Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Favorites: Because of Winn-Dixie

On Fridays I post a little shout out to one of my favorite books and explain why I love it so much. It gives me the chance to fangirl over books I never reviewed on this blog and lets me post about some not necessarily YA books I love.

Which book?
Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo

Middle grade

Summary? (From GoodReads)
The summer Opal and her father, the preacher, move to Naomi, Florida, Opal goes into the Winn-Dixie supermarket--and comes out with a dog. A big, ugly, suffering dog with a sterling sense of humor. A dog she dubs Winn-Dixie. Because of Winn-Dixie, the preacher tells Opal ten things about her absent mother, one for each year Opal has been alive. Winn-Dixie is better at making friends than anyone Opal has ever known, and together they meet the local librarian, Miss Franny Block, who once fought off a bear with a copy of War and Peace. They meet Gloria Dump, who is nearly blind but sees with her heart, and Otis, an ex-con who sets the animals in his pet shop loose after hours, then lulls them with his guitar.Opal spends all that sweet summer collecting stories about her new friends and thinking about her mother. But because of Winn-Dixie or perhaps because she has grown, Opal learns to let go, just a little, and that friendship--and forgiveness--can sneak up on you like a sudden summer storm.

When did I first read it?
Two years ago.

Why did I first read it?
I was at the bookstore looking for a book for my niece’s birthday, and I saw Because of Winn-Dixie on the shelf. I’d always avoided reading it when I was younger, because I assumed it was a dog-dying story. But I read the first page in the store, and I KNEW that book and I would be BFFs.

What did I think about it then?
I thought it was totally and completely heart-warming. You know those books that give you warm fuzzies? This was one of them. In fact, I think it’s the warm-fuzziest book I’ve ever read. I’m talking kittens and fluffy-towels-right-out-of-the-dryer warm fuzzies.

What do I think about it now?
I still get the warm fuzzies whenever I read it. And since it’s a short book, I reread it fairly often. I just love Opal so much. She’s basically my favorite kid after Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. She’s just so spunky and loveable. And I’ll let you in on a secret—the dog does NOT die! So there’s no reason not to read it.

Have you read Because of Winn-Dixie? What did you think?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Review: Love and Leftovers

Love and Leftovers, by Sarah Tregay. The GoodReads summary:
Marcie has been dragged away from home for the summer—from Idaho to a family summerhouse in New Hampshire. She’s left behind her friends, a group of freaks and geeks called the Leftovers, including her emo-rocker boyfriend, and her father.

By the time Labor Day rolls around, Marcie suspects this “summer vacation” has become permanent. She has to start at a new school, and there she leaves behind her Leftover status when a cute boy brings her breakfast and a new romance heats up. But understanding love, especially when you’ve watched your parents’ affections end, is elusive. What does it feel like, really? Can you even know it until you’ve lost it?

Love & Leftovers is a beautifully written story of one girl’s journey navigating family, friends, and love, and a compelling and sexy read that teens will gobble up whole.
This is the third verse novel that I’ve read in the space of a week, and maybe that wasn’t fair of me. I mean, this book was fine, but it definitely didn’t wow me nearly as much as The Day Before did. So I don’t know how I would’ve felt about Love and Leftovers if I had read it before my expectations for verse novels were raised so much by The Day Before.

The story did end up being more complex than I originally thought, I’ll give it that. I was expecting it to only be about Marcie moving to New Hampshire, being bitter, learning to like it, then falling in love. And all those things do happen, just not in the way I anticipated. Marcie has more issues to deal with than just not wanting to move, and she doesn’t always deal with those issues in the best ways. But I liked that, because it gave some depth to what could’ve turned out to merely be fluffy.

The thing that got to me about the book, though, was the fact that it was in verse. I LOVE verse novels, but I didn’t see any reason why this one needed to be one. I didn’t think the writing was any different than just straight fiction, so it was usually just like reading a normal book with random line breaks. Also, on the poems that were done in word art style, I just got confused because the way that they were organized didn’t really make sense at first.

Overall, it’s a cute novel but not necessarily anything special. I might have enjoyed it more if I had read it before I read the wonder that is The Day Before, but it’s too late for that now. So I’m just left feeling kinda meh about this one.

Rating: 3 / 5

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Review: The Day Before

The Day Before, by Lisa Schroeder. The GoodReads summary:
Sixteen-year-old Amber, hoping to spend one perfect day alone at the beach before her world is turned upside down, meets and feels a strong connection to Cade, who is looking for his own escape, for a very different reason.

All I can say is wow. This book is amazing. For such a short book, it sure does pack a powerful punch. I mean, I really liked all of Schroeder’s previous verse novels, but this one was the best by far. The language is beautiful, the story compelling, the characters sympathetic. And even though technically Amber and Cade fall in love over the course of only a day, their romance feels perfectly paced. I can’t even find the words to express how amazing this book is, so I’m just going to leave you with my favorite poem from the book, because I’m pretty sure it’ll show you exactly what I mean:


Hidden, there,
behind the face
of a beautiful boy,
I see you.

