Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

Bookshop Santa Cruz presents Veronica Roth Jan 23 2017

Get your tickets today for Roth’s one and only Northern California event! Monday, January 23rd

Reviewed by Sierra Belgard

In a world where the current is strong, everyone gets a gift. As to what that gift may be is a mystery. Although gifts are not rare, fates are. Many believe that it is only highborn families that receive these unique fates, but it is really the fates that make you highborn.
In the latest story by Veronica Roth, two teenagers whose families are enemies become unlikely friends. Akos is the son of the sitting oracle of Thuvhe and Cyra is the daughter of the Shotet leader. When the Shotet leader dies, his son (Cyra’s older brother) takes charge of the Shotet and kidnaps Akos and his brother. This sets a number of things in motion and creates the improbable friendship between Akos and Cyra. She relies on him for pain relief, he relies on her for security and safety from a brutal family. As the story progresses, their relationship strengthens and they become closer.
As the pages pull you in, your feelings for Roth’s characters twist and turn. Her character description is so vivid that they could be sitting right next to you. This book is a must read and will always have a spot on my bookshelf.

Get Your Veronica Roth Tickets!

Bookshop Santa Cruz presents international bestselling author Veronica Roth (Divergent) for an in-conversation event and Q&A about her latest novel, Carve the Mark, the first book in her stunning new YA science-fiction fantasy series. This offsite and ticketed event, Roth’s only Bay Area appearance on her Carve the Mark tour, will take place at Santa Cruz High, 415 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz. Receive a signed copy of Carve the Mark with every ticket package purchase and be entered into our Super Fan raffle: 100 lucky winners will get to meet Veronica Roth, have their books personalized, and take a photo with the author after the event.

Add it to your Wish List–it makes a perfect gift! Buy your tickets in-store or online!Veronica Roth Bookshop Santa Cruz

Front Lines by Michael Grant

front lines

It’s always challenging to find young adult books without your stereotypical story. Each time I think I have found something new, up pops that same High School drama. Because I am so familiar with these types of books, when I do find something new (or even slightly new) , I become completely engrossed within the pages. I found this book to be a little more original, and became excited reading it.

Michael Grant writes about an alternate history where women could enlist during World War II. I immediately found this intriguing. The narrator follows the stories of three young women, whom are still young and somewhat naive, through the war. Let’s start with Rio.

Rio is seventeen and tall for her age. She lives in a small town called Gedwell Falls. She has strong shoulders from being the daughter of a farmer. She’s one of those girls who gets good grades, is shy, and doesn’t talk back. Her sister was killed by the “Japs”, which causes Rio to enlist. She wants revenge. This is a bold move for her because of her shy, quiet demeanor. Next up is Frangie.

Frangie is a black girl who lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma . She’s a small for her 17 years. Her father had an accident and is unable to work. She enlists to save her family from absolute poverty. When she enlists she plans to become a medic. Now for Rainy.

Rainy enlists because she wants to serve her country. She wants to prove herself. Her family is Jewish, and because of this, one can guess her feeling towards the Germans. She plans to work in army intelligence.

But their enlistment processes/reasons aren’t the whole story. This book deals with the horrors of war and hard-to-answer questions, like: What is it like to see your friend die in front of your very eyes? What is it like to deal with the harsh sexism and racism of the 1940s?

Over all, this book had an dynamic plot and was conceptually intriguing. I found it especially wonderful that even though Michael Grant is a man, he did a very good job portraying his female characters. This is a must read book for anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

-Sierra B

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The Fall of Butterflies by Andrea Portes

fall of butterfliesIn her novel, The Fall of Butterflies, tells the story of Wilma, a young woman whose life hasn’t by any stretch of the imagination been easy.  She’s never quite fit in, her mother has been absent, and her father struggles to support them.  To make matters worse, her mother has decided that to be a proper adult, she has to abandon her hometown of What Cheer, Iowa for a pretentious private school on the East Coast.  Consequently, Wilma plans to commit suicide once she arrives there.

That is, until she meets Remy.

Remy is an enigma.  She fascinates Wilma and breathes joy back into her life with her wit and friendship.  For a while, they simply enjoy each other’s company.  Remy sometimes disappears for days on end, but she also moves in with Wilma and pushes her to try new things and meet new people.  However, Wilma soon learns that Remy has some very serious problems and some very dark secrets.

