Tag Archives: YA

Illumicrate: What’s Inside

Hi guys! I just received my second Illumicrate, a wonderful quarterly subscription box for lovers of the Young Adult genre!*

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It’s a fabulous collection of stuff curated by just one person in the United Kingdom named Daphne. I don’t know how she does it, the thought and love put into each box is astonishing.

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For starters, obviously, it always comes with a book (and usually a signed bookplate or two to go with it). This round, we received When We Collided by Emery Lord (which you can expect a review on soon). Also included was a four-chapter sampler of Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer. According to the website, she tries to include brand-new books so the possibility of someone having already read it is very slim! (Also, they’re UK editions of the books, which is a pretty cool bonus for me since that’s definitely not something I’d ordinarily obtain.)

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This quarter’s box was filled with all sorts of lovely knick-knacks, most of which are exclusives from small businesses on Etsy (and/or similar websites). Here’s what the packing list says:

  • “To Be Read” List Notepad by Goodnight Boutique (exclusive) – keep track of your TBR pile and other bookish to-dos with this specially designed notepad
  • Ex Libris Stamp by Little Stamp Store (exclusive) – mark books from your library or create cards and tags with this gorgeous, versatile stamp
  • Book Club Mug by The Art of Escapism (exclusive) – great for indoor and outdoor use when discussing your latest reads
  • Readers Gonna Pin pin by Literary Emporium – display your reader status proudly with this adorable enamel pin
  • Bookworm clips by My Bookish Mark (exclusive) – use these little cuties to mark your place in books or planners

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Not mentioned on the packing list:

  • 4-mini-button set from author Jenny McLachlan
  • postcard featuring #mystery&mayhem, which appears to be a collaboration of twelve authors
  • set of postcards (or placards, moreso) that match the art from the Emery Lord novel, featuring quotes from said novel
  • card with excerpt from The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, entitled “How to Make A Wormhole”
  • on the back of the card is a recipe for the cinnamon muffins from the aforementioned novel (makes 12 muffins, which I will probably make and eat ALL BY MYSELF)

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That about cover this quarter’s contents! I’m really excited to dive into the book (and to check out The Square Root of Summer and eat muffins while I read). Thanks to Illumicrate for another stunning creation; can’t wait for the next one!

* I am not receiving anything for reviewing this, I’m just doing it BECAUSE IT’S AWESOME.

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Review: We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

Title: We All Looked Up
Author: Tommy Wallach
Genre: Fiction
ISBN: 978-1-4814-1877-5
Published: Simon & Schuster, 2015
Purchase: Amazon, Simon & Schuster
Bonus: Full-length companion album

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Main Characters: Peter, Eliza, Andy, Anita

