The Mockingbirds, Daisy Whitney

Themis Academy is a school for the exceptional students. Athletes, artists, academics, they’re all brought in and placed in a setting where they can thrive. They’re trusted to behave in an honourable manner, The Themis Way, and they do.

Which is why, when Alex makes the mistake of getting blackout drunk at a concert and is date raped, she feels she has nowhere to turn. Who can she tell who will believe her? She was drunk, after all.

But then her friends tell her about the Mockingbirds, a student organization formed to enforce the Themis Way the teachers pretend not to notice any infractions of, and the slow process towards healing begins.

This book made me really uncomfortable, and probably not for the reasons you’re thinking of. I am an older sister of several voracious readers, and they’re always pestering me for recommendations. And as this is obviously an “issue book,” (Defined as the main motivating force for a book being written,) I was very concerned with how the issue was handled. On the actual issue of consent, why it is important, and how it is defined, (especially with the recent Sweden/Assange/Rape brouhahah,) I thought the book did an excellent job, especially since the court scenes allowed people to define their terms in ways which looks like tl;dr in most other cases.

But most of the book is spent in saying over and over that adults WILL NOT help you, in a case like this. Several times Alex says she won’t go to the Police, because her parents will freak out. Ummmmmmm.

I hope it’s clear why that makes me go all snaky. If it isn’t, clearly we are approaching things from different angles, and you should disregard this review entirely.

Granted, by the end of the book Alex had come to trust the “cool” new piano teacher, and comes to talk to her when she has an issue, but so much of the book was spent setting up the idea that adults are all in their own worlds that it felt like an aberration, rather than a eureka moment. I mean, one of her teachers actually has her act out an attempted rape scene. So by the time it got to the reveal that maybe some adults are not finks, I had already written them off, along with much of my enjoyment of the book, regrettably. The way all the students rally behind her is good, but the fact that only, in this world, people within three years of her age are to be trusted not to go off the rails for no real reason, made me pull my hair.

And then: SPOILER ALERT: There’s the issue of the boy she falls for over the course of the book. The romance is all very nice and healing, if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s on the board of the Mockingbirds, and is expressly mentioned as supposed to NOT be in any romantic setting with her. And then at the end: EVEN MORE SPOILERS: Alex is asked to be on the board of the Mockingbirds, who have helped her so much. And her first act is to give the boy an unconditional pardon and ask him to be her advisor. Because apparently the code of conduct when it expressly says, “no fraternizing with people under investigation,” was a grey area. This would have made me go even MORE snaky, if I hadn’t already marked the book up under “not very enjoyable to read.” Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up in a Christian, Military family, (you know those military sorts, so wrapped around the axel about codes of conduct,) but I just think that a.) that wasn’t a grey area, and b.) would it be that hard to hold of the making out for a few months? and c.) if you break the rules you’re very very aware of, shouldn’t there be consequences? /END SPOILERS.

So I gave it three stars out of five. I actually didn’t “like” it that much- if this was based on liking alone it should be two stars- but I do think it’s a very useful teaching book, as long as I made sure to talk about it later. Unfortunately, I’m a very emotional reader and I’m coming from a certain culture and background, so parts of the story swelled WAY out of proportion and coloured my whole experience of reading it. 

With that said, I know the author is a date rape survivor, and that’s why she wrote the book, and it was very well done. Alex’s reactions and healing process was painfully honest, and it ends well. I would like someone I know to read it, and so they can tell me how I was reading it on a bad day and I totally misinterpreted it, and get my head together! Gosh, Jasmine!

Yes, erm, I’m unsure how to end this. Live long and prosper?

Matched, Ally Condie

Cassia’s world is perfect. Everyone is assigned a job which suits their skills and interests, health care, entertainment, recreation and food are provided by The Society, and they live long, healthy lives. If they decide they want to be married, they are paired with their perfect match, selected from the many thousands of possible people looking for a relationship, and they live happily ever after together.

Just look at Cassia’s parents! Her mother was from the country, and her father was from the city- they never would have met without The Society introducing them to each other. And now, here they are, entirely happy together.

