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Apr 16 2015

The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley

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22571247Novel: The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley | Goodreads
Release Date: October 1st, 2014
Publisher: Elephant Rock Books
Format: Paperback
Source: Library

It’s 1993, and Generation X pulses to the beat of Kurt Cobain and the grunge movement. Sixteen-year-old Maggie Lynch is uprooted from big-city Chicago to a windswept town on the Irish Sea. Surviving on care packages of Spin magazine and Twizzlers from her rocker uncle Kevin, she wonders if she’ll ever find her place in this new world. When first love and sudden death simultaneously strike, a naive but determined Maggie embarks on a forbidden pilgrimage that will take her to a seedy part of Dublin and on to a life-altering night in Rome to fulfill a dying wish. Through it all, Maggie discovers an untapped inner strength to do the most difficult but rewarding thing of all, live.

When it comes to historical fiction, certain events dominate the genre: the battles of the Civil War, the disheartening concentration camps of World War II, or eras of great societal change, like the Civil Rights Movement. It’s no surprise that these periods in history are so popular. They are rich with conflict, emotion, and popular interest, and fictional tales can be just as enlightening as primary sources. However, I’ve seen a new trend emerge over the past few years: young adult stories set in the eighties and nineties. Although this choice may upset older readers {it’s understandable; who wants the years of their childhood labeled “historical fiction”?}, I can’t get enough of these novels. Jessie Ann Foley’s The Carnival at Bray is just one of many I’ve read since blogging, but I would argue that none explore love, loss, and life as eloquently as Foley’s debut. A Printz honoree, The Carnival at Bray is YA literature, historical fiction or otherwise, at its best.

Maggie Lynch is The Carnival at Bray’s main character, a sixteen-year old girl struggling to find a place in her new Irish home. She’s smart, if impulsive; observant, if a bit lost; caring, if ashamed. Most importantly, she’s flawed, which makes her journey though a year of adolescence all the more relatable. It’s easy to slip into Maggie’s story, and the raw honesty Foley writes with emphasizes her character growth. Like many protagonists of character-driven novels, Maggie experiences a number of “highs” and “lows” throughout the plot, but they all serve to further develop the characters and themes of the book. I personally fell for Maggie from page one, and I can see other readers doing the same.

Relationships play a large part in the plot of The Carnival at Bray. Maggie’s family, though seemingly functional, suffers from tension and painful grief, and Maggie is left to fight more battles than she can handle. Unusual family dynamics are common in YA, but underlying themes of grit and emotion offer a distinct quality to Maggie’s relationships. Furthermore, Foley doesn’t shy away from tougher topics when developing the supporting characters; Maggie’s uncle is swept up into the world of drugs and her mother drinks to escape when life goes badly. Romance is present – Maggie finds her first love and her first “dud” – but it doesn’t overshadow the story, giving more meaning to Maggie’s pilgrimage to Rome.

While I love reading books that take place in the nineties, there’s no use in setting it back then if it does nothing for the story. Fortunately, that is not a problem with this debut; Foley uses the grunge movement and lack of technology as significant elements in Maggie’s tale. Music is a powerful force in bringing people together, and while I can’t list myself as a knowledgeable Nirvana fan, I love that Maggie goes to a concert not just as a fan, but also to find herself. Some may find the 90’s time period as a “cop out,” so Maggie has no means in which to contact her family, but I saw it differently; it, offers, instead the disconnect needed for the story to be so impactful.

I knew little about the story when I began The Carnival at Bray, but I believe that serves the novel best. In today’s wired world, it’s so easy to find out what happens next, but perhaps, like Maggie, we are better off not knowing everything that lies ahead, choosing to live in the moment instead. Foley’s debut is a stunning example of realistic fiction, and it deserves every award it has received. It’s a hidden gem, but it shouldn’t need to be; grab a copy for yourself, and you’ll realize the beauty in the gritty ways of life.

Bella
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Apr 15 2015

Waiting on Wednesday {61}

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waitingonwednesday

Waiting On Wednesday is originally hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, but we just love this meme so much we had to tag along! Each Wednesday, one of the Lit Up Review writers will post a book she is looking forward to, along with the summary and cover. You can find all of these posts by clicking on the category button and selecting “Waiting on Wednesday, and fill up your Goodreads shelves with great books to get excited about!

23015948A Sense of the Infinite by Hilary T. Smith | Goodreads
Release Date: May 19, 2015
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

By the author of the critically acclaimed Wild Awake, a beautiful coming-of-age story about deep friendship, the weight of secrets, and the healing power of nature.