Synopsis: One evening, a blue-tinted star appears in the sky. Not “appears” as in something only careful astronomers and amateur star-charters would notice, but “appears” as in everyone on the planet notices at pretty much the same time and won’t stop talking about it. It’s only a couple weeks before NASA tells the world that yes, it might hit us. In fact, there’s a 2/3 chance that it will. What would you do in the months leading up to impending doom? Wallach’s novel, told through multiple perspectives, takes us through the lives of four teens and their friends as they try and figure out what’s worth keeping around… either for the continuation of the world, or the end of it.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “… The best books, they don’t talk about things you never thought about before. They talk about things you’d always thought about, but that you didn’t think anyone else had thought about. You read them, and suddenly you’re a little bit less alone in the world. You’re part of this cosmic community of people who’ve thought about this thing, whatever it happens to be. I think that’s what happened to you today. This fear, of squandering your future, was already on your mind. I just underlined it for you.”
  • She believed photography to be the greatest of all art forms because it was simultaneously junk food and gourmet cuisine, because you could snap dozens of pictures in a couple hours, then spend dozens of hours perfecting just a couple of them. She loved how what began as an act of the imagination turned into a systematic series of operations, organized and ordered and clear, mixing up the processing bath, developing the negatives, choosing the best shots and expanding them, watching as the images appeared on the blank white paper as if in some kind of backward laundromat– a billowing line of clean sheets slowly developing stains, then hung up until those stains were fixed forever. And then there was the setting, crepuscular and shadowy, everything about it perfectly calibrated for creativity, from the sultry red glow of the darkroom lights to the still and shallow pool in which her prints rested like dead leaves on the surface of a pond…
  • … “Anita, do you every worry that you’re wasting your life?”
    … “I think everybody does,” Anita said. “But we’re only eighteen. You can’t have wasted your life at eighteen. We haven’t even lived our lives yet.”
    “But you have to decide, you know? It’s like that poem with the road in the woods. You don’t want to end up running down the wrong road, because you’ll probably never get back to that place again. The place where the road splits, I mean.”
    “Actually, the point of that poem is that it doesn’t really matter which road you pick.”
  • After it was over, Peter sat on the couch and let his mom hold him. His dad kept changing the channels on the TV, hoping to find someone able to contradict some parts of the president’s speech. Both of them were crying, his mom steady as a stream, his dad like an imperfectly sealed pipe– just a slow drip around the edges. Peter loved his parents, but right then he would’ve given anything to get away from them. Their anxiety burned away all the oxygen in the room; his own feelings couldn’t breathe. He was only eighteen! There were so many things he hadn’t experienced yet– world travel, bungee jumping, sushi. And what the hell had he been waiting for? Why had he assumed time was some sort of infinite resource? Now the hourglass had busted open, and what he’d always assumed was just a bunch of sand turned out to be a million tiny diamonds.

Review: This book was an easy sell. I was intrigued by the cover, first of all, and then I flipped it open to read the blurb. I didn’t even read the first part, but my eyes were immediately drawn to: “They said the asteroid would be here in two months.” That was all I needed. Bam. Sold.

I’m going to throw it back a bit here, but do any of you remember Animorphs? You know, that series about the kids that were able to turn into animals to save the world from the invading aliens? Anyway, that’s one of my favorite series of all time, and its author, K.A. Applegate, has continued to write books that blow my mind. Shortly after Animorphs ended, she released a series called Remnants. It didn’t quite have the longevity of Animorphs, but the first book in the series began with a similar premise to We All Looked Up: the end of the world. An asteroid impact. The rest of Remnants involves the 100 or so people chosen to escape the planet on a dilapidated space shuttle and their adventures once cryostatis wakes them up 500 years later, which is pretty divergent from WALU, but anyway. The point is that Remnants #1 is absolutely one of my all-time favorite books (within the top 10) and it’s a brilliant reflection on human nature.

Which is to say, that human nature is unpredictable. There is no “default” setting for human nature. What you assume humans are going to do… well, they won’t. Some will. Others will exist completely outside the realm of plausibility.

WALU follows the story of four interconnected teens and their lives leading up to the Big Impact. The book begins with Peter, already having an existential crisis before the asteroid even appears in the night sky; obviously, learning that there’s a 66% chance that humanity will be wiped out just like the dinosaurs doesn’t do much to help him.

Anita is perfect. She gets perfect grades, has a perfect family, always looks perfect. But she’s tired of being perfect. She gets a C on a test for the first time ever, just to see how her parents will react. Spoiler: it’s not good.

Eliza’s home life sucks, so she’s taken to meeting boys at clubs and sleeping with them, just so she can feel something. To try and make someone care. But ultimately, no one seems to.

Andy is torn between loyalty to the guy who has always been his best friend, and the knowledge that his best friend is … well, not a good person. Andy wants to help Bobo, but might soon realize that Bobo is either beyond help or just not worth saving…

One of my favorite aspects of the book was the descriptions of what other people were doing. The randoms. The people you’ve never met and undoubtedly never will. Strangers in cities, strangers on islands, strangers in penthouses, and strangers on the street. Some, like Peter’s parents in the quote above, can’t find it in themselves to do anything but cry. They fall into the pit of depression, of hopelessness, of “what’s the point,” and there’s no one who can help them climb back out. Others decide it’s finally their chance to do whatever the hell they want; what’s a two-week jail stay in the long run? It’s all going to burn anyway. Others, though, others spread love: tell their loved ones they love them, make an effort to DO those last things on their bucket lists, find the money or the excuses to visit those beautiful places they’ve only dreamed about.

