Intruder by Christine Bongers

intrudersChristine Bongers’ new novel develops the plot device of an intruder, not into a mystery or suspense narrative, but to a coming-of-age story. Fourteen year old Kat is about to be intruded upon by people and situations she does not want. Her life has been on hold since the death of her mother but grief is a finite excuse. Kat needs to move on, find friends, take risks and most importantly trust again. The catalyst of a stranger in her bedroom is just the fright she needs to stop the navel gazing and start living.

If only Kat’s progression could be easy. She fights the introduction of a protector – a drooling loveable dog called Hercules.  She resists the overtures of the re-establishment of a relationship from her mother’s best friend, Edie, and she manages to halt the progress of a possible romance with a new boy across the park, Al. Kat’s selfishness, her deep grief, her sense of betrayal from both her father and Edie are still fresh wounds. These flaws are balanced with Kat’s snarky humour, her burgeoning understanding about how insular she has allowed herself to become, and her growing sense that it’s not always about her.

I love the gritty realism that defines this author’s writing. Chris doesn’t shy away from dog drools and farts. Kat screams when unhinged, yells thoughtlessly, and acts like an angry teenager who believes the world is against her. It’s both maddening and totally understandable. The other characters in the book are depicted through Kat’s eyes, so we slowly come to see their true qualities as Kat does. Jimmy, dad, musician, absent father turned desperate dad, trying to give Kat the space she needs, but quickly running out of patience. Al, dog lover, science geek with his own story to share, who tells Kat a few home truths she’s not ready to hear. And the enigmatic Edie, whose unusual habits start to make sense as pieces of Kat’s life puzzle fall into place.

Intruder is smart and funny, with authentic characters and poignant moments of insight and affection. Highly recommended.

Shine by Lauren Myracle

 This book does not fit neatly into any of my shelves. It defies and challenges categories. I put it into the romance, not because of Cat & Jason, but because of the beautifully developed friendship between Cat and her best friend, Patrick. Told in flashback, it is extremely sad to see that Cat has shut herself off from him for the past 3 years. All that wasted time!

While Patrick’s beating remains the central mystery of the story, it is evident that the author also wants to highlight the impact of small town poverty and intolerance on individuals. It’s a searing insight – sad and desperate.

Cat’s growing realisation of the need ‘to say yes to the world insted of no’ develops realistically.

Hard to read, but worth it.

Legend by Marie Lu

This is a fast-paced, action-packed dystopian romance with more emphasis on the dystopia and less on the romance. Again, we have dual narrative voices – swinging between the rebel, Day and the loyal prodigy, June. The author does a credible job of creating a Orwellian society where the masses are fed propaganda and live in poverty & squalor, while the elite have everything.

The two heroes are very focused, and have a strong moral sensibility. They recognise this trait in each other, and are drawn to the other’s courage and determination. Even once they know they are on opposing sides, they can’t take back their feelings. But, they do fight them. But the romance is underplayed. It is not a swoony or passionate depiction. The way their feelings develop is in keeping with the tone of the novel: somber, serious and uncertain.

The ending ramps up with an incredibly tense climax, and I was unable to tear my eyes from the page with the suspense. The author  does not make anything easy or painless. It is breathtaking, and heartbreaking to read.

I really like this cover. The other version has a girl and that is less likely to appeal to you boys. But a shiny abstract Hunger-Games type cover, might succeed. I am sure it will become a popular favourite in 2012. Read December 10. Review originally posted at Goodreads (but improved here).

Misfit by Jon Skovron

Skovron uses the third person present tense for the majority of this book – when we are with the MC, Jael, watching her life unfold. This is a rarely used point of view technique and I am not sure about it. Readers feel distanced from her, and the present tense is sometimes unsettling.

However, it is a clear contrast from the flashback parts of the novel, which occur quite often. Written in the standard past tense style, they fill in the stories of Jael’s parents – Paul, her father, the former demon hunter & exorcist, feared by all demons, and her mother Astarte, a demon herself. A forbidden love that develops against the backdrop of a complex evolving situation where immortal creatures’ powers rise and ebb through the vast oceans of time that they have.

