Spontaneous

by Aaron Starmer
Reviewed by SA

When I started this book, I was laughing every five seconds. When I finished it, I was in tears. There’s just so much to say about Spontaneous, so much that makes me want to shove it at friends and tell them to read it now. It’s a brilliant, touching book which I can’t believe affected me so much.

Summary

23587115Mara Carlyle’s senior year is going as normally as could be expected, until—wa-bam!—fellow senior Katelyn Ogden explodes during third period pre-calc.

Katelyn is the first, but she won’t be the last teenager to blow up without warning or explanation. As the seniors continue to pop like balloons and the national eye turns to Mara’s suburban New Jersey hometown, the FBI rolls in and the search for a reason is on.

Whip-smart and blunt, Mara narrates the end of their world as she knows it while trying to make it to graduation in one piece. It’s an explosive year punctuated by romance, quarantine, lifelong friendship, hallucinogenic mushrooms, bloggers, ice cream trucks, “Snooze Button™,” Bon Jovi, and the filthiest language you’ve ever heard from the President of the United States.

When seniors at Covington high start spontaneously combusting – more like, spontaneously exploding – life starts falling apart. No one knows what’s setting people off, what’s safe and who’s next. It’s a little hard to keep things together when you could be a pile of goop one second later.

Mara takes it all in stride. A witty, intelligent young woman, her perspective on the disaster is incredibly refreshing. She’s not a moper, instead she tells the story as it is, infusing the horror with funny moments and sharing a memory worth having of the person who just departed. She’s incredibly relatable, one of the most human YA women I have ever read, and I found myself reading thoughts of hers and wondering if the author somehow saw into my brain. So many of my fears and anxieties ring true through Mara’s point of view.

She’s not perfect, she’s incredibly human, and I think that’s why she’s so much fun to read. She’s also snarky and crass. She swears a lot and lives a very healthy sex life. She deals with this dark subject in her own way, mourns without tears, and suddenly you’re wondering why it’s so funny. How can it be so entertaining?

You begin to really care about the people in the novel. Mara and Tess have such a fantastic friendship, and I’m a sucker for well written girl friendships. Dylan, the romantic interest, is such a fascinating and complex character. Their relationship is far from perfect, and I think we need more imperfect couples in our lit.

But here’s the thing: two thirds of the way into the book, there’s a twist that made me actually scream out in anger. And then everything just falls apart. I was going to talk about great adults for the seniors to look up to and trust, but no, they’re all assholes. I was going to talk about growth, but growing up also means growing apart. The author is constantly reminding us that life can change spontaneously, and that it doesn’t care at all.

Spoiler alert: you won’t get any catharsis from this novel.

The blurb says: Aaron Starmer rewrites the rulebook with Spontaneous. But beneath the outrageous is a ridiculously funny, super honest, and truly moving exemplar of the absurd and raw truths of being a teenager in the 21st century . . . and the heartache of saying goodbye. I Think it’s also the heartache of not being able to say goodbye. Of not being able to do what you think you’re supposed to. One of the hardest parts of growing up is learned that you can do everything right and still fail: that life owes you nothing. This book is a powerful reminded of that.

Spontaneous is the most human novel I’ve read in a long time. A book where I have so many questions left unanswered, and I’m going to have to live with that. A book that broke my heart and has me constantly looking over my shoulder in fear of the unexpected happening and taking everything away.

It’s also a book with characters that don’t fall into single categories. A book where everything is unpredictable. A book where you’re laughing out loud at moments that are grim and morose because Mara’s reaction scares even herself.

Yes, I absolutely loved it.

Thank you Penguin Teen for sending me a copy to review. You’re the best.

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A World Without You

By Beth Revis
Reviewed by SA

I’m a huge fan of Beth Revis – If you don’t know Across the Universe, check it out now – so when I saw there was a new novel of hers coming out, I pounced on it. Then I had to wait until I actually got home to read it, which is why this review is coming so much later than I had anticipated. In any case, I’m actually quite tired because I was up all night last night finishing it, and just could not put it down. So you’ve been warned!

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Seventeen-year-old Bo has always had delusions that he can travel through time. When he was ten, Bo claimed to have witnessed the Titanic hit an iceberg, and at fifteen, he found himself on a Civil War battlefield, horrified by the bodies surrounding him. So when his worried parents send him to a school for troubled youth, Bo assumes he knows the truth: that he’s actually attending Berkshire Academy, a school for kids who, like Bo, have “superpowers.”

