“Future Leaders of Nowhere” by Emily O’Beirne

Want to know the surefire sign of a good book? Finding yourself confronted with the promise of a sequel, given a vague date (Autumn 2017, in this case), and saying to yourself (possibly aloud, since you stayed up until nearly one in the morning devouring said book) “ooh, I gotta get that book!”

This is what happened when I finished Emily O’Beirne’s FUTURE LEADERS OF NOWHERE last night, this morning… however you want to look at it.

I requested the book from NetGalley (in exchange for an honest and original review) because it seemed different (being listed as LGBTQIA and Teen/YA), got it (thanks Ylva Publishing!), briefly forgot about it, then read it. And I love it!

I really cannot emphasize how much I love this book!

Set in Australia (thereby ticking the box of being set somewhere I don’t usually read about), FUTURE LEADERS OF NOWHERE is set in a month-long retreat-style camp where a variety of high schools send teams of seven high-achieving students (who are “future leaders”) to compete in a nation-building game. Having been through American high school (public and poor, truth be told), I really, really, really wish this sort “game” existed for us. It sounds incredibly fun, challenging, and important. And maybe ritzier, better funded, private schools here do have things like this. Who knows. Maybe I’d rather not know.

Anyway…

The first half of the book is told from Finn’s perspective. She is “captain” of her co-ed high school (this idea of school captains is also mildly foreign to me) and her team quickly elects her their leader in the game. She does not particularly want the job and, honestly, she’s not that great at it when the game starts. She tries to please all of the people all of the time. Even in the democracy that her team is assigned, that is a doomed leadership style.

But Finn meets Willa, the leader of the team from a fancy all-girls school.

And Willa, who tells the second half of the story, meets Finn.

Both girls are coming off having been burned in relationships that they were more invested in than their partners but they move forward together, wary of history and the looming specter of the game. Finn becomes a better leader because Willa gives her confidence and Willa opens up to her classmates, thereby becoming a better leader as well, because Finn helps her see that she won’t always be hurt if she shares who she is with someone else.

Beyond Finn and Willa there is an amazing, relatable, fun cast of supporting characters that I want to know more about.

FUTURE LEADERS OF NOWHERE is sweet, heartfelt, touching, funny, sad, honest, and generally lovely.

I am so glad I requested an ARC of this book, more glad that I got an ARC, and the most glad that there is more of this story to look forward to!

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Reviewed: “As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust” by Alan Bradley

As Chimney Sweepers Come to DustI’ve got to start by saying that I didn’t realize there were six Flavia de Luce books before As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust when I picked this book up to read it. It’s a credit to Alan Bradley and Flavia de Luce that the only consequence of reading book seven first is that I now want to read the first six books.

Flavia de Luce is a twelve year old student sent far from her English countryside home to a boarding school in Canada because she comes from a long line of talented people – who are probably better described in the first half dozen books. Suffice it to say, Flavia is a chemistry whiz and a well-practiced hand at the art of solving murders.

Lucky for her, Miss Bodycote’s is a hotbed for mystery and murder.

Everybody’s a suspect, and a potential victim really, and everyone at the school has secrets they keep at all costs. It’s the perfect place for Flavia to practice her craft and it all begins on her first night – when a badly body drops out of the chimney of her room.

Flavia leaves no stone unturned and no question unasked, and she does it with a light and fresh inner commentary on all the workings of her mind and the world around her. There isn’t any doubt that she’s wise far beyond her years and that makes her an incredibly fun character to take a journey with.

I want to spend more time with Flavia de Luce!

I received a copy of As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dustthrough NetGalley and Random Publishing House – Bantam Dell in exchange for an honest & original review.

The Infernal Devices Trilogy by Cassandra Clare

Clockwork AngelI fully admit that I’d heard enough about Cassandra Clare and various fandom, fanfiction, Harry Potter related controversies (although I never read Harry Potter fanfiction in any form) that I was hesitant to even think about reading her published works.

I was very judgmental. And then I got over myself.

