Book Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Please welcome the newest member of Team Midsummer: Leia! Leia and Jess both grew up in the suburbs of Charlotte, NC but didn’t meet until they were both students at East Carolina University. After serving as Orientation Assistants during the summer of 2008, they stayed in touch. Give a big welcome to her and help us celebrate her first official review:

Leia holds her Ph.D. in Educational Foundations and Inquiry and is currently a professor of Educational Research. She has been an avid reader for as long as she can remember, and is absolutely obsessed with everything Potter. Her favorite book series include Harry Potter, A Court of Thorns and Roses, and the Gemma Doyle trilogy. She is also obsessed with pugs.

 

 

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery: humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now Scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

Scythe is the first novel of a thrilling new series by National Book Award–winning author Neal Shusterman in which Citra and Rowan learn that a perfect world comes only with a heavy price.

I needed a good story to help break through my post-ACOWAR book hangover, and I certainly found it in Scythe. I have meandered between books, not really committing to any one in particular (and finishing all at a slow pace since none could keep my attention for long)… until I stumbled upon this book.

Shusterman is a name that I tend to hear in passing in the book clubs that I frequent, but I had never read his work before. A friend picked up Scythe and insisted that it was right up my alley – and I can’t thank her enough. It is a fast paced read which picks up to a break-neck speed about halfway through. This is definitely a book that I lost sleep over this week.

Humanity has reached a point where death is no longer a guarantee. Instead of continuing to age, individuals are able to turn back their genes in order to relive their younger years – often resetting to their early twenties. Sickness and pain are things of the past, as “nanites” are injected into the bloodstream of all people in order to keep their bodies healthy and healed. “Splatting,” the process of killing yourself in creative ways, has become a popular past time – splatters are revived and able to continue their lives within a few days. This presents a problem, of course, as people continue to reproduce and the earth is more and more populated.

In order to cull the population, Scythes are trained and ordained to glean the lives of individuals. Each Scythe, however, is given the freedom to glean as they see fit. The book follows Citra and Rowan as they serve and apprenticeship under the great Scythe Faraday.

Citra and Rowan are fantastic as main characters, and I found myself holding my breath as their journey into Scythedom intensified. While a romantic interest between the two is hinted at, it is not a main part of the story itself. This would normally be a turn off for me – I am definitely a fan of romance – but its near-absence never phased me. I feel that anything more than what is present would have felt wrong for the characters, which are focused instead on perfecting the art of death.

I am notorious for predicting story arcs and twists, but never saw the majority of this book coming. Because of this, I am hesitant to say more about the book, lest I spoil something for future readers. The experience was one that I will not soon forget.

4.5 Bards

 

Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Sáenz

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common.

But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

I easily connected with Ari as a teenager who doesn’t quite know where he fits in the world. The beauty of the writing is that I was so easily able to connect with a Mexican-American gay teenage boy growing up in the 80’s, while I am straight white woman who was a teenager in the early 2000’s. His struggles with identity and his pent up anger are things I think every teenager goes through at some point.

But my favorite thing about Ari is the way we get to know the people that’s love him. With only Ari’s POV for the whole book, we still get excellent insight into everyone else in his life. Especially the fact that the people that love him seem to know him better than he knows himself. Even if he is “unknowable.” His relationships with Dante and his parents show the complexities of real, loving relationships and all of the ups and downs that come with them.

I feel like Sáenz touches on so many things without it being overwhelming to the story. Dante is so sure of himself in everything he does, but he struggles with his Mexican-American identity, whereas Ari has the exact opposite problem. He paints a great picture of two families that can. And do exist in the US, even today.

I was completely blown away by this book. The writing is effortlessly profound and I was just so moved by Sáenz’s words. I can’t wait to read more from him.

5 bards, hands down.
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Be sure to check out our calendar to keep up with LGBT History Month here on A Midsummer Night’s Read.
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Book Review: All The Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

It’s been ten years since Nicolette Farrell left her rural hometown after her best friend, Corinne, disappeared from Cooley Ridge without a trace. Back again to tie up loose ends and care for her ailing father, Nic is soon plunged into a shocking drama that reawakens Corinne’s case and breaks open old wounds long since stitched.

