Tag Archives: secret societies

Playing Catch-Up

Tap and Gown – Diana Peterfreund

Just as promised, Amy finally stopped acting like an idiot about her kidnapping in this book.  But it took her way too long to stop acting like an idiot about her relationship with Jamie.  I did not love-love-love this the way I did the earlier books in the series, but it also didn’t make me angry like those books sometimes did.  I think I’m ready to move on from Amy, but am very happy that as I do, I have a soon-to-be-released YA book of Peterfreund’s to look forward to.  I think, like Fire below, that my passionate crush on this series did this volume in it no favors.

Fragile Eternity – Melissa Marr

I don’t think I ever recorded here the related novel in this series, Ink Exchange, which I really liked.  But I loved this one and Wicked Lovely.  The plot goes to surprising places and I didn’t even mind that the budding romance of the first book was no longer as budding or romantic (which allowed the plot to move forward and the relationship to mature).  If I ever read another modern Fairie story again it’ll just be because I’m chasing after the appeal of this one.

Fire – Kristin Cashore

I know I’m pretty much alone in liking Graceling more, but I keep reminding people that it’s only because of how much of a crush I have on that book and not because this isn’t a stronger book.  I agree that this probably is.  And it tackles the male gaze, which is one of my favorite things ever to think about.  But I love the way that Cashore writes banter and sexual tension and those were missing from this book.  So I’ll just anxiously await whatever bits of Katsa and Po I’m given in her next book.

Once was Lost – Sara Zarr

I don’t personally find faith interesting, but I find Zarr interesting enough to go along for the ride when she explores it.

Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins

I’m sad that the first book in the series lived up to my expectations but this couldn’t handle the pressure.  I didn’t hate it, or even dislike it, I just hate that I only liked it.  The spoilery text of an email I sent to a friend in white text:

But one of my biggest frustrations with Catching Fire was the pacing of her “radicalization.”  That she was intuitive enough to read intention into the timing of the gifts she was receiving in the arena, but not to understand that her pin had become a symbol of the resistance.  And that an organized resistance was clearly forming but that it took her until the end to see it.  And I didn’t buy that the resistance would trust using her without her knowledge to go well, when that clearly didn’t work out for the government the first time around.  I did like the way she adjusted to the arena, that she realized things were going on that she didn’t understand and went with it.  I just felt more manipulated by the plotting of this story than the first one.

Lips Touch: Three Times – Laini Taylor

This book had the great premise of three fairytale love/forbidden desire stories that hinge on a kiss  and ended up being so much better than I expected while not really fulfilling the promise of the hook.  Another instance where David Levithan lied to me (I’m writing this bottom-up, see the review below) but I’m happier this time to have listened to him anway.  And as much as like Jim Di Bartolo’s illustrations, I don’t like the cover design.  Because it’s a much more serious, even grown-up, book than it seems.  And yes, each story in some way revolves around a kiss and the manifestation of physical desire, but I often related more to the other wishes and dreams of the characters.  The third story is an epic love story crammed into 110 pages that improbably has you siding with the evil witch-type by the end.  I’m not entirely sure how that narrative flip was even accomplished, but it was very skillful.  The first two stories have their charms, but the last is the one that really wowed me.  I don’t know if I’ve ever bought myself a real copy of a book after having read the ARC, but in this instance I might just for the illustrations.

Shiver – Maggie Stiefvater

Ultimately, I don’t think I liked this book.  At Day of Dialog, David Levithan swore up and down that this book transcended the otherworldly creatures (werewolves in this case) genre but I don’t think it does.  I think it was just okay with hints of being something wonderful.  Maybe someone else will read this and see what I’m missing.  There’s another story of doomed love that this reminds me of, but I can’t figure out what. *UPDATE.  The Universe just handed this to me on a plate: The Time Traveler’s Wife. It’s got the same “when will he disappear..possibly forever” tension.* It is very moody and atmospheric, but I never became fully invested in it.

