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Matched by Ally Condie
Release date: November 30, 2010

In the Society, Officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die.

Cassia has always trusted their choices. It’s barely any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one . . . until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path no one else has ever dared follow—between perfection and passion.

Matched is a story for right now and storytelling with the resonance of a classic.

There’s been a lot of buzz on different blogs about Matched and I hear it was the “must-get” item at BEA and I can see why.  Dystopian society, forbidden love, free will versus determinism, it all sounds positively delicious.  Plus, the cover is adorable!  I’m a big fan of romance with a sly sci-fi twist and this book seems like it will deliver on every level.  November (almost December!) is way too far away.

*Waiting on Wednesday is an ingenious idea hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine.

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Summary (via Goodreads): Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn’t think she’s the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She’s also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her “Duffy,” she throws her Coke in his face.

But things aren’t so great at home right now. Desperate for a distraction, Bianca ends up kissing Wesley. And likes it. Eager for escape, she throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with Wesley.

Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out that Wesley isn’t such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

Review (Warning—Light Spoilers): I had to give myself a week and one re-read to write my review so this review didn’t come out full of incoherent fangirl squeeing.  Since reading The Duff I’ve been slightly internet stalking Kody Keplinger as I do most authors I love. (Note to Kody: it’s harmless stalking…I swear.  Just ignore that feeling like you’re being watched all the time.  It will fade once you get used to me.)

Just seventeen when she wrote this, I’m torn between admiration and insane jealousy of Keplinger. Her writing is realistic, but incredibly nuanced. (Note again to Kody: not “insane jealousy” like I’m going to ‘Single White Female’ you.  More like I want to steal your words and make your brain mine…yeah…now that I think about it, that sounds worse, doesn’t it?)

Fast-moving, charming, and honest, The Duff (which stands for Designated Ugly Fat Friend) hooked me from page one.  Bianca is smart, spunky, and just a little insecure.  Wesley, who could easily be a flat character with his “playboy” ways, is he’s as well-developed as Bianca.  I totally understand how Bianca could fall for this guy she supposedly hated (heck, I kind of fell for him myself).  The way their relationship evolves is completely believable. Their transition from “enemies with benefits” to friends to something even more happens so smoothly you don’t even realize it’s happening, much like the characters themselves.  Their banter is witty and their hookups are, well, pretty hot.  As they get to peel back the layers and emotional barriers you begin to see why these two people are so right for each other.  Without really realizing it, each helps the other deal with larger issues.  Bianca deals with her parents’ divorce and her father’s alcoholism, while Wesley faces absent parents and a grandmother that despises him.

I loved Bianca’s friends, Casey and Jessica.  Both are very different from Bianca but incredibly loyal and clearly the trio cares very deeply for each other.  At one point, Wesley says that he really only has one friend, who is gay, because other boys are jealous of him.  I wish we could have seen a bit more how this affected Wesley.  Girls so often turn against a girl that is seen as more sexually active I thought it was interesting that Wesley’s open attitude regarding sex made him a social outcast among the guys.

My only major gripe is that I think Bianca’s father’s alcoholism perhaps doesn’t get the attention it should.  His outbursts and recovery are waved aside with a heartfelt apology and mention of AA, but I felt like the issue should have been more developed, especially since he gets violent with her.  Also, her absentee mother showing up and expecting things to just work themselves out irked me.

And while I hated how Bianca let Wesley get away with calling her such a horrible name for so long, the scene where she finally admits how much it hurt her is so poignant and emotional you realize that Wesley has no idea how much weight that word carried.  In their relationship, Keplinger elegantly explores issues of self-respect and self-worth that aren’t just regulated to teens.  All women, young or old, feel like “the duff” at one point or another.

By now I’m sure it’s apparent that I loved The Duff.  I think I’d put it up there with Some Girls Are and The Sky is Everywhere as my favorite YA books so far this year (maybe ever).  Unfortunately, The Duff doesn’t come out until September.  I know, I know, I’m sorry for raving about something that isn’t in stores for you right now.  But, I’m counting down the days until you guys can get your hands on this awesome debut novel.  I’m sure once you read it you, like me, will be waiting eagerly to see what else Keplinger has in store for us.

Lit Snit Verdict: A+

*This book was provided by the publisher.

Summary (via Goodreads): When Brittany Ellis walks into chemistry class on the first day of senior year, she has no clue that her carefully created “perfect” life is about to unravel before her eyes. She’s forced to be lab partners with Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town, and he is about to threaten everything she’s worked so hard for—her flawless reputation, her relationship with her boyfriend, and the secret that her home life is anything but perfect. Alex is a bad boy and he knows it. So when he makes a bet with his friends to lure Brittany into his life, he thinks nothing of it. But soon Alex realizes Brittany is a real person with real problems, and suddenly the bet he made in arrogance turns into something much more.

In a passionate story about looking beneath the surface, Simone Elkeles breaks through the stereotypes and barriers that threaten to keep Brittany and Alex apart.

