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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Review: The Beginning of After by Jennifer Castle

Title: The Beginning of After
Author: Jennifer Castle
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pub. Date: 9.6.2011
Genre: Contemporary
Keywords: Loss, Grief, Family, Friendship, Love
Pages: 432
Description (from Goodreads):

Anyone who’s had something truly crappy happen to them will tell you: It’s all about Before and After. What I’m talking about here is the ka-pow, shake-you-to-your-core-and-turn-your-bones-to-plastic kind of crappy.
Sixteen-year-old Laurel’s world changes instantly when her parents and brother are killed in a terrible car accident. Behind the wheel is the father of her bad-boy neighbor, David Kaufman, whose mother is also killed. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Laurel navigates a new reality in which she and her best friend grow apart, boys may or may not be approaching her out of pity, overpowering memories lurk everywhere, and Mr. Kaufman is comatose but still very much alive. Through it all there is David, who swoops in and out of Laurel’s life and to whom she finds herself attracted against her better judgment. She will forever be connected to him by their mutual loss—a connection that will change them both in unexpected ways.
Jennifer Castle’s debut novel is a heart-wrenching, surprisingly witty testament to how drastically life can change in the span of a single moment.

It isn't often that a book makes me cry. The few that have are those that have heartbreaking conclusions. THE BEGINNING OF AFTER had me sobbing right from the start. And not just one time...

Wow. What an intense debut novel. Comparisons have been made between the author and Sarah Dessen and , though I'm a huge fan of Dessen's work, I felt Castle's writing had a slightly different feel... almost like Castle's writing had more emotional depth. Much of this was subtle; one carefully chosen word would make my breath catch and eyes water.

I love a book with a good romantic story line, but I'm not sure I'd say that this is a characteristic that clearly identifies this book. The main character does have romantic counterparts, but they aren't a main focus - which makes sense. After all, Laurel has just lost her family... She's got a lot more going on than whether or not a boy likes her. Sure, she still thinks about it, but there are other things that require her attention as well. So, while I usually prefer my novels to have romance, I actually liked the fact that it wasn't a focus in THE BEGINNING OF AFTER... I don't think it would have been fitting at all.

I'll be reading subsequent novels by Jennifer Castle... She's definitely a new contemporary YA voice to watch.

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Review Copy provided by Amazon Vine.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Review: Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Title: Daughter of Smoke & Bone
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pub. Date: 9.27.2011
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy
Keywords: Good vs Evil, Orphans, Love, Magic, Wishes
Pages: 544
Description (from Goodreads):
Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.
In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.
Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages--not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.
When one of the strangers--beautiful, haunted Akiva--fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

It's been a long time since I've loved a book as passionately as I love DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE. Laini Taylor has created a fascinating novel with a lush, atmospheric setting and terrifyingly beautiful characters. I really, truly never wanted to leave.

Karou leads a double life. As art student in Prague, she creates fantastical artwork and elaborate stories that amuse and entertain her peers and teachers. She has an ex-boyfriend that she can't seem to shake and a protective, and adorably vicious, best friend. 

What no one knows is that Karou's artwork and stories aren't just a product of an overactive imagination. The "monsters" she depicts and fanciful stories that accompany their images are all true... These "monsters" are her family.

Karou has no memory of a time before her unconventional family. She was raised in a curious shop by even more curious creatures. Many would call them monstrosities - they call themselves chimaera. Chimaera have both human and animal characteristics and speak a language entirely their own. 

I found myself particularly drawn to a specific member of Karou's family: Brimstone. He's a very private creature and that deals in teeth and wishes. He shoulders an immense responsibility - though Karou, and the reader, aren't exactly sure what this responsibility entails. The mystery surrounding his past, his shop, and his wishes was one of the many reasons I couldn't set this book down. 

Karou herself is a mystery. She has no recollection of who she is and where she came from. In one moment she appears very young, using wishes to create awkward itchiness for her ex-boyfriend, the next moment she seems much wiser and older than the body she inhabits. Who is this peculiar blue-haired girl?

All of this, coupled with the arrival of painfully beautiful Akiva, builds to an truth of epic proportions.

Review copy provided by Amazon Vine.

Cover of the Week (32)

Taking a month long break from blogging and stalking Goodreads makes coming back a bit overwhelming... AND exciting. There are so many new covers to look at... for example, this one:

Arthur A. Levine Books/2.28.2012

CUT meets HATCHET in this lacerating debut about girls, knives, and redemption.
The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area stretches across two million acres in northern Idaho. In its heart sits the Alice Marshall School, where fifty teenage girls come to escape their histories and themselves.
Lida Wallace has tried to negate herself in every way possible. At Alice Marshall, she meets Elsa Boone, a fierce native Idahoan; Jules, who seems too healthy to belong at the school; and Gia Longchamps, whose glamour entrances the entire camp. As the girls prepare for a wilderness trek, Lida is both thrilled and terrified to be chosen as Gia's friend. But everyone has their secrets--their "Things" they try to protect; and when those come out, the knives do as well.
THE GIRLS OF NO RETURN is a bold and powerful debut.

"CUT meets HATCHET." That's a lot to live up to... it gives me goosebumps.

I love the color scheme of this cover. I like the girly font of "THE GIRLS" and the stark font of "OF NO RETURN." The slash marks through the title are the finishing touch... genius.

Check out THE GIRLS OF NO RETURN on Goodreads!