life after jane…

White Cat

Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Date: May 4th 2010
Pages: 310
Genre: YA- Paranormal
Source: Purchased

From Goodreads:

Cassel comes from a family of curse workers — people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they’re all mobsters, or con artists. Except for Cassel. He hasn’t got the magic touch, so he’s an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail — he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.

Ever since, Cassel has carefully built up a façade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his façade starts crumbling when he starts sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He’s noticing other disturbing things, too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him, caught up in a mysterious plot. As Cassel begins to suspect he’s part of a huge con game, he also wonders what really happened to Lila. Could she still be alive? To find that out, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.

This book has been sitting on my shelf for a while now but for some reason I had yet to pick it up. Maybe it’s the seriously creepy cover. Those gloves alone are enough to send me running. It wasn’t until recently that I’ve gotten in to darker YA so I guess it was just time to read this one. I’m so glad I did because it’s positively fabulous!

This is my first Holly Black book and I had no idea how awesome she is. White Cat was fierce. Even with its dark, nasty magic performed by wicked evil doers I was immediately rooting for the bad guys. Curse workers have formed a sort of magical mafia where they’re still busting knee caps in an old school way only in Black’s world they do it with their minds. I loved Cassel from page one. Believing that he lacks the powers that the rest of his family has, he still engages in the same manipulation and subterfuge that his twisted kinsmen do but with his wits alone. Oh and then, THEN there’s the part where he turns out to be the biggest badass.

I’m liking YA books from male points of view. They’re rare enough to make them a real treat whenever they’re stumbled upon. The sequel, Red Glove, was released this past April and I need to get my grubby little hands on it.

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Chime
by Franny Billingsley

Published March 17th 2011 by Dial
More at:
Goodreads
Website

From Goodreads:
Before Briony’s stepmother died, she made sure Briony blamed herself for all the family’s hardships. Now Briony has worn her guilt for so long it’s become a second skin. She often escapes to the swamp, where she tells stories to the Old Ones, the spirits who haunt the marshes. But only witches can see the Old Ones, and in her village, witches are sentenced to death. Briony lives in fear her secret will be found out, even as she believes she deserves the worst kind of punishment.

Then Eldric comes along with his golden lion eyes and mane of tawny hair. He’s as natural as the sun, and treats her as if she’s extraordinary. And everything starts to change. As many secrets as Briony has been holding, there are secrets even she doesn’t know.

Very interesting little read here but ultimately I was a bit underwhelmed.

I loved the language of the story (and I do mean loved), the sing-song way the characters spoke. Everyone spoke that way; humans as well as fae(-ish) and it made the mundane seem just as exciting as the magical. The main character Briony and I never really meshed what with her constant protests of just how wicked she was and yet nothing ever really happening. I wished it hadn’t taken until the last few pages of the book to let on to what was going on. The ending seemed very “And all of a sudden…” to me.

Adorable hero, Eldric- loved him instantly for his great sense of fun and willing to embrace the ridiculous. Briony’s sister Rose, quirky little thing that she was, would have made for a much more interesting story and I was disappointed whenever a scene was without her.

Eh.

Thoughts?

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Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien

Published March 30th 2010 by Roaring Brook Press
Goodreads
Website

From Goodreads: 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 are arrested.
Badly scarred since childhood, Gaia is a strong, resourceful loner who begins to question her society. As Gaia’s efforts to save her parents take her within the wall, she herself is arrested and imprisoned.
Fraught with difficult moral choices and rich with intricate layers of codes, Birthmarked explores a colorful, cruel, eerily familiar world where one girl can make all the difference, and a real hero makes her own moral code.

Another great dystopian world in which women are merely breeders trying to save the human race. If I didn’t absolutely LOVE this kind of story, I’d be highly offended. Or flattered- since apparently only women will be able to save mankind in the future. Go us.

The people inside the Enclave are dying. Diseases they thought long gone have begun to claim the lives of their children. Years of inbreeding have rendered their offspring nearly nonviable and the need for babies from outside the wall is growing at an alarming rate. Gaia must “advance” the first three infants she delivers every month. To “advance” an infant is to take it immediately from its mother after its birth and turn it over to the orphanage inside the Enclave where it will live in safety and luxury, free of want for the rest of its life. Or at least that is what the people forced to live outside the walls, in poverty, are made to believe. To them, the Enclave is a paradise that they will never be fortunate enough to enter. The Enclave controls everything. The limited food and water left after the world’s climate changed resides within its walls and the commoners outside are given rations. When a child is advanced, the mother is given extra food and water for her troubles. Oh boy. They take your baby and give you lab created fungus curd and rain water. SIGN ME UP.

Gaia is a great, strong female lead who fears absolutely nothing and will stop at nothing to get what she wants. Her single minded determination to save her parents who are being held inside the Enclave was most admirable. Then I got to thinking about it. If your job was to take a newborn out of the arms of its protesting mother and turn it over to an organization that would let all your people die if it weren’t for their offspring- you’d have to be pretty tough.

Didn’t like the love interest. He was a wishy-washy sap. No use for him.

