Friday, December 31, 2010

My 2010 Top Ten!

That's right! It's the last day of the year and therefore time to look back on these past twelve months and reflect. Here at the YAB, this year has seen five months of great YA reads, almost 50 followers, and over 2000 hits! Personally, I've read a bunch of books, heard quite a few albums, and seen more films than I'm proud to have paid to see (oh, me). So, while I reflect on 2010 and make resolutions and all that jazz, let me share with you my top ten picks of the year. Without further ado, I present to you:

The YA Bookshelf's 
2010 Top Ten
10. Candor by Pam Bachorz
9. Swoon by Nina Malkin
8. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
7. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
6. Last Sacrifice by Richelle Mead
5. Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
4. The Scorch Trials by James Dashner
3. Matched by Ally Condie
2. The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

1. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

** This book cured me of my aversion to any book set before 1900. Many thanks, Cassie.



** My biggest regret this year was never getting to see It's Kind of A Funny Story. Gahh, the DVD release is soo far away!

10. "Private Affair" - The Virgins
9. "Stay with Me" - Breathe Electric
8. "The Time Is Right Now" - Rediscover
7. "On Top" - The Killers
6. "1901" - Phoenix
5. "Heartbreak on Vinyl" - Blake Lewis
4. "Ours" - The Bravery
3. "Saltwater Room" - Owl City
2. "Inside of You" - The Maine

...*drumroll please*
1. "Dream This Dream" - Go Periscope

** this song is like aural happiness, puppies and rainbows, etc.

and, because there aren't that many good TV shows...
 My 2010 Top Five
TV Shows
5. Gossip Girl (The CW)
4. Glee (FOX)
3. Misfits (E4)
2. Vampire Diaries (The CW)


 ** I have nothing to say about this show other that if you have not seen it, see it. Now. Immediately. It will fill your life with joy and whimsy.

Gahh, so that's it. 2010 in a nutshell. Only  few hours until a brand new decade starts! Fingers crossed that we don't get into any more wars, or fill the ocean with any more oil, or have to sit through ten more years of American Idol. (shudder). Anyway, happy New Year, dear readers. May the odds be ever in your favor in 2011!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Incarceron [Review]

Title: Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
Series: Incarceron, #1
Genre: Fantasy
What They Say:
Incarceron -- a futuristic prison, sealed from view, where the descendants of the original prisoners live in a dark world torn by rivalry and savagery. It is a terrifying mix of high technology -- a living building which pervades the novel as an ever-watchful, ever-vengeful character, and a typical medieval torture chamber -- chains, great halls, dungeons. A young prisoner, Finn, has haunting visions of an earlier life, and cannot believe he was born here and has always been here. In the outer world, Claudia, daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, is trapped in her own form of prison -- a futuristic world constructed beautifully to look like a past era, an imminent marriage she dreads. She knows nothing of Incarceron, except that it exists. But there comes a moment when Finn, inside Incarceron, and Claudia, outside, simultaneously find a device -- a crystal key, through which they can talk to each other. And so the plan for Finn's escape is born ...

What I Say:
So I got to that odd point between book releases when I feel as if I have read everything. I was searching high and low for something new when I came across this. I thought, Eh, it's the holidays; what the hell! Currently awaiting its big-screen adaptation (starring Taylor Lautner? Why?), this book does a good job of boring, impressing, and freaking out the reader all at once. That said:

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Plot: ooh
Two stories. Story one: Welcome to Incarceron. An experimental paradise, created to be some kind of rehab for all the world's criminals and crazies about 150 years ago. Well, that was the plan. Today it is a barren wasteland filled with psychotic gangs and disfigured creatures and half-men. The prison is a sinister omniscient force which delights in torturing its inmates. The prison is alive. What happened here? Meet Finn. He is a prisoner just like the others, only he only remembers the last three years of his life and he sees the outside world in his dreams, a world which may not even exist. No one ever enters or leaves Incarceron, but Finn believes he was born on the outside. Needless to say, he and his "friend" Keiro are determined to get there ASAP. Story two: Welcome to the Realm. The year is 1700. Well, the year has been 1700 for the last 150 years. For some reason or other, a king decided that the world had too many problems. After having Incarceron built, he decreed that the world revert to 1700s society. Forever. Modern devices are forbidden, everyone must follow Protocol. Claudia is a princess. Well, not yet, but she will be. The daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, she is about to be forced into marriage with the Queen's arrogant son. She was once betrothed to the prince of the realm, but he was mysteriously killed in a horse accident three years ago. Or was he? (Here's where the stories come together). When Claudia and Finn both find magical keys which allow them to communicate, Claudia learns a great deal about the truth of Incarceron and its warden, and Finn learns a great deal about who he might really be.

To start, I'm always a bit wary of reading any book set before maybe 1900, just because authors can tend to crank up the pretension and obnoxious period-stuff and quite efficiently put me to sleep. After reading a few other-era novels, I have come up with the following Rule of Thumb. 1800s: interesting. 1700s: boring as hell. The book itself actually lampshades this fact. The king's like, Let's all live in a time without technological advancement, general progress, or change of any kind; that'll be interesting. Not! What's odd is that it's never clearly stated whether the "year" in Incarceron is different from the year in the outside world. Because Incarceron was created before they stopped time? Not that there are any notable differences, but still. I think I was mostly bent out shape by the lack of a climax. Sure, a few interesting events unfold near the end, but by that point I didn't really care anymore. Fisher uses an interesting plot device in this book: wait until the reader's ready to give up reading, then totally freak them out with some creepy twist, after which the reader is forced to continued until bored to tears again, at which time another crazy plot twist is employed. What can I say? It serves it's purpose. Though I was thoroughly weirded out by the end, haha. I wonder if she meant the prison to be just like HAL, but it was.

Characters: meh
Two words. Redeeming Qualities. Why does no character in this book have any redeeming qualities? I thought that was a golden rule, at least in YA: Write unto your characters qualities which make them likeable to at least some of thy readers. Here's the express version of my character analyses. Finn: confused and miserable at the beginning, confused and miserable at the end. Keiro: wretched jerkass at the beginning, wretched jerkass at the end (this one really showcases his lack of redeeming qualities throughout). Claudia: flat and pouty at the beginning, flat and pouty at the end (though living in 1700-world is probably a contributing factor). All the other characters in this book made me wonder, Why are they here?

Relationships: meh
Claudia and Finn - If I had to pick out two characters and say they were in a relationship, I would choose these two. But they really aren't. At no point is there any mention of current Like or any relationship-y banter or anything that would cause the reader to think they were in a relationship. Because they're not. But I felt like I had to put something here, haha. They only actually meet in the last twenty pages of the book, and even then you're not sure if they like each other. Really, it looks like Claudia's a nurse, crooning over this filthy, mentally-damaged boy for three hundred pages. Maybe I'll have to read the sequel to see what happens with these two, but I don't want to do that.

Special Features: ooh
So, like I said earlier. Incarceron is alive. It's technically a prison, but it's described more like a world of its own. There are "wards", but they're more like cities or countries. I guess they just took all of world's criminal and mental patients and sent them there (which sounds extremely complicated, but is never explained in the book). So there are a billion prisoners. Can you imagine a billion people dropping off the face of the earth? It's a mind-bender, because would you really notice if they're all criminals and mental patients? And then I bet the guys who made the prison were just kicking themselves when the realized, Oh wait, in a few years there'll be a whole new generation of criminals, so what was the point of trying to contain them all? At least other dystopias had better ways of controlling the undesirables. Ways that didn't involve making all the girls wear petticoats. (I can't get over what a terrible idea that is. And people signed off on that? Were there no checks and balances in that monarchy? I just don't gettt it). On another note, you know what I just noticed. This book is completely devoid of snark. Aside from a few sort-of clever retorts here and there, these kids have been entirely deprived of wit. Oh, the humanity!

