YA Reads: Summer 2017

I'm sharing my latest YA reads: the good, the bad, and the popular. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Summers are made for YA reads, and that’s exactly what I’ve been reading all summer. Some have been really fun; others have been disappointing. I’m sure you’ll find at least one book on this list for your summer YA reading needs! (All summaries via Goodreads.com)

Ana of California

Fifteen-year-old orphan Ana Cortez has just blown her last chance with a foster family. It’s a group home next—unless she agrees to leave East Los Angeles for a farm trainee program in Northern California.

When she first arrives, Ana can’t tell a tomato plant from a blackberry bush, and Emmett Garber is skeptical that this slight city girl can be any help on his farm. His sister Abbie, however, thinks Ana might be just what they need. Ana comes to love Garber Farm, and even Emmett has to admit that her hard work is an asset. But when she inadvertently stirs up trouble in town, Ana is afraid she might have ruined her last chance at finding a place to belong.

This book was not as good as I had hoped. Ana, a foster kid running from her past, has to try to prove herself by working on a farm–it’s her last chance before being sent to a group home. I love the idea of having more MG and YA books focused on the foster care experience, but this book is filled with way more drama than necessary. I also wish Ana hadn’t spoken so poetically–no teenager talks like that, guys. I was hoping for a more realistic depiction of teenage life and foster families, and this book left me cold on both areas.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Lucky Strikes

With her mama recently dead and her pa sight unseen since birth, fourteen-year-old Amelia is suddenly in charge of her younger brother and sister, and of the family gas station. Harley Blevins, local king and emperor of Standard Oil, is in hot pursuit to clinch his fuel monopoly. To keep him at bay and her family out of foster care, Melia must come up with a father, and fast. And so when a hobo rolls out of a passing truck, Melia grabs opportunity by its beard. Can she hold off the hounds till she comes of age?

I loved Melia’s voice in this book. Her 1930s Southern accent comes across well without making the text unreadable, as written accents sometimes do. (There is a fair amount of swearing in this book, so be forewarned.) In Lucky Strikes, a motley family made of three children and a homeless man pretending to be their father attempt to keep Brenda’s Oasis from falling prey to the local petroleum baron after their mother’s death. The three children, especially Melia, are scrappy and resourceful, and even when they make mistakes (I don’t know any adult who would think Melia’s decision to force a stranger to become the father of the family was a good one) they are relatable and understandable. Unique and fresh, with a good balance between heavy moments and humor.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Anna and the French Kiss

Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris–until she meets Étienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, Étienne has it all…including a serious girlfriend.

But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss?

Cute teen romances aren’t for me, apparently. Anna and the French Kiss was a fun, quick read, but I got annoyed at the characters for being so immature. (I know, I know, they’re teenagers in love… I was still annoyed.) I can see how I probably would have loved this book as a teenager myself, but reading it as an adult wasn’t my favorite.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Stars Above

The universe of the Lunar Chronicles holds stories—and secrets—that are wondrous, vicious, and romantic. How did Cinder first arrive in New Beijing? How did the brooding soldier Wolf transform from young man to killer? When did Princess Winter and the palace guard Jacin realize their destinies?

Stars Above is so much fun! If you haven’t already read through the Lunar Chronicles, I highly recommend it, both on its own merits and because this book won’t make any sense without it. As someone who greatly enjoyed the Lunar Chronicles series, I loved seeing the characters I grew to love having new adventures (both before and after the events of the series). These short stories are a great continuation of the world Marissa Meyer has created.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister

Sohane loves no one more than her beautiful, carefree younger sister, Djelila. And she hates no one as much. They used to share everything. But now, Djelila is spending more time with her friends, partying, and hanging out with boys, while Sohane is becoming more religious.

When Sohane starts wearing a head scarf, her school threatens to expel her. Meanwhile, Djelila is harassed by neighborhood bullies for not being Muslim enough. Sohane can’t help thinking that Djelila deserves what she gets. But she never could have imagined just how far things would go. . .

