White Cat by Holly Black

White Cat
Holly Black

I’ve been meaning to get to this series. Ever since Tithe, I’ve been a fan of Holly Black, plus this was supposed to be a YA with supernatural elements and a con artist protagonist. What’s not to like, right?

A big thank you to fellow book blogger, Laura of A Jane of All Reads for my copy!

The Premise: (taken from the blurb) “Cassel comes from a family of Curse Workers – people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they’re all criminals. Many become mobsters and con artists. But not Cassel. He hasn’t got magic, so he’s an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail – he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.

Cassel has carefully built up a facade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his facade starts to crumble when he finds himself sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He’s noticing other disturbing things too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him. As Cassel begins to suspect he’s part of a huge con game, he must unravel his past and his memories. To find out the truth, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.”

Read an excerpt of White Cat here

My Thoughts: In Cassel Sharpe’s family, everyone is a curse worker except for him. With one touch they can bestow a “curse”. His mother can manipulate people’s emotions, his grandfather can kill, his oldest brother, Philip, can break bones, and Barron, the middle brother, works luck. Although curse workers are rare and blowback exacts a cost for each working, curse workers are the reason why everyone in the U.S. wears gloves and keeps their skin covered.  Being the only normal in a family of workers is hard for Cassel, but thankfully, he has his family’s other talent to fall back on: swindling people. While his brothers rely on their curse worker skills, Cassel grew up fine tuning his ability to manipulate others by conventional means.

Now Cassel is enrolled in a private boarding school, but when he wakes up on the roof of his dormitory without any idea how he got up there except a dream of a white cat, his stay at Wallingford is put on hold. This is purportedly for the insurance liability, but Cassel suspects it’s because people think he might be curse-worked. Cassel has been careful at the academy so that people would forget his past– that he comes from a family of crooks and conmen, but this one incident reminds everyone. Despite this, when Cassel goes back to his parents’ house all he wants to do is hustle his way back into the school. In between the house cleaning his grandfather has him do, Cassel is on damage control and smoothing his way back in. But while he is figuring that out he notices some telling behavior from his family — especially from his brothers. They’re keeping secrets from him, and Cassel suspects these secrets are more than just hiding things from the non-worker. He suspects they have to do with the night he killed his best friend Lila.

One of the stronger aspects of White Cat was its world building. The idea of workers, a very small percentage of the population with genetically passed abilities, fits seamlessly into the story. Cassel lives in a world where their existence is a given, and he offhandedly mentions what most people in his world already seem to know: that workers exist in the criminal fringes of society, a fragment of a percent of the population, but everyone wears gloves because of them. Gloves have become so de rigueur that Cassel feels uncomfortable if he sees bare hands. A fear of workers is part of day-to-day life: people wear charms to protect themselves from being worked, and there is also an ongoing controversy about legislation requiring everyone be tested for worker ability. What isn’t as well known is how the abilities work, and here Cassel knows more than the average person because of his family.

What was less strong was the character development, unless we’re talking about Cassel. Since White Cat is told from Cassel’s point of view, he is the most well developed character. The sense of isolation — both from his family for being a non-worker and for Lila’s death, and from the other students at his school, is in his every action. He doesn’t seem close to anyone, and only relies on others when he’s forced to (it goes against what he was taught). He’s a great broody teen guy character and I really enjoyed getting in his head and seeing how his upbringing has messed with him. Unfortunately, that isolation made the supporting characters difficult to know: they got little page space compared to Cassel, and what there was was filtered through Cassel’s walls. Cassel is least familiar with his classmates but they are probably the most likable characters. His brothers are distant and untrustworthy, his sister-in-law disconnected, and his mother a manipulative nightmare. His grandfather seems to be the only one in the family with a proper concern for Cassel, but he’s left out of the loop. Even Cassel’s romantic relationships are dysfunctional ones and it’s not clear if Cassel understands either girl he thinks he loves.

As for the plot – I liked the mystery aspect to this story. There’s a sense of urgency to figuring out what’s going on — that until he does, the cards are stacked in everyone else’s favor. I really loved the concept of what was going on when all was revealed, but I figured things out a lot quicker than Cassel does, and I wasn’t as wowed by the twists as a result. It was nicely done, but there were so many clues that I ended up questioning Cassel for not being quicker on the uptake. Also, because so much is made of Cassel being a normal in a family of workers and having to hone his skills as a confidence artist, I had a certain expectation of Cassel as a manipulator. I think I was expecting Cassel’s tricks to be more.. tricky, than they were. Instead they felt really obvious. I don’t know what this says about me, but I seem to be in a decided minority in feeling this way.

Overall: I loved loved loved the concept, world building, and voice. But. Other than Cassel, a lot of the side characters weren’t fleshed out and I wasn’t as surprised by the story as I wanted to be. I liked this one, and feel like it has that Holly Black writing that sucks me in, I just wasn’t in awe (and I really wanted to be). That said, I think a lot of people liked this one more than I did, and I liked it enough and am curious enough to continue this series with the next book, Red Glove.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Bunbury in the Stacks – “Cassel is one of those bad boys that you just can’t help but have a thing for…because he’s also kind of a good guy. ”
Chachic’s Book Nook – “While I didn’t find White Cat amazing, I still recommend it to fans of urban fantasy.”
Stella Matutina – “I was somewhat less interested in the plot than in the overall setup.”
Steph Su Reads – “Don’t miss it!”
Jawas Read, Too!“White Cat is an impressive and entertaining read.” (8 out of 10)
Read. Breathe. Relax – “White Cat is a must-read.”
See Michelle Read – “In this exceptionally character-driven novel, Holly Black has crafted a world so unlike any other YA book I’ve come across. White Cat is dark. Gritty. Intense. Just my kind of story.”

Other:
The Curse Workers website

P.S. I was tickled by the image of a mystery girl on the spine of the hardcover. Easily looked over, it’s a hidden detail.

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Melina Marchetta, Kristin Cashore, and Gayle Forman at Books of Wonder

books of wonder logo

Last Tuesday evening there was an Author Interviews Author event at Books of Wonder featuring YA authors Melina Marchetta, Kristin Cashore, and Gayle Forman. Luckily for me, I live close enough that I was able to go and attend the event after work!

I was good too — I took copious notes for the blog during the interviews. Here’s the lowdown of two hours of authorly goodness. Please note that I don’t write that fast, so this shouldn’t be considered verbatim — just the general gist of the conversation. And sorry about my blurry photos, I politely turned off the flash and I think my 5 year old camera just isn’t that great in with low light.

Companion Novels
All three authors (who are all friends) noted that they have one thing in common besides writing young adult: they all wrote “companion novels”. Companion novels aren’t true sequels because they were told from a different point of view from the first book in the same world, and in some cases, could be read out of order. All three authors had a similar experience with their companion novels–they weren’t planned. Gayle Forman said she had no intention of writing Where She Went, and Melina Marchetta said she didn’t know there would be a sequel, she thought she was finished when she wrote Saving Francesca. The same with Finnikin of the Rock. Melina didn’t like Froi at first, she just thought he was a tool in her story. She didn’t realize that Froi would get a book until the next year. On the other hand, Quintana was always going to be in a sequel, once she had written 500 pages for Froi and realized there was no way she could end it just yet.