The real you.

The you who flips a coin,
hoping to understand
how fate works:
this choice or that choice,
ultimately leaving you
no choice at all.

The you who smiles
and tries to be happy
because that’s what
people want
you to be.

The you who plays
“it will be okay”
on repeat all day, every day
to try and convince
that it will be.

I see you.

Because in you,
I see me.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Favorites: Just Listen

On Fridays I post a little shout out to one of my favorite books and explain why I love it so much. It gives me the chance to fangirl over books I never reviewed on this blog and lets me post about some not necessarily YA books I love.

Which book?
Just Listen, by Sarah Dessen

Contemporary YA

Summary? (From GoodReads)
Last year, Annabel was "the girl who has everything"—at least that's the part she played in the television commercial for Kopf's Department Store.This year, she's the girl who has nothing: no best friend because mean-but-exciting Sophie dropped her, no peace at home since her older sister became anorexic, and no one to sit with at lunch. Until she meets Owen Armstrong. Tall, dark, and music-obsessed, Owen is a reformed bad boy with a commitment to truth-telling. With Owen's help, maybe Annabel can face what happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends.

When did I first read it?
Last summer.

Why did I first read it?
It was part what I like to call my “summer of discovery,” aka the summer I discovered the genius that is Sarah Dessen. My friend had always been a Sarah Dessen lover, but for whatever reason, I’d never read anything by her and was a little hesitant to. But then I decided to just go for it. I started with “The Truth about Forever”—which was a really good decision. Then I borrowed all the Sarah Dessen books my friend owned and rented from the library the ones she didn’t. And along the way, I discovered Just Listen.

What did I think about it then?
I loved it, obviously. It reminded a bit of Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson, which is a book I really like. But honestly? The thing that sealed the deal for me was the fact that Owen reminded me of Jonah Griggs, aka the hottest boy in YA literature.

What do I think about it now?
Even after reading all of Sarah Dessen’s books but two, Just listen is definitely my favorite. Don’t get me wrong—there aren’t any Dessen books I dislike. But for some reason, this one just speaks to me. I think it's the fact that Annabel has to deal with some pretty tough issues, but Owen ends up being just so perfect for her.

Have you read Just Listen? What did you think? What’s your favorite Sarah Dessen book?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review: Flat-Out Love

Flat-Out Love, by Jessica Park. The GoodReads summary:
Something is seriously off in the Watkins home. And Julie Seagle, college freshman, small-town Ohio transplant, and the newest resident of this Boston house, is determined to get to the bottom of it.

When Julie's off-campus housing falls through, her mother's old college roommate, Erin Watkins, invites her to move in. The parents, Erin and Roger, are welcoming, but emotionally distant and academically driven to eccentric extremes. The middle child, Matt, is an MIT tech geek with a sweet side ... and the social skills of a spool of USB cable. The youngest, Celeste, is a frighteningly bright but freakishly fastidious 13-year-old who hauls around a life-sized cardboard cutout of her oldest brother almost everywhere she goes.

And there's that oldest brother, Finn: funny, gorgeous, smart, sensitive, almost emotionally available. Geographically? Definitely unavailable. That's because Finn is traveling the world and surfacing only for random Facebook chats, e-mails, and status updates. Before long, through late-night exchanges of disembodied text, he begins to stir something tender and silly and maybe even a little bit sexy in Julie's suddenly lonesome soul.

To Julie, the emotionally scrambled members of the Watkins family add up to something that ... well ... doesn't quite add up. Not until she forces a buried secret to the surface, eliciting a dramatic confrontation that threatens to tear the fragile Watkins family apart, does she get her answer.
I’d heard a lot of good things about this book, and boy was everyone right. It’s a solid book--honestly. Not only does it have the romance I need to get me through a book, but it has real substance too. I think with the plot of this book, it could’ve easily turned into a cliché, fluffy book. But it didn’t, and I’m so glad for that.

The characters were amazing. They all felt so real. My favorite by far was the little sister, Celeste. That is one awesome and brave kid. Messed up and eccentric, yes--but thoroughly entertaining and loveable at the same time. Flat Finn takes second place in my favorite character line-up. I’m not sure how an inanimate object (he's a cardboard cutout) can be so awesome, but he (it?) really, really is. Julie, the main character, is quite likeable. I like how she constantly reaches out to Celeste and Matt and their parents, and how kind and giving she is. The only hang up I have about her is her constant butting into the family’s business. It all works out in the end, and she has the best of intentions, but I couldn’t help thinking sometimes that it really wasn’t her place to push them all that hard to resolve their issues.

This book was surprisingly involving considering there’s not much action in the plot. The book pretty much completely revolves around the Watkin family’s drama, but I honestly didn’t notice the lack of storyline until I started thinking about it for this review. The mystery behind why the family’s all so messed up is totally engrossing, to say the least. I did guess what the family secret was and the truth behind the Matt-Julie-Finn-Celeste relationship from the very beginning, but all the same, I enjoyed the journey to Julie finding it out.