It’s senior year of high school, and Annabeth is ready—ready for everything she and her best friend, Noe, have been planning and dreaming. But there are some things Annabeth isn’t prepared for, like the constant presence of Noe’s new boyfriend. Like how her relationship with her mom is wearing and fraying. And like the way the secret she’s been keeping hidden deep inside her for years has started clawing at her insides, making it hard to eat or even breathe.

But most especially, she isn’t prepared to lose Noe.

For years, Noe has anchored Annabeth and set their joint path. Now Noe is drifting in another direction, making new plans and dreams that don’t involve Annabeth. Without Noe’s constant companionship, Annabeth’s world begins to crumble. But as a chain of events pulls Annabeth further and further away from Noe, she finds herself closer and closer to discovering who she’s really meant to be—with her best friend or without.

Hilary T. Smith’s second novel is a gorgeously written meditation on identity, loss, and the bonds of friendship.

Hilary  T. Smith’s first novel, Wild Awake, is one of my all-time favorite books. I was thrilled to find out that she was writing another novel, so I naturally picked it as a Waiting on Wednesday selection when I was getting ahead on posts a few months ago. Little did I know then that I would be able to get my hands on an ARC – I’m reading it right now, and it is a fascinating, empathetic portrayal of friendship.

Do you want your own ARC? This might be a good time to mention that I’m giving away a copy over on my personal book blog. I’d love for all of you to enter!

Apr 14 2015

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

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17668473Title: Prisoner of Night and Fog (Prisoner of Night and Fog #1) by Anne Blankman | Goodreads
Release Date: April 22, 2014
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Originally Posted At: The Observant Girl Book Reviews

In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her “uncle” Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf’s, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.

Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler. And Gretchen follows his every command.

Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can’t stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can’t help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she’s been taught to believe about Jews.

As Gretchen investigates the very people she’s always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?

From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she’s ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.

An incredible novel that sheds fresh light on a ruthless leader through the eyes of a young lady from his inner circle, who falls in love with a Jew!

As a history nerd, I was extremely excited for this novel to come out, and I must say, it was no disappointment. Blankman crafted an incredible story, woven with the feelings many felt during that difficult time. Gretchen, the main character (who I adored!) has a difficult life. She might be loved by Hitler (as odd as that sounds) but she has an intimidating brother, who is not afraid to harm anyone or anything, a mother who refuses to intervene, and a father who sacrificed his life to save Hitler’s. But when Gretchen meets Daniel, she was hesitant of interacting with a Jew; it went against everything she was taught. But when she pushed those tainted thoughts aside, she learned the truth behind Hitler and the National Socialist Party. If you are not a fan of history, don’t let this novel scare you away. Putting the historical context aside for a moment, it’s a story about a young woman who discovers herself, and breaks free from what she has been taught and the people who have influenced her morals.

It has opened up my eyes. About what truly goes on in a person’s mind and how much hurt one may feel underneath all that stature and power. Personally, it has peaked my interest regarding Hitler’s complicated mind (but don’t forget, I love history).

I have found that YA historical fiction novels can be a hit or miss. They can either sound like a textbook, reiterating the facts of said time period, or artfully craft a wonderful story regarding a specific time in history. I can say with confidence that Prisoner of Night and Fog falls in the latter category.

Do not feel intimated by reading a novel about World War II (as book stores are flooded by novels of this topic) as Prisoner of Night and Fog shines from the rest. It sheds light on a different idea of World War II and Hitler’s rise in power. Instead of a book from the point of view of the Allies, how about from that of a woman who is loyal to Hitler, himself? Fascinating, right?

All I can say is, Prisoner of Night and Fog will show you the interesting side of history, and unravel a beautiful story, filled with love, struggle, and a mysterious death. Please, if you have not read this book already, read it! You will not regret it, I promise! Instead, you’ll be anticipating the sequel like I am. . . and swooning over Daniel.

Klaudia
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Apr 12 2015

The Weekly Blaze {84}: April 6-12

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weeklyblaze

Happy Sunday, Litlets! This was a week full of reviews (plus a Ten Illuminations). Here’s everything you might have missed:

Monday, April 6: Mary’s review of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton: “This was the most fabulous book that I’ve read in a long time. I was impressed by Leslye’s unique style, topic of choice, and execution.”

Tuesday, April 7: Maisha’s review of Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver: “Overall, the book was alright, but it wasn’t really for me, but I would recommend it to people who enjoy books with complex relationships.”

