Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans – Book Review

Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

Note: I have been friendly with Lenore Appelhans for some time in the book blogging community, but we have never been close, nor even consistent commenters on each other’s blogs. I received my copy of the book from the publisher, not from Appelhans, and this is my unvarnished opinion.

Felicia has been in Level 2 since her sudden death at the age of 18. Her days consist of little more than re-watching memories from her own life. Things are starting to change in Level 2, though. The girl in one of the neighboring chambers dies, but nobody seems to notice. In fact, nobody but Felicia remembers that she was even ever there. It is when Julian,  a boy from Felicia’s past, shows up, though, that things really start to get strange.  Felicia and Julian have a complicated history, and she isn’t exactly thrilled to see him, but she still agrees to go with him when he helps her escape from her hive and tries to enlist her in a rebellion.

Lenore Appelhans’s version of the afterlife is unlike any I have ever experienced: the hives, the memories that are replayed and used as currency. What is more familiar is the ongoing war between good and evil that does not end with death. There are some connections to Judeo-Christian traditions, but at the same time this is not a religious or preachy book in the least. What Level 2 is is an incredibly engaging book. I found myself reading so quickly that I almost felt that the pacing was off. It was me, though, and not the book; when I forced myself to slow down to a normal reading speed the pacing worked well, but if I did not pay attention I would find myself racing through the book at breakneck (breakeye?) speed because of how purely engaging the book is.

In Level 2, Appelhans creates a world and a mythology that is unlike any I’ve experienced before, but that is still believable and internally consistent and is the basis for an incredibly compelling story.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Speechless by Hannah Harrington – Mini Book Review

Speechless by Hannah Harrington
Published by Harlequin Teen, an imprint of Harlequin 

From the publisher:

Everyone knows that Chelsea Knot can’t keep a secret

Until now. Because the last secret she shared turned her into a social outcast—and nearly got someone killed.

Now Chelsea has taken a vow of silence—to learn to keep her mouth shut, and to stop hurting anyone else. And if she thinks keeping secrets is hard, not speaking up when she’s ignored, ridiculed and even attacked is worse.

But there’s strength in silence, and in the new friends who are, shockingly, coming her way—people she never noticed before; a boy she might even fall for. If only her new friends can forgive what she’s done. If only she can forgive herself.

it would have been so very easy for Speechless to seem gimmicky. I mean, the girl whose big mouth causes a world of hurt for multiple groups of people taking a vow of silence? Please.

But when Chelsea drunkenly outs a gay classmate at a party, the consequences of her inability to stop talking are really more than she knows how to handle, so a vow of silence seems almost reasonable, if a bit dramatic. Chelsea is a high school student, though, and for some teenagers, drama is the name of the game.

What could have been simply eye roll-inducing really worked here. Chelsea doesn’t simply refuse to talk, she spends time observing, listening, and getting to know people she would have walked all over a year earlier. Her growth happens realistically, which is perhaps the main thing that makes Speechless so enjoyable and ultimately meaningful. Recommended.

For more, please see my interview with Hannah Harrington for the SheKnows Book Lounge.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Gilt by Katherine Longshore – Audiobook Review

Gilt by Katherine Longshore, narrated by Jennifer Ikeda
Published in audio by Penguin Audio; published in print by Viking Juvenile, both imprints of Penguin

Synopsis:

From the publisher:

When Kitty Tylney’s best friend, Catherine Howard, worms her way into King Henry VIII’s heart and brings Kitty to court, she’s thrust into a world filled with fabulous gowns, sparkling jewels, and elegant parties. No longer stuck in Cat’s shadow, Kitty’s now caught between two men–the object of her affection and the object of her desire. But court is also full of secrets, lies, and sordid affairs, and as Kitty witnesses Cat’s meteoric rise and fall as queen, she must figure out how to keep being a good friend when the price of telling the truth could literally be her head.

Thoughts on the story:

Oh, you guys, I loved Gilt so hard. SO hard. Catherine Howard is a hard wife of Henry VIII to know what to do with. Unlike Anne Boleyn it seems likely that she was actually guilty of the crimes of which she was accused, so then the question becomes whether she was naïve or calculating; did she somehow fall into a trap of adultery or was she out to get what she wanted? The problem with telling her story is that the naïve girl who simply wants to love her dear Thomas Culpepper is sort of boring, and the young woman who is not above using her sexuality to manipulate situations in her favor isn’t the most likable of characters.

Katherine Longshore solves this problem by giving us the spoiled, manipulative Cat that we love to hate, but not forcing the reader to experience the entire story through her unsympathetic point of view. Instead of we are treated to Cat’s meteoric rise and downfall through the eyes of Kitty Tilney, a hanger-on and distant relation who always considered Cat Howard to be her best friend. Cat uses and abuses Kitty in ways that increase the drama of the story without giving way to melodrama. It also allows for a story of Kitty’s personal growth in a real and organic way, which means that Gilt isn’t just repeating a tired old Tudor storyline.

