Friday, June 29, 2012

Friday Favorites: To Kill a Mockingbird

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?
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee


Summary? (From GoodReads)
Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning masterwork of honor and injustice in the deep South--and the heroism of one man in the face of blind and violent hatred.

One of the best-loved stories of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird has been translated into more than forty languages, sold more than thirty million copies worldwide, served as the basis of an enormously popular motion picture, and was voted one of the best novels of the twentieth century by librarians across the country.

A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father--a crusading local lawyer--risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.

When did I first read it?
Five years ago, I think.

Why did I first read it?
It was always one of those books that I’d heard about other people reading for school, but I was never assigned it, so I never read it in high school. But then I figured that I should see what all the hype was about, so in college I checked it out from the library. And discovered that all the hype is entirely, 100 percent merited.

What did I think about it then?
I fell in love with Scout immediately. She’s such a plucky little girl, so full of spunk, and I just loved her narrative voice. Then, as I got further and further into the story, I came to appreciate the plot too, and the message it was trying to get across. I was expecting the book to be all about racism, so I was intrigued to find that it’s also about growing up, family, friendship, and figuring out what you believe then standing up for it.

What do I think about it now?
I still adore this book so much, and I’ve reread it quite a few times. I just never get tired of Scout. And of course, there’s Atticus Finch, that epitome of a good man. I’m glad, though, that I read it when I was older and not when everyone else was being forced to read it for school. I think being forced to read this one would’ve ruined it for me—it would’ve taken away the wonder and the joy of discovering that this book was so much more than I anticipated.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Review: Graffiti Moon

Graffiti Moon, by Cath Crowley. The GoodReads summary:
It’s the end of Year 12. Lucy’s looking for Shadow, the graffiti artist everyone talks about.

His work is all over the city, but he is nowhere.

Ed, the last guy she wants to see at the moment, says he knows where to find him. He takes Lucy on an all-night search to places where Shadow’s thoughts about heartbreak and escape echo around the city walls.

But the one thing Lucy can’t see is the one thing that’s right before her eyes.
I’ll admit that I was pretty sure I was going to love this book before I even started reading it. I mean, it has an endorsement from MELINA MARCHETTA, for pete’s sake. How could it not be good? But as soon as I read this part on page 28, I knew that I was a goner and that there was no coming back: “Anyway. The night didn’t go so well because I broke his nose, which was an accident that happened when I hit him in the face because he touched my arse.” So perfect. See why I fell in love?

Lucy and Ed are some of my favorite protagonists I’ve met in a while. They’re quirky and funny and insightful, each battling their own insecurities and problems while trying to find someone who gets them. And I love their relationship—it’s definitely rocky at first, but as it slowly progresses into friendship, you can’t help rooting for it to develop into something more. And, yes, it does take place all in the space of one night, but the relationship feels real and believable and perfectly paced. I really don’t know how the author managed it, but I’m so happy she did.

The secondary characters are a blast. Lucy’s friend Jazz—the impulsive, fearless psychic—is my favorite of them. She jumps of the page and almost steals every scene she’s in. And I love how Ed and Lucy’s friends are just that—friends. Real friends. The kind who stick with you no matter what and only roll their eyes a little when you do something absolutely whacko.

I honestly didn’t want this book to end. I usually complain about books being too long, but this is one of the few that I wouldn’t have minded being longer. Lucy and Ed feel so real and dynamic, and I adore their narrative voices—the perfect blend of down-to-earth, hilarious, quirky, and insecure.

Overall, duh, I recommend this book. I feel like if Melina Marchetta and Gayle Forman teamed up to write “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist,” it might end up being kinda similar this book. But, as usual, no comparison between books really captures the book’s true spirit, so give this book a shot and see what you think.

