Splintered by A. G. Howard

Splintered by A. G. Howard“No one knows what he or she is capable of until things are at their darkest.”

Alyssa Gardner is able to talk to insects and plants, a curse that stems from her ancestor Alice Liddell, the girl who was Lewis Carroll’s inspiration for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa’s mother has the same curse, and has been living in a mental hospital for years. As her mother’s condition worsens, Alyssa realizes that the only way to break the curse is to find a way into Wonderland, if it actually exists. What she finds is a much different Wonderland than Lewis Carroll wrote. She must pass a series of tests that will allow her to fix Alice Liddell’s mistakes before she is allowed to leave Wonderland and return home. She also has to decide between trusting her friend Jeb, who she has been secretly crushing on for years, or the mysterious Morpheus, who seems to be hiding something.

I’m not going to lie–ninety percent of the reason I picked up this book was because of the gorgeous cover. I’m usually not one to judge a book by its cover, but this cover really drew me in! I also really love retellings, so I was very excited to read this. Honestly though, I was a little bit disappointed.

I was never hugely into Alice in Wonderland, and I’ve actually never read Lewis Carroll’s book. Splintered presents a much different Wonderland than the Disney version, which is pretty much where my limited knowledge of the story comes from. A lot of this book is super creepy. I’m not usually one to shy away from a creepy book, but some of the stuff was a bit out there for me. For example, Alyssa’s favorite past time is murdering insects and using their dead bodies to create “art”. Now, I know there are many different forms of art, but while some may view this as artistic, I was just plain grossed out. And also–how cruel! I’m no fan of bugs, but killing them for art is really unnecessary.

Alyssa herself was pretty uninteresting and she tries too hard to present a certain image of herself that seems to cater to her crush’s interests. I also didn’t like either of the male characters in the story. Alyssa’s friend Jeb is a jerk–he leads her on by flirting with her all the time but meanwhile is dating her high school rival, a girl who cruelly teases Alyssa and throws her relationship with Jeb in her face. Morpheus, Alyssa’s guide in Wonderland, is just super creepy. He has insect wings, is extremely manipulative, and weirdly possessive of Alyssa.  Also, the love triangle is focused on way too much and takes away from the rest of the story.

While the world building of this very dark version of Wonderland was really well done, the rest of the story seemed really dragged out. The tasks that Alyssa has to complete in order to reverse Alice Liddell’s mistakes were really interesting but made the story seem tedious after awhile. I feel like it took me forever to get through this book, and it was one of those times that I was eager to reach the end just for the sake of the story being over. The ending really disappointed me also because while it was definitely not something I had expected, I was still left feeling like the story had gone nowhere.

Overall, Splintered presented a much darker version of the traditional Wonderland and while the world building was excellent, the love story took too much of the focus and the characters were not very likable. This is one of those books where I feel like the idea had a lot of potential but it didn’t live up to my expectations.

Splintered was released on January 1, 2013 and is the first book in the Splintered series. The second book, Unhinged, is set to be released on January 7, 2014.

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Skylark by Meagan Spooner

Skylark by Meagan Spooner

“I don’t want to be kept, not by anyone.”

Lark Ainsley is a sixteen year old girl living in a city enclosed entirely by a dome made of energy. The dome is all that protects the city from the monsters living outside in the wilderness. In order to sustain the dome, however, the city needs to harvest magical energy from its children. When it is Lark’s turn to be harvested, it is discovered that she is a Renewable and is able to regenerate her energy each time it is harvested. When she realizes that the Architects of the city intend to keep putting her through the painful harvesting process indefinitely in order to constantly use her energy, she decides to escape the only home she has ever known. She escapes into the wilderness alone in search of the Iron Wood where she hopes to find others like her.

This book had such incredible world building! I loved reading about the post-apocalyptic world that Lark traveled through to find the Iron Wood. The ways that magical energy created domes was really interesting–some domes froze the entire area under it in a specific time and others preserved an entire forest inside.

I really liked Lark; she is brave and while she does have trust issues after finding out what the Architects wanted to do to her, she learns to trust again by the end of the book. She both literally and figuratively makes a long journey from start to finish. She meets a wild boy named Oren who helps her survive even though they are both reluctant to trust each other. He is terrified of the Iron Wood and tries to convince her not to go there but Lark is set on finding others like her. Their relationship really grew throughout the book and there was a serious twist near the end that I never saw coming!

Overall, Skylark was an exciting book full of incredible world building and so many unexpected twists! I am definitely excited for the sequel, and I hope to find out more about what happened to make the world of Skylark the way it is.

