This post is full of lies

Title: We Were Liars

Author: E. LockhartCover art for We Were Liars

Publisher & Release Date: Delacorte, May 2014

The Hook: Something happened two summers ago, something Cady doesn’t remember.

The Lowdown (from jacket):A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

Overall Impressions:  “Wow.”

Emily and Julie both read this one and it left us feeling shell-shocked.

We shall now attempt to describe the book without actually telling you anything. We may have already told you everything you need to know, in which case, we simply recommend you read this book. Then make your friends and co-workers read it so you can discuss it with them. You will want to.

“We Were Liars” is a powerful, well-crafted tale about the effects of privilege, an illustration of why having money does not exempt people from human misery. It’s one generation looking at another, falling in line or standing firm. It’s passionate, romantic love clashing with family ties, threaded through with fairy tales. Love can build. It can also destroy. It glosses over ugliness and holds up mirrors.

Once upon a time, a man married, grew rich and had three daughters. The daughters grew, beautiful and special, and they married and had children…

The Highs-

Emily: “I love an unreliable narrator because I love the mind-warping. I love not knowing what you’re getting into.”

Julie: Gorgeous, compact writing. I loved the structure of the book, the patterns, sinking into it, the stories Cady writes as she tries to remember. It stands up just as well on second reading.

Both: Strong, full characters. The family dynamics and how they twist around the four groups. How you’re left wanting more, wondering about the characters’ futures, and yet the story feels complete.

The island so isolated, the family so insulated. Emily noted a similarity to a micro-dystopia.

The cover art and how it looks not quite real; summer but dreamy, foggy, out of focus. Perfect.

Buzzkills: We did differ somewhat on how we felt about the layout of the writing. Some parts looked similar to free verse, which Julie liked and Emily does not generally care for.

The Source: Galleys provided by publisher at an ABA event.

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor a private island was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

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Country brother, city brother

Title: Steering Toward Normalsteering

Author: Rebecca Petruck

Publisher & Release Date: Amulet Books, May 13

The Hook: Honestly, the cover sucked me in right from the start – and it actually gives a great snapshot of the family tensions inside: two half-brothers who aren’t necessarily loving the new situation, but still with a little cheeky humor.

The Lowdown (from jacket): “Eighth grade is set to be a good year for Diggy Lawson: He’s chosen a great calf to compete at the Minnesota State Fair, he’ll see a lot of July, the girl he secretly likes at 4-H, and he and his dad Pop have big plans for April Fool’s Day. But everything changes when classmate Wayne Graf’s mother dies, which brings to light the secret that Pop is Wayne’s father, too. Suddenly, Diggy has a half brother, who moves in and messes up his life. Wayne threatens Diggy’s chances at the State Fair, horns in on his girl, and rattles his easy relationship with Pop. What started out great quickly turns into the worst year ever, filled with jealousy, fighting, and several incidents involving cow poop. But as the boys care for their steers, pull pranks, and watch too many B movies, they learn what it means to be brothers and change their concept of family as they slowly steer toward a new kind of normal.”

Overall Impressions: The boys have parallel abandonment issues: Diggy’s mother left him as an infant on Pop’s doorstep and then left town on a tractor, the ignominious mode of travel just salting the wound; and Wayne has lost both his mother and then very shortly after the man that he thought was his father, who in an alcoholic rage also dropped Wayne on Pop’s doorstep. Wayne’s obsession with Diggy’s mom, who’s never returned or contact her son, is a constant sore spot between the two of them – neither boy truly understanding why the other feels like they do. There’s a blowup at the end that makes things clearer, but Petruck does a great job of showing how time and perseverance is the biggest factor in healing tempers and family problems. Nearly a year passes as the boys and their respective families fight, find common ground, and deal with life as it comes.

The Highs: Petruck does an excellent job of creating a believable set of characters with very human problems and setbacks. The inclusion of the steer raising details and even rocket-building were interesting without being an info dump; it tied everything together really well in building the relationship – and tension – between Diggy and Wayne. Diggy gets to be the knowledgeable one in teaching the less farm-savvy Wayne, but when Wayne starts to succeed on his own (and attract July’s attention) Diggy starts having second thoughts. Their final competition, and Diggy’s crush on July, were resolved in a way that made total sense – not quite a happy ending, but one that will leave readers happy and rooting for them in the future. 

Buzzkills: By the end, I still was concerned about the level of rage that Mr. Graf exhibited even when he was sober. He finished on better terms with Wayne and his in-laws, but I kept thinking that Pop should be making regular visits to the Graf house to make sure that his son is safe. There was a lot of story on the parents’ side that we didn’t see much of, though, so maybe it’s implied that he went to some sort of counseling.

The Source: Galley from publisher.

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor hay was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Fallen from space

Cover art for These Broken StarsTitle: These Broken Stars

Author: Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

Publisher & Release Date: Hyperian, December 2013

The Hook: Richest girl in the galaxy and a decorated soldier have to find a way to survive when their escape pod crash lands on a deserted planet. (Also a cover with a ridiculously gorgeous dress.)