Review: This book was entertaining enough, but I think all the hype I’d heard from various blogs left me a little disappointed.  You can’t help but compare it to the movie Grease (which Elkeles even refers to at one tongue-in-cheek moment), and has the same fun, romantic, opposites attract feel to it.  However, Elkeles’ has a certain social commentary and realism that reminds you that Alex isn’t ‘playing’ at being a gang member.  I appreciated too that Elkeles deals with Brittany’s sister’s cerebral palsey with respect and honesty, never using Shelley as a cheap gimmick.  She has as much personality and development as any of the other characters.  I really enjoyed the main characters best friends, Sierra and Paco, who served not only as humorous distractions from the drama at certain points, but really proved that this book was about friendship and loyalty as much as it was a love story.

Perfect Chemistry started off really strong, allowing me to become invested in both Brittany and Alex’s lives, but as things developed it just seemed slightly contrived and their story wrapped up a little too neatly in the end to the point I kind of groaned and wished Elkeles had left a bit more to the imagination.  That said, both characters were really well-rounded and I loved the dual POV.  The dialogue, for the most part, was witty and clever.

I see the next in the series is about Carlos, Alex’s younger, hot-headed brother, who was probably my least favorite side character.  I might give Rules of Attraction a try, but I’ve got so much on my to-read pile right now it probably won’t be any time soon.

Lit Snit Verdict: B-

Want another opinion?  See what Emily and Her Little Pink Notes has to say about Perfect Chemistry.

Summery (via Goodreads): Adopted by the Alpha of a werewolf pack after a rogue wolf brutally killed her parents right before her eyes, fifteen-year-old Bryn knows only pack life, and the rigid social hierarchy that controls it. That doesn’t mean that she’s averse to breaking a rule or two.

But when her curiosity gets the better of her and she discovers Chase, a new teen locked in a cage in her guardian’s basement, and witnesses him turn into a wolf before her eyes, the horrific memories of her parents’ murders return. Bryn becomes obsessed with getting her questions answered, and Chase is the only one who can provide the information she needs.

But in her drive to find the truth, will Bryn push too far beyond the constraints of the pack, forcing her to leave behind her friends, her family, and the identity that she’s shaped?

Review: I’m a sucker for a good werewolf story, especially if it’s female-centric, so I was slightly put off at first when I realized Bryn wasn’t actually a werewolf, but as I got into the story she became such an engaging, irreverent character her mere “human-ness” didn’t matter much at all.

Barnes has an interesting take on the genre, creating almost “proxy werewolves” through the process of Marking, which makes select humans part of the wolf pack in every sense but the furriness.  The pack dynamic itself is fascinating.  The werewolves and those that are Marked have almost psychic bonds with each other.  The scene where Bryn finally opens herself up to the pack mentally and emotionally is really poignant and makes you really understand what the members of the pack mean to each other.  It actually made me tear up a little as I was reading.

I really loved all the female characters in Raised By Wolves.  Every single one was strong and independent, yet very real and vulnerable.  This looks like it’s the first in a series and I, for one, can’t wait to see what they do with the character of Kate, who I found absolutely adorable.  I’m really interested to see how female werewolves, who are few and far between, grow up and develop in the pack.  I almost hope we get a novel from Lake’s (Bryn’s werewolf friend) point of view.

Devon, Bryn’s best friend was also a really fascinating character. He undermined my ideas of “typical” werewolves in his obsession with Broadway musicals and designer labels, yet he didn’t lose one ounce of masculinity and wasn’t in any way reduced to a stereotype.  Bryn’s relationship with Chase was a little quick and it took me a little while to adjust to their sudden closeness, but it definitely worked for me in the end.

What I loved most about Barnes’ novel was the way she took this masculine world that normally has women regulated to sexual objects, maternal figures, or victims and really created something new.  Many other werewolf or shifter series have women that step into positions of power.  Yet, they are merely given these positions by their male predecessors.  In Raised By Wolves, Bryn creates an entirely new hierarchy for herself and others.  Bryn, a character that, by traditional thought in the genre, should be weak as both human and female isn’t given any sort of power, but demands it and takes it, turning the whole dynamic of the pack on its head.

For a novel that could have easily been just a fun, thrilling YA fantasy, it’s really refreshing to be forced to think about gender roles, and see a strong female character set her own terms for how and where she fits into society (werewolf society or not).

Lit Snit Verdict: B+

Summary: Climbing to the top of the social ladder is hard–falling from it is even harder. Regina Afton used to be a member of the Fearsome Fivesome, an all-girl clique both feared and revered by the students at Hallowell High… until vicious rumors about her and her best friend’s boyfriend start going around.

Now Regina’s been “frozen out” and her ex-best friends are out for revenge. If Regina was guilty, it would be one thing, but the rumors are far from the terrifying truth and the bullying is getting more intense by the day. She takes solace in the company of Michael Hayden, a misfit with a tragic past who she herself used to bully. Friendship doesn’t come easily for these onetime enemies, and as Regina works hard to make amends for her past, she realizes Michael could be more than just a friend… if threats from the Fearsome Foursome don’t break them both first.