Ash – Malinda Lo

Other than the lesbian love story aspect of this, it’s a pretty traditionally told Cinderella story.  The Fairy Godfather is actually a tricky, non-altruistic fairy, and it’s here and with the love story, where Lo carves her own space, that the book is the most successful.

Juliet, Naked – Nick Hornby

Technically this book has no business being here, as it has zero teen appeal, but I really enjoyed it.  And will stretch and say that it explores the flip side of the “Nick and Norah” music-obsessed-teen coin.  But it’s all about being a grown up, the disapointments and compromises and joys, and how not even a rock star can escape that.  This is the first Hornby book in years that I’ve enjoyed as much as I wanted to.

Scott Pilgrim vs.the Universe – Brian Lee O’Malley

I didn’t mind that Scott’s life kind of falls apart during this volume, I guess I’m turning into a cold-hearted grown up who didn’t expect his slacker lifestyle to be sustainable.  The cover is also very shiny and pretty.

Gregor the Overlander and Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane – Suzanne Collins

I’d been interested in this series ever since reading Hunger Games, but didn’t want to read a library copy because the paperback is both cheaply printed and very popular.  So I finally bought my own copy and once I’d finished, went out and immediately bought the second, which I read in one sitting.  I think the strength of these is Gregor.  He’s really likeable and resourceful.  And if too many of the books in this roundup feature kids who are destined to save the world, having a character who doesn’t act too stupid about the whole thing helps the over-used conceit go down easier.  I’m a little bit worried, and will have to be careful not to get too spoilery, that Collins may rely to heavily on formula with her plots.  These two books both follow similar arcs and this worry of mine is related to the aspect of Catching Fire that I wasn’t too impressed by.  I really wish these were collected in one volume, something with higher quality paper, so that you could easily read the whole saga in one go.

Blackbringer (Dreamdark) – Laini Taylor

I’m upset because I thought the sequel to this was already out but will instead have to wait until September for it.  So while that’s lame, I really enjoyed the story.  I like the way it maintained internal logic really well, how the strength of the god character was used to trick it, how the evil character was as much an important part of fairy history as anyone, how it feels like a complete story while making you want more, and how it might have the first fairy world I’d actually want to live in.  It would be really easy for me to talk about appreciating this book for all of the pitfalls it avoided, but that’s not very exciting.  This books seems to have initially been marketed as middle grade but then as YA for the paperback edition.  Which is funny, because I think it’s an easy sell to adults as well.

Review: Rites of Spring (Break)

Rites of Spring (Break) – Diana Peterfreund

The third in what will be a series of four books (Tap and Gown is coming next summer), the majority of this one took place during a private island, spring break getaway.  But setting up all that plot is the time spent on campus during an icy, rainy winter.  Secret Society Rose and Grave concocts a break-and-enter plan to get back a stolen artifact from a rival society.  This sets in motion elaborate acts of revenge against Amy, identified because of the distinctive footwear she was wearing.  There is also an old romantic interest who should have moved on but is having second thoughts and Amy is all too willing to help him dysfunctionally work out his relationship problems.  And most deliciously of all, a strange alliance formed during last semester’s emergency is slowly turning into what might be loosely described as a friendship.  But once they arrive at the society’s private island for a relaxing spring break (actually, starting on the boat ride over) things are going wrong and it’s obvious that the Diggers of club D177 are once again being sabotaged.

I am super, 100% enjoying these books.  For the first time in the series, honest to goodness romance plays a big part in the story, and to repeat myself, it is completely delicious.  I was a bundle of nerves and anticipation and speedreading and giggling on the subway.  I’ve never been shy about liking Jennifer Crusie, (even when I was all about classic Russian literature and literary short stories and serious books that weren’t even slightly embarrassing to read on the subway) and I often feel a similar thrill when reading Peterfreund.  I don’t feel like I’m being pandered to, but I am having fun.   And then about 15 pages from the end, I wanted to chuck the book across the room.  And then, the last couple pages made it a little better, as did the preview for the next book.  But I immediately posted on the author’s blog about how upset I was, and how I felt betrayed, and I was probably melodramatic, who knows.  (None of this sounds like me, or maybe it scarily does, I can’t tell.)  But early this morning I had a very thoughtful response from the author, and then a little later another longer response by email.  And I have to say that I’ve been mollified.  My problem was similar to a problem I had with the last book, that I was taking Amy’s inability to realize something as a flaw.  In that book, she realizes her mistake by the end.  In this book, she makes the mistake at the very end.  But I have been assured that Peterfreund indeed knows Amy is being ridiculous.  And that the next book will take on some of these issues.  I promise that it’s not just that my ego has been stroked, but that I have been well-convinced that the rug was not pulled out from under me.

