New From Ruta Sepetys: Out of the Easy

11178225There was a lot of twitter last spring about Ruta Sepetys‘ debut novel, Between Shades of Gray. It also got some buzz for being commonly confused with a certain erotic series that skyrocketed to popularity around the same time. But they’re definitely not the same. Based on research into her own family’s past, Between Shades of Grey is the harrowing story of life in Stalin’s work camps.

So how does an author follow that? By leaving Siberia and heading to New Orleans, that’s how.

Sepetys’ new novel, Out of the Easy, follows Josie, a seventeen-year-old bookworm with hopes of heading to Smith College in the fall. But nothing is simple for the daughter of a prostitute in the 1950s, and when Josie is pulled into the intrigue of a local murder case, it seems like her dreams of escaping the Big Easy may never come true.

I read both Between Shades of Grey and Out of the Easy as advanced reader’s copies, and I can honestly say that they’re both memorable, striking novels that will stay in your head for a while. But, on the whole, I enjoyed Easy a lot more. The plot and several subplots are pretty basic, as it turns out, but that’s okay, because Sepetys has given us an excellent protagonist to drive the story forward. Josie is strong, plucky, resourceful, and extremely likable. I loved that she wasn’t afraid to use her considerable cunning to her advantage. She’s scrappy. I’m a big fan of scrappy heroines.

No, Ruta Sepetys definitely doesn’t shy away from difficult characters and situations. That’s why her stories are so engaging. Out of the Easy is the perfect pick for a lively book club discussion, or just some entertaining, dramatic solo reading. Check it out on our YA shelf!

Read on, readers!

Miss Megan

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys; Philomel (Penguin); 17.99; Ages 14+

P.S. One of the main plot points of the novel follows Josie’s efforts to go to college out East. In keeping with that theme, Penguin is offering an Out of the Easy scholarship contest! Access full rules and a submission form here.

Dragons Are Cool Again: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

I never got on the Eragon train. All the best to Mr. Paolini, but I just wasn’t interested in dragon fantasy and there were other things to read, so I moved on, and missed most of the recent dragon craze.

I picked up Seraphina because the positive buzz on the interwebs was almost deafening. I gave in to peer pressure. And, possibly for the first time ever, that ended up being a very good thing.

I usually hesitate to assign the title “best” to any particular book, because reading is so subjective. As we’ve established, I like some books better than others, but elevating just one above all the rest seems impossible and unfair. So I won’t say that Seraphina is the best book of the summer. But it’s probably my favorite.

Enough with the wishy washy attitude. It’s my favorite.

As decreed by treaty, dragons are permitted to live and work alongside humans in the kingdom of Goredd, provided they assume a human shape. In theory, there is peace between the races. In reality, prejudice and anti-dragon sentiments are rising, inspired by the recent mysterious murder of a member of the royal family, a murder that is rumored to have been committed by a dragon. Into this tenuous situation enters Seraphina Dombegh, hired as assistant to the head court musician. Seraphina is no ordinary girl with a talent for music–she is also half dragon, a horrible secret she must protect at all costs. Drawn into the court’s investigation by Lucian Kiggs, captain of the guard, Seraphina finds her stamina for concealment challenged almost beyond what she can bear.

But as the drama and intrigue swirls around her, Seraphina is surprised to learn that she may not be alone. There are others like her, halfbreeds with various skills and gifts who just might be able to help. Gradually, Seraphina begins to come to terms with who she is, and, strange as it seems, begins to wonder if perhaps her dragon ancestry is something to be proud of. Perhaps what she has striven to hide is in fact the key to bringing peace once and for all.

Rachel Hartman’s world building in this novel is simply fantastic. I loved the little historical and societal tidbits that she dropped casually along the way, never overloading me with information, but giving me enough to imagine clearly the landscape she was creating. Goredd is the perfect blend of the recognizable and the strange. And the characters are compelling, sympathetic, and layered. There’s plenty to discover here! Hang on for some awesome twists and turns, too. A spectacularly fun read!

P.S. Hey, Game of Thrones fans! This book is for you. Read it and make the season three wait more bearable.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman; Random House; 17.99; Ages 14+

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Author Leigh Bardugo is on the forefront of the Tsarpunk genre. What’s Tsarpunk, you say? I asked the same thing, and thankfully Leigh has an answer here. Essentially, it’s a fantasy style that draws inspiration from Russian history and/or culture. But as soon as you start Shadow and Bone you’ll figure out that, at least in this case, Tsarpunk equals heartpounding action and a healthy dose of intrigue.

Alina and Mal are orphans, raised together until they are eligible for military service. Alina can’t imagine being parted from Mal, but when their unit begins a treacherous crossing through the mysterious, crushing darkness of the Shadow Fold, the unthinkable happens. When they are suddenly brought under attack by horrific beasts, Alina discovers a hidden power she never knew she had. Desperate to save her friend, she unknowingly summons a brilliant flash of light to blind the creatures. Alina is a Grisha, one of a small group of people with extraordinary talents for transforming matter.

