Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

With not that many exceptions, I’m not usually a fan of YA paranormal fiction. If you are, cool--to each his/her own. But something about that genre just makes me unable to stop rolling my eyes. I think part of it is that it takes its obviously impossible elements--werewolves, vampires, fairies, etc.--so seriously [*see the end of this post for some further soul searching on the subject]. Which is probably why I ended up liking “Hold Me Closer, Necromancer,” by Lish McBride, so much--it didn’t feel like it was taking itself quite as seriously. It reminded me of “Paranormalcy,” by Kiersten White, in that way. In both of the books, not only are the characters self-deprecatingly snarky and sarcastic, but it’s like the books themselves have those same qualities. It’s like they’re not quite so into themselves as some other paranormal YA books.

The summary:
Meet Sam, just your average guy rocking that fast-food career.

Enter Douglas, a powerful and violent necromancer. Douglas immediately recognizes Sam as a fellow necromancer--which is news to Sam--and he's none too happy to have a competitor in the crowded paranormal scene in Seattle.

Now Sam has an undead friend on his hands and a hot werewolf girl for company. With just one week to find a way out of Douglas's clutches, can Sam figure out how to use his mysteriously latent powers?
In case you couldn’t guess, “Hold Me Closer, Necromancer” took me by surprise. I was hoping to like it, since I’d heard such good things about it, but I wasn’t really expecting to, due to my abovementioned feelings about YA paranormal fiction. But I really did like it. It was sarcastic and unexpected and ridiculous--all in a good way. It also had a whole cast of awesome characters. Seriously, there weren’t any characters that I didn’t love in one way or another. Ramon, Frank, Brooke, Brid, Mrs. W, Ashley, Haley . . . I kinda just want to hang out with them all. And Sam, oh Sam. You’re funny and sarcastic and have this inability to shut up. I think I might be in love with you.

So, conclusion: Give this book a shot, even if paranormal isn’t usually be your thing. It just might surprise you like it did me.

*Further babble about YA paranormal fiction:
I just want to say two things before I get going on this subject: One, if you are a fan of YA paranormal fiction, more power to ya. I respect that everyone likes different genres--it’s just that YA paranormals aren’t usually my cup of tea. And two, I don’t mind me some paranormal elements in books. It’s just when they’re solidly in that genre that I start having problems.

Okay, here we go.

Part of my uncontrollable eye rolling when I read YA paranormal fiction comes from the fact that it seems to take its paranormal aspects too seriously. Sometimes I just want to shake the book and say “Don’t you realize this is so not even plausible?!?” But then, I don’t have nearly the same amount of frustration with fantasy novels, even though they have just as many implausible things going on. I think the difference to me is that fantasies usually take place in made-up worlds that I have no connection to and therefore have no problem with crazy things going on, because they are a natural part of that fictional world. But YA paranormal fiction often takes place in my world--a place where I know what is and isn’t real, and sorry, but werewolves, vampires, fairies, and fallen angels aren’t actually roaming the streets. And so the implausibility of it all trips me up.

Plus, YA paranormal fiction seems to have more than it’s fair share of love-at-first-sight/insta-attraction going on. And I REALLY can’t handle those kinds of relationships. This also goes back to the credibility issue: I just can’t help rolling my eyes at the whole “We made eye contact and I was a goner” kind of love (or worse, “We hate each other, then presto change-o, we’re soul mates”). And when you combine that kind of implausibility with the paranormal creatures, I just can’t do it.

And yeah, yeah, I know--it’s fiction and there’s suspension of disbelief and all that. But still. I can’t ever quite get over it all. Don’t hate me.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn't Have)

The summary:
2 girls + 3 guys + 1 house – parents = 10 things April and her friends did that they (definitely, maybe, probably) shouldn't have.

If given the opportunity, what sixteen-year-old wouldn't jump at the chance to move in with a friend and live parent-free? Although maybe "opportunity" isn't the right word, since April had to tell her dad a tiny little untruth to make it happen (see #1: "Lied to Our Parents"). But she and her housemate Vi are totally responsible and able to take care of themselves. How they ended up "Skipping School" (#3), "Throwing a Crazy Party" (#8), "Buying a Hot Tub" (#4), and, um, "Harboring a Fugitive" (#7) at all is kind of a mystery to them.

In this hilarious and bittersweet tale, Sarah Mlynowski mines the heart and mind of a girl on her own for the first time. To get through the year, April will have to juggle a love triangle, learn to do her own laundry, and accept that her carefully constructed world just might be falling apart . . . one thing-she-shouldn't-have-done at a time.
The title of this book really does say it all. It's all about the shenanigans April and her friends get up to while living sans parents. But, honestly, as crazy as some of the things they get up to are, I can't say that I wouldn't have gotten up to some of them myself if I had been parent-free when I was sixteen.

And although this book is lighthearted and rollicking (I think this is the first time I've ever used that word), it does have some weightier elements to keep things from getting too ridiculous, like April's struggle with abandonment issues--yes, her parents let her essentially live by herself, but April can't help wondering should they have? The last 50 pages were surprisingly serious, but not completely in the way I was expecting. I knew there would have to be consequences for April's actions at some point, but one particular consequence totally took me by surprise--which I appreciated, because up to that point I had been cockily thinking I had the ending all figured out. I love it when books prove me wrong.

Oh, and can I just say that I fell in love with Hudson (the swoonier boy in the love triangle)? For one thing, he's smokin' hot. But he's also sooo sweet (you'll see what I mean in a certain scene involving a trip to the vet). And to top things off, he's got the most adorable job ever (I won't ruin it, because it's supposed to be a mystery, but can I just say, Awwww).

This book does have teen drinking and sex, so if that's not your cup of tea, this might not be the book for you. But I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Summer Reading Challenge

I used to love the library summer reading programs when I was growing up. They were so easy: I just had to list the books I read that summer (which I was going to read anyway), and I would get prizes for it. I still love summer reading programs, and I join the adult one at my local library most summers (the summers I remember to sign up before the deadline, that is).

