Truly Devious

9780062338051Waaaay back in 2012, I wrote a review about the first book in a new YA fantasy/mystery trilogy by Maureen Johnson. I really liked The Name of the Star but at the time the rest of series wasn’t out yet. Books two and three are now available, and I recommend tracking those down for a good supernatural mystery. Johnson’s latest book is also a mystery, but it takes a slightly different, non-fantasy angle on things.  Truly Devious follows two different story threads–in the present day teenager Stevie, a true crime aficionado, is starting the year at an exclusive and unusual boarding school that was the site of a notorious crime in the early 1900s. She wants to solve the historical crime, but gets swept up into a present-day mystery. But while we watch Stevie try to figure out what is going on in her world, we are also following actors in the original mystery and slowly uncovering what actually happened when the wife and daughter of a wealthy industrialist were kidnapped.

The downside of Truly Devious is that it ends on a cliffhanger with basically no resolution, and there isn’t even a publication date for the next one. This is clearly going to be a single story told over several books, but who knows when it all might wrap up. But this was a quick read with an engaging story and it would be perfect to read on a dark and rainy evening, since it’s a little creepy but probably won’t keep you up at night.

Also, Maureen Johnson is super fun to follow on Twitter (@maureenjohnson), where she is very funny and also posts lots of cute pictures of her dog. Plus, she just edited a YA essay compilation called How I Resist that looks really inspiring, that I may have to go track down.

Kinsey’s Three Word Review: Creepy, on-going mystery

You might also like:  One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus is a fun teenagers-solve-a-crime story, and if you’re looking for a quirky boarding school book, Looking for Alaska by John Green is a classic. The recent TV show about the Getty kidnapping called Trust also gets at quite a few of the period-piece thriller aspects of this. But considering that this is the story of someone obsessed with true crime, my main recommendation is the podcast My Favorite Murder, in which two mystery-obsessed women tell the stories of famous crimes to each other. Just this morning I was listening to an episode this morning about the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, which feels like it was a bit of an inspiration for the historical crime in this book.

The Sun is Also a Star

Yoon_9780553496680_jkt_all_r1.inddWay back in early 2016 Anna wrote a review of a book called Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon, and almost surprised herself by really enjoying the sweet YA romance/coming-of-age story. I liked that book as well, and I’m here to tell you that Yoon’s follow-up The Sun is Also a Star is even better.

I had looked at the book several times but was always a little put off by the plot summary–two teenagers meet one day in New York and feel an instant connection, but she is about to be deported and what kind of future can they have? In our current political climate even thinking about immigration issues makes me feel sort of sick, plus I tend to be a cynical old lady about teenage love in first sight stories. But when I ended up desperate on a cross-country flight and decided to give this a try, I ended up reading the whole thing in one sitting and loving it. The characters both feel very complete, their relationship feels organic, and Yoon does a great job setting the scene so that it feels like you’re out there walking around with Natasha and Daniel on the New York City streets.

The book also features this interesting little element where every now and then you get a flash forward or a flash sideways, I guess you’d say, to what a supporting character has going on in their lives or what will happen to them in the future. It’s a lovely effect that makes the story feel more expansive and universal than it would otherwise.

This is a quick read, and would be great for the beach or a plane or just when you need to feel a little bit better about the world.

Kinsey’s Three Word Review: Enchanting, challenging romance

You might also like:  Any number of other fabulous YA romance/family stories out there including Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (always a classic!), The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (which Anna mentioned back in March), Far From the Tree (this one will make you cry), and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.  And if you haven’t already seen Love, Simon, the movie based on that last one, I cannot recommend it highly enough–it was completely charming and featured great music by the Bleachers. It is going to be one of those movies like Easy A that I will be delighted to stumble upon on cable on a rainy Saturday afternoon and will be able to watch an infinite number of times.

The Tearling Trilogy

I read the first book in this trilogy, The Queen of the Tearling, almost a year ago, but I was too scared to recommend it until the final book was released because I’ve been burned before. I wrote a blog entry about The Fifth Wave before I had finished the series and you guys–that one was not good. It got so convoluted and nonsensical at the end that I read all three books but am still not 100% sure if the aliens or humans won. But this trilogy did not descend into madness!  It really held up and kept me hooked the whole time.

