Monday, December 30, 2013

Favorite Books of 2013

It’s that time of year again—when I try to decide which books I liked best this year. I’ve divided my list into YA and non-YA lists, and I didn’t make any distinction between books that came out this year and books that were published in previous years that I read this year. The lists aren’t really in any particular order, though I did try to put the books I loved the absolute most towards the top. So here we go:

Top 10 YAs of 2013
-Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell
-Dark Triumph, by Robin LaFevers
-Dream Thieves, by Maggie Stiefvater
-Tiger Lily, by Jodi Lynn Anderson
-Green Heart, by Alice Hoffman
-This Is Not a Test, by Courtney Summers
-Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
-Sabriel, by Garth Nix
-The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black
-The Taming of Tights, by Louise Rennison

Top 5 Non-YAs of 2013
-The Chocolate Kiss, by Laura Florand
-The Chocolate Touch, by Laura Florand
-Unsticky, by Sarra Manning
-Mercy Thompson series, by Patricia Briggs
-Lord of Scoundrels, by Loretta Chase

What books were your favorites this year?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Review: The Adoration of Jenna Fox

The Adoration of Jenna Fox, by Mary E. Pearson. The Goodreads summary:
Who is Jenna Fox? Seventeen-year-old Jenna has been told that is her name. She has just awoken from a coma, they tell her, and she is still recovering from a terrible accident in which she was involved a year ago. But what happened before that? Jenna doesn't remember her life. Or does she? And are the memories really hers?

This fascinating novel represents a stunning new direction for acclaimed author Mary Pearson. Set in a near future America, it takes readers on an unforgettable journey through questions of bio-medical ethics and the nature of humanity. Mary Pearson's vividly drawn characters and masterful writing soar to a new level of sophistication.
This book was pretty much nothing like I expected. In a good way. I was expecting this to be an action-y dystopian where after Jenna discovers the truth about her accident, she teams up with some friends, takes on the establishment, and ends up saving the world. I don’t know why I was expecting that, but I was. Seriously, through the entire book I kept waiting for the story to take that turn, and it never did.

Instead, what I ended up getting was a much more reflective book. Not reflective in a slow way, because Jenna keeps discovering new secrets right and left and that keeps the story going at a pretty fast clip. But reflective in that it’s a book that brings up issues that make you think. Like about what it means to be a human and what determines identity and worth. It also makes you think about medical advances and if it’s possible to go too far to save someone. And those are just the bigger questions—there are so many smaller ones it brings up as well.

So the majority of the book is Jenna trying to figure out her own answers to those questions. And trying to navigate the new relationship dynamics in her life—with her parents, with her grandmother, and with her newfound friends. I was really impressed with the way the author explored Jenna’s complicated relationship with her family. It was deftly done, and her family was really well-layered. Especially her parents. It would have been so easy to portray them as the bad guys, but instead Mary Pearson shows you not only their mistakes and struggles, but their intense, unwavering love for Jenna as well.

Overall, the book was really well done. It’s not big on action and adventure—in fact, like 90 percent of the book takes place at Jenna’s house. But despite that, it’s not a slow or boring book at all. There’s too much going on psychologically for that. So if you want a book that will give you things to mull over even after you’ve finished reading it, give this one a try.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, December 9, 2013

Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black. The Goodreads summary:
Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a wholly original story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from bestselling and acclaimed author Holly Black.
I wouldn’t classify myself as a vampire fan in general. Obviously, there are some exceptions (“Sunshine” and the Vampire Academy/Bloodlines series being the ones that most immediately spring to mind), but usually, when I find out a book’s about vampires, that’s something that tends to make me more skeptical of it rather than excited for it. But you see, this vampire book’s by Holly Black. I mean, come on. Holly Black. Plus, it had one of my favorite titles of the year going for it. So moral of the story, I decided to read it. And I loved it.

It’s just . . . edgy and dark and a little gory and basically everything I wanted a YA vampire book to be. It starts out with Tana waking up at a party where essentially everyone but her has been murdered, if that gives you any idea of the kind of book we’re dealing with. And Tana is not a bright and happy character, even before everything goes wrong, and as the book progresses she only gets tougher and more and more bad-A. She’s a character whose almost impenetrable emotional armor could easily rub me the wrong way, but for some reason, it never did. I liked her even when she was doing things that had me practically shrieking, “Don’t do it, Tana!” I think it’s because even when she was doing things that were basically suicidal, she was doing them with a purpose and with her eyes open and not because she’s naïve or dumb.

Also, Gavriel. Well, all the vampires really, but mostly Gavriel. I mostly just kind of really love him. He’s so much of a mystery at first, which is probably what sucked me in, and on top of that he’s dark and dangerous and there’s no mistaking him for a pseudo-bad boy with a heart of gold. His heart is dark and his badness goes perilously close to the bone. But it doesn’t go quite all the way there, which is what makes him so fascinating to me—those moments when you see that his morals may be horribly twisted, but they still, just barely, remain morals.

The only thing that didn’t work as well for me was that there was no clear plot direction. Tana is taking things one day—one hour, really—at a time and doesn’t have any particular goals. She’s just trying to stay alive. And so the reader has to take things step by step along with her, not having any clues about what is going to ultimately happen. And for me, without a definite direction, the story felt a little, well, directionless at times.

Overall, an engrossing read. This isn’t a light-hearted book by any means, but if you’re in the mood for something a little darker, I totally recommend it.

Rating: 4 / 5

Monday, December 2, 2013

Review: The Burning Sky

The Burning Sky, by Sherry Thomas. The Goodreads summary:
Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she's being told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of The Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the greatest mage tyrant the world has ever known. A suicide task for anyone let alone a sixteen-year-old girl with no training, facing a prophecy that foretells a fiery clash to the death.