Recently, I saw The Awesome Awktopus Summer of YA Lit Challenge on, loved it, and decided to do it. The basic premise of the challenge is to pick as many mini-challenges as you want off the list of ten, then complete them by August 31.

So here are the six challenges I'm doing and the books I'm reading to complete them:

2. Start and finish a series or trilogy: "The Summer I Turned Pretty" series, by Jenny Han (I just finished the first, and I'm so ready to read the other two.)

3. Read that book. The one that you’ve been meaning to get around to for forever: "Eat, Pray, Love," by Elizabeth Gilbert (Okay, not YA, but I seriously have had this book sitting on my shelf for FOREVER.)

6. Read the book you’ve been avoiding because of hype: "The Goddess Test," by Aimee Carter (Everyone says it's so good . . . but, well, can it really be that good?)

7. Read a book published before year 2000: "Summer of My German Soldier," by Bette Greene (This one could've also been my pick for #3, so we'll see how it goes . . .)

8. Read 3 stand-alone books by the same author: Deb Caletti (I really liked "The Secret Life of Prince Charming," so I'm going to give some of her others a shot.)

9. Read a summer-related book: "Moonglass," by Jessi Kirby (I'm not actually sure if it takes place in the summer, but it does involve the beach, so I'm counting it.)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Summer I Turned Pretty

I'd been meaning to read this book for a while, but I just hadn't gotten around to it. So today (a perfect summer Saturday--lying out in the sun, getting a Slurpee, grabbing a sandwich from Kneaders, and just generally smelling like sunscreen and aloe vera), I decided to take this book and read it outside. Which ended up being a fantastic choice, because "The Summer I Turned Pretty," by Jenny Han, turned out to be a perfect summer read.

The summary:
Belly measures her life in summers. Everything good, everything magical happens between the months of June and August. Winters are simply a time to count the weeks until the next summer, a place away from the beach house, away from Susannah, and most importantly, away from Jeremiah and Conrad. They are the boys that Belly has known since her very first summer--they have been her brother figures, her crushes, and everything in between. But one summer, one wonderful and terrible summer, the more everything changes, the more it all ends up just the way it should have been all along.
This book was everything I wanted in a summer-evening read: beach houses, friends, romance, coming of age--seriously everything. It made me wish I were at the beach (and I HATE the beach, so this was quite a feat), getting tan, walking up and down the boardwalk, and hanging out with my friends. The book actually reminded me a bit of "The Last Summer (of You and Me)," by Ann Brashares. Not the plot necessarily, but the whole summer-beach-house aspect and the longing for a boy the girl's been in love with her whole life.

And the writing was exactly right for the story, a bit nostalgic but not too heavy. Here's a sample, from the very beginning, when Belly (I hate that name, BTW) and her family are arriving at the beach house for the summer:
We drove through town slowly, and even though I'd just teased Steven about it, I didn't really mind. I loved this drive, this moment. Seeing the town again, Jimmy's Crab Shack, the Putt Putt, all the surf shops. It was like coming home after you'd been gone a long, long time. It held a million promises of summer and of what just might be.

As we got closer and closer to the house, I could feel that familiar flutter in my chest. We were almost there.

I rolled down the window and took it all in. The air tasted just the same, smelled just the same. The wind making my hair feel sticky, the salty breeze, all of it felt just right. Like it had been waiting for me to get there.
See why it made me want to go to the beach? Anyway, now that I've finished this one, I think I'm going to track down the sequels. Because, come on, I need to know which of the brothers she ends up with . . .

Friday, June 24, 2011


So, "Clarity," by Kim Harrington: let's start off with a summary, shall we?
Clarity "Clare" Fern sees things. Things no one else can see. Things like stolen kisses and long-buried secrets. All she has to do is touch an object and the visions come to her. It's a gift.

And a curse.

When a teenage girl is found murdered, Clare's ex-boyfriend wants her to help solve the case--but Clare is still furious at the cheating jerk. Then Clare's brother--who has supernatural gifts of his own--becomes the prime suspect, and Clare can no longer look away. Teaming up with Gabriel, the smoldering son of the new detective, Clare must venture into the depths of fear, revenge, and lust in order to track the killer. But will her sight fail her just when she needs it most?
Okay, so for some reason I wasn't expecting to like this book. I figured it would end up being one of the ones I would read a couple chapters of then start skimming. I think it was a combination of the cover (which is terrible) and the somewhat mixed reviews I've read about it. But surprisingly, I ended up liking it. It was a light, fun book. I realize those are weird words to use to describe a murder mystery, but they fit--this wasn't a sit on the edge of your seat, bite your nails, be afraid to turn off the light kind of mystery. It was more Nancy Drew.

And actually, the Nancy Drew comparison is fairly apt (and believe me, I would know--I was addicted to Nancy Drew books growing up): Clare is a east-coast girl detective too. And like all the Nancy Drew books, it has that aspect of "Um, what adults would actually let their teenagers do that?"--I mean, come on; there's no way in real life a mayor and a detective would ask teenagers investigate a murder. Plus, this book has a total Ned Nickerson: Justin has all the good-boy, down-home qualities of Ned. I guess there aren't really any Bess and Georges (Clare doesn't have any girl friends), but I think Nate and Gabriel fill the sidekick roles. Basically, if Nancy Drew was psychic and more sarcastic, I could totally see her solving this mystery.

I admit I was a little bitter that none of the romance was resolved (ug, I hate love triangles), but I suspect the author's saving that for the sequel(s).

So if you're up for a little murder-mystery-lite, give this one shot.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


I have some seriously mixed feelings about "Stolen," by Lucy Christopher. And I don't mean that in the way I normally do--I don't mean that I don't know whether I liked it or not. Because I definitely did, 100 percent. But this book messed with my emotions so badly I felt like I didn't know which way was up by the time I finished it. But before I get into it, here's the summary from the back of the book:
You saw me before I saw you.
A girl: Gemma, at the airport, on her way to a family vacation.