Trying to describe the plot of these books makes it sound like every other YA/fantasy-ish series out there. In a land that sounds a lot like medieval Europe, a teenage girl is about to become queen of a country under attack, and will have to learn confidence in herself and how to wield her power in order to protect her people. I know, I know, this could describe half the things I read. But there are a few things about this story that I think make it different than some other versions:

  • It’s dark. I know that YA these days leans dark, but this is pretty darn dark. Kelsea, the main character, doesn’t just have to save her people from looming threat, but from some truly terrible things happening in her kingdom.
  • This is not a romance. Some people like each other, and some people have sex, but this is not a story where you spend the whole time waiting for two key characters to realize how much they love each other. These characters have so much to deal with that love is pretty secondary to them, and the books treat it that way.
  • There is an interesting treatment of time. I don’t want to give too much away, but especially when you get to the second and third books, the concept of time becomes somewhat malleable in a way that I was not expecting.
  • This may connect to the first bullet (the darkness), but there is not a lot of redemption in this story. Bad things happen to people–tough. People do some bad things–they don’t always get to make up for it. Even people who do great things don’t necessarily get rewarded for their efforts.
  • There are a few subtle magical elements in this world that are pretty much never explained. I am still torn on whether I am annoyed about a few things that we all apparently just have to accept as a given, or pleased that the author didn’t try to make up “reasons” for magical occurrences.
This all made these books sound horribly depressing, doesn’t it? Well, they’re not light and fun. But I was completely hooked on them and I was surprised with where the story ended up–the author took what could have been a familiar, maybe even overdone YA trope, and took it in a newer, darker, more subtle and complex direction.

Kinsey’s Three(ish) Word Review: Dark, moral coming-of-age

You might also like: A number of adult sci-fi fantasy books, such as Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy, The City and the City by China Mieville, or David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks. In the YA area, this was similar in a lot of ways to The Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy.

The Best of 2016

2016 was rough, I think we’ve established that. But now as we move forward into 2017, I’ve been trying to make myself remember some of the good things that did happen last year–I refuse to let an entire year go down because of a few (key, admittedly very) bad things. I’ve spent the past few months re-reading romance novels, but before that period of re-reading began, I found some great new books. Most of them I’ve already talked about here on the blog–Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, How to Build a Girl, and Bone Gap–but there were a few others I wanted to mention.

  1. Pointe by Brandy Colbert is a YA book about a ballet dancer, but it also involves a kidnapping and a teenage victim who comes back after years away. It’s a dark, sad book, maybe not for younger teens, but I found it really compelling. I especially enjoyed watching, over the course of the book, as the female protagonist worked out just how much agency she had and how she was going to use it.
  2. I’ve already raved about the memoir Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe, one of my favorites books of recent years, but I was a little worried that I might not feel the same way about the author’s fiction. And while nothing could quite match my original love, Paradise Lodge was a really charming story about a British teenager in 1970s who takes a job in a nursing home. Stibbe has this very specific voice that comes across in both her fiction and non-fiction, in which even when she’s talking about some sort of crisis or disaster, everything seems like it will all work out fine. I found this very calming.
  3. If you know who I am talking about when I say “Dave Holmes, MTV VJ,” I suspect you will like his book. Party of One is a memoir, structured around music, and maybe it’s just that he and I are about the same age, but this book felt like it came directly from my subconscious.
  4. Way back in 2012 I wrote about how much I love Sharon Shinn, and I recommended a new book of hers called Troubled Waters and said I hoped was the start of a new series. And it was! There are now four books in the Elemental Blessings series, and I have enjoyed all of them. If you would like to read a fantasy romance novel with a kick-ass female main characters, these are a great option. I would recommend reading them in order, but I think my favorite was the third book, Jewelled Fire.

And with that, I am quite happy to close the book (so to speak) on 2016. I’m already starting 2017 out well, reading-wise, with my continued journey through the Lord Peter Wimsy books, and a lovely, poem-like book called The Lesser Bohemians. I have a lot of hopes and goals for 2017, and continuing to discover great new things to read and writing about them here is definitely something I plan to continue.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

I’ve said before that I sometimes find teenage boys to be an entirely different species, and in books they so often come off sounding like the teenage dirtbags that the late, lamented Toast described so well. So I love it when I find a book that makes me feel like I completely understand its teenage narrator–a book that makes a teenage boy into a real person and not some Holden Caulfield stereotype. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz, is SUCH as good example of this kind of book, and is a YA book that just made me happy to read.

