What I’m Reading: January edition

Given the fact that I’m in the process of drafting book three and usually avoid reading while in draft-land, I got a ton of reading done this month! I’m going to try to keep these mini-reviews as “mini” as possible or I’ll be here all day…

Here’s what I read in January:

I found Karen Thompson Walker’s THE AGE OF MIRACLES to be a profoundly moving coming-of-age story. Julia is eleven the day the newscasters announce the Slowing: for reasons scientists can’t explain, the earth’s rotation has begun to slow, making days and nights a little longer with each passing day. At first the change is barely noticeable, but soon days are stretching to 27 hours, 30, even longer. Birds fall from the sky. Whales wash up on the beach. Crops fail. And while all this happens, Julia trudges on through middle school.

I thought this novel nailed the painful, confusing years of adolescence. Quite a few times I read a passage so honest, so brutally unfair, that I sobbed. And the way the entire story juxtaposes Julia’s loss of innocence with the slow deterioration of the planet is incredibly powerful. The writing was lovely, but I actually think it was this parallel–innocence cannot be reclaimed once lost, some things change permanently–that really packed the emotional punch.

This is definitely “soft” science-fiction. The focus is on Julia and childhood, on falling in love and learning the stubborn unfairness of life, on the heart-wrenching process of growing up. Powerful, moving stuff.

 

I’ve been looking forward to Jennifer Rush’s ALTERED for a good long while. (Probably ever since she did some photo posts of each Altered boy on her blog!) This story follows Anna, who helps her father conduct research on the four genetically altered boys living in the lab below their farmhouse. When the boys stage an escape to avoid being taken by the Branch, the company funding the project, Anna ends up on the run with them.

This is an action-packed thriller, layered with secrets and lies. Sam, the leader of the boys, suffers amnesia and the steady revelation of clues that will help guide the group to safety is addictive. While this is an engrossing page-turner, my favorite aspect was the boys themselves. Each has a distinct personality, and their dynamic as a group is so much fun to read. Anna, too, stumbles upon some game-changing discoveries throughout the course of the novel. I’m looking forward to see where things go in the sequel.

 

I have been counting down the days to Veronica Rossi’s THROUGH THE EVER NIGHT since I finished reading its predecessor UNDER THE NEVER SKY. (So, pretty much a solid year.) This is one of my favorite ongoing series at the moment, and the sequel does not disappoint. I may have loved it even more than the first, and I loved that one something fierce.

TTEN picks up where UTNS left off. Perry and Aria are reunited, but new tensions surround them. Perry’s tribe isn’t quick to accept Aria, a dweller, into their compound. Perry is struggling to fill his brother’s shoes as Blood Lord. Then there’s the added pressure of Aria trying to locate the Still Blue for Hess to secure Talon’s safety/freedom, all while poor Roar battles his own demons. And all the smaller characters of book one–Marron, Cinder, Soren–are woven effortlessly into this tale, creating bigger stakes and an even more intricate story. I loved this characters in book one, but now I truly see how important and purposefully each is.

Rossi’s writing is as unique and poetic as always. The Aether feels like more of a threat than ever. The relationship between every single character seeps off the page. I’ve started to think that Perry and Roar and Aria are real. I know what they will say or how they will react to situations. I fear for them. I cry with them. I really can’t do this book justice. If you’re not reading this series, you should be. I’m already counting down the days to INTO THE STILL BLUE.

 

I had the pleasure of reading another fellow Thirteener‘s book this month: DUALED by Elsie Chapman. This book has a killer premise: In the city of Kersh, every citizen has a genetic double–an Alt–who they will be tasked with killing in order to claim (and secure) their place within the safe haven. The assignment is initiated some time between the age of ten and twenty, after which the citizen has a thirty day window to find and eliminate their Alt.

West Granger is fifteen when she receives her assignment. She’s already lost most of her family, and is one tough cookie as a result. As she works to track down her Alt, she begins to wonder if she is the version worthy of living, all while pushing away the one good relationship left in her life–Chord, a friend of her brother’s–in an attempt to keep him safe. This is an intense and brutal world that West lives in. Chapman’s writing is detailed and nuanced, and she is not afraid to put her character’s in dark corners or let them make morally ambiguous choices. A few strings are left open at the end of the novel, making room for what is sure to be another gritty, dangerous sequel.

 

SAVING JUNE by Hannah Harrington is another Katy Upperman rec, so it’s really no surprise that I ended up loving this music-rich, road-trip-centric contemporary.

After Harper’s older sister, June, commits suicide, Harper embarks on a journey to California to spread her ashes in the ocean. Tagging along is Harper’s best friend, Laney, and Jake Tolan, a mysterious boy who knew June but is a stranger to Harper. She finds Jake annoying, at best, but he has a car and when offers to drive, Harper and Laney do not not pass their only means of getting to the west coast.

