Contemporary

Seashell Reviews: Road Trips, Lady Spies, and the Not-So-Chosen Ones

No time to track down full reviews of YA books? Seashell Reviews offers bite-size thoughts to let you know which books you shouldn’t pass up, and which ones you can hold off for another day. Original titled blog feature by Angel @ Mermaid Vision Books.

 

 

 

 

let's get lost adi alsaid
Four teens across the country have only one thing in common: a girl named Leila. She crashes into their lives in her absurdly red car at the moment they need someone the most.

Hudson, Bree, Elliot and Sonia find a friend in Leila. And when Leila leaves them, their lives are forever changed. But it is during Leila’s own 4,268-mile journey that she discovers the most important truth—sometimes, what you need most is right where you started. And maybe the only way to find what you’re looking for is to get lost along the way. (Goodreads)

When a book leaves you feeling like you’ve read it approximately six times before, and with better prose, it’s not exactly the ideal reading experience. Unfortunately, Let’s Get Lost was not new and exciting, or complex in its familiarity. Two days after reading it, I was unable to recall the main characters’ names, and what had stuck were only the archetypes they played in the novel. The comparison to Paper Towns is apt, but Alsaid doesn’t push beyond the set-up already popularized by John Green and other authors when it comes to manic pixie dream girls and the boys they hold in their thrall. It was all too easy to see where the story was going to go, but I wasn’t emotionally invested enough in the characters to feel tied to their personal journeys anyway. If you’re looking for a Paper Towns read-a-like, Let’s Get Lost will likely satisfy the craving.

velvet undercover
Samantha Donaldson’s family has always done its duty for the British Crown. In the midst of World War I, seventeen-year-old Sam follows in their footsteps, serving her country from the homefront as a Girl Guide and messenger for the intelligence organization MI5. After her father disappears on a diplomatic mission, she continues their studies of languages, high-level mathematics, and complex puzzles and codes, hoping to make him proud.

When Sam is asked to join the famed women’s spy group La Dame Blanche she’s torn—this could be the adventure she’s dreamed of, but how can she abandon her mother, who has already lost a husband to the war? But when her handlers reveal shocking news, Sam realizes there’s no way she can refuse the exciting and dangerous opportunity.

Her acceptance leads her straight into the heart of enemy territory on a mission to extract the most valuable British spy embedded in Germany, known to the members of LDB only as Velvet. Deep undercover within the court of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Samantha must navigate the labyrinthine palace and its many glamorous—and secretive—residents to complete her assignment. To make matters worse she finds herself forming a forbidden attraction to the enemy-a dangerously handsome German guard. In a place where personal politics are treacherously entangled in wartime policy, can Samantha discover the truth and find Velvet before it’s too late…for them both? (Goodreads)

Say “historical lady spies” and you’ve pretty much sold me on a book. Teri Brown does make the interest worth it in Velvet Undercover, with Girl Guide Samantha Donaldson discovering the extent of her skills as she joins famed female spy group La Dame Blanche. The mission she’s sent on is believable (as opposed to one that doesn’t take into account her age and ability as a new spy) and intriguing as it tests Samantha’s understanding of the world around her. I especially enjoyed the self-doubt that Samantha contends with, because it reminds the reader that even though she’s been charged with an important mission, Samantha is still a teenage girl learning to trust her instincts in unfamiliar and dangerous situations. Brown’s prose is vivid in its descriptions of 1940s Austria, keeping the reader focused on the story and not drowning them in unnecessary historical detail. Velvet Undercover would be a great choice for readers wanting books about little-known ladies in history.


the rest of us just live here patrick nessWhat if you aren’t the Chosen One?

The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions. (Goodreads)

Metafiction can be as much of a challenge as it is a wealth of narratives, and Patrick Ness wields the plotlines of The Rest of Us Just Live Here with a careful and knowledgeable hand. He questions what characters in stories do if they aren’t the Chosen One/the Chosen One’s friends, and the result is a self-aware story that will delight fans of fantasy and science-fiction novels and shows alike. It may start off slow, but that pace is right for the story–after all, this book isn’t promising adventures and capital-D dramatic developments all over the place. Ness’s choice to focus on the “extras” means we get to experience their lives on the periphery of those adventures and dramatic love stories, and it means that those stories are just as important. There might always be a Chosen One righting wrongs and kicking ass, but there’s also always going to be a student who just wants to graduate, or a teen whose biggest concern at 16 is her lack of a prom date. The Rest of Us Just Live Here elevates those fears and insecurities and joys and ambitions, and reminds the reader that even if they don’t feel like the Chosen One in their own story, they are still important and worth acknowledging.

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