Tuesday, March 26, 2013

17 AND GONE by Nova Ren Suma

The blurb:

Seventeen-year-old Lauren is having visions of girls who have gone missing. And all these girls have just one thing in common—they are 17 and gone without a trace. As Lauren struggles to shake these waking nightmares, impossible questions demand urgent answers: Why are the girls speaking to Lauren? How can she help them? And… is she next? As Lauren searches for clues, everything begins to unravel, and when a brush with death lands her in the hospital, a shocking truth emerges, changing everything.

The review:

Nova Ren Suma has quickly established herself - to me, at least - as a writer of the unexpected. As with her last book, IMAGINARY GIRLS, the impression I got from reading the summary was a very different one than I came away with at the end. I would have still loved the story had it played out as a straightforward supernatural mystery, but in Suma's hands, the story becomes something else entirely, and the reader is pulled along with breathtaking, nightmarish urgency.

I think that building tension is one of the hardest skills for a writer to master, as it's so easy to pull that trigger just a little too soon. Suma is a master at letting each scene build to its own crescendo, and knows how to keep the reader just as unsettled and off-kilter as Lauren is. Her talent for creating atmosphere only amplifies the effect, and I could perfectly picture each lonely setting, whether it was the shuttered, off-season summer camp where Abby disappeared all those months ago, or the darkened house Lauren visits in her dreams.

My favorite part, though, was the economy with which Suma characterizes each of the missing girls. Whether it was Abby, Erica, Shyann, or Yoon-mi and Maura, I was riveted to each of their stories, and just as interested in learning their fates as Lauren. Some of them get chapters, and some of them get just a few paragraphs, but with each one, the details Suma leaves out are just as compelling as the ones she includes

To learn more about the story, visit Nova Ren Suma's blog, which is running a fascinating series of posts in which authors talk about the things that haunted them at age 17.

PITY ISN'T AN OPTION by Jessica Brooks

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I am just... moved. Touched. Changed. Which is exactly what Afterglow Book Reviews is here for, to give us a chance to share these book-induced feelings with the world. There's something different about Jessica Brooks' debut novel, Pity Isn't An Option. It's more contemplative than I'm used to, and the writing is just gorgeous. It doesn't gimmick or formulate. It just goes. It just journeys. That's how I feel, like I just went on a journey that changed me.

Have you ever been on an adventure like that in real life? When I was a kid I went on a hike with my family and some friends. It was horrible and wonderful. Our friends got motion sick in the car on the way there. We hiked too slowly. The sun blazed overhead. We ran out of water at the halfway point and still had a long way to get back to the cars. The mother of the other family collapsed with heat exhaustion. We prayed. We walked along a dry riverbed looking for water. And we prayed. And we sucked on Juniper berries. Did I mention we prayed? When we discovered water, we went crazy, jumping all over in it, soaking our hot skin and our clothes, drinking it where it ran down the rocks. Best day of my childhood. I don't even remember the hike back. Just that incredible moment when our prayers were answered and we could fill out canteens for our friends waiting up the trail. One day, one simple adventure. Life defining.

That's how it feels to read PITY ISN'T AN OPTION.

It's the first of a series. The author classifies it as YA contemporary with dystopian elements. I'd classify it as near-future YA dystopian. It's a five-years-down-the-road-if-the-economy-keeps-going-downhill-and-our-political-system-gets-even-more-corrupt kind of thing. President Kendrick refuses to relinquish the presidency, and he's forcibly conscripting a civilian army for some unknown purpose. All the citizens know is that when their fathers and sons are taken, they are never heard from again. The Union holds meetings and talks about fighting back, but everyone is scared and nothing ever really happens. Hattie and Jonas experience a day-to-day tension that finally reaches a boiling point and forces them to action. The pace of this novel is slow suspense in the beginning and gets super intense at about the 60% mark. By that point, I felt a bond with the characters that wouldn't let me go. Wanless, their town, just feels all too real. (It doesn't help that I just read the part in Gone with the Wind when the land around Tara is desolated.)

