Author: Gail Carriger
Books: Etiquette & Espionage; Curtsies & Conspiracies; Waistcoats & Weaponry; Manners & Mutiny (pub Nov. 2015)
Published by: Little, Brown and Company
Genres: Science Fiction, Steampunk, Paranormal, Historical Fiction
At the age of 14, Sophronia is recruited for a finishing school – Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. Little does she know that she won’t only be learning to pour tea and host a dinner party, but she’ll learn the arts of an intelligencer – lady spies hidden in society. Sophronia also doesn’t realize she’s going to be very good at intelligencing – one of the best.
It’s 1851 in the British Empire. Mechanicals serve households and humans live alongside vampires and werewolves. All under the Queen: vampires, werewolves, and Picklemen (human evil geniuses) fight for power. Meanwhile, girls are trained at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Academy for Young Ladies of Quality and will someday have to choose patrons or sides in this power struggle.
The finishing series is set in the same world as Gail Carriger’s other series – Parasol Protectorate. I haven’t read it, which may be why the details of this world’s society was confusing. It wasn’t until the third book that I started to understand the politics behind the story. However, that also may have been intentional, as the themes and topics of the books get more mature as Sophronia grows into a woman intelligencer. Despite the confusion, Carriger is a clever, imaginative writer who created a smart, capable heroine. Although the content of the books sounds dark, it’s remarkably lighthearted, especially in the first two books. Sophronia may combat a crazed werewolf and up-to-no-good flywaymen, but she also skirmishes with a mechanical chaise lounge guard dog (it’s exactly as it sounds). There are actual characters named Mrs. Barnaclegoose and Lord Dingleproops.
If you’re disappointed Sophronia's world includes vampires and werewolves, you’re not alone. I resisted the series for that reason. I’m tired of the Twilight-induced obsession. However, I was able to enjoy the series, maybe because these characters don’t take center stage (at least not in the first book).
One thing I loved about Carriger's series: there's an overarching story woven through, but each book has an individual story with a conclusion. No cliffhangers here! If you prefer to read a series all at once, this is a good year to pick up Finishing School. The final, fourth book, Manners & Mutiny, comes out in November. You can pre-order it on Amazon.
Would I let my teen read this series?
Like Harry Potter, this series matures with the age of the character. While Harry might be 10 in the first book, I’d take some time to consider if my 10 year old should read the whole series. Sophronia is 14 when the story begins, but she’s 16 by the third book. The third book is more mature, as the girls are introduced to lessons of seduction and Sophronia becomes more physically aware of her love interests. The publisher recommends 6th grade and up for this series, which is appropriate for Etiquette & Espionage (Book 1). If your teen is going to read the whole series, I recommend waiting until they’re 15.
Age recommendation: 15
Sex – There’s some innocent kissing, and noticing of muscles
Violence – Some fist and weapon fighting; violence associated with werewolves and vampires— In Curtsies & Conspiracies (Book 2) you read about a vampire feeding from several people to revive himself; In Waistcoats & Weaponry (Book 3) one of the characters is transformed into a werewolf (to save his life) which includes a violent bite to the neck.
My Goodreads rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Buy: Etiquette & Espionage (Book 1) - on Amazon.com
Title: Geek Girl
Author: Holly Smale
Published by: HarperTeen
Publication date: January 27, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Summary from Goodreads:
Harriet Manners is tired of being labeled a geek. So when she’s discovered by a modeling agent, she seizes the chance to reinvent herself. There’s only one problem: Harriet is the definition of awkward. Does she have what it takes to transform from geek to chic?
I picked up this book from the library hoping for a light read. I was also curious how the book would handle the subject of body and self-image. I wasn’t disappointed. Harriet Manners would win at Trivial Pursuit. She’s an expert in trivia, randomly pulling obscure references like “chewing gum is banned in Singapore” into awkward first introductions. One thing I really like about Harriet, she’s a self-realized Geek.
“Did you know that in the old days the word geek was used to describe a carnival performer who bit the head off a live chicken or snack or bat as part of their stage act?
Exactly. Only a geek would know a thing like that.
I think it’s what they call ironic.”
She knows she’s a geek, she’s just not sure how to be different. Because according to the other kids at school, a geek is a bad thing. So when she’s accidentally discovered by a modeling agent, she thinks this is her big opportunity to transform.