Prince Titus of Elberon has sworn to protect Iolanthe at all costs but he's also a powerful mage committed to obliterating the Bane to avenge the death of his family—even if he must sacrifice both Iolanthe and himself to achieve his goal.

But Titus makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the Bane closing in, he must choose between his mission and her life.
So . . . this book. There were a lot of really awesome things about it that I enjoyed a lot. Buuuuut, I don’t know, overall it fell a little flat for me.

First, the awesome things. I enjoyed the two-worlds thing it had going on. One world is full on fantasy, with magicians and dragons and magic books, and the other is Victorian England, with Eton and cricket and tea, and the characters travel back and forth between the two. I tended to enjoy the parts that took place in the “real” world more, maybe because I liked how sneaky and clandestine Titus’s and Iolanthe’s magic felt in that context. But the “magic” world with its political scheming had its draw too, and I especially liked the parts where the two worlds overlapped.

Another awesome thing was that Iolanthe is disguised as a boy for most of the book. I don’t know why, but I’m a total sucker for this type of storyline. And Iolanthe pulls of being a boy with a confidence and panache that I adored. To be honest, I kind of liked Iolanthe better as Fairfax the boy than I liked her as herself, maybe because I felt as Fairfax she had more personality.

I also liked the endnotes that popped up throughout the book. There’s another thing that gets me every time—footnotes in fiction. I appreciated the background and context they gave the story and that they prevented long explanations from slowing down the story itself.

But here’s where the book didn’t work for me. None of the characters stood out to me. With the exception as Iolanthe playing Fairfax, they all felt a bit on the blah side. There didn’t seem to be any real depth or personality to even Titus and Iolanthe, and so I had a hard time truly caring about them.

Similarly, I didn’t buy Titus and Iolanthe’s romance. As friends they have great chemistry—they can banter with the best of them. But I didn’t buy their romantic relationship. It always seemed to crop up at random moments, and I didn’t feel like there was a steady build of romantic chemistry or tension.

Overall, the book was pretty great in some areas and a little lacking in others. Looking back, I think my biggest problem with the book as a whole was that it felt choppy and episodic rather than seamless (though that may be partly due to the fact that I didn’t have much free time and had to read this book in small snatches over the course of two weeks). But I in general I did have a good time.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, November 25, 2013

Audiobook Review: Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. Narrated by Natalie Moore. The Goodreads summary:
When you don't talk, there's a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said. Harsh words indeed, from Brian Nelson of all people. But, D.J. can't help admitting, maybe he's right. When you don't talk, there's a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said. Stuff like why her best friend, Amber, isn't so friendly anymore. Or why her little brother, Curtis, never opens his mouth. Why her mom has two jobs and a big secret. Why her college-football-star brothers won't even call home. Why her dad would go ballistic if she tried out for the high school football team herself. And why Brian is so, so out of her league. When you don't talk, there's a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said. Welcome to the summer that fifteen-year-old D.J. Schwenk of Red Bend, Wisconsin, learns to talk, and ends up having an awful lot of stuff to say.

This book was better than I expected. Which considering my expectations were fairly low, that doesn’t necessarily mean much. Except, it turns out this book is completely adorable. Like, SO adorable. But more than that, it manages to take on the issues that come with growing up in a way that feels real without being depressing or heavy-handed.

DJ is kind of my hero. She’s just all kinds of awesome. Her life seems like it sucks: she’s pretty much shouldering all the work on her family’s dairy farm, her older brothers aren’t speaking to the rest of the family, her dad’s health is affecting her school life, and she has to spend time training Brian Nelson, the quarterback at a rival high school. But DJ takes it all head on, and she never gets negative about her situation. Yes, she’s unhappy and unsatisfied at times, but she’s too resilient to let it keep her down. One of the other things that I love about DJ is that she’s never ashamed of where she comes from. She’s from a struggling farm in a poor town, but she never has anything mean or denigrating to say about them.

I really appreciated that the focus of this book wasn’t on romance. Yes, DJ and Brian have a little something going on, but the story was more about DJ learning how to communicate about things that matter and figuring out what she wants. Usually I’m all about the romance, but I think a heavier emphasis on it would’ve detracted from this story. Plus, honestly, Brian is a bit of a douche. A douche with redeeming qualities, yes, but douche all the same. And knowing that about Brian, I was a little worried about how things would work out between him and DJ in the end, but I can happily say that I liked where their relationship was when the book was over.

As for things specific to the audiobook, I loved the narrator, Natalie Moore. I felt like she was spot on in her portrayal of DJ, and to put things over the top, she even did this Wisconsin accent that was 100 percent fantastic. That accent somehow made DJ even more DJ than she would’ve been if I had just been reading this book in my head.

Overall, a great book and a great audiobook as well. I really liked that the book dealt with a variety of issues but didn’t bite off more than it could chew, so I ended the book feeling totally satisfied. I just discovered on Goodreads that there are two more books in the series, so I’ll be snapping those up for sure. I totally recommend this book, especially to fans of the Ruby Oliver series.

Rating: 4 / 5

Monday, November 4, 2013

Review: Fangirl

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell. The Goodreads summary:
Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
Hooray for rock-solid contemporary YAs. Or I guess, technically, this is New Adult. But either way, it was pretty dang good. Everyone told me that it was, and I was excited to read it, but I was a little afraid that I would end up being that one person who wasn’t impressed. Happily that wasn’t the case, and I loved this book from the first page.