The theme of the book (from my perspective) is Luke 12:27 "Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."

Dark, yet marbled through with streaks of hope, PITY ISN'T AN OPTION reminds us we're not in control of anything except our own choices. And Jonas and Hattie do not disappoint on that score.


The blog tour for PIAO has ended, but you can still read excerpts and get to know the author:

Le Blog Tour Stops
Full disclosure, Jessica Brooks is one of our reviewers.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

SPELLBINDING by Maya Gold


The blurb:

There's more than one way to be powerful . . .

It is during a routine school project that Abby Silva--sixteen and nearly friendless--makes a startling discovery: She is descended from women who were accused of witchcraft back in 1600s Salem. And when Abby visits nearby Salem, strange, inexplicable events start to unfold. Objects move when she wills them to. Candles burst into sudden flame. And an ancient spellbook somehow winds up in her possession.

Trying to harness her newfound power, Abby concocts a love potion to win over her longtime crush--and exact revenge upon his cruel, bullying girlfriend. But old magic is not to be trifled with. Soon, Abby is thrust headlong into a world of hexes, secrets, and danger. And then there's Rem Anders, the beautiful, mysterious Salem boy who seems to know more about Abby than he first lets on.

A reckoning is coming, and Abby will have to make sense of her history--and her heart--before she can face the powerful truth.



The afterglow:

I enjoyed reading this so much. It's exactly the sort of book I would have picked up off the shelf of my middle school library and devoured in a day. This book is well-paced and very much devour-able. 

In preparing this review, I discovered Maya Gold is not your standard debut author cutting her teeth on a YA paranormal romance. She's written two handfuls of novels already for the younger YA crowd, and yes I plan to read all of them! Her skill in weaving a story is evident in the pages of SPELLBINDING. 

I finished reading this a few hours ago, so I still have that happy little buzz from reading a magical story with a great ending. Here's what I loved about SPELLBINDING:


  • It is so refreshing to read a book that ends well and doesn't hint at some massive franchise to come! Spellbinding appears to be a standalone novel. Huge props to the author, Maya Gold, for fitting an entire character arc and romantic arc (love triangle, even) into one book. That's no easy task, and she did it beautifully. (If there are more books to come, I welcome them. It's just nice to read a book without a cliffhanger for once.) :)
  • The main character is introverted, something we don't see so often anymore in YA (I recently read an article about this, using Disney princesses as an example.) Yay for personality diversity! (This doesn't mean she is shy necessarily, just that she doesn't crave popularity. Even though Abby is sweet on the popular guy in school, she's not seeking hordes of friends and admirers, and is more content with one or two close friends.)
  • Neither guy in the love triangle is a grade-A jerk. They are both (Travis and Remy) sweet guys (though one runs hot and cold for paranormal reasons) with individual personalities and flaws. In the end we feel one is better for our heroine than the other, but nobody is disqualified on the basis of being a horrible human being. I love this because it's truer to real life, and it requires the heroine to make an actual CHOICE, rather than having that choice made for her by one of her romantic leads doing something unforgivable. 
  • Good old fashioned MAGIC! Ever since I was tiny, I have been head-over-heels in love with magic. All kinds, but there's a soft spot in my heart for the spell-casting kind. The classic trope of girl-discovers-she-has-inherited-magic just hit the spot for me. I noticed many reviewers knocked off a few stars for this, calling it "unoriginal," but for me it was a plus. Note: the story is original; it's the trope that's a classic. Fans of the TV show CHARMED will love it.
  • Solid setting and sense of place. The first thing Maya Gold did in her acknowledgements in the back was to thank her travel companions. It wasn't surprising at all to me that she'd visited Salem or talked with the locals about "local flavor." I felt I was in Salem, anchored solidly in Abby's world by details like local museums, libraries, parks, bridges, town history etc. Descriptions of these places weren't distracting or overly florid, either, as I've seen in a lot of books about real places. Maya Gold does Salem proud.
  • The ending. The lessons learned. The completion of the character arc. Abby begins insecure, miserable, yearning for some identity, purpose, and for close relationships after her best friend moved away. She ends secure in who she is, understanding where her power comes from, and having several close and healthy relationships (family, friends, and boyfriend). 
People are calling this young YA, but all that means to me is that it's not edgy. I would read this with my niece... when she's 12 or 13. 