Ways you can “screw yourself” doing things this way
Cashore had to slow things down in Graceling because her characters were moving too quickly, so she created an impenetrable forest, but in Bitterblue, when her characters had to move fast, there was the forest!
Marchetta had a tricky area to deal with because she had a character who loved musicals in one book, but in the other he flipped out over having to listen to Jesus Christ Superstar during a car trip. She says if anyone asks, she explains the discrepancy by saying the character grew out of liking musicals.
Forman says she wished she’d chosen a different name for Adam’s band.
Speaking of names, Cashore noted that names mean different things in different languages. Po means “butt” in German, and Katsa is Italian for penis.

Negative reactions from readers
Cashore talked about getting some backlash because her book Graceling was seen as anti-marriage and anti-having kids. She notes that the author is not the same as the characters (her phone has a picture of baby as the wallpaper and is “full of babies”), but while she got a lot of positive messages from readers, every so often she got abusive emails. Now she stays off goodreads and no longer accepts comments on her blog posts, and she also doesn’t have a public email address anymore. She decided to do this for peace of mind, but on the other hand, she met Melina Marchetta through an email, so she acknowledges she is missing out on the positive connections from having a public email.
Marchetta’s comment on reviews was that the author is not the audience of the review and that she keeps separate from the negative reviews.
Forman said that she got backlash from the swearing in her books. She says that her family swears at home, even her mother swears, but that doesn’t make them bad people.

Sexual Tension
This is where each of the three authors read a small passage from their books in which the sexual tension between characters was shown. Cashore read a very small scene from Bitterblue in which Bitterblue and Saf have a moment. Forman read a scene from Where She Went where Adam and Mia were wandering around New York together, and Marchetta read letters from The Piper’s Son between Tom and Tara. [note: for video clips of these readings, check out the recap on The Readventurer!]
Marchetta: With sexual tension, it is the insecurities and vulnerabilities that come through. The reader picks up on these and realizes that these characters are broken and are the only two people who can put each other back again.
Cashore: Conflict and the power dynamic are also important. These two people are the only two people who can take each other on. They go back and forth, but they are an even match. Also, what you don’t say is important.
Forman: an adversarial relationships heightens the sexual tension, there is a delicious dynamic.

Switching points of view
Marchetta discussing how Froi arrived, talked about her friends and an long-running joke in which they play “You Raise Me Up” to her. She had just written a scene in Finnikin in which the captain and the guard had put people up on their shoulders, including Froi. Hearing the song soon after that, Marchetta realized that Froi was a player in the story.
Cashore: It was fun to write a book with Bitterblue, who is a character that is more aware of other people’s emotions. Katsa is more of a doer and doesn’t see things in the same way.
Forman: Switching point of view to continue a story is such a good way to do it because you learn things about the characters.
Cashore: didn’t realize how awful Leck was until she wrote his journals and in his point of view. It helped flesh out how horrible he is. Leck is the only character in all three books.
Marchetta says she didn’t understand why she was asked whose POV the book was from, because in Finnikin the book was mostly from his point of view. So she introduced quite early the different point of views in Froi of the Exiles so people wouldn’t be alarmed by the switches to multiple points of view.
Cashore: Switching points of view also helps with boredom. It’s more interesting with a different point of view.

Fantasy Contemporary
During the discussion it was revealed that Kristin Cashore is working on a contemporary story (!), and this led to a discussion on how the transformation happened between Fantasy and Contemporary YA and vice versa.
Marchetta was staying in New York City for two months after writing Jellicoe Road and she was in the subway one day when she saw a poster with a picture of a refugee camp in Africa. Everyone in the car was speaking a different language and she realized that so many people are not in their homeland. By 2007, she had a novel in her head, but she didn’t want it to be too political, so she decided to write it as a Fantasy. Her grandparents were immigrants and had always talked about going back to visit their homeland, so that became part of the spark for Finnikin. But she feels like Finnikin is not so different from her last novel just because it is a Fantasy.
Cashore said that her very first work was realism, and it was the characters that dictated the story and made it a Fantasy.

Q&A: How did you create characters that are abrasive and difficult to like and then make us love them so much it hurts?
Forman: Because you love them.
Cashore said her crankiest character is probably a librarian character in Bitterblue. When you are having fun, readers will pick up on it and like a character.
Marchetta: People start off not liking a particular character of hers, but they see that he uses the name “Anabelle’sbrother” online. This is a clue that he isn’t that bad. Marchetta uses little things like this as a promise that everything will come out right.
Cashore remembers at this point that her cranky librarian has a cat, which underlines what Marchetta just said.

Q&A: Most Helpful Advice from an Editor
Cashore: “Would you consider starting from scratch?” was what her editor said to her after an 800 page draft that took three years. The change of mindset made a difference.
Forman couldn’t come up with a specific piece of advice and says that her editor was key through edits.
Marchetta: “The word ‘said’ is a good word”. So don’t try to use “mocked” and other words like that when “said” will do. Also, “don’t be a thesaurus, use a thesaurus.”
Cashore: “Don’t let fear make your decisions.”

Q&A: Reviews
Forman: You can’t control anything in publishing except the book you are working on in the moment.
Cashore: The reviews that bother her are when the reviewer speculates what the author was trying to do. When people try to guess who the author is, it irks her.
Marchetta advises to stop reading a review when you read “I really wanted to like this book..”

Q&A: Creating Characters
Marchetta: the story begins with the characters. She waits for them to come to her and “observes” them and “listens” to their conversations with who they bring along.
Cashore: has a similar process to Marchetta. She observes. Some characters are easier. They’re talkative. Some aren’t, for example, Saf, who was taciturn. There’s a lot of conversation and dialoging that happens. You’re trying to reveal the characters through words.
Forman: You think you know a character up until you write. The process is endlessly surprising. Characters seem to have a mind of their own.
Marchetta: did not understand Quintana at first. Quintana changed her personality a lot, and Marchetta didn’t understand her for a year, then, during a walk with her dog, it came to her. Too much thought messes up the process — don’t fight them and try to make them into something they’re not.

Q&A: Intent of a book
Forman: It’s what she calls the Perfect Song Conundrum: she listens to an album and asks what the band/artist was thinking. Don’t they know they should do this and this to have the perfect song? there’s a chasm between the book you now it should be, and what it is. The best reading experience for her is cathartic, and leaves her different from how she was when she started.
Cashore: is trying to make a small, simple, emotional point. She tries to write for herself, writing as a writer, and later goes back as a reader. She tries to convey a feeling, and after a bunch of getting it wrong, in the end she gets to the place she wanted to.
Marchetta: Don’t think too much about it. The purpose is to entertain, but make sure you are always in love with the world. She knows it will work out when she’s still in that state when she finishes writing. Also she loves to think that she writes to make a connection.