One of the things I appreciated most about this book is how well rounded it felt. Like, it wasn’t just about Cath’s relationship with Levi. It was also about her relationship with her sister and her father and her mother, as well as her relationship with her writing and her own anxieties. And I just really liked how balanced it all felt, like all the different aspects got just the right amount of time. I’ll admit I was surprised that the mother aspect didn’t play a bigger part, but I mean that as more of an observation than a critique.

Cath was a character I could relate to. She’s introverted and more comfortable with words than people, and I really felt for her each time she was in a situation that made her feel insecure or uncomfortable. And although Cath is standoffish towards the other characters in the book, I never felt like she was pushing me away as a reader—I wanted to be with her every step of the way.

Levi is one of those balls of exuberance and joy that are always so refreshing to find in YA/NA. He’s just so nice and so good to and for Cath. But at the same time, he doesn’t feel unrealistic. He’s not perfect, and that makes me like him even more. Plus, he had my favorite line from the book: “Are you rooting for me? Are you hoping I pull this off?” Swoon.

Baz and Simon—I was pretty much as invested in their story as I was in the main story. They’re both characters in a series of books that Cath loves, and interspersed throughout “Fangirl” are excerpts both from Cath’s fan fiction as well as from the “real” books that these characters come from. I was a little unsure at first how well these Simon and Baz excerpts would integrate with the main story, but I quickly forgot that worry. Because even though Baz is in love with Simon, I’m in love with Baz. I kind of really wish Cath’s Carry On, Simon story really existed so I could read all of it instead of just excerpts.

The one thing I wasn’t crazy about in “Fangirl” was the ending. It felt a little anti-climactic to me. Not that I was expecting huge action or something. I just mean that I was expecting it to end with a strong Cath and Levi scene, but instead it ended with two story excerpts, so I didn’t realize I’d hit the end until I was already there, and that always leaves me feeling a little restless—like there should’ve been more.

Overall, one of the better YA/NAs I’ve read this year. Except for that minor complaint about the ending (which admittedly was probably the fault of my own misguided expectations), I was impressed with how well done it all was. And did I mention it has a ridiculously adorable and perfect cover? It’s hands down my favorite cover so far this year.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Monday, October 28, 2013

Review: The Taming of the Tights

The Taming of the Tights (Misadventures of Tallulah Casey #3), by Louise Rennison. The goodreads summary:
Gadzooks! It's another term at Dother Hall for Tallulah and her mates. But can they keep their minds on the arts with all those boys about?... After the thing-that-will-never-be-mentioned last term, Tallulah is keen to put all thoughts of Cain behind her. But that seems like that the last thing he wants. Their performing arts college may have been saved by Honey's mystery benefactor, but for how long is anyone's guess. So will Tallulah finally get to wear those golden slippers of applause or will Dr Lightowler swoop down on her glory days? And with Seth and Flossie forever snogging, Vaisey and Jack loved-up and Phil and Jo fondly biffing each other can Tallulah resist the call of her wild boy? Don your craziest tights and Irish dance your way to some surprising and hilariously unexpected answers...
I love this series. I really do. It’s pretty much become my go-to for when I need something that will make me laugh without requiring any brain power. Tallulah’s just so great. I love how un-angsty she is—she’s genuine and innocent and fairly naïve, and while those things don’t always work for me, they work for me here because Tallulah is straight up hilarious, and I adore her optimism and how she’s not the moody, annoying type of teenager. I cannot stop smiling when I read these books. Especially any scene that involves her knees (I know that sounds weird, but trust me, Tallulah’s knees are the best).

This third book is about the same quality as the second, which is to say not as good as the first book but still pretty great. In this book, Tallulah is sorting out her feelings about Charlie and Cain, while trying to figure out why Dr. Lightowler hates her. Not to mention she’s also still trying to redeem herself after the Sugar Plum Bikey fiasco. For the whole Charlie vs. Cain thing, I know I’m probably supposed to like Charlie the best, but really, I’m all for Cain. I mean, come on—Tallulah calls him the “Dark Black Crow of Heckmondwhite.” How am I supposed to resist that? Especially considering the fact that he opens up for a brief moment in this book, and we get to see a little bit of who he is behind that cocky bad-boy exterior.

Tallulah’s group of friends remains as awesome as ever, with Ruby, as usual, being my favorite of the bunch. How a 11-year-old can be so cool, I don’t know. But when I grow up, I want to have as much spunk and “Northern Grit” as Ruby.

Overall, a lot of fun. A good way to amuse yourself for a couple of hours when you’ve got nothing else going on.

Rating: 4 / 5

Monday, October 21, 2013

Review: The Sea of Tranquility

The Sea of Tranquility, by Katja Millay. The Goodreads summary:
Former piano prodigy Nastya Kashnikov wants two things: to get through high school without anyone learning about her past and to make the boy who took everything from her—her identity, her spirit, her will to live—pay.

Josh Bennett’s story is no secret: every person he loves has been taken from his life until, at seventeen years old, there is no one left. Now all he wants is be left alone and people allow it because when your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space.

Everyone except Nastya, the mysterious new girl at school who starts showing up and won’t go away until she’s insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. But the more he gets to know her, the more of an enigma she becomes. As their relationship intensifies and the unanswered questions begin to pile up, he starts to wonder if he will ever learn the secrets she’s been hiding—or if he even wants to.

The Sea of Tranquility is a rich, intense, and brilliantly imagined story about a lonely boy, an emotionally fragile girl, and the miracle of second chances.
My feelings for this book are a bit mixed. On the one hand, I thought it was well-written and readable, which was a good thing considering it’s longer than most other contemporary YAs. It also sucked me in for the most part, and I had a hard time putting it down because I wanted to find out the truth behind what happened in Nastya’s past and what was going to happen between Nastya and Josh in the present.

