Month: January 2016

Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

cinder marissa meyerI did it again. I started a series that wasn’t finished. I was hesitant. I mean, how many fairytale retellings does the world need? I’ve read Ella Enchanted and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, I’ve watched Once Upon a Time and I’ve played Kingdom Hearts. So when I read the blurb for a book being about a cyborg Cinderella set in futuristic New Beijing, I wasn’t expecting my mind to be totally, completely blown.

Spoiler alert. Mind was blown.

In the world of Cinder, a deadly plague decimates the world’s population, while above the skies, a dangerous race of lunar people watch and wait to take their place as Earth’s rulers. Cinder is a mechanic, a cyborg, and a fifteen-year-old girl. She doesn’t remember her past, just the day-to-day drudgery of dealing with her stepmother’s disdain. But when Prince Kai comes into Cinder’s shop, everything changes. She’s at the crux of an intergalactic crisis, a forbidden crush, oh, and the fate of Earth.

Cinder is a gritty, action girl, generally accompanied by her chipper android sidekick Iko. Cinder’s not your typical fairytale, Disney-fied princess. When she meets the prince, she is grimy, sweaty, and oh yeah: her foot’s been disconnected. But fixing the prince’s broken android becomes the least of her worries when her stepsister contracts the deadly disease, and her stepmother hatred zeroes in on Cinder with a new reverence. Soon Cinder is making choices she never thought she was capable of. Prince Kai doesn’t have it much easier, with the Lunar queen Levana breathing down his neck and demanding a marriage alliance that is sure to bring the moon’s tyranny to earth.

The series grows to encompass quite an ensemble cast, including Scarlet (Little Red Riding Hood), Cress (Rapunzel), the dashing Captain Thorne (questionable morals), and Wolf. Prince Kai is a dreamy prince charming, but he has the weight of the world on his shoulders (and a crush on a certain cyborg we love).

The story continues in Scarlet and Cress, and ends in Winter. Winter is the last book in the series, published this past November, and Winter’s story is reminiscent of Snow White. Plus, there are Marissa Meyer’s short stories between each book. Winter was a deeply thrilling conclusion to this amazing series.

For anyone who’s a fan of fairytales, check out the Lunar Chronicles series. Once upon a time starts stories even in the future.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

Review: Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton

fullcicadamoon At 400 pages, Marilyn Hilton’s Full Cicada Moon may look intimidating to YA readers, but this coming-of-age story is a novel-in-verse, and the pages fly by. Similar to Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again and Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, the protagonist of Full Cicada Moon is a young female contemplating her identity and role in an environment that is less-than-welcoming.

Mimi Yoshiko Oliver is entering the seventh grade in 1969. She has just moved from a progressive town in California to a small town in Vermont because her father has accepted a teaching position at a college.

Mimi’s mother is Japanese and honors all of the culture’s traditions. The New Year’s festivities feature prominently in the beginning and end of the story. Mimi’s father is African American. He is very proud of his family and works hard to make sure they feel comfortable and secure.

Mimi and her family face racism in both outright and more subtle ways throughout the book. In this prominently-white town, Mimi has to deal with being a minority: half-Japanese, half-African American. On her first day of school she is asked, “What are you?” The friends she makes – as sweet as they are – are not allowed to invite her over to their houses. Mimi’s confusion and hurt is apparent in her thoughts, translated so brilliantly into verse.

Some readers may be worried that they won’t connect to a character in a novel told in verse, but Mimi is complex, rich, and a joy to read about. She has dreams of becoming an astronaut, and she follows along on television with the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. She is encouraged by her science teacher to study this subject, despite the students who have laughed at her dreams.

Mimi questions the school’s rule that dictates that female students must take home economics classes and male students must take woodshop. What about boys, like her neighbor, Tim, who want to learn how to cook? Mimi already knows how to make a cake from her mother; she’d like to learn to make a bookshelf. This subject addresses gender roles in an accessible way for younger readers while also offering readers a glimpse into another time, when girls couldn’t wear blue jeans and there weren’t a myriad of school electives to choose from.