Another fabulous, harsh, gritty Dystopian read where one person is able to hold on to a tiny spark of hope in a world that no longer has any. Love love love the world O’Brien has created and looking forward to the sequel this fall.

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Wake Unto Me by Lisa Cach

Published March 31st 2011 by Speak
Goodreads
Website

From Goodreads: A haunted castle, a handsome young man dead for four hundred years, one heck of a scary portrait of a witch, and a treasure hunt — not to mention a princess for a roommate! — all await 15 year old American girl Caitlyn Monahan when she earns a scholarship to a French boarding school.

There are secrets behind the stone walls of Chateau de la Fortune, buried for centuries along with the mystery of who killed Raphael, the charming ghost who visits Caitlyn at night. But as Caitlyn unearths the history of the castle, nothing scares her as badly as the secret she learns about herself, and the reason she was chosen to come to the Fortune School.

And nothing breaks her heart as badly as falling in love with a dead guy.

This was just the sweetest little book. I’ve been reading Lynn Kurland’s paranormal romances and I’m a sucker for a ghostly love story. I loved all the magic throughout this book! Witchcraft and time travel and so much mystery. The research and history that went into this little work was above and beyond. The author didn’t skimp one bit on her world building and background, taking bits and pieces from historical truths and embellishing them to fit her story.

Caitlyn literally finds Raphael, the man of her dreams, in her dreams. Each night she falls asleep hoping that tonight he’ll return to her and together they can solve the mystery surrounding the castle and Raphael’s untimely death.

It’s one of those great YA boarding school novels (you know you love boarding school novels) that you just can’t help but get lost in, complete with awkward new friendships and adversaries. This was a charming little love story.

Lisa Cach is apparently a romance novelist. We should talk.

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The Summer of Skinny Dipping by Amanda Howells
Published:Published June 1st 2010 by Sourcebooks Fire

From Goodreads:
Sometimes I still wake up shivering in the early hours of the morning, drowning in dreams of being out there in the ocean that summer, of looking up at the moon and feeling as invisible and free as a fish. But I’m jumping ahead, and to tell the story right I have to go back to the very beginning. To a place called Indigo Beach. To a boy with pale skin that glowed against the dark waves. To the start of something neither of us could have predicted, and which would mark us forever, making everything that came after and before seem like it belonged to another life.

My name is Mia Gordon: I was sixteen years old, and I remember everything.

This little gem was an unexpected surprise. At first, the story itself threatened to be rather unremarkable. Girl goes to stay with her cousins for the summer in the Hamptons. Cousins are rich elitist snobs, girl is average run-of-the-mill teenager who is overly self-conscious and eager to fit in. So I went into it not really expecting a whole lot. What I didn’t expect is to get hit with a tidal wave of self-discovery and emotion. I did a disservice to you, little book, by prejudging you and I am sorry.

At first, I didn’t like the main character, Mia. She always professed to being a person of more substance than she was and yet I never really saw any examples. All talk and no action so to speak. Mia spends a few weeks at the end of a rapidly fading (and disappointing) summer vacation, with the boy next door. Simon is the opposite of everything her cousins feel is “in.” He is carefree, unique, artistic and refreshing. No love at first sight, no crush on the wrong guy complex going on, just a nice simple friendship with the hint of the possibility of more. Through her relationship with Simon, Mia learns to let go of her need for acceptance from those who really aren’t worth the trouble to begin with.

A nice little summer read, complete with the beach and all.

(I want more contemporary beach YA. Suggestions??)

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Green Witch by Alice Hoffman
Published March 1st 2010 by Scholastic Press

More at: Goodreads

From Goodreads:In this powerful, lovely sequel to GREEN ANGEL, Green must learn the stories of a number of “witches” and free her true soul mate from a prison as she grapples with life, love, and loss in a post-disaster world.

Green’s town has started to come together again, and lives are being rebuilt, but for a few of the town’s women, the loss is still too great. Deemed witches because of their seclusion and the shape of the magic that their grief has created, they remain outside of the community, their existence only spoken of in fearful whispers. Green, for whom any garden will grow, discovered her own extraordinary ability to heal a soul when she lost her family to the fire. Now she must find these witches, and write down their tales, aiding in their healing, and guiding her back to Diamond, the missing boy she has fallen in love with.

I absolutely loved the first book, Green Angel. The words were so poetic, and the story was filled with so much real magic that it was coming off the pages. I really got caught up in Green’s emotions- her heartache, her healing. Lovely. But this little book, it’s sequel, didn’t really draw me in like the first one did. Maybe it was because I waited too long to read it after the first one. Maybe it’s because this was more an adventure story and less of a love story. Whatever it was, the magic just wasn’t there for me.

Have you read these books? Talk to me.

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Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

Published January 20th 2009 by Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books

More at: Goodreads

From Goodreads: Galen is a young soldier returning from war; Rose is one of twelve princesses condemned to dance each night for the King Under Stone. Together Galen and Rose will search for a way to break the curse that forces the princesses to dance at the midnight balls. All they need is one invisibility cloak, a black wool chain knit with enchanted silver needles, and that most critical ingredient of all—true love—to conquer their foes in the dark halls below. But malevolent forces are working against them above ground as well, and as cruel as the King Under Stone has seemed, his wrath is mere irritation compared to the evil that awaits Galen and Rose in the brighter world above.
Captivating from start to finish, Jessica Day George’s take on the Grimms’ tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses demonstrates yet again her mastery at spinning something entirely fresh out of a story you thought you knew.