It’s a basic story in a lot of ways–during a hot summer in the late 1980s Ari, who is sort of a loner, becomes friends with Dante. Ari’s a smart kid with a family that is loving, but has its troubles. Dante has a nice family as well, and is dealing with his own stuff. So, you know, they’re kids trying to live their lives and do the best they can. Various plot things happen over a couple of years, some of them pretty dramatic, but they book never feels like an Afterschool Special, mostly because Ari’s narration is so calm as he tries to just go along with life and figure things out. While you could say that this is a book that deals with identity issues, and trauma, and PTSD, and showing diverse communities in books, you could also say that it’s a sweet story about friendship and family and love. I don’t want to give away too much more, but I just thought it was lovely.

Also, I read the paper book rather than listening to the audio book, but apparently the audio version is narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda, which just seems perfect. I actually pictured him saying some of Ari’s lines as I was reading and it really worked. So if you’re an audiobook person, this books gets a little extra recommendation.

Kinsey’s Three(ish) Word Review: Sweet coming-of-age tale

You might also like:
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, The Beginning of Everything, Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, and Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Boys cycle are other teen boy-narrated books that I have enjoyed quite a bit.

The Fifth Wave

A podcast that I was listening to recently (Extra Hot Great, which I mentioned in my post) was dividing post-apocalyptic/end-of-world stories into two categories: those that focus on what it’s like as the world is falling apart and those that focus on how people live after things have fallen apart. I had never quite thought of it this way before, but it is a great way to describe the differences and it helped me figure out why I love some end-of-the-world novels and find others way too stressful. Apparently, I like reading about post-disaster life and how people keep going–Station Eleven and The Hunger Games are examples, where most of the story is about people living in the “new normal” of a world after life as we know it has ended. I guess these books feel far enough removed from my own life that I can maintain some emotional distance? But I am an anxious enough person that I find stories that show the process of civilization breaking down to be almost unbearable–when the author’s goal is to show you how close we are to this new post-apocalyptic word, that’s too close for me! I really enjoyed David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, but there was one section of it that so powerfully described a world in which the Internet had gone down and international borders were closed . . . I don’t even like to think about it too much.

All of this to say that The Fifth Wave is one of those as-the-world-is-falling apart books that I found really anxiety-inducing, but may be right up your alley! This is the first in a YA trilogy in which aliens have come to earth and are in the process of exterminating humans/cleaning up the planet. The story follows a couple of different teenagers who are trying to survive on their own in a world where virtually all other humans are dead. There’s a teeny bit of teen romance that I found somewhat unrealistic (I think all these kids would have too much PTSD to do much other than huddle in a ball on the floor, but whatever) but most of the book is about them fighting, running, and trying to figure out the right next step in a world where everything seems doomed. The main story is set a few weeks/months after the aliens have arrived, but there are lots of flashbacks to them arriving and starting the whole “no humans” process, so you really see the whole process play out. It’s a plot-intense book–the action moves fast and I was frantically turning pages to find out what happens. And while this is definitely not my preferred type of end-of-the-world story, it was compelling enough that requested the next book in series from the library.

Kinsey’s Three Word Review: Immediate post-apocalyptic adventure

You might also like:
 Any of the books I mentioned above, or the movie Children of Men, if you feel the need for a little cry about the state of the world. But we’ve all seen enough depressing things–go read something funny! Some of my laugh-out-loud books include Let’s Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson, Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, Can You Keep a Secret by Sophie Kinsella, and I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron.

Code Name Verity ALERT

YOU GUYS. THERE IS A FOLLOW-UP TO CODE NAME VERITY. I have no idea how I missed this, but Elizabeth Wein’s Rose Under Fire is a companion to one of the best, and most heart breaking, things I read last year. I’m starting it tonight and fully expect to be crying tomorrow. I guess I could have waited until I finished the book and reviewed it, but I felt like this was a discovery you needed to hear about immediately. MORE CODE NAME VERITY, PEOPLE!