Rating: 5 / 5

Monday, June 25, 2012

Review: Telesa: The Covenant Keeper

Telesa: The Covenant Keeper, by Lani Wendt Young. The GoodReads summary:
When Leila moves to her new home, all she wants is a family, a place to belong. Instead she discovers the local ancient myths of the telesa spirit women are more than just scary stories. The more she finds out about her heritage, the more sinister her new home turns out to be. Embraced by a Covenant Sisterhood of earth's elemental guardians - what will Leila choose? Her fiery birthright as a telesa? Or will she choose the boy who offers her his heart? Daniel - stamped with the distinctive tattoo markings of a noble Pacific warrior and willing to risk everything for the chance to be with her. Can their love stand against the Covenant Keeper?
I almost think the main character in the book was the setting—Samoa itself. The author writes about it so vividly and deftly, without getting bogged down in endless description. It’s clear that she knows what she’s writing about, and she did an outstanding job at writing about Samoa in a way that helps people not from there understand the culture and the unique things about it. And she did it in a way that felt neither condescending or like too much time was spent explaining. It’s clear the author loves the country, and that love was contagious.

The story itself was interesting and unique. Because it takes place in Samoa and uses that country’s mythology, the whole idea felt fresh and new. Everything was fascinating to me because I’d never read anything very much like it before. I loved the idea of the Telesa and their deep connection to the earth. And speaking of the Telesa (they’re kinda like femme fatale witches, only very connected to nature), I enjoyed how layered their characters were, especially the head Telesa. They were the antagonists of the story, yet it was so easy to understand their motivations and see that while their methods may have been wrong, the intent behind them stemmed from a love of their country, and that made it hard for me to hate them.

Leila, the main character, was a little hard for me to like at first. She’s initially very defensive and closed off and tends to blow up at people with little provocation. But since that all plays into Leila’s character development and into the development of her powers, once I got a third of the way in or so, she wasn’t bugging me anymore. Plus, I liked that she wasn't, well, white. I'll be the first to admit that I'm basically as white as they come, but I love it when YA characters have a little, you know, color to them.

My one niggling complaint about the book is the love triangle. Since it doesn’t really come into play until halfway through the book, I thought I’d get away without it having one. So I may have rolled my eyes a little when boy #2 came into the story. At least both boys are hot and genuinely nice guys. I legitimately wanted Leila to be with both. Although I have to say, I fell totally in lust with Daniel. Oh my gosh, that boy is fine. No wonder Leila is crazy attracted to him—he’s Samoan, hot (what is it about Polynesian boys that's so intrinsically attractive?), athletic, smart, responsible, kind . . . If Leila doesn’t end up with him, can I have him? Plus, I liked that although there was a love triangle, the author successfully steered away from any insta-love and made the relationships very believable.

Overall, this was a totally solid book. It was a little long, in my opinion, but looking back, I’m not really sure what parts the author could’ve cut out. So, yes, if you’re looking for a YA paranormal that departs from the run-of-the-mill, give this one a shot. I know I already mentioned how much I loved the setting and culture, but I'll say it again--I loved it. I really don't know why there isn't more of a market for Pacific Islander/Polynesian/non-American YA books if Telesa is at all a representative example.

Rating: 4 / 5

Received for review

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Review: A Company of Swans

A Company of Swans, by Eva Ibbotson. The GoodReads review:
For nineteen-year-old Harriet Morton, life in 1912 Cambridge is as dry and dull as a biscuit. Her stuffy father and her opressive aunt Louisa allow her only one outlet: ballet. When a Russian ballet master comes to class searching for dancers to fill the corps of his ballet company before their South American tour, Harriet's world changes. Defying her father's wishes and narrowly escaping the clutches of the man who wishes to marry her, Harriet sneaks off to join the ballet on their journey to the Amazon. There, in the wild, lush jungle, they perform Swan Lake in grand opera houses for the wealthy and culture-deprived rubber barons, and Harriet meets Rom Verney, the handsome and mysterious British exile who owns the most ornate opera house. Utterly enchanted by both the exotic surroundings and by Rom's affections, Harriet is swept away by her new life, completely unaware that her father and would-be fiancé have begun to track her down...
Sadly (at least for me—it’s probably “happily” for you stalwart readers who’ve slogged through all my Ibbotson fangirling), this is my last Eva Ibbotson review. I’ve finally made it through all her books (at least, all her non-children’s ones). But really, since all good things must come to an end and all that, I’m really glad that A Company of Swans was my last Ibbotson book. It was such a perfect way to finish off.

Because this book was about ballet, and I’m secretly totally in love with ballet. It’s just so beautiful and graceful and really, really impressive. And Ibbotson describes ballet perfectly—she captures the grace and the passion, the etherealness and the hard work. I felt like I was touring with the company and watching the performances, all through the deftness of the author’s description.

