Review: Sweetly by Jackson Pearce

This book was a great YA read for Carl’s R.I.P VI challenge, and I’m so glad to be using the challenge to mix with my goal of reading more YA books! Checks the Goodreads summary, y’all:

Twelve years ago, Gretchen, her twin sister, and her brother went looking for a witch in the forest. They found something. Maybe it was a witch, maybe a monster, they aren’t sure—they were running too fast to tell. Either way, Gretchen’s twin sister was never seen again.

Years later, after being thrown out of their house, Gretchen and Ansel find themselves in Live Oak, South Carolina, a place on the verge of becoming a ghost town. They move in with Sophia Kelly, a young and beautiful chocolatier owner who opens not only her home, but her heart to Gretchen and Ansel.

Yet the witch isn’t gone—it’s here, lurking in the forests of Live Oak, preying on Live Oak girls every year after Sophia Kelly’s infamous chocolate festival. But Gretchen is determined to stop running from witches in the forest, and start fighting back. Alongside Samuel Reynolds, a boy as quick with a gun as he is a sarcastic remark, Gretchen digs deeper into the mystery of not only what the witch is, but how it chooses its victims. Yet the further she investigates, the more she finds herself wondering who the real monster is, and if love can be as deadly as it is beautiful.

OH MY GOODNESS. Okay, so, to begin with I’ve never read a re-telling of Hansel and Gretel (also, side note, I did think that Ansel, as a name, was a bit too close/too much of a weird-name-stretch to sit well with me, but I guess a name like Hansel is hard to find an equivalent of) so this one was especially interesting. I also loved the frequent mentions and descriptions of the chocolate treats at Sophia’s chocolatier. The book, while not the most beautiful I’ve ever read, certainly did a wonderful job of creating the small southern town, full of reputations and secrets, where the book takes place. So lets move on to a discussion of…

THE GOOD: Pearce does a wicked job of adapting fairy tales. Like, probably one of the best jobs of any retellings I’ve read in a good long while (she also has a retelling called Sisters Red which is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood). The world that she creates is one in which werewolves and witches live (more on this in the BAD column) but is primarily a human world, full of people who hurt and make bad decisions and don’t listen to the people that care about them. It’s nice to read such a well-created world. Also, Gretchen is one bad ass chick! She learns to shoot multiple different guns, and ends up doing quite a bit of sharp-shooting, even saving Samuel a time or two, in a great damsel-in-distress reversal. Speaking of Samuel, it was such a joy to watch his hurt and his layers peel back, and I think it’s so rare to find a YA boy who can admit to having been in love (not the same as being in love, which they seem more than willing to own up to) and dealing with the hurt of that.

I also think that the ending was appropriate and fitting, if not the most YA friendly. I mean, **SPOILERS** after we find out that Sophia knows that the ‘witch’ is actually a group of werewolves, and that she’s been funneling the missing girls to their deaths at the hand of the Fenris, it’s hard to feel sympathy for her – even is her sister is being held hostage under threat of death. In the end, the only way to stop the pain for all of them – including Gretchen and Sophia, is to kill Sophia. It’s not your typical happy YA  ending, but one that was well written and true to the reality of the story. But poor Ansel. 😦 **END SPOILERS** Which brings us to…

THE BAD: MORE WEREWOLVES. Seriously. Also, this is not a spoiler, as you find out early on that the ‘witch’ Gretchen thinks took her sister is actually one of a group of werewolves. I’m just SO DAMN TIRED of 1.) werewolves and 2.) vampires in paranormal lit, especially YA paranormal lit. This was primarily my huge problem with the story as a whole – it would have been cooler if the witch had been an actual witch.

My other problem with the novel was the fact that the ocean was brought in to it. I mean, I get that the southern coast does have an ocean attached to it, but thinking of werewolves, which are land animals the last time I checked, having an underground ocean kingdom where they keep their victims…it’s too weird. It didn’t really seem to go anywhere, to me, and I wish it had been left out completely.

Again, this was an absolutely wonderful little joy of a book, and just look at that cover! $100 bonus bucks if you can spot the uber-creepy face in the trees! Hope you all are wrapping up your October reading on a good note, and looking forward to All Hallow’s Eve! Happy reading!

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Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris – until she meets Etienne St. Clair: perfect, Parisian (and English and American, which makes for a swoon-worthy accent), and utterly irresistible. The only problem is that he’s taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her almost-relationship back home.

As winter melts into spring, will a year of romantic near – misses end with the French kiss Anna – and readers – have long awaited?

Have you ever finished a book that made you ‘squee’ with happiness to the very core of your bones? That took every cynical thought you’ve ever had about love, and turns it around and makes you believe, even for a second, that the kind of love you read about is really possible? Because hold on to your hats ladies and gents because I’m about to rock your world: ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS IS THE HAPPIEST, ‘SQUEE’-IEST, TICKLE YOU TO THE TIPS OF YOUR TOES BOOK I’VE EVER READ. Okay, maybe not ever because I went through a very similar thing with Sarah Dessen’s This Lullaby. But seriously? If you are ever having a day that’s even slightly bad, this is the book for you because:

a.) It’s set in Paris. And not, like, ostentations Paris that’s all ‘look at me, I’m Paris and I’m historical!’ I mean, yeah, they go to all the famous landmarks, and Notre Dame does play a pretty big part in the book, but there is the ‘other’ Paris there too. The one that’s all movie theatres and delicious cakes and Nutella and scarves. You know, the Paris you’d live in if, like Anna, your dad decided to send you to an American boarding school abroad.