I am so glad I stuck with this one, because I fell in love with it very slowly. The first hundred pages were only so-so for me. The writing was lovely, but I just couldn’t connect with the characters, and their road-trip seemed a bit convoluted, sidetracked by tourist attractions and protest rallies. Then all of a sudden–I’m not sure exactly what did it–I found myself in love with Harper and Laney and Jake. I didn’t want their story to end. I was rooting for them, aching with them. They each have their own battles, and the backdrop of music and open roads weaves into their search for answers so wonderfully. There’s a subtle (and powerful) theme of confidence and self-doubt woven into this novel. Harper compares herself to her sister despite their obvious differences. She feels like the lesser of them, the disappointment, the failure. Her journey to acceptance of herself and her sister’s death happens gradually, and by the final pages, I was moved deeply. This was a wonderful read.

 

Beth Revis’ gripping ACROSS THE UNIVERSE trilogy came to an end this month with SHADES OF EARTH. While I’m beyond bummed that my spines don’t match on my bookshelf–Why Razorbill! WHY?!–I thoroughly enjoyed the final installment of this series. As Elder and Amy take the shuttle from Godspeed to Centauri-Earth and wake the frozens, they find their paradise is much more like the world Orion warned them of. The planet indeed has “monsters”–carnivorous pterodactyl-like creatures–and perhaps even more. As members of their colony begin to be killed off, Amy and Elder race to discover who (or what) is killing their people. Extra tension is present by way of Amy’s father, who is leading the military, and Elder, who is trying to remain a leader figure to his own people.

Narrated again in alternating perspectives from Amy and Elder, this is an addictive, fast read. Details that popped up in book one resurface in SoE, tying everything together in a thoroughly satisfying manner. No one is safe–no one–and the ending itself, like book one, is filled with hope. Things are not perfect, but there is a future for those left standing, should they chose to work together. I don’t want to say much more because otherwise I risk spoiling a few of the fantastic twists, but if you enjoyed the first two books in the series, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with this conclusion.

 

I also read Lenore Applehans’ LEVEL 2, which is set in a stark afterworld limbo (a la purgatory) where Felicia Ward is trapped with nothing to do but relieve her memories from Earth. Everything changes when a boy from those memories breaks in to Level 2 to find her and recruit her for a strengthening rebel cause.

I loved the premise of this. Much of the story is told through Felicia cuing up months worth of memories. These flashbacks, interspersed with the present timeline, create for a fast-paced read. I was constantly trying to piece together how certain characters fit into Felicia’s history, as well as how, exactly, she died. Religion also plays a large part in Felicia’s life, which stood out to me as extremely unique in the YA sci-fi realm. The present timeline, on the other hand, is blisteringly paced, with only a day or two (I think?) passing. I wish I’d been able to spend a bit more time in Level 2 itself, but I imagine Level 3 (the sequel) will focus more on the other-worldly side of the story than Felicia’s time on earth.  Hard-core fans of afterlife stories and the sci-fi genre should pick this up.

 

I adored Kristin Halbrook’s NOBODY BUT US. The story follows Will and Zoe, two teens trying to outrun their dark pasts. Zoe has an abusive father and Will’s been in and out of various foster homes/state care facilities his entire life, constantly moved around on account of his inability to stay out of trouble and away from fights. They hop in Will’s car and head for Vegas, with the mindset that Zoe can finish high school there and Will, finally eighteen and free of the state, can work.

Yup, that’s pretty much it. These two do not have a detailed or well thought out plan. They do not always make good choices. In fact, many of their choices are down-right foolish, tunnel-visioned, no foresight, in the moment choices. They don’t seem to see that they have other options. They are so blinded by each other and escaping their pasts that they don’t seek out help when they should. Simply put: they make things worse for themselves.

Even still, I adored their story. Will and Zoe have never been able to count on anyone but themselves, so their decisions to cling to each other at all costs felt real and honest. Told in alternating POVs, we get a good look inside both characters’ heads. (And boy does Halbrook excel when it comes to creating two distinct, separate voices.) Will has a bit of an anger problem and yet it is so clear that he loves Zoe with all his heart and wants to give her the world on a platter. Zoe, however, has lived most of her life in fear of her father, and is trying to learn to stand up for herself, to not always expect/assume the worst of people. These teens are damaged and yet they help mend each other in ways no one else can. As such, I suppose it’s not so surprising that they don’t seek out help when things go from bad to worse. Will and Zoe’s relationship–the entire novel, really–is as much an emotional roller-coaster for the reader as it is for them. And the ending! I wholeheartedly applaud Halbrook for writing it as she did. I imagine it may upset some readers, but I felt it was honest and brave.  Truthfully, I don’t think Will and Zoe’s tale would be as powerful and raw if it had ended any other way. Highly recommend!

Yeah, so I’m clearly incapable of writing “mini” reviews. This took way too much time, but then again I love gushing about books, so I regret nothing! Tell me, what did you read in January?

And now that it’s February, don’t forget to join me on Twitter on Thursday (~9pm EST) for #namethatbook! We’re playing only on even months this year, so this will be the first game of 2013. Hope to see you then!

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