You had that look in your eyes.
A guy: Ty, rugged, tan, too old, oddly familiar, eyes blue as ice.

Like you wanted me.
She steps away. For just a second. He pays for her drink. And drugs it.

Wanted me for a long time.
He takes her, before she even knows what's happening. To sand and heat. To emptiness and isolation. To nowhere. And expects her to love him

Written as a letter from a victim to her captor, this is Gemma's desperate story of survival. Ty has stolen her body. Against every instinct screaming inside her, will he also steal Gemma's heart?
Okay, here's what made me so conflicted about the book: Ty. He's the bad guy, right? I mean, it should be simple--he should be easy to hate. But he isn't. He really, really isn't. Yes, he kidnaps Gemma; yes, he won't let her leave; yes, he's not exactly mentally stable. But he also is kind to Gemma; he loves nature in a way that's inspiring; he's physically attractive. It was so easy to get caught up in the good things about Ty and forget the bad. I seriously had to stop myself sometimes as I was reading and remind myself that Ty was the bad guy. But these crazy, mixed-up feelings I had towards Ty made me relate to Gemma so much more--because I found myself conflicted about Ty, I could sympathize with Gemma's confusion.

But there was more than just my conflicted feelings about Ty to hold my interest. This book was fascinating on two fronts. First, it was engrossing to see Gemma deal with her horrible situation--reading about her confusion, her anger, her fear, and all the other million emotions she feels towards her captivity and towards Ty. Props to the author for writing Gemma's emotions in such a vivid way that I--for better or worse--felt like I was there with her the whole time. Second, the setting of the novel was fascinating. It takes place in the Australian desert, a place I basically know nothing about (who knew there are camels there?!?). At first it seemed like possibly one of the most miserable places on earth. But, like Gemma, as I progressed through the book I gradually came to see it's stark and terrible beauty.

And the writing in this book is so beautiful. I think this is the first book I've read written in the second person. All those "yous" were a little distracting at first, but I quickly got into the writing style. Here's a sample (at this point Gemma's been captive for about a month):
I could feel the heat against my back, sticking my T-shirt to my spine. I blinked to stop the colors from blurring. Black lines and shapes danced before my eyes like the edges of flames. Then the sun moved farther down. Its light reached toward your painted body, turning you golden . . . making you shine. The sand grains on your arms glistened. I could feel the sun on my skin, too, turning it a peachy orange, making it soft. The whole room bathed in light.

You watched me, your blue eyes floating in the gold. I noticed the black markings on your left cheek, tiny animal tracks making their way toward your hair, walking right over your scar. You reached out and touched the skin on my arm, your sandy fingers brushing against me. It was where the sun was hitting me, where my skin was warmest. You pressed the tips of your fingers against it.

"The light's coming from within you, too," you said. "You're glowing."
As I got further and further into the book, I became more and more worried about how it was going to end. Everything about the book had been so wonderfully complex, and I was nervous that the ending would be too simplistic or hurried. But it wasn't. I won't ruin it for you, but I will tell you that I think it's perfect.

I definitely recommend this book. I read it after a string of fluffier books, and its weight and complexity were exactly what I needed. But it is a heavier book, so if you're not in the mood for something serious, hold off until you are. It'll be so worth it.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A parade of books

Just a quick review of some of the books I've read lately that I wanted to mention but didn't feel like writing a whole post about.

"Amy & Roger's Epic Detour," by Morgan Matson
Amy, who's having trouble dealing with her father's recent death, is asked by her mother (who's already at their new home in Connecticut) to bring their car from California to Connecticut. Only Amy doesn't drive. So enter Roger, a family friend, who's going to do the driving. Pretty much right from the start they deviate from Amy's mother's careful plan and go all sorts of places that end up helping both of them with their issues.

This a solid YA romance/dealing-with-issues book. I think if I read it at almost any other time, I would've been 100 percent in love with it and raved about it at length, but for some reason, it didn't hit the spot for me this time. Maybe in a couple months I'll try it again and see how it goes.

"Dreamland Social Club," by Tara Altebrando
Jane moves with her father and brother to Coney Island, where they have inherited a house from her grandfather. Quite, plain Jane meets all sorts of crazy/interesting people at her school but has some issues with her new friends when they discover that her father might be in charge of building the new contested roller coaster. At the same time, Jane is also finding out things about her mother, who grew up on Coney and who died when Jane was six.

So on the one hand, I loved this book, because I thought Coney Island made an awesome setting. Most contemporary YA's don't have much of a setting; they tend to take place in these nondescript towns, because it's the plot that's important not the place. But the setting in this book is practically it's own character, and it gives the book this really funky atmosphere that's easy to lose yourself in. However, other elements of this book I didn't love quite so much. One was Jane herself, she just faded into the background too much. I understand that she's supposed be shy and unassuming, but she's the main character, for pete's sake. She should stand out at least a little. And the other thing the annoyed me was the whole romance she has with Leo. It left me completely unsatisfied--and that's all I'm going to say so I don't ruin anything.

"Delirium," by Lauren Oliver
Lena lives in a world where love has been declared a disease, and everyone must take the cure when they turn 18. Lena is excited to be cured--she's looking forward to the calm and security that comes with it. But then, a couple months before she's scheduled to be cured, she falls in love--and of course, that changes her whole perspective.

I was really looking forward to this book, and as a result it let me down a little. I mean, it was an interesting read, for sure. But I found myself skimming and wondering how much longer it was until the end. I don't know why. I think it was partly because I never connected to Lena, and partly because the story got pretty predictable pretty fast. Overall, I did enjoy it, but I doubt I'm going to read the sequel.

