review


Mary’s entire world is a tiny village surrounded by tall fences. Outside the fences is the Forest of Hands and Teeth, filled with the Unconsecrated. Zombies. Anyone they bite becomes one of them, and fear of the Unconsecrated has ruled the world since the Return. As far as the villagers know, they are the last living people in the world. The rules of their tiny society are strict, and above all, they are ruled by the Sisters, a religious order that controls every aspect of life, and hides what could be vital knowledge from the people. Their society is about order and commitment and rules, but Mary dreams of more. She dreams of the wider world, and of love, which comes second to duty and commitment in the village (if it is to be considered at all). She dreams of seeing the ocean, just like the picture her mother used to show her, a place without the Unconsecrated that reaches as far as the eye can see. 

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is a beautifully written book. From page one, I was simultaneously marveling at the gorgeous, eloquent words, wanting to slow down and savor them, and holding my breath, racing to find out what would happen, in the end, to Mary, the strong, determined heroine. My one complaint with this book is that Mary is so real, so believably conflicted and wonderful, that the other characters were eclipsed and felt largely like paper dolls characterized only by their interactions with Mary; however, this is an acceptable consequence of the consuming first-person narration. 

It is dark and captivating and ultimately hopeful (and devastating). It’s about a lot more than zombies; to me, this felt first and foremost like a survival story, but it wasn’t just about the actual survival of the characters, but also the survival of Mary’s soul. The events that set off the story have Mary deeply questioning her faith and her world and her dreams, and the struggle to hold on to her dreams is as evident and important as the struggle not to be lost to the Unconsecrated. This is very much a complex, multilayered story, and honestly, I think I’d need to read it at least once more (slowly) in order to fully soak it all in. 

There is a romance here, too, but as two corners of this love triangle are secondary characters, they are not entirely real, and while Mary’s perspective on the romance was interesting, I didn’t feel like this book really was much of a romance. The cover blurbs that say it is are a bit misleading.

The ending was open, and I hope there’s more to come. Whatever Carrie Ryan next writes will be wonderful, as the lyrical writing style that makes her debut shine would make even the most trite story into lovely reading. I still need to reread this book at some point in the future to take it all in, but I’ll say right now that it’s amazing. Also, I am going to have nightmares about the Unconsecrated. 

Five out of six windows:

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Wondrous Strange is about Kelley, an aspiring actress in New York City, who, like most people, doesn’t really believe in faeries offstage. She’s an understudy in an off-Broadway (way off Broadway) production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and that’s as close to the supernatural as she comes, until a horse (that isn’t really a horse) who eats frosted cereal (and nothing else) takes up residence in her bathtub, and she has one too many encounters with a weird stranger.

The weird stranger, Sonny, is really just trying to protect Kelley, but she doesn’t know that. He notices that something about her is different–that she is not exactly human. He guards the Samhain gate in Central Park. That gate connects the dangerous, enchanted faerie realm with the human one, and the consequences if certain faeries were to get through could be disastrous. 

Faeries, as you may have noticed, are huge right now. And, while this was an enjoyable read, honestly, there are a lot of better faerie stories; this one is largely unremarkable. It’s readable, sure, and enjoyable enough, but…meh. The characters weren’t particularly well-drawn, and their relationships seemed unrealistic and weirdly paced. I didn’t really believe a lot of their interactions, and the romance seemed forced and weird. The plot and faerie mythology (including the Shakespeare) used here were interesting, but not particularly original. I loved the New York aspect, though! Overall, this book can best be described as fine. Mediocre. It was a good read, though noticeably flawed, but it probably won’t stick with you and you won’t feel compelled to read it again or anything. If there’s a sequel, I’ll read it if it comes my way, but probably won’t go out of my way to get a copy. Three out of six windows. 

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A Kiss In Time is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. In this story, when the princess of Euphrasia pricks her finger on a spindle and the entire country falls asleep, it also disappears off the map. No one knows it’s there, until a couple of idiot teenage boys (escapees from an educational trip) hack through the thickets and find it. One of them, Jack, decides to kiss Talia when he finds her asleep on the floor. Which I personally find really creepy (Edward Cullen level creepy) even if it’s supposed to be fairy tale love or something. Remember, Edward watches Bella sleep because they’re meant to be; destiny (real or imagined) does not make this any less creepy.

Anyway. Talia wakes up, and so does everyone else in Euphrasia. They discover they’ve been asleep for three centuries, and the modern world is not what they’re used to. Jack and Talia tell the story, alternating chapters, as this Sleeping Beauty leaves the only place and time she’s ever known, still looking over her shoulder for the witch who cursed her centuries ago. 

This is a fun twist on fairy-tale retelling, and I do love fairy tales. I like the idea, but the story itself isn’t really fast-paced, and it took me awhile to get through; it does not beg to be read. Despite the fact that it’s easy to put down, though, it’s also easy to pick back up, and overall an enjoyable reading experience. 