At Berkshire, Bo falls in love with Sofía, a quiet girl with a tragic past and the superpower of invisibility. Soíia helps Bo open up in a way he never has before. In turn, Bo provides comfort to Sofía, who lost her mother and two sisters at a very young age.

But even the strength of their love isn’t enough to help Sofia escape her deep depression. After she commits suicide, Bo is convinced that she’s not actually dead. He believes that she’s stuck somewhere in time—that he somehow left her in the past, and that now it’s his job to save her. And as Bo becomes more and more determined to save Sofía, he must decide whether to face his demons head-on or succumb to a psychosis that will let him be with the girl he loves.

I absolutely love having this unreliable narrator. When I first read the premise, I believed the novel would be about trying to find reality: does Bo really have powers, or is he deluding himself? Is he right, or is everyone else? But the author makes it very clear where we stand… which means Bo’s perspective cannot be trusted: even though he’s the one telling us the story.

As the novel goes on, due to Bo’s growing psychosis, the story becomes more and more confusing: there’s missing time, jumping backwards and forwards, paranoia, two alternate versions of reality being told at once. Towards the climax of the novel, everything becomes erratic and all over the place, making it difficult to see what’s going on but masterfully growing the tension and the twists. Only a skilled author like Revis could pull off showing this loss of control (even as Bo struggles for just that) without turning it into a jumbled mess.

Bo believes his girlfriend, Sofía, is trapped in 1692 and that it is only through controlling his powers that she will be saved. He refuses to let go. It’s odd to think that for the entire novel, we never truly know Sofía: we get hints of what she struggles with through Bo (as he tells the parts he’s aware of, and what he believes he remembers) or through what the families are told. But her depression is just something Bo cannot grasp.

Every once and a while, Phoebe, Bo’s sister, gets a chapter of her own, from her point of view. It’s so weird to switch to such clarity of mind, and yet, we see she has struggles and confusion of her own to deal with. At first I didn’t get the point of having them, but then I started to see how important it was to see her view.  Kinda her in a nutshell: everyone’s always worrying about Bo, who has much bigger problems, that they fail to see her problems too.

As I said, I could not put this book down. The end was just so exciting, life and death, Bo on the edge, that I needed to keep reading. This book was fantastic. Such a great, brutal look at mental illness, at love and family and psychosis. To read NOW.

Ink and Bone

by Rachel Caine
Reviewed by SA

I won a giveaway! I could not believe it when NovelReveries and BerkleyPub told me I won this awesome book I had been dying to read for ages. I mean, it had me at the premise alone: a world where the Library of Alexandria never burned down. What the world looks like, today, when the value of a book exceeds that of a person. And it sure did not disappoint.

Summary20643052

Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.

Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family, who are involved in the thriving black market. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service.

When his friend inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn…

There is just so much going on in this book. Jess is a young book smuggler who joins the latest class of librarians in Alexandria in hopes of one day working for the great library… and of being in the right place when his father needs him.  He lives in a world where no one owns original books, only copies that exist through the codex – a bit like a kindle/internet thing – which exists through the work of Obscurists. The later are able to transfer contents of books from one place to another and keep the library running… but at what cost to real, physical books?

The author wastes no time explaining to us how the world is different: she shows us, right off the bat. There’s no long winded exposition, and the story flows naturally. I loved the fact that we slowly gleamed tidbits of how different history was as the novel goes on, without her saying anything explicitly. The world both feels foreign and yet completely likely… and relatable. Most of the countries we know exist, but England and Wales are at war, and Austria is no longer anywhere.

Jess himself is a great protagonist, as he’s still learning the truth about the library and his place within in. His perspective on things mimics ours: our disgust at the ink-lickers (My jaw was hanging in this very early scene) or oven his shock at the Burners are exactly how the audience would feel. But his views on the value of a book are a little convoluted, a little warped by the world he lives in. Are books really worth more than human lives?

Perfect world building in this novel. And you all know how much I love books about libraries! Plus, alternate histories? Completely my jam. Plus, no weird love triangles! What a fantastic read. Gosh, I loved it.

So I have to thank Berkley Publishing and Novel Reveries for organizing the giveaway and allowing me to read this fantastic book. I can’t wait for the sequel!

Foul is Fair

by Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins
Reviewed by SA

This week we’re tackling an amazing fantasy novel for Self Published Saturday, a novel you’re sure to love: Foul is Fair, the first novel in the recently concluded Fair Folk Chronicles. It’s a brilliant book that takes you deep into the heart of Faerie, full of magic and danger… and dancing, too.

