Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Summary: Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near-impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one unlikely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life– a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha… and the secrets of her heart.

My Thoughts: Shadow and Bone has been popping up all over the YA/fantasy blogs recently and I finally got my hands on a copy from my library. I finished it in less than 12 hours and I’m eager for the sequel, so that tells you a bit about how much I liked it.

I think this is Bardugo’s debut novel, and she did a great job taking the traditional high fantasy genre and putting her own twist on it. There’s some great new world building here that was very well done, explained smoothly and  naturally, and made a lot of sense to the plot, which honestly doesn’t always happen in fantasy novels. I also liked the sort of old Russian influence on a lot of the language and the culture in Bardugo’s world–that’s something I haven’t really seen before in YA fantasy.

I especially, especially liked the way Bardugo book-ended her story with the prologue/epilogue-type chapters, where the style and narration switched slightly and opened and closed her story to great effect. Bardugo’s story here has just the right amount of action mixed with mysticism and the unknown.

I’m glad to have a new fantasy series to follow; I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel when it comes out! Also, the cover is one of the more awesome book typography and design combinations I’ve seen in awhile.

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The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

Summary: Some schools have honor codes.

Others have handbooks.

Themis Academy has the Mockingbirds.

Themis Academy is a quiet boarding school with an exceptional student body that the administration trusts to always behave the honorable way–the Themis way. So when Alex Patrick is date-raped during her junior year, she has two options: Stay silent and hope someone helps, or enlist the aid of the Mockingbirds-a secret society of students dedicated to righting the wrongs of the student body.

In this account of a teenage girl’s search for her voice and the courage to use it, debut author Daisy Whitney reminds readers that standing up for someone, especially yourself, is worth the fight. (From author website).

My Thoughts: I read The Mockingbirds in one night, as I was immediately absorbed by the kind of terrifying opening scene–our narrator Alex wakes up in the morning in a strange bed next to a strange boy, both of them completely naked, and has absolutely no memory of what happened to her the night before. She is confused, scared, and uncertain of exactly what to do, but thankfully she has a circle of good friends, a cool older sister, and of course, The Mockingbirds, a secret student society at Themis Academy.

I think Whitney did a perfect job here of portraying the confusion, shame, and fear that comes after an event like this. Date-rape does not fit into the classic stereotype of rape that everyone seems to have, the one where a complete and total stranger holds a knife to your neck and forces you into a dark alley late at night somewhere. A lot of people seem to think that is the only kind of rape that happens, the only kind of rape where the victim is absolutely blameless.

Date rape, on the other hand, is often perpetrated by someone you know, or someone who’s associated with you once or twice to some degree–an acquaintance, a friend of a friend, a co-worker. There are often drugs or (more likely) alcohol involved, a factor that many seem to think makes the victim partly to blame for being raped.

Which is untrue, as Whitney does a good job of explaining throughout the novel. At first, Alex doesn’t believe she’s been raped–and as the reader, you don’t think she has either, because all you have are her thoughts and her memories, which aren’t complete. But things start to unfold, and we learn, along with Alex and many other students at Themis, that “only yes means yes.” That silence should never be taken as consent.

I wasn’t as thrilled with or convinced by the circumstances Whitney built up to explain why exactly Alex did not approach the authorities or the administration at her school to report the rape. I understand it was necessary in order to introduce the Mockingbirds themselves, but it was a little bit loose and didn’t clinch it for me.

I still enjoyed The Mockingbirds a lot and definitely recommend.

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If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Summary: On a day that started like any other…

Mia had everything: a loving family, a gorgeous, adoring boyfriend, and a bright future full of music and full of choices. Then, in an instant, almost all of that is taken from her. Caught between life and death, between a happy past and an unknowable future, Mia spends one critical day contemplating the one decision she has left—the most important decision she’ll ever make. (Courtesy of author website).

My Thoughts: I had been reading many great reviews for this book before I finally decided to pick it up a few weeks ago from the library. It took me a long time to get around to it–mostly because it seemed like your typical post-tragedy YA novel, and I was never particularly in the mood for depressing emotions and contemporary moaning-and-groaning. And I just didn’t want to read something sad during my first few weeks of summer.

Well I was wrong. If I Stay was so far from your typical contemporary YA novel. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly it is that Forman does so right other than “everything”. From the first page I was connected with Mia’s crazy but sincerely loving family, and not because my family is similar to hers, or that I’ve had the same experiences as they’ve had (in fact, far from it), but because Forman’s writing just does that to you. It’s simple and clean and perfect.

The whole novel takes place, like the summary says, in “one critical day”, but it’s a bit more than that. There are clear memories of Mia’s life before the accident interspersed with her present-day situation, and these transitions are handled and timed perfectly by Forman.

I highly recommend If I Stay to anyone who wants an absorbing, emotional read.

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Apparently now there’s a sequel! Where She Went

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Summary: Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless Lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future. (From author website).

My Thoughts: I was drawn to this one both by the fabulous cover and the plot summary; cyborg mechanic Cinderella in the future? Extraterrestrial plagues? Hostile human sub-group living on the moon? Definitely something I haven’t heard of before.

While Meyer uses the old French fairytale of Cinderella to start off her story, she quickly makes it into something original and all her own. There’s more going on here than catching the attention of the prince and going to the royal ball–in fact, the royal ball only serves as the location for the climax of a much larger, much more complicated story. The evil stepmother, while suitably detestable, doesn’t come close to the real villain of our story, the queen of the Moon who is intent on exerting her unwelcome influence over the inhabitants back on Earth.

I immediately liked Cinder as our protagonist, and her trials and tribulations were exciting to follow. Her love for her younger stepsister, Peony, was a new look at the traditional Cinderella story, and her little helper Iko was also delightful to read.

I’d recommend Cinder to anyone who likes updated fairy tales, dystopian science fiction, and interesting plots. I think the author has several sequels in the series planned.

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Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien

Summary (from author website): After climate change, on the north shore of Unlake Superior, a dystopian world is divided between those who live inside the wall, and those, like sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone, who live outside. It’s Gaia’s job to “advance” a quota of infants from poverty into the walled Enclave, until the night one agonized mother objects, and Gaia’s parents disappear.

As Gaia’s efforts to save her parents take her within the wall, she faces the brutal injustice of the Enclave and discovers she alone holds the key to a secret code, a code of “birthmarked” babies and genetic merit.

Fraught with difficult moral choices and rich with intricate layers of codes, Birthmarked explores a colorful, cruel, eerily familiar world where a criminal is defined by her genes, and one girl can make all the difference.

Commentary: I’ve always enjoyed reading dystopian novels, and Birthmarked’s premise sounded interesting to me–a society with a sharply divided upper class and lower class, and where a certain quota of children from the lower class are taken every month to be adopted by members of the upper class.

O’Brien’s YA debut was nicely plotted, with all your requisite dystopian features, but I wasn’t seized by the story. To be honest I was just a little bit bored. Everything was a bit predictable, and the true problem at the root of this dystopian society was revealed in a way that wasn’t all that earth-shattering or even exciting. There just didn’t seem to be a true conflict or obstacle that our heroine, Gaia, had to overcome in order to save the society she was a part of–there were plenty of personal and emotional issues that she had to deal with, which I think were handled much better.

This is the 1st book in the trilogy, and I’m not sure that I’ll be picking up the rest of the series. The writing and the story just didn’t draw me in strongly enough.

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