The story starts with Cassia on her way to attend her Match Banquet. To everyone’s surprise and joy, she is matched with someone in her own city, (no moving necessary!) Her best friend Xander will be who she makes her life with, which they are both delighted about. *^_^* (smily face of delight and shyness)

They already know each other so well there’s hardly a need for the data slip with the information about Xander, but since it’s protocol, they both take it, grinning, and then go home to their lives. Everything has worked out even better than they could have hoped for. It’s perfect!

Only, when Cassia goes to look at what The Society has to tell her about Xander, (heh heh heh,) another face flashes on the screen. And again, this is a boy that she knows. Ky, also one of her friends, who also lives on her street, who she also went to school with. She’s reassured that it was just a glitch in the system, which is great, but wait. There are glitches in the system?

The seed has been sown, and Cassia has started to question. She begins to question harder, with more anger, when her grandfather comes to the end of his long and productive life, and dies on his 80th birthday. (Everyone dies on their 80th Birthday.)

Okay, I want to tell you more about this story, but I’m going to stop now, because you deserve to see it unfold with all the well measured care that the author wrote it. I was very impressed with this story, the more so because the only full length review I had read of it said it was internally incoherent and spent too much time explaining the world building. Which I disagree with. ^_^

I thought the voice of the book, as narrated by Cassia, captured her emotional arc wonderfully. At first she’s parroting what she’s been told, (“Everything is perfect!”) and then she’s repeating it desperately, (“This is all good, right?”) and then she’s mocking it, (“Oh, yes, you have our best interests at heart, of COURSE!”) and then she’s just at sea as to what she does next. What do you do to escape in a world where they track your dreams every fourth night? I was particularly impressed because usually I do not notice things like voices of narrators. I’m all GET ME TO THE EXPLOSIONS. GRRR, WHY ARE THINGS NOT ON FIRE?

*cough*

Instead, this time I was able to very happily follow along with the more delicately agonizing realizations Cassia is coming to, and what that means to her. And while I’m talking about the voice, I have to mention that there were three times in the book where I just stopped, amazed at how poetically Ms. Condie managed to phrase the moments of wrenching revelation. And using simple words, too! I mean, the reading level for the book can’t be that high, in terms of vocabulary. It’s “narrated” by someone who lives in a world where art has been simplified down to 100 of everything. And working with simple words, I was still stopped in my reading tracks several times.

Any time a book effects me that much, I am impressed.

And also there were trains and a secret war and sorting things and a strong family which you give up things for. All stories that delight me. You should read this book.

I gave it four stars out of five. I’ll be looking for the sequel. Can I have it now, please?

Guardian of the Dead, Karen Healey

Ellie Spencer is attending boarding school in New Zealand. Note to readers: this is not a “jolly school story.” Minimal shades of Enid Blyton. (heheheheh)

Ahem. Ellie isn’t what you’d call a social butterfly. Or outstanding in any discernible way, really. I mean yes, she has her black belt in Tae Kwon Do, but she hasn’t practiced in a year or more. She’s slumping along through school work in approved teenager fashion, and she’s worrying about the future and her body in a distracted fashion.

And that’s fine with her! Maybe not, y’know, great, (when is exile ever great?) but it’s perfectly fine. She has her best friend Kevin, and there’s a cute boy in school to obsess over from a safe distance.

Perfectly normal.

Until Kevin vanishes, the cute boy starts stalking her, and a freaky red-haired woman is showing up everywhere. Put this together with a serial killer who’s taking people’s eyes, and mysterious people making cryptic comments about her own power, and you have a recipe for a book that escalates fast.  Every time I thought things were going to find an equilibrium, the stakes went up again.

Now, I can’t exactly say I believed in the romance. (This is YA Paranormal! Of course there’s a romance!) I still have that lost-in-translation problem. But I did absolutely love how it panned out. It was just aesthetically delicious, to me at least. *hums happily* Oh man was that delicious. I just beam every time I think of that scene with Ellie and [Redacted] at [Redacted] after the [Redacted Redacted.] So [Redacted] lovely.

I have to give this five stars because there is no other way to describe it. The book was amazing. I cared, I was furious, I was grossed out, and I learned a lot about Maori culture. I didn’t agree with everything the characters said, or even the author said between the lines. But it was so relentlessly creative, I can’t help but call it amazing. Because it was. Amazing.

