Saturday, January 28, 2012

YA: An Evolution of Genres

When I was the appropriate age for Young Adult books, the shelves look nothing like what they resemble today. Bearing in mind that I am talking pre-2000 South Africa here, where (in my opinion anyway) YA was incredibly under-appreciated on the whole.

Big series for teens included Francine Pascal's Fearless. These books followed Gaia Moore, a 16 year-old girl who was born without the fear gene. For me, this series was pretty revolutionary. Using the same style introduced in Sweet Valley High: Senior Year (let us not dwell on how I know this, mkay?), Pascal staggers chapters with diary-like inserts that gave insight into the character's thoughts. I thought this little device was the best thing ever. Plus, Fearless dealt some serious issues, such as sex, anorexia and self-identity. The characters were unusually complex and the plot was so action-packed and gripping.

And... then the series degenerated after book twelve when, due to their success, the publisher pushed for an expansion beyond the anticipated number of books. This also meant that ghost-writers were introduced and the character's voices changed and I lost interest TOTALLY. You just don't do that to a series.

Vampires were around back then, too. Sorry, Twilight, you are not the trendsetter people make you out to be. Included in the fanged line-up were LJ Smith's Vampire Diaries (the books were better than the tv show. The original four books were waaaay better than the new ones that were clearly written to make loads of cash out of fangirls lusting for more Stefan) and Christopher Pike's Last Vampire series.

But seldom did YA books stray past the 250 page marker. They were short, sweet and easily read in a day.

Then along came Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy. While the protagonist was a young girl, this series was dark and and highly controversial. It had much to do with Pullman's open views about religion and the church. These views clearly influenced his writing and, of course, this trilogy was shunned by many religious groups.

Speaking of upsetting the church, along came a young wizard with a scar on his forehead who changed the way the world saw reading and childrens' books in particular. The worldwide phenomenon of Harry Potter amazed me. Suddenly people were counting down the days until the release of the next installment. People could actually place a pre-order in their local bookstores as this was actually essential to ensure they got a copy on the day of release. We saw fans camping outside bookstores. People dressed up as their favourite characters. Suddenly, kids books were no longer just for kids anymore.

In between Harry Potter instalments, paranormal YA started growing while readers sought something to keep them occupied. I found Garth Nix's Abhorsen trilogy. This phenomenal series was also refreshing as, unlike Harry, it acknowledged mature themes. Sabriel, the first in the series, remains one of my top books today.

And then, in 2006, Twilight was published and YA exploded with vampire romance novels all wanting to know Twilight from the top spot in bestseller lists. Love triangles seemed to be a la mode too. Sadly this is where quality fell to the wayside and people began to care more about pretty covers and publicity.

Angels, werewolves and other paranormal creatures also got shelf space. As long as there was romance, all was good.

2008 was the start of the dystopian era which still seems to be the genre of choice today. This is all thanks to Suzanne Collins and one Katniss Everdeen, the girl who was on fire. The book I am talking about, of course, is The Hunger Games. A film adaption is due out a bit later this year.

Now, with thanks to the books mentioned above, YA is a cornucopia of choice. The bookshelves are packed and teens are actively reading. It is actually cool to read! Not just that, adults are finding joy in YA, where the books are rich with imaginative detail.

I am eagerly awaiting the next big thing to hit the YA market and see the ripple effect it has. Perhaps robot-dominated science fiction will be next, where a young android finds love with his creator's daughter. Or perhaps historical fiction will get some time in the limelight.

Who can say? I can promise one thing, though. I will be there for it.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Anticipated Titles of 2012

2012 is going to be a big year!

The above is just a wee sample of the books I will be keeping an eye out for (click on the title for more information!). Anything you guys can add to this list?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Review: Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead (9/10)