I feel I should warn you right away: This book is not for the fainthearted. It shows the very different paths of two Muslim sisters living in France. One becomes more religious and gets expelled for wearing the hijab (illegal in French schools); the other becomes more secular, wearing tight clothing, smoking, and drinking. One of these sisters has something horrific happen to her, and the other sister is left to consider where it all went wrong. This is a powerful book and I’m glad I read it, but I don’t think I’ll ever feel the need to read it again.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Chasing Eveline

*Note: I received this book as a gift from the author. She did not request a review. All opinions are my own.

Sixteen-year-old Ivy Higgins is the only student at Carmel Heights High School who listens to cassettes. And her binder is the only one decorated with album artwork by 80s band Chasing Eveline. Despite being broken-up since 1989, this rock band out of Ireland means everything to Ivy. They’re a reminder of her mom, who abandoned Ivy and her dad two years ago. Now the music of her mom’s favorite band is the only connection she has left.

Even though Ivy wavers between anger and a yearning to reconnect, she’s one-hundred percent certain she’s not ready to lose her mom forever. But the only surefire way to locate her would be at a Chasing Eveline concert. So with help from her lone friend Matt—an equally abandoned soul and indie music enthusiast—Ivy hatches a plan to reunite the band.

I really wanted to like this book. A teenage girl tries to remember her mom by getting her favorite band back together–what’s not to like? Well, to start off with, Ivy is super irritating and immature. Her and her friend’s attempts at raising money to travel to Ireland and reunite the band include being a scam charity and making fun of homeless people during their attempts to be street performers, and I found this kind of gross. The book should have been more about Ivy dealing with her mom’s disappearance, but it was more about her achieving her ridiculous goal (and *spoiler alert* being disappointed in the results anyway). I’d give this one a pass, unless you have a much higher tolerance for irritating characters than I do.

Rating: Meh

The Lunar Chronicles: Winter

Winter is the conclusion to one of my favorite series. And it was fantastic. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Winter is the conclusion to one of the best series I’ve read in a while (you can see my reviews of Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Fairest by clicking the links). I thought it was an incredibly satisfying end to the series and, other than Cress, my favorite installment in the series. [Note: If you haven’t read the previous installments and wish to avoid spoilers, don’t read this review until you’ve read the other books!]

In Winter, the gang takes their battle against Levana to Luna itself. They stow away on Kai’s ship when he finally consents to marry Levana and form her disastrous alliance with Earth. Meanwhile, the crazy Princess Winter is doing her best to rebel against Levana in her own way, along with Jacin, the guard she’s been in love with since childhood. Despite losses and setbacks, Cinder and her friends are determined to rid Luna–and Earth–of Levana’s manipulation once and for all.

Let me mention first the number of viewpoints that you receive in this book. The 800+ page book has plenty of room to allow Cinder, Cress, Jacin, Winter, Wolf, Levana, Iko, Kai, and practically everyone else from the series at least a chapter or two for themselves. And although I don’t usually like to read books that switch so constantly from viewpoint to viewpoint, it works here. Meyer has worked so hard to create a strong background for each character in her previous books, and we know each character so well that it doesn’t feel dizzying or jerky to switch from person to person; it feels natural. I am flabbergasted by this, but it is awesome.

Secondly, and kind of related, we get to catch up with all our favorite characters from the rest of the series! We all know that my favorite is Cress, and we get plenty of chapters about Cress being afraid and doing the thing anyway, along with tons of Cress + Thorne, which is by far my favorite couple in the series. Cinder, of course, is kicking butt, and Kai is doing his part, even though he’s trapped in Levana’s clutches. I liked Scarlet a lot more in this book than in her own, although she is still the stereotypical “strong female” character, and her romance with Wolf hasn’t gotten any less Twilight-y. Iko is back and loving her new escort body, and Levana has the control freak manipulator vibe cranked up to eleven.