"Divergent," by Veronica Roth
Beatrice lives in a city controlled by five factions: Abnegation (selflessness), Amity (kindness), Dauntless (courageous), Candor (honesty), and Erudition (intelligence). When they're 16, each person must take a test that tells them which faction they're best suited for, then the person can choose either that faction or the faction they grew up in. When Beatrice is tested, it turns out she's Divergent--she fits in more than one faction--which is dangerous in that society, so she can't tell anyone about it. At her choosing ceremony Beatrice joins Dauntless over Abnegation, her home faction, surprising everyone. But once she joins Dauntless she has to undergo really intense initiation training, and she begins to discover that all is not right in the relationship between the factions.

I totally love this book! Really. I basically couldn't put it down. I loved Tris (the name Beatrice chooses for herself when she joins Dauntless) so much--it's been a long time since I've found such a likable character in a action-based book. Tris isn't too tough, but she isn't too whiny either. Plus, she totally kicks some serious butt. The fact that Four (Tris's love interest) is completely awesome probably helped my infatuation with the book too. And the plot was totally engrossing--like I said, I couldn't put it down. I definitely recommend this one. Bring on the sequel!

"Just Like Heaven," by Julia Quinn
I don't really remember enough about this book to summarize it, to be honest. But it's basically a fluffy romance that's along the same lines as all of Julia Quinn's recent books. Aka, it was fun and enjoyable, but it didn't have much substance. Don't get me wrong, it was funny and I liked it, but it was also pretty forgettable.

The Secret Life of Prince Charming

I almost didn't read this book. I saw it on the "librarians' favorite books" table at the library, glanced it over, and put it back . . . then said "What the heck," and picked it back up again, because I pretty much never pass up a YA, especially when someone recommends it.

I'll start off by saying that this book is basically nothing like the title and cover lead you to believe. I mean, it sounds and looks like a typical YA romance. But actually, the story's more about the relationship between father and daughters, and between sisters, and just about romantic love in a broad sense. I mean, there is a little teen romance going on, but it takes a backseat to the other story lines--so much so that the romance feels a little too zero to sixty. One second they're barely talking and the next they're madly in love. But I could overlook that in this book, when I usually can't in other books, because the romance was such a small part of the story.

Anyway, here's the summary:
Quinn is surrounded by women who have had their hearts broken. Between her mother, her aunt, and her grandmother, Quinn hears nothing but cautionary tales. She tries to be an optimist--after all, she's the dependable one, the girl who never makes foolish choices. But when she is abruptly and unceremoniously dumped, Quinn starts to think maybe there really are no good men.

It doesn't help that she's gingerly handling a renewed relationship with her formerly absent father. He's a little bit of a lot of things: charming, selfish, eccentric, lazy . . . but he's her dad, and Quinn's just happy to have him around again. Until she realizes how horribly he's treated the many women in his life, how he's stolen more than just their hearts. Determined to, for once, take action in her life, Quinn joins forces with the half sister she's never met and the little sister she'll do anything to protect. Together, they set out to right her father's wrongs . . . and in doing so, begin to uncover what they're really looking for: the truth.
I liked the main character, Quinn, quite a bit. She is down-to-earth and kind and just generally a good person. I liked that she isn't one of those angsty adolescents that are so annoying in books--she's just normal. And I admired the way she juggles being close to her mom AND to her dad, a feat not for the faint of heart for someone in her situation. I also LOVED Quinn's 11-year-old sister, Sprout. She's basically one of the best little sister characters that I've seen in a while. Sprout's just so . . . herself. A little eccentric, a little annoying, but so sure of who she is and what's important.

I don't know why, but this book just really hit the spot for me in terms of a good, solid YA about finding out who you are and redefining your relationships with those you love. And it's full of these little gems of wisdom that had me looking for a pen to write them down. Here's one of them that pretty much encompasses what the book is all about--what Quinn is working towards:
I know about my own ordinariness, I think most people do, and I'm okay with it. I am not the most, the best, the fastest, the greatest, but I am enough. Regular and enough, with my own simple but clear voice that I am learning to hear, and my own feelings I'm learning to accept.
The style and content of this book actually reminded of Sarah Dessen's books, so if you like her, you might try giving this book a shot. I'm definitely going to read some of Deb Caletti's other books to see if they're as good as this one.

Jacob Have I Loved

Okay, let me clear up something first, in case the title caused you the same confusion it did me when I started this book: there is no character named Jacob and there is no romance. As it turns out, the title is actually a reference to some bible passage that goes "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated," which is fitting considering the book is about Louise, who lives her life in the shadow of her "perfect" twin sister Caroline.

Here's the summary (and yes, the copy I read did have this awesome '80s cover):
"Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated . . ." With her grandmother's taunt, Louise knew that she, like the biblical Esau, was the despised elder twin. Caroline, her selfish younger sister, was the one everyone loved.

Growing up on a tiny Chesapeake Bay island in the early 1940s, angry Louise reveals how Caroline robbed her of everything: her hopes for schooling, her friends, her mother, even her name. While everyone pampered Caroline, Wheeze (her sister's name for her) began to learn the ways of the watermen and the secrets of the island, especially of old Captain Wallace, who had mysteriously returned after fifty years. The war unexpectedly gave this independent girl a chance to fulfill her childish dream to work as a watermen alongside her father. But the dream did not satisfy the woman she was becoming. Alone and unsure, Louise began to fight her way to a place where Caroline could not reach.

Renowned author Katherine Paterson here chooses a little-known area off the Maryland shore as her setting for a fresh telling of the ancient story of an elder twin's lost birthright.
Man, oh man, is there a lot of teen angst going on in this book. Louise might possibly be one of the angsty-ist characters I've met in a while. Part of her angst is just normal teenage "Woe is me, my life sucks" feelings, but a really bitter part of it comes from her dislike, and sometimes hatred, of her sister. And to be honest, I alternated between sympathizing with Louise and just wanting to shake her and tell her to get over it. Because, yes, her sister is the favorite and she is more talented and hence gets more opportunities, but at the same time, I couldn't hate Caroline for it like Louise does. I mean, Caroline seems like a nice person generally, and she does try to reach out to Louise. But I can see how having a "perfect" sister would make Louise feel resentful and like she is somehow less than Caroline. And it does seem like a lot of Louise's bitterness and resentment for her sister stems from her own low self-esteem--she doesn't see anything in herself that can compare to Caroline.