Buuuut . . . there were some things that didn’t work so well for me. Like, I never felt much of a connection to either Josh or Nastya. They’re both standoffish characters, and I felt like not only did they push away other people in the book, but they also pushed me away as a reader. I felt bad for them, sure, but I didn’t really empathize with them much despite all the crappy things they go through. I will admit, however, that their relationship did give me some butterflies towards the end because it was done pretty well.

I also struggled with some of the more minor parts of the book. Like, for instance, where were the parental figures in this book? I just had a hard time believing that Nastya’s parents were okay with sending their traumatized daughter to go live with an aunt who’s never home and doesn’t seem to care overly much what Nastya’s up to. I also had a hard time with (Spoilers) the fact that after Nastya gets attacked at the party, everyone seems to shrug it off like it’s no big deal. I mean, she almost is raped, and no one seems to think anything of it. I also thought it was a little weird that there was never any resolution with Nastya and playing the piano, considering what a big role it had in her former life. I guess I just expected that particular storyline to go somewhere. (End spoilers)

Overall, the book had its good points and its not-so-good points, but in general, I think the good outweighed the bad. It’s not a book I’d recommend to everyone, because it deals with some pretty heavy emotional issues, as well as with teen drinking, drug use, and sex. But if that stuff doesn’t bother you, I’d say go for it.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, October 14, 2013

Review: Shadows

Shadows, by Robin McKinley. The Goodreads summary:
Maggie knows something’s off about Val, her mom’s new husband. Val is from Oldworld, where they still use magic, and he won’t have any tech in his office-shed behind the house. But—more importantly—what are the huge, horrible, jagged, jumpy shadows following him around? Magic is illegal in Newworld, which is all about science. The magic-carrying gene was disabled two generations ago, back when Maggie’s great-grandmother was a notable magician. But that was a long time ago.

Then Maggie meets Casimir, the most beautiful boy she has ever seen. He’s from Oldworld too—and he’s heard of Maggie’s stepfather, and has a guess about Val’s shadows. Maggie doesn’t want to know . . . until earth-shattering events force her to depend on Val and his shadows. And perhaps on her own heritage.

In this dangerously unstable world, neither science nor magic has the necessary answers, but a truce between them is impossible. And although the two are supposed to be incompatible, Maggie’s discovering the world will need both to survive.
Here’s something I hope you know about me by now: Robin McKinley is one of my favorite authors. Ever. I’ve read everything she’s written at least twice, and some of her books I’ve reread more times than I can count. So from the first page of “Shadows,” I fell right back in with McKinley’s writing style, and even though this book came out just a couple weeks ago, it immediately felt comforting and familiar.

Of the books McKinley’s written, I think “Shadows” is most closely related in style to “Dragonhaven” and “Sunshine” in that it takes place in an equivalent to the modern word and is written in the first person. McKinley’s books are always sneakily funny, but I feel like whenever she writes in the first person, the humor is given a bit more free reign through the narrative voice. And Maggie in this book is pretty dang funny. She’s a bit snarky and sarcastic and just generally made me smile. She didn’t quite grab me as much as McKinley’s protagonists usually do, but I liked her all the same.

Can I just take a little sidebar here and give a thumbs up for the way McKinley writes about dogs? I swear the dogs in her books are as much characters as anyone else, and Mongo in this book is no exception. McKinley portrayal of him is so spot on and vivid that half the time I expected to look down and see Mongo curled up by my feet. By the time I finished “Shadows,” I was three-fourths of the way convinced that maybe I really am a dog person after all.

Here’s the other thing I want to give McKinley a high five for: she avoids a love triangle! I was seriously worried that “Shadows” was headed that direction, and although I knew that if anyone could successfully handle a love triangle it’s Robin McKinley (hello, “The Hero and the Crown” and “Sunshine”), I was still dreading a love triangle all the same. But thankfully McKinley steers the book clear of that potential emotional mess and keeps that aspect of the story fairly stress-free.

Now here’s the thing I wasn’t so crazy about. This book felt like the beginning of a series. Except, Robin McKinley (with the exception of “Pegasus”) doesn’t do series. So I was left a little confused. Because while all the small, immediate problems in the book are dealt with, the overarching issues don’t get resolved, and I felt like some of the explanation I needed was never provided (e.g., why cobeys suddenly started appearing in the first place, what was going on with the origami, what the heck was going on with that algebra book, etc.). So I fear that rather than this being a brilliant start to a series, it's actually a slightly frustrating standalone.

Overall, this book was by Robin McKinley, so duh, of course I liked it. I’m a bit confused about whether it’s supposed to be a standalone or not, but in general I had a good time. It didn’t end up being my favorite of hers, but maybe I just need to give it some time and read it again. After all, I struggled with “Chalice,” “Sunshine,” AND “The Hero and the Crown” the first time around, and now they’re some of my favorites of hers. So who knows where “Shadows” will ultimately end up.

Rating: 4 / 5

Monday, October 7, 2013

Review: The Book of Broken Hearts

The Book of Broken Hearts, by Sarah Ockler. The Goodreads summary:
Jude has learned a lot from her older sisters, but the most important thing is this: The Vargas brothers are notorious heartbreakers. She’s seen the tears and disasters that dating a Vargas boy can cause, and she swore an oath—with candles and a contract and everything—to never have anything to do with one.

Now Jude is the only sister still living at home, and she’s spending the summer helping her ailing father restore his vintage motorcycle—which means hiring a mechanic to help out. Is it Jude’s fault he happens to be cute? And surprisingly sweet? And a Vargas?