Skylark was released August 1, 2012 and is the first of a series. The sequel, Shadowlark, is due to be released in 2013.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

Blue Sargent is the daughter of a psychic, and has spent her whole life surrounded by the supernatural. From a young age, she has been told by every psychic she has ever met that she will kill her true love by kissing him. So obviously, she has avoided kissing or getting involved with anyone. However, when her half-aunt Neeve comes to stay with her family, things begin to change. Every year Blue goes to an old church with her mother on St. Mark’s Eve to watch the spirits of people that will die in the coming year walk past. Blue is never able to see the spirits herself because she lacks psychic ability, but when she goes on St. Mark’s Eve with Neeve, she sees the spirit of a boy who tells her only his name: Gansey. When Neeve tells her that the only way she could see his spirit is if she is his true love or his murderer, Blue is determined never to meet Gansey.

Gansey is a rich boy at the Aglionby school, a prestigious school with a raven as its mascot. The fact that he is a “Raven Boy” gives Blue another reason to stay away from him. But no matter how hard she tries, it seems that their paths are destined to cross and she soon becomes part of Gansey’s quest to find the body of a long dead king. She becomes involved in this strange crusade with the four Raven Boys: Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah, but in the back of her mind she cannot forget her ill-fated destiny to bring death to her true love.

The Raven Boys was such a surprise for me–in a good way! I wasn’t a big fan of Stiefvater’s Shiver trilogy for many reasons, so I had low expectations for this book. I am so glad to say that The Raven Boys was in no way a disappointment. I absolutely loved this book; it was fantastically written and was full of so many unexpected twists and turns from beginning to end. It has so many great characters with such vibrant personalities. Blue is such a strong character and really holds her own amongst the four boys, who adopt her as one of their own. She accepts the fact that she is fated to kill her true love but is still determined to create her own destiny. Blue’s relationship with the Raven Boys reminded me of when Wendy meets Peter and The Lost Boys in Peter Pan. Like the Lost Boys, who look to Peter as their leader, the Raven Boys look to Gansey. And as with Wendy, the boys are first very skeptical about Blue, but they soon realize that it seemed like she was always meant to be a part of their group.

Each of the Raven boys is extremely different, but they fit together like a puzzle and each brings a different quality to their little group. Their loyalty to Gansey is admirable, and they are all extremely invested in his quest to find the dead king Glendower, even if it seems a bit fantastical. I really liked Gansey, because even though he was born to a privileged life, he still tries to be humble and deeply cares for each of his friends. This makes it hard for Blue to stay away from him and harder to keep the truth a secret, even though she knows he is to die within a year.

I really loved this book and could not put it down. This is definitely the best book that Maggie Stiefvater has ever written, and I highly recommend reading it if you haven’t already!

The Raven Boys was released September 18, 2012 and is the first book in The Raven Cycle. The sequel, still untitled, is set to be published September 2013.

Mystic City by Theo Lawrence

“It is dangerous, this face, this boy. And not simply because he’s a mystic, though that is danger enough. He already has a hold on  me. I’m not sure if it’s attraction or fear. Or both.”

Mystic City is a fantastic debut novel by Theo Lawrence. In Mystic City, which is actually a futuristic New York City, global warming has caused the water to rise so much that the city streets are flooded. People eventually built the skyscrapers up even higher, so that the upper class of Mystic City lives above the flooded streets and travels from building to building in a sort of air train. The city is powered by energy from Mystics (people who possess magical powers) and the city is divided into East and West, with a different family ruling each side. Mystics are forced to be drained of their energy twice a year so that they are unable to revolt and use their powers on anyone else, and they are forced to live with the rest of the poor and destitute down on the flooded streets.

Aria Rose is the daughter of the ruling family on the West side of the city. She wakes up in the hospital, not knowing what has happened to her, and is told by her parents that she overdosed on mystic drugs and has amnesia. According to her parents, Aria had been carrying on a secret romance with Thomas Foster, the son of the ruling family on the East side of the city. When Aria was taken to the hospital, Thomas apparently told Aria’s parents about their relationship and that he wants to marry her. Even though the Fosters and the Roses have never gotten along, they both agree to join their families together and allow Thomas and Aria to get married. The only problem? Aria doesn’t remember even meeting Thomas, let alone carrying on a forbidden romance with him.

Aria knows that something fishy is going on and does not just take her family and Thomas’s word that she has been in love with him for months. She decides to discover the truth and find out why exactly her family is so desperate for her to marry the son of their sworn enemy. She ventures into the depths of the city for answers and meets Hunter, a rebel mystic who seems to know more about her than he’s letting on. She begins to realize that there is more at stake than just her memories and that her choices no longer affect just her, but the whole city.

Mystic City was full of fantastic plot twists and was a huge page turner. I really like Aria and how she grew from a girl who would just follow her parents’ orders without question to a girl who would defy her parents to uncover the truth. This book definitely hit home with me because global warming is becoming a bigger threat every day, and after what just happened up here with Hurricane Sandy flooding parts of Long Island and New York City it is not hard to believe that global warming could cause flooding and put the entire island of Manhattan underwater. It is definitely a scary thought and Mystic City was an interesting and frightening take on what could become of our city if it floods (magic and mystics aside). Overall this was a great debut for Lawrence and an interesting start to what promises to be a fantastic series.