Winter herself is an interesting character, although I can’t say I necessarily liked her. She has gone mad because of her decision to suppress her Lunar gift, which, while an admirable choice, I don’t exactly agree with. I think she could have been a lot more help to the group if she had chosen to make small concessions to use her Lunar gift in order to keep her sanity. I wasn’t a huge fan of Jacin, either. I get his impulse to protect Winter above all else, but it did make him an awkward addition to the already cohesive group. Although the fairy tale that Winter retells is (of course) Snow White, not a favorite of mine, it’s pretty subtle, and Meyer keeps it from taking over the entire story.

I loved that we get to enjoy all of our favorite characters one last time. Each character maintains their own unique personality, and Meyer never lets them blend into one another, even when there’s a crowd of them. The struggles and hard decisions that Cinder and her friends face at the end of their quest to get rid of Levana are a great conclusion to the series. The overly happy endings might be a problem for some, but hey, it’s a fairy tale! What did you expect? A super fun book and a satisfying conclusion to a great series. I’m definitely looking forward to whatever Marissa Meyer puts out next.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Lunar Chronicles: Fairest

This companion book to the Lunar Chronicles series definitely deserves a spot next to Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress. | A book review by Newbery and Beyond
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This book is a companion book to the Lunar Chronicles series (you can see my reviews of the previous books here and here).  In it, the evil queen Levana’s backstory is explored, and we get to see how her past ties in with the current battle between Levana and Cinder and her friends.

The book reveals a lot of Levana’s past, and we get a good look into her twisted mind.  What I enjoyed most about this book is that even though we get Levana’s backstory, she still isn’t too sympathetic.  We see Levana’s love, and her true appearance, but we also see how, even though she’s had some hard times and truly wanted to be a good queen, she never related to others’ emotions or understand how her actions and manipulations truly affected those around her–even those she cared about.

Although I had heard some mixed reviews about this book prior to reading it, I think it definitely deserves a place with the rest of the Lunar Chronicles books.  It gives the reader a deeper understanding of the events in Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, as well as a look into the mind of a villain.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Lunar Chronicles: Cress

The third book in the Lunar Chronicles is the best one by far. | A book review by Newbery and Beyond
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(Of necessity, this review will contain spoilers for Cinder and Scarlet, but I will attempt to refrain from giving spoilers for Cress itself.)

I so, so enjoyed Cress.  I’ve tried to write a cohesive review, but it’s turning out to be just a list of things I enjoyed.  So here we go!  This book is the third in the Lunar Chronicles series (you can see my review of the previous books here), and the emotional stakes and moral dilemmas are much higher in this book than any of the previous books: Cinder and her friends have to make decisions about sacrificing friends, the cyborg draft, and what Cinder can do to stop Levana without turning into her.

Cress is a Lunar shell, who was taken by one of Levana’s thaumaturges and forced to become a hacker, living alone in a satellite for several years and spying on Earth’s doings.  When she is finally able to escape and lands on Earth, she is understandably emotional.  This brings me to one of the things I loved most about Cress as a heroine: she isn’t stereotypical.  My main problem about Scarlet was that she was a stereotype, reckless and headstrong, cynical but loving.  Cress is none of those things.  She is scared, naive, and sometimes childish.  She doesn’t always know the right thing to do–in fact, she hardly ever does.  She casts her lot with Cinder and the gang out of sympathy to their cause, sure, but she isn’t able to help them out for the majority of the book and is sometimes even considered a liability.  Looooooved this!

I also liked Thorne way better in this book than in Scarlet; he is so much more mature and helpful.  Cress (the innocent, inexperienced one) and Thorne (the suave criminal) together are awesome.  I found their interactions much more compelling than Scarlet and Wolf’s.  Speaking of which, Scarlet is out of the picture for most of the book, but we have to deal with Wolf’s melodramatics throughout most of the story.  (I still don’t like him, or Scarlet much.)

Again, there are subtle references to the original fairy tale–in this case, Rapunzel.  Cress is short for Crescent, like the moon where she was born, but I thought there might be a connection to the name Rapunzel as well.  Rapunzel=a kind of lettuce, so maybe Cress=watercress?  Just a thought.  More significantly (*slight spoiler alert?*), Thorne is blinded upon their descent to Earth, which parallels the original Rapunzel story, when her prince is blinded by the witch keeping Rapunzel captive.