P.S. THE MASK ROCKS MY WORLD.

P.P.S. Geckoes are freaky. Poke them with sticks.


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Books I’ve already pledged to read in 24 hours: 7

Mistwood, Leah Cypess

She has no memory of who she is, or what she is. They say she is the Shifter. They say her name is Isabel. This seems reasonable. They say she is immortal, and has protected the kings of the realm for centuries. Which she knows to be true.

They say she is to protect the King, who is named Rokan. His sister is Clarisse. They say she served the King until twenty years ago, when she left suddenly- no one knows why. This seems reasonable. They say the new king is in danger from an unknown foe, and she is the only one who can protect him. That’s why they sought her out. Which she knows to not all be true.

They’re lying. Everyone has their lies they are busily weaving- it is a royal court after all. But only some of the lies concern her, and no one trusts her. And when you can’t remember the truth, how can you tell the minor lies from the ones that will split your loyalties along with your heart?

The plot on this book is TWISTED. It’s one of those where you have to keep track of all the double POVs so you can remember who is lying to who about what, and who knows what about how much the other ones know. A lot like George R R Martin, or one of those POLITICAL INTRIGUE books. Because of that, some people will say that it’s about choosing kings, or the rights of monarchy, or even feminism. I really DON’T think so. I thought it was more about family, and vengeance, and divided loyalties, and who you should trust. And how love will really twist you over. 😛

Oh, and the twist at the end actually make me say- OUT LOUD- “Oh, that’s brutal.” I very rarely say that. But when you get to the twist, that’s how very effectively twisted it is. I can’t say that I loved it, because I like happy lots-of-hot-chocolate-and-a- big-turkey-dinner endings. But it was very well done. I gave it three stars out of five.

Restoring Harmony, Joelle Anthony

Molly McClure is a 16 year old farm girl, on her way to the big city for the first time. The local doctor diagnosed her mother’s pregnancy as high-risk just before he died in an accident, but now Mrs. McClure isn’t going to listen to ANYONE except a(nother) doctor about taking it easy. She’s too busy fretting about her Father, left alone in the city since his wife has just died. Without Molly’s grandmother to take care of him, he’ll soon be wearing clothes with no buttons, and starving to death when he runs out of food that doesn’t need to be prepared. He also happens to be a doctor.

Mr. McClure looks at his wife, in need of a doctor and fretting about her father the doctor, and then he looks at resourceful, stubborn, hardworking, never-say-die Molly.

So Molly is on the way to the big city for the first time, to fetch her grandfather and bring him back to their island. As soon as she leaves home she finds out that the trip isn’t going to be as smooth as everyone had thought- and once she finally arrives at her destination she finds out that getting there was the easy part. Soon she’s up to her eyebrows in making money, summer canning, the hazards of busking in areas with organized crime, a cute boy who might just be involved in that organized crime, orphan children, and transportation in a time when the train lines aren’t exactly reliable, and it might be faster to go by foot. Also, stubbornness seems to run in the family.

Oh, and it’s set in 2041. ^_________^

I loved this book. I loved the futuristic setting, I loved that the heroine was Canadian, I loved the organized crime element, I loved the romance, and I loved the political climate. Yes, the politics. Usually in SF books everything dissolves into anarchy after the Great Crash, but this one kept things in a recognizable setting- just twisted. I delighted in that. 😀 Oh, and the romance! I believed in this one! I could rant about it all, but I won’t. It’s just sweet, and redemptive, and lovely. *happy*

Okay, this is rapidly sliding into true incoherence, but I just had to mention one more thing that I liked. You know how when people are from the country in books, usually it’s a bad thing? They have to “get over it,” and learn to function in “real life.” Not in this book. Molly is a farm girl, thank you very much, and she can handle herself. Better than YOU can, probable. 🙂

AND THE MISSIONARY IS WIN OF ALL WIN. That’s all I’m gonna say there, cause you just have to meet, and see for yourself, the wonder and joy of those scenes.

I gave it four stars out of five. I will recommend it to any of my siblings who are able to handle a guy getting beaten.