Q&A: Worldbuilding
Cashore: With Graceling she didn’t build the world first. She did it as she went along, and she thinks this was something of a mistake. Fire is different — she used landscape more carefully in her second book.
Marchetta: Half-planned her world and half-didn’t. Froi hit the ground running because she had set it all up in Finnikin. Her personal travels gets used in her world building.

Q&A: What happened to Jimmy Hailer?
Marchetta: “I don’t know.” Jimmy didn’t come back to her. He was based on a real person, and when she knew him, he was an angry person, but now he is happy. You can’t force a character back to hear his story.

Q&A: Race in Cashore’s series
Cashore: The inhabitants of Dell seem darker skinned in Bitterblue, but not so in Fire. The reason is that in Fire, she made the characters darker-skinned, but she did it so subtly that readers missed it. Now that she has a chance to correct that in Bitterblue. Cashore feels like she failed a little bit in making the race difference too subtle.
Forman: Maybe you need to be less nuanced in Fantasy (about race).

Q&A: Cursing
The authors spent a little bit of time talking about cursing in Fantasy and how fun it was to make up swear words or to use quaint ones. Marchetta’s favorite was “swiving” and Cashore’s was “weaselbugger”.


So that was a really fun event, and I did run into a couple of other bloggers there (Catie from The Readventurer, Heidi from Bunbury in the Stacks, Sasha from Sash & Em, and Grace from Books of Love). I also got a few books signed:

  • If I Stay by Gayle Forman – I hadn’t tried this author before and decided I would give the first book of this series a go. (bought at Books of Wonder)
  • Bitterblue by Kristen Cashore – I was sort of unsure of buying the hardcopy because my other two copies of books in this series are trade paperback, but I couldn’t wait. (bought at Books of Wonder)
  • Saving Francesa by Melina Marchetta – I am ready to try one of Marchetta’s contemporaries and this series appealed to me. Really wanted a copy of The Piper’s Son too, but couldn’t find one. (bought at Books of Wonder)
  • Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta – This book has been recommended all over the place and I WILL read it one day! (brought from home)

Other recaps (check these out for more pictures and other details of the event):
Bunbury in the Stacks
The Readventurer

Easy by Tammara Webber

Alright. So Angie reviewed Easy on Tuesday and by that evening I had bought the book, fully intending to hold on to it while I finished off other books I was reading. But then, I read a few pages. By lunch the next day I’d read the whole thing.

Easy
Tammara Webber

The Premise: Jacqueline Wallace is having a horrible sophomore semester in college. After 3 years together, her boyfriend Kennedy dumps her so that he can sleep with other girls. Two weeks after that, his frat brother Buck attacks Jacqueline in a parking lot and tries to rape her. She escapes only because a guy in her economics class was there.  Shaken by the assault, all Jacqueline wants to do is to move on and act like nothing is wrong. She doesn’t tell anyone what happened, but Lucas, the boy who saved her knows, and suddenly she’s noticing him everywhere. To add to everything else, Jacqueline has missed two weeks of Economics because she was avoiding Kennedy and if she doesn’t make up the midterm she missed, she’s going to fail the class.

My Thoughts: Since I didn’t really look at any reviews besides the one before beginning Easy, I was genuinely freaked out by the first few pages. I didn’t know what would happen to Jacqueline, and I had a sinking feeling at the pit of my stomach when she walked to her truck and was suddenly pinned down from behind. I was relieved when a savior appeared, but after this incident I still worried since Jacqueline didn’t report Buck for the attempted rape. I’m putting that out there now for anyone for whom this would be uncomfortable with descriptions of sexual assault. My rule of thumb is not to discuss what happens after the first fifty pages of a book, so I won’t say whether things get darker for Jacqueline, but I will say that the first few pages with the attempted assault is at the threshold of what the reader actually gets to “see”.

As can be expected, Jacqueline wants to put the attack behind her.  She has a lot of other things to deal with on top of her trauma. Besides getting over her breakup with Kennedy, tutoring upright bass, and working towards her music education major, she has to save her GPA by not failing in Economics. This means getting in touch with the class tutor, Landon Maxfield. As Jacqueline’s busy schedule would have it, she can’t make any of the face-to-face session with Landon, so instead they communicate by email, and what starts off as a formal interaction (“Mr. Maxfield”, “Ms. Wallace”), soon becomes a light flirtation (“I already looked forward to his name in my inbox, our back-and-forth banter”). At the same time, Jacqueline is also noticing someone else — Lucas, the guy who saved her from Buck. He sits in the back of her Economics class, sketching instead of taking notes, makes her coffee at Starbucks (he’s the barista), and shows up at the club to ask her to dance. He’s got a mysterious bad boy edge — lip piercing and tattoos, and girls coming up to him after class. At first seeing him makes Jacqueline relive that night, but after she’s noticed him, she’s drawn in, and it looks like the feeling is mutual.

Minutes before the end of class, I turned and reached into my backpack as an excuse to sneak a look at the guy on the back row.  He was staring at me, a black pencil loose between his fingers, tapping the notebook in front of him. He slouched into his seat, one elbow over the back of it, one booted foot casually propped on the support under his desk. As our eyes held, his expression changed subtly from unreadable to the barest of smiles, though guarded. He didn’t look away, even when I glanced into my bag and then back at him.
I snapped forward, my face warming.

If you like romance with that delicious build-up of falling in love, where a couple’s addiction for one another is a force you can feel, this is probably a book you will like.  Jacqueline is decidedly pursued over the course of seven weeks by a guy who says and does all the right things. I mean, this guy is good. Things begin with light touches and long stares and progress until the electricity is fairly crackling, but this guy is also respectful and not aggressive (mysterious too). When Jacqueline’s best friend and roommate Erin advises her to “make him chase you” that’s when things get interesting. And here’s when I get contrary. Yes, I was sucked in, but my own cynicism kept rearing its head. The male romantic lead here was too much of a fantasy for me, by all accounts some sort of dream guy, showing up at just the right time to boost Jacqueline’s confidence. I couldn’t stop myself from feeling disbelieving even as I raced to finish the book. It felt like there was so much going on with him that he unbalanced the story a little.

If Easy was just about the romance, I wouldn’t have liked this book as much as I did. I liked it’s depiction of college. This is not a book where the college setting is just icing — no, this story is permeated by its setting: dorm hallways as hangout areas, lectures with auditorium seating, lugging laundry to the basement, and equal parts study and being with friends. College life is shown with ups (like independence and intense friendships) as well as downs (like rumors and clique culture). The dialogue was particularly good — utterly natural and believable. I always felt like it captured the emotions of the moment.

I also liked Easy for being a story with a positive message. It put the blame of sexual assault where it belongs and had a proactive message to women as well. Those who blame the victim and support the abuser exist here, but are clearly not in the right. I loved the message of sisterhood and of women looking out for one another, and I was really invested in Jacqueline move upwards and forward from what happened. My empathy for Jacqueline made me cheer for all the positive things that came her way. This story wasn’t perfect (see above), but it was a good one.

Overall: An entertaining New Adult contemporary with a pro-female message. I quite happily was swept along by the easy writing style, the banter of the college set, and the electric romance. Even if part of me found Jacqueline’s hero too conveniently perfect to suspend my disbelief (he fell in that uncanny valley between an awesome guy and a god), I liked this one. Definitely worth the $3.99 I spent on it.