Portes tells Wilma’s story in a refreshingly frank tone by wasting no time beating around the bush and using very little figurative language.  This technique works well, and makes Wilma seem more genuine.  In addition to being painfully honest at times, The Fall of Butterflies is gripping to say the least, and Portes manages to make a story that addresses very real human concerns fun and light at times, while also solemn at others.  Portes also raises questions about social issues such as the wealth gap and subsequent prejudices as Wilma watches the lives of her wealthy friends through the eyes of a child whose father worked very hard just to keep them afloat.  The Fall of Butterflies also succeeds at character foils, both with Grease and Hamlet; although, it would have been better if Portes had not spent so much time explaining how the characters related and spent more time showing it.

This challenge is actually the key flaw in The Fall of Butterflies: Portes wastes too much time telling her reader when she should be showing them.  She does paint a very vivid picture, but she leaves very little to the imagination.  Most people are familiar enough with Hamlet to recognize that Remy shares many traits with Ophelia, and it would have been more elegant if she’d allowed the readers to make the connection for themselves.  This problem persists throughout the entire book and follows nearly every pop culture reference made, which makes it tedious to read at times.  Portes’s lack of a fourth wall also feels unnecessary and uncomfortable.  All of the points Wilma made by speaking directly to the reader could have been made more gracefully if Portes had shown them implicitly through Wilma’s thoughts or actions.  The final challenge The Fall of Butterflies faces is how to seem realistic.  It’s very difficult for adults to genuinely sound like teenagers in young adult fiction, and Portes never really manages to bring Wilma the authentistic voice of a high schooler.  She attempts to remedy this through use of pop culture references, such as “hashtags”,  and long tangents about unnecessary things, but they only feel out of place and often break the flow of the story, making them more annoying than relatable.  Even elements of the plot, such as Milo’s sudden interest in Wilma and the breakneck speed at which their relationship moves, are incredible.  Frankly, it would have been much more believable for Remy and Wilma to fall in love than for Wilma to fall hopelessly in love with Milo because she saw him across the way once.  Although the “love at first sight” trope has been successful in the past, many authors struggle to make it believable, and Portes never really achieves it.
In short, The Fall of Butterflies is witty and brutally honest, but was difficult to get through due to the aforementioned problems.  Regardless, it is an interesting read for people who would like to explore  themes such as acceptance of oneself and others, the class distinction and the issues that it causes, and what it means to live rather than to simply persist. – Paige P.

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The Girl in the Blue Coat reviewed by Bella Buchter

Girl in the Blue Coat

Girl in the Blue Coat

I don’t normally read historical fiction, so The Girl in the Blue Coat was a nice change of pace and I enjoyed how the author, Monica Hesse, weaved a story with so much mystery and detailed description. It really seemed like a very researched book.
The girl in the blue coat follows the quest of Hanneke, a young woman who lives during 1943, when the Germans invaded Amsterdam. In order to provide for her family, she deals in black market goods, secretly smuggling illegal things such as cigarettes and coffee to her customers. Her own life is risky, but this time is even more dangerous for her friends and neighbors who are jews, as they are forced to go into hiding in order not to be taken to transit camps. One day on a delivery, Hanneke is asked to find a missing jewish girl, who at any time could be captured by the Nazis. It is an almost impossible task, but Hanneke takes it on partly as a small rebellion against the Nazis. She feels that her boyfriend, Bas, who was killed at war with the Germans, would want her to try to save the girl. Throughout the book, she becomes overwhelmed with feelings of sadness for Bas, which encourages her to continue looking for the missing girl.
Hanneke is a very detail oriented, independant, do-what-you-have-to-to-survive type of person, and an expert at finding things such as all her black market goods. Hanneke’s determination and focused personality help her a lot a she reaches dead end after dead end and new mystery after new mystery while trying to locate Mirjam, the missing girl and as she gets deeper and deeper into her quest and things gradually get more dangerous.
Some parts of this book did get confusing, especially at the end, when Hanneke was trying to figure out what really happened to Mirjam, but besides that it seemed like a very realistic book and had a strong main character to admire. Any fans of historical fiction would enjoy this book, as well as any fans of mystery.

SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki Review!

Simply beginning as slice of life web comic Supermutant Magic Academy is a compilation of comic strips from this not so ordinary high school. Where we see little interactions between the students, teachers and themselves experiencing the most mundane high school situations like failing a test, prom, trying to find the school’s wifi hotspot or procrastinating on a project but with the added twist of magic wands, lasers, and shape shifting into trees. We also see the characters discovering their sexuality, superpower or the secrets to the universe between classes, during P.E. and in their dorm rooms. Making this a very witty, quirky, and relatable graphic novel that summarizes high school with each panel.

Although what is probably the best thing from this graphic novel is the hilarious and very diverse characters. From an everlasting boy who continuously dies and regenerates, an artist hell bent on making a statement about the world to her less appreciative peers, a shy and sarcastic dungeon master attempting to confess her feelings to her best friend and a jock named Cheddar who only has time to go off on existential rants as he refuses to become the chosen one. And yet this is only skimming the surface of all the characters featured in the novel and as you may be able to tell that they are quite distinct and memorable.

Overall the art style and story telling of this graphic novel is very welcoming and a whole bunch of fun in its simplicity. Making it a great book for people trying to get into graphic novels but are sort of struggling with the transition from text only to primarily illustrations and dialogue because like a real novel there are spaces left for you to fill in, but instead of it being images and characters it’s the story and how everything comes together which allows your imagination to roam and flourish at the Supermutant Magic Academy.

Maid of Deception by Jennifer McGowen Review

When you really like a genre you tend to read a lot of books within it and therefore read a number of similar books. Books that take place in the same time periods, featuring the same monarchs, similar leading ladies, a stereotypical romance and plot line making it everything you want but sort of leaving out a lot of the surprise and mystique as you wonder what is going to happen next. Since because you are so familiar with this particular genre everything appears very predictable as if you have read it before… Unless you have read it before and it just takes you 250 pages to realize that. Which is what happened to me in this instance. Although, when I originally read it I -for some reason- never wrote review on it so please allow me to remedy that now.

Now, to be fair, I am quite well read in historical romances taking place during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign in the 1500s with a cunning female lead falling in love with a brute. Also, I remembered reading the first 20-30 pages before leaving it be for a while (of so I though). So for me to think that I was reading this novel for the first time was entirely plausible. Especially since it was on my “to be read” stack. But I have to say that this novel was just as good the second time around, even with the weird deja vu I was having with it.

Which was mainly in part with the intricate and provocative characters. Especially with the protagonist Lady Beatrice Knowles who was a very clever, honest, persuasive, deceiving and responsible with her loyalties to the country of England and her family. Even if it meant marrying out of necessity for her family’s fortune to be sustained or to flirt with uncivilized scotsmen in order to woo information out of them. Since Beatrice is a liar and tradeswomen of secrets, knowing all and choosing when to wield her knowledge or to just talk her way out of something. Unlike her fellow spies, or the maids of honor, who dealt more in the supernatural, shadows and force in comparison to Lady Beatrice. Then there was the scottish warrior Alasdair MacLeod who is dashing, strong and prideful but utterly infatuated with the engaged Lady Beatrice. But of course her Royal Highness (and many other -nesses) directs her head maid honor to flirt with the scot to Lady Beatrice’s great annoyance. Making Lady Beatrice’s internal monologue quite entertaining as she takes you through all her flirtations, deceptions and personal agenda.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed reading this novel, for the second time. The story is still enchanting, thoughtful, well crafted and entertaining. Definitely a must read for fellow fans of historical romances, mysteries and simply historical YA fiction.

Change Places With Me by Lois Metzger

Be transported to a time not so far away in a place somewhat similar to our own, known as Belle Heights. In this place the buses are powered by hydrogen, lab dissections are virtual, teeth can be straightened in under an hour and there’s this special procedure known as Memory Enhancement.

So meet Rose a reborn women in her sophomore year of high school trying to make friends and reestablish herself. Right off the bat we see Rose dying her hair, beginning to wear makeup and completely change her wardrobe. Which instantly garners her more attention and allows her to break into new social groups, but something is amiss for Rose. She is making everything perfect, but it just doesn’t feel real or perfect to her. Which then leads us to the rest of the events of the novel.