But I'm happy to report that after some painful teenage years (that involve her falling in love with a 70-year-old man--yeah, that part is awkward), Louise does finally get a grip and grow up. And it's really all because of her mom, who basically gives her a fantastic "If you're not happy here, leave" speech. Here's my favorite part of it:
"You could have done anything, been anything you wanted."

"But I am what I wanted to be," she said, letting her arms fall to her sides. "I chose. No one made me become what I am."

"That's sickening," I said.

"I'm not ashamed of what I have made of my life."

"Well, just don't try to make me like you are," I said.

She smiled. "I can promise you I won't."

"I'm not going to rot here like Grandma. I'm going to get off this island and do something." I waited for her to stop me, but she just stood there. "You're not going to stop me, either."

"I wouldn't stop you," she said. "I didn't stop Caroline, and I certainly won't stop you."

"Oh, Caroline. Caroline's different. Everything's always been for Caroline. Caroline the delicate, the gifted, the beautiful. Of course, we must all sacrifice our lives to give her greatness to the world!"

Did I see her flinch, ever so slightly? "What do you want us to do for you, Louise?"

"Let me go. Let me leave!"

"Of course you may leave. You never said you wanted to leave."

And, oh, my blessed, she was right. All my dreams of leaving, but beneath them I was afraid to go.
I love Louise's mom, especially in this scene. She deals with Louise's freak out so calmly and deftly, and I want to hug her for it.

Anyway, my feelings about this book are a little mixed, but overall they're positive. I feel like if this book had been written recently instead of 30 years ago, I might've liked it a little better, just because the author would've been free to write about some things a little more openly and frankly. But yeah, overall I liked the book. It made me think, that's for sure, and I can't say that about very many of the books I read.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

Oh my gosh, you guys, this book was so much fun. I read it right after "How Green Was My Valley," and while I loved "How Green Was My Valley," it did leave me feeling in need of a lighter, fluffier book. And "The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks," by E. Lockhart, was exactly what I needed.

Here's the summary:
Frankie Landau-Banks at age 14:
Debate Club.
Her father's "Bunny Rabbit."
A mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school.

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 15:
A knockout figure.
A sharp tongue.
A chip on her shoulder.
And a gorgeous new senior boyfriend: the supremely goofy, word-obsessed Matthew Livingston.

Frankie Landau-Banks:
No longer the kind of girl to take "no" for an answer.
Especially when "no" means she's excluded from her boyfriend's all-male secret society. Not when her ex-boyfriend shows up in the strangest places.
Not when she knows she's smarter than any of them.
When she knows Matthew is lying to her.
And when there are so many, many pranks to be done.

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 16:
Possibly a criminal mastermind.

This is the story of how she got that way.
As you probably caught from the summary, the book's about how Frankie, annoyed at her boyfriend constantly underestimating her and pigeon-holing her because of her gender and good looks, manages to take control of the school's all-male secret society without any of the members knowing. And it's fantastic. Seriously.

I know I already used the word "fun" to describe this book, but I'm having trouble thinking of another, since "fun" is really the best word to describe it. It's a blast to follow smart, witty, sarcastic Frankie around as she becomes the criminal mastermind of the school with out anyone catching on. And Frankie herself is simply wonderful. I'm definitely adding her to my list of literary BFFs. I would love to be friends with her. She would get me to do crazy stuff I'd have a ridiculously good time doing, even though I would never do it otherwise. And we would talk to each other in neglected positives (words that people only use the negatives of--like "parage" from "disparage"), and we wouldn't care whether they're real words or not.

I also love how this book perfectly articulates those feelings I'm pretty sure all girls have but can't always express. Here's one that when I read it, I was like, "Ahhh!!! That's basically the truest thing I ever read!" It's from a part talking about Frankie's feelings upon catching her boyfriend Porter cheating on her with a girl named Bess:
It didn't matter that Bess hadn't become Porter's girlfriend after the incident.

It didn't matter that in her heart Frankie knew she was smart and charming.

What mattered was that feeling of being expendable. That to Porter, she was a nobody that could easily be replaced by a better model--and the better model wasn't even so great.

Which meant that Frankie herself was nearly worthless.

It was a bad, inconsequential feeling, and every word of every email Frankie had sent to Porter had been fighting against it. She had made him apologize in more ways than one, had flung neglected positives at him, criticized his grammar--and made him wait for her to accept his invitation. All because of how she had felt when she remembered how little she'd mattered to him.
See what I mean? She totally hit the nail on the head with the whole feeling-of-being-expendable thing.

Anyway, I fully intend to give some of this author's other books a shot, and I suggest you do the same for this book.

A certain milestone

Yesterday, I hit (and surpassed) the 100-book mark on my to-be-read list. On the one hand, I'm like, "Yay! Look at all these good books out there that are just waiting for me to read them!" And on the the other, I'm all, "100 books!?! How did I ever fall that far behind on my TBR list? How am I ever going to be able to get my hands on all those books?" (Answer: I fully plan to inherit a mass fortune from some unknown relative who'll bypass all my 7 siblings to give me the money.) I feel like I need to have some sort of celebration for this 100-book milestone. Maybe I'll commemorate this moment by buying a book off my list? But that leads to the question, which one? Because I totally have like 15 books tied for first place on my sub-list of "Books I Desperately Want."

And BTW, my TRB list doesn't even include that 50-book-strong bag of books I got from the book sale a while ago, the books I have waiting on my Kindle, or the other random books people have recommended/loaned to me. I have some serious reading ahead of me.

