Review: Fire with Fire

fire with fireTitle:  Fire with Fire (Burn for Burn #2)
Author: Jenny Han, Siobhan Vivian
Genres: Realistic fiction, contemporary
Pages: 528
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Review copy: the lovely library
Availability: August 13, 2013

Summary: Lillia, Kat, and Mary had the perfect plan. Work together in secret to take down the people who wronged them. But things didn’t exactly go the way they’d hoped at the Homecoming Dance. Not even close. For now, it looks like they got away with it. All they have to do is move on and pick up the pieces, forget there ever was a pact. But it’s not easy, not when Reeve is still a total jerk and Rennie’s meaner than she ever was before.

And then there’s sweet little Mary…she knows there’s something seriously wrong with her. If she can’t control her anger, she’s sure that someone will get hurt even worse than Reeve was. Mary understands now that it’s not just that Reeve bullied her—it’s that he made her love him. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, burn for a burn. A broken heart for a broken heart. The girls are up to the task. They’ll make Reeve fall in love with Lillia and then they will crush him. It’s the only way he’ll learn. It seems once a fire is lit, the only thing you can do is let it burn… [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: The Burn for Burn series is the sort of series that people would call a ‘guilty pleasure’ — though why anyone should feel guilty about reading something that makes them happy is beyond me. Fire with Fire is the second book in the Burn for Burn series. The first book involves the three main girls (Lillia, Kat and Mary) getting their respective vengeance on those who have wronged them. It’s probably best to read the first book to follow what’s going on in the second, but it’s not strictly necessary for enjoying the sequel.

The second book, Fire with Fire (a brilliant title!), follows in the wake of Burn for Burn after the girls have gotten their revenge. Instead of being satisfied, the girls are determined to follow through and get revenge on the one guy who hurt Mary. Of course, the revenge plot does not go as planned.

The constantly shifting relationships create a lot of compelling drama and conflict, which is at once Fire with Fire’s strength and weakness. Fire with Fire takes place in the same alternate universe as many tv shows and YA books — you know, that bizarre alternate universe in which every girl is rich/cool/beautiful and the only clique that matters is the popular crowd. The romantic conflict, while highly emotional and interesting to read, definitely threw me. I just can’t get behind any romance that even vaguely follows the path of Irredeemable Hot Jerk Gets Redeemed. More forgiving and romantic readers would definitely disagree with me on this point — so if you like it, read it.

The high drama tone of the series felt heavy handed at times, but what sets the series apart from others is the development of the girls’ friendships and the tinge of the supernatural that creeps in from time to time. Crazy plot twists are this series’ strong point and it only gets better in the second book. Unfortunately, the foundation for these plot twists isn’t laid out clearly, so it’s a little jarring. If you enjoy revenge and romance in the alternate universe setting where everyone is beautiful and cool, then this book will be a pleasure to read.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday if you want a dose of revenge and romance.

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Nostalgia trip: The House of the Scorpion

house of the scorpionTitle: The House of the Scorpion
Author: Nancy Farmer
Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopian
Pages: 380
Publisher: Atheneum Book
Review Copy: the library
Availability: January 1, 2002

Summary: Matteo Alacrán was not born; He was harvested. His DNA came from El Patrón, lord of a country called Opium — a strip of poppy fields lying between the United States and what was once called Mexico. Matt’s first cell split and divided inside a petri dish. Then he was placed in the womb of a cow, where he continued the miraculous journey from embryo to fetus to baby. He is a boy now, but most consider him a monster — except for El Patrón. As Matt struggles to understand his existence, he is threatened by a sinister cast of characters, including El Patrón’s power-hungry family, and he is surrounded by a dangerous army of bodyguards. Escape is the only chance Matt has to survive. But escape from the Alacrán Estate is no guarantee of freedom, because Matt is marked by his difference in ways he doesn’t even suspect. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

The House of tlord of opiumhe Scorpion is one of those books from my childhood that I remember oh-so-fondly — it was terrifying and fascinating, and a great introduction to both the dystopian and science fiction genre. It had everything: Clones! Adventure! Political conflict! The worldbuilding was complex yet incredibly easy to fall into. The House of the Scorpion was my first Nancy Farmer book and it led me to read every other Nancy Farmer book I could get my hands on. Reading the book again as an adult did not diminish the experience. If anything, being older lets me truly appreciate the incredible storytelling and sense of adventure in the The House of the Scorpion.

When The Lord of Opium came out a month ago, I’d nearly forgotten about this childhood favorite. Now that the long-awaited sequel is out, I am ready to reread everything Nancy Farmer again.