As with Ibbotson’s other books, she gets the characterization down perfectly. She uses a light and humorous hand when it comes to developing her characters, but by the end, you feel like you know them. And more than that, like you want to be their friend. Harriet and Rom are one of my favorite Ibbotson couples—their romance is just sappy and dramatic enough to make you sigh without crossing the line into ridiculousness. And for once, Ibbotson manages to have some characters without redeeming qualities! Usually, her characters, no matter how grouchy or misguided, have some element of goodness to them—even if it’s buried deep down—but Harriet’s father and aunt were completely horrid. As much as it caught me off guard to find that in an Ibbotson book, it was honestly also a little refreshing.

It was also totally awesome that this book takes place in Brazil. Ibbotson is a master at capturing scenery—but typically her books take place in Austria or England. So it was fun to see her successfully tackle the lush tropics of Brazil.

I think what stands out to me overall about Ibbotson’s books—this one included—is their sense of optimism. And not only optimism about the big things—that everything will work out in the end—but about the small things as well. That there’s joy to be found in the simple and mundane, and that with the right perspective the everyday things can bring more happiness and contentment than grand gestures or big events. It's a lesson worth learning, and Ibbotson teaches it subtly yet powerfully.

Overall, as with all of Ibbotson’s books, I recommend this one whole heartedly. I have a terrible time trying to pick a favorite Ibbotson book, but this one is definitely in the running. I’ll be re-reading it for sure.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Monday, June 18, 2012

Review: Touch of Power

Touch of Power, by Maria V. Snider. The GoodReads summary:
Laying hands upon the injured and dying, Avry of Kazan absorbs their wounds and diseases into herself. But rather than being honored for her skills, she is hunted. Healers like Avry are accused of spreading the plague that has decimated the Fifteen Realms, leaving the survivors in a state of chaos.

Stressed and tired from hiding, Avry is abducted by a band of rogues who, shockingly, value her gift above the golden bounty offered for her capture. Their leader, an enigmatic captor-protector with powers of his own, is unequivocal in his demands: Avry must heal a plague-stricken prince—leader of a campaign against her people. As they traverse the daunting Nine Mountains, beset by mercenaries and magical dangers, Avry must decide who is worth healing and what is worth dying for. Because the price of peace may well be her life...
This book was surprisingly good but not surprisingly great. I mean, it was definitely better than I thought it would be, but it didn’t quite manage to awe me.

In the fantasy genre, I tend to gravitate towards books with a band of friends on a quest to save the kingdom—with a substantial dash of romance thrown in, of course. And since Touch of Power was that type of book, I liked it in that regard. I also loved the secondary characters in the group of friends and thought they really rounded out story and were hilarious to boot.

For some reason, I was expecting insta-love and love triangles in this book, so I was relieved to discover that there was neither. Avry and Kerrick have a very slow relationship—it’s one of those where they start off hating each other then gradually get to know each other better. I usually like that kind of romance, and I mostly did in this book, but I also felt like the shift was a little too abrupt from hating to liking. It’s like all of a sudden they’re in love, and I was just like, “Wait. What? Why?” I needed a little more proof that they actually had a reason for their feelings to change.

I liked the idea of the storyline and thought the whole thing with the life and death lilies was really unique, but the execution of the plot was a little lacking, in my opinion. It just wasn’t quite tight or seamless enough for me to really get sucked in. The one thing that legitimately bugged me was the dialog—it had a tendency to feel too modern. Like the speech patterns and some of the vocab didn’t seem to really jive with the medieval setting the book ostensibly takes place in, so it tended to be jarring for me.

Overall, I thought this was a decent book, but it didn’t quite wow me. The basic ideas and characters were interesting, but the book wasn’t enough to really hook me.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Review: Belles

Belles, by Jen Calonita. The GoodReads summary:
Fifteen-year-old Isabelle Scott loves her life by the boardwalk on the supposed wrong side of the tracks in North Carolina. But when tragedy strikes, a social worker sends her to live with a long-lost uncle and his preppy privileged family. Isabelle is taken away from everything she’s ever known, and, unfortunately, inserting her into the glamorous lifestyle of Emerald Cove doesn’t go so well. Her cousin Mirabelle Monroe isn’t thrilled to share her life with an outsider, and, in addition to dealing with all the rumors and backstabbing that lurk beneath their classmates’ Southern charm, a secret is unfolding that will change both girls’ lives forever.
I started to write this review and was pretty much failing hard core, so I’m just going with a list, mkay?