Oh, P.S., Sarah Dessen's new book, "What Happened to Goodbye," comes out in a week! All the pre-release reviews of it have been pretty positive, so I'm looking forward to the release even more. My goal is to finish the two Sarah Dessen books ("Dreamland" and "Lock and Key") I haven't read yet before the new book comes out.

Random good books

I've read some good books lately, but I haven't really felt like writing about them at length, so I thought I'd just list them here. That way if you were thinking, "Hey, I was debating reading that book," you can know that they officially have The Karen Stamp of Approval (and, yes, I did capitalize that like it's a real thing).
-"Wither," by Lauren DeStefano
-"The Truth about Forever," by Sarah Dessen
-"Sloppy Firsts," by Megan McCafferty
-"Bog Child," by Siobhan Dowd
-"Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes," by Chris Crutcher
-"Hold Still," by Nina LaCour

Sarah Dessen

After years of avoiding Sarah Dessen books, I finally gave in, and as much as I hate to admit being wrong, I loved the books I read. I don't really know why I was so opposed to Sarah Dessen, especially since she's my friend's favorite YA author. I think it was a combination of someone telling me they didn't like her books and a misunderstanding about the plot of "This Lullaby." But now, after reading four of her books in a row, I have to say that she's becoming one of my YA favorites. I love that her main characters all deal with complex issues that take some serious work to overcome. I also LOVE that her secondary characters aren't static--they jump off the page as much as the protagonists and don't always do what you expect them to.

Here are the Sarah Dessen books I've read so far in the order that I like them (with 1 being my favorite so far):

1. Just Listen
2. The Truth about Forever
3. Keeping the Moon
4. This Lullaby

Actually, "Just Listen" and "The Truth about Forever" are basically tied for first, but since I finished "Just Listen" last night, it's on my mind more (also I might like the love interest in it slightly better). But really, all the books are close contenders--I adored every one of them.

Jane Eyre cover

I need to own this edition of "Jane Eyre" ASAP. Just look at the cover! It's basically one of the most awesome covers I've ever seen.

Christmas break: A summary in books

I went home for two weeks for Christmas, and although we had some fun adventures (e.g., the zoo, Bate's Nut Farm, a winter solstice party, the dentist, Lake Miramar, game nights, friends' houses, "Tangled," movie nights--and days--at home, Night in Bethlehem, Christmas, YSA New Year's dance, etc.), per usual, there was a lot of down time when I could read. So believe me, I did. Here's what I read over break (at least, the ones I remember):

-"Anna and the French Kiss," by Stephanie Perkins (A nearly perfect YA romance. Seriously though. Of course they end up together, but Perkins makes you work for it. This one will make you want to go to France. And meet a hot English guy.)

-"How to Hook a Hottie" and "Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress," by Tina Ferraro (Two quick-read YAs. Fluffy, but enjoyable.)

-"Before I Fall," by Lauren Oliver (You'll hate Samantha at the beginning, but by the end, you'll be cheering for her. Shock and horror, a book with actual character growth.)

-"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," by J.K. Rowling (A re-read. As a result of my sisters watching the HP movies, I realized I had zero recollection of how it all ended. So I read book 7 again and remembered how well done the series is.)

-"Fire" and "Water," by Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson (I LOVE McKinley, but for some reason I hadn't read these short story collections by her and her husband. I definitely preferred the stories written by McKinley, and there were some that I loved so much I wished they were full-length books--"Water Horse" and "A Pool in the Desert" in "Water," and "Hellhound" and "First Flight" in "Fire.")

-"Seer of Sevenwaters," by Juliet Marillier (Book 5 in the Sevenwaters series and not as good as some of the others, but still enjoyable.)

-"The Lady Most Likely," Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Connie Brockway (Three short romance stories by three authors, tied together by a house party. The first story, by Julia Quinn, was my favorite.

-"Nothing Like You," by Lauren Strasnick (I'm still not sure whether or not I like that the ending was honest, but overall, a good read.)

-"What My Mother Doesn't Know," by Sonya Sones (This book is in verse, so it's a quick read, but it still manages to be an emotional love-life roller coaster.

Overall, a good break, eh?

Books: The Thanksgiving Edition

I'm thankful for books. Really. Seriously. Truly. Without books, I wouldn't be even remotely the same person. I wouldn't be me. I mean, the first thing out of my mouth when people ask me to tell something about myself is "I love to read." My love of books defines me--maybe a little too much at times, and other areas of my life have probably suffered because of it. But nevertheless, reading is an integral part of who I am, and I am infinitely grateful for the books I've read.

This post on Angieville got me thinking about which books have influenced me the most--which books have really and truly shaped who I am. The post got me thinking and thinking and thinking, and pretty soon I knew I was going to have to blog about it.

So here's the list, roughly in chronological order:

-“The Ordinary Princess,” by M.M. Kay: This was my first favorite book, and I read it until the cover fell off. Then I read it some more.

-“Talking to Dragons,” by Patricia C. Wrede: My older sister first read this to me, and then as I got older, I read the rest of the series myself. Although it’s neither the first nor the best of the series, “Talking to Dragons” was the first fantasy I read, and I’ve loved the genre ever since.

-“The Little House on the Prairie” series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder: My friend and I read these books at the same time in 5th grade. It was my first experience reading books and discussing them with someone else, and I haven’t been able to stop talking about books since.

-“Little Women,” by Louisa May Alcott: This book was my favorite book throughout middle and high school. It was the first “classic” I ever read, and it showed me that genre didn’t have to be scary and unapproachable.

-“Beauty,” by Robin McKinley: My older sister gave me this book as a birthday present and launched me solidly into the world of Robin McKinley. I don’t think there’s any other author that speaks to me quite as well as McKinley.

-“The Princess Diaries,” by Meg Cabot: This is the book that started my love for YA fiction. Before, the only YA books I knew about where of the "Sweet Valley High" variety--not that I didn’t love those, but “The Princess Diaries” showed me there were books out there about teenagers I could relate to.