The author’s knowledge of Catholicism ensures the narrative is well grounded with biblical references and archetypes, bringing it all together with flawed present-day characters who are all doing their best to survive and save each other. Not an easy job, given the villains they have to fight.

I found this novel an effective blend of action, humour and family drama. Jael has much to figure out about her identity, and how she fits into both Gaia and other dimensions as well. I can see how ‘Misfit’ could develop into a series, and would be happy to spend more time with Paul, Uncle Dagon and (especially) gorgeous Skater Rob.

But it works fine as a stand alone too. Read December 4. Review originally posted at Goodreads.

Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally

Jordan’s voice is immediately loud & strong. I found her characterization very engaging and interesting. She was depicted just as I imagined a girl who hangs out with boys all the time would be. But when she started to talk to girls, I liked that she was totally open with them. That despite all her socialization of boys’ behaviours, ultimately she still wanted to talk about her feelings – just like a girl.

However, there were times towards the end when she resorted to tears, and I wasn’t convinced by this behaviour and wanted her to rediscover her backbone. I see that she was in turmoil about her life, but still, she showed us through the rest of the novel how tough she was.  But this is a small quibble.

Knowing nothing about US football, I wonder how realistic her dreams of playing college football are, but again, this wondering didn’t spoil my overall enjoyment of the narrative. There is an awful lot of talk about grid iron, so I hope some of you boys might still pick it up, despite the cover. It moves along at a great pace, and it very easy to read.

Highly recommended. Read December 5th. Review originally posted at Goodreads.

 

 

 

Everybody See the Ants by A S King

There’s a lot happening in Lucky Linderman’s life and not much of it good, unless you count the dreams wherein he tries to rescue his grandfather Harry MIA during the Vietnam War.

Lucky’s narration is genuinely honest. His attempts to articulate his voice, to face his inner demons, and to recognise his self-worth are described both powerfully and painfully.

As with Vera Deitz, there is also the weird and the funny. The pergoda is almost out-classed by the ants, who have a snarky, insightful comment on the antics of the crazy people around Lucky, who in turn, threaten him, ignore him, & chastise him, but ultimately support him. There are several laugh out loud moments courtesy of those ants, but it’s important to remember their other more serious purpose: Highlighting depression and bullying, but not in a didactic or judgemental way. Part of the strength of the novel is King’s ability to encapsulate these themes effortlessly.

 

I loved this book. Read Oct 24. Review originally posted over at Goodreads.

Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnik

I am feeling extremely guilty about my lack of blogging. It’s not that I am not reading, it’s just that I am not reading books I can write about. But these holidays, I have managed to fit in two that I would like to talk about. One is this one – Epic Fail. A fairly nondescript title. It doesn’t really tell you anything about the book. Granted, the main character uses the expression a couple of times, but really it isn’t relevant or crucial to the plot.

What is significant is Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice.  The author of Epic Fail has updated the story to work as a contemporary YA novel. And it works pretty well too. Don’t worry if you haven’t ever read Pride and Prejudice, this book stands quite successfully alone too.

Elise’s family have just moved across America to California, and has to adjust to a new school. Both her older sister, Juliana and her younger sister Layla fit in and find friends almost immediately. Elise must work a little harder, and unfortunately she manages to get on the wrong side the handsome and famous Derek Edwards.

This is a light romp through typical American teenager world. But parts of it are very funny, and some quite touching. I enjoyed escaping into Elise’s world. Read Sept 29.

 

And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky

You know how important I think it is that you read? Well, some of you are well beyond that. I am pleased to say that there are lots of you reading. So to you people I say: It’s important to read different things, outside your comfort genre, away from the normal run-of-the-mill books that experts say boys read. And this book is one of these.

What do you think of the cover? I think the big red love heart indicates romance, and it’s there, but not ‘girly romance’ (whatever that is anyway). But the old-fashioned typewriter? The title? They are all significant and reflect the narrative beautifully.

