[First We Were IV] Alexandra Sirowy

The Order, its power, it’s a high. I feel it. But it’s also like this shadow I keep seeing out of the corner of my eye. I turn my head and it’s gone. It’s there. Dark. Waiting.*

It’s senior year, and Izzie, Harry, Graham, and Viv are the center of their universe. Self-made outcasts, they love each other fiercely and defiantly, ignoring the insults of their classmates. As the year begins, fear that their friendship will disintegrate after they go their separate ways begins to burn through Izzie. On a whim, she suggests that they start a secret society to stay together–no matter what. When the other three agree, they draft a secret society modeled after the ones they determine to be great. The Order of IV becomes their way to get back at their classmates and their small town, righting what they perceive to be injustices and doing it anonymously. There’s a certain power to invisibility, and they relish in how they can control it. When their rebellions are noticed by other classmates, the four of them realize that their power extends even further than they thought. Power is all-consuming. And it can get away from you.

Never lie.
Never tell.
Love each other.

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[Emma in the Night] Wendy Walker

There are so many pieces to our story, pieces that, if taken away, might have changed the whole course of it. […] And…it took all of us, our flaws and our desires. My hunger for power, which I will get to next. It was all in it, in our story, like the ingredients to a complicated recipe.*

Daughters of Mothers with Narcissism: Can the Cycle Be Broken?*

That is the name of the fictional paper that Emma in the Night keeps going back to explore: Can daughters escape a narcissistic cycle when it’s the only thing they’ve known their whole life? Three years ago, Cass and Emma Tanner disappeared. When Cass comes back this cold case reopens, and with it comes things that Dr. Abby Winter tried so hard to forget. It was the case that stuck with her and now she has a chance to solve what happened the night that Emma and Cass disappeared. Something didn’t add up to Abby then, and it doesn’t add up now. As Cass weaves a story of betrayal, kidnapping, and lost time, Abby has to untangle the truth from Cass’ words. Her return doesn’t mean it’s over.

I think there are two types of people. Ones who have a scream inside them and ones who don’t. People who have a scream are too angry or too sad or laugh too hard, swear too much, use drugs or never sit still. Sometimes they sing at the top of their lungs with the windows rolled down. I don’t think people are born with it. I think other people put it inside you with the things they do to you, or say to you, or the things you see them do or say to other people. And I don’t think you can get rid of it. If you don’t have a scream, you can’t understand.*

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[Urban Dragon] J.W. Troemner

Urban Dragon is J.W. Troemner’s first three novellas bound into one volume. It follows Rosa and Arkay, two women who are trying to survive the dangers of living on the street. Not freezing during the upcoming winter is heavy on Rosa’s mind, but when an attack on them turns into them robbing the would be attacker, Rosa and Arkay are drawn into something bigger and more dangerous than they realize. Struggling to maintain their innocence, jail is the least of their problems. Rosa and Arkay have to use their wits and their street smarts to stay one step ahead of those who would do them harm. And they thought humans were a problem.

The writing of Urban Dragon was entertaining and flowed really well. I thought that each individual story had a clear beginning, middle, and end, and there were moments in each novella that connected them to the others. It had a readability that allowed me to finish it in one sitting. I suspect that when the next series of novellas are published, it will be easy to do the same. I do think that J.W. Troemner has a talent at keeping the reader entertained and flipping through pages. The author cements this story in the contemporary age by having pop culture references sprinkled throughout; most of them were a little nerdy or book related, so I really loved that. I was genuinely amused by some of the interactions and quips that Rosa and Arkay threw around because they didn’t feel forced.

I really loved Rosa and Arkay’s relationship. It stemmed from being necessary to survive the streets and not get harmed, and blossomed into an actual friendship with shared experiences. I liked that it didn’t really delve into something romantic, even though it possibly had been romantic in the past. It was nice reading a series where the two main characters aren’t in love with each other. I liked that they both remained close and had their own outside relationships.

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[This Is Where It Ends] Marieke Nijkamp

I think this cover is really simplistically beautiful.

I think this cover is really simplistically beautiful.

This is the second book I’ve read with a school shooting at its center. They’re both out this year so it’s hard not to compare one against the other. This Is Where It Ends is told in the alternating perspectives of four characters on the day of a school shooting. They all know the shooter. None of them know why he’s there. Some are trapped inside. Some are trapped outside. Things can change in a minute when they’re out of your control. And sometimes you have no idea what kind of ripples your actions will make or the effect they’ll have on others.

