Welcome to the first of two posts featuring February Mini-Reviews! As I incorporate more features and discussion posts into the blog, I think that mini-reviews are a great way to give you my quick take on several books at once. Here's today's line-up:
The Tyrant's Daughter by J. C. Carleson
Published on February 11, 2014 by Knopf
Synopsis adapted from Goodreads: When her father is killed in a coup, 15-year-old Laila flees from the war-torn middle east to a life of exile and anonymity in the U.S. Gradually she adjusts to a new school, new friends, and a new culture, but while Laila sees opportunity in her new life, her mother is focused on the past. She’s conspiring with CIA operatives and rebel factions to regain the throne their family lost. Laila can’t bear to stand still as an international crisis takes shape around her, but how can one girl stop a conflict that spans generations?
My (mini) take: Laila was a YA character I hadn't seen before. Her sudden immersion into an D.C. area high school allows her to offer a fascinating anthropological take on American teenagers. I thought that Laila's character development was nicely done. She starts out full of outrage and indignation, but gains new insight into her current situation and her parents' actions. This is a great theme for YA -- learning that right and wrong aren't always clear-cut.
In her afterword, the author writes that "I did not want Laila and Bastien's home country to be a thinly disguised version of anyone particular place -- Iraq, or elsewhere. To avoid this, and to avoid the trap of having to be to wed to actual events, I created a melting pot of details, current events, and personal experiences." While I understand and respect her decision, I also think that the choice had its downside: Laila's memories of her homeland lacked a strong sense of place and much of a feeling or cultural specificity.
Recommended for: readers who are looking for contemporary YA with a global perspective, and those who like stories full of moral ambiguity.
Perfect Lies (Mind Games #2) by Kiersten White
To be published on February 18, 2014 by Harper Teen
Source: Thanks to Harper Teen for allowing me to read an advanced e-copy of this book.
Synopsis (adapted from Goodreads:) The sisters have been manipulated and controlled by the Keane Foundation for years, trapped in a never ending battle for survival. Now they have found allies who can help them truly escape. After faking her own death, Annie has joined a group that is plotting to destroy the Foundation. And Fia is working with James Keane to bring his father down from the inside. But Annie's visions of the future can't show her who to trust in the present. And though James is Fia's first love, Fia knows he's hiding something. The sisters can rely only on each other - but that may not be enough to save them.My (mini) take: I think this book has the same strengths and weaknesses as the first, and if (like me) you liked Mind Games, you'll enjoy Perfect Lies.
What I enjoyed: the snappy dialogue, appealing characters, great sisterly bond. I was also thrilled that this book is much more about Annie.
What I wished: I didn't have time to re-read Mind Games and needed more memory-jogging reminders about the secondary characters. Since these books are so short (230-ish pages each) it might have been a good idea to just meld them into one, or publish them in quicker succession. The way the time frame jumped around in Perfect Lies was distracting at first. I tried to keep track, but eventually I just stopped bothering. I still find that the sparseness of the writing style (very little description or worldbuilding) makes the book feel unmoored in reality at times.
Recommended for: fans of the first book; readers who love non-linear narratives and/or twisty, plot-driven stories.
Bright Before Sunrise by Tiffany Schmidt
To be published by Walker on February 18, 2014
Source: Thanks to Walker Books for allowing me to read an advanced e-copy of this book.
Source: Thanks to Walker Books for allowing me to read an advanced e-copy of this book.
Mini-synopsis (adapted from Goodreads:) When Jonah is forced to move from Hamilton to Cross Pointe for the second half of his senior year, "miserable" doesn't even begin to cover it.The people at Cross Pointe High School are pretentious and privileged—and worst of all is Brighton Waterford, the embodiment of all things superficial and popular. Jonah’s girlfriend, Carly, is his last tie to what feels real... until she breaks up with him. For Brighton, every day is a gauntlet of demands and expectations. Since her father died, she’s relied on one coping method: smile big and pretend to be fine. Today is the anniversary of his death and cracks are beginning to show. The last thing she needs is the new kid telling her how much he dislikes her for no reason she can understand. She's determined to change his mind, and when they're stuck together for the night, she finally gets her chance.My (mini) take: Bright Before Sunrise is one of those "one night changes everything" stories. I normally LOVE those stories -- books like Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, or The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith.