One note: Gilt is being marketed as a young adult novel and certainly works as one, partly because of the ages of the main characters, but it is a very mature young adult novel and doesn’t shy away from the adultery, rape, and politics happening at court. There is no reason why adult fans of Tudor historical fiction should shy away from this one based on the marketing label.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Jennifer Ikeda does a great job narrating Gilt. She’s believable as Kitty and does a good job with the voices. Like Longshore, she does a wonderful job finding the balance between expressing the drama inherent in the story and avoiding unnecessary melodrama.

For more on the audio production, please see my review for Audiofile Magazine.

Overall:

I have every confidence that I would have loved Gilt in print, but the audio is a fantastic option as well. Really, I’m just glad I got to experience Longshore’s version of Catherine Howard.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Print*
Indiebound: Print*
Audible.com

I’m launching a brand-new meme every Friday! I encourage you to review any audiobooks you review on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

Source: Audiofile Magazine.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers – Book Review

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
Published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

This is the first book in the His Fair Assassins series.

The scars on Ismae’s body mark her as something different, something to be feared. Leftover from the failed abortifacient taken by her mother before her birth, the scars also mark Ismae as a daughter not of a human man, but instead sired by St. Mortain, otherwise known as Death. The fear induced by her heritage keeps her safe – barely – from her turnip farming father, but enrages the man she is sold to in marriage, a man who promises to see her killed. Luckily, there are many who are still loyal to the old gods of Brittany, gods who must now be called saints to avoid conflict with the Catholic church and these priests and herbwives smuggle Ismae to the convent of St. Mortain. In the convent, Ismae becomes a handmaiden of Death, trained in the art of killing those marked by St. Mortain, those enemies of Brittany.

Brittany has many enemies these days. The Duke is dead, and his daughter the Duchess Anne is only 12, although she is a wise and mature young woman. France is hungry to expand its borders and it seems that she must marry to ensure the safety of her country, but her most ardent suitor is a man not remotely suitable. Ismae, who grew up a peasant, finds herself sent to Anne’s court with a courtier and member of the Privy Council, Duval, to protect the Duchess and Brittany, and to ensure that Mortain’s will be done.

LaFevers has created in Grave Mercy a wonderful and engaging world that is particularly effective for being set against true historical events, such as Anne’s ascension to the Duchy of Brittany, and the ensuing Franco-Breton War. Whether Brittany the veneration of ancient pagan gods as saints continued in 15th century Brittany I do not know, but LaFevers certainly made it ring true, particularly when setting this veneration against the close relationship between Brittany’s enemy France and the Pope. In addition, Ismae is an incredibly captivating heroine, naive and damaged at the same time she is brave and strong. Her reactions and emotions are entirely consistent with her character as LaFevers develops it.

Perhaps best of all is the way that LaFevers ended this, the first book in the series. Although there is a question of what will happen in Anne and Ismae’s futures, the story that is being told is also completely wrapped up. I would be thrilled to read about Ismae’s continuing adventures, or in learning more about some of the other girls from the convent, and yet Grave Mercy completely satisfies in and of itself.

This series shows much promise, and I can’t wait for the next installment in 2013. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, via Netgalley.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – Audiobook Review

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, narrated by Kate Rudd
Published in audio by Brilliance Audio; published in print by Dutton Juvenile, an imprint of Penguin

Synopsis:

Hazel Grace Lancaster isn’t a huge fan of her cancer support group. It is the same thing over and over, other than the fact that the list of the dead grows ever longer. When smart and cancer survivor cynical Augustus Waters joins the group to support a friend, though, Hazel finally has a reason to go, and a reason to connect to the people around her. As a cancer kid who has been out of school for years, Hazel is no longer particularly close to her peers, but Augustus understands her in a way that others cannot. And, perhaps most importantly, he understands her love of Peter Van Houten’s book, An Imperial Affliction. In fact, Augustus is even willing to use his wish for a trip to Holland so that he and Hazel can meet Van Houten and attempt to gain closure on his story.

Thoughts on the story:

Many people have felt emotionally manipulated by The Fault in Our Stars, but I don’t think it is particularly manipulative. The main characters are, after all, a boy who is in remission with bone cancer and a girl with terminal thyroid cancer. There is inherently some measure of manipulation in such a story, unless the author goes the direction of being completely unrealistic. Once you sign on to read a book where nearly everyone is incredibly sick, you must expect some incredibly sad moments. John Green definitely brought the sad and emotional moments in The Fault in Our Stars. One of the most emotionally affecting moments is Hazel’s determination that she will not be a grenade in the lives of people she loves, hence her attempt to distance herself from those around her.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Kate Rudd is a wonderful match for The Fault in Our Stars. She perfectly captures both Hazel’s fear and her sarcasm. It is amazing how she and Green’s words can cause a listener to actually laugh out loud about the plight of being a teenager with cancer, but she does and it is incredibly effective. It is important to be careful to when and where you are listening to this, though, because the audiobook is, at times, tear-inducing.

Overall:

Yes, this is a very emotional book, and as such won’t be for everyone. I can certainly understand that some people have felt manipulated, but I found The Fault in Our Stars to be a tragically lovely book, one that is certain to work well in either print or audio.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
Indiebound: Audio/Print*

I’m launching a brand-new meme every Friday! I encourage you to review any audiobooks you review on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

Source: Library.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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