Whenever I review books that have tense subjects I’m a little worried that I’m going to come off as a heartless reviewer. I’ve just found that when contemporary novels try to illustrate real world problems and events, I hold them more accountable than a mostly fictionalized contemporary novel or other genre. I expect them to be something more, especially when they’re trying to teach something. This Is Where It Ends is one of those novels. Its aim is to show us how people react in times of terror and become everyday heroes. It wants to show us how even when people have been harmed, they’re able to come to terms with what happened–and sometimes their own guilty feelings over surviving–in order to remember those who are lost. Because the novel is trying to show us that, I think that it becomes too much of a “this is how you’re meant to feel right now” sort of novel. It’s telling me what to feel instead of letting me figure it out from the writing alone. I only felt tense from the events when I couldn’t feel the author’s presence, which didn’t happen enough. What This Is Where It Ends does do well is to show how things can change in a matter of moments with no reason behind it that you can understand. There was never a moment where the shooter directly said “This is why,” which I feel was important. There were hints about the reasoning, but nothing concrete. I think that was an important distinction that the author made: We often don’t know why.

The main reason that the novel fell a little flat for me were the characters. It’s hard to have multiple characters in longer books and this novel is a short read. It didn’t have as much time for character building as other novels would have. Unfortunately, that meant that I didn’t feel that any of the characters were unique. Like The Light Fantastic, if the names weren’t at the head of each section, I’m not sure that I would have been able to tell the four apart. Something that would have worked had I cared about the characters was the fact that some where in the auditorium and others were out. I liked that they weren’t all inside. Having the four characters connected through bonds of family or relationships was also interesting, but again, I didn’t quite feel that emotional connection to them. For a book with such a heavy issue, it’s so important that the characters be done well.  I need to be connected to them. When I’m not, the novel begins to seem contrived.

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[Alice in No-Man’s-Land] James Knapp

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Alice in No-Man’s-Land is the story of a privileged girl who only thought of the Blocs, huge areas of towns that have fallen into disarray after a food based disease ravaged them, as a cheap form of entertainment. After all, they’re only there temporarily until Cerulean Holdings goes in and fixes them. Up until she is stranded in one of them with only two of its citizens to help her. Alice’s journey through the decaying bloc is full of brushes with danger and moments of clarity. If she manages to get out of Ypsilanti Bloc, she won’t be leaving as the same person she was when she entered.

While the idea at the core of Alice in No-Man’s-Land was something that I could have gotten behind, the novel read too much like a formula. There’s a girl who has no idea that there’s something very much wrong with her world. When she is suddenly thrust into the very essence of what is wrong with her world, she begins to realize that things have to change and she is apparently in charge of doing this. I think that’s why Alice read as boring to me. She’s the typical hero of a dystopian novel, but she didn’t have anything that really made her stand out. I didn’t feel like she was a very relatable character, even though she did have some character development later on.

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[Teardrop] Lauren Kate

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This is not the first Lauren Kate novel I’ve picked up. I vaguely remember reading the first book in her Fallen series during one of my summer read-a-thons and I think I liked it, but it’s been so long that I can’t remember. Teardrop tells the story of Eureka Boudreaux, a girl who cannot cry for fear of destroying the world. It’s certainly a very unusual premise for a book. Eureka comes from a line of women who possess the Tearline of Selene, women whose tears have the pour to bring storms. She knows nothing of this heritage until she inherits an ancient book in a foreign language and a Thunderstone. Through the translation of the book, Eureka discovers that she may be reliving the tale of romance and heartbreak in its pages. I viewed both the book and the Thunderstone as quick plot devices and a way of telling the reader how special Eureka is supposed to be.

The first problem I had with Teardrop was the protagonist’s name. There’s no gentle way of putting it: I hate her name. Eureka. Every time her name came up, I had to decide how it should be pronounced, because I never could be happy with my decision. Is it “Eu-reeka,” like the Eureka! of men who have found gold, or people who have figured out the answer to a difficult question? Or is it pronounced the way it would be in Japanese, “Eh-oo-reck-a,” making it sound like an actual name instead of an exclamation? Even with a nickname of “Reka” it’s a horrible name. Imagine the mean things kids would have come up with for a name like Eureka. It has the word “reek” in it. I would have been fine with her name had she been a more interesting character, but she alternated between being bland, to being in insta-love, to being horrible to her friends and family. Possessing  a power was not interesting enough to make me forget how boring Eureka is, especially when her powers really only come into play at the end of the novel. There was hardly any character development until the end of the novel, and when it comes it’s a bit sloppy. We’re told rather than shown this development.

I can appreciate that the author tried to take very serious things and put them in Teardrop to attempt more character development. After Eureka’s mother died, she just didn’t want to be anymore. She attempted suicide and had to spend quite a bit of time in a ward for her protection. When the novel starts, Eureka is no longer in the ward, but she has to go to a therapist. She clashes with her therapist because she doesn’t want to talk about what drove her to suicide. All the attempts of her therapist are met with resistance and rather rude behavior. She doesn’t want to tell her therapist that the same mentality that she was in then is occasionally coming back because she’s afraid of going back to the ward. A therapist is paid to help you. They want to make sure you’re okay.  It disappointed me that there wasn’t more development beyond this for Eureka concerning her grief about her mother and the relation to not wanting to exist anymore. A suicide attempt is a big deal and a real issue in the world. So to introduce a character who is recovering from an attempted suicide but then sweep it under the rug when a boy comes into play? That’s an issue for me.