At the heart of Full Cicada Moon is Mimi’s journey towards self-acceptance and understanding. While I would love to read more prose novels about this period in time and these issues, I think this is a great introduction to a time in history for young readers.

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

shadow and bone coverAlina Starkov is just a mapmaker. Not a good mapmaker, mind you. But it’s what the orphaned teen can do for her country as they prepare to cross the Shadow Fold, a land of darkness and monsters that splits Ravka in two. Plus, at least she has her best friend Mal with her, even if the fellow orphan’s too busy chasing other girls to notice her sometimes.

But everything changes when their ships sets upon the Fold and is attacked. In a display of magic that hasn’t been seen in centuries, Alina saves them all. Sun magic. Her new powers catch the eye of the mysterious Darkling, the all-powerful leader of Ravka’s magicians, the Grisha.

He whisks Alina away to the Ravkan capital, where he tells her that her magic alone could heal the Shadow Fold and war-ravaged Ravka for good. But it means losing herself in the process, as she is swept into courtly life and the rules of Grisha society. Alina misses Mal, and the Darkling’s attentions are becoming what’s she craved from Mal for so long. Plus her powers are hard to control, and Alina feels the weight of her entire nation on her shoulders.

I love that the setting of the Grisha trilogy is based on 1800s Tsarist Russia. So many fantasy stories are based off of Arthurian legends, or Tolkien imitations, that Ravka and its culture was a breath of fresh air. Russian history is nuanced with so much beauty and chaos, that it was incredible to see reinterpreted with a fantasy scope. There are echoes of Eastern Christianity with the saints and churches. And a sharp contrast between how the upper and lower echelons live. Ravka and its neighbors create an intricate world, but not one bogged down with lengthy descriptions or paragraphs upon paragraphs of unnecessary exposition.

The Grisha are part of an interesting magic system, reminiscent to me of the elemental bending system in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Leigh Bardugo said she was inspired to make the Grisha trilogy a literal fight of light and darkness. The Shadow Fold was inspired by the idea of making darkness and the monsters ‘beneath your bed’ into a literal place. Like on Once Upon a Time, magic sometimes comes with a price, but sometimes that price is something worth paying, even at the risk of hurting yourself.

And Alina herself is a great protagonist. She’s scrappy and snarky, but her insecurities and fears make her human. The ensemble cast of characters that emerges throughout the trilogy are equally fantastic (especially one very moody cat).

Shadow and Bone is an engrossing dark fantasy, full of adventure and twists, people who disappoint and people who surprise, and of course, at the heart of it all, is magic. The story continues in Siege and Storm, and the final book is Ruin and Rising. Leigh Bardugo just came out with another book that takes place in one of Ravka’s neighboring lands, called Six of Crows. It takes a lot to stand out as a YA series these days, but the Grisha trilogy does it.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

Review: Underwater by Marisa Reichardt

underwater Morgan wasn’t always this way.

Morgan used to be tan, and in shape, and popular. She used to swim on her school’s swim team and spend weekends at parties with friends. She thrived in the water and she thrived in the sun.

Now Morgan refuses to leave the small California apartment she shares with her mother and younger brother. She spends most of her time on the couch. She finds comfort in grilled cheese and tomato soup. She takes high school classes online. She needs to see a therapist, but she won’t leave the safety of her living room; her appointments take place there instead of in an office.

When a new boy moves next door, Morgan longs to step back into the sunlight, but she knows the path back to “normalcy” will be painful, if it’s possible at all.

I haven’t seen post-traumatic stress disorder addressed in a lot of young adult novels, and Reichardt handles it very well in Underwater. Morgan is suffering after a catastrophe shakes her world, and readers follow along as she faces grief, guilt, anxiety, and fear. The tragedy and themes addressed in this debut are unfortunately very timely, and I think this book can start a lot of important discussions in the classroom or at home.

Underwater by Marisa Reichardt is a powerful, touching debut that is set to release on January 12th by FSG. It’s a book that had me holding my breath for moments at a time. I couldn’t put my Kindle down, and I’ve been thinking of it ever since I finished reading a few weeks ago. Make Underwater one of your first book purchases for 2016; I have a feeling this is a title you’re going to be hearing about quite a bit.

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.