The decade-old investigation focused on Nic, her brother Daniel, boyfriend Tyler, and Corinne’s boyfriend Jackson. Since then, only Nic has left Cooley Ridge. Daniel and his wife, Laura, are expecting a baby; Jackson works at the town bar; and Tyler is dating Annaleise Carter, Nic’s younger neighbor and the group’s alibi the night Corinne disappeared. Then, within days of Nic’s return, Annaleise goes missing.

Told backwards—Day 15 to Day 1—from the time Annaleise goes missing, Nic works to unravel the truth about her younger neighbor’s disappearance, revealing shocking truths about her friends, her family, and what really happened to Corinne that night ten years ago.

***North Carolina Author***

So, it’s no secret that I like to support North Carolina authors, but Megan Miranda is one that I’ve known for a handful of years now.  Not only does she live really close to me, she is a fantastic author that is now finally getting the IMG_2126recognition she deserves with the arrival of her first adult novel, All the Missing Girls.

Like the synopsis states, the story is told backwards.  Now when I visited Miranda at one of her book signings here in Huntersville, NC, she said the idea to write the novel this way came during her long drive from New Jersey down to North Carolina (which is around a 9 hour drive depending on your destination) as she considered the character’s journey.  Not a bad way to brainstorm, albeit the caviat of having nowhere to write it down.  But she got it done!

IMG_2128Anywho, the novel starts off quickly and it manages to pick up pace up until practically the last chapter and it is an absolute thrill ride.  Plot-wise the novel is executed well, and the reader is kept on their toes throughout.  I was also intrigued by the dichotomy established between Nic’s life in the North (although other than her being a school councelor and being engaged to Everett, we don’t know a whole lot) and her life back home in Cooley Ridge. It was done really well, and I did appreciate the comment about how the character’s southern accent came back once she arrives home, as it is something she masks in her life up north.  I think that it is a really clever way to hint that it’s not the only thing Nic has been masking while living outside of Cooley Ridge.

Speaking of masking, let’s talk about unreliable narrators.  Nelly from Wuthering Heights is a popular example of this, as she is relaying a story she was only on the periphery of, but what happens when you have a main character narrator that you can’t trust? A damn good novel is what happens. Trust no one in this thriller.

The ending was something I am pleased to say surprised me for the most part and it is one that I literally dreamed about after I finished the book at 1 AM.

Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this novel, it will keep you on your toes and possibly keep you awake at night.

4.5 Bards

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Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

 

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: February 2, 2016

Magic is powerful, dangerous and addictive – and after passage of the 18th Amendment, it is finally illegal.

It’s 1926 in Washington, DC, and while Anti-Sorcery activists have achieved the Prohibition of sorcery, the city’s magic underworld is booming. Sorcerers cast illusions to aid mobsters’ crime sprees. Smugglers funnel magic contraband in from overseas. Gangs have established secret performance venues where patrons can lose themselves in magic, and take a mind-bending, intoxicating elixir known as the sorcerer’s shine.

Joan Kendrick, a young sorcerer from Norfolk County, Virginia accepts an offer to work for DC’s most notorious crime syndicate, the Shaw Gang, when her family’s home is repossessed. Alex Danfrey, a first-year Federal Prohibition Unit trainee with a complicated past and talents of his own, becomes tapped to go undercover and infiltrate the Shaws.

Through different paths, Joan and Alex tread deep into the violent, dangerous world of criminal magic – and when their paths cross at the Shaws’ performance venue, despite their orders, and despite themselves, Joan and Alex become enchanted with one another. But when gang alliances begin to shift, the two sorcerers are forced to question their ultimate allegiances and motivations. And soon, Joan and Alex find themselves pitted against each other in a treacherous, heady game of cat-and-mouse.

A CRIMINAL MAGIC casts a spell of magic, high stakes and intrigue against the backdrop of a very different Roaring Twenties.

Book Review: Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

They say Delia burned herself to death in her stepfather’s shed. They say it was suicide.