Title: Vampire Academy
Author: Richelle Mead
Publisher: Penguin Razorbill (2007)
Lissa Dragomir is a Moroi princess: a mortal vampire with an unbreakable bond to the earth's magic. She must be protected at all times from Strigoi; the fiercest and most dangerous vampires--the ones who never die.
The powerful blend of human and vampire blood that flows through Rose Hathaway, Lissa's best friend, makes her a Dhampir.  Rose is dedicated to a dangerous life of protecting Lissa from the Strigoi, who are hell-bent on making her one of them.
After two years of illicit freedom, Rose and Lissa are caught and dragged back to St. Vladimir's Academy, hidden in the deep forests of Montana. Rose will continue her Dhampir education. Lissa will go back to being Queen of the elite Moroi social scene.  And both girls will resume breaking hearts.
Fear made Lissa and Rose run away from St. Vladimir's – inside the Academy’s iron gates, their world is even more fraught with danger.  Here, the cutthroat ranks of the Moroi perform unspeakable rituals and their secretive nature and love of the night creates an enigmatic world full of social complexities.  Rose and Lissa must navigate through this dangerous world, confront the temptation of forbidden romance, and never once let their guard down, lest the Strigoi make Lissa one of them forever...

I get plenty of flack from people when I inform them that is my ultimate all-time favourite series. Usually this is from those people who have not read it themselves and tend to lump in the same catagory as Twilight.

Unlike Bella, Rose has a personality and can take care of herself. Moreso, she is protective of her best friend and can be impulsive and reckless. She is not perfect and has issues, but at least she is more rounded than certain sparkly-vampire-loving heroines I know. I adore her sarcasm and wit. I love that she makes mistakes and at least takes the consequences of these mistakes in stride.

One of the outstanding features of this series as a whole is character development. While I am only supposed to be reviewing the first book in this post, I feel compelled to bring this up. Many characters are simply vessels for the plot to progress while Rose is reason enough to continue reading this series as she learns more about herself and the secrets in both her past and the lives of the Moroi she has been trained to protect.

And the romance... *insert girly sigh here*. I adore Dimitri. I really do. I love that he doesn't simply pander to Rose's whims.

The secondary characters are also remarkably developed and add depth to the story. I would love to see this made into a film and all the various personalities brought to life on screen.

Don't just let yourself be put off by the vampire hype and negative reviews about this series. I do unserstand why some people did not enjoy it. But, it does have a lot to offer the right audience and is far superior to House of Night, a series that also seems to assist in tainting the opinion of these types of books in general.

All six books are easily avaliable. The order they have to be read in is as follows:
  1. Vampire Academy
  2. Frostbite
  3. Shadow Kiss
  4. Blood Promise
  5. Spirit Bound
  6. Last Sacrifice
There is also a spin off series. The first book, Bloodlines, is avaliable and the second, The Golden Lily, will be out in the US on the 19th of June 2012.

Check out the Wikipedia entry on the series here.
Visit the official website here.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth (10/10)

Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: HarperCollins (2011)

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her. (From
 I just had to reread this book to review it for the blog. Divergent was easily one of the top books I had read last year. It is terrible that it has taken me so long to compile a proper review for it!

Unlike some YA, Divergent does not make the adult reader feel put off by simplified language or descriptions. Some scenes are brutal and heartbreaking, while others utterly touching. It has been too long that a book has moved me and gripped me in so many different ways.

I am a big fan of dystopian fiction and films. While this seems to be the current trend in YA, unlike Eve, Divergent stands head and shoulders above most other books vying for attention. There is not a single apsect of this world that I questioned. Tris had to fight and be tough. Nothing was every simple for her.

And the romance... sigh. The romance! It wasn't WHAMBAMOMG! Tris actually shared some poignant moments with her love interest before anything developed. By the way, this is a far better message to be sending out to your teenaged readers, authors. If you are out there reading this, I hate YA romance that just happens and the characters seem more concerned about their beauty and perfection than any real attraction/kinship/common ground.

I mean, let's face it. Edward Cullen is an asshole. But he is just sooooo perfect that his assholish personality and somewhat obsessive and controlling nature falls to the wayside. And Daniel Grigori? You know, the pretty boy in the Fallen series by Lauren Kate? Total asshole too.

YA is teaching girls to be attracted to boys based primarily on their looks. In fact, that looks overshadow anything else, even abusive natures.

I apologise for my rant. This will h\appen often in my reviews. I could run a traditional blog here, but where is the fun in that?

Four is awesome. He is complicated but human. He has morals. He is everything I would want my own daughter to model her boyfriend choices on.

And the writing is fantastic. Roth does not waste her time with floral descriptions. She gets to the point and her style is sharp and precise, reminding me of my other favourite dystiopian series, The Hunger Games. The mere fact that I didnt skim over single paragraph during my reread speaks volumes.