-“Jane Eyre,” by Charlotte Bronte: “Jane Eyre” . . . how can I possibly explain my love for this book? Jane--reserved, practical, and plain, yet immovable in her desire to do what’s right--was one of the first characters I could both relate to and admire at the same time.

-“All the Pretty Horses,” by Cormac McCarthy: This book was my first introduction to unconventional writing styles. I barely remember the storyline, but it taught me how to read books that step outside the box.

-“The Poisonwood Bible,” by Barbara Kingsolver: This one taught me that women can write as well as men do--and in this case, can do it better.

-“The Sun Also Rises,” by Ernest Hemingway: My first Hemingway. That’s all I need to say, really. The man practically ruined me for all other writing styles.

-“To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee: I didn’t read this book until college, but it immediately became one of my all-time favorites. The narrative voice is just so incredible, the story so wonderful, and the characters so lovable--who could ever forget the Finches?

-“The Book of Bright Ideas,” by Sandra Kring: With a single sentence, this novel completely changed how I deal with people: “Don’t judge people for what they’re doing until you know why they’re doing it.”

Sharon Shinn

New author that I love: Sharon Shinn. She's one of the fantasy staples, but I never got around to reading anything by her, mostly because I'm not a huge fantasy fan (besides YA fantasy, which I of course LOVE, and stuff by Robin McKinley). So I finally read one of her books.

I started with "Archangel," which I've heard good things about. And let me just say, that book totally rocked. Seriously. So now I'm converted to Sharon Shinn. I've also now read "Jovah's Angel" and "Angel-seeker," two more books in the same series as "Archangel," and I'm slated to read the rest of the series (two more books), as well as "The Shape-changer's Wife," "Summers at Castle Auburn," and "Mystic and Rider" soon. I'm really excited actually.

So, really, if you're looking for some good fantasy (if you don't mind it being a little girly) try Sharon Shinn.

UPDATE: 10/14

So at this point I've finished "The Shape-changer's Wife," "Summers at Castle Auburn," and "Mystic and Rider", and they are all ridiculously wonderful. I just want to hug them all.


Don't read this review if you haven't read the book yet and want to be surprised, because there are spoilers galore...

If I could only use one word to describe "Mockingjay," the third and final Hunger Games book, I would choose intense. Seriously. I finished it at 3 a.m., and even though I was exhausted, I couldn't fall asleep for another 10 minutes because I was still so pumped up from the book.

Here's the summary:

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she’s made it out of the bloody arena alive, she’s still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what’s worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss’s family, not her friends, not the people of District 12.

Okay, here are the things I liked about the book:
1. I like that the ending isn't a happy, everything-tied-up-with-a-bow, happily-ever-after kind. I like that Katniss and Peeta are still screwed up at the end. I mean, they went through really traumatic things, so I think a classic happy ending wouldn't have done them justice. But the ending is satisfying--and not completely depressing.

2. I like that Gale gets more face time in this book and that Peeta only comes in at the end. I felt like the other books focused way more on Peeta than Gale, so I was happy to see more of Gale.

3. I like that Peeta gets darker. In the other books he's just so optimistic and loving and willing to do anything for Katniss that it got a little tiring. I really enjoyed seeing another side of him--even if it was the darker, tortured side.

4. I like that Katniss ends up with Peeta. Admitedly, I was hoping the whole time that she wouldn't end up with either Peeta or Gale (she never seemed to me to love either of them as more than a friend), but since she had to end up with someone, I'm glad it was Peeta. I've had issues with Peeta in the other books, but I think after all they've been through, Peeta and his warmth and optimism are way better for Katniss than Gale's intensity and hate.

And things I didn't like:
1. I didn't like that Finnick and Prim died. I know that Collins had to kill off some of her characters, but Finnick and Prim were my favorites. I liked them more than Katniss, who I still never warmed up to.

2. I felt like Katniss and Gale's parting didn't have enough substance behind it. They've been best friends their whole lives, and Katniss's decision that she can never forgive him seems a little arbitrary. I also didn't like how Gale just fades out of the picture--it doesn't do him justice to just reassign him to a different district just to get him out of the way.

3. I didn't like that Katniss votes yes to holding another hunger games. It really didn't seem to fit her character AT ALL. She's been crusading against them this whole time, and all of a sudden she supports them? I don't buy it.

4. I thought the ending of the war was too quick and confusing. Cutting from them about to storm the presidential mansion to Katniss in the hospital weeks later was a little too jarring for me.

Catching Fire

I just finished "Catching Fire," the second Hunger Games book, by Suzanne Collins. I'll admit I liked this one better than the first one. To be honest, I'm not sure how much of my liking this book more comes from the merits of the book itself, and how much comes from the fact that, having read the first one, I had more realistic expectations for the second book.

Here's the summary:

Against all odds, Katniss has won the Hunger Games. She and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark are miraculously still alive. Katniss should be relieved, happy even. After all, she has returned to her family and her longtime friend, Gale. Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be. Gale holds her at an icy distance. Peeta has turned his back on her completely. And there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol--a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create. Much to her shock, Katniss has fueled and unrest she's afraid she cannot stop. And what scares her even more is that she's not entirely convinced she should try. As time draws near for Katniss and Peeta to visit the districts on the Capitol's cruel Victory Tour, the stakes are higher than ever. If they can't prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are lost in their love for each other, the consequences will be horrifying.

Despite my not being sure if I actually liked this book better overall or if this one just met my (adjusted) expectations, there are two things I know for sure:

1. I liked that the Hunger Games didn't take up the whole book. In the first one, I felt like the games kinda dragged on, and I sometimes had a hard time keeping interested. But in this one, the games only took up the last third of the book. And there were more characters involved, so I didn't have to spend quite as much time focused on Katniss (who I'm still not sure has grown on me all the way).