Jude tells herself it’s strictly bike business with Emilio. Her sisters will never find out, and Jude can spot those flirty little Vargas tricks a mile away—no way would she fall for them. But Jude’s defenses are crumbling, and if history is destined to repeat itself, she’s speeding toward some serious heartbreak…unless her sisters were wrong?

Jude may have taken an oath, but she’s beginning to think that when it comes to love, some promises might be worth breaking.
Here’s the thing. For a book I liked fairly well, I have surprisingly little to say about it. It has all the elements I usually like in contemporary YAs: a charismatic main character, a hot love interest with a bit of a bad boy vibe, witty banter, and enough serious issues to give the book some emotional heft. But I don’t know—something prevented it from clicking with me all the way, and I can’t put my finger on what exactly it is. I think it has something to do with the relationships in the book—between Jude and Emilio, between Jude and her family, and between Jude and her friends—and how I didn’t quite feel like these relationships ever really had the full depth I needed. And so at the end of the book, I was left wanting there to be more development and exploration in those areas than there was.

I realize this is coming off as more negative than I intended. I really did enjoy the book for the most part, and there are a couple of people I’ll be recommending it to because I know they’ll like it. It just didn’t quite give me everything I wanted.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Review: A Corner of White

“A Corner of White,” by Jaclyn Moriarty. The GoodReads summary:
Madeleine Tully lives in Cambridge, England, the World – a city of spires, Isaac Newton and Auntie’s Tea Shop.

Elliot Baranski lives in Bonfire, the Farms, the Kingdom of Cello – where seasons roam, the Butterfly Child sleeps in a glass jar, and bells warn of attacks from dangerous Colours.

They are worlds apart – until a crack opens up between them; a corner of white – the slim seam of a letter.

A mesmerising story of two worlds; the cracks between them, the science that binds them and the colours that infuse them.
I picked up this book because I had a lot of fun with this author’s “The Year of Secret Assignments,” but this book ended up not being anything like that. In fact, I don’t think this book is quite like anything else I’ve read before.

So what we’ve got is two teens living in different worlds (one in Cambridge, England, and the other in the imaginary kingdom of Cello), who accidentally end up being able to correspond with each other through a crack between the worlds. That part of the story isn’t the unique part. But you see, the kingdom of Cello, though essentially modern, not only has typical fantasy elements (dragons, werewolves, and a fairy-like creature called the Butterfly Child), it also gets attacked by various Colors. Yes, Colors as in colors: red, blue, purple, etc. I’m still not sure how it works, but the malignant Colors can do a lot of damage. In general, the Colors, like the rest of the world building in Cello, are a fun concept, but you can’t think too hard about any of it because things aren’t really explained.

As for what I thought about the book, my feelings are mixed. I enjoyed the writing style—it was creative and whimsical, and there were quite a few passages that I found myself marking to come back to and soak in again. Creative and whimsical generally describe the plot as well, but honestly, for the first two-thirds of the book, I was left wondering what the point was. Because the story didn’t seem to be moving in any discernible direction. Elliot and Madeleine write to each other, they live their day-to-day lives, and there’s a lot thrown in about Isaac Newton, but other than that, the plot didn’t really go anywhere.

The last third of the book, however, was pretty good. Not only did the story finally gain some momentum, but Elliot and Madeleine both discover that their lives and certain things in their lives aren't what they thought, and the author handled those discoveries quite well. There’s also a big reveal at the end that I certainly wasn’t expecting, so I rather enjoyed that.

Overall, while I don’t think I’ll be reading the rest of the series, I don’t feel like this book was a waste of time or anything. The author’s obviously got some serious skill with words, so even when the story felt aimless, I could at least enjoy the writing.

Rating: 3 / 5  

Monday, September 30, 2013

Where's the tissues? Six books that made me ugly cry

I'm not much of a crier. Funerals and when I'm super stressed are about it. But every once in a while a book or movie will have me tearing up, and even more rarely than that, sometimes a book will come along that has me practically sobbing. I got on this topic because a certain book's been on my mind lately: "A Swift Pure Cry," by Siobhan Dowd. I read it probably four years ago, and that book made me a hot mess from beginning to end. And lately I've been wanting to reread it, but I'm a bit nervous of the emotional commitment it demands. Anyway, thinking about that book had me thinking about what other books I loved that had me full-on crying, and these are the ones that first sprang to mind:

"A Swift Pure Cry," by Siobhan Dowd.
This book is the ultimate sobfest for me. Like, I don't think I've read any that compare in terms of prompting copious waterworks from me. Shell goes through some horrific things, made worse by the fact that she doesn't have anyone to rely on outside her younger siblings. But what puts this book over the top for me in terms of tears is how beautifully it's written. It's a double whammy to have such a heartbreaking story told so perfectly.

"My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece," by Annabel Pitcher. 
I managed to barely hold it together throughout the book and was feeling pretty proud of myself for doing so until I hit this one scene near the end involving the cat that just pushed me over the edge.

"Deerskin," by Robin McKinley.
I love this book so much, but I have to brace myself a little every time I read it. Because I know I'll not only cry during the devastating bits, but I'll also cry through every step of Lissar's slow and painful journey of healing.

"Between Shades of Gray," by Ruta Sepetys. 
Well, seeing as how this book's about a Soviet prison camp in the 1940s, I don't think I need to give much of an explanation about why this one had me sobbing.

"With This Ring," by Carla Kelly.
It's a romance novel, so there shouldn't be any tears, right? Wrong. When I first read this book, I was up past my bedtime in the room I shared with my little sisters, and I remember trying to sob as quietly as possible so I wouldn't wake them up. Happily, this book only had me crying in the beginning, and the rest of the book was the story of Lydia gaining the self-confidence her abusive family had never let her have. One of my favorite romance novels--juuust saying.