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Review: Proxy

proxy

Title: Proxy
Author: Alex London
Genre: Action and Adventure, Dystopia
Pages: 379
Publisher: Philomel Books
Review Copy: ARC from publisher & final copy from library
Available: On shelves now
Cover image via Amazon

Review: Syd is an orphan and a proxy. He is the one to bear the physical punishment whenever Knox, his patron, breaks a rule. Unfortunately for Syd, Knox is not all that fond of following the rules.

In a nod to the middle grade novel The Whipping Boy and A Tale of Two Cities, Alex London pulls readers along on an exciting and dangerous ride in the future.

This future world is filled with greed, extreme poverty, and corruption. Knox and Syd are both used to the way their world works and have not been trying to change the system, but over the course of a few hours, they start re-evaluating their beliefs.

After Knox crashes a car and kills a girl, Syd is beaten and imprisoned. This sets in motion a chain of events that will radically change both of their lives. The pages of this book are packed with action and suspense and I did not want to put it down.

In addition to being a proxy, Syd also happens to be a gay person who describes himself as brown. These things are not the main point of the story though. This is not an issue book, but a dystopian novel that happens to have a gay main character who isn’t white. We need more stories like this.

All of this may seem very serious, but London does scatter a few doses of humor on the way. I appreciated those light moments.

Recommendation: Buy it now if you are a fan of dystopia and especially if you are a fan of The Whipping Boy with it’s humor and fast pace. If you would like to get a taste, preview the first three chapters below.

Extras:

First three chapters of Proxy

Cover reveal and first three chapters of the sequel Guardian due out May 19, 2014

Post on Diversity in YA: 4 Things I Learned (and 1 thing I didn’t) While Writing Proxy

 

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Review: Untold

UntoldTitle: Untold
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Genres: Mystery, Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 367
Publisher: Random House
Review Copy: Borrowed from roommate
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: It’s time to choose sides… On the surface, Sorry-in-the-Vale is a sleepy English town. But Kami Glass knows the truth. Sorry-in-the-Vale is full of magic. In the old days, the Lynburn family ruled with fear, terrifying the people into submission in order to kill for blood and power. Now the Lynburns are back, and Rob Lynburn is gathering sorcerers so that the town can return to the old ways.

But Rob and his followers aren’t the only sorcerers in town. A decision must be made: pay the blood sacrifice, or fight. For Kami, this means more than just choosing between good and evil. With her link to Jared Lynburn severed, she’s now free to love anyone she chooses. But who should that be? —(Summary and image from Goodreads)

Review: Untold is officially my favorite of Sarah Rees Brennan’s books. Normally the second book in a trilogy drives me crazy because it feels as if the entire thing is only functioning as a bridge between books one and three, but Untold handles the fallout of Unspoken by providing our heroine and her friends with concrete goals, things to do, and a strict deadline. (Or rather, our heroine refuses to be sidelined by Lillian and takes matters into her own hands, despite being outnumbered, outgunned, and totally having difficulties in the romance department.)

One of the things I appreciated most about Untold is the widening of the world. There are several more points of view in this book than book one, and these points of view not only allow a reader to check up on various characters’ emotional states (hint: there’s a lot of heartbreak everywhere) but they also allow us to get new perspectives on familiar characters. I particularly enjoyed seeing how Ash views both Lillian and Jared, but I wish that we had gotten more from Holly. Holly’s plotline was one of the biggest surprises for me, and I’m excited about the possibilities she will bring to the narrative in book three. Angela could have used more screen time as well.

There were many other characters with expanded roles who didn’t get points of view. Rusty was one of them, but I think I enjoyed the drama going on with Kami’s parents the most. Too often in YA series the parents are inexplicably absent, and I loved seeing how her parents handled (or didn’t handle) the mess that Sorry-in-the-Vale was becoming. Terrible as it is to say, I was pleased to see the family start falling apart—there should be consequences for secrets and the betrayal of trust! Considering what happens at the end of the book, I’m hoping for a lot more fallout in this area in book three. I also found myself enjoying Lillian this time around, though as anticipated it was more of a “enjoy hating with the occasional dash of pity mixed in” than anything else.

Speaking of consequences, I think the romantic angst was handled nicely, even if it resolved itself as I expected (for given levels of resolved, considering there is still another book to go). Miscommunication isn’t my favorite romantic separation trope, but there were so many things for our characters to misinterpret that I actually thought it was believable that it would take 80% of the book to resolve some key issues. Still, if there’s one thing I would love to tell the characters, it is that they ought to use their words to say what they mean. Honesty at least helps make things clearer most of the time.

