel appeared to be the sickest, in the end, Augustus is the one who dies. And throughout the book, he is the one who wanted to leave a legacy after he died, however, through Hazel, he realizes that it’s quality over quantity. I also appreciate the balance that the book took with regard to making the most of the time that you have.  I enjoyed the philosophy interspersed in the book (not overbearing like philosophy can be) and the author’s ability to write a book that was a love story, a tragedy, and yet humorous without being too swayed in any one direction.

A few quotes throughout the book that I loved:

“Come quickly: I am tasting the stars.” (Also I did not know prior to this book that Dom Perignon was a real person)

“There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. … You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”

 

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