My one hang-up was actually the cover. I'm a huge marketing buff, and when I realized Abby's eye-color, elemental power, and prom dress all had something in common, I had to wonder why the cover artist didn't use that color at all! It's still a beautiful cover, but seems like quite a missed opportunity. Also, the model's hair is too tame to be Abby's wild tresses. :) 

Cover gripe aside, I loved this book. I look forward to more from Maya Gold, and plan to read her backlist. Fans of Ally Carter-sized romances will also enjoy Maya Gold's work.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

BRUISER

Bruiser


Well, Neal Shusterman has done it again. No matter what this guy writes, he does a darn good job of it.

In BRUISER, there are four different points of view. Sometimes this is hard to handle in a book when you're switching back and forth, but each character stayed themselves for at least a few chapters, so the switches felt completely seamless. The first two characters are Tennyson and Bronte, twin brother and sister (high-schoolers) whose parents have a couple issues they're dealing with. This affects the home life, which comes into play later on. The next two characters are Brewster (Bruiser--also in high school), and his little brother, Cody. (Neal wrote a bit about the different points of view and shared it on Goodreads, so if you'd like to check it out, click here. ***Warning... if you're like me and detest spoilers... don't check it out until you're halfway through the book.)

Since I try not to know too much about a book going into it, I was taken aback by the actual premise of BRUISER. For some reason I had in my head that this was going to be a "bully book". But oh, man. So different. Brewster stays away from everyone all the time, but the reason behind that choice is not what you think at all. In fact, as you begin to read you're convinced his uncle is a flat-out jerk and think you've got the problem solved and want to scream IT'S SO SIMPLE JUST DO THIS BREW!!!! but the further you get into the book, the more you realize so much is intertwined that the detangling would take a while... it's just like life... answers come in every shade of if and or but, maybe, and everything in between.

Tennyson and Bronte have an awesome relationship. They're close, as they've been together their entire lives, but at the same time, each has their own quirks. As the family dynamic changes, they stick together, which shows their strong bond. Tennyson loves to push Bronte's buttons; he plays lacrosse. Bronte is a smart cookie who wants to solve problems. (Brewster isn't an easy problem to solve.)

And Brewster and Cody... well... Brewster proves his love for Cody (without even trying) over and over and over again.

You know you've got a good book in your hands when lines throughout the ebook have been highlighted by readers numerous times. Take this one, by Tennyson, for instance:

You think you want to know the secrets of the universe. You think you want to see the way things fit altogether. You believe in your heart of hearts that enlightenment will save the world and set you free.

Maybe it will.

But the path to enlightenment is rarely a pleasant one.

Or this one, which I personally loved, by Bronte:

... Happiness is a vector. It's a movement. Like my own momentum across the pool, joy can only be defined by the speed at which you're moving away from the pain. 

Certainly our family could reach a place of absolute, unchangeable bliss at Brew's expense; but the moment we arrived, the moment we stopped moving, joy would become as stagnant and hopeless as perpetual despair.

I'll be honest--I loved every single one of the characters. The quotes I chose make it seem like a very depressing book (sorry), but it's really not. I laughed out loud many times.

Brewster, however, holds a special place in my heart. Maybe it's the fact that he's the only one Neal wrote in verse novel form. Maybe it's because he sacrifices himself for everyone he cares about. I don't know. But I'll leave you with a short quote by Brewster (talking about his brother, Cody, and himself).