The sequel, Insurgent, will be out later this year. I am so excited, I am bouncing around like a bunny with ADHD.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Review: Death Note vol. 1 (10/10)

Title: Death Note 1 (Black Edition)
Authors: Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata

This is the first manga series I have gotten into and I am seriously loving it so far. If you haven't purchased them yet, I highly reccomend getting the Black Editions as they look awesome. The edges of the pages are black and the overall effect is damned sexy. Plus each Black volume, contains two of the original volumes. More Death Note, less money.

The premise behind this series starts off simply enough. Ryuk, a death god, is bored. He decides that dropping his Death Note in the human relm will provide just the entertainment he needs. The Death Note is a myserious book that, once touched by a human, becomes the property of that human, thus enabling him or her to kill people by simply writing their names in the notebook. Of course, there are many rules attached to the use of the Death Note.

Light Yagami is the perfect teenager. He achieves top marks and has never stepped out of line his enitre life. When he finds the Death Note, his whole world changes.

At the risk of giving anything away, I will say no more on the plot. However, the characters and their motives and development are astounding. This is an incredibly intricate series that has twists and turns in every chapter. I cannot reccomend it enough.

The standard format of manga comics takes some getting used to (right to left), but it didnt deter me at all. I was hooked from the start.

The black editions come with colour plates and bonus content that is not availible elsewhere.

For those of you too lazy to read, there is also an Anime series which, I believe, stays true to the series.

A suprising perfect ten!
 L and Light, two of the main characters in Death Note.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Review: Eve by Anna Carey (4/10)

Title: Eve
Author: Anna Carey
Publisher: HarperCollins Teen (Oct 2011)
Where do you go when nowhere is safe?
Sixteen years after a deadly virus wiped out most of Earth’s population, the world is a perilous place. Eighteen-year-old Eve has never been beyond the heavily guarded perimeter of her school, where she and two hundred other orphaned girls have been promised a future as the teachers and artists of the New America. But the night before graduation, Eve learns the shocking truth about her school’s real purpose—and the horrifying fate that awaits her.
Fleeing the only home she’s ever known, Eve sets off on a long, treacherous journey, searching for a place she can survive. Along the way she encounters Arden, her former rival from school, and Caleb, a rough, rebellious boy living in the wild. Separated from men her whole life, Eve has been taught to fear them, but Caleb slowly wins her trust . . . and her heart. He promises to protect her, but when soldiers begin hunting them, Eve must choose between true love and her life. 

 Being brutally honest, this is easily one of the worst YA dystopians I have read. Anyone with a brain will find Eve's character strangely knowledgeable about the big, wide world she is suddenly thrown into after a life of protection and brainwashing. The romance is tacky at best and, while the book is fast-paced, I found myself muttering, "Oh, come on! Really?" during various scenes where things just seemed to be a little too convenient.

I suppose it might not be fair to judge Eve too harshly, as it will surely find an audience in the younger teenage bracket.

On a bit of a tangent though, this is not the first time I have read a really poorly constructed novel pumped out by HarperTeen. They have had some stellar reads too, but it makes me wonder if they know the changeability of the YA market and literally accept just about any manuscripts that fit the current flavour. It is very possible I will rant about the "trendiness" in YA these days in further posts, so please forgive me if that happens.

I give Eve four out of ten as the writing wasn't too horrible, in spite of weak characters and other flaws. I did actually finish it, which says something.

If you did enjoy Eve, or are looking for other YA dystopia to sink your teeth into, I can highly reccomend the novels listed below. Expect reviews of them to be up here soon!

The Hunger Games

Monday, January 16, 2012

Welcome to Paranormalsphere!

If you have stumbled upon this humble blog, welcome!

The story behind Paranormalsphere is a simple one. I have another (soon to be defunct) blog titled NovelYear. I grew tired of that and did not want to limit myself to only reviewing books.

Paranormalsphere will still feature book reviews, but I also plan on looking at films and tv shows too. Obviously, as the blog title suggests, these will mostly fall in the paranormal/supernatural genre, although I may be tempted to stray from this at some stage. This will not only make it easier to review at least one new item per day, it will also give me a chance to appeal to a wider audience.

Comments, suggestions and reccomendations are much appreciated.