Parting Quote:
Finn had leaned out over mile on mile of stinking hovels, the people running from haphazard dwellings of tin and wood, lame and diseased, their children listless. He had been glad when the wind had lifted the ship away. Incarceron was a hell. And yet he possessed its Key.
This book is strong in the mind-bending department.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Last Sacrifice [Review]

Title: Last Sacrifice by Richelle Mead
Series: Vampire Academy #6
Genre: Urban Fantasy
What They Say:
Rose Hathaway has always played by her own rules. She broke the law when she ran away from St. Vladimir’s Academy with her best friend and last surviving Dragomir Princess, Lissa. She broke the law when she fell in love with her gorgeous, off-limits instructor, Dimitri. And she dared to defy Queen Tatiana, leader of the Moroi world, risking her life and reputation to protect generations of dhampir guardian to come.

Now the law has finally caught up with Rose- for a crime she didn’t even commit. She’s in prison for the highest offense imaginable: the assassination of a monarch. She’ll need help from both Dimitri and Adrian to find the one living person who can stall her execution and force the Moroi elite to acknowledge a shocking new candidate for the royal throne: Vasilisa Dragomir. But the clock on Rose’s life is running out. Rose knows in her heart the world of the dead wants her back… and this time she is truly out of second chances. The big question is, when your life is about saving others, who will save you?

What I Say:
So after my Vampire Academy binge this summer, I've been counting the hours until the last book in the series, and I was not disappointed. Well, I wasn't totally not disappointed, but you'll hear about that later. This series closer had jailbreaks, hillbillies, and a whole lotta spirit. That said...

4 out of 5 stars

Plot: wow
So Rose is in jail for a murder she didn't commit. But not for long! She has better things to do, like run across the country as a fugitive searching for the Lissa's dad's long-lost love-child with her ex-lover Dimitri who totally hates her even though he's all over her and it's pretty obvious he still loves her. (whew). Not to mention tracking down clues on Queen Tatiana's real murderer to clear her name so she can, you know, show her face in public without getting shot down by Guardians. Yikers. So achieving this near-impossible feat is not easy, but will enlisting the help of some of her old nemeses get Rose into more trouble than she was bargaining for? (Spoiler: Yeah, it will.)

I love a mystery. Provide me with clues, shady motives, and a high chance of betrayal, and I am on board for at least three hundred pages. That said, I especially love a mystery in which you're pretty sure you know whodunit, but nahh you don't! As I predicted in my review of the last two books, we get a good long look at positions of power in the royal court and lengths to which some will go to get them. Or to make sure other people don't get them. It's a vamp-eat-vamp world out there, kiddies. In all, I was glad to see a big decrease in dullness this time around. I wasn't bored to tears even once. Though I was moved to rage at one point (see Relationships).

Characters: wow
Oh Rose. If I were an elementary school teacher, I would give this girl a pat on the back, a Most Improved award, and a freakin' gold star on top of that. I have never been more proud of a YA character's dynamic-ness. I mean, she wasn't an awful, hideous brat from hell in this one! I didn't want to flog her or cut her hair or lock her in an attic! She was smart and thoughtful and sympathetic. So much respect. Except in the case of one plot development for which I may never ever be able to forgive her (see Relationships).

Adrian, Adrian, Adrian. After six books, he has earned a place on my list of favorite YA characters, if I ever write a list of favorite YA characters. He pretty much fills the snark quota for the whole series. The rest is just gravy. I only wonder what he plans to do with his life. Seriously. A person can't drink and smoke and flirt forever...can they?

It's hard to focus on specific characters in this series. They're really an ensemble, tiny aspects of each character making up the story as a whole. Though I will note that at a certain point in the book, all of the characters seems to lose their color. It's very apparent in the last few chapters. The story is still strong, but everyone just seems...tired. Which kind of makes sense. After everything that happens, I'd be too tired for clever quips, too.

