April 20, 2014

Review: The Recruit

The RecruitThe Recruit Book one of the Cherub series
By Robert Muchamore
Available now from Simon Pulse (US) and Hodder (UK)
Review copy

I enjoy stories about child spies, like Alex Rider or the Gallagher Girls or Jimmy Coates.  Cherub is a popular series from the United Kingdom, now being re-released with updated covers.  I believe THE RECRUIT first came out in 2004, which meant it looked pretty dated.  I missed hearing about this series when it first came out, but when the re-release came to my attention, I wanted to give this spy series a shot.

James Adams is heading towards jail.  He's got an anger problem, and after his mom dies, he starts hanging out with the wrong kids at the orphanage.  It's just small marks on his record now, but he's sure to eventually do something that'll really get him in over his head.  But there's no reason to write him off.  He has potential.  And a secret agency known as CHERUB notices.

CHERUB uses children as spies, because adults so rarely suspect kids.  They can enter homes unsuspected, as friends of a mark's children, or pretend to be harmless vandals.  It's the perfect opportunity for James.

I liked that THE RECRUIT explored the lives of kids who aren't often protagonists, especially in children's literature.  James has lots of rough edges.  I also liked that it tackled difficult topics, and didn't reduce complicated issues to black and white stances.  After James completes his first mission, he isn't entirely sure that things worked out for the best, since no one involved was entirely good or bad.  I didn't enjoy how much time was spent on boot camp.  I would've eaten up as a kid, but found it a bit distressing to read about a kid going through something that is hard on adults.

I think that THE RECRUIT could be read by younger readers - nine or so.  The language isn't overly difficult, and it's very engaging.  However, the subject matter (including terrorism, underage drinking, and drugs) probably bumps up the intended age of the reader.  For concerned parents, I think that everything is presented in an age appropriate way and not in a favorable light. 

THE RECRUIT was a fun, fast novel, but I don't think I'll keep reading the series.  It skews a bit too young for me.

April 18, 2014

Review: The Forever Song

The Forever Song Book three of the Blood of Eden trilogy
By Julie Kagawa
Available now from Harlequin Teen
Review copy
Read my reviews of The Eternity Cure, The Iron Daughter, and Grim

Julie Kagawa brings her Blood of Eden trilogy to a fitting conclusion, full of action, grief, love, and sacrifice.  Somehow, when I started the book, I thought Kagawa would instantly find a loophole to make the ending of THE ETERNITY CURE all better.  But she doesn't, and heroine Allie has give up struggling with her vampiric nature in her despair.

Allie, along with her mentor Kanin and brother Jackal, are traveling to stop mad vampire Sarren before he can make it to Eden and unleash a virus to kill all humans and vampires.  Unfortunately for them, Sarren is mad like a fox.  I truly enjoy the quasi-familial relationship that the three share, so it was nice to spend quite a bit of time with them on their journey.  It's also interesting to see how three people can pursue the same course while motivated for such different reasons.

I really didn't like Kagawa's faerie series (I quit halfway through the second book), so it's kind of amazing to me how much I loved this trilogy.  I thought it mixed post-apocalyptic fiction with vampire lore very well, creating something that played with the tropes of both without being the same old same old.  The strong characterization and relationships are also a highlight.  The romance is front and center (this is a Harlequin imprint), but it's certainly not the only relationship explored.

I definitely would read THE IMMORTAL RULES and THE ETERNITY CURE before diving into THE FOREVER SONG.  It doesn't spend any time explaining what is happening to new readers.  It is entirely focused on moving the story forward to the conclusion.  I think this trilogy finishes strong, for those who have been waiting for the reaction to the final book to start.  The science is terrible, but I can forgive that in a vampire book.  Especially in a vampire road-trip trilogy.

April 16, 2014

Review: To All the Boys I've Loved Before

To All the Boys I've Loved Before By Jenny Han
Available now from Simon & Schuster BFYR
Review copy

I like Jenny Han's novels, but her current (co-written) series doesn't appeal to me.  TO ALL THE BOYS I'VE LOVED BEFORE, however, sounded awesome.  Laura Jean Song writes letters to the boys she's crushed on when she's ready to let go of the crush and move on.  When her letters get mailed, she has to deal with the leak of her private feelings.

When I started TO ALL THE BOYS I'VE LOVED BEFORE, I was expecting a romance.  If you are expecting a romance, then you'll be disappointed.  The novel's focus is Lara Jean and her personal journey.  Boys are involved, but they're secondary.  Just as important are Lara Jean's sisters.  Margot, the older sister, took over the household after their mother died, but now she's off to college in another country.  Lara Jean misses her sister, but it also gives her some of the space she needs to define herself.  She's lived a cautious, non-confrontational life, but sometimes you have to say what you want and go for it.

That being said, the romantic parts are great.  You see, Lara Jean isn't over one of the boys: Josh.  But Josh was Margot's boyfriend until she moved.  So Lara Jean pretends to be dating Peter, one of the other letter recipients, who happens to want to send a "We are really broken up" message to his ex.  I am so tired of love triangles, but this one worked for me because I wasn't able to predict where it was going.  (At least, not initially.)  Lara Jean's interest in the boys didn't seem plot mandated, nor were they mysterious bad boys who just walked into her life.  She clearly had an interest in both before the book began.