Buy: Amazon (kindle) | B&N (nook)

Other reviews:
Dear Author – B+
Clear Eyes, Full Shelves – “I’m usually quite wary of self-published books, but Easy was worth the risk.”
Angieville – “Highly recommended, especially for fans of Jessica Park’s Flat-out Love, Jennifer Echols’ Going Too Far, all things new adult, and just substantial, swoony contemporaries in general.”

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

I requested Seraphina from Netgalley because the summary mentions dragons that fold “themselves into human shape”. Shapeshifters in the fantasy genre is something I’m still thrilled by, even though I should have my fill already in urban fantasy. Not sure how, but it’s different I tell you. Other things that also drew me: tensions between humans and dragons, a heroine trying to hide a secret while working beside a “dangerously perceptive” prince, and the great blurbs by Naomi Novik and Tamora Pierce. Not to mention some very tempting book reviews.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Rachel Hartman

The Premise: (taken from goodreads) “Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.”

My Thoughts: This story starts with Seraphina.

“I remember being born.
In fact, I remember a time before that. There was no light, but there was music: joints creaking, blood rushing, the heart’s staccato lullaby, a rich symphony of indigestion. Sound enfolded me, and I was safe.
Then the world split open, and I was thrust into a cold and silent brightness. I tried to fill the emptiness with my screams, but the space was too vast. I raged, but there was no going back.
I remember nothing more; I was a baby, however peculiar. Blood and panic meant little to me. I do not recall the horrified midwife, my father weeping, or the priest’s benediction for my mother’s soul.
My mother left me a complicated and burdensome inheritance. My father hid the dreadful details from everyone, including me. He moved us back to Lavondaville, the capital of Goredd, and picked up his law practice where he had dropped it. He invented a more acceptable grade of dead wife for himself. I believed in her like some people believe in Heaven.”

 
Not surprisingly, my first impression of Seraphina was that she is an odd duck. Clearly there’s something strange about her for remembering her birth, and the inheritance she alludes to. Then she tells us that her father has told her time and again that to stay safe she must stay under the radar.  That her secret, if discovered, would mean her death. Only a select few know it, among them her father and Orma, a her music tutor (who happens to be a dragon). But Seraphina can’t help herself. She doesn’t want attention, but she is herself. Despite her best intentions, Seraphina stands out. Her prodigal musical talent is difficult to suppress, and after she’s noticed for that, it’s hard to forget her.

When the story begins, Seraphina has been court composer’s assistant for two whole weeks. Two weeks of rushing to be ready for the kingdom’s forty year celebration of the treaty with the dragons where the Ardmagar (the dragon equivalent of a king) is scheduled to make an appearance. Then Prince Rufus is found dead during a hunting trip. He was decapitated, and whispers that a dragon is responsible begin to be passed along. Things are difficult enough with the peace without these new rumors — many Goreddis still fear the dragons and worry about Goredd disbanding the knights who practiced dracomachia (a fighting technique used specifically against the dragons).

Seraphina thinks something is about to happen because of Prince Rufus’s death. She isn’t sure what, but she wonders who really killed the Prince and why. Seraphina’s position within the palace gives her special access to the royal family and she tries to keep an eye out for possible threats. She devises her own ways of finding things out, often finding herself face-to-face with Prince Lucian, head of the guard, as a result — and he proves a little too smart and nice for Seraphina’s comfort (especially since he has a fiancée). In the meantime, she also worries about her tutor Orma and the ominous message he received at the Prince’s funeral. Interwoven with that is Seraphina’s own issues with keeping her secret — her flute solo at the funeral moved everyone to tears and of course made her noticed. I’m half tempted to say what Serphina’s secret is in this review (it’s a big part of her character), but I am not sure it’s exactly revealed in the first fifty pages and the blurb dances around it. Let’s just say it is a great secret for storytelling. There’s a lot of little anecdotes about Seraphina’s past and how they relate to her secret all while everything else is going on. Her struggle to understand her mother (who died at childbirth) is a big part of Seraphina’s ruminations. If that isn’t enough, there’s also this strange mental garden that is tied to Seraphina’s secret.

Maybe that sounds like a lot of odd little threads, but these things are related in a smooth and interesting way. This is the type of world building that you sink into and while it has that medieval, city-built-around-a-castle setting that a lot of Fantasy has, much of the world felt fresh and new to me. The highlight was that dragons can shapeshift into people. What I loved about this that is in Seraphina, becoming human is a truly alien experience for a dragon. They can’t really deal with a new body that sometimes makes them feel and think in ways dragons aren’t supposed to. They needs Censors to make sure they don’t go insane – which in their culture, is when a dragon allows emotion to overrule logic. Dragons literally have memories of such a distasteful lapse scrubbed away. Of course, with the dragons so concerned with being dragons and keeping themselves apart from what they think of as human weakness, they also stay unknowable to their human allies who say they have no souls. There’s so many little details like that that are thrown in here. Seraphina knows more about dragons than most people so she bridges the cultural gap in her narrative. Tidbits about dragon and human relationships are dropped as needed throughout the story (not to mention the cultures of neighboring countries Porphyry, Samsam, and Ninys), and they fascinated me. I couldn’t get enough of the meeting of different worlds.

The other thing I really loved about this story were the characters. Seraphina was my favorite. She has more than one facet – sometimes quiet and a bit grumpy, sometimes scared and secretive, other times just fierce and brave. She starts off as a sixteen year old girl who wants to blend into the walls, but as the story progresses her chutzpah shines through as she throws herself into stopping anything from ruining the treaty. I loved this, but I also loved her vulnerability because she has the daily anguish of hiding her true self. And let’s not forget the secondary characters. First of all: Prince Lucian – my goodness, the awesome interactions he and Seraphina have! There was something a little fun about how they both surprise each other, and I can’t wait to see how their relationship develops. Then there’s Seraphina’s father, who tells her to stay unnoticed every chance he gets, but who does so because of his fear for his daughter; Orma, who is a dragon and who has always seemed distant, but who Seraphina still trusts and loves; even Princess Grisselda, granddaughter of the current queen and Lucian’s fiancee proves to be more complicated than she initially seems.

Overall: You know those books that kind of make you excited because you read them and think, “This is right up my alley! This book has things I find awesome in it!” ? Seraphina is one of those books for me. I just want everyone who likes Fantasy with girls doing stuff (and dragons!) to read it already. The characters! The world building! Have I mentioned the shapeshifting dragons?! Alright, I get that not everyone loves YA Fantasy and books with a drop of romance, but if you like that sort of stuff, just a little bit? If you like the quality and creativity of Robin McKinley, Megan Whalen Turner, and Diana Wynne Jones? Then maybe you should try this one.