Relationships: ooh
Rose and Adrian - It isn't really spoilering to tell you that no, these two don't end up together. Why, you thought they would? Well, apparently Rule #1 of YA is "The girl never chooses the Second Guy, no matter how beautiful and snarky and perfect he is for her because apparently girls are like Memory Foam Mattresses that mould to the shape of the first guy who sleeps on them!" Gahh, I bleed for you, Adrian. I really do. To be fair, I saw this coming, seeing as they spend less than fifty pages together in the whole thing, and a good eighty percent of those meetings take place in Rose's dreams. So.

Rose and Dimitri - Sigh. Well, I get it. They complete each other and stuff. Their auras get all tingly around each other. I guess they're soulmates. He's just so serious all the time. Rose says so herself, "[Adrian and I] have fun together." I just feel like Rose and Dimitri can't be all intense and angsty forever, right? I can imagine Rose and Adrian growing old and domestic, sure. Dimitri, not so much. Though, of course, there are probably a thousand other readers who think the exact opposite, haha.

Special Features: ooh
I was sad to see so little focus on Moroi elemental magic in this one. I mean, it pops up when it's really necessary to the plot, but it's hopelessly eclipsed by spirit. (Spirit, if you forgot, is the mysterious "fifth element", linked to mind powers and emo-ness). There was mention of spirit on at least every other page. Spirit this, spirit that. Well, sure it was central to the plot, but gahh, too much. Also, please Richelle Mead, can we reprint this series with different covers? Those angsty, pouty covers are pretty much the main reason I've had to put this series into my Guilty Pleasure pile. I can't imagine walking out into public with them...gahh.

Parting Quote:
     From behind Lissa, I heard Christian say, "Worst. Timing. Ever."
     Adrian studied Lissa and then looked at Christian sprawling on the bed on the far side of the suite. "Huh," Adrian said, letting himself in. "So that’s how you’re going to fix the family problem. Little Dragomirs. Good idea."
    Christian sat up and strolled toward them. "Yeah, that’s exactly it. You’re interrupting official Council business.” 
Oh these guys.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My Heartbeat [Review]

Title: My Heartbeat by Garret Freymann-Weyr
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
What They Say:
As she tries to understand the closeness between her older brother and his best friend, fourteen-year-old Ellen finds her relationship with each of them changing.  

What I Say:
I don't entirely understand why, but I have loved this book since forever. Literally. Like, if West Virginia would go ahead and legalize interspecies marriage, I would soo be making my case that books are living creatures and lobbying at Congress and moving to West Virginia and all that just so I could be eternally bonded to the teenage dream that is My Heartbeat. I re-read it every year around Christmas because I suddenly remember that it's been a year since I last read it. It's that good. The weird thing, though, is that if I took a step back and really analyzed the quality of Freymann's writing the way I do with other books, I could probably find something to criticize. But I just can't bring myself to do that. That's how much I love this book. It's pretty much the ultimate young adult New York City-in-the-winter Like story with a happy ending. Swoon. That said...

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars 

Plot: wow
I was so surprised that Goodreads only had a one-sentence summary for this book. It sounds so blah when you put it that way. There is, like, zero mention of James's gorgeousness. Sigh. Let me put it straight for you. Meet Ellen. She's about to be a freshman in high school. Link is Ellen's older brother. He and his best friend James are about to be seniors. Ellen is totally madly in love with James. They are all, these three, very classy kids. At school, Ellen starts to realize that the girls are all either in love with James or her brother. Ellen doesn't see the fuss, as she has had exclusive access to both boys as long as she can remember. Link has always been her brother. Ellen has always loved James. James has always loved her, in his way. But after a passing comment from a classmate ("They're like a couple, aren't they?"), she begins to wonder if it's possible that Link and James might love each other as well.