But June doesn’t believe it.

June and Delia used to be closer than anything. Best friends in that way that comes before everyone else-before guys, before family. It was like being in love, but more. They had a billion secrets, tying them together like thin silk cords.

But one night a year ago, everything changed. June, Delia, and June’s boyfriend Ryan were just having a little fun. Their good time got out of hand. And in the cold blue light of morning, June knew only this-things would never be the same again.

And now, a year later, Delia is dead. June is certain she was murdered. And she owes it to her to find out the truth…which is far more complicated than she ever could have imagined.

This novel started off really awesome.  I will argue that the first half of this book was really spot on.  I will admit that I finished this book in around 3 hours, so it wasn’t that it became hard to read or that it was difficult in anyway.  In fact, I’ll tell you that it is easy and enjoyable.  Then why am I saying just the first half was good?  Well…let me just start with the good.

June is basically your typical high school teenager.  She underestimates her beauty, her intelligence, and her ability to stand up to anyone other than her equally typical boyfriend, Ryan.  She has a really interesting family consisting of a single, drunken mother, but we really don’t see a whole lot about that and we don’t hear about how it affected her growing up or anything.  The entirety of June throughout this novel revolves around Delia.  She is practically a non-entity until Delia is mentioned or brought up.  Delia is the sun and June is the scorched planet Mercury that rotates super close.  But then Delia kills herself, supposedly.  This is where the first half gets interesting.

June begins to suspect foul play in Delia’s death and basically goes off the deep end and reads absolutely anything possible, no matter how far fetched, as being related to Delia’s supposed suicide and everything that happened in their friendship.  The fact of the matter is that their friendship is so complicated and a bit obsessive.  I say “a bit,” but it begins to seem unhealthy around the halfway mark in the book when a pretty big “twist” occurs.  Why is twist in quotations?  Well, because it wasn’t much of a twist to me when I saw it coming.

The latter half of the book does have it’s highlights.  The synopsis refers to Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls as being for fans of E.Lockhart’s We Were Liars.  I’d say it’s a fairly weak comparison, but it does have the disjointed narration aspect down pat in the second half.  You will start to question every perception June has ever made and a lot of what she tells you as a narrator.  But, the novel then randomly splits into dual narration between June and Delia, after not doing this at all in the first half.  Delia’s narration, other than being peppered with heavy references to fire and burning, is even more full of confused statements and weird obssessive thoughts about June.

June really just wants to be loved and accepted.

The ending was nice in that it provides the reader with the option to decide the characters’ fate.  There are pretty much two ways that a reader could decide on, but I’m fairly certain a lot of readers will choose a specific one based on other reviews I’ve seen and reactions I’ve noticed.

Either way, I’m giving Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls an average rating because it really wasn’t unenjoyable.  I just wish it had been stronger as a story.

3 Bards

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Book Review: Endless Knight by Kresley Cole

Shocking secrets
Evie has fully come into her powers as the Tarot Empress, and Jack was there to see it all. She now knows that the teens who’ve been reincarnated as the Tarot are in the throes of an epic battle. It’s kill or be killed, and the future of mankind hangs in the balance.

Unexpected allies
With threats lurking around every corner, Evie is forced to trust her newfound alliance. Together they must fight not only other Arcana, but also Bagmen zombies, post-apocalyptic storms, and cannibals.

Gut-wrenching treachery
When Evie meets Death, things get even more complicated. Though falling for Jack, she’s drawn to the dangerous Endless Knight as well. Somehow the Empress and Death share a history, one that Evie can’t remember–but Death can’t forget…

 

I really don’t know why it took me so long for me to pick up this novel, considering how much I enjoyed the first installment in the Arcana Chronicles, Poison Princess (click on the title to check out my review!), but it did.  I am now regretting taking so long to read it.

Honestly, the first book was just so jam packed of information and action..so it means that I really enjoyed the more slow building plot of Endless Knight, and the exciting development of the relationship between Evie and Death.  While I think that Death has some traits that are a bit misogynistic and he is a bit ruthless with Evie…but again, he is Death, so I’m assuming that some of these traits are left from being centuries old and from being ridiculously angry with the past incarnations of the Empress.