-Two-point perspective: You get to see things from both Mira and Izzy’s point of view, which ends up making both characters pretty likeable. If the book had been from just one point of view or the other, I think the other girl (especially Mira) would’ve ended up being the bad guy, but hearing both girls’ perspectives helps you understand why each is acting the way they are and why there’s conflict between them.
-Lifestyles of the rich and the famous: Mira’s family is RICH, and everyone at the school is the same, so I was totally and completely fascinated, as I always am in these Gossip Girl type situations. Plus, Mira’s dad is a politician, so it made for even more intrigue and drama.
-Girls with hobbies: Izzy swims and Mira paints, and I can definitely get onboard with girls who actually have interests outside of boys.
-Savannah: I just love to hate her. She’s such a mean person. Seriously. But I think her character is written really well, and she makes a great antagonist.

-The secret: The big family secret is SO obvious from the very beginning. I would’ve appreciated a little more subtlety.
-The ending: Mira doesn’t get any resolution to her storyline—probably because this is the first in a series, but still, I wanted her to have some closure too.
-The series: Seriously, I don’t know why this is going to be series. It could’ve been perfectly wrapped up in one book, so I have no idea why the author is stretching the story out more than it needs to be.

Rating 3.5 / 5

Monday, June 11, 2012

Review: The Beginning of After

The Beginning of After, by Jennifer Castle. The GoodReads summary:
Sixteen-year-old Laurel’s world changes instantly when her parents and brother are killed in a terrible car accident. Behind the wheel is the father of her bad-boy neighbor, David Kaufman, whose mother is also killed. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Laurel navigates a new reality in which she and her best friend grow apart, boys may or may not be approaching her out of pity, overpowering memories lurk everywhere, and Mr. Kaufman is comatose but still very much alive. Through it all, there is David, who swoops in and out of Laurel’s life and to whom she finds herself attracted against her better judgment. She will forever be connected to him by their mutual loss, a connection that will change them both in unexpected ways.
This book was way more solid than I was expecting. I don’t know why, but for some reason I thought it would end up being a superficial treatment of grief or that the romance would take over, but neither was true. I think this is pretty realistic portrayal of the grieving process someone would go through if they lost their whole family. Obviously, it was a pretty serious book, but it wasn’t a total downer or anything. Laurel’s growth is inspiring to see, and the book ultimately ends up being quite hopeful.

I also really liked that you get to see two different methods of grieving: Laurel for her family and David for his. They both deal with the grief in very different ways, but you never get the sense that the author is condemning one or the other. It feels more like a message that everyone deals with hardship and sadness in their own ways. I also liked that Laurel and David were eventually able to get to a place emotionally where they could help and support each other—where they can give each other advice that matters. I thought it was quite touching, actually.

One other thing I appreciated was the slow arc of Laurel and David’s relationship. It’s slow and rocky and realistic—and I thought it felt particularly well-paced. And although there’s a bit of a love triangle going on, it didn’t bother me. Maybe because it seemed to me that Laurel really didn’t know which boy was best for her—they each have their strengths and weaknesses. I feel like usually in love triangles, one of the boys is clearly better for the girl than the other, but that’s not the case here. Both David and Joe have things to offer Laurel that she needs or wants, so it’s a legitimately complicated choice, and I didn’t feel like she was playing one against the other or taking advantage of the situation or being dishonest with either boy.

The only thing that struck me as strange about the book was that although David’s mom dies in the crash along with Laurel’s family, everyone in the town seems to forget that fact. Everyone is always commiserating with Laurel and wanting to commemorate her family, but no one seems to remember David’s mother—which I thought was rather sad, even if it wasn’t intentionally done by the author.

Overall, I think this is a worthwhile book to read about the grieving process. It has a lot of good things going for it and deals with the sad and hard things without getting too depressing.