This story can be taken two ways, which is nice. When I first read it, I was happy to see James and Ellen together, because she is the main character and I love a good non-gooey Like story. But when I re-read it now, I'm just sad that he isn't with Link, which is the real point of the book: things fall apart and people are complicated and all that. Bittersweet is the word. Also, characters with daddy issues (Jace Wayland, Percy Jackson, Oscar Banks, etc) are always especially snarky, I find. And ohh boy, there are daddy issues everywhere in this one.

Characters: wow
Ellen reminds me a bit of Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Sometimes she seems to be mature beyond her years, and other times I'm surprised by how naive she is. I feel like every use of the word totally was like Freymann remembering Oh, right, Ellen's only fourteen. It's alright, Freymann, I liked her narration. Even if it's probably given me an unrealistic idea of New York City and its love magic.

I hate to call Link McConnell a drama queen, but in retrospect he kind of is. Albeit a brooding, resentful, oddly appealing, hyperintelligent one. The guy can teach himself fractions at age nine but can't think of non-spiteful ways to deal with his father. In that way, he is very much like James. Like I said, daddy issues abound. Though I seriously approve of his taste in films.

Now James is like a puppy who's been abandoned, but not so recently that he needs a hug or anything. He has this way with words (though I suppose it's really Freymann's way with words) that just kills you. Gahh, it's lovely as hell. Like, put-down-the-book-and-sigh lovely. Like, tea-on-Easter lovely. Anyway. He's a lot like Link, which is probably why they're best friends, but where Link is allergic to confrontation (much like Ellen) and therefore passive-aggressive to the max, James may be the chillest thing there ever was. He doesn't need to fret about the unwritten rules of society because they don't necessarily apply to him, being rich and beautiful and endlessly fascinating. Moral of this story: money solves everything. Nahhh, kidding. Wouldn't that be awful?

Relationships: wow
Link and James - Hmm, does it count as a relationship if it largely rooted in denial and resentment and jealousy and fear? Why yes it does. True Like is complicated, my friends.

Ellen and James - This relationship is much, much simpler by comparison. While Link and James only kept Ellen around to prevent awkward moments and crossed boundaries, at some point James realized Ellen was totally madly in love with him and well, girls have interesting qualities too, right? To be fair, Ellen and James are perfect for each other. They're both sooo classy. Seriously. Oh my god, it's insane.

Special Features: ooh
The city! Again! You can never read too many novels about the city. Fact. Or new money families who live in the city, high on cash but low on love for their kids. And everyone likes a nice little tale about sexual identity and finding your place in the world and getting your daddy to love you (haha, well sort of!). Ugh, but I hate the cover. I don't know, Keith Haring's art doesn't impress me much.

Parting Quotes:
   "I don't want to sleep with a girl," I say. "I love James."
   This is why no one in my family ever says anything. Look at the way private - totally and irrevocably private - things just slip out.
   "I mean, not really," I amend hastily. "I just think so."
   "This vacillating affection appears to run in the family," Dad says, signaling for the check.
 Sigh... I just want to lie in a bed of money and dream of tea and romance and That Hamilton Woman.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Scorch Trials [Review]

Title: The Scorch Trials by James Dashner
Series: Maze Runner, #2
Genre: Science-Fiction
What They Say: Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end. No more puzzles. No more variables. And no more running. Thomas was sure that escape meant he and the Gladers would get their lives back. But no one really knew what sort of life they were going back to. In the Maze, life was easy. They had food, and shelter, and safety . . . until Teresa triggered the end. In the world outside the Maze, however, the end was triggered long ago. Burned by sun flares and baked by a new, brutal climate, the earth is a wasteland. Government has disintegrated—and with it, order—and now Cranks, people covered in festering wounds and driven to murderous insanity by the infectious disease known as the Flare, roam the crumbling cities hunting for their next victim . . . and meal.