He nods and begins to cry,
But it only lasts an instant,
Because before a single tear falls,
His sorrow becomes mine,
A heaviness in my heart,
A sting in my eyes.

This is Brewster and the premise of the book, in a nutshell.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

STUNG by Bethany Wiggins



Amazon: Stung by Bethany Wiggins



About the Book
Releases April 2nd, 2013 by Walker Childrens
304 Pages

There is no cure for being stung.

Fiona doesn’t remember going to sleep. But when she opens her eyes, she discovers her entire world has been altered—her house is abandoned and broken, and the entire neighborhood is barren and dead. Even stranger is the tattoo on her right hand—a black oval with five marks on either side—that she doesn’t remember getting but somehow knows she must cover at any cost. She’s right.

Those bearing the tattoo have turned into mindless, violent beasts that roam the streets and sewers, preying upon the unbranded while a select few live protected inside a fortress-like wall, their lives devoted to rebuilding society and killing all who bear the mark.

Now Fiona has awakened branded, alone—and on the wrong side of the wall.

The Afterglow:

I just finished a NetGalley e-ARC of this book, and I'm giddy with excitement over this series. Having read and loved Bethany Wiggins' debut, SHIFTING (Afterglow review here), I jumped at the opportunity for an early look at STUNG, the first book in a new series. 

My initial thoughts were that this had some of the same elements I loved from THE MAZE RUNNER (Afterglow review here):
  • unreliable protagonist with a compromised memory
  • hints about some horrible disease
  • a giant wall between safety and horror
  • special terms specific to this universe
  • twisty plot that plays with the concepts of good/bad, obedience/rebellion
  • a balance of hope and despair
This is just to point out similarities within the YA dystopia/thriller genre, and not to imply any kind of copy-catting. STUNG is unique in many ways. One of my favorite ways is the Sleeping Beauty retelling aspect. I also love that Fiona, our first-person protagonist is not hardened against the world. In fact, the last she can remember, she was only thirteen. She woke up four years older but with all the emotions and memories of a thirteen-year-old. That's an ambitious undertaking for any author, but Bethany Wiggins does a great job showing how a thirteen-year-old would act when thrust into a situation--and a body--that demands she behave like an older person. I read a scathing review of this book (I must stop reading those) that questioned a lot of Fiona's reactions. That reviewer seemed to think she was reading about Lara Croft. Fiona is not Lara Croft. She's Fiona Tarsis, a seventeen-year-old girl who can't remember the past four years of her life. A prodigious pianist who is used to comforts and protection. Characterization is one of the areas Bethany Wiggins excels at! Recall my SHIFTING review, wherein I raved about the character Maggie Mae, as one of the most complete, realistic characters I'd ever read. Particularly in a high-concept novel, it's a feat to include this depth of characterization, if only because the author is usually so busy fleshing out a whole new world and keeping the pace lively. 

Fast-paced is how I would describe STUNG. It really did catch me up in the beginning and not let go until the ride was over. I loved the romance. I felt I was watching two people with a shadowy history as childhood acquaintances come to see each other in a new light, and they fall in love at a human pace. Although I love a rip-roaring action pace as much as the next YA dystopia reader, I like my romance to be more thoughtfully paced, a la Katniss and Peeta. 

As a loose retelling of Sleeping Beauty, it has a fantastic twist in the end that puts Fiona in the Prince role, so to speak. And there is lots of kissing. :)

Who will love STUNG? Fans of SHIFTING, THE MAZE RUNNER, THE HUNGER GAMES, DIVERGENT, and anybody who craves action in their fiction. There's no shortage of it here!

p.s. Don't you just love this cover?

Find Bethany: Website | Goodreads | Twitter
Find Stung: Goodreads | Barnes and Noble | Amazon | The Book Depository | IndieBound

Operation Awesome will be joining the STUNG blog tour on March 27-28.