Rating: 3.5 /5

Monday, June 4, 2012

Review: A Song for Summer

A Song for Summer, by Eva Ibbotson. The GoodReads summary:
Ellen never expected the Hallendorf school to be quite so unusual. Her life back in England with her suffragette mother and liberated aunts certainly couldn't be called normal, but buried deep in the beautiful Austrian countryside, Ellen discovers an eccentric world occupied by wild children and even wilder teachers, experimental dancers and a tortoise on wheels. And then there is the particularly intriguing, enigmatic, and very handsome Marek, part-time gardener and fencing teacher. Ellen is instantly attracted to the mysterious gardener, but Hitler's Reich is already threatening their peaceful world, and only when she discovers Marek's true identity and his dangerous mission does Ellen realize the depth of her feelings for him - and the danger their newfound love faces in the shadow of war.
Oh, Eva Ibbotson. How do you craft such perfect stories? Seriously. I don’t know how she manages it every single time. Like its title implies, A Song for Summer is a warm and comfortable story. It isn’t about intense character development or gritty realism—it’s about the joy of the simple things in life and the beauty of quiet kindness. Ibbotson’s stories always feel like fairy tales to me, even though they take place in the real world—I think it’s the way even the small things feel magical in her deft storytelling.

I think A Song for Summer is one of my favorite Ibbotson books so far. I just love Ellen so much. She’s unobtrusive and not showy at all, but she holds everyone together. She’s that kind of person that people can’t help loving because she truly cares about others and helps them in quiet but necessary ways. Ellen has a subtle strength and dedication that carries her through all kinds of hardships, and I really admire pretty much everything about her.

I really like Merek too. From the moment I learned that he built a wheeled platform to take the place of a crippled tortoise’s hind legs, I knew he was going to get on my good side. And I really appreciated that as wonderful as Merek is, he isn’t perfect. He lets his pride and his anger get the best of him sometimes, but he always manages to pull himself back together nonetheless.

And of course, as in all Ibbotson books, the secondary characters were fantastic. All the kids and the staff at the crazy boarding school, the villagers, the musicians—they practically jumped off the page. And the setting is beautiful. Reading this book, I was reminded how skilled Ibbotson is at making you feel like you’re in the same gorgeous Austrian countryside as her characters. I so want to live in an Ibbotson book—they’re just so . . . idyllic.

Overall, of course I recommend this book. If it’s an Ibbotson book, it’s impossible to go wrong. I do feel like Ibbotson lost her grip on the story a little in the last fourth, because she’s trying to cover so much time in a short number of pages. But considering the awesomeness of the rest of the book, I can overlook it.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Friday, June 1, 2012

Friday Favorites: The Book of Bright Ideas

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?
The Book of Bright Ideas, by Sandra Kring


Summary? (From GoodReads)
Wisconsin, 1961. Evelyn “Button” Peters is nine the summer Winnalee and her fiery-spirited older sister, Freeda, blow into her small town–and from the moment she sees them, Button knows this will be a summer unlike any other.

Much to her mother’s dismay, Button is fascinated by the Malone sisters, especially Winnalee, a feisty scrap of a thing who carries around a shiny silver urn containing her mother’s ashes and a tome she calls “The Book of Bright Ideas.” It is here, Winnalee tells Button, that she records everything she learns: her answers to the mysteries of life. But sometimes those mysteries conceal a truth better left buried. And when a devastating secret is suddenly revealed, dividing loyalties and uprooting lives, no one–from Winnalee and her sister to Button and her family–will ever be the same.

When did I first read it?
Three years ago

Why did I first read it?
In my fiction editing class, we had to pick some books that we wouldn’t usually read. The girl sitting next to me picked this one and liked it, so I decided to give it a try.

What did I think about it then?
I immediately loved the narrator—9-year-old Button. She reminded me a little of how I was as a child—quiet, reserved, shy—so I connected with her. But I think what I liked the most about the book was that it had a happy ending. I wasn’t at all sure through most of the book that everything was going to work out, so when it did, I was so relieved. I also really loved watching Button’s parents fall in love with each other again—it was so sweet.

What do I think about it now?
This is one of those books that I can honestly say changed my life. There’s a line in it that goes, “Don’t judge people for what they’re doing until you know why they’re doing it,” and that completely altered the way I interact with people. When I get frustrated with people, that quote inevitably pops into my head and reminds me that I don’t know everything.

Have you read this book? What did you think?
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