The Gladers are far from finished with running. Instead of freedom, they find themselves faced with another trial. They must cross the Scorch, the most burned-out section of the world, and arrive at a safe haven in two weeks. And WICKED has made sure to adjust the variables and stack the odds against them. Thomas can only wonder—does he hold the secret of freedom somewhere in his mind? Or will he forever be at the mercy of WICKED?

What I Say:
So I was all good and ready to set down The Maze Runner and take a break from reading for a while. And I did. For a few minutes. Then I got all twitchy, had a crazy dream about a labyrinth, and finally decided I needed to get my hands on a copy of The Scorch Trials ASAP. Boy, am I glad I did. This second book in the Maze Runner series is even better than the first. It's got the heat, snark, and - of course - lots of running. That said...

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Plot: wow
So our Gladers have been saved, right? Yeah, no. Thomas and co. realize pretty quick that the trials aren't over. Their next task is to cross the Scorch in two weeks. The Scorch is the part of the world directly hit by the sun flares long ago, the are between the two tropics where places like Mexico and India used to be. It's hot, there's no drinkable water, and it's full of mindless crazies withered by a mysterious disease...So it's pretty much just like Mexico and India now. Ha, JK. The Gladers are having difficulty battling the elements, but there other, more sinister dealings afoot in the Scorch. They are being watched.

Before I start, let me just get something out of the way. WICKED is good? Bullshit. More like, TERESA is stupid. Ughh. Anyway, Thomas gets jerked around an awful lot in this book. Poor kid can't catch a break. Though, I guess, this book wouldn't have been as crazy and scary and holyshitwhatwasthat? if Thomas was sailing down Easy Street the whole time. His personal anguish = good reading. I cannot wait for the third book, if only to finally understand what WICKED and past!Thomas think they're doing. Because they're really effing up some lives here. Thomas will never be able to listen to dance-rock again without cringing! You monsters!

Characters: wow
Oh Thomas. He definitely underwent some snark training between books one and two, but he cranks it up in this one. Not that I'm complaining. Or maybe his life has just suckened to the point that only black humor can alleviate the ever-present feeling of doom and despair threatening to drag him into an abyss of crushing lifelong depression. And stuff.

And here is where I take a step back from my blind approval of this series and point out a little fault. Somehow Dashner was able to write a really strong, dynamic main character, and then an ensemble cast of supporting characters that never get a chance to develop. It's probably because the series is told from Thomas's point of view, and he's way too busy staying alive to be analyzing his buddies. Ah well.

Relationships: ooh
Thomas and Teresa - Well, we see a little bit of these two in this one. Not an official couple, still, but there's definitely some Like going on. Mostly, though, I feel like Thomas likes the idea of Teresa (or maybe his memory of her) more than he actually likes her. She's his link to their past, so she's his comfort object. She's pretty much his blankie. And what happens when your blankie gets a stain and Mommy accidentally ruins it in the wash...?

Special Features: ooh
This book featured the Cranks, people infected with the Flare quarantined in the Scorch. Some of them are a little quirky, some are crazy, and some are raving lunatic cannibals who listen to club jams and roofie young lovers. What I want to know is where the Flare came from, and how the trials could lead to a cure, and all those nice things we'll learn in the last book next year. Oh, and it features telepathy. Lots of in-head conversations that kind of mix things up.

Parting Quotes:
   “Taste good?” [Brenda] asked as she dug into her own food.
   “Please. I’d push my own mom down the stairs to eat this stuff. If I still have a mom.” [Thomas] couldn’t help thinking of his dream and the brief glimpse he’d seen of her, but did his best to forget it—it was too depressing. ...
   "I’d kill your mother for something fresh out of a garden. A nice salad.”
   “Guess my mom doesn’t have much of a chance if she’s ever standing between us and a grocery store.”
   “Guess not.”
Careful, Thomas; I can see your abandonment issues peeking out from behind your rapier wit.