Summary25512566

Lots of girls play Fairy Princess when they’re little. Megan O’Reilly had no idea the real thing was like playing chess, guitar, and hockey all at once. Megan had known for a long time that she wasn’t an entirely typical girl. But living with ADHD—and her mother’s obsessions—was a very different thing from finding out she wasn’t entirely human. Somewhere out there, in a completely different world, her father needs help. There’s a conflict, revolving around Faerie seasonal rituals, that could have consequences for humanity—and if Megan’s getting the terminology straight, it sounds like her family aren’t even supposed to be the good guys. As she’s further and further swept up in trying to save her father, Megan may be getting too good at not being human.

When Megan discovers her dad – as well as her best friend – are mythical, she takes it all in one stride: she’s got a quest to follow! She has her father to save, let alone the whole world, the balance of which rests upon him being able to attend a dance that changes the seasons. She’s focused and determined, even without her medication, and she’s ready to take on this challenge if it means making things right for the world.

Megan is a skilled artist (thought she might be addicted to doodling) and begins to slowly see the power of music and signing. She’s got a knack for it, which some might call a little magic. I loved Megan as a character, and her friend Lani just as much. Their friendship is a powerful drive in Megan’s life and gives her strength and determination, as well as support as her world is turned on her head. And I’m such a sucker for female friendships in great novels.

My favorite characters, however, were not the main ones: no, I loved Cassia and Ashling a whole lot. Ashling might be my favorite pixie of all time: she’s sassy, funny, and crazy witty. Not to mention she’s technically living with a pixie disability, and her ‘service animal’ is a crow named Count who’s a personality all to himself. I’ve NEVER read a book like this before! Ashling’s comedic responses to Megan’s whole slew of questions – especially her variety of answers as to why Count is names Count  or where fairies come from – had me rolling on the floor laughing.

While some parts of the novel were exposition heavy, I found the overall creativity of the novel to make up for that. I loved the use of other myths from around the world that I had never heard of: Lani, for example, is part Menehune, which (I only just learned this) is a myth from Hawaii. This gives her a talent for engineering and creating things.

To recap all the amazing things about this book: great representation, love of art and music, love of science and creativity, the world of Faerie, myths from around the world, great adventure… and did I mention it’s a great read for any age?

“I’ve been a huge mythology nerd most of my life, so getting to play with the old myths, and have a series centered around the 4 treasures of Ireland, the 4 lost cities of the fae, and the 4 big seasonal events of the calendar was a lot of fun,” The author told me when I asked about his inspiration, “Thor #279 was one of the first things I ever really read, when I was 5. It sent me scrambling to learn the real myths. So I liked the idea of writing something where readers, especially teens, maybe could, or even would occasionally go running to google some of the things in the books, or read Celtic myth, Hawaiian myth, etc.”

And it worked! I ended up by starting to google “Menehune”and spend a few hours just browsing the interwebs, using this book as a guide. And I learned so much!

If you want a fun and creative take on the world of Faerie, then you’re going to love Foul is Fair. There are four books to this series, all available on amazon. The ebook for book 2 is on .99 sale on kindle through this weekend, as it is the summer solstice!

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The Crown’s Game

By Evelyn Skye
Reviewed by SA

I have been excited for this book for ages: I mean, magic in imperial Russia? Yes please! And I was so thrilled that it did not disappoint. I couldn’t put it down: quite literally, actually, as I sat down and read it in about two hours, and didn’t see time go by.

Summary26156203

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the Tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love… or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear… the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

I loved the world the author created, melding a well researched imperial Russia with the promise of magic and enchantment. The descriptions of not only St Petersburg, but also the Steppe, and the islands truly made you feel transported there. I could almost feel everything around me as I was reading, which is what made it so difficult for me to pull away.

The magic itself is something beautiful. Evanescing, the enchanted way to travel, is something described in such a gorgeous way that I wished I could travel like that, too. However, I was disappointed when I realized there would not be strong magical battles (Like in A Gathering of Shadows) but that was quickly remedied when I was sucked into the beautiful creations of our two heroes. At each turn of the game, they compete to outshine each other, and the result is quite beautiful.

As for the characters themselves, well, some I loved, some I hated, and some I loved and hated through the novel.  I did relate to Vika and Nicolai, and quite enjoyed their difference in magic (one being more elemental, the other more technical) and how they complemented each other. Vika’s fiery and fierce, headstrong and independent. Nicolai was more book loving, a bit Nerdy, but a bit of an artist. While some of their decisions seemed illogical, I’ll put that down to them just being young. I make irrational decisions too.