I also enjoyed how Lara Jean's Korean heritage was woven through the story.  She's only half, but obviously Asian.  Most of the time, it doesn't matter, but sometimes it really does, like how all her Halloween costumes are assumed to be Asian characters.  Han really understands that adding specificity to Lara Jean's story makes it more realistic and relatable instead of less.

I think that TO ALL THE BOYS I'VE LOVED BEFORE will appeal to fans of Sarah Dessen and other contemporary YA writers.  There is going to be a sequel, P.S. I STILL LOVE YOU, and I can't wait till next spring to read it.  (Please note that I read the ARC of TO ALL THE BOYS I'VE LOVED BEFORE, and it has been announced that the final book has a longer ending and a couple of extra chapters.  I will update this review after I read the final version if there are any changes relevant to my review.)

April 15, 2014

Review: The Geography of You and Me

The Geography of You and Me By Jennifer E. Smith
Available now from Poppy (Hachette)
Review copy

Popular YA author Jennifer E. Smith takes a real-life blackout in New York and turns it into a story that spans a year and multiple countries.  It is a slight story, although an appealing one.  Lucy and Owen are trapped together in an elevator during the blackout and share an amazing night, but their new bond is strained when they both move.

THE GEOGRAPHY OF YOU AND ME takes the one-amazing-night plot of books like BRIGHT BEFORE SUNRISE and asks, "What happens next?"  Smith does excel at the high-concept premise.  She falls a little short, however, in the execution.  Oh, THE GEOGRAPHY OF YOU AND ME is breezy and sweet, but the romance could use some serious beefing up.

The blurb talks about how Lucy and Owen stay in touch and want to reunite.  Stay in touch mostly means that Owen sends brief postcards and Lucy sometimes sends emails Owen never responds to.  Want to reunite means they both date other people and sometimes stop talking to each other altogether.  Don't get me wrong; it's realistic.  Why wouldn't they attempt relationships with people who are right there?  Why wouldn't the pressures of long distance and not knowing each other all that well not get to them?  But I felt like I signed up for a book full of long, romantic communications and that's not what I got at all.

I enjoyed that Lucy and Owen both had developed personalities and families.  When they first meet, neither one is in the best place.  But as they grow through the year, they make decisions to make themselves happier and their perspectives naturally change.  There's some nice character growth for both of them.  It's just that neither of them gets a full chance to shine since they're co-narrators, and their potential keeps coming back to a slight, romantic comedy plotline.

THE GEOGRAPHY OF YOU AND ME is an enjoyable beach read, and I expect many teens will love it as such.  But it had the potential to be something better.

April 14, 2014

Review: The Winner's Curse

The Winner's Curse Book one of The Winner's Trilogy
By Marie Rutkoski
Available now from Farrar, Straus and Giroux BFYR (Macmillan)
Review copy

I was under the impression that THE WINNER'S CURSE was almost entirely about the romance between Kestrel and Arin.  I was wrong.  Their love for each other drives many of their decisions, but THE WINNER'S CURSE is about much more than two teenagers in love.

Kestrel is the seventeen-year-old daughter of a general, and thus a high-ranking Valorian.  She must marry or enlist in the army by the time she is twenty, but until them she is determined to find her own path.  Things go a bit awry when she stumbles across a slave auction and makes an impulsive purchase of a young Herrani man.  You see, Kestrel lives in the Herrani peninsula, where the Herrani where enslaved after the Valorians took over.  The Herrani are obviously unhappy about this, which Kestrel is a bit blind to, despite her strategic mind.  She is uncomfortable with slavery, however; initially she ignores that she bought a person.  Then she starts using Arin as her escort, for single Valerian women must be escorted and she trusts him to let her do what she wants.

I didn't always buy that Kestrel and Arin fell in love (she owns him!), but I loved the complicated dance between them.  Arin has his own motives and his own clever mind.  Kestrel is terrific at getting out of tricky situations using her powers of observation and intelligence.  Despite my crack at her strategic mind before, THE WINNER'S CURSE is not a case of being told about a character's skills.  Kestrel shows her abilities over, and over.  Thus, THE WINNER'S CURSE is about two capable, crafty survivors who are unwilling to let their people be the one's thrown over the bus.

I wasn't familiar with the term before this, but "the winner's curse" is an auction term referring to win the winner pays too much for what they receive.  Kestrel invokes it when she buys Arin.  And, as the story goes on, it seems that one of them will have to invoke it again, to save either their love or their country.  Author Marie Rutkoski is not afraid of making things complicated.

I devoured THE WINNER'S CURSE in a single afternoon, and the unexpected ending has me eager to read the next book.  The romance between Arin and Kestrel might be a slow burn, but the story is fast paced and thrilling.  Notably, Rutkoski makes both sides sympathetic to the reader.  The characters are sometimes vile and sometimes charming, no matter which side they're on.  Killing people always has weight.  But slavery is always bad, thankfully.  Man, I just have to know how things turn out.

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