Throughout the book we watch Harriet stumble through her new carrier, break and mend relationships, and finally come to realize she likes herself after all.
Would I let me teen read this?
There’s nothing questionable in this book. It’s a fun, clean read with a smart protagonist. The author is also British, so characters say things like, “Harriet, are you studying maths in the middle of my photo shoot?” Can’t you just hear the accent? Love it!
Age recommendation: 12
Sex – One kiss
My Goodreads rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Buy: Geek Girl - on Amazon.com
Title: The Young World
Author: Chris Wietz
Published by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: July, 29, 2014
Genres: Science Fiction, Apocalyptic, Adventure, Romance
The Young World is New York City run by teenagers. It’s been two years since the Sickness wiped the world of adults and children, and the only people left are the ones with the right hormones to make them immune. Once you turn 18, you’re dead.
Jefferson (a brainy, philosophical, good-hearted hero) reluctantly takes over the Washington Square tribe after his brother dies. They do their best to defend their territory, treat each other fairly, and help everyone survive. But when Jeff gets a clue to save teen-kind, he sets out with Donna (the snarky girl he’s secretly loved since Kindergarten) and three others to find the one cure to save them all. The journey to the cure is a cruel one as they defend themselves from chauvinistic, white supremacists, a group of cannibals, tween fashionista tunnel rats, and even an escaped polar bear from Central Park Zoo.
This is Chris Weitz's first book, but you might recognize his name from directing movies like The Golden Compass, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, About a Boy, and American Pie. Well versed in the juvenile arts, Weitz creates a dystopian story as cruel and relentless as the mean girls from high school. Actually, it’s totally worse.
The New York teens have resorted to violence to protect the short years of life they have left. This means the tribes spend as much time scavenging for firearms and bullets as they do for food. When Jefferson, Donna, Brainbox, SeeThrough, and Peter adventure out to find the cure, they repeatedly have to defend themselves. The first threat comes in the form of a baby bottle Molotov cocktail and Dora the Suicide Bomber – a doll with an unexploded M-80 in her backpack. This is just a taste of apocalyptic New York City. I was entertained for the first half of the book, along for the ride no matter what the kids faced and appreciating the comedic relief when delivered. Peter, who joined the journey because he was SO bored, had one of my favorite lines, “Um, I would just like to say that I signed on for a good time? And so far, I barfed, I got shot at, and somebody tried to feed me human flesh.” After what they’d been through, it was a welcome laugh. In the second half, I started to feel weary of the dark world Weitz created and sad that this was supposedly the world teens today created when everyone else died. The killing, the meaningless sex, the continued loss of loved ones, the abuse of the weak – it left me feeling less excited to pick up the book and generally like Ugh. Then there’s the end. I didn’t realize this was a series. After feeling a little downtrodden by the story, I was disappointed with how it ended and felt kind of emotionally blank. According to Goodreads.com, the second installment is scheduled to publish this year.
Between cannibals, fistfights, and shoot-outs, Jefferson and Donna question whether it’s worth loving anyone during such a short duration on earth. Love vs emptiness, God vs nothing, sameness vs change – these are some of the major themes of the book. Weitz also hits on now pointless cultural obsessions like Adderall, Cell phones, and “spreading words sideways” (which is Facebook and Twitter – information concerned with the present instead of the future). One thing The Young World does is offer a wealth of relevant discussion topics. In fact, if I recommended this book, it would be in a group setting, which brings me to the following question.
Would I let my teen read this?
Our Facebook status = It’s complicated? I liked some things about this book. It’s clever and funny, and it delivers so many subjects to talk about that I really could offer many more pages of analysis. Peter could have his own page; the African American gay Christian who poses questions about the presence of God during hell on earth and is also the comic relief. I wish more YA books had this analysis-worthy quality.
The underside is the heavy language, the hard topics of abuse of women and youth (12-13 year olds), and the unrelenting violence between kids. I also think sex is misrepresented. Jefferson says at one point that “boys are born easy,” that simply because they’re male they’ll have sex with anyone willing, which is a myth. It’s also another example of a good discussion topic.
The content of the book is not necessarily unrealistic to the teenager experience today. Sure, if it were a movie it’d be rated R, but as I recall, the same would be true for the hallways between classes in high school.