I’m not a big fan of Jack, and he is ridiculously stubborn and unwilling to believe in the supernatural or anything like that while he is in the middle of an obvious apocalyptic situation, and he manages to just push Evie away and take advantage of her feelings for him. So when Evie ended up separated from her friends and Jack, I wasn’t totally devastated.

Again, the majority of this novel takes place in Death’s immaculate mansion after Evie is taken by him.  It has a very Princess Bride feel to it, where Death is the Dread Pirate Roberts to Evie’s Westley.

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So Evie is not only trying to remember her past lives, but also to prolong her life.  We get a more detailed look into the other cards, and actually get to see a list of the cards that they have discovered, which are dead, which are still missing, and which ones they have encountered.

Just when I was really enjoying where Endless Knight was going, Cole had to go and throw a monkey wrench in the happiness that Evie and Death had earned.  Although, I will say that both men, Death and Jack, seem to have been ridiculously obsessed with sex in this novel.  While I understand that something like that comes naturally with love and everything, I just don’t understand why there was such pressure involved.  It can be a little confusing for young girls reading this, just because of the big movement in Rape Culture and the over sexualization of women.

Overall, I think this installment was much more enjoyable than the first.  I’d love to see Cole do something more with these characters than just explore the love triangle in the next book, and I’m hoping that Evie continues to mature and grow into her powers.

5 Bards.

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Book Review: Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

The Pre-Sloane Emily didn’t go to parties, she barely talked to guys, she didn’t do anything crazy. Enter Sloane, social tornado and the best kind of best friend—the one who yanks you out of your shell.But right before what should have been an epic summer, Sloane just… disappears. No note. No calls. No texts. No Sloane. There’s just a random to-do list. On it, thirteen Sloane-selected-definitely-bizarre-tasks that Emily would never try… unless they could lead back to her best friend. Apple Picking at Night? Ok, easy enough.Dance until Dawn? Sure. Why not? Kiss a Stranger? Wait… what?

Getting through Sloane’s list would mean a lot of firsts. But Emily has this whole unexpected summer ahead of her, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected) to check things off. Who knows what she’ll find?

Go Skinny Dipping? Um…

I’m going to use one word that will describe reading this book for me:

Red Christmas gift box and baubles on background of defocused golden lights.

This book took me back to reading Sarah Dessen books over and over again every summer, when I took 2 to 3 hour phone calls with my two best friends on a three way call, when we would coordinate our bathing suit colors so we wouldn’t clash at the community pool, when we would dare one another to jump off the high dive, and senior week beach trips.  Long story short (too late!), this book is everything I could have hoped for a summer high school story.

Matson’s prose was just descriptive enough to make me feel like I was watching a feel good teen movie and it made me smile almost the whole way through.  Losing a friend is hard, and no matter how odd it is that one would disappear without saying goodbye, it happens.  So the fact that Emily felt up to the challenge and then really did all of the things that Sloane listed for her is beautiful and uplifting.

The plot develops at a normal pace, and I wasn’t bored at all.  I’ve read a few reviews saying that this novel read a little bit young, but considering how naive the main character, Emily, is…I think that the voice is just right. I loved that the chapter titles kept us on track of which task Emily would be working on or striving for.

Emily’s new friends were introduced well, and I think that they were integrated into her life very organically.  I wish that we could have gotten some closure on the Emily/Dawn front, considering how Dawn reacted toward the end of the novel.  Frank. Oh, Frank. I’m just going to leave it at that.

Oh, and if you don’t know a lot of the music from the book, go check it out. Matson has some great taste!

Thank you Morgan Matson for reminding me of why I still hang out with my two best friends from childhood, and I hope it inspires readers to reach out to lost friends as well.

4.5 Bards

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This post is dedicated to my two oldest friends: We’ve been best friends for 15 years now. Here’s to 15 more!

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Waiting on Wednesday

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on: 
 
 
Release Date: April 15, 2014
What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them…all at once? 
 
Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.
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