You know I try hard to buy books with male narrators? But you really should also find books with female voices. Why not? It won’t hurt you. In fact, they may be helpful: figure out the way a girl thinks. Show you that the worries they have aren’t so different from you fellas. Girls read books with males as main characters all the time, and nobody thinks twice about that (ok, off my feminist high horse)!

But the main reason I encourage you to read it is simple: This is an extraordinary book. Keek’s narrative voice is defiant, vulnerable, and amazing. She is stuck in bed for the majority of the book dealing with the chicken pox, with little access to people or technology. The author does an excellent job of ensuring the story moves forward, often by flashing back to episodes in Keek’s (real name, Karina) life before she was sick. Because for a while, Keek had the perfect life, and then things fell apart. (see what I did there with the title?)

Keek’s obsession with, and dependence on, Sylvia Plath’s novel, ‘The Bell Jar’, really lifts ‘And then Things Fall Apart’ into a genuinely moving story. It deals with depression, divorce and dating with a humour and a bitterness that forces the reader to experience a very wide range of emotions. I bought a copy of Plath’s book a couple of years so, so if this book inspires you to, seek it out.

I sofa king loved this book. Read September 3rd. Original review posted at Goodreads.

Saving June by Hannah Harrington

                            

 Saving June by Hannah Harrington isn’t a book I thought I would ever put in the library. When I read about it on good reads, there were just so many positive comments, that I had to buy it for myself. Just look at the cover — It shouts Girly! The fact that it is published by Harlequin Teen also made me dubious. I must confess to doing a lot of hunting for this book. I was determined to have it. I’m not sure why it captured my attention so much, it just did. And boy am I glad I looked for it.

I know I say this often, but please believe me when I say: Do not judge this book by its cover. There is so much going on here. The main character Harper, is grieving the death of her sister, June, who committed suicide. Her divorced parents want to split her ashes between the two houses. Harper is determined to give her sister something more. She decides to go on a road trip all the way to California, and it is this journey that comprises the majority of the book.

Joining her on this trip, is her best friend Laney, and reluctant Jake. What makes this book so good, is that Harrington doesn’t just give us Harper’s story. Laney and Jake have their own stories to share,and they are equally as important. This is the story of three people not just one. Or, should we include June? Because ultimately, Harper needs to discover the truth about her sister. This will be painful, and we know that Harper needs time to face these truths.

With the road trip structure, readers inevitably meet characters who aren’t along for the ride. Usually they are merely introduced, then dropped off on the side of the road. But here, many of them are given depth, before being dropped off on the side of the road: Seth, Quentin, Pink-Haired boy and Carmen are all real people and crucial to the narrative.

Intelligent, observant and bittersweet, Saving June is an excellent example of the coming of age novel. I cannot recommend it highly enough to you. Loved it. Read August 7.

 

 

Trial by Fire by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Trial_by_FireThis is the second book in the Raised by Wolves series. I read the first one earlier this year, and was impressed with it, not only as a paranormal book, but also has a high quality teenage, angsty book. Bryn is the protaganist, a human with her own were pack, a young group of male & female werewolves who have been rescued from a cruel captor (don’t want to say too much if you haven’t read the first one).

Bryn is incredibly brave and protective. She is also attracted to Chase who has only been ‘changed’ for less than a year. But before she can act upon these feelings, or get through grade 10 and deal with what it means to be an alpha, she is thrown into a difficult stand off with the alpha of another pack, Shay, who is also her sworn enemy.

The action never lets up, and the suspense builds at a cracking pace. Barnes draws the reader in with careful world building, fleshed out characters and layer upon layer of deceit, betrayal and manipulation. It is very clever writing, and so much more than that.

Barnes also lets us into a strong emotional story. We feel the intensity of the ties between Bryn and her pack. We see her agonising over how best to keep them all safe. We puzzle with her as she tries to work out what Shay’s motives really are, and cheer her on when there is a chance that she might be able to out-maneover her enemies (and there are a lot of them).

I found Trial by Fire engrossing captivating and leaving me wanting more. Here is the cover of the first one, so you can seek it out in the library.

 

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