Seraphina is out July 10th

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Stella Matutina – ” SERAPHINA is just plain delicious from start to finish. I want all of you to read it as soon as you possibly can. “

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

This is the perfect example of bloggers influencing my reading — this was only on my radar because I saw a banner on Holly’s blog. Chachic, who recently reviewed it also credits a blogger for her interest in the book. And why is this debut author getting good buzz? Well, I think what she does right is her website is nice and clean and information is easy to find, she uses social media well, and she has a nice long excerpt (very crucial). All good things, but hey, most importantly – the book is a good read too!

This review is based on an eARC copy I received via Netgalley.

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller
Trish Doller

The Premise: Travis Stephenson is a nineteen-year-old Marine on leave for thirty days. He’s been in Afghanistan for a year and his best friend Charlie was recently killed over there. Now that he’s home, everything that was once familiar is now strange, and Travis isn’t as okay as he pretends to be. While he’s dealing with his own messed up head, he also has to deal with his less-than-ideal family life. His parents’ marriage is strained, and his younger brother Ryan is a rival, not an ally (he stole Travis’s girlfriend and car while Travis was gone). Then he meets Harper, the girl whose reputation he ruined in middle school after a game of seven minutes in heaven led to rumors he didn’t bother to curtail.

Read an excerpt of Something Like Normal here

My Thoughts: There’s a lot in Travis’ life that he has to deal with. Non-trivial things. His best friend Charlie is dead. Travis has trouble sleeping and may be suffering from PTSD. He wants to pay Charlie’s mothers his respects, but he isn’t sure how to do that when he can’t even process Charlie’s absence himself. On leave from Afghanistan, Home has become an alien planet. He’s surrounded by a reputation-obsessed father, an anxious mother, and a brother that covets what Travis has. His parents’ relationship has deteriorated, and his ex-girlfriend Paige is with his brother Ryan now — but keeps showing up in his bedroom late at night. Every relationship Travis has is fraught with complications and unresolved issues.

Then Travis runs into Harper Gray, a girl who has every reason to hate him because he’s why the world thinks she’s a slut. After a good punch in the face, Harper is surprisingly non-judgmental, and Travis, messed up and floundering, recognizes that she’s someone that he wants to be around. Their past history and Travis being drawn to Harper now becomes another sign of changes in Travis. I’d normally question if Harper should forgive a guy who hurt her, but here, Travis is suffering already. Harper’s intuition that Travis is in pain and her decision not to hold a grudge (well, after that punch), makes her strong rather than weak. There was something quiet and right (and a little delicious) about their burgeoning relationship.

Just like Chachic says in her review, I have never been a nineteen-year-old boy, but I could see Travis fitting in with the ones I’ve known. Bonding with his friends from the unit means giving them all a hard time, and physical exertion is part of his coping mechanism. He really likes girls. And he’s realistically flawed. Actually, his younger self sounds rather immature: his treatment of Harper is one example, his rocky relationship with his ex is another (“We cheated on each other all the time. That’s the way it was with me and Paige–insane and toxic“). He STILL has growing up to do, and Something Like Normal captures how painful the process of adulthood can be. The the emotion underlying everything Travis says as he narrates underscores it. Every word seems to tell us just how cut up he is about Charlie and how difficult it is for him when he feels nothing near normal, but he’s trying hard – both to cope, and to be a better person. Thankfully this pain is balanced nicely with the thrill of finding a connection with someone who understood it.

If I had one criticism of this book it would be that there was a lot of personal drama and a short time frame. I’d have preferred more time on the romance or with his processing of Charlie’s death over some of the drama, but it’s hard to complain with all the threads so seamlessly interwoven. Travis’ thoughts of Charlie and Afghanistan, to his talks with Harper and his mom, to the friction with his dad, and the non-relationship with his brother – I was never really confused of overwhelmed by all of these, they were just so well integrated into the story.

I should also say – I really rooted for Travis. I wanted him to be happy, to find some peace over the loss of his best friend, and to get the girl. I finished the book hoping Travis would come back safely after the years he had left to serve.

Something Like Normal comes out June 19th

Overall: It doesn’t feel like I get to read many contemporary YA books told from the first person POV of a teen male, much less one in the military. Something Like Normal stands out because of its Marine protagonist, but add Travis’ painfully honest voice and this becomes a very personal, character driven story about a young man who has been changed by his experiences at war. Something Like Normal captures the mix of humility and vulnerability of his hard-earned maturity. The sweet, slow romance makes it all the better.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Angieville – positive
Book Harbinger – positive
See Michelle Read – positive
The Crooked Shelf – positive
Chachic’s Book Nook – positive

Other links:
Trish Doller discusses her photo inspirations for the book

[Edited to add: I realized that my description of Travis’ voice as a teenage boy was similar to Chachic’s characterization, so I’ve updated to link to her review in that sentence].

Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

This was the latest readalong book that Holly, Chachic, and I read.

Unearthly
Cynthia Hand

The Premise: Clara Gardner is a regular seventeen year old, except for one thing – she’s part angel. With visions of a boy standing among pine trees as a fire rages towards him, Clara thinks she knows what her Purpose is. She has to save him. When her visions give her enough details to figure out where this fire is going to be, her mom uproots the whole family from Silicon Valley to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Clara thinks all she has to do is find the boy from her vision and make sure she’s there at the right time and place to fulfill her destiny. Except things aren’t always as simple as they appear. The longer Clara is in Jackson, the more she learns how little she knows about her powers and about her vision, and how life never goes the way you expect.

My Thoughts: I have to admit that I went into this story with a little bit of trepidation. It’s not really anything against angels (although they aren’t my favorite supernatural creatures), so much as a bias against young adult paranormals these days. I think I have this little aversion to this genre because I’ve read one too many with a predictable storyline. That said, I hadn’t seen anything about Unearthly that sounded any alarms. In fact, I’d mostly read good reviews. With that in mind, and without knowing much else, I borrowed Unearthly from the library, and I’m happy to report that Unearthly doesn’t go the predictable YA paranormal route (although it does do a couple of things that seem to be common in YA these days – more on that later).

What stood out for me was a few things. First of all there’s Clara’s voice, which felt like it had the right mix of pre-adulthood maturity peppered with sarcasm and angst. She’s no airhead, but there is a balance between her angelic traits (good looks, preternatural athletic ability and angel powers), and her human ones. For all her awe-inspiring ability (wings and glowing and speaking in tongues), she is still an awkward teen. Actually, it seems like Clara is more awkward than angelic – for every moment of celestial grace, she has more than her fair share of humiliation, like a hair dye horror story and New Girl dorkiness. Then there’s Clara’s relationship with her mother. They don’t always see eye to eye, but they have a close relationship, one in which her mom is in the picture, wants to know about her life, and actually tells her daughter that she’s part angel! Basically, she’s a mom that actually acts like one.