Not that any of those is a right or wrong response, really, which is sort of the point. You can’t predict how you’ll react. Honestly. You can ponder it day and night for the next 50 years but until it actually happens to you, you just don’t know.

Spoiler: the book ends before the meteor hits. Or doesn’t hit. I was slightly disappointed at first, because come on that’s the best part– but then I realized that the moral of the story is that it doesn’t matter. What matters is the person you are leading up to that moment. You can die in jail, or you can spend the next seventy years in jail. Or you can fill your life with light and love and go out surrounded by the people you care about the most… or if the world doesn’t end, wake up to a new world surrounded by the people you love.

Which one sounds better to you?

Rating: ★★★★½

P.S. The author is also a great musician, and he wrote an album to go along with the book. Check it out on bandcamp! You can download it for $5, or if you really love it, get yourself the vinyl for $20. Why not? After all, life is short.

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Review: Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill

Title: Meant to Be
Author: Lauren Morrill
Genre: YA Fiction
ISBN: 0385741774
Published: Delacorte Press, November 2012
PurchaseAmazon

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Main Characters: Julia, Jason

Synopsis: Julia is a bookworm. There’s no way around it. She keeps perfectly sharpened #2 pencils in her purse! And her friends bailed on her, so now she’s the only bookworm on the class trip to London. When you’re in high school, it seems like teachers are out to make your lives hell, and Mrs. Tennison is no exception: she assigns partners for the trip. Who does Julia get paired with? Class clown and unruly ginger, Jason. All Julia wants to do is survive this trip and get back to distantly ogling her MTB (Meant To Be), also known as the gorgeous hunk Mark, whom Julia has known since childhood. Is there more to Jason than meets the eye? Furthermore, is there more to Julia…?

Memorable Quotes:

  • I hate to fly. Seriously. HATE IT. It seems wrong to be hurtling through the clouds at warp speed in a metal tube. It makes about as much sense as being flung over the ocean in a slingshot.
  • London is where Mom and Dad went on their honeymoon, and they always talked about coming back here. Dad used to joke that Paris was the city of love for unimaginative folks. “Give me those guards in the big fuzzy hats any day,” he’d say, laughing and planting a kiss on Mom’s forehead. They’d even saved up for a tenth-anniversary trip, but when Dad got sick, the trip was quickly forgotten.
  • “Wow. That’s … wow,” I reply, choking back what I’m really thinking, which includes the phrases “shove it” and “butt munch.” I toss back my glass and manage to mask my disgust for the drink and the company in one fell swoop.
  • His voice cuts right through the London fog, and I’m glued to the bench, unable to take my eyes off him. He stares right back at me, eyes sparkling. He hits every note, even Paul McCartney’s trademark ooohs at various pitches.
  • “Point is, maybe some people wouldn’t want to be around me all day, but there are people out there who would. And they’re smart and funny. And they like some of the things I like and hate some of the things I hate, but they also introduce me to all kinds of new things. That’s as close to ‘meant to be’ as I can imagine.”

Review: This was a completely lovely story. It’s one of those that, again, you pretty much know how it’s going to end, but the journey it takes you on to get there is well worth the ride.

It’s set in London, as mentioned in the synopsis. The class trip is a little over a week, and they’re staying in a very posh hotel. Julia doesn’t even have to deal with a roommate, which is great for her, because she’s one of those “me against the preps” girls. (I used to have that kind of frame of mind too, back in elementary school, but thank goodness I grew out of it!)  She can spread out, fold her clothes, set out her books… and not have to worry about anyone messing it up.