Overall, I think this is a fantastic contemporary YA. I think some aspects could use some polishing, but it ended up being everything I wanted from a book at the moment. I’ll definitely read anything else by this author.

Rating: 4 / 5

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: Something Like Normal

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine where we spotlight books we can't wait for.

Something Like Normal, by Trish Doller
19 June 2012

The GoodRead's summary:
When Travis returns home from a stint in Afghanistan, his parents are splitting up, his brother’s stolen his girlfriend and his car, and he’s haunted by nightmares of his best friend’s death. It’s not until Travis runs into Harper, a girl he’s had a rocky relationship with since middle school, that life actually starts looking up. And as he and Harper see more of each other, he begins to pick his way through the minefield of family problems and post-traumatic stress to the possibility of a life that might resemble normal again. Travis’s dry sense of humor, and incredible sense of honor, make him an irresistible and eminently lovable hero.

This book has a few elements I don't usually go for, but it just sounds so fantastic overall that I'm dying to read it anyway.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Review: The Morning Gift

The Morning Gift, by Eva Ibbotson. The GoodReads summary:
Twenty-year-old Ruth Berger is desperate. The daughter of a Jewish-Austrian professor, she was supposed to have escaped Vienna before the Nazis marched into the city. Yet the plan went completely wrong, and while her family and fiancé are waiting for her in safety, Ruth is stuck in Vienna with no way to escape. Then she encounters her father's younger college professor, the dashing British paleontologist Quin Sommerville. Together, they strike a bargain: a marriage of convenience, to be annulled as soon as they return to safety. But dissolving the marriage proves to be more difficult than either of them thought; not least because of the undeniable attraction Quin and Ruth share. To make matters worse, Ruth is enrolled in Quin's university, in his very classes. Can their secret survive, or will circumstances destroy their love?
I’ve come to the conclusion that Ibbotson can do no wrong. Honestly. I know you guys are probably getting tired of me fangirling over her books at this point, but I can’t help it. I’ll at least try to keep it brief(ish).

At first I wasn’t sure if I would be as into this book as I was “A Countess Below Stairs” or “The Reluctant Heiress.” I’m not sure why, really--I think I was just in a weird mood when I started reading it. But believe me, it didn’t take long for me to fall completely in love with this book and its characters.

Ruth is a little spunkier than the heroines of the other two Ibbotson books I’ve read. Don’t get me wrong, I adore those two girls, but they’re admittedly a little too perfect. Ruth is a little more real, a little more . . . alive, I guess. Quin, I loved A LOT. I felt like we got to spend more time with the hero and got to know him better than we did the heroes in the previous two I read, and I appreciated that. I also appreciated that Ruth and Quin actually spend time together. In “A Countess Below Stairs” and “The Reluctant Heiress,” the two main characters basically have two conversations then fall in love (and leave it to Ibbotson to do THAT in a way that didn’t have me rolling my eyes), but in “The Morning Gift,” the progress of their relationship is a little slower. The secondary characters in this book weren’t quite as memorable as I’ve come to expect from Ibbotson, but they’re still all perfectly lovely.

I’m always in awe with the way Ibbotson manages to take a fairly cliché storyline and suck me in so much that I’m holding my breath and crossing my fingers that it’ll all work out. I mean, I’ve read stories about marriages of convenience that turn into love about a million times, but that didn’t stop me from being totally invested and engrossed in this one.

Overall, I (of course) recommend this book. It’s slightly more scandalous than the other two (sex comes up a few times), but it’s not really hard to be more scandalous than those ones since they’re, like, 100 percent clean. Anyway, definitely add this one to your list of Ibbotson books to read.

Rating: 4 / 5

Monday, March 19, 2012

Review: Eddie’s War

Eddie’s War, by Carol Fisher Saller. The summary:
World War II. Hitler is threatening to take over the world. Eddie Carl thinks America should stop him-it's just plain right. But Eddie's just a kid, and the farm in Ellisville, Illinois, is a long way from the fighting. Ellisville: where the big news stories are gophers in the graveyard and the new bank alarm.

But then America joins the war and Eddie's brother Thomas goes off to fly a bomber. Suddenly the war doesn't seem so far away. And Eddie faces more grown-up problems at home: A fire at the Strothers' place, and his gypsy friend accused of arson. Grampa Rob, all stubborn and mean. Grama Lucy with her secrets. And that redhead Sarah, who definitely likes him-unless maybe she hates him.

Somehow Eddie's in the middle of it all, trying to figure out what's right. Let Thomas fight World War II. Eddie's war is right here in Ellisville.