2. Peeta really grew on me during this book. I came to appreciate him more than I did in the last one. In the first book, I thought he came off as completely useless. But in this one, you really see how intrinsically good he is. I still think he's a little too lovesick, but I came to admire how he is willing to do anything for Katniss, even at the expense of his own life. I also understood better that, yes, he is kind of useless in the arena, but that's because, unlike Katniss, nothing in his life has prepared him for this kind of survival game--after all, he's a baker who loves to paint. And, yet, despite being completely out of his element, he unfailingly tries his hardest while keeping a positive attitude about it. And he's always willing to listen to those who know better than him--he doesn't really have ego or pride about it. And he's just so understanding and patient about the fact that Katniss doesn't really know how she feels about him.

Finally, I thought that this book had a better cliff-hanging ending than the first one. The ending of the first book left me curious about the next book, but the ending of this one left me so excited to read the third and final one (which comes out August 24).

The Hunger Games

I finally read "The Hunger Games," by Suzanne Collins. I'm gonna start off with the summary right away, because I have a lot to say, and I don't want the summary getting in my way:

Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games." The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When her sister is chosen by lottery, Katniss steps up to go in her place.

I managed to hold out from reading this book for almost two years. For some reason, I kinda don't like reading books that everyone else and their dog likes (yes, I'm talking about you, Harry Potter and Twilight). They never seem to live up to the hype. I read them and I think, sure, this is a good book, but I don't see why people are so obsessed with them, because I've read better.

And, honestly, that's pretty much how I felt about "The Hunger Games." Yes, I think it was a good book. Yes, it kept me interested. But, no, I don't think it lived up to all the hype. I really wanted "The Hunger Games" to be as phenomenally good as everyone has been saying it is, so when it turned out to just be your average good book, I was kinda disappointed. Which is sad really. I think if I hadn't been expecting so much of it, I would've been happy with it being a good book, instead of feeling let down because it wasn't as awesome as I hoped.

And maybe it's not even "The Hunger Games"'s fault that I liked instead of loved it. It's action based, and I prefer books that are more character based--maybe it's just a matter of personal preference. I never really connected to Katniss, the main character, and I didn't fall in love with the love interest, Peeta--he was too much of a useless, lovesick sap for my taste. (All you Peeta lovers, please don't hate me for saying that . . . I will admit that he does have some good qualities too.)

But anyway, I still recommend "The Hunger Games"--I did like it after all, and I'm about to start the second one and will probably read the third. I just can't help feeling slightly disappointed.

Jellicoe Road

I had heard a lot of good things about Melina Marchetta's "Jellicoe Road," so I decided to give it a try. As I started reading it, I was kinda disappointed. The writing was good, but the story was confusing and the main character didn't seem likable. I put the book down in the middle of chapter 3 and didn't know if I wanted to finish it. But last night, I decided to give it another try, and I'm SO glad I did. It is an amazing book! Seriously. After I picked it up the second time, I didn't put it down until I finished it . . . at 3 o'clock in the morning. But the book was so good, it makes being exhausted today totally worth it.

Here's the summary:

Abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road when she was eleven, Taylor Markham, now seventeen, is finally being confronted with her past. But as the reluctant leader of her boarding school dorm, there isn’t a lot of time for introspection. And while Hannah, the closest adult Taylor has to family, has disappeared, Jonah Griggs is back in town, moody stares and all. In this absorbing story by Melina Marchetta, nothing is as it seems and every clue leads to more questions as Taylor tries to work out the connection between her mother dumping her, Hannah finding her then and her sudden departure now, a mysterious stranger who once whispered something in her ear, a boy in her dreams, five kids who lived on Jellicoe Road eighteen years ago, and the maddening and magnetic Jonah Griggs, who knows her better than she thinks he does. If Taylor can put together the pieces of her past, she might just be able to change her future.

It's hard to explain why I like this book. I don't normally go for "troubled teen" stories, because I don't relate. But, I don't know, something about this book and it's main character just hits me in the heart. It got a hold on my emotions and still hasn't let go. It's a day later and I'm still thinking about this book.

So read it! And don't give up . . . you have to read at least until chapter 6. It takes a while to get into the story and understand what's going on and why, but once you do, you'll be hooked. And once you finish it, go back and re-read the first two chapters . . . it'll all make sense.

Books I've read lately

I've been having really good luck with books lately. Admittedly, I've been mainly reading young adult fantasy, which is my favorite genre, so maybe I'm a little biased. But anyway, since I'm always on the lookout for good books, I like to spread the love and let others know about the good books I've found. So here it goes:

1) "The Princess and the Bear" by Mette Ivie Harrison

I thought the whole premise of the book was interesting. A bear who used to be a king and a hound who was briefly a human (in another book, which I haven't read yet) are changed into humans in order to save the fate of magic. I thought it was interesting to see how the two characters interact with each other as animals and as humans. The only thing I wasn't sure I liked about the book was that the female character was so strong that she really made the guy look kinda pathetic in comparison. Don't get me wrong, I love strong female characters, and I don't think the author should have made her weaker, I just think the male character should've been her equal.

2) "The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney" by Suzanne Harper.

This book was light and fluffy--a really quick read that required no thought. I enjoyed it, though. It's about a girl who comes from a family of mediums, but despite having seen ghosts for years pretends that she can't. But then the ghost of the brother of a guy from school starts to haunt her, and she gets sucked into helping his family move on.

3) "The Minister's Daughter" by Julie Hearn.

This book was fascinating--seriously. It's hard to explain the plot, but it's basically about a healer girl who gets pulled into a drama involving the minister's daughters, who are supposedly being cursed by a witch. It takes place in 1600s England, during the time of witch hunts. I really liked how the author works fantasy into what's basically historical fiction. I also liked the writing style and the way that the author doesn't explicitly tell the reader why the girls are pretending to be cursed or why the father reacts the way he does--she lets the reader draw their own conclusions. The book really made me think about the social pressures and expectations of the time and what their effects were. I also loved that despite my fears to the contrary, the book actually has a happy ending.

Anyway, I definitely recommend all these books, and I'm excited to read more books by these authors.
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