But Alina is no ordinary Grisha. She is a Sun Summoner, gifted with unparalleled powers and potential. Taken under the wing of the Darkling, the mysterious Grisha leader, Alina is trained to use her skills to fight the darkness of the Shadow Fold. But the more she learns, the further she is drawn from everything she once knew, including Mal. Ultimately, she must make the choice between the promise of the Darkling’s power and the pull of her own heart.

If you take this book to the beach, be prepared not to step foot in the water. You won’t want to let it out of your hands! Hats off to Leigh Bardugo—she keeps the plot moving and the action coming, all the while developing characters we can actually care about. And, no spoilers, but there are some pretty awesome twists and turns to keep you guessing. Perfect for vacation down time!

Shadow and Bone (Grisha Trilogy #1) by Leigh Bardugo; Henry Holt (Macmillan); 17.99; Ages 12+

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

Can we just talk about this cover for a second? I know I usually say things like “I wasn’t a big fan of the cover” or “I avoided reading this book because I hated the cover.” Not this time, friends. I love it. It’s unexpectedly subtle. Yes, we’ve got a girl’s face–that’s hardly revolutionary for the YA shelf. But check out the title itself–it’s written in shadow! As in The Book of Blood and Shadow! Get it?! And look a little closer at her eye. The towering spires of Prague, which, after you’ve read the novel, you’ll realize are pretty important.

So yes, I liked the cover. But I’m more interested in what’s inside. Thankfully, the interior content drew me in just as quickly as the exterior did.

After her brother’s tragic death, Nora reinvents herself. She changes schools and starts over with two new best friends and the fictitious claim that she is an only child. During her senior year, when she takes a position as a research assistant at the local college, she is slowly drawn into a historical intrigue centuries old. But when she begins to unravel the web of mystery and deceit, she finds herself at the center of yet another tragedy. One of her friends is dead, the other is apparently brainwashed, and, according to the police, her boyfriend Max is at fault. Desperate to prove his innocence and to set history straight once and for all, Nora takes off on a European adventure that will change her life and everything she thinks she knows.

This fast paced supernatural thriller (oh, yeah, there’s a supernatural element here, too) starts off with a bang and doesn’t let up until the final pages. I particularly enjoyed the intertwining stories of Nora and Elizabeth Weston, her sixteenth-century research subject. The novel’s got that summer blockbuster sort of appeal: a determined heroine, a historical damsel with a dark secret, a series of letters that contain the code to crack said secret, a mysterious Illuminati-esque society, and plenty of ninja-style combat to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Thanks, Robin Wasserman (Cold Awakening Trilogy), for bringing the summer reads early this year–just in time to tear through over spring break!

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman; Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers; 17.99; Ages 14+

Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick (Rachel’s Pick)

Hush, Hush, by Becca Fitzpatrick (ages 14 and up)

hushHigh school student Nora Grey’s world is turned upside down when she meets a mysterious new student named Patch.  It’s obvious from the start that there’s something different about Patch, and Nora can’t even begin to imagine what it is.  At first, Patch’s quick witty come-ons and open flirtation leads Nora to believe that he’s just trying to get a rise out of her.  With the help of her best friend Vee, Nora is determined to find out Patch’s secrets and expose him for whatever he is.  But as each of Patch’s secrets comes to light, Nora plunges further into a darker side of Patch’s life, one where her very life hangs in the balance.

Becca Fitzpatrick’s first novel, a highly entertaining read. I could barely put it down!

Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick; Simon & Schuster; $17.99; Copyright 2009

Megan’s Book of the Day 5/15/09

The Summer I Turned Pretty, by Jenny Han, Ages 12 and up

34022267Isabel–known to her family and friends as “Belly”–has spent every summer she can remember at a beach house with her family’s closest friends. She has spent each of those summers being the tag-along little sister to her brother and his friends, Conrad and Jeremiah. But Belly is determined that this summer will be different. She has watched her friends grow from boys to young men, and now it’s her turn–she’s finally come into her own, finally turned pretty. Suddenly the boys are looking at her differently, treating her differently. She realizes that long-hidden feelings may now have a chance to rise to the surface. But what Belly doesn’t expect is how those feelings affect her and those around her.

Told through a mixture of Belly’s present narrative and past memories, Jenny Han’s new novel is a perfect summer read. Han’s story is witty, poignant, and entertaining, and her heroine is entirely endearing. Readers will be drawn in by Belly’s truthful description of the most important summer of her life. Grab a towel and suntan lotion and prepare to dive into the first good beach read of the season!

And don’t miss your chance to meet author Jenny Han at Hooray for Books! on Sunday, June 14, at 2 pm!

The Summer I Turned Pretty, by Jenny Han, pub. May 2009, Simon and Schuster

Happy Summer!

–Miss Megan