Because of her mother, when Clara talks about her visions, she is matter-of-fact. After all, she’s known what she is since her fourteenth birthday. We don’t have to go through the slow build-up of Clara discovering her angelic side, instead the story begins a little further along. Yes, there’s a lot that Clara still doesn’t know, and her mother isn’t always forthcoming, but at least it feels like Clara has a tangible goal, one that I was curious about:

“In the beginning, there’s a boy standing in the trees. He’s around my age, in that space between child and man, maybe all of seventeen years old. I’m not sure how I know this. I can only see the back of his head, his dark hair curling damply against his neck. I feel the dry heat of the sun, so intense, drawing the life from everything. There’s a strange orange light filling the eastern sky. There’s the heavy smell of smoke. For a moment I’m filled with such a smothering grief that it’s hard to breathe. I don’t know why. I take a step toward the boy, open my mouth to call his name, only I don’t know it. The ground crunches under my feet. He hears me. He starts to turn. One more second and I will see his face.
That’s when the vision leaves me. I blink, and it’s gone.”

The fire, the boy, and Clara’s purpose drive the story. At first, everything she does is for the sole goal of getting to the place and time that the vision foretells, and at first it looks like you can see where things are going. The first day Clara arrives at school, she sees him. His name is Christian, and of course, he’s perfect. All-American, popular, and as beautiful as can be. Clara promptly faints. I cringed, expecting the usual saccharine love story to follow.  In my mind, all kinds of red flags were going off. I didn’t like that Clara hardly knew Christian and was so intensely involved, vision or not. He had a girlfriend! Clara just looked like a stalker, so obsessed was she with fulfilling her purpose. But the story didn’t go the way I expected. It wasn’t about Christian so much as it was about Clara, making new friends (strange loner Angela and friendly, nice-girl Wendy), and finding a life outside of her vision. Things happen which begin to suggest that there is more to being an angel than a purpose, and there are darker things afoot that Clara’s mother never told her about. Another boy begins to get Clara’s attention. Things weren’t going like I expected and pages were flying by as I raced to find out what happened next.

The love triangle in Unearthly at first felt like a necessary evil. Clara had to discover some things about relationships for herself. I hoped that once she realized that one relationship was superficial compared to the one developed over the course of the story, that we’d see the end of it. It looked that way – the intensity of Clara’s feelings is palpable and reflected the emotions of first love. Clara seemed to know what her heart wanted, and I liked her more for it. I also really liked the romance. Then the love triangle is shoehorned back into the plot. Despite how much I want to know what happens next (enough to want to read the second book, Hallowed), and how much I liked the romance and the angel elements, the threat of the unending love triangle brought my enjoyment down a notch.

Overall:  There were quite a few things I enjoyed about Unearthly. It’s a compulsively readable – I wanted to know what would happen next and the pages just few by as I got caught up in the mix of real world teen drama and paranormal intrigue, all voiced by the very human Clara. In many ways it avoids the cliches of YA paranormals – but it doesn’t completely avoid common YA tropes like the dreaded love triangle, nor is Clara always poised – I winced a few times on her behalf. I think it will depend on the reader if what Unearthly does differently from your typical paranormal YA balances out where it treads over well-worn territory. For me, the differences outweighs the commonalities, and I am curious about the second book, but if Hallowed strings the love triangle out further, I’m going to bail.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Bunbury in the Stacks – “Hit it!”
Mystifying Paranormal Reviews – DNF
A Room with Books – 4.5 (out of 5)
The Crooked Shelf – “completely and utterly compelling”

Interesting links
Literary Swoon with Cynthia Hand

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity
Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Wein’s Telemakos series is one I was planning to read eventually, given that it has been compared to Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series (Chachic calls it “Gen in Africa”). The Sunbird has been waiting on my TBR pile for a few months now. When a publicist from Egmont contacted me about Code Name Verity, I wasn’t sure about a story that is a WWII drama about two girls, one caught by the Gestapo. I was worried because I’ve read some books lately that wrung me out. Well, I was an emotional wreck after this one, but I still recommend it highly.
 
The Premise: During World War II, a girl has been captured by the Gestapo in Nazi occupied France. Her papers say she’s Maddie, but she maintains that that is not her name. This young mystery woman is given pen and paper and a deal. For her clothes, she will confess wireless codes, and then the “Location of British Airfields for Invasion of Europe”. She begins to write, and as she writes, she tells the story of who she is and how she came to be in her cell, and of her best friend Maddie, the pilot who brought her to France before crashing and perhaps dying with her plane.
 
My Thoughts: This is a story where the less I say the better, so this is going to be a very short review (by my standards), and a review with very little detail about what is going on in the story.
 
What I can tell say is what I said in the premise – a captured young woman has to write out some information for the Nazis and her confession is what we’re reading. Of course, as a reader, I’m very concerned about this girl. She explains that she’s a coward and that’s why she’s going to tell the Nazi’s everything, if only to buy a few more days of relative comfort before her death.  While she says she’s not Maddie, she sure knows how to tell Maddie’s story and how Maddie became a pilot. She gives so much detail that I wonder if she is in fact Maddie.
This is a YA book, so the depictions of violence are somewhat tame, but we know that there are other prisoners tortured nearby and her captors have threatened to use kerosene and light her on fire (amongst other things). Under those conditions, would she tell the truth? Is she giving away only unimportant information? Or is everything she’s saying a blatant lie?
 
Code Name Verity answers those questions eventually, but along the way it paints a grim picture of a desperate young woman surrounded by unfriendly faces. She escapes through her retelling of a happier past. There are a lot of details here about Maddie, a young girl finding ways to gain flight experience, and how Maddie’s circumstance leads her to the elegant enigma writing the story. This is a story about their bravery, and the strong friendship that develops between them.
 
People, bring tissues. By the end of this book you will cry. I almost made it without a tear, but I couldn’t get past the last page without falling to pieces. The only reason I didn’t cry before that was because I was reading in public
(there is a wrecking ball of a scene before the end and I had a verklempt moment). Later, as I was recounting the story, I couldn’t do it without a catch in my voice. Despite the tears, I didn’t feel depressed by Code Name Verity. I was just so moved. This is a book about war, but it focuses on individuals – two girls fighting for their country and all that happens because of it. Their personal accounts make the emotional impact of Code Name Verity huge. Sigh, that human spirit. I had my little quibbles with the story, but by the end, that emotional punch knocked me off my feet. I can’t recommend this enough.

The sun still sets quite late in the north of England in August, and Maddie on fabric wings flew low over the long sands of Holy Island and saw seals gathered there, and the great castle crags of Lindisfarne and Bamburgh to the north and south, and the ruins of the twelfth century priory where the glowing gospels were painted, and all the fields stretching yellow and green toward the low Cheviot Hills of Scotland. Maddie flew back following the 70-mile 2000-year-old dragon’s back of Hadrian’s Wall, to Carlisle and then south through the Lakeland fells, along Lake Windermere. The soaring mountains rose around her and the poet’s waters glittered beneath her in the valleys of memory — hosts of golden daffodils, Swallows and Amazons, Peter Rabbit. She came home by way of Blackstone Edge above the old Roman road to avoid the smoke haze over Manchester, and landed back at Oakway sobbing with anguish and love; love, for her island home that she’d seen whole and fragile from the air in the space of an afternoon, from coast to coast, holding its breath in a glass lens of summer and sunlight. All about to be swallowed in nights of flame and blackout. Maddie landed at Oakway before sunset and shut down the engine, then sat in the cockpit weeping.
More than anything else, I think, Maddie went to war on behalf of the Holy Island seals.