Thursday, April 9: Ten Illuminations on contemporary covers: “We love to gaze at beautiful covers, so we’ve got a series of Ten Illuminations on covers! Today, we’re talking contemporary.”

Friday, April 10: Emily’s review of Blackbird by Anna Carey: “Blackbird is one of the most underwhelming, disappointing books I have read in a long time.”

Emily
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Apr 10 2015

Blackbird by Anna Carey

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18710739

Novel: Blackbird by Anna Carey | Goodreads
Release Date: September 16, 2014
Publisher: HarperTeen
Format: ARC
Source: ARCycling

This twisty, breathless cat-and-mouse thrill ride, told in the second person, follows a girl with amnesia in present-day Los Angeles who is being pursued by mysterious and terrifying assailants.

A girl wakes up on the train tracks, a subway car barreling down on her. With only minutes to react, she hunches down and the train speeds over her. She doesn’t remember her name, where she is, or how she got there. She has a tattoo on the inside of her right wrist of a blackbird inside a box, letters and numbers printed just below: FNV02198. There is only one thing she knows for sure: people are trying to kill her.

On the run for her life, she tries to untangle who she is and what happened to the girl she used to be. Nothing and no one are what they appear to be. But the truth is more disturbing than she ever imagined.

I went into Blackbird expecting to be awed. I knew Anna Carey had dared to write the book in second person, calling the protagonist “you,” a style that would drag me—I was certain—right into the plot. After reading Carey’s Eve, one of the most exciting action-based YA novels I have ever encountered, I could not wait for more of the author’s plot twists and adrenaline surges. My expectations soared as I started reading the first page, giving me that giddy elation of settling in with a story you know you will love. But that feeling did not last long; I soon discovered that Blackbird would disappoint me, and my high hopes had a long way to fall before shattering to the ground.

Blackbird‘s second-person narrative provides a hook and makes the novel stand out, but it seems that its only purpose is to do just that—make the book stand out. Carey could have told the story just as well in first person, and I frequently found myself questioning why the second person was necessary. In theory, all the yous piercing the narration should put readers in the plot, make them feel like they are part of the action, but they never made me feel any more involved. Even with the second-person pronouns, I still pictured the protagonist as another girl, one who looked and acted completely unlike me. If anything, the unusual narration detracted from my involvement in the story, as the unfamiliar pronouns jarred me out of the plot, confusing me for half a second until I remembered that I was supposed to be the main character. Maybe other readers will react differently, but for me, the second person was merely a clever idea that the author failed to execute.

I could have dealt with this annoying narration had the plot kept me thrilled, but I did not get to experience a single heart-pounding, turn-the-pages-so-quickly-they-tear moment. Why? Because Carey never makes her protagonist work to get out of dangerous situations. If an assailant is chasing her, she usually gets away with a bit of running. If one of her enemies does manage to corner her, another character magically shows up at precisely the right second to save her. Readers never have to worry about whether or not the main character will escape; she always does, taking any hope of excitement with her as she races away through the streets of LA.

Equally annoying is the ridiculously cheesy and unbelievable romance. After emerging from the train tracks where she wakes up, the protagonist almost immediately runs into a boy who, seemingly concerned for her well-being, gives her his phone number in case she needs anything. A few chapters later, the protagonist is living at his house and kissing him on his couch. Even if readers can put aside the fact that it is creepy and dangerous to invite a stranger to stay at your house—or stay at a stranger’s house—the insta-love is difficult to overlook. As a result of its speedy development, the relationship has no substance; I never felt chemistry between the characters, and the boy is more of a plot device than a person. It seems as if Carey wrote in a relationship for convenience rather than for character development or any other valid reason.

But the worst thing about Blackbird is that, despite having listed three aspects I disliked, I still do not feel as if I have fully portrayed my feelings toward the book. The reason this novel did not work for me is not so much any one issue, but the fact that the cursory action and romance take up so many pages that there is no room left for a real plot. By the last page, readers are left with more kissing scenes than answers about the protagonist’s backstory. Since Blackbird is the first book in a duology, I would have understood a cliffhanger, but the fact that readers learn almost nothing about the novel’s central mystery left me feeling annoyed.

I expected Blackbird to be phenomenal, and it very well could have been. I think I would have love this book if it were a standalone with a satisfying ending, if the protagonist had spent less time running and more time finding answers, and if the author had crafted the romance believably. But as it is, Blackbird is one of the most underwhelming, disappointing books I have read in a long time.

Emily
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