Eddie's War is a lyrical collection of prose vignettes linking Eddie, his family, and a small-town cast of Ellisvillians. Poignant and funny, this World War II story tells how a distant war affects the life of one boy in the Heartland.
This book had two major things going for it, in my opinion--two things that practically destined me to adore it.

The first is that it takes place during World War II. I’ve always been fascinated by the 1940s (a fact that I blame on the countless black-and-white movies I was raised on), but I haven’t read very much fiction set in the time period that wasn’t a Holocaust book (no joke, I think all the books I read in 6th grade took place during the Holocaust). This book was a totally different setting--rural America. And it completely intrigued me. I’d never given overly much thought to what life was like on the American home front during the war. But Saller managed to make me feel completely immersed and at home with her farm/small town setting and got me thinking about what life was like for the people who didn’t go to war, who stayed at home trying to keep their lives together and waiting for their boys to come home. And I don’t know how she did it, really. The book is in verse, so there’s not exactly a ton of description going on, but I finished the book feeling like I had a good grasp of what Eddie and his family’s life was like.

The second thing that I loved about the book was the fact that it was written in verse. I didn’t realize that that’s how it was written before I picked it up, but since I’m a total sucker for books in verse, I’ll admit it biased me in its favor before I even finished the first page. All the other books in verse that I’ve read have basically been teenage girls whining about their problems, so Eddie’s War was refreshing in that it’s from the point of view of a middle school boy. It never ceased to amaze me throughout the book how much emotion and plot Saller managed to get across without explicitly saying it; so much story is told between the lines, but I never felt like the characters or story were underdeveloped.

And can I just add that I fell a little in love with Eddie’s older brother, Thomas? Okay, maybe more than a little.

The only issue I had with the book was that Eddie comes off as a little too perfect. I mean, he’s a middle school boy, and while I know boys that age can be as good-hearted as Eddie, I don’t really believe that they can be that well-behaved.

Overall, I think this book is definitely worth reading. It’s quiet and understated but pretty dang powerful, and it opened up a world to me that I never spent much time thinking about before.

Rating: 4 / 5

Received for review

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Favorites: Heist Society

On Fridays I post a little shout out to one of my favorite books and explain why I love it so much. It gives me the chance to fangirl over books I never reviewed on this blog and lets me post about some not-necessarily-YA books I love.

Which book?
Heist Society, by Ally Carter

Contemporary YA

When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her to the Louvre . . . to case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her Uncle Eddie traveled to Austria . . . to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she planned a con of her own--scamming her way into the best boarding school in the country, determined to leave the family business behind. Unfortunately, leaving "the life" for a normal life proves harder than she'd expected.

Soon, Kat's friend and former co-conspirator, Hale, appears out of nowhere to bring her back into the world she tried so hard to escape. But he has good reason: a powerful mobster's art collection has been stolen, and he wants it returned. Only a master thief could have pulled this job, and Kat's father isn't just on the suspect list, he is the list. Caught between Interpol and a far more deadly enemy, Kat's dad needs her help.

Kat’s solution: track down the paintings and steal them back. So what if it's a spectacularly impossible job? She's got two weeks, a teenage crew, and hopefully just enough talent to pull off the biggest heist in her family's (very crooked) history--and, with any luck, steal her life back along the way.

When did I first read it?
Last summer

Why did I first read it?
I was seeing a bunch of reviews for the sequel, “Uncommon Criminals,” and I thought, “Hey, I haven’t even read the first book in the series. Maybe I should give it a shot.” Good decision.

What did I think about it then?
Love was in the air! As soon as I finished it, I knew it was going on my shelf of favorite books. Kat was freakin’ awesome, and Hale was the swooniest non-love interest I’d ever met (or, er, read about). Plus, I got sucked into the hijinks and the con and was 100 percent invested in how it would turn out.

What do I think about it now?
Well, obvs I still love it a lot, since it only became one of my favorites less than a year ago. It’s near the top of my list of books I really want to reread but haven’t had time to yet. Looking back, I’m actually kind of surprised I adore this book so much. It’s very Ocean’s 11, and I’ve never been much of one for that kind of action-y book/movie. I’m more of a “Give me a whiney heroine with boy problems” type. So kudos to Ally Carter for getting me so entranced with a book that’s not my usual style. And Uncommon Criminals is just as awesome, fyi.

Have you read Heist Society? What did you think?

Read my reviews
Heist Society
Uncommon Criminals

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review: Life: An Exploded Diagram

Life: An Exploded Diagram, by Mal Peet. The GoodReads summary:
Can love survive a lifetime? When working-class Clem Ackroyd falls for Frankie Mortimer, the gorgeous daughter of a wealthy local landowner, he has no hope that it can. After all, the world teeters on the brink of war, and bombs could rain down any minute over the bleak English countryside--just as they did seventeen years ago as his mother, pregnant with him, tended her garden. This time, Clem may not survive. Told in cinematic style by acclaimed writer Mal Peet, this brilliant coming-of-age novel is a gripping family portrait that interweaves the stories of three generations and the terrifying crises that define them. With its urgent sense of history, sweeping emotion, and winning young narrator, Mal Peet's latest is an unforgettable, timely exploration of life during wartime.
This book is a prime example of why I try to avoid male-written male-POV books, especially of the YA variety. It wasn’t a bad book or anything--it just so wasn’t the type of book I like.