Each book follows a similar arc, but at the end there is no neat resolution.  Consequences are sometimes only felt the next time around, and the same goes for rewards being reaped.  There is a lot going on in terms of taking on gender and discrimination, but also what it means to belong and what people are willing to sacrifice for that.  There’s a lot of sympathy for characters with different viewpoints, and there are a few wonderful antihero characters.  There is also a lot of forgiveness and second chances.  And many of the large cast of characters are on the receiving end of this authorial largess.  In the way it explores character and group dynamics, there is a very BtVS feeling to the series.

Other than the ending, I think I enjoyed this book the most of the series.  And there was sexual tension and making out, but none of the explicit sex of the last one (though I’m pretty sure that aspect will be back in the next one.)  So while these don’t quite belong in the YA section, they’re worth hand-selling to the right readers.  I don’t have much hope that I’ll be able to convince the men in my life that they’d enjoy this, but if it were a television series, I promise we’d all be watching it together on TV night.

Review: Under the Rose

Under the Rose: An Ivy League Novel – Diana Peterfreund

Senior year at Eli University kicks off inauspiciously when a botched initiation night leads one of Rose and Grave’s new recruits to bail on the whole society.  The first club to have female members in its 177-year history, their battle last year against the society’s “patriarchs” hasn’t united them as much as exposed the cracks in their camaraderie.  And now, both current members and patriarchs are receiving threatening, and specific, emails asking for money in return for silence about the society’s practices and the scandals of its members.  They try to band together to roust the traitor, but with everyone under suspicion, they find themselves drifting apart and different factions begin to form.

Amy, the narrator, has grown up a bit since the last book.  She’s still insecure about some of the wrong things, but it doesn’t take as much for her inner toughness to come out.  She’s smart and relatable, and this time she gets to have some hot (and moderately explicit) sex.  While I would add the first book in the series to YA collections, this one isn’t as neat a fit there.  But there’s nothing so objectionable that a teenager should be discouraged from reading it. 

It’s hard to discuss some of the themes of the book without spoiling the plot, but one of my main objections was what seemed to be the author’s blind spot about something, that turned out to be just the character’s, and ended up being dealt with well.  And I enjoyed how a lot of the characters were allowed to act like people and make mistakes and to be an ally or enemy depending on the situation.  It also tackled religion without being scornful of the whole enterprise, just the wackos.  I liked that the way the plot unfolded was true to to story that had been told all along.  There’s a lot of juicy wish-fulfillment, but also a lot of big ideas about networks and power and success and how women fit in.  I’d invite Amy Haskel to that dinner party I’d like to have with Frankie Landau-Banks.

Review: Fabulous Terrible

Fabulous Terrible – Sophie Talbot

Found out about this while looking around for my YA page who was asking about books written in the second person.  I had heard that Choose Your Own Adventure had been resurrected, but couldn’t find any in the library.  So I jumped at the chance to get a free copy of this from the publisher when I saw one offered.  The cover of mine is different than the one pictured at left, instead of the Choose Your Own Adventure stamp it has “The Adventures of You.”  You know why?  This isn’t a Choose Your Own Adventure!  It’s just written in the second person.  So that was disappointing.  From what I can tell, the rest of their new books are, but that this one is merely supposed to be “interactive.”  Theoretically there was supposed to be an internet component, but other than a facebook quiz, I didn’t see anything.