Recommendation: Get it soon. Sarah Rees Brennan produced a strong second book with a great mix of gothic horror, confused romance, and impending doom. Things have gotten darker and creepier in Sorry-in-the-Vale, and I am looking forward to the conclusion of the series next year.

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Piles of Poetry

Ever since I heard Humpty Dumpty, I have enjoyed poetry. The silly, serious, and even the bizarre have spoken to me. Even if you aren’t generally a poetry fan, I think some of these could win you over. Here are some novels-in-verse, poetry collections, books that scatter poems throughout and a few novels that are simply poetry related. I also threw in one spoken word piece because it shouldn’t be missed.

Novels in Verse

dreamer Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist by Margarita Engle

Harcourt Children’s Books

Summary: Newbery Honor-winner Margarita Engle tells the story of Cuban folk hero, abolitionist, and women’s rights pioneer Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda in this powerful new YA historical novel in verse.

 

mesquite

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Lee & Low Books

Summary: When Lupita discovers Mami has been diagnosed with cancer, she is terrified by the possibility of losing her mother, the anchor of their close-knit Mexican American family.

In the midst of juggling high school classes, finding her voice as an actress, and dealing with friends who don’t always understand, Lupita desperately wants to support her mother by doing anything she can to help. While Papi is preoccupied with caring for Mami, Lupita takes charge of her seven younger siblings. Struggling in her new roles and overwhelmed by change, Lupita escapes the chaos of home by writing in the shade of a mesquite tree, seeking refuge in the healing power of words.

Told in evocative free verse, Lupita’s journey is both heart-wrenching and hopeful. Under the Mesquite is an empowering story about the testing of family bonds, the strength of a teenage girl navigating pain and hardship, and the kind of love that cannot be uprooted.

inside
The Language Inside by Holly Thompson

Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Summary: A nuanced novel in verse that explores identity in a multicultural world.

Emma Karas was raised in Japan; it’s the country she calls home. But when her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, Emma’s family moves to a town outside Lowell, Massachusetts, to stay with Emma’s grandmother while her mom undergoes treatment.

Emma feels out of place in the United States.She begins to have migraines, and longs to be back in Japan. At her grandmother’s urging, she volunteers in a long-term care center to help Zena, a patient with locked-in syndrome, write down her poems. There, Emma meets Samnang, another volunteer, who assists elderly Cambodian refugees. Weekly visits to the care center, Zena’s poems, dance, and noodle soup bring Emma and Samnang closer, until Emma must make a painful choice: stay in Massachusetts, or return home early to Japan.

Poetry Scattered Through or Poetry Related

death
Death, Dickinson and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez

Running Press Kids

Summary: To make sense of her high school crush’s suicide, Frenchie retraces her steps the last night she was with him. (this is a very brief summary, but if you want to know more, check out Jessica’s review from earlier this month)

jumped
Jumped in by Patrick Flores-Scott

Henry Holt and Co.

Summary: Sam has the rules of slackerhood down: Don’t be late to class. Don’t ever look the teacher in the eye. Develop your blank stare. Since his mom left, he has become an expert in the art of slacking, especially since no one at his new school gets his intense passion for the music of the Pacific Northwest—Nirvana, Hole, Sleater-Kinney. Then his English teacher begins a slam poetry unit and Sam gets paired up with the daunting, scarred, clearly-a-gang-member Luis, who happens to sit next to him in every one of his classes. Slacking is no longer an option—Luis will destroy him. Told in Sam’s raw voice and interspersed with vivid poems, Jumped In by Patrick Flores-Scott is a stunning debut novel about differences, friendship, loss, and the power of words. (Rich in Color review available here)

crystal
No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Carolrhoda Books

Summary: Coretta Scott King award-winning author Vaunda Micheaux Nelsons great uncle was Lewis Micheaux, owner of the famous National Memorial African Bookstore. Located in the heart of Harlem, New York, from 1939 to 1975, Micheauxs bookstore became the epicenter of black literary life and a rallying point for the Black Nationalist movement. Some of its famous and most loyal patrons include Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Langston Hughes, and W.E.B. DuBois. In this inspiring work of historical fiction, Nelson tells the true story of a man with a passion for knowledge and of a bookstore whose influence has become legendary.

Poetry Collections

surrender
The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle

Square Fish

Summary: It is 1896. Cuba has fought three wars for independence and still is not free. People have been rounded up in reconcentration camps with too little food and too much illness. Rosa is a nurse, but she dares not go to the camps. So she turns hidden caves into hospitals for those who know how to find her.