Having been in the Twilight fandom for a few years, I know that fandoms can be harsh, persnickety places where many people get inflated senses of themselves (and I don’t claim to be totally immune to this, I just hope I’m not as bad as some I’ve seen). Maybe Cassandra Clare was one of those types of people I ran away from in my fandom. Maybe I would have run away from the people who a little Googling will prove still hold a grudge. Maybe people got jealous that she catapulted her fanfiction into a lucrative and hugely popular line of books – which I imagine most of us fanfiction lovers dream of doing.

That’s not the point.

The point is that she wrote a bunch of books that a bunch of people told me were really good and that interested me so I got over myself and dived in. And this is my review of The Infernal Devices trilogy.

I know there’s a whole order to how one is “supposed” to read The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices but if you know me at all you’ll know that I don’t do things the way they’re “supposed” to be done. This time I credit my bucking of the system, and it is a true credit because it worked out perfectly, to my sister who told me I should read The Infernal Devices first because I love history and these books are historical fiction. Thanks, sis!

Clockwork PrinceThe Clockwork Angel was just a little bit slow getting started, I’ll say that. It helped to remember that it was a trilogy so I knew the plot would span three fairly good sized books, thereby allowing for a bit of a slower introduction. The Clockwork Prince, and I admit I’m still not totally sure who the title refers to (anyone know?), is the staple of these young adults series in that the love triangle takes center stage. The Clockwork Princess is a rollercoaster of emotions that brings the trilogy to an absolutely satisfying conclusion.

That is the series in a nutshell but there’s more than just a nutshell here.

The antagonists; automatons and so-called infernal devices and their creator, is steampunk (and these are my first steampunk books, a very good start) and Clare lays it out in such a way that it makes sense, it’s believable, and it carries through all three books. It could have fallen flat but it doesn’t.

The idea of an Institute and a Clave of Shadowhunters who protect regular humans from so-called Downworlders; vampires, werewolves, warlocks, and the like, fits in with the ever popular ideas of the supernatural. It’s heavy on Heaven and angels (Shadowhunters being born of angels) but it’s not heavy in a preachy, religious sort of way. Mentions of heaven and angels are used in such a way that they work with the ancient ideas of something holy being the only thing that can counter the things humanity has always been afraid of.

The three main characters; Tessa Gray, Jem Carstairs, and Will Herondale, are the love triangle. Clare hasn’t let it be that simple, though. Far more important, I think, than whether Tessa finds love with Jem or with Will is the friendship between the boys. That’s what I love about these books – the relationship between Will and Jem. That’s what made me keep turning the pages. The moments when Will begs Jem not to die and leave him alone, those are the things that made me misty-eyed.

Clockwork PrincessTessa is fine, she’s just… extra.

It seems strange to say that since the book is centered on her but it’s true. She’s not the strongest character. Her relationships with the other characters are not the strongest relationships. She supports the larger story, she is the larger story, but she does not make the larger story.

There is a larger story there, one that I will read again and again. No doubt about that.

Reviewed: “Sweet Damage” by Rebecca James”

Sweet DamageRebecca James’ “Sweet Damage” drew me in after just a fraction of the 304 pages. I couldn’t stop reading. I felt passionately about the characters. I wanted to understand them better and I wanted to see them get what they deserve in life, good or bad.

James sets the perfect scene. I felt like I was in Sydney and I’ve never been to Australia. I felt like I knew Anna’s house intimately and it was something created with words on a page. Anna, Tim, and Lilla have such strong personalities that there’s no danger of them being too much alike or too cookie cutter, for lack of a better phrase.

Their stories are strong and they have qualities that make them jump off the page. That makes for an excellent story.

As I read, I went back and forth behind the meaning of the story. I thought I understood the plot and the purpose but I was pleasantly surprised, startled even, when things turned out very much different than I expected. I like books that keep me on edge, making me turn the page just when I think I’ve got it all figured out.

“Sweet Damage” is available for purchase now.

(I received a copy of “Sweet Damage” through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and original review. The review will be post on NetGalley, Goodreads, and my blog.)

Reviewed: “Sway” by Kat Spears

SwayThe back cover of my ARC copy of SWAY describes it as fresh YA literature about a high school guy who can get anyone to do whatever he wants. All this is true.