Overall: Blown away. I knew that this was set in the war and that the story begins with a girl writing out information for the Nazis, but as I read what she has to say, I got caught up in her past and her personality. When we got back to the present timeline, the emotional impact snuck up on me and laid me to waste. I was a jumble of conflicting feelings at the end of the book, but the last lingering one was good and cathartic. I feel so proud of these characters somehow.
 
Code Name Verity is out now in the U.K., but won’t be out till May 15th in the U.S.
 
Buy (US edition): Amazon | Powell’s (UK edition): The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers – 10 (Perfect)
Chachic’s Book Nook – “
the best book that I’ve read so far in 2012″

Book Trailer:

Angelfall by Susan Ee

Angelfall
Susan Ee

I first became aware of Angelfall by Susan Ee on Goodreads when I saw need-tea reading it and saw all the comments from her friends about her “finally” starting it. So I checked it out, and saw a lot of positive reviews. Now, I normally wouldn’t have read this because it’s a YA story that has angels in it, and I’m pretty ‘meh’ over angels and YA. But… 99 cents, good reviews, and need-tea’s review where she said about the lead, “You didn’t see her turning into some pathetic doormat over the male with her only goal in life being waxing poetic in lengthy passages about the male lead’s perfection and hotness. Oh, no no no.”  OK, phew.  With that assurance, I bought it.
 
The Premise: Six weeks ago, avenging angels appeared out of no where and wrecked havoc on humankind. Most infrastructure has been destroyed and the worst kind of people roam the streets preying on the weak. Penryn Young, her wheelchair bound sister Paige, and her mentally ill mother have been holed up in their apartment in San Jose. One night, they head for what they hope is the relative safety of the hills, but their timing couldn’t be worse.  They stumble upon a group of angels. Penryn’s mother runs away, and her sister is carried off.  Peryn’s only hope of finding her sister is Raffe, the angel whose wings the other angels cut off and left on the street for dead.
 
Read the first five chapters of Angelfall here
 
My Thoughts:  This is a story narrated by our heroine, Penryn, a relatively hardened teen who is used to taking care of her mother and sister. Now that the world has gone crazy, she has the skills to deal with it. She reminded me of a self-sufficient urban fantasy heroine, gritting her teeth and dealing with the latest disaster. When Paige is captured by the angels, and her mom runs off, Penryn just reacts with her usual determination. Raffe is the only card she has, and she’s going to use him, even if it means keeping one of the enemy alive.
 
I liked Penryn, and I liked that her first reaction to Raffe was appropriate for the situation. He may be gorgeous and otherworldly like all the other angels, but that doesn’t matter, she treats him like he’s dangerous, which he is. He’s not a guy she’s interested in dating, he’s the guy who’s going to help her get her sister back, and she’s not above making an injured angel suffer to get answers. We don’t get to see much of Raffe’s point of view, because this is in first person, but we get an idea of his take on things, and his view is pretty pragmatic. Getting to the angel stronghold where someone may be able to surgically repair his wings, among other things, is in his best interests. He has his own problems and Penryn is just a means to an end.
 
As the story continues, Raffe and Penryn are forced to rely on one another while navigating through empty streets, ruined buildings, and post-apocalyptical chaos. I liked the organic way their respective walls began to crumble, and I tend to be more hard on the paranormal otherworldly guy and young teenage girl relationships, but that said, the relationship was not at the forefront because both characters have more pressing things to deal with. What was at the forefront is getting Paige back, and later, all the complications that come from being in the middle of the war between humans and angels.
 
There were a lot of things in this story that are very thoughtful. It felt like the author tried to address some of the kinds of questions a reader may have while reading the book. For instance, Raffe is very strong, but as light as a bird, which explains how his wings can sustain his weight. The story also hints at angel politics and makes the angels very human in their beliefs, which took away any religious implications I might have had, and I got the impression I would learn more about these things in subsequent books. Peryn and her family dynamics are also explained well. On the other hand, I still felt like there were places where the explanations were a little too convenient, and I did catch a couple of minor details that didn’t mesh (Penryn’s mother was a character that really poked at my sense of disbelief, but I have a feeling there’s more to her insanity that it appears). These things didn’t keep me from enjoying the story and wanting to read the next one though. My hope is that the world building continues to be expanded, and the back story behind the angels can be further developed. I’m also curious to see what happens to Penryn and Raffe’s relationship after the ending of Angelfall.
 
Book 2 is slated for Summer, 2012.
 
Overall: This is the sort of apocalyptian/post-apocalyptian YA that checks off some of my requirements for a good story: an independent heroine, a clear objective, a romance that develops at a realistic pace, and an exciting plot. There are flaws, mostly to do with some things being a little convenient in the story, but these are relatively minor, and I was willing to overlook them. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by this one, as it’s the first YA with angels in it that I’ve liked.
 
P.S. Fans of Ann Aguirre’s Enclave may like this one. The fast pace, ruined world, and two people surviving in it are similarities between the two books.
 
Buy:  Amazon (kindle) | B&N (nook)
 
Other reviews:
Discussion (Katiebabs & Kmont) – Part 1, Part 2 (positive)
One More Page – 4 stars (out of 5)
Dear Author – B+
Escape In a Book – 4 (out of 5)
The Happy Booker – 5+
The Book Pushers – A

 

Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg


 

Prom & Prejudice
Elizabeth Eulberg

This is a review of an ARC copy I forwarded on from another blogger.
 
The Premise:
This is Pride and Prejudice set in the prestigious world of uber-elite boarding schools where the most important thing in the world is the prom. Prom at Longbourn Academy can make or break a girl, and the student body doesn’t want a repeat of a few years ago, when a scholarship student not only snagged the most eligible boy from neighboring Pemberley, she showed up in a department store-bought dress and was featured in the New York Times Style section. For her predecessor’s faux pas, the newest scholarship student to Longbourn Academy, Elizabeth Bennet, is routinely hazed. The only people who treat Lizzie like a human being are her sweet roommate, Jane, and the other scholarship student at the school, Charlotte. Lizzie perseveres however. She has no interest in the Prom, but she’s delighted for Jane when she falls for the unpretentious Charles Bingley, but can’t stand his best friend, Will Darcy.
 
My Thoughts: This was a very quick read – I read it over the course of one evening in a couple of gulps. There’s only 227 pages and a lot of it is dialog so it goes very fast.
 
I thought that the idea of doing a retelling of Pride and Prejudice around a boarding school and around Prom was a really great one. The wealth of the characters and the visits to different houses translates well to this setting, and the reduced circumstances of the Bennet family is reflected in Lizzie Bennet as a scholarship student and Jane and her sister Lydia as daughters of a recently laid off executive. The core characters of the original are there (Lizzie, Jane, Lydia, Charles, Carolyn, Charlotte, Darcy and Mr Collins – Colin here), without the Bennet parents or any interfering great aunts.
 