Ooh!  Oooh!  And ***spoiler alert*** Cinder and Kai are reunited!  So awesome.  I love them as a couple and individually, and their reunion was just what I would have hoped–not too sweet, full of mistrust, but still with some sparks flying.

On the whole, Cress is much more powerful than either of the first two books.  Marissa Meyer has really hit her stride in this book.  It makes me that much more excited to read Winter when it comes out later this year!

Rating: Re-read Worthy

The Lunar Chronicles: Cinder and Scarlet

I'm finally getting around to reading the Lunar Chronicles series. It was worth the wait--mostly. | A book review from Newbery and Beyond
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I’m *finally* getting around to reading this series, after my writer friend and my book-loving sister both recommended it to me several months ago.  So far I’ve read the first two books, and I’m totally into it.  With a few caveats, that is.  (Please note–the review for Scarlet contains spoilers for Cinder.)

Cinder

My main problem with this book is that by page 115, I knew what the plot twist was going to be.  The story was a bit predictable, and I wanted more from Cinder based on how many good things I’d heard about it.  But that didn’t keep me from enjoying the story and the characters.

Cinder is a futuristic dystopian fairy tale retelling set in Asia, in which Cinderella is a cyborg, immune to the deadly plague that is sweeping the world and good at mechanics.  Cinder does her best to hide her cyborg parts, as there is a lot of prejudice against cyborgs.  They are looked down on and forced to be guinea pigs for the plague antidote–as they have already had a second chance at life, many people see that as only fair.

Throughout the book, the POV switches between Cinder and Prince Kai.  Cinder meets the prince well before the ball when he hires her to fix one of his robots (nope, can’t remember the word they use in the book, so I’m going with robot).  Prince Kai, whose father is on the brink of death from the plague, is carrying the weight of a potential war with the Lunar people on his shoulders–a people who can brainwash others by manipulating their brain waves, and whose evil queen will only be satisfied when she can marry Prince Kai and begin to take over the earth.

This book is an easy read.  The descriptions of this futuristic, dystopian world create the setting without being overly detailed or intrusive.  Little details tie the story to the original Cinderella–like Cinder’s tiny cyborg foot, and the orange car she takes to the ball.  The writing is interesting and snappy, and the internal fight at the end made it all worth it.  (And I must say, I *love* the lie detector in Cinder’s retinal display.  It was my favorite cyborg modification.)  On the whole, despite some predictability in the plot twists, I really enjoyed the characters and the setting.  I’m excited to see where the series goes from here.

Scarlet

Unfortunately, I disliked this book a lot more than Cinder, mainly because I didn’t connect with Scarlet’s character at all.  Her story is, of course, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, and unlike Cinder’s retelling, this one is a lot more heavy-handed.  Scarlet herself is a lot more stereotypical than Cinder was–she’s just a girl living in the French countryside with her grandmother, who is impulsive and gets into a rescue mission with a mysterious, possibly dangerous man she barely knows.  Her romance (with this mysterious man, of course) was well built up, but very tortured souls and a little Twilight.  Not nearly as satisfying as Cinder’s short-lived romance with Kai.

I like Cinder so much more than Scarlet–I’m really glad Cinder is in this book.  Sections of the book alternate between telling Scarlet’s story and filling us in on what Cinder is doing.  Cinder, who was (*spoiler for book 1*) put in jail at the end of the last book, breaks out with the help of another inmate, who fortunately owns a ship they use to get away.  I love seeing Cinder’s struggle with her new-found Lunar powers–she uses them, but she hates how easy it is for her.  Plus, Cinder’s memories coming back = awesome!  Overall, her sections are much stronger and more interesting than Scarlet’s, and I found myself wishing this book was mostly about Cinder, rather than Scarlet.

Unlike the last book, there was one twist in Scarlet I didn’t see coming, and it made me gasp out loud.  Loved it!  Despite the flaws in both of these books, they really are interesting, fun reads, and I’m definitely looking forward to the next two books.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

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