Now, onto my opinions of this book! It is a short read and conceptually very interesting but incredibly convoluted. There just isn’t that much consistency or continuity throughout the novel to allow me to fall into Rose’s world, instead I keep dragging myself out of the world in order to set names straight, timelines and perspectives/pronouns. Which took away a lot from what is a pretty beautiful and powerful story. It also drew attention away from the very complex and compelling character of Rose who is a very confused, insecure and struggling teenager that a lot of us could identify with but it is hard to fully understand her and follow her development because of all inconsistencies of her pronouns, perspective and thought process that jumps around quite a bit similar to an actual teenager but makes it quite difficult to understand what is happening, happened or going to happen.

Alright, the reason why I wanted to read this book was because it claimed to be similar to Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not which was an amazing neo-science fiction novel. Now, there are a lot of similarities in these novels especially that they are what I consider neo-science fiction  which is when the world in very similar to our own aside from one or two things that are totally ahead of our time. In this case is was the Hydro-buses and Memory Enhancement which were pretty cool and well executed in the story.

So overall, I thought that this book was conceptually very interesting just not perfectly executed. However, I do believe that Rose’s character has some merits and a story worth being told. Also, this book would be good for anyone else interested in this neo-sci fi thing.

The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

steep and thorny way 2The Steep and Thorny Way chronicles the life of sixteen year old Hanalee Denney, whose parents are an interracial couple in 1920’s Oregon.  Hanalee is still mourning the loss of her father nearly two years before, and the story begins with Hanalee confronting the boy who hit her father while driving under the influence.  He suggests that her father was killed by Hanalee’s new stepfather, Uncle Clyde, which leads her down a twisted path as she tries to learn what really happened to her father and uncovers many dark secrets along the way.  Using the framework of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Winters explores several issues of the the time including racial divides and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, homophobia and the eugenics movement, and the pressure to conform to society that fueled them.  Although Hamlet is by no means the main focus of this book, it plays a critical role in the way Winters portrays her characters and how they interact.  For example, the strained relationship between Hanalee and her Uncle Clyde is a clear reference to Hamlet’s feelings toward his own Uncle Claudius.

Winters has a talent for imagery and her novel is riddled with eloquent descriptions of the wooded town of Elston that paint a vivid image in the reader’s mind and bring the story to life.  She also has an eye for detail and includes several subtle references to brands that would have been commonly used at the time, such as the description of the “distinctive” sound of a Model T and the Canthrox soap that Hanalee uses, which helps transport the reader and make the story feel more realistic.

The challenge The Steep and Thorny Way faces is how to incorporate racial discrimination, internalized racism, homophobia, Prohibition, post-war economic troubles, and Hamlet into one novel.  In some aspects, it gracefully combines several issues, such as how the end of World War One forced many families, like the Markses, to turn to “bootlegging” to survive.  Winters also addresses the issue of internalized racism extraordinarily well and tactfully through the way Hanalee seems to idolize her mother’s and Fleur’s blonde hair and fair skin.  She even manages to offer acceptance for Hanalee at the end of the story, which was refreshing and overall well done.  Winters’s trouble begins when she tries to stay true to the plot of Hamlet.  Hamlet has a very unique plotline that, frankly, is barely believable in the Bard’s version.  With the KKK, Joe’s stories of eugenics in the prison system, and the murder of Hanalee’s father, the connections to Hamlet feel out of place and unnecessary.  The story would have flown much better and made more sense if Winters had just loosely based it on Hamlet and abandoned certain elements, such as the ghost, that make it seem far fetched.  She has so many elements to work with already that she even could have formulated a completely unique plot that still could have addressed the issues of 1920’s Oregon without the confusion that the Shakespeare element brings.

The Steep and Thorny Way was an interesting read that did touch on a lot of major issues that are still problems in today’s society while also keeping the reader interested with a quick-paced plot and many twists.  Despite its pitfalls, it is worth reading for those who have an interest in history and in exploring sides of the Roaring Twenties that are rarely discussed. – Paige P