While Pasha seemed fantastic to me, his family seemed quite two dimensional. Actually, most minor characters seemed to suffer this lack of depth, some of whom can be written up into just one word. The secondary villain (if you can call her that) actually built up great, but then just kind of fell flat and stopped being the threat we expected her to be. She fizzled.

But boy, did I like this world. I loved how the magic worked, I loved the enchanted mountain, the idea of volcanic nymphs, the beautiful descriptions. I would highly recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction, actually.

I think you’ll like it too!

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The Art of Being Normal

by Lisa Williamson
Reviewed by SA

I had very high expectations when I saw this book, and wow, wow wow wow, it did not disappoint. I just have to share it with everyone, it’s fantastic. I picked it up, thinking it was going to be published at the end of may 2016, but it turns out another edition came out a whole year ago, and I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of it yet. I think it should be required reading for teenagers everywhere.

Summary25689042

David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth: David wants to be a girl.
On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal: to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in his class is definitely not part of that plan. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long , and soon everyone knows that Leo used to be a girl.
As David prepares to come out to his family and transition into life as a girl and Leo wrestles with figuring out how to deal with people who try to define him through his history, they find in each other the friendship and support they need to navigate life as transgender teens as well as the courage to decide for themselves what normal really means.

Having not read the blurb in its entirety, Leo revealing that he had been born a girl came as a huge shock to me. I feel like the summary is giving away a huge spoiler! You’re over 50% through the novel when he reveals it, and I did not see it coming at all. Maybe I should have!

Not only is this a book about transgender teens, but it tackles questions of race and class as well, and everything that makes you different to ‘normal’. Characters struggle with fitting into a very distinct boxes, and are often bullied for sticking out. Whether it’s your financial status, where you come from, or what you look like, people can be cruel if you’re not like the others. Both David and Leo see that first hand, as well as many students around them… and a lot of us readers, too.

David and Leo’s points of view alternate through the novel, giving you the chance to follow two very distinct lives. David is financially privileged, and is afraid to telling his parents that he’s actually a she (I’m using he pronouns here because David does too, for the large majority of the book). Leo comes from a poorer household, lives in the projects with his single mom, and has been identifying and passing as male for quite a while (and quite successfully at his new school, too). But their friendship will grow into something fantastic. They have a very distinct voice (you don’t need the chapter indications to know who you’re following) and are incredibly relatable, even vividly real.

Tackling this kind of story would be incredibly difficult for any author, but Williamson does it masterfully. The writing is beautiful and gripping, and the characters have such depth. She doesn’t fall into the tropes of the YA genre, which makes the novel unpredictable, and gives it a realistic feel. The ending was a little magical, but in a way that felt unique and not forced. As I said before, this book should be required reading, not just because it tells an important story, but because it tells it well.

This book is brilliant, fun, and poignant: read it at your own emotional risk.

One thing that bugged me about the edition I read was that I felt like it had been americanified. Is that a thing? When I read it, there were words and odd things that seemed off, and added just for  an american audience. A small example would be the use of the word ‘soccer’ over ‘football’. I believe the edition I read is the American edition, which will come out on May 31st: and I suspect the original book doesn’t have this sort of problem. In any case, it broke me out of the novel a little. 

I Crawl Through It

by A.S. King

Reviewed by S.A.

As fall comes around again, a lot of us make our way back to school. It’s time for a high school YA, but a novel unlike any other. It’s almost indescribable, so I’ll try to do my best with this review, but I doubt I’ll capture it perfectly. It’s another novel that I find hard to place in any category: a surrealist YA for anybody and everybody to enjoy.

Summary

Four talented teenagers are traumatized-coping with grief, surviving trauma, facing the anxiety of standardized tests and the neglect of self-absorbed adults—and they’ll do anything to escape the pressure. They’ll even build an invisible helicopter, to fly far away to a place where everyone will understand them… until they learn the only way to escape reality is to fly right into it.

Reading this book was like staring too long at a Dali painting: it almost began to make sense, but the significance of it all just flew over your head. I was caught between what was real, what wasn’t, and if it really mattered if it as real or not. I crawl through it is a book that teeters between reality and nonsense, but still managed to be captivating and engrossing.

Stanzi is a young woman who never goes without her lab coat. Her best friend, whose parents have a ‘dungeon’ in the basement, has swallowed herself whole, . Her crush, Gustav, is building a helicopter in his garage, which she can only see on Tuesdays: any other day, and it’s invisible. She’s friends with a girl whose hair grows every time she lies, and hangs well below her knees. Between her house and Gustav lives the dangerous bush man, who, for a kiss, will give you a beautiful letter to decorate your life. He’ll also give you the answers if you know how to ask. Their school keeps getting bomb threats, and every day there’s a drill. And that is their life.