"Little Women," by Louisa May Alcott.
Anyone who's read this book can probably guess exactly where I fell apart. Hint: it involves Beth. But what made this book so memorable to me in terms of crying is that it's the first book I remember crying over. I think I was in 5th grade or so, and up until I read this book, I don't think I knew that the written word could make me cry.

So. What books make you cry? Do you have any that just get to you every single time?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Review: Lirael

Lirael (Abhorsen #2), by Garth Nix. The GoodReads summary:
Lirael has never felt like a true daughter of the Clayr. Now, two years past the time when she should have received the Sight that is the Clayr's birthright, she feels alone, abandoned, unsure of who she is. Nevertheless, the fate of the Old Kingdom lies in her hands. With only her faithful companion, the Disreputable Dog, Lirael must undertake a desperate mission under the growing shadow of an ancient evil.
As you probably know by this point, I have an unfair but well-developed prejudice against YA books by male authors. But for whatever reason, Garth Nix and his Abhorsen trilogy have been proving surprisingly good. I personally attribute it to the fact that he’s Australian, and apparently my love for Australian authors outweighs my dislike of male authors.

Anyway, “Lirael” picks up 14 and then 18 years after “Sabriel,” the first book, ends. Though Sabriel and Touchstone make a brief appearance in this book, the main characters are Lirael, a daughter of the Clayr, and Sam, prince of the Old Kingdom and Abhorsen-in-Waiting. The Disreputable Dog, who’s all kinds of awesome, is also introduced, and Mogget (who still pretty much remains my favorite character in the series) makes a comeback.

Lirael and Sam ended up surprising me a bit as characters. At first I wasn’t that fond of Lirael, but after the opening chapters, she quickly grew on me. Sam was the opposite. I liked him quite a bit in the initial chapters, but I grew increasingly less impressed with him as the story progressed. Though to be fair, based on what happens at the end of this book, I feel like in the third book, Sam will probably grow on me again. I don’t think I like the character of Lirael quite as much as I liked Sabriel, but there is still plenty of potential for her in the next book.

Plot-wise, this book felt mostly like setup for the third book. Which is not to say it was boring, because it actually was fairly well paced. But nevertheless, by the end, I felt that though I’d learned a lot about Sabriel and Sam, it was obvious that the major parts of the plot were going to happen in the third book.

Overall, a good second book, if a little heavy on setting up for the next book. Actually, now that I think about it, I think this book comes off more as the first half of a book rather than as a standalone book, if that makes sense. Like, there’s no point in reading this book if you’re not going to read the third. Which I’m definitely going to do, because I kinda need to know what’s going to happen.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

In which I talk A LOT about Jane Eyre movies

It’s no secret that I love “Jane Eyre.” And it really doesn’t take much to get me in the mood to read or watch it. So after reading this post over at Angieville about Jane Eyre adaptations, I decided that what I really needed was a Jane Eyre marathon. So this weekend I took it upon myself to re-watch four of the better-known versions. I’ve never watched all of them in a row before, so I ended up comparing them way more than I usually do. So here's more than you ever wanted to know about what I think of the four:

Timothy Dalton version (1983):
This version is all about Rochester for me. Timothy Dalton will always be the real Mr. Rochester in my mind. Maybe it’s because he’s the first version of Rochester I encountered, but I also think he plays Rochester closest to how he is in the book. The other film versions tone down Rochester a bit to make him a more sympathetic character, but Dalton’s Rochester is just as abrupt and unstable and ridiculous as the real deal. This film adaption also has the full-on gypsy scene, which the other three versions don’t, and everyone one knows the gypsy scene is one of the best parts of the book. However, the Jane in this version is my least favorite of the four. She comes off as bland and anemic to me, and I never feel like I get a true sense of who she is or what she wants. She’s totally upstaged by Rochester. This version feels the most staged and rehearsed of the four, but since it’s so long, it’s able to follow the original plot the closest.

William Hurt version (1996):
To say this version is freely adapted is a bit of an understatement. For the sake of trying to fit the story into two hours, quite a bit gets changed and condensed, especially towards the end. They’re not bad changes, but they’re changes all the same, and the part of me that wants the film to stay true to the book always gets a little offended. Jane in this version is gentle and all wide-eyed innocence, and while that’s not the way I usually imagine her when I read the book, it’s actually kind of a refreshing take on her. William Hurt as Rochester is . . . old. I know he’s supposed to be, but in this version you can definitely see the age difference between him and Jane. It’s always a bit shocking, even more so than in the Michael Fassbender version. One thing that stands out to me from this version is the actress who plays Jane as a child. Usually the childhood scenes feel endless in Jane Eyre adaptions, but this actress is interesting to watch, and after the scene where she gets her hair cut, she seriously becomes one of the cutest children ever.

Toby Stephens version (2006):
I totally fell in love with this adaptation this time around. Toby Stephens makes an adorable Mr. Rochester. He plays Rochester as much more personable than he is in the other film versions or the book. It’s easy to see why Jane falls for him—Stephen’s Rochester has brooding and rude moments but he also has moments of humor and playfulness. He’s less spoiled and more self-deprecating, and the drama of his relationship with Jane is tempered by their bits of banter and teasing. They’re always giving each other these little smiles and it’s so dang cute. This version of Jane is my favorite of the four. Ruth Wilson’s Jane is reserved and quiet, but she isn’t totally serious. She’s not afraid to needle Mr. Rochester, and that scene after the proposal when she goes to her room and smiles to herself is perfect. And oh my gosh, the final scene of the movie is everything I could ask for in terms of swooniness.

