Derby Girl by Shauna Cross (234 p.)
Derby Girl follows the exploits of a blue-haired sixteen year old girl named Bliss and her life in small-town Texas. She’s suffocated by her mother’s beauty pageant hysteria and only finds herself at home when she gets to visit Austin. She finds out about a roller derby league and the book details the trials and tribulations she experiences as a result – highs and lows with her BBF, a relationship, and letting her parents in on her new sport.
I’m prime real estate for this book. I spent my formative years in Texas and totally get the rebelling against Texan social mores. Heck, I was even the only vegetarian in my family in high school, just like Bliss. But the kindest phrase I can give this book is intense dislike.
I feel a bit like a racist trying to pretend they aren’t REALLY a racist when I preface the coming criticism by saying that I like Austin. I’m all about keeping Austin weird. But Bliss is aspiring to become its most annoying demographic: the Austin hipster. For a girl that prattles on and on about being so damn self-aware and original, Bliss is blinded to the fact that she’s doing the same thing that she judges the other girls in her school for doing. She follows the trends just as much as they do, even if it is indie vs. bubblegum pop. She knows which band she’s supposed to like and not like, even if she’s never heard them. So why act like her $175 towards a pair of designer shoes is SO NOT THE SAME THING as the cheerleaders throwing down their cash at Abercrombie and Fitch? Is consumerism suddenly a-okay because the shoes are purple?
Bliss just doesn’t have a heck of a lot of redeeming qualities. She’s a self-centered teenager and an atrocious friend. Although Cross does manage to deal with a lot of themes that are important for teen fiction – alienation, confidence, self respect, etc. But I wouldn’t call Bliss a particularly good role model as she doesn’t experience much growth.
Cold Magic by Kate Elliott (502p.)
I had a hard time getting into this novel. I’ve been throwing reviews up in almost real-time, so I’ve been plowing through a lot of books in the last two weeks. I’ve picked it up a couple of times, read bits and pieces to see if I was into it, then put it back down. The characters seemed alright, but the setting was a bit confusing. I must have read through the first ten pages half a dozen times. I normally love historical fiction and fantasy, so I thought this would be a good fit for me. Ultimately, it was that decision that forced me through the first chapter. Then I was hooked.
Malin is infinitely more patient than I am and has a really great plot synopsis her review, which was what inspired me to pick up the book myself. Thanks for writing it, Malin!
Although the characters experience tremendous growth and change over the course of the novel as they find out very big truths™ about themselves, they essentially wind back up in the same place they were before it started – Bee and Cat together, Vai still not very happy about his position in the Mage House, and with political turmoil to come. The twist at the end can be seen from a mile away. But I really dug the book. I’m amazed, because Cat essentially spent the book working through a hell of a lot of family and relationship angst, but I didn’t mind in the least. She’s a great protagonist that rarely fell into the damsel in distress mode – for someone not knowing what the hell was going on and on the run for her life, she was incredibly resourceful and kept her wits about her. Some 500 pages of her exploits were engaging and interesting to follow.
The world that Elliot created for the Spiritwalker trilogy is incredibly complex. Which is as it should be, because it’s based on the real world, just with an alternate history with a pinch of magic. The place names that she used could sometimes get confusing, especially as so much of the novel dealt with traveling from one to another, but I appreciated the exotic flavor it gave to Cold Magic, making it something different yet alike. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for the next installment.
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (391p.)
This book has been reviewed to death, so I won’t give a plot synopsis. There will be plot spoilering ahead, so read with caution.
I finished the book in a single evening. It’s still an engrossing story, but I have some qualms. There’s the damn love triangle – about 100 pages could have been chopped from the book of Katniss wavering between Peeta and Gale. As much as I hate this aspect of the story, at least her wavering is in-character for a young adult struggling to get out of a bad situation.
Things picked up as it moved from flashbacks to action. The victorious tributes all get sent back to another Hunger Games, so this half of the book essentially becomes a bit of a reboot. It was interesting seeing how grown adults that have had time to come to terms with what they were forced to do in their childhood react to the situation. But I wish that there had been more meaningful communication between them with Peeta and Katniss. Having the adults break everyone out without telling the main characters was a bit like the crime techs giving the cops a direct lead within the last ten minutes of a TV procedural.
I still think this is an excellent YA series. Dark themes are touched upon, not only of personal hardship and sacrifice, but also questions of government control and protest. As annoying as the angst coming from Katniss may be, she’s incredibly self-aware and reflective about her actions and their consequences. She’s also willing to talk through her problems (even if after the fact) and apologize for her mistakes, which makes her incredibly mature for the genre.