b.) It’s AMAZEBALLS funny. Seriously, you guys. I don’t have my copy in front of me (I’m at work right now) but when I do, I’ll give you specifics. Let’s just say that Anna’s dad is basically the Nicholas Sparks of his generation and when she rips in to him about his fake tan and fisherman sweaters…seriously, I almost peed my pants on the bus home one night. I got some really strange looks, but still. Plus, it’s not just Anna – there’s that thing I love when two straight boys pretend to joke about actually being gay with each other. St. Clair and his/their friend Josh do this all the time and it just  gives me the smiles.

c.) THE ROMANCE OH SWEET GOD THE ROMANCE!!!! I have quite a few lists out there of my top five favorite males in fiction, top five hottest males in fiction, top five fictional males I would do dirty things to in real life…you get the idea. And I think that St. Clair might have just topped them all. Yep. You heard me right. Even better than Darcy – because not only does he do the whole ‘I’ve got family issues, look at them, aren’t they dark and don’t they make me mysterious thing’, but he manages to do that without being a total asshat in the process.

d.) This book, despite what you may have just read above, is actually very realistic. I mean, you know, as realistic as a book about an American girl in Paris can be. I guess I should say, instead, that it’s characters are very realistic. They have problems – all of them. Too often in books do you see this flawed girl picked up by this perfect guy (**coughcoughTWILIGHTcoughcough**) or visa versa, but the characters in this book all have flaws and they all make mistakes – some they’re willing to own up to, other’s they’re not. Anna is quick to judge; St. Clair can’t stand to be alone (yes, this is a MAJOR flaw, especially in the context of this book); Meredith can’t speak her mind; Josh doesn’t take things seriously enough. Everyone has their flaw to deal with, and it’s nice to see teens in YA dealing with them honestly and openly – how many times have you heard someone go “I’m so not like that! I don’t ever _______(fill in annoying habit)”

e.) This one kind of relates to the one above, but Anna is a kick ass narrator. I mean, yeah, she has a really hard time at the beginning of the book getting out of her shell in Paris, but I can see that – she’s only, like, 17 and this is her first time living in a new city, let alone a foreign country. There is some…hesitation that comes with that. But she gets over it, and is able to do her own thing for the rest of the book. And she does do her OWN thing! Her whole life doesn’t revolve around a guy and what he’s doing *coughcoughTWILIGHTcoughcough*. She’s her own person and that’s badass to see in a YA narrative.

f.) ÉTIENNE ST. CLAIR! ÉTIENNE ST. CLAIR!! ÉTIENNE ST. CLAIR!!!!! Seriously, that should be enough.

Okay, guys. So thats six reasons and almost 1,000 words as to why you should IMMEDIATELY go out and read a copy. Buy a copy. Buy ten copies and hand them out to everyone you know. Because bottom line? This is one of the smileiest books out right now – possibly on the planet, possibly forever. Happy reading (hopefully of Anna and the French Kiss!)

PS: If that cover mortifies you the way it does me (sorry, covers are an instinctual thing,  I can’t help it, pluse I HATE that you don’t get to see Étienne) here are some other wonderful covers for this book I found via google image search:

  

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld is the first in the Uglies series about two girls, Tally and Shay, who live in world where everyone is ugly until they turn 16. At sixteen, these girls and all their friends undergo an operation in which everything about them is transformed to fit the “standard” of beauty – symmetrical faces, large pupils, white teeth and smooth skin, all the “biological” markers of beauty. For the most part, everyone is happy to undergo this transformation – who would want to be “ugly” when being “beautiful” is as much a part of the aging process as the Bar Mitzvah. However, there are some who disagree – like Shay. For those who realize that perhaps there is a flaw in this “make peace by making everyone the same – and beautiful to boot”, there is a place that exists in both legend and, to the few in the know, reality. This place is nicknamed “the Smoke” because these are the people who choose to live like the “Rusties”, the name for all those who lived before the implementation of the operation. In other words, we’re the “Rusties” and the book makes a number of comments about the nature of beauty, peace, complacency, and the danger of not being aware of environmental dangers.

The book is an easy read. It’s very much so like Lowis Lowery’s The Giver or perhaps even The Hunger Games (although I cannot tell a lie – The Hunger Games was WAY, WAY better). There were a number of flaws that kept the book from being a favorite read, but it kept me more than entertained and led to a number of sneak-peaks during work while I was supposed to be…well…working. The flaws include things like the fact that the book was paced rather too quickly – within the first few chapters we have a main character rebelling against the system and trying to get others to join her, before the truly scary nature of the operation can be understood by the reader. Secondly, the plot twist that caused the downfall of the Rusties (which won’t be revealed here, for all future readers) seemed contrived and, perhaps most annoyingly – WE WEREN’T GIVEN NEARLY ENOUGH TIME TO FALL IN LOVE WITH THE LOVE-WORTHY MALE PROTAGONIST!!!!! I hate it when this happens!

To be honest, that last point is most likely because Tally, the main narrator, doesn’t realize she’s in love with David (leader of the Smoke, a nature-loving, handmade clothes wearing rebel extraordinaire) until almost the very end. But as a reader, I was in love with him from the beginning and just wanted more from him! The end of the book leaves the reader – and Tally – hanging in a way that is at once tense and yet predictable. There really is no “what happens next” cliffhanger. Rather, it’s a “this is whats going to happen, but what will happen after that” style story, which was built up just enough that I went ahead and read the second one anyway! All in all, I’d say the book was good and might be even better for those of you in more of a YA read – it’s entertaining, if nothing else!

In a more general life update, summer reading is going well, but not as well as it could. Does it ever? My niece has been staying with us for pretty much the whole month of June, and it’s meant a lot more Barbie playing and Spongebob watching than it has reading and reviewing, but as always I’m staying caught up with the Google Reader and waiting for the days when fitting in reading/reviewing is back on the regular agenda. Happy reading!