So, I think this would be an interesting group discussed book in a senior lit class, or if you’re looking for a book to read with your teen (maybe especially your son).
Age recommendation: 17
Swearing – Heavy: swears and derogatories
Drugs and Alcohol – References to addicts; some alcohol drinking
Sex – Many references to sex – the teens discover they can’t get pregnant. Between that and their short life span, they do it a lot; a make out scene; a sex scene (not detailed, you just know they’re going to and then they’re laying on the cold floor together); offers of prostitution, references to girls being owned for sex
Violence – Hand to hand combat; Sword combat (close range stabbings, cutting off hands, through necks, in the ribs); boy strangled in public; boy stabbed to death; teens mangled by bullets; reference to cannibalism
My Goodreads rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars
Buy: The Young World - on Amazon.com
Title: Frostfire (The Kanin Chronicles)
Author: Amanda Hocking
Published by: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication date: Jan 6, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Summary from Goodreads:
Bryn Aven is an outcast among the Kanin, the most powerful of the troll tribes.
Set apart by her heritage and her past, Bryn is a tracker who's determined to become a respected part of her world. She has just one goal: become a member of the elite King’s Guard to protect the royal family. She's not going to let anything stand in her way, not even a forbidden romance with her boss Ridley Dresden.
But all her plans for the future are put on hold when Konstantin– a fallen hero she once loved – begins kidnapping changelings. Bryn is sent in to help stop him, but will she lose her heart in the process?
If you’ve read Amanda Hocking’s Trylle trilogy, Frostfire will sound familiar. I read the series a few years ago and remember liking it. I thought Hocking created an interesting world, and realistic relationships. In fact, that was one of the first YA books I read that switched the main love interest half way through the series. The switch gave the relationship a more genuine feel, because it built over time, compared to a love-at-first-site story. Similarly, Bryn and Ridley’s relationship is based off of a friendship that grows. I like it when authors go this route. It debunks the fantasy of sparks flying at first site or touch (like many YA romances).
The Kanin are a troll tribe (in the same world as the Trylle troll tribe). But these aren’t Tolkien trolls like in The Lord of the Rings. These trolls look like people, but have special abilities. Some have gills to help them breathe under water, others have telekinesis, and others have sensing abilities (internal GPS) and skin that can change with moods or surroundings. Don’t worry, if you haven’t read the Trylle series, all of this is explained in the book through the character Linus. Linus is Bryn’s latest Changeling charge. A Changeling is a troll-born child who is placed within a human family as a baby to be retrieved (by a Tracker) as a teenager so they might return to their troll parents–along with their trust-fund, which finances the larger troll tribe (Phew!). Anyway, Bryn has to teach all of this to Linus, so the reader is also informed.
While retrieving Linus, Bryn runs in to Konstantin for the first time since he tried to kill her father. Konstantin is busy kidnapping Changelings (for what purpose we still don’t know). Bryn imagined herself in love (from a distance) with Konstantin before his dastardly offense against her father.
This relationship was confusing to me. I wasn’t sure (and the Goodreads summary hints at this) if we were supposed to believe Bryn was romantically conflicted in her relationship with Konstantin or not. Their confrontation in her hotel bedroom certainly had some sexual tension, but this didn’t make sense to me after his confession concerning his motivations behind the kidnappings toward the end of the book.
Bryn and Ridley’s relationship is angsty. Bryn thinks falling in love will make her too soft and distract her from her job. She’s also worried about starting something with Ridley, because he’s her boss. Ridley obviously has feelings for Bryn, but is not sure if he should pursue them. Bryn is just realizing she has feelings for Ridley, but has an aversion to love, blah blah blah.
Anyway, this whole business between Bryn and Konstantin, and Bryn and Ridley, and the kidnappings is completely unresolved at the end of the book. The first book in the Kanin Chronicles is very much a long introduction to the series. Luckily, the second two books in the series both come out this year: Ice Kissed and Crystal Kingdom. You might want to wait until all three are out to read the series, especially if you hate books without closure.
Would I let my teen read this?