Black, white, Cuban, Spanish—Rosa does her best for everyone. Yet who can heal a country so torn apart by war? Acclaimed poet Margarita Engle has created another breathtaking portrait of Cuba. The Surrender Tree is a 2009 Newbery Honor Book, the winner of the 2009 Pura Belpre Medal for Narrative and the 2009 Bank Street – Claudia Lewis Award, and a 2009 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year.

wreath
A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson

Houghton Mifflin Books for Children

Summary: In 1955, people all over the United States knew that Emmett Louis Till was a fourteen-year-old African American boy lynched for supposedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. The brutality of his murder, the open-casket funeral, and the acquittal of the men tried for the crime drew wide media attention.

Award-winning poet Marilyn Nelson reminds us of the boy whose fate helped spark the civil rights movement. This martyr’s wreath, woven from a little-known but sophisticated form of poetry, challenges us to speak out against modern-day injustices, to “speak what we see.”

dizzy
Dizzy in Your Eyes: Poems About Love by Pat Mora

Ember

Summary: Beloved children’s book author and speaker Pat Mora has written an original collection of poems, each with a different teen narrator sharing unique thoughts, moments, sadness, or heart’s desire: the girl who loves swimming, plunging into the water that creates her own world; the guy who leaves flowers on the windshield of the girl he likes. Each of the teens in these 50 original poems, written using a variety of poetic forms, will be recognizable to the reader as the universal emotions, ideas, impressions, and beliefs float across the pages in these gracefully told verses.

Also included are the author’s footnotes on the various types of poetic forms used throughout to help demystify poetry and showcase its accessibility, which makes this a perfect classroom tool for teachers as well as an inspiration to readers who may wish to try their own hand at writing.

red hot
Red Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Being Young and Latino in the United States Edited by Lori Marie Carlson

Henry Holt and Co.

Summary: Ten years after the publication of the acclaimed Cool Salsa, editor Lori Marie Carlson has brought together a stunning variety of Latino poets for a long-awaited follow-up. Established and familiar names are joined by many new young voices, and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Oscar Hijuelos has written the Introduction.

The poets collected here illuminate the difficulty of straddling cultures, languages, and identities. They celebrate food, family, love, and triumph. In English, Spanish, and poetic jumbles of both, they tell us who they are, where they are, and what their hopes are for the future. — All cover images and summaries via IndieBound

Spoken Word Poetry

Moccasins and Microphones: Modern Native Storytelling Through Performance Poetry – The Spoken Word Team from Santa Fe Indian School


The video below explains a bit about the project. The Moccasins & Microphones: Modern Native Storytelling Through Performance Poetry Trailer from Cordillera Productions on Vimeo.

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Review: Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia

deathTitle: Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia
Author: Jenny Torres Sanchez
Genres: Realistic fiction, contemporary
Pages: 272
Publisher: Running Press Kids
Review copy: the charming library
Availability: May 28, 2013

Summary: Frenchie Garcia can’t come to grips with the death of Andy Cooper. Frenchie’s obsession with death and Emily Dickinson won’t help her understand the role she played during Andy’s “one night of adventure.” But when she meets Colin, she may have found the perfect opportunity to recreate that night. While exploring the emotional depth of loss and transition to adulthood, Sanchez’s sharp humor and clever observations bring forth a richly developed voice. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I was drawn to this book because, well, I’m a sucker for long and elaborate titles. Fortunately, my love for long titles did not lead me astray. Frenchie Garcia’s obsession with death is a very real one — she lives on the down the street from a cemetery. But, as the book progresses, it becomes clear that her preoccupation with death is not only caused by her locale. The death of her classmate Andy Cooper occupies her thoughts and takes a toll on her relationship with her closest friends. Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia reads more like a mystery than anything else. The story of Andy Cooper’s death and Frenchie’s role in it is slowly revealed as Frenchie’s life unravels.

Bits and pieces of Emily Dickinson’s poetry help take Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia to the next level. Frenchie loves Dickinson’s poems and finds comfort in her one-sided conversations with Dickinson. Each poem in the book gives meaning to Frenchie’s experiences. It’s also a great crash course in Dickinson’s poetry if you’re not familiar with it.

The book’s strongest point is the portrayal of Frenchie’s relationships with her close friends and parents.  Even though the book is from Frenchie’s perspective, you can really get a sense of what her friends think of her and how they treat her. Frenchie’s emotional turmoil leads her to sabotage her own friendships, but they hold strong. Still, Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia is an interesting reflection on death and those it affects, as well as the strength of friendship.

Recommendation: Get it soon, especially if you’re a fan of Emily Dickinson!

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