Only there’s a whole lot more to it. This book had so much depth, it took me a while to ‘get’ it. These teenagers have complicated, complex lives, which leads to their – ahem – ‘unusual’ traits. As a reader, you wonder at every page if these are real traits, or something they have imagined up, so as to better understand their world. But does reality even matter, when all this is fiction anyways?

These characters have real depth, they are so much more than what they are on the surface. The author really manages to convey the difficulty Stanzi has relating with others, as she feels somewhat distant, even to us, who are allowed to see her perspective. The growing relationship between Gustav and her, which seems natural, unexaggerated. While I was very uncomfortable with the dangerous bush man at first, I’m very glad to have seen him develop as a person alongside our protagonists. It’s impressive how immersed in these young peoples’ lives you become, if you give this book a chance.

When you reach the ending, you really wonder what truly happened over the course of the novel. What did others see? Again, what is real, and what is not? I had many questions. I admit, my first reaction when I closed the book was What on earth was that? Somehow, however, the characters stuck to me. Their story meant something. As you start to understand the trauma they’re dealing with, you find yourself relating in ways you might not expect.

This is a fantastic book for people keep asking questions. It may not have the answers, but it has a string of them: ABDECBACDBABA… might not be what you’re expecting, but you’ll definitely enjoy your reading experience.

Fair warning: it is surreal. And weird. And there are many feelings to be had. I Crawl Through It comes out today, September 22nd. Enjoy!

Bones and All

by Camille DeAngelis

Reviewed by SA

A Cannibal coming of age story – yes, you read that right. This is possibly the most bizarre young adult novel I have read in ages, full of life questions and gore, road trips and horror, and cannibals of all walks of life. It is, all in all, messed up – but I loved every second of it.

Summary – thank you again, Goodreads!

Since she was a baby, Maren has had what you might call “an issue” with affection. Anytime someone cares for her too much, she can’t seem to stop herself from eating them. Abandoned by her mother at the age of 16, Maren goes looking for the father she has never known, but finds more than she bargained for along the way.

Faced with love, fellow eaters, and enemies for the first time in her life, Maren realizes she isn’t just looking for her father, she is looking for herself. The real question is, will she like the girl she finds?

Imagine that there are people – they look just like you or me – who have an affliction, an addiction, that they keep hidden from the world. That there are people who need to eat human flesh, to devour an entire being, grinding the bones and all. This last bit makes things easier, since there is such little left of the body to actually find once someone notices they’re missing in the first place. These people are careful,under the radar, so much so that some don’t even know that others exist.

Maren is one of those people. It started with the babysitter when she was a baby, and now, it’s every boy who gets ever so slightly too close. She simply cannot stop herself from eating them whole. Her mother has been caring for her, moving from state to state, until one day, she decides it’s too much, and leaves. Now Maren needs to find her own way int he world – and figure out her place in it. She’s one of those characters you just have to root for, even if their principles are a little out of whack: she’s young, confused, but smart and independent, able to care for herself and reach her own goals.

I will warn you all right now: this novel is not for the faint of heart. People die, and it is presented as natural, light, an event which happens. I found myself reading along and realizing that the person we were just talking to was now in some character’s stomach. It neither glorifies nor vilifies the process, it simply is. And many could find this troubling. If you don’t find it at least disturbing, I’ll be worried we’re not reading the same book. One of the characters is particularly weird, and grows more and more unnerving as the book progresses, to the point of making you uncomfortable. Just goes to show you the extent of the character depth.

But DO NOT let this make you think that I did not enjoy this book. Gosh, you have no idea how much I loved it. Bones and All is a book you’re going to want to share and read over and over again. It’s unique in that it presents the messed up period of a teenager’s life were questions are asked and the search for self truly begins, while at the same time being a story about a messed up person with a really messed up problem. Everything in Maren’s life is a mess, but she’s gotten pretty good at cleaning those up, or hiding most of them. Just because she eats people doesn’t necessarily make her a bad person… does it? That’s a question for the reader to answer – and Maren too.

The ending I’m a little torn about. Does it feel rushed, both in a sense that the writer wanted it done, and that the book just wanted to reach its end? A little. Possibly. But it left me feel shivers, yearning for more, while simultaneously  wondering not only what the heck just happened, but why.

Yes, it’s odd. Bizarre. Sometimes the coincidences are just too huge, too unbelievable, but then again, you’re reading a book about teenage cannibals. But it flows effortlessly, the writing skillful and beautiful, something you’re not sure to forget. You’ll eat it up.