Michael Fassbender version (2011):
The version is the best of the four at capturing the gothic feel of the novel. All that mist and dark and dreary scenery is perfect. Mia Wasikowska’s Jane is very pensive and solemn. Even after the proposal, her happiness is very cautious, like she isn’t quite able to trust it. Neither Jane nor Rochester have much of a sense of humor in this adaptation—you can feel the weight of their pasts on their present, and that weight seems to prevent any levity. Michael Fassbender’s Rochester doesn’t stand out to me much. He’s perfectly adequate in the role, but Jane jumps out as a character much more. And this version, while generally staying true to the book, cuts out quite a bit of the plot. Some of these cuts are done really well though, and I especially like how the scenes with the Rivers family are interspersed throughout, rather than dragging down the middle of the movie. However, I also feel that a lot of the relationship between Jane and Rochester gets axed, so I don’t find their love quite as believable overall.

Basically, here’s the takeaway: The Timothy Dalton version is probably my favorite, just because it’s the one I grew up with and because Dalton’s Rochester is the Rochester of my heart. The Toby Stephens version was a lovely surprise this time around, as the chemistry between the two leads is wonderful and there’s quite a bit of humor. This is the version I’d recommend to anyone who hasn’t had any experience with Jane Eyre before. The William Hurt and Michael Fassbender versions are the shortest, so that’s their biggest draw for me, though I prefer the Michael Fassbender version because it stays truer to the original plot.

So what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Which movie version do you like best?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Review: 17 & Gone

17 & Gone, by Nova Ren Suma. The GoodReads summary:
Seventeen-year-old Lauren is having visions of girls who have gone missing. And all these girls have just one thing in common—they are 17 and gone without a trace. As Lauren struggles to shake these waking nightmares, impossible questions demand urgent answers: Why are the girls speaking to Lauren? How can she help them? And… is she next? As Lauren searches for clues, everything begins to unravel, and when a brush with death lands her in the hospital, a shocking truth emerges, changing everything.
Hoo boy. Psychological thriller does not even begin to describe it. This book will mess with your mind, I tell ya. It reminded me of “The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer,” by Michelle Hodkin, or “Tighter,” by Adele Griffin, in that the plot starts off fairly normally, gets a little crazier, then little by little progresses until you realize the book has so totally messed with your mind that you don’t know if you should trust your perceptions as the reader or not. And I was not expecting that, honestly. I was expecting some straightforward mystery, but I should’ve know better seeing as how this is the author of “Imaginary Girls” we’re talking about.

The main character, Lauren, was difficult to get to know. We don’t really get to see her before all the crazy stuff starts happening to her, and once those things start happening, they take over her entire life. And as she becomes more and more obsessed with finding the missing girls, I felt like there was less and less of her to get to know because the obsession takes so much out of her.

I don’t really know how to write this review, because I don’t want to give anything away. So I’ll just mention the two non-spoilery things I can think of. One, I liked Jamie, Lauren’s boyfriend—he’s way more supportive and understanding than I would’ve been in that situation, that’s for sure. Two, the writing was really well done. That’s reason I picked up this book in the first place actually—I liked the writing in “Imaginary Girls,” so I wanted to give Suma’s second book a go. I’m terrible at describing writing styles, so I’m not even going to bother, but I will say that it created the perfect atmosphere for the story.

Overall, if you want a book that will play mind games on you, this one is for you. It doesn’t wrap the ending up in a nice little bow either. So if you’re in the mood for a psychological thriller, go for it.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, September 9, 2013

Review: Shadowfell

Shadowfell, by Juliet Marillier. The GoodReads summary:
Sixteen-year-old Neryn is alone in the land of Alban, where the oppressive king has ordered anyone with magical strengths captured and brought before him. Eager to hide her own canny skill--a uniquely powerful ability to communicate with the fairy-like Good Folk--Neryn sets out for the legendary Shadowfell, a home and training ground for a secret rebel group determined to overthrow the evil King Keldec.

During her dangerous journey, she receives aid from the Good Folk, who tell her she must pass a series of tests in order to recognize her full potential. She also finds help from a handsome young man, Flint, who rescues her from certain death--but whose motives in doing so remain unclear. Neryn struggles to trust her only allies. They both hint that she alone may be the key to Alban's release from Keldec's rule. Homeless, unsure of who to trust, and trapped in an empire determined to crush her, Neryn must make it to Shadowfell not only to save herself, but to save Alban.
As much as I love Juliet Marillier as an author, I found that this was a book that was easy for me to put down and do something else. It didn’t grip me, in other words, and hence it took me the better part of a week to read. Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it. I did—and there were some things (or, ahem, some people) that I definitely liked about it.

I think the reason this book failed to draw me in was twofold. One, it’s a fairly slow story. The majority of the book is Neryn traveling, either by herself or with Flint or with some of the Good Folk (the fey creatures only she can see). And since most of the time she’s in hiding or trying to avoid other people on her journey, it’s a pretty quiet story. The main plotline is her learning more about her powers and what they might mean for the struggling kingdom, and there’s not all that much action, so while it was interesting, it didn’t really grab me.

Second, I didn’t find Neryn to be that charismatic of a narrator. I admired her for sure, but I never felt a particular connection to her and found her a tad boring. On top of that, she makes some choices that, while I totally understood her reasoning, annoyed me a bit nonetheless. I think she has potential though, and hopefully in the next two books she’ll evolve more as a character.

Now for the thing I loved a lot about the book: Flint. Oh my goodness, FLINT. That boy is a dream come true, let me tell you. I kinda feel like this book is worth reading just for him. He’s gone through terrible things and done even worse things, but beneath the guilt and self-doubt, he’s a good and kind man. And that’s the thing that gets me. That he manages to somehow hold on to that bit of goodness when anyone else in his situation would’ve lost their grip on it a long time ago. And that though he’s on the verge of giving up on himself, he doesn’t give up on those around them or his cause. I just . . . gah! FLINT!