The book’s split into three . . . categories? There’s the story of Clem’s mother and grandmother and their growing-up years and marriages; there’s Clem’s story; then there’s the history-lesson bits. The parts about Clem’s mother and grandmother are pretty good but mostly depressing as you find out the ways they settled instead of choosing things that would make them happy. Clem’s story seemed a bit pointless, to be honest, which is weird since he’s the main character. Basically, his story involves his illicit romance with a girl from a higher social class--except their relationship only consists of them making out and groping and Clem wanting to have sex with her. And probably that’s accurate for what teenage boys want out of a relationship, but after a while I just got so tired of Clem and his sex obsession.

The history portions of the book ended up being my favorite. Interspersed throughout Clem’s story are chapters of straight history about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Those bits were a lot like reading a textbook, only they were actually really entertaining. If this author ever writes a non-fiction book, I want to read it. Although, really, even after finishing the book, I have no idea what the point of those history chapters were. Clem’s story ends up kinda connecting to it, but not enough that it made any sense to me why there was a history book hidden inside what’s ostensibly YA fiction.

And don’t even get me started on the ending. I was so annoyed by it. I’m the type who likes my endings to have some, you know, closure, and this book so did not have any. It just ended. Randomly. And not in a “I’m ending with a cliffhanger so you’ll read the sequel” kind of ending randomly. I’m pretty sure there’s zero room for a sequel, so this book ending without giving me any closure was a bit of a let down. And what annoys me the most about it is I know the author did it intentionally to try to be deep or something. I don’t want deep; I want happy!

Anyway, I feel like people with a deeper appreciation for literature than me might enjoy this book, but as for me and just my basic love of reading, I was a bit disappointed. When I finished it, I felt like I’d just read some required reading for school or something. I felt I should appreciate it but instead most of its point went way over my head.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: A Midsummer Tights Dream

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine where we spotlight books we can't wait for.

A Midsummer Tights Dream, by Louise Rennison
26 June 2012

The GoodReads summary:
It’s the hotly anticipated sequel to the winner of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, WITHERING TIGHTS – laugh your tights off as Tallulah Casey and her bonkers mates return for a new term at Dother Hall performing arts college. Boys, snogging and bad acting guaranteed!

Yaroooo! Tallulah’s triumphant Heathcliff in ‘Wuthering Heights’ the comedy musical was enough to secure her place at Dother Hall performing arts college for another term. She can’t wait to see her pals again, Charlie and the boys from Woolf Academy and maybe even bad boy Cain…

When an international visitor comes to stay could the bright lights of Broadway be calling? And for who? Find out in the next Misadventures of Tallulah Casey.

I LOVE the first book in this series--Withering Tights--so I seriously CANNOT wait for the next book! I need some more Tallulah time, STAT!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Review: Withering Tights

Withering Tights, by Louise Rennison. The summary:
Tallulah Casey is ready to find her inner artist. And some new mates. And maybe a boy or two or three.

The ticket to achieving these lofty goals? Enrolling in a summer performing arts program, of course. She's bound for the wilds of Yorkshire Dales—eerily similar to the windswept moors of Wuthering Heights. Tallulah expects new friends, less parental interference, and lots of drama. Acting? Tights? Moors? Check, check, check.

What she doesn't expect is feeling like a tiny bat's barging around in her mouth when she has her first snog.

Bestselling author Louise Rennison returns with her trademark wit, a hilarious new cast, and a brand-new cheeky heroine who is poised to discover plenty of opportunities for (mis)adventure!
Here’s the thing: I had really low expectations for this book. The cover is pretty lame, in my opinion, and the summary didn’t really grab my interest overly much. Then I realized that this book was by the same author as the Georgia Nicolson series (e.g. “Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging”), and my hopes were raised a tad. Then I actually started reading the book, and I found out it is freakin’ HILARIOUS. This book made me laugh out loud, which is not something I do often while reading books--smile? yes. giggle? sometimes--but this book had me full-out laughing.

There’s not that much plot, really. Tallulah goes to a performing arts school in rural Yorkshire for the summer, makes some friends, and crushes on some boys. That is essentially all that happens. But the thing is . . . it all happens so hilariously. Tallulah is a riot--it’s this combination of the things she says, what she does, and how she describes it that all come together and make for a really entertaining book. If you’ve read any of the Georgia Nicolson books, you can kinda guess what the humor in this book is like (they’re by the same author, after all), but I liked Tallulah way more than I ever liked Georgia. Georgia just got on my nerves, but Tallulah never did.