So the deal is that you’re an orphan and foster kid who has never been able to fit in, in large part due to these psychic fits you have.  So instead of being sent back to a girls’ home, you apply to a bunch of boarding schools and not only get accepted to the best of them, but get a full ride.  The first, and best, half of the book deals with how you begin to make friends and adjust to being surrounded by wealth and privilege.  This would all be hard enough, but from the beginning someone seems to be sabotaging you.  And there are hints that the reasons for it are bigger than you or anything you can imagine.  But you make a couple of really good, true friends, and they help you figure out what’s going on.

I didn’t find the second person narration distracting, it was handled well and actually helped gloss over what might have otherwise been shortcomings in the storytelling (it made it easier to tell, not show.)  And I genuinely enjoyed and got caught up in the story.  The “you” character (I think a name might have been mentioned, but I forget it) is interesting and complex, especially in the first half of the story.  She’s wary and a bit damaged from her experiences in the foster system, but not permanently so.  She’s anxious to begin a better life, but doesn’t blindly want to become like the worst of her spoiled classmates; the future life she envisions for herself and the women she wants to emulate are all worthy of the effort.  Where the story loses a little bit of its steam is in the unfolding of the treacherous plot.  But luckily the book doesn’t fall into the A-Great-and-Terrible-Beauty trap of making her question her powers too much or of having friends who don’t back her up.  For the most part, when she does falter it’s just for a second and then she acts sensibly again.  Like with the Lemony Snicket books, one of my biggest dislikes is when plots are advanced because the main characters stand passively by while bad things happen.  They hem and haw and are scared even though they are meant to be exceptional.  I’ve come to realize it’s a personal preference, and try not to judge books as being badly written just because of it, but I really can’t enjoy many books because of it.  Grumpy Harry Potter I’m looking at you.

It’s a fun book, and may be good for younger teens or older ones who are reluctant readers.  It’ll be a series, with the next one told from the perspective of one of the minor characters.  There is one F-bomb that gets dropped, but to good effect.  It comes as a shock in this otherwise squeaky clean book, and it’s meant to.

Review: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Sophomore and former Debate-Club geek Frankie is tired of being overlooked and underestimated at her posh boarding school. Freshman year her problems were an older and more popular sister, a cheating boyfriend, and an unmemorable face. Now the issue is how very noticeable she became over the summer, growing up and out in all the right places. Almost immediately she snags a popular boyfriend, but her age and her gender conspire to keep her seeming innocuous. Frankie knows she should demand better treatment from her gorgeous, entitled, but still generally nice, boyfriend Matthew. But she doesn’t want to rock the boat because of how much she looks up to him and his golden-boy friends. When she discovers they all belong to the same secret society as her father, she is jealous not because of any power or influence they wield but because of the bonds they are forming that will help them throughout their lives. She knows that while she might be allowed to eat lunch with them, she will never fundamentally be one of them. Determined to earn their respect, she shadows Matthew and learns the secrets of the group. Seizing an opportunity to control their behavior without their realization, she begins orchestrating large-scale pranks meant as commentary on the role of privilege and control in all of their lives. Though sadly few students seem to understand the significance of the pranks, least of all the boys carrying them out.

Lockhart has always been one of my favorite YA authors and all of the reviews and mentions I’ve seen of this book have raved about it. I didn’t find it quite as compelling. It’s ideas, and they were Big Ideas, often overwhelmed the story and characters. Frankie is a type of feminist I am glad exists, one I would never want to be, but would probably enjoy arguing with at a dinner party. She is so thoroughly steeped in the norms of the patriarchal power structure that she thinks the only way to succeed is to be a better boy than the boys. And yes, “patriarchy” is a word used often in this book. Frankie also loves Foucoult’s Discipline and Punish which inspires in her the idea of fighting against the panopticon. With all the Big Ideas in the book, it was easy to get thrown off when I disagreed with the author/narrator’s point of view, though I probably agreed twice as often as I didn’t. Frankie is tired of feeling powerless and only feels like she isn’t when she gains the upper hand over the powerful men around her. Which she finally feels she has done by the end of the book when a friend and adversary admits he no longer likes her, but respects her. An interesting but flawed book for intelligent and socially conscious teens.