The Lowdown (from jacket): “It’s a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone.

“Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they’re worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help. Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other’s arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder—would they be better off staying here forever?

“Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won’t be the same people who landed on it.”

Overall Impressions:  Titanic meets wilderness survival with a long-hidden secret buried underneath it all. (Or to put it another way, Titanic plus Shards of Honor plus Firefly. Want to read it yet?)

For me, this book took off when the ship went down. Lilac and Tarver’s introduction and initial meeting onboard felt believable but familiar – attraction, conscious and then reactionary rejection because Important Reasons – but once they’re on the planet, they only have each other. And it’s kind of hard to put on a shell to hide yourself when all your energy is on survival. The description as they trek from the downed, damaged pod to the site of the fallen ship and slowly realize that the planet has no human inhabitants and no one else escaped the Icarus sucked me into the story. They face the mounting terror of first Lilac and later Tarver hearing whispers they can’t quite make out. And then they start seeing people, people who died and people who can’t possibly be on the planet.

Spooner and Kaufman tell the story in alternating chapters between Lilac and Tarver, interspersed with short chunks of Tarver being interviewed/interrogated by rescuers. The latter are dialog-only and become increasingly intimidating.

I love that both characters contribute to their survival and figuring out what to do as it increasingly looks as if rescue will not be coming. The relationship between the two becomes frighteningly intense.

The secret I did not expect and definitely didn’t anticipate some of the effects of its discovery.

The Highs: The reserves Lilac finds when Tarver is injured and his wound gets infected, leaving him delirious.

Great creepiness factor with the whispers and hallucinations/mirages – I had to quit reading at one point because it was late and no one else was home!

The description of the Icarus falling. (And really, naming a ship Icarus? Just asking for trouble.)

World-building. Both the beautiful, empty planet with its secret, and the central worlds – terraformed colonies power and resources imbalance, which will no doubt be explored in further books.

Tarver’s voice during the interrogation.

Buzzkills:  I found the relationship between Lilac and her father rather baffling. Does he love her? Does he have dreams for her? He’s obviously very protective in terms of what he considers appropriate exposure. Is it a possession-type of love? I expect that will get explored more in books two and three.

Really, Lilac and Tarver are so intense, so very front and center, very few other characters made much of an impression.

Pro and con – Did I mention this is not a stand-alone?

The Source: Public library.

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor a galactic cruise was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Antici….pation May 2014

Confession: Julie just wants to plaster “We Were Liars” all over this post because of her deep love for E. Lockhart’s books. But believe it or not, other awesome-sounding books come out this month as well! (In fact, several come out tomorrow.) So here’s a select handful of books we’re looking forward to this month…

As usual, publication dates and summaries are courtesy of Edelweiss.

Title: A Time to Dance Cover artwork for A Time to Dance

Author: Padma Venkatraman

Publisher & Release Date: Nancy Paulsen Books, May 1

The Hook: “Veda lives for dance, so her dreams are shattered when she’s injured in an accident. For a girl who’s used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is humbling. But Veda refuses to give up her dreams, and she starts over with the youngest dancers. Then she meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda rediscovers the world around her, allowing herself time for friendship and romance. She begins to discover who she is, what dance truly means to her, and to see herself and the world with compassion.”

Cover artwork from A Creature of MoonlightTitle: A Creature of Moonlight

Author: Rebecca Hahn

Publisher & Release Date: HMH Books for Young Readers, May 6

The Hook: “As the only heir to the throne, Marni should have been surrounded by wealth and privilege, not living in exile-but now the time has come when she must choose between claiming her birthright as princess of a realm whose king wants her dead, and life with the father she has never known: a wild dragon who is sending his magical woods to capture her.”

Title: Since You’ve Been Gone

Cover artwork for Since You've Been GoneAuthor: Morgan Matson

Publisher & Release Date: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, May 6

The Hook: “Before Sloane, Emily didn’t go to parties, she barely talked to guys, and she didn’t do anything crazy. Enter Sloane, social tornado and the best kind of best friend—someone who yanks you out of your shell.

But right before what should have been an epic summer, Sloane just…disappears. No note. No calls. No texts. No Sloane. There’s just a random to-do list with thirteen bizarre tasks that Emily would never try. But what if they can lead her to Sloane?

Apple picking at night? Okay, easy enough.

Dance until dawn? Sure. Why not?

Kiss a stranger? Wait…what?

Getting through Sloane’s list will mean a lot of firsts, and with a whole summer ahead of her—and with the unexpected help of the handsome Frank Porter—who knows what she’ll find.

Go Skinny Dipping? Um… ”

Title: We Were Liars Cover artwork for We Were Liars

Author: E. Lockhart

Publisher & Release Date: Delacorte Press, May 13

The Hook: “A beautiful and distinguished family.

“A private island.

“A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.

“A group of four friends-the Liars-whose friendship turns destructive.

“A revolution. An accident. A secret.

“Lies upon lies.

“True love.

“The truth.

“We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.

“Read it.

“And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.”