The only thing I can see that might turn people off from this book is the full-on British English going on. Seriously, sometimes I had no idea what Tallulah was even saying. She uses a lot of British slang, then there’s the Yorkshire dialect on top of that. But even when I didn’t understand exactly what she meant, I could get the general idea. Usually. Sometimes I just shrugged my shoulders and moved on. But the language added to the atmosphere of the book, and I ended really wanting to go to Yorkshire by the time I finished.

Overall, this is such a funny, entertaining book. The characters are totally likeable and easy to relate to. It’s the first in what I assume is going to be quite a long series, so there’s not a whole lot of plot or development going on, but I didn’t mind. I’m addicted to the series already, and now I have to wait until JUNE for the next book to come out in the U.S.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Favorites: Teen Idol

On Fridays I post a little shout out to one of my favorite books and explain why I love it so much. It gives me the chance to fangirl over books I never reviewed on this blog and lets me post about some non-YA books I love.

Which book?
Teen Idol, by Meg Cabot

Contemporary YA

Summary? (From GoodReads)
High school junior Jenny Greenley is so good at keeping secrets that she's the school newspaper's anonymous advice columnist. She's so good at it that, when hotter-than-hot Hollywood star Luke Striker comes to her small town to research a role, Jenny is the one in charge of keeping his identity under wraps. But Luke doesn't make it easy, and soon everyone—the town, the paparazzi, and the tabloids alike—know his secret...and Jenny is caught right in the middle of all the chaos.

When did I first read it?
Freshman year of college, I think—2005-ish.

Why did I first read it?
Because I adored Meg Cabot. At the time, she was the only YA author I knew of that wrote books I liked with characters I could relate to (obviously this was before my YA obsession hit), so she was basically an auto-buy at that point.

What did I think about it then?
I just wanted to be BFFs with Jenny. She’s good people, ya know? As much as I loved Cabot’s books, her characters had a tendency to grate on my nerves a bit, so I liked that Jenny didn’t annoy me at all. Plus, I liked that there was a bit of uncertainty about which boy she was going to end with. Basically, it was the perfect YA for me at the time.

What do I think about it now?
It’s still my favorite Meg Cabot book. And since Meg Cabot was essentially my introduction to YA, this book kinda represents the beginning of my YA obsession. But besides that, I still love the story, and Jenny remains my favorite Cabot heroine.

Have you read Teen Idol? What did you think? What’s your favorite Meg Cabot book?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Review: A Countess Below Stairs

A Countess Below Stairs, by Eva Ibbotson. The GoodReads summary:
After the Russian revolution turns her world topsy-turvy, Anna, a young Russian Countess, has no choice but to flee to England. Penniless, Anna hides her aristocratic background and takes a job as servant in the household of the esteemed Westerholme family, armed only with an outdated housekeeping manual and sheer determination.

Desperate to keep her past a secret, Anna is nearly overwhelmed by her new duties - not to mention her instant attraction to Rupert, the handsome Earl of Westerholme. To make matters worse, Rupert appears to be falling for her as well. As their attraction grows stronger, Anna finds it more and more difficult to keep her most dearly held secrets from unraveling. And then there's the small matter of Rupert's beautiful and nasty fiancée...
I’ve come to the conclusion that Ibbotson’s books are the perfect books to read aloud. I didn’t actually read “A Countess Below Stairs” out loud, but I was dying to the whole time. The writing and method of storytelling combine to make a book that practically screams be shared with someone else.

In all honestly, this book was really similar to “The Reluctant Heiress,” Ibbotson’s other book that I read recently. They’re both about impoverished heiresses who fall in love with rich guys who just happen to be already engaged to someone horrible. And yet, despite the fact that I felt like I was essentially reading the same book twice, I didn’t care. First of all, it’s a storyline that I adore, but second--and most of all--Ibbotson’s stories are so magical and her storytelling so deft that she could be writing the most cliché storyline ever and I wouldn’t even blink. She manages to totally transport me into the world of her stories, and minor grievances about plot or character don’t even register.

As in “The Reluctant Heiress,” one of the big strengths of “A Countess Below Stairs” was it’s secondary characters. They’re just so freakin’ awesome. They’re kind and quirky and hilarious, and reading about them makes me want to live their fairytale lives. And, oh my gosh, can I just say that my absolute favorite scene in the book takes place between two of the minor characters (Tom’s proposal to Susie, for any of you who’ve read it)--after I read that scene, I just wanted to clutch the book to my chest and sigh.

My ONLY complaint about the book was the fact that Rupert and Anna only have, like, two brief conversations before each deciding that they’re hopelessly in love with the other. But that’s it, and honestly, it didn’t bug me all that much.

Overall, I infinitely recommend this book. I honestly couldn’t say whether I liked this one or “The Reluctant Heiress” better--just thinking about either makes me smile. If forced, I might choose “The Reluctant Heiress,” but I have the feeling that it’s just because I read that one first.

Rating: 4.5/5

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: Unbreak My Heart

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine where we spotlight books we can't wait for.