Brightly Woven, Alexandra Bracken

A drought has held Sydelle’s village in a strangle-hold since she was seven. They’ve survived by selling sand to glass-makers, but sand will only buy so much water for a whole community. The government sent wizards to try and fix the drought- but nothing worked, so yeah, maybe they’ll try again later. Maybe. One sand-producing village isn’t of THAT much strategic importance. So when a wizard appears out of the hills and makes the heavens open, her family and neighbours are almost delirious with thanks. They promise him anything he wants in payment.

The wizard, whose name is North, wants Sydelle.

Understandably, the community is creeped out by this. But they don’t have too much time to be creeped out, because North wasn’t causing rain to help them. He was trying to bog down the army that’s coming over that hill. Which is- y’know- of strategic importance to the kingdom. Panicing as the enemy approaches the town, her parents throw Sydelle’s belongings into a pack and agree that she can go with North, as his assistant, as he heads for the capital to tell IMPORTANT PEOPLE that the surrounding kingdoms are occupying little towns and filling them with soldiers, ready for the big push for the capital.

And, before you start going WHAT IS THIS BOOK DOING IN THE YA SECTION, know that the Wizard/assistant relationship is a lot like the Dr/Companion relationship. (Yay for Dr. Who references!) At least that’s how it starts. But this book at heart is a romance, and about two pretty messed up people too boot. One of the people is messed up BEFORE, and one GETS more messed up as situations progress.

However, as I think I’ve mentioned before, I’m picky about romances. I don’t believe in all of them, and this was one where I just wasn’t tracking the relationship progression. We were going along, working on stopping a war, and then all the sudden everything was VITALLY IMPORTANT and ROMANTIC and SERIOUS, and we’re all but kissing each other’s feet. Meanwhile, I’m still stuck up on the poisoner and rouge magicians, and the IMMINENT WAR. Um, over here? Shiny swords heading over the border? *points at army threatening to burn civilian villages*

So for me, the book was slightly lackluster. I couldn’t really figure out the religious element, the romance gave me whiplash, and I was eternally confused by the lack of urgency on part of the MCs. I also was in a mood to argue theology when I read it, I am romantically impaired, and I both come from a military family and was raised on tales of spies sneaking information vital to the war effort into the capital. So I am guessing that all the things that made me go huh? wouldn’t bother most people. And despite the wait, what moments, I did quite like it. I gave it three stars out of five. I would pass it to my sisters who were over the age of 12, if asked.

Nice And Mean, Jessica Leader

Marina just HAS to get into Video. She just HAS to. Why? Because her friends are ALL in the school play, and she has to have something ELSE to talk about, or they’ll take the attention away from her, onto THEMSELVES. And that’s just not acceptable. She’s going to get IN, and she’s going to make an AWESOME video, and she’ll keep the attention and adoration on HER, where it BELONGS. Only problem is, she got paired with a total nerd girl, named Sachi. Ew?

Sachi absolotelytotallymust get into video. Because she has to. That’s just it. she must get in, so she can make videos. Only her family says she has to be in Test Prep so that she can get into a good high school, so she’s resorted to copying her mother’s signature off of a credit card and blackmailing her sister to get in. She WANTS this. And then- she’s paired with Marina. Who is popular, and- not exactly unused to getting her own way. If she’s not careful, she’s going to have betrayed her family honour for the right to be Marina’s gopher for several weeks. Darn it.

Two very different girls, with very different motivations, and families, and problems, and ideas of what makes a good video.

Prepare for some DRAMA.

I started this book very dubiously. Because it’s about 12 year old girls, and to my memory, I was never 12 years old. I have been an adult since I was five. Granted, sometimes I had height issues, but once I explained to people what was REALLY going on, they were fine with it, and they understood that I was really an adult. So I approached this book dubiously, as I said. I am FAR more familiar with and at home in fantasy worlds than I am public schooled girls at age 12.

But I’m in a read-a-thon, so I grimly started in. And my grim mood lasted about ten minutes. This is a fun and funny read, which does a marvellous job of actually showing you two points of view. AND without preaching about it. It just shows two circles of friends, who happen to overlap sometimes, and how they react to TEH DRAMA that is going on all around them. I enjoyed it, and I gave it three stars out of five. 😛