Julia starts off with nothing but distaste for Jason, especially since he spent the whole plane ride over yelling “We’re going down!” every time there’s a semblance of turbulence. Like Julia doesn’t hate flying enough. (This, she and I have in common. See the first Memorable Quote.) That sums up his personality in a nutshell, really: he’s a joker, prankster, doesn’t really care how he’s perceived as long as at least one person is laughing.

In terms of things I didn’t like, SPOILER, Mark shows up in London. Yes, that Mark. Mark and Julia were neighbors when they were children, and they used to have a blast playing together every day. They even staged a pretend marriage! Alas, Mark moved away at some point, and her crush waned, as things do. But then Mark moved back, and it was like he’d never left. Clearly, this was a sign that they were Meant To Be.

At any rate, it turns out that Mark has some sort of connection to the hotel Julia and the kids are staying at, so she bumps into him in the lobby and they end up hanging out a lot. Long story short, Julia realizes Mark is definitely not the guy she thought he was. At all. I didn’t really… like that. I didn’t think it was necessary for him to magically show up. I think she could’ve appreciated Jason on her own, without the contrast of “Oh, Mark sucks, so Jason is clearly the only choice.” I wish she would’ve made the choice on her own, instead of basically having it made for her.

Regardless, this was a completely enjoyable book. The descriptions of London are so vivid and real. I even made myself watch a YouTube video of a trip on the London Eye because it was described so well in the book that I had to see it myself! Sadly, I’ve never been to London. I’ll get there someday, though, and this book gave me a few places I’d like to add to my sightseeing list!

Rating: ★★★★

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Review: The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen

Title: The Moon and More
Author: Sarah Dessen
Genre: YA Fiction
ISBN: 0-67-078560-1
Published: 2013, Viking Juvenile

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Main Characters: Emaline, Theo, Benji, Luke

Synopsis: It’s the last summer before everything changes, and the change has already started. Emaline and her family run a realty business in Colby, renting out fantastic beach homes to rich families seeking the vacation of their dreams. Theo is among them, and from the moment they meet, everything changes. Emaline had been dating Luke since freshman year, but when he cheats on her, that relationship goes down the hole (surprise). Also, her birth-father rolls into town unexpectedly, toting along Emaline’s ten-year old half-brother, Benji. Emaline spends the summer with Theo and Benji, and along the way she realizes that only she has control over who she becomes, and that perhaps giving everything The Grandest Title Ever leaves no room for improvement.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “‘Yeah. Thanks. This lug nut’s being a bitch.’
    Of course it was a female. I sighed.”
  • “When you’ve never gotten love from someone, you don’t know what it might look like if it ever does appear. You look for it in everything: any bright light overhead could be a star.”
  • “Sometimes, when it came to events and people, it had to be okay to just be.”
  • “‘Life is long. Just because you don’t get your chance right when you want or expect it doesn’t mean it won’t come. Fate doesn’t punch a time clock or consult a schedule.'”
  • “She was dressing for the life she wanted, not the life she had.”

Review: Let me preface this by announcing that I am a huge Sarah Dessen fan. I have been, ever since I stumbled across This Lullaby at my local Borders’ outlet. Presumably, I always will be. I wish she could turn out a new book every week, that’s how much I long to desire them. However, I know that’s a sightly ridiculous goal, so… keep doing what you’re doing, Ms. Dessen. That being said, this novel certainly did not disappoint!

Even at the ripe old age of 24, it’s quite easy for me to relate to Dessen’s characters. She’s spoken of her love for the 16-18 age group before, and that she has no plans (as of yet, anyway) to move beyond it. She claims nostalgia. That’s fine with me, though, because she writes about the sort of loves and lessons that transcend age boundaries. She writes Strong Female Characters without having to drop them into such tropes as warranted by the TV/movie world, for example. (You can either be pretty and feminine, or ugly and an unfeeling warrior, etc.) Emaline works hard: she works full-time for her family’s business and somehow still managed to balance the studying required for an acceptance to Columbia University. She loves hard: she and Luke were together for more than three years before life just got in the way. She’s a feminist: she calls out Morris on his use of the word “bitch,” albeit subconsciously. (Thank you, Ms. Dessen, for that!) But Emaline is not afraid to cry, as evidenced when she disappoints her mother, or when her birth-father disappoints her. She feels lonely and not special, which are feelings everyone battles with, be they a teenage girl or not.