Unbreak My Heart, by Melissa Walker
May 22, 2012

The GoodRead's summary:
Sophomore year broke Clementine Williams’ heart. She fell for her best friend’s boyfriend and long story short: he’s excused, but Clem is vilified and she heads into summer with zero social life. 

Enter her parents’ plan to spend the summer on their sailboat. Normally the idea of being stuck on a tiny boat with her parents and little sister would make Clem break out in hives, but floating away sounds pretty good right now. 

Then she meets James at one of their first stops along the river. He and his dad are sailing for the summer and he’s just the distraction Clem needs. Can he break down Clem’s walls and heal her broken heart? 

Told in alternating chapters that chronicle the year that broke Clem’s heart and the summer that healed it, Unbreak My Heart is a wonderful dual love story that fans of Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, and Susane Colasanti will flock to.

While I didn't fall totally in love with Melissa Walker's "Small Town Sinners," I did like the writing style and her way of telling a story--so I think I want to give this one a shot. The cover's not my favorite, but the summary sounds like just my kind of book.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Review: White Cat

White Cat, by Holly Black. The GoodReads summary:
The first in a trilogy, this gritty, fast-paced fantasy is rife with the unexpected. Cassel comes from a shady, magical family of con artists and grifters. He doesn't fit in at home or at school, so he's used to feeling like an outsider. He's also used to feeling guilty--he killed his best friend, Lila, years ago.

But when Cassel begins to have strange dreams about a white cat, and people around him are losing their memories, he starts to wonder what really happened to Lila. In his search for answers, he discovers a wicked plot for power that seems certain to succeed. But Cassel has other ideas--and a plan to con the conmen.
Reading this book was a slightly weird experience for me. I feel like I started reading it, then it just flew by, and it was over before I knew it. Usually I’m pretty aware of where I am in a book and how fast I’m reading it, but not with this one. It completely sucked me in a strange way--not strange in that it wasn’t a good book, just strange because it isn’t necessarily my normal kind of book. I feel like I’m totally rambling and not making sense here, so I’ll just skip on to the review.

I did really like the book. I really thought the whole curseworkers thing was well executed (there’s some small portion of the population that can work a very specific individual type of magic if they touch bare skin with their hands). I like how the author was able to make the curseworking such a normal part of the story’s society. It’s an alternative reality, but it felt like it could be real, and I really appreciate when an author is able to make something completely incredible completely credible.

For once, having a male narrator didn’t bother me (I KNOW. Alert the press!). I guess it was partly because Cassel just seemed like a normal, likeable guy, but it was probably mostly because I got so caught up in the story that I forgot to be annoyed that I was reading a book with a male main character. I just really got sucked in by all the curseworker/mob/con/family drama/mystery going on. In a vague way, it kind of reminded me of Heist Society/Uncommon Criminals, by Ally Carter. I think it was the whole con aspect. Except it’s more serious in this book; less . . . lighthearted, I guess.

I will admit that quite a few of the plot points were predictable, and I pretty much always could guess where the story was going and how. But I think it was all executed well enough that it didn’t bug me as much as it usually does.

Overall, I thought this book was really well done. I didn’t really know what to expect going in to in, but it ended up hitting the spot for me. I don’t even know what genre I would put it in--it’s kinda a drama-y/mystery-ish/magic-y story? Whatever. The point is, it was good, and if you looking for a break from the fluffier YAs, I’d definitely recommend this one. I might even read the sequel.

Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, March 5, 2012

Review: One Night That Changes Everything

One Night That Changes Everything, by Lauren Barnholdt. The GoodReads summary:
After learning her ex-boyfriend Cooper only dated her on a dare, Eliza Sellman makes awful allegations about him online. In retaliation, Cooper steals the notebook she writes all of her fears and goals in, and demands she do everything on her secret list--in one night.

This kind of book is such a guilty pleasure for me—you know, the YA contemporary romances that require absolutely no brain power? I just love them so much.

And this was a fun one. Eliza has to do some of the things she’s always wished she was brave enough to do over the course of the night, and as painful as it was for her, it was plenty entertaining for me. And Eliza was totally relatable, because her fears were so normal, like asking a stranger to dance or singing karaoke or kissing a boy she’d crushed on forever. They’re things that would make me nervous too, so it actually made me think a little about what things stupid fears are stopping me from doing.

Cooper, Eliza’s ex-boyfriend, is a cutie—kinda a little whipped but likeable all the same. He’s definitely one of those guys that could only exist in fiction. Eliza’s always yelling at him and trying to pick a fight, and I’m pretty sure not many normal guys would stick around for that. But in context of the story, I’ll admit he was a little swoony. And Eliza’s friends are fun too—they’re a little stereotypical, but they’re there for her and help her out, so I can overlook it.

Overall, it was a really entertaining book. Basically zero thought is required to read it, but who doesn’t need that kind of book every once in a while?