So, the boys. Of course, there’s a love triangle because I don’t know if it’s possible for a young adult novel to not have a love triangle anymore. Love triangles can be fine if they make sense (I’m also guilty of putting them into my unpublished work when they fit with the story). However, Teardrop‘s triangle just annoyed me. It was obvious to me right away that Brooks has had feelings for her for ages. Her oldest friend, he’s the one that she confides in and the one who looks out for her in her grief. Then there’s Ander, a boy whose destiny is to stop the Tearline of Selene. He’s been groomed his whole life to know everything about her, and he’s done this by stalking her. As a Seedbearer (huge cringe), Ander has the ability to cast a sort of glamour on himself; people can only remember him when he wants them to remember him. So he knows every intimate detail about her. At first, it’s for reconnaissance. But then he falls in love with her, until one day he can’t stand that she doesn’t know who he is and he inserts himself into her life. It is incredibly creepy. I don’t find it romantic at all, so I could not suspend my disbelief when their “relationship” progressed, especially when Brooks is in the picture. Unfortunately, he’s not quite himself. If he had been, he would have told Eureka how stupid she was being.

The girls and women in Teardrop did not fare much better when they were being developed as characters. There wasn’t much there. There was a mystic, who could have been a really cool character. I love birds, so I’d love to know how Madame Blavatsky did it. There was a pushy and mean step-mom who only seemed to care for Eureka’s two younger half-siblings. There was Cat, the best friend who’s painted as someone who only thinks about sex. Eureka’s aunt. Her therapist. A rival girl at her school. All of these women are not multi-faceted. There is one reason for them to exist, and that is to be one sided (and often for Eureka to judge in some way). I know, speaking from experience, that girls can be very catty toward each other. But that does not mean that there are not other sides to relationships between girls. Lauren Kate had the opportunity to really develop Eureka and Cat’s relationship; instead, she–along with the other characters of the novel–got pushed away as it became apparent that the novel was only going to be Eureka and Ander.

I’m disappointed that this book ended up focusing more on the romance aspect of the story when other parts would have been far more interesting. The setting in the bayou of Louisiana was really well-written and visual. I was able to relate to it a lot because it sounded similar to where I’m living now, so it wasn’t a far stretch to imagine it. Teardrop is said to be a story with mythology, but it didn’t have enough. I love the story of Atlantis, so I was really excited that Teardrop was supposed to pull from that legend and connect it to the modern world. Most of the book was set in the mundane world, but it seems like more of the mythology aspect is going to be explored in the second book. I am going to continue the series because I’m interested in Lauren Kate’s take on Atlantis. Although I don’t care about the romance in the story, I am interested in seeing what happens to the supporting characters. I hope they’ll be developed a bit more in the next novel.

2.5 stars.

 

 

[The Replacement] Brenna Yovanoff

 

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I was not disappointed with The Replacement, but I wasn’t exactly thrilled, either. It was nice to read a novel in the young adult genre that didn’t decide to become a trilogy near the end.

In the town of Gentry, something isn’t quite right. It comes in the way that the town seems to be decaying: rust and moss cover everything, and the citizens live their lives under a seemingly endless stream of rain. People turn their eyes from the charms and amulets hanging from windows and doors, pretending not to know that every family with a child under four has iron tied to the crib to prevent their child from being taken.

These precautions don’t always stop them.

A child, once healthy, loses its color and soon dies. It is not the first time that children have taken ill. People avert their gaze and murmur their condolences, ignoring the true problem: the family lost their child long before any death occurred.

Malcom “Mackie” Doyle is one of these changelings. Against all odds, he has survived the replacement where all others have died. For his whole life, Mackie has been told by his father to do all he can to avoid standing out. In a town like Gentry, standing out marks you, just as it marked another man years before Mackie came to Gentry. Unfortunately for Mackie, he hasn’t been as invisible as he’d hoped. For the girl whose sister was replaced,  Mackie is her only link to the world she needs to rescue her from.

I’ve always enjoyed stories of the Fair Folk and The Replacement was a nice premise. I wish there had been a bit more on that aspect. I would have loved knowing more about how some of the Fair Folk became monsters and while others stood by and watched. Instead, I had to slog through pages and pages of Mackie’s teen-boy-angst. I understand that I am reading in the young adult genre, but I do get frustrated when authors feel the need to really ramp up the moping. I was more interested to see how Mackie adjusted to dealing with the clash of his heritage and how he had grown up. Not a lot of time was spent on that. The Replacement was weak in that aspect, which was disappointing, because that could have been its strongest point.

I’m wavering between giving The Replacement 3 stars and 2 stars because I did enjoy when Mackie was in the other realm. The author’s descriptions were ghastly and I wanted to stay there longer. Unfortunately, because too much time was spent on Mackie’s angst and general teen-boy woes (something that was amplified  to an annoying point by the first-person point of view), I want to give to give it 2 stars. I guess I’ll settle for 2.5 stars and the disappointment that this could have been more if the author had cut about 100 pages of the boring stuff.