Tensions grow and the abuse worsens as the final days of senior year march toward an explosive conclusion in this dark new tale from the author of Cracked Up To Be

Review: It would be over simplification to compare this book to Mean Girls, but as I was reading I kept having the thought that if Tarantino or Scorsese made Mean Girls, this would be it. Some Girls Are is a powerful, gritty, gut-wrenching look at “those girls.”  The popular, “it” girls from high school who seemed to have it all, but through the course of reading Some Girls Are, you realize they’re just as scared and insecure and screwed up as anyone else.

I practically devoured this book, reading it in the span of an hour and a half train ride (and many times got some strange looks from other passengers as I did my best to keep from crying more than once on my ride).  If I had one word to describe this book, as cliché as it is, I would call it raw.  It bares its soul, all its the darkness and complexity without any sort of filter.  There were moments when I wanted to scream at the main character, Regina, to just let it go, to stop trying to even the score; I cried at each injustice that befell her even though she acknowledges she is far from innocent in creating Anna’s reign of terror (her former best friend and resident Queen Bee); I felt as helpless as Regina as the group tortured her emotionally and even physically; and, like her, even found some humor in the darkness of it all.

I didn’t particularly like Regina, (though I don’t know if I’ve hated anyone as much as I hated her nemesis, Kara) but I think that was the point.  As you learn more about Regina, you realize this is not a good person.  Not that she’s a bad person either.  As much as I wanted the war between her and the “Fearsome Foursome” to end, there was something admirable about Regina’s rage.  She wasn’t going down without a fight, not matter the cost to her reputation, physical well-being, even her future.  Summers writes without judgment and allows the reader to feel what they will toward Regina: sympathy, horror, amusement, or even a sense of vindication; the girl who tortured so many others got what she deserved.

I’ve been watching a lot of AMC’s Breaking Bad recently and this book reminded me of the style of that show: tense, emotionally draining, and a bit of a relief when it’s over and you can thank God your life isn’t like that.  Yes, the adults (when they do show up) are slightly one dimensional, but it isn’t about family life.  This is about the horrors of high school and the effect bullying can have as both the victim and perpetrator.  My high school experience wasn’t particularly bad, but after finishing this book I found myself glad that part of my life was behind me.

LitSnit Verdict: A

Erin’s next book review is Caprice Crane’s A Family Affair

Summary: Scarlett March lives to hunt the Fenris– the werewolves that took her eye when she was defending her sister Rosie from a brutal attack. Armed with a razor-sharp hatchet and blood-red cloak, Scarlett is an expert at luring and slaying the wolves. She’s determined to protect other young girls from a grisly death, and her raging heart will not rest until every single wolf is dead.

Rosie March once felt her bond with her sister was unbreakable. Owing Scarlett her life, Rosie hunts fiercely alongside her. Now Rosie dreams of a life beyond the wolves and finds herself drawn to Silas, a young woodsman who is deadly with an ax– but loving him means betraying her sister and has the potential to destroy all they’ve worked for.

Review: Warning. Spoilers Ahead.

I wanted to like this book. I really did. Being a fan of the Fables series I was excited at the prospect of a fairy tale retelling. Unfortunately, I was bitterly disappointed. Actually, at points I was downright angry.

It didn’t help that I hated the character of Rosie from the very moment she appeared on the page. Her sister Scarlett is physically disfigured and emotionally tormented from a Fenris attack when they were children and has made it her life’s work to defend mankind, yet Rosie’s main concern throughout most of the book is cooking, grocery shopping, and her blossoming romance with Silas.

Their romance is thrust upon the reader from the moment they meet with little explanation as to WHY they are suddenly so in love with each other. Silas and Rosie are smitten literally from first sight, so the only thing we have to base their relationship on is Rosie’s much lauded beauty. Rosie moons over Silas, which is understandable for a girl falling in love for the first time. However, this continues ad nauseam throughout the entire book until I found myself wishing for the death of Silas, a character I didn’t really dislike (actually he was so bland I still don’t have any strong feelings toward him) just so she’d shut up.

Everything about the novel just felt forced. To me, the best stories make you forget that there is even an author at all, that there is someone behind the scenes who has created this world and these characters that you’ve suddenly lost yourself in. In Sisters Red I felt every move Pearce made. She seemed so determined to have the characters do exactly what she wanted that they seemed to go through the motions without any soul behind the story. The characters were just words on a page to me. I never really felt myself caring what happened to any of them, even Scarlett who began with so much potential.

Rosie is clearly the Pearce’s favorite of the two sisters, as she seemed to tell most of this dual point of view story.  I kept waiting for Scarlett to get some semblance of a storyline of her own, but the novel was quickly and conveniently wrapped up when Rosie receives her “fairy tale ending,” while Scarlett is in the exact same position she was when the novel began. You can’t help but draw the conclusion that the moral of this story is that beauty is everything and, in the end, Scarlett is punished for being disfigured.

Verdict: D

I wish I could muster something more positive to say about Sisters Red, but I just couldn’t get into this one at all.  The concept was interesting, however, it just missed the mark for me.  I’d recommend picking up a few issues of Fables and saving yourself the time and energy.

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