The characters weren’t extremely well-drawn, but I did appreciate that they change realistically based on their new experiences; at first, Jack is an idiot and Talia is a spoiled brat, but they manage to move beyond that. The changes, however, are told more than they are shown. It’s sad, but I was more intrigued by some minor characters (particularly Meryl, Jack’s sister) than I was by the (kind of boring) main characters. 

The alternating narration was not particularly necessary. Neither voice was particularly distinct or developed; it was more like the same person was changing point of view than two different people were changing the story. It’s like a picture drawn by the same person from two different angles, rather than the two different interpretations of a scene drawn by different artists, like good alternating narration should be. The writing as a whole is fine, but not exceptional.

[SLIGHT SPOILER WARNING]Jack and Talia’s happy-ever-after is too easy. The great quest that all fairy tales come with is relatively simple, but they act like it’s a hard-won battle against evil, when really it’s all kind of a misunderstanding.[END SPOILERS]

As a whole, however, this book was, while unremarkable, not terrible. I don’t finish terrible books. For fans of fairy tale retellings, it will do. However, I expected more of Alex Flinn, because she is a talented writer, and could do much better than this. Two and a half out of six windows.

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Bloomability has been one of my favorite books ever since I picked up first, years ago. It’s about Dinnie, a girl who’s always moved from place to place with her box of things, following her father from opportunity to opportunity. She’s quiet and introspective and adaptable, but when her aunt and uncle take her with them from her home, from the only family she knows, she doesn’t want to be adaptable. She wants to be with her parents and her sister, Stella, and Stella’s new baby, and her brother, Crick. This opportunity is a lot more than she realizes when she first leaves home, though. Her aunt and uncle are moving to Lugano, Switzerland, to work at an American boarding school. The school is American, but its students come from all kinds of backgrounds and from all over the world. Though she’s reluctant at first, this is an experience that changes Dinnie in amazing ways she couldn’t have imagined before.

This book inspired me. At first, it just inspired me to wish I could go to an international boarding school in Lugano, Switzerland, but after my parents told me I was being ridiculous, it didn’t stop being an inspiration. Bloomability inspires me to seek out new experiences, new places, new people, and to take advantage of opportunities. It’s also the reason I started looking to go to college overseas. I actually applied to a school in Lugano, and wanted more than anything to go there, but I can’t afford it. I might be going to school in Germany, though (my decision is still not made). I want to experience new parts of the world, and meet people from even more different places, and see it all from somewhere new, an idea whose seed was planted by reading this book. It’s one of the books that has most affected my life.

More than my personal love for this book, though, rereading it with a more critical eye was something I thought might be disappointing. It wasn’t; instead, I was only now able to realize how truly amazing this novel is. I want to read it again! Sharon Creech writes gorgeous, gorgeous prose, and creates fully realized, very interesting characters, and tells a story that really means something. Dinnie’s voice is distinct and honest and authentic and a pleasure to read. She recreates the setting of Lugano so vividly that I wanted to move there! It’s not just the characters I love; the way they relate to each other is also very well done. I also love the descriptions of Dinnie’s dreams, and, now, seeing how they connect to her life (connections I wasn’t always able to make reading it years ago). Her window signs, too! And Guthrie, his love of life is contagious even to the reader. 

I could go on, describing everything I love about this book, but then this review would be as long as the book itself, because I love everything. This book works on so many levels, too; when I was ten, it was enjoyable and inspiring and made me want to see the world. Now, it’s still those things but it’s also brilliant and meaningful and beautiful in ways I couldn’t recognize then. There’s so much more to this book than a story about a girl who goes to boarding school in Switzerland. I really don’t know how I can communicate how much you need to read this book effectively, but, trust me, you do. Bloomability is hopeful, gorgeous, inspiring, and, for me, life-changing.

Six out of six windows and a heart:

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Along for the Ride is classic Sarah Dessen, which means, of course, that it’s awesome. The novel follows Auden, an insomniac overachiever who doesn’t really know how to let loose, live, have fun, and connect with people, through the summer after she graduates high school and before she starts her freshman year at a prestigious university. 

Rather than staying at home with her overbearing, intellectual, egotistical mother, she decides to visit her father, his new wife, and her new sister in the beach town of Colby. When she packs, she fills an entire suitcase with her textbooks to get an early start on college reading–that’s the kind of girl Auden is, but that’s not who she’ll be at the end of the summer.

In Colby, Auden finds her father too immersed in his novel to care about his new family. She finds herself wandering the town at night, first alone, and then with Eli, a local guy who also doesn’t sleep at night. Eli is dealing with his past, and helping Auden rediscover hers and do all the things she missed out on for the past eighteen years, when her parents expected her to be a miniature adult rather than a child or teenager. She also, after a rough start in which she hooks up with a guy who turns out to be the recent ex-boyfriend of a girl who works in  her stepmother Heidi’s store, finds herself some surprising new friends, once she learns to stop judging people at first glance, something she learned from her holier-than-thou mother. A lot happens in Auden’s summer of transformation, and it all comes down to connecting with people and living life. 

