What I’m Reading: April edition

I spent most of this month revising book two based on my critique partner’s brilliant feedback. But somehow, I still managed to plow my way through a pretty solid stack of books. Let’s get to it!

Books I read this April:

After the killer cliffhanger at the end of Robison Well’s VARIANT, I’ve been super anxious for the sequel, FEEDBACK, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to get my hands on an ARC. FEEDBACK doesn’t come out until later this year though (October, I think), so this review is going to be pretty vague.

FEEDBACK starts off exactly where VARIANT left off. Benson may have escaped Maxfield Academy, but he’s just beginning to uncover the secrets of the school. Still highly sought after by school officials, he’s forced to lay low in the small town he stumbles into at the end of book one. We learn a lot more about Jane, the history of the school itself, and the full scope of what is happening to those that enter the school (and even worse, end up in detention). Like I said, this is vague because I don’t want to ruin things. But rest assured that questions are answered, friendships are tested, and the tagline from the first book remains as true as ever: Trust no one.

 

Jessica Spotswood’s BORN WICKED was such a refreshing read. Witches! Alternate history! Gardens and magic and courtships! This is lovely debut, with gorgeous writing and a slower pace. (Note: slower does not mean boring. The pacing perfectly matches the relationship and tensions throughout, both with Cate and her sisters, and Cate and the townspeople that populate her life).

Two things stood out to me in this novel: the love interest, and the relationship between the sisters. Let’s start with Finn. I adore this man. I love how he is not angsty and brooding. He is not the “bad boy” type. He is smart and passionate and well-spoken. He is a bit of a bookworm. He’s a gentlemen and I fell for him alongside Cate.

And then the sisters. Cate feels a lot of responsibility when it comes to protecting her sisters. Tensions are high between her and her middle sister, Maura. The youngest, Tess, is a sweetheart. The relationship between all three seemed heartfelt and authentic. I’m anxious to see how things progress in book two. The ending is not a cliffhanger in my opinion, but Cate does make a decision that is certain to come with consequences, and this sisters have a lot ahead of them.

 

I have heard great things about Patrick Ness’ THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO. It’s been on my TBR list for ages. I finally got around to reading it this month and I wish I hadn’t waited so long. This book was near impossible to put down. Set on the planet of New World, Todd is the youngest boy in his town of men. Everyone can hear everyone’s thoughts in an endless stream of overbearing Noise. Even the animals (which makes for my favorite talking dog to ever grace the pages of YA lit). After stumbling across a silent patch in the swamp beyond his village, Todd uncovers a dangerous secret and is forced to run.

There was a lot I loved about this novel. The dialect. The world-building. The terrifying horrors of how a society can cave in on itself. The way humans can learn to know each other in ways deeper than just hearing each other’s thoughts. There is a particularly beautiful scene about 2/3 through the novel that captures this. I don’t want to spoil it, but Ness’ ability to touch on the subtitles of human emotion so poignantly brought me to tears. Todd’s voice is honest and real and heart-breaking. He is a wonderfully flawed and brave character. I want to hug him.

I had just two issues with this novel. One is small: the novel is written in first person present and yet there is a moment where Todd sees something and yet we, as the reader, are kept in the dark. Todd tells us, “I see, I see…” but he won’t explain what he sees. To me, this breaks all the rules of writing in such a tense, but perhaps others won’t feel as cheated as I did. And then the ending. If you read my reviews often, you know I have a thing against cliffhangers. This one has a big one. (Thank goodness book two is already out, or I may have lost it.) Either way, this is still a wonderful read, and I highly recommend the novel, but if you do pick it up, just know the main conflict is not resolved by the close. This book will leave you hanging at the height of the climax. Just like Todd, you might say eff, (only you won’t say eff, you’ll say what eff actually stands for).

 

I read Nina LaCour’s THE DISENCHANTMENTS last month and loved it so much I raced out to pick up her first novel, HOLD STILL. Oh, how I loved this one as well. It is very different than TD, but just as moving. Caitlin is starting her junior year frozen and shocked by the loss of her best friend, Ingrid, who took her own life.

This novel is almost poetic in its prose. The chapters are short and read like mini vignettes. LaCour is extremely gifted when it comes to wordplay. There are some simple yet profound statements in this novel that reach out and cut into your chest. Caitlin’s voice is achingly real and her path of recovery, heart-wrenching. So many small moments play into her ability to move on: new friendships, photography, mix-tapes, a tree house, a hidden diary. I could probably write a short essay on how masterfully each is incorporated, but instead I’ll say just this: HOLD STILL is a wonderful look on how death (and suicide) leave people close to the victim crippled. How we doubt how much we even knew the person who took their life. How we feel guilty for their deaths even if it was beyond our control. How we fear moving forward because we aren’t ready to let go.

This novel reads like one long, beautiful goodbye. I cried several times. But it’s a lovely read and well worth the tears. I can’t recommend it enough.

 

I’m just going to come out and say this: Paolo Bacigalupi’s THE DROWNED CITIES, a companion novel to SHIP BREAKER, is masterful. I don’t use that word lightly. In fact, I rarely use it, but this book is so very deserving. This is a dark and harrowing story about war. How it tears apart families and friends, communities and cities. About how no one can truly escape its wake of devastation.

Like with SHIP BREAKER, the themes in Bacigalupi’s newest novel are uncomfortably close to home. Children are snatched up by the feuding armies at civil war within the US, where they are either recruited to join their ranks, or killed without hesitation. The world-building is fantastically authentic, from the flooded cities and outsider villages, to the military systems and battling armies. As painful as it was to read, this novel felt realistic, even down to the hardened and desensitized state of most of the humans that populated it. Never have I read a story where I have been so truly terrified for the well-being of its characters, where the stakes have been incredibly high and no one — NO ONE — ever felt safe.

This is not an easy read, but I think it is an important one. The things happening in this story are happening today, just not here in the US. For that, we are very fortunate. Like THE HUNGER GAMES, this book really makes a reader feel the grueling nature of war and, above all, its impact on the lives of children. I dare-say it might even do it better. And for all the dark and bleakness in this novel, there is a shining beacon of hope that left me feeling not only moved, but changed, when I finally closed the cover. (And it’s in stores TODAY, so go pick up your copy!)

So that was my April. What did you read this month?

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