I would not make this book off-limits. Bryn is generally a strong heroine with qualities to be admired. I could’ve done with a little less romance and a little more action, but that’s not necessarily a critique to the content of the book. I just thought it was kind of boring. If the book were a movie, it’d be rated PG-13 (see details listed below). Sometimes the character’s age can give you insight to the content of the book. Bryn is 19 and her love interest is 24. The character’s ages do introduce adult relationship themes, like sleeping around, but Frostfire mostly alludes to these themes. There are no sex scenes, and most of the kissing is in our protagonist’s imagination. There’s some violence, but it’s not graphic.
Age recommendation: 16
Swearing – Mild, but includes one f-bomb
Drugs and Alcohol – Ridley drinks some wine, but he’s over 18
Sex – Kissing; Reference to Ridley having many sexual partners; Reference to homosexuality
Violence – Hand to hand combat; Sword combat (two stabbings, one character’s throat ripped out, but isn’t described in gory detail); Mention of accidental murder of 15 yr old girl.
My Goodreads rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Buy: Frostfire (The Kanin Chronicles Book 1) - on Amazon.com
Title: Beware the Wild
Author: Natalie C. Parker
Published by: HarperCollins
Publication date: Oct 21, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Gothic, Romance
“Beware the swampy places, child,
Beware the dark and wild,
Many a soul has wandered there,
And many a soul has died.”
So begins Part One of Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker. Sticks, Louisiana has secrets, and the “cruel, hungry” swamp in Sterling Saucier’s backyard holds the key to those secrets. Sterling, however, is only concerned with one secret for the time being – the disappearance of her big brother, Phineas. Phin ran into the swamp this morning and never returned. When a figure finally emerges, it’s Lenora May, a girl who seamlessly takes Phin’s place in Sticks and in the memories of those who knew him. In fact, Sterling is the only one who remembers Phin existed at all, and the responsibility falls on her to discover what happened to her brother.
Heath Durham, the local rumored drug addict and an old flame, delivers hope in the form of three words – “I believe you.” Heath lost his best friend Nathan to the swamp too. Heath’s not really an addict, but he is on anti-depressants for thinking he had a best friend named Nathan who was lost in the swamp. You can imagine the relief Heath finds in the revelation of Sterling’s story.
Together, Sterling and Heath embark on a journey to search for the truth within the swamp, and fight for the courage to rescue those they love.
At its heart, Beware the Wild is a cautionary tale about fear. Each character is acting from or is paralyzed by fear, even the villain, at his roots, is motivated by fear. Sterling, too, is literally wasting away from the fear of living without her brother. Growing up with an abusive father, Phin always protected Sterling. Now Phin’s preparing to go away to college, and Sterling is so afraid to live without him that she’s starving herself in protest to his decision. Sterling’s journey is about finding the courage to fight for herself and those she loves by leaning on the strength of those around her. She “dared to remember” those lost who should still be living and that determination propels her to the truth.
I liked this swampy tale for its mystery and intrigue. The story moves steadily, if a little slowly at times, but Parker keeps her readers guessing as to who’s behind the kidnappings. It was not difficult to imagine Sticks, Louisiana and it’s southern characters. Candy (Sterling’s best friend), Heath, and Lenora May are the most vivid, while Sterling fell into the protagonist without a face. She seems to be one of those characters that young girls can imagine themselves in her place. Besides her background of an abusive father, there’s little describing her. I felt like I didn’t know anything about her other than her anthem, “I lost my brother to the swamp, and I’m going to get him back!” It’s an honorable anthem. Oh, her favorite sport is volleyball and her favorite food is broccoli…what? Broccoli is no one’s favorite food. You can like broccoli, I guess you can love it, but your favorite? Utterly unbelievable.
Beware the Wild is well written, and you’ll enjoy it if you like gothic mysteries. There’s a simplicity to the storytelling that keeps the tale easy to follow and the characters understandable.
Would I let my teen read this?
Absolutely. There are good things to discuss about not letting fear rule your decisions and having the courage to fight for yourself and your beliefs instead of depending on others to do it for you.
Age recommendation: 14
Swearing – Mild, including Lord’s name in vain
Drugs and Alcohol – Kids do shots together
Sex – Kissing; Reference to homosexuality
Violence – Mention of abusive father; kids get in fistfight at school
My Goodreads rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Buy: Beware the Wild - on Amazon.com
I read a lot. I'm a Mom. I'm officially in my 30s, but strangers often don't believe I'm old enough to drink. I love Young Adult fiction, and thought it was worthwhile to help teens and adults find age-appropriate options.