In a deviation from most of Ms. Dessen’s other books, this one does not end with the Girl Getting the Guy! Spoilers. Theo turns out not to be the one from her, and she goes off to East U free of romantic entanglements, ready to start again with someone new. This clearly doesn’t happen right off the bat, though, because at the end of the book we run into Emaline taking Benji to New York City for an art show. Not a boyfriend, but her half-brother. You go, Emaline.

If I had to give this book a big, capitalized Moral, it’d be You Don’t Need A Man to Be Happy. You might even be able to through an “especially” in there, in regards to her birth-father. Emaline learns that she had no obligation to be with Theo if he wasn’t making her happy, regardless of how many Best Dates Ever they had (or didn’t have). She also learns that sometimes parents really do know best, and that their love is truly unconditional: no matter how many times you disappoint them, they’ll forgive you and welcome you back with open arms. And that, even when you’re only two hours away, your mom still worries.

Rating: ★★★★★

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Review: A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

Title: A Northern Light
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Genre: YA Fiction
ISBN: 0-15-216705-6
Published: 2003, Harcourt Books

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Main Characters: Mattie, her family, Weaver, Miss Wilcox, Royal Loomis

Synopsis: Mattie is a young woman on the cusp of adulthood, trapped in 1906. She loves school and tries to spend all her free time reading– not that she has much; now that her mother has died and her brother has run away, her Pa needs her to help run the farm. But Mattie has big dreams. Big dreams that will cost a lot of money to make happen. She has to decide if she wants to marry the handsome local boy and be a farm wife forever, or to break her promises and make a break for the Big Apple. A story told in two timelines that meet up at the end, Mattie makes her choice and solves a murder mystery in the process.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “As I tried to figure out what I could say– to find words that weren’t a lie but weren’t quite the truth, either– I thought that madness isn’t like it is in books. It isn’t Miss Havisham sitting in the ruins of her mansion, all vicious and majestic. And it isn’t like in Jane Eyre, either, with Rochester’s wife banging around in the attic, shrieking and carrying on and frightening the help. When your mind goes, it’s not castles and cobwebs and silver candelabra. It’s dirty sheets and sour milk and dog shit on the floor. It’s Emmie cowering under her bed, crying and singing while her kids try to make soup from seed potatoes.” (p. 17)
  • “I stared into my teacup, wondering what it was like to have what Minnie had. To have somebody love you like Jim loved her. To have two tiny new lives in your care. … I wondered if all those things were the best things to have or if it was better to have words and stories. Miss Wilcox had books but no family. Minnie had a family now, but those babies would keep her from reading for a good long time. Some people, like my aunt Josie and Alvah Dunning the hermit, had neither love nor books. Nobody I knew had both.” (p. 96-97)
  • “I thought some lemon drops would be just the thing to cheer Abby up. It would be a furtive purchase, as I really should have given the money to Pa, but after he’d hit me, I decided I wouldn’t. Furtive, my word of the day, means doing something in a stealthy way, being sly or surreptitious. Sneaky would be another way of putting it. I did not wish to become a sneak, but sometimes one had no choice. Especially when one was a girl and craved something sweet but couldn’t say why, and had to wait till no one was looking to wash a bucket of bloody rags, and had to say she was ‘under the weather’ when really she had cramps that could knock a moose over, and had to listen to herself be called ‘moody’ and ‘weepy’ and ‘difficult’ when really she was just fed up with sore bosoms and stained drawers and the fact that she couldn’t just live life in the open, swaggering and spitting and pissing up trees like a boy.” (p. 161)