Rating: 3/5

Friday, March 2, 2012

Friday Favorites: The Secret Garden

On Fridays I post a little shout out to one of my favorite books and explain why I love it so much. It gives me the chance to fangirl over books I never reviewed on this blog and lets me post about some non-YA books I love.

Which book?
The Secret Garden, by Francis Hodgson Burnett


Summary? (From GoodReads)
This timeless classic is a poignant tale of Mary, a lonely orphaned girl sent to a Yorkshire mansion at the edge of a vast lonely moor. At first, she is frightened by this gloomy place until she meets a local boy, Dickon, who's earned the trust of the moor's wild animals, the invalid Colin, an unhappy boy terrified of life, and a mysterious, abandoned garden...

When did I first read it?
Elementary school

Why did I first read it?
I have no idea. I have a vague memory of it being a book that one of my older sisters liked, and thus I wanted to read it too--but that could be a total lie because I don’t actually remember. I do remember that I read it before I ever saw the movie, because I remember thinking that the book and movie were totally different.

What did I think about it then?
I thought the beginning was boring and that Mary and Colin were slightly annoying. But the mystery of it all more than made up for it--what was the cry in the night? why was the garden walled up? what happened to Colin’s mother? Plus, I though Dickon was the BEST. He’s super friendly, and he’s BFFs with tons of animals, and I totally remember wishing I could have a moor pony as a pet. Also, the book made me want to start a garden and get a robin as a friend.

What do I think about it now?
Well, I still adore Dickon. And I love the Yorkshire (I think?) accent that Dickon and his whole family have--if I could have any accent, I think I’d pick that one cuz it’s just so ridiculously awesome. I haven’t reread it in a WHILE, but I still consider it one of my favorite books just because I read it so often when I was growing up.

Have you read The Secret Garden? What did you think?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A ratings system . . . finally

After toying around with the idea for a WHILE, I've finally decided to add a ratings system to my reviews. From here on out, I'll rate books according to the following:
5 - I loved it with all my heart! It's one of my favorites!
4 - I really enjoyed it, and I'm definitely going to reread it!
3 - I liked it. I probably won't reread it, but I'd recommend it to others.
2 - I didn't like it, and I wouldn't recommend it.
1 - I absolutely hated it.
And 0.5s will be my in between ratings. So a really good 3 that's not quite a 4 will be 3.5.

Review: Blackbringer

Blackbringer (Dreamdark #1), by Laini Taylor. The GoodReads summary:
When the ancient evil of the Blackbringer rises to unmake the world, only one determined faerie stands in its way. However, Magpie Windwitch, granddaughter of the West Wind, is not like other faeries. While her kind live in seclusion deep in the forests of Dreamdark, she's devoted her life to tracking down and recapturing devils escaped from their ancient bottles, just as her hero, the legendary Bellatrix, did 25,000 years ago. With her faithful gang of crows, she travels the world fighting where others would choose to flee. But when a devil escapes from a bottle sealed by the ancient Djinn King himself, the creator of the world, she may be in over her head. How can a single faerie, even with the help of her friends, hope to defeat the impenetrable darkness of the Blackbringer?
So can I just say how surprisingly awesome this book is? The only reason I read it in the first place is because it’s by the same author as “Daughter of Smoke and Bone.” And I was really hesitant going in: I hadn’t heard anything about it and, let’s face it, faeries are so not my thing--especially when they’re of the small, winged variety. When I started the book, I honestly didn’t think I would finish it. The first hundred pages or so were really slow, and the faeries were annoying me. But then I hit a point (right around when Talon’s introduced) where I got totally sucked in. No joke. Who would’ve ever thought I’d get so invested in the fate of a bunch of faeries?

But here’s the thing: it turns out Magpie is freakin’ awesome. She may be tiny, but she’s brave and fierce and surprisingly hilarious. And Talon is the same. And so are the crows. And the slew of secondary characters are amazing as well. And the villain--it’s so perfectly evil.

And the book is really well paced. It’s 434 pages, which is much longer than books I usually like, but I didn’t even notice. The pages just kinda flew by. There’s action and fighting but just enough world building as well. The book reads more like a middle-grade, so there wasn’t overly much character development, but for once I didn’t mind--I was too sucked into Magpie’s quest.

And, being by Laini Taylor, the writing was, of course, so well done. She just has that little quirky flair to her writing that manages to not only unobtrusively tell the story but also to keep you smiling. And her characters speak in this cool little dialect; like they say “neh” instead of “no” and “teched” instead of “touched.” And they have their own swear words, like “skive”--which I fully intend to start using. I kinda imagined them sounding like a cross between Scottish and Australian.

Overall, I ended up loving this book way more than I ever thought I would. It’s just such a fun and exhilarating adventure. It’s one of those books that I could recommend to pretty much anyone of any age without worrying that they would find something offensive or objectionable about it. And, man, am I glad I already have the sequel sitting here just waiting for me to read it.
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