Mystic City was released on October 9, 2012 and is the first of a series. The sequel, Renegade Heart, is due for release in 2013.

Trending Topics in YA

It seems like YA literature keeps going through different trends each year. There was the whole Twilight phenomenon and now The Hunger Games has taken the lead, but what’s next? Here are some current trends emerging in young adult books today:

ZOMBIES ARE THE NEW VAMPIRES

Now that the Twilight saga is (finally) coming to an end, vampires seem to have taken a backseat to a different type of creature: ZOMBIES!! As a huge fan of all things zombies, I am thrilled at the comeback zombies are making in pop culture today. A few years ago you almost couldn’t turn on a TV without some mention of vampires, whether it be Twilight, True Blood, or The Vampire Diaries. Today it seems like most people are over the whole vampire thing. After the release and subsequent explosive popularity of Twilight, everyone and their mother tried to hop on the vampire bandwagon and write a book/TV show/movie about vampires. This year there is a serious lack of vampire books, with two notable exceptions:  The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda and The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa. When picking up both of these books to read, my first thought was that these authors are really pushing it by still trying to keep the vampire craze going. However, I have to say that with both books I was pleasantly surprised. And the reason that I enjoyed both immensely was not because I am still a sucker (no pun intended) for all things vampire, but rather because each of these novels sought to distinguish themselves from the traditional portrayal of vampires and from the supremely overdone trope of vampire meets human girl/boy and falls in love.

With the vampire trend dwindling down, there has definitely been a rise in books/TV shows/movies about zombies. I would attribute a lot of this to The Walking Dead, which has gained an insane following and put zombies back into pop culture. There has been a definite increase in YA books about zombies, a couple of examples being This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers and (still to come) The Infects by Sean Beaudoin. There has also been an increase in the number of YA zombie books being made into movies: World War Z, Warm Bodies, and The Forest of Hands and Teeth, all three of which are set to be in theaters next year. With the significant decrease in vampire books and the rising popularity of zombies, I definitely think it is safe to say that zombies are the new vampires.

RISE OF THE MERMAIDS

Mermaids are HUGE now! This year alone there have been so many YA books about mermaids:  Of Poseidon by Anna Banks, Wake by Amanda Hocking, Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown, and The Vicious Deep by Zoraida Cordova are just a few. I can honestly say that I did not see this trend coming, but I’m glad it did! I don’t think I had ever read a book about mermaids before this year and will definitely admit to being a little skeptical about the subject at first but Of Poseidon definitely changed my opinion and left me craving MORE MERMAIDS! I look forward to seeing how this trend evolves in the future.

WHERE HAVE ALL THE WIZARDS/WITCHES GONE??

There has been a serious lack of YA books about magic lately. I don’t know if it’s just because people feel it has been overdone or if everyone is worried that they will be unable to live up to Harry Potter (which is most likely true) but for some reason there has been a big decrease in the amount of witches and wizards present in YA literature. There have been some great books about wizards/witches in the past few years–Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins and Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia for example—but 2012 hasn’t really seen anything in the way of magic. However, with the Beautiful Creatures movie being released early 2013, it is possible that magic will have a bit of a revival.

SERIES VS. STANDALONE

It seems to me that nearly every book that I pick up lately is part one of a series/saga/trilogy. It is very rare that you find a standalone YA book today and I believe there are pros and cons to both series and standalone novels. The drawback of a series is that (at least in my case) it seems like you’re always waiting for the next book to be written/released. I cannot tell you how many times I have picked up a book, not knowing that it is part one of a series, and got to the end only to see the words END OF PART ONE, TO BE CONTINUED, or something of that variation. There are times when I love this, and it is usually because the book is so good that I just want to read more about the characters and the world they live in. There are other times when I hate this, either because the book is so good that I’m angry that I have to wait months/years for the next one, or because I’m just pissed that every book has to be part of a series. I can understand why many authors are writing series instead of standalone novels–sometimes there is just so much to the story that to fit it all in one book would be ridiculous–but in some cases it seems like the author is just dragging the story out so that they can make money off of yet another book about the same thing (i.e. The Fallen series by Lauren Kate). Then again there are some series, like Michael Grant’s Gone series, that keep going on and on and just keep getting better as they do. I suppose it just really depends on how good the author is at keeping the series alive but I still wonder–can nobody write a good standalone novel anymore? The only exceptions I have found lately have been Courtney Summers and John Green. Both have written exceptionally good standalone novels that in no way seemed incomplete or left me demanding a sequel.

What do you think? Are there any other trends that you’ve noticed emerging this year? Which trends do you love and which could you do without?