I found Brighton hard to get a grasp on. Superficially, she's perfect, and while the book suggests that there might be a more interesting and real person under there, I never felt like I got to see that person. The big issue for me with Jonah is that he already has a girlfriend from his old school. The synopsis says she "breaks up with him," but here's the thing: that leaves out a LOT. His girlfriend is hurt and suspicious because he won't bring her into his fancy new life and I couldn't blame her for dumping him.
In my favorite "Happens In One Night" stories, I delight in seeing two characters who are ready for love, characters who think they are absolutely wrong for each other when it's obvious to the reader that their coupledom is oh-so-right. For me, the "happened in one night" premise of Bright Before Sunrise didn't work with these particular characters. Watching a guy break up with his girlfriend and take up with a new girl -- all during a twelve-hour period -- didn't strike a romantic chord with me. But I enjoyed the author's writing style and will definitely try her future books!
Recommended for: readers who love "happened in one night" stories but don't have the same persnickity issues that I do :)
Next Wednesday I'll be featuring mini-reviews of The Secret Diamond Sisters, Better Off Friends and Fire & Flood.
The only one of these I've read is Perfect Lies and we basically have the same opinion on it. I love the sister bond-its weaknesses don't even bother me that much because I can feel the sisterly love so much and that absolves it for me.ReplyDelete
I struggled with the time jumping, but I agree -- the sisters are a fascinating pair.Delete
Lots of great reviews Jen! I'm really looking forward to picking up The Tyrannt's Daughter! It sounds great!ReplyDelete
Patrick @ The Bookshelves
I can send you my ARC if you're interested. LMK!Delete
I agree with what you stated about Perfect Lies: it seems such a torture to have to wait that long for something as slight as this novel.ReplyDelete
I'm looking forward to reading The Tyrant's Daughter for the same reasons of your recommendation.
Not sure why it's two books instead of one. I would have found it easier to follow as one, I think.Delete
I know what you mean about perfect lies, I had to re-read sister assassin first as well. I didn't like it as much as the first book either, although it was good.ReplyDelete
I liked these better than some people did -- I admire writers who take risks and try something new. There were aspects of the story I really liked, but I was confused a lot while reading...Delete
I'm a little nervous to read Perfect Lies. I didn't realize that it was a duology. The first one wasn't perfect but I still enjoyed it.ReplyDelete
I think you'll like it -- let me know!Delete
Bright Before Sunrise is a book I would like to read! Lovely little reviews.ReplyDelete
"Watching a guy break up with his girlfriend and take up with a new girl -- all during a twelve-hour period -- didn't strike a romantic chord with me." Yeah I don't think that would work for me either. I'm still pretty excited about Perfect Lies, and The Tyrant's Daughter sounds interesting. Great minis!ReplyDelete
Aw, that book made me sad. I guess I'm just really picky about my "happened in one night" stories.Delete
Great mini reviews, Jen.ReplyDelete
The last one sounds interesting.
Hope you like it!!Delete
First of all, that button is hilarious! I am a fan.ReplyDelete
Secondly, I got TYRANT'S DAUGHTER recently and was somewhat disheartened by the middling ratings I'd seen, but I really enjoy discussions about moral ambiguity, so your review makes me much more hopeful going into it.
Wendy @ The Midnight Garden
Curious to get your take, Wendy. I appreciated the fact that it wasn't like any other YA contemp that I've read.Delete
I had mixed feelings about The Tyrant's Daughter. There were things I really liked but it lacked 'something'. I want to read Perfect Lies, but I've been told I might want to get a quick reminder of happenings, so I guess I'll have to skim the first before I read it. That's too bad the third one wasn't a total win. I hadn't heard of it, but it sounded really good from the description!ReplyDelete
I agree -- Tyrant's Daughter felt a little flatter to me than a book like The Kite Runner or Jhumpa Lahiri book-- maybe it's not fair to compare, but I really felt the difference between a YA take on a topic and an adult one.Delete
I am not really interested in the first two books here but I am in the last because I love those "it happens in one night' books too, so that's kind of a bummer it didn't really gel with you, Jen. But I may give it try anyway just to see how it sits with me:)ReplyDelete