This is such a lovely retelling. The twelve princesses dance nearly every night for the King Under Stone, who lives deep beneath the ground where he was exiled. Their mother, who was so desperate for children, struck a bargain with the evil king and in exchange for her daughters, she danced for him nearly every night, from midnight until dawn until she died. Now the princesses must repay their mother’s debt and dance night after night with the king’s half mortal sons who he plans for the princesses to marry. The princesses are unable to speak of the enchantment and princes come from far and wide to attempt to solve the mystery. None are successful until Galen, the young gardener, a soldier recently come home from the war, breaks the enchantment and wins the love of the eldest princess, Rose.

It’s a rest your chin in your hand and sigh wistfully kind of story. I remember the Brothers Grimm telling to be very harsh and dark (as most are) but this story is so very elegant and magical it made me want to dance with them.

In the story, our hero knits a shawl and a chain that are used to save the princesses, at the end, the author includes the knitting patterns that Galen would have used to make the magic pieces. Very clever indeed.

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Beauty by Robin McKinley

Published August 1st 2005 by Eos (first published 1978)

More at: Goodreads

From Goodreads: This much-loved retelling of the classic French tale Beauty and the Beast elicits the familiar magical charm, but is more believable and complex than the traditional story. In this version, Beauty is not as beautiful as her older sisters, who are both lovely and kind. Here, in fact, Beauty has no confidence in her appearance but takes pride in her own intelligence, her love of learning and books, and her talent in riding. She is the most competent of the three sisters, which proves essential when they are forced to retire to the country because of their father’s financial ruin.
The plot follows that of the renowned legend: Beauty selflessly agrees to inhabit the Beast’s castle to spare her father’s life. Beauty’s gradual acceptance of the Beast and the couple’s deepening trust and affection are amplified in novel form. Robin McKinley’s writing has the flavor of another century, and Beauty heightens the authenticity as a reliable and competent narrator.

This is and has always been one of my favorite fairytales. McKinley’s retelling completely captured the magic and wonder of the original story whilst gifting it with a rather real world air that makes it nearly impossible to not get thoroughly lost in the story.

McKinley’s Beauty lacks the good looks that our classic heroine possessed. Instead her selflessness, kindness and intelligence make for an inwardly beautiful leading lady that’s a bit easier to relate to than the usual run of the mill “breathtaking” beauty. Her character is such that all but Beauty are able to see how very lovely she really is. At her insistence, she agrees to enter the Beast’s enchanted house in exchange for her father’s life and once there befriends and falls in love with the one person to whom she has ever felt truly beautiful.

The castle and it’s servants are charming and endearing as they welcome and care for Beauty who is understandably both terrified and homesick. I want invisible people to pick out my clothes and bring me breakfast :( Beauty is able to catch bits and pieces of their conversations and begins to understand that something really devastating will happen if she chooses to leave.

Bonus: The Beast possesses a great library filled with books that aren’t yet written. THAT right there is enough reason to read this book if falling in love with a fairytale all over again isn’t.

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Radiance by Alyson Noel

Published August 31st 2010 by Square Fish

More at: Goodreads

From Goodreads:Riley Bloom left her sister, Ever, in the world of the living and crossed the bridge into the afterlife—a place called Here, where time is always Now. Riley and her dog, Buttercup, have been reunited with her parents and are just settling into a nice, relaxing death when she’s summoned before The Council. They let her in on a secret—the afterlife isn’t just an eternity of leisure; Riley has to work. She’s been assigned a job, Soul Catcher, and a teacher, Bodhi, a curious boy she can’t quite figure out.

Riley, Bodhi, and Buttercup return to earth for her first assignment, a Radiant Boy who’s been haunting a castle in England for centuries. Many Soul Catchers have tried to get him to cross the bridge and failed. But he’s never met Riley…

I read this because I really thought the concept would make for an interesting spin off from The Immortals series, and admittedly, I was hoping it would help bring me back into the main series. It didn’t. It is a very rushed 183 pages about what happened to Riley Bloom after she finally accepted her part in the afterlife. She’s basically given a job, and a mentor, with it vaguely implied that doing her job will bring enlightenment. With so little time, and all of it devoted to one main event, in which Riley completes her first assignment, there was very little left for characterization. I couldn’t tell you who Riley or anyone else really was and the glimpses that were given didn’t inspire me to want to find out.

I did enjoy the feel of it being a child’s fantasy novel. Riley got to do silly things that a little girl would dream about doing. Her reward for finishing the job was to get to learn how to fly. I probably would have chosen that one too.

I’m not sure if fans of The Immortals series will enjoy this or not since it is very young middle grade fiction. Worth a shot if you just have to know what Riley’s been up to. It features a gorgeous cover and yes, a bit with a dog. Bonus. :)

ARC sent from the publisher. Thank you very much!

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