And the truth of how it is true leads me to believe that, on this last day of Banned Books Week 2014, this YA novel will likely be challenged by parents across America. And this is truly unfortunate.

The reasons I think it will be challenged are simple; drug use, drug dealing, sex, religious discussions, underage drinking, suicide, bullying… All of these things are covered in SWAY and they’re bound to offend someone. I’m not that someone. I’m a bit removed from high school, but I think it’s safe to say that this is reality and we can’t avoid reality.

Even better is the fact that Kat Spears succeeded in wrapping it all up in an absolutely interesting story. Jesse Alderman is “Sway” – so nicknamed because he can get whatever he wants. He translates this talent into a career, working for a price or a favor to be named later to get what other people want when they don’t know another way. Jesse deals drugs and encourages underage drinking, yes, but he’s an oddly relatable character anyway.

He’s most relatable when dealing with the characters that can best be described as his sidekicks; cerebral palsy sufferer Pete and crotchety old man Mr. Dunkelman. It’s them, the people society might otherwise forget, that make Jesse a deeper character than even he thinks he is.

This book is worth reading simple to see the transformation of Jesse, from a boy so traumatized by life that he deals drugs to a young man who realizes he doesn’t always have to be what he figures he can be at any one moment.

I received a copy of SWAY through the Goodreads First Reads program in exchange for an honest and original review. This review will be cross-posted on Goodreads and my blog.

Reviewed: “Divergent” by Veronica Roth

DivergentI was wary about another dystopian YA series. Maybe it was because of how much I love Suzanne Collins’ THE HUNGER GAMES and maybe I didn’t think anything could live up to what she did. But the endless previews, ads, and other press coverage of the recently released Divergent film made me curious enough to give Veronica Roth’s DIVERGENT a chance.

I don’t think it’s quite as good as THE HUNGER GAMES, in the grand scheme of things, but it is absolutely amazing in its own way.

I should say before I go any further that this review is only of the first book in the trilogy, DIVERGENT.

I’d bet that unless you live off the grid or under a rock, you’ve probably seen some promotional things for the book and for the movie. You probably have a general idea of what the plot is and who the main characters are. I’ll save us both time and work any plot summary into an accounting of what I liked and what I didn’t like about the book.

I liked the characters, and I’m focusing Tris and Four, very much. Tris comes across as someone who doesn’t want to be a wallflower and manages, by switching to another faction, to find out that she is not, in fact, a wallflower. She’s a strong, powerful young woman who can embody the quiet, selflessness of her old faction at the same time as she can be the firmer, still as selfless leader of her new faction. She’s still a young girl, too, who falls for the “bad boy” and doesn’t quite trust herself to love. Four is the “bad boy” but it quickly becomes apparent that’s mostly a front, set up to protect himself. In that way, he’s more… real, I suppose, than any of the lead male characters in the recent YA series that have spawned movie franchises. Four is, for lack of a better word, vulnerable.

There’s a thing in the story called the “fear landscape” and I absolutely love that plot device. I never, ever want to go through a “fear landscape” but seeing Tris and Four face their fears, by force and by choice, gives me as the reader a chance to see a part of the character that I wouldn’t otherwise get to see. It’s very personal, more personal than I’ve read in a long time.

That being said, one of the best ways Roth uses the “fear landscape” is to let the reader be a part of the character. The book is entirely from Tris’ perspective but when she gets to see Four’s fears, something only he and the higher powers in the Dauntless faction have ever seen, it gives a window into him that greatly enhances the story.

A week part of the story would be that Tris’ perspective is a little too  narrow to get the largest picture possible of the city and how it got to be the wasteland that it is. She has interactions with all five of the factions and their purpose in society is explained through that but, to be honest, I’m pretty sure I’d read novellas or some short accounting about all the factions – maybe focusing on one person who lived through the same things as Tris does as a Dauntless initiate.

After I finished the book, I scanned reviews on Goodreads and Amazon and saw that some people claim the scope is too limited and there aren’t enough details. Maybe that’s true, maybe the scope could be bigger and there could be a few more details in places. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a great book, not to me.

After all, I finished it in four days.

Now to go see the movie before it leaves theaters…

(this review is cross-posted on my Goodreads account)