Review: Spoilers ahead! I adored this book. It took a bit of getting used to, simply because of the time period, and the way the timelines were split, but after a chapter or two it was easy to discern what was going on. I love Mattie’s use of words and the games she plays with Weaver. Weaver’s character was fantastic. He’s black child growing up in 1906 whose mother saves every penny he owns to send him to college, and he works his bum off to get into college and dreams of becoming a lawyer. Mattie can see his future plain as day and knows he’ll be brilliant in everything he achieves. Of her own future, though, she isn’t so sure. Sometimes things really are too good to be true, and Mattie’s coming to terms with that is one of the hardest parts of the book to stomach. Because although Mattie can’t see it coming, the reader sure can.

I loved the separate timeline bit, although like I said, it took a bit of getting used to. I’m still not sure if it was past/present or present/future, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter since they meet up toward the end anyway. Mattie is handed a bundle of letters and told to burn them by a young woman who turns up dead in the lake the same night. Curiosity outweighs her desire to keep her promise, and she reads them. The author’s note at the end says that all the letters are real; it’s an interesting case that became one of New York’s most famous murder mysteries. Obviously, the author took a bit of creative license with the circumstances considering Mattie is fictional, but the rest is true. (If you’re curious, here’s the Wikipedia page.)

Anyway, Mattie learns that you really do have to follow your heart, even when it takes a while to learn that it isn’t a) pointing at the handsome boy who’s asked her to marry him or b) keeping the promise you made to your mother on her deathbed when she asked you to take care of the family. She has to live her own life, and thank heavens she does.

Beautifully written with a colorful cast of characters; I didn’t mention all of them but the twist with the English teacher is a lovely touch, and greatly inspiring. The secondhand learning of all these famous authors via Mattie was good for me as well. She talks of her love for Emily Dickinson, how she didn’t hide the truths of the world for you, she wasn’t afraid of death or loss or heartbreak. That’s the kind of writer Mattie longs to be, because her life isn’t perfect and she can’t imagine lying to the world.

Rating: ★★★★

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Review: Nobody’s Princess by Esther Friesner

Title: Nobody’s Princess
Author: Esther Friesner
Genre: YA Fiction
ISBN: 978-0-375-87528-1
Published: 2007, Random House

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Main Characters: Helen of Sparta, her family, and her friends Atalanta, Milo, and Eunike

Synopsis: Helen of Sparta, daughter of Zeus, is a young girl growing up in ancient Greece. She may not know exactly what she wants out of life, she knows what she doesn’t: she doesn’t want to marry a boy, she doesn’t want to learn needlepoint, and she definitely doesn’t want to just be pretty! Helen takes it upon herself to make her own dreams come true, such as learning to swordfight, and sets herself up to become Helen of Troy, one of the most famous women history will ever know.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “That would be so easy, wouldn’t it?” she said. “So easy to let someone else make your choices for you. That way, if you fail, it isn’t your fault.” She clasped my hands more tightly. “You deserve to live a better life than that.” (Queen Leda to Helen, p. 87)
  • “She said that until she met you, she thought she was the only woman alive who’d ever wanted something more than a husband, a family, and a hearth fire. Was she wrong?” (Milo to Helen, p. 256)

Review: Although I can definitely say this tale was intended for someone much younger than I, I must give credit where credit is due: this is a wonderful little novel. I’ve always gotten a kick out of historical fiction, and reading about a young girl’s struggle to make a mark on the world is something I think we can all identify with. We all grew up wanting to be the President, did we not? Helen sees the cookie-cutter mold laid out for her future and doesn’t want a piece of it. The characters are vibrant and well-fleshed out; you truly feel for Helen and her plights. Her friends are loyal and imaginative, though the prophesizing Eunike comes off as a mere plot device. In spite of that, however, there doesn’t seem to be much of a plot; it’s written more as a journal, detailing her day-to-day experiences and travels. There is a sequel, though, and if I can get my hands on it, I’ll definitely review it as well!

Rating: ★★★½

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