As I read, I kept finding similarities in this book to my favorite Sarah Dessen novel, This Lullaby. Both books, for example, involve older brothers transformed by their girlfriends and heroines who have had to grow up too fast and whose worldviews are changed by new guys. There was more, but I don’t remember right now, and it’s not important. Anyway, it was inevitable that I would be comparing the two books, with those similarities that stuck out to me (also I reread the first book just before reading this new one) and I’m sad to say that I didn’t find Along for the Ride to be quite as strong. The characters weren’t quite as real, the voice not quite as distinct, the world not quite as vivid. Of course, not the best of Sarah Dessen is still completely excellent. I loved this book, and was not fond of putting it down. The writing drew me into Auden’s world, into the town of Colby and kept me fascinated with the lives of its residents. Auden, and all the characters, were excellently well-drawn, with people being Sarah Dessen’s real strength in all her books. She makes them real, and she always focuses a lot on the relationships between them (all kinds–friends, family, romance, it’s all here). This book is no exception; everything in that regard was very well-done. This novel does not disappoint; it is typically wonderful Sarah Dessen. 

Four and a half out of six windows:

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Going Too Far is a lot more serious and intense than what I was expecting from Jennifer Echols, who has previously written romantic comedies. They’re awesome, but very different from this latest book, and she’s pulled it off beautifully; this is a fantastic novel about love, loss, life, and moving on. It starts when Meg and some friends head out onto a railroad bridge where it’s rumored that some kids died a few years ago, and are caught by a cop, who, it turns out, regularly patrols the bridge. He’s connected to it somehow, and John After, despite being a promising student when he graduated high school last year, can’t tear himself away from that bridge long enough to go to college twenty miles down the highway.

Meg, on the other hand, can’t wait to get out of their tiny Alabama town, go to college in Birmingham, and then see the world. She was excited about a spring break trip to Miami, the first time she’ll see the ocean, but that comes crashing down when she hears her punishment for trespassing onto the bridge: she’ll be riding with Officer John After on his night shift for a week, learning something about the law.

When their lives collide for a week, Meg and John will both have to face their pasts, complete with hard questions and even harder answers. 

I absolutely loved this book. Some books are solidly good, some are really great, and a very few are take-your-breath-away, can’t stop reading amazing, and for me, Going Too Far falls into the latter category. It’s powerful without being over-the-top, and reveals universal truths while still being a very personal story. The past haunts us all, and this book addresses wonderfully the hold that it has over us. It’s also a very good look into the complicated, real relationships between people, and the power of love (as cheesy as that sounds, it’s not). 

Speaking of the people, well, wow. Everyone in this book is believable, complex, and layered. The characters and their relationships are complicated, as people are. Meg’s voice, too, stands out as authentic and very fitting to the character. Everything feels real and moving and intense, but (and this is key), without ever feeling over-the-top, lifetime-movie-esque melodramatic, when it could have so easily strayed into that territory. I really, really can’t stress enough how much you all need to read this book. It’ll be out in March, but go ahead and preorder this one. You’ll devour it, you’ll love it, and it will stick with you.

Five and 1/2 windows out of six and a heart:

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Maybelline, called Maybe, is a reluctant resident of Kissimmee, Florida, and the daughter of former beauty queen Chessy Chestnut, who now owns the hottest charm school in town, churning out pageant winners left and right. Chessy has been married multiple times, and her current sleazy fiance is the last straw for Maybe. When Chessy takes his side over her daughter’s, Maybe convinced her friend Ted to come along when she hitches a ride with their other friend, Hollywood, to Los Angeles. Hollywood (only he prefers to be called Daniel now) will be going to film school at USC, hopefully on his way from filming Ted and Maybe every chance he gets to directing blockbusters. Tagging along seems perfect to Maybe, because the only thing she knows about her father is that he’s a Hollywood big shot, and she’s determined to find him in LA. Ted and Maybe don’t exactly know what they’re going to do to support themselves in California, though, and they’d better figure it out fast. LA will be a surprise for all of them, and absolutely transform Maybe in ways she can’t imagine. 

Absolutely Maybe is a charming novel full of quirky, endearing, complex, and completely believable characters. I particularly loved Ted, and Maybe is awesome in her own way, too. Lisa Yee manages to write a funny, lighthearted book, with some definite laugh-out-loud hilarious moments, while simultaneously managing to deal with some big issues. Maybe has to figure out her family, her friends, and most of all, herself. This is an intricately crafted portrait of the relationships between people that really rings true. Every page is enjoyable, and Lisa Yee’s first YA novel does not disappoint. It’s a very readable, sweet story that will leave you with fuzzy feelings and some new favorite characters. 

Edited to add something I only thought of later: This book is particularly awesome because it is a contemporary coming-of-age story that does not have a significant romance. There are plenty of close relationships between friends and family, but Maybe doesn’t feel like she needs to be with a guy to be happy. Unusually awesome, no?

Four out of six windows:

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