That said, this Lizzie and Darcy are very different from the originals. Lizzie is determined and talented, but she doesn’t have the personality that observes the world and remarks upon it that the original does. In fact, she seems to build a wall between herself and the wealthy. Maybe this should be expected from the way she’s treated at school. In any case, Lizzie’s prejudice is against the very rich. Similarly Will Darcy different from the original. For most of the story his character basically stands there while Lizzie willfully misunderstands him and tells him off. I knew very little about him and had no idea why he keeps trying to see Lizzie after she repeatedly yells at him, except that this was a retelling of Pride and Prejudice and that’s just what he’s supposed to do. It is fine that Darcy and Lizzie are not the same as the original, but I didn’t feel any chemistry between them for most of the book, and didn’t understand why Darcy liked Lizzie. It’s only after they figure out their misunderstandings that their relationship becomes more believable and sweet, but the original attraction was something that felt unexplained unless I think about the original and what happens there.
 
Darcy doing something just because that’s what his character is supposed to do exemplifies what I had problems with in this story. I think it’s biggest flaw is a stiffness which seems to be the result in rigidly following a certain path. Take the dialog for example. As I already mentioned, there’s a lot of it, so it was a shame that I’d regularly hit a phrase that has odd, formal quality, especially when it’s coming out of the mouth of a teenager.  Maybe this was done deliberately, but in this setting, it’s jarring.  I had a hard time imagining teens who begin conversations with “Bennet? I’m afraid I don’t know your family. Where do you vacation?” or the a teenage boy saying, “How could you say such a thing to me?” during an argument.  When particular dialog was taken from the original and mirrored in Prom and Prejudice (take Darcy’s first declaration to Lizzie for example), it feels like it’s a pale copy that doesn’t hold the same feeling.
 
Similarly, the brilliant observations of high society that are in the original are missing from this retelling. Instead there’s a stereotypical view of the very rich, which makes any observation about them kind of moot. While I really liked the idea of the boarding school setting, I found the execution very shallow. A whole school is so obsessed with Prom that everyone would pick on some lowly scholarship student because of what another scholarship student did years ago?  Perhaps if it was one pocket of mean girls or some girl with a particular grudge, I’d have gone along with the idea, but this scenario of a whole school holding a grudge didn’t fly.
 
I wanted to like Prom & Prejudice, I really did, but it didn’t quite hit the mark.  It’s only when the story veers away from the original and focuses on Lizzie’s love of music that I felt like the story shone. These were the cute moments in the story and what ultimately made me kept reading and actually like how the story ended. I think that if this book broke script like this more, I would have been happier with it.
 
Overall: There are some cute moments in this high school version of Pride and Prejudice, and I liked the ending, but it has a stiffness throughout that kept me from enjoying it as much as I wanted to. It felt like the book spends too much time trying to emulate the original. I would have been happier if this book veered off into its own path and spent more time making the romance between Darcy and Lizzie believable and its own. However, I may be in the minority in my opinion, as I see a lot of reviews with a more positive response than mine.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
She is Too Fond of Books – positive
Steph Su Reads – 2.5 out of 5
The Compulsive Reader – positive
Amaterasu Reads – 4 out of 5
Galleysmith – mixed
Austenprose – 4 out of 5
 
Loved the trailer for this one:

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Anna and the French Kiss
Stephanie Perkins

The Premise: Anna doesn’t want to go to France for her senior year, but her parents don’t give her a choice. She’s enrolled in a boarding school: The School of America in Paris, and it’s good-bye to her best friend Bridgette and good-bye to Toph, the guy she may have had something with. Instead, Anna is the new girl in a place where all the other students seem so much cooler and more Parisian than her. Then Anna meets Étienne St. Claire, the cute boy with a French name and an English accent — the boy that everyone likes, but who has a girlfriend. Anna and Étienne become good friends, but maybe they could be more, if both of them didn’t appear to be already involved.

My Thoughts: This book made me feel very nostalgic for my youth. Anna and the French Kiss is very much about those first experiences – living in a new place, meeting interesting new people, seeing the world, all for the first time. When you’re seventeen and thrust into the world by yourself, everything is new and terrifying and glorious. I was actually amused that Anna cried as soon as she was alone in her new room in the dorms. Why? Because that is a real and believable reaction and I could relate to it.

At first, Anna is just awkward and self-conscious. Luckily, her next door neighbor, Meredith, takes Anna under her wing and introduces Anna to Josh, Rashmi, and St. Claire. Anna starts off as total newbie about Paris (I was cringing a bit), but she eventually relaxes and settles into the group and is is eating French food, walking to Paris landmarks and enjoying the Paris cinema scene. Despite Anna’s initial hang-ups about being an American and what Parisians must think of her, she’s a cool girl in her own right. She has a quick sense of humor and an interest in film, and while she thinks St. Claire is really hot, she always maintains her dignity around him. I loved that she is a girl who doesn’t have her brains turn to mush just because the guy she likes is looking at her.

The kids at SOAP that Anna falls in with are a self-assured, independent crowd. Their days consist of easy  friendships, hanging out in Paris and their dorms, relaxed in each other’s company. Before long, she and Étienne are close friends, but their relationship is fraught with their unvoiced attraction. Étienne is really good looking with the charm (and accent) to match. Even if he’s not very tall, there are several girls interested in him, including Meredith. Anna isn’t about to go after a boy her friend likes, besides, Étienne has a girlfriend, and Anna likes a boy back home named Toph.

In awkward denial-slash-avoidance, Anna and  Étienne maintain that they are just friends, even though they share moments filled with unvoiced feelings. Reading the story from Anna’s point of view made everything so much more immediate. You could cut the tension with a knife. This is where the story can be frustrating. When I was reading this, I felt exasperated by the way both Anna and Étienne were acting, but at the same time, I couldn’t fault either of them for it (OK, I wanted to fault Étienne, but I couldn’t really do it). There were very good reasons on both sides not to be the first one to admit anything or change anything. Plus they are young, and they have other people to consider. This is a character driven story, and Anna relationships with her old and new friends and her issues with her Nicholas-Sparks-alike father, and Étienne’s own issues with his friends and parents, are all part of the big picture. Luckily, there’s a whole school year to figure things out.

Overall: Anna and the French Kiss is one of those books that stands apart from the pack. I think it’s because it captures this little phase of life (when you’re out of the house, but not quite on your own), in a way that feels so real and relatable. Anna’s life made me nostalgic for my college days, the Parisian backdrop made me want to fly off somewhere, and the romance made me happy that I’m past the limbo of “I wonder if he likes me”. I like you for these things, dear book.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
One More Page – 5 stars (out of 5)
Giraffe Days – 5 giraffes (out of 5)
My Favourite Books – positive
Charlotte’s Library – “good reading, but it wasn’t a perfect book”
In which a girl reads – 8.25/10 (and with some interesting observations on Étienne)
The Book Pushers – A+
Chachic’s Book Nook – “deserves all the hype that it’s been getting in the blogosphere”
Life After Jane – positive
The Book Harbinger – “An incredibly sweet story”
Book Fare Delights – 5 strawberries (out of 5)
intoyourlungs – “seriously one of the best novels I’ve read this year”
christina_reads – positive
Guy Gone Geek – 4 stars (out f 6)