Anyway, overall, as you can see, although this book didn’t blow me away in the same way some of Juliet Marillier’s other books have, it’s got Flint in it, and I suspect anything with Flint is worth reading.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, September 2, 2013

Review: Also Known As

Also Known As, by Robin Benway. The GoodReads summary:
Being a 16-year-old safecracker and active-duty daughter of international spies has its moments, good and bad. Pros: Seeing the world one crime-solving adventure at a time. Having parents with super cool jobs. Cons: Never staying in one place long enough to have friends or a boyfriend. But for Maggie Silver, the biggest perk of all has been avoiding high school and the accompanying cliques, bad lunches, and frustratingly simple locker combinations.

Then Maggie and her parents are sent to New York for her first solo assignment, and all of that changes. She'll need to attend a private school, avoid the temptation to hack the school's security system, and befriend one aggravatingly cute Jesse Oliver to gain the essential information she needs to crack the case . . . all while trying not to blow her cover.
So this this book was practically the definition of cute, fluffy, and adorable. I wasn’t quite sure going into it how I’d feel, since I really liked “Audrey, Wait!” by this author but didn’t dig “The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June” quite as much. But, yep, this book was adorable. And actually rather hilarious as well. Maggie made me smile on, like, every page. You know who else I loved? Her friend Roux. She’s not a former-mean-girl turned nice so much as a former-mean-girl turned sarcastic, and she’s practically as hilarious as Maggie, so when you get both of them in a scene, it’s pretty much all you could hope for. And Maggie’s banter with the crush-worthy Jesse is grin-evoking as well.

The only problems I had with this book are the problems I have with pretty much every YA spy novel. 1) Why does the main character never do the logical thing and get help from more experienced spies when things start going downhill? And 2) Why does she always feel the need to spill the beans about who she really is the first time a cute boy comes along? But other than that, I didn’t have any issues with the book. It was pretty predictable, but I was expecting that, so it didn’t bug me.

Overall, a light, funny read. It was a quick read, but it kept me entertained the whole time. Recommended for fans of Leila Sales.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Vampire Academy Trailer

I don't think it's any secret that I LOVE the Vampire Academy series. So you can guess that I'm more than a little excited for this:

My only question is, why are there no close ups of Dimitri?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review: Dark Water

Dark Water, by Laura McNeal. The GoodReads summary:
Fifteen-year-old Pearl DeWitt and her mother live in Fallbrook, California, where it’s sunny 340 days of the year, and where her uncle owns a grove of 900 avocado trees. Uncle Hoyt hires migrant workers regularly, but Pearl doesn’t pay much attention to them . . . until Amiel. From the moment she sees him, Pearl is drawn to this boy who keeps to himself, fears being caught by la migra, and is mysteriously unable to talk. And after coming across Amiel’s makeshift hut near Agua Prieta Creek, Pearl falls into a precarious friendship—and a forbidden romance.

Then the wildfires strike. Fallbrook—the town of marigolds and palms, blood oranges and sweet limes—is threatened by the Agua Prieta fire, and a mandatory evacuation order is issued. But Pearl knows that Amiel is in the direct path of the fire, with no one to warn him, no way to get out. Slipping away from safety and her family, Pearl moves toward the dark creek, where the smoke has become air, the air smoke.
Well, this book irritated me more than any in recent memory. Before I get going on my rant, in the interest of being fair, I’ll start off by mentioning two things the book did well. First, the writing itself was well done. Second, the banter between Pearl and her cousin was pretty amusing.

But now I’m done being fair. Pearl was just totally and completely an unsympathetic character. She started off fine—not particularly charismatic, but not especially annoying either. But then, when her obsessive crush on Amiel starts, man did she drive me crazy. I mean first of all, she knows nothing about him and they don’t have any complete conversations in the entire book. They don’t even speak the same language. Second, Amiel doesn’t actually seem that into her—she’s the one who’s always tracking him down. Not to mention the fact that he’s an illegal immigrant, so her always trying to get involved with him probably puts him in increased danger. But does Pearl care about any of this? Nope. She’s off in her naïve fantasy land where everything revolves around her.

And don’t even get me started on all the bad decisions Pearl makes once the fire starts. If there was ever a character I wish I could shake some sense into, it would be Pearl. Every single choice she makes about the fire is the wrong one, and the things she does in those last chapters are what finally irrevocably clinched my frustration with the book, because her selfishness hurts others, and that’s much harder for me to forgive than her simply being a starry-eyed 15-year-old.

And to top it all off, the final chapter is the worst of them all because (Spoilers) Pearl makes plans to go to Mexico to find Amiel. I mean, come on! Besides the fact that their relationship existed mostly in her head to start with, what does she think she’s going to do once she finds him? Live happily ever after in poverty in Mexico? Her big plan is for him to become a famous mime, for pete’s sake. A MIME! I don’t really trust her judgement. (End spoilers) (And end rant).

Overall, not the book for me. I’ll reiterate that the writing was nicely done, but man oh man did Pearl seriously make me mad.

Rating: 2 / 5

Thursday, August 22, 2013

ARC Review: The Dream Thieves

The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle #2), by Maggie Stiefvater. The GoodReads summary:
Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after...
I was pretty dang happy when the truly awesome Kathy loaned me her ARC of “The Dream Thieves.” But then life happened in the form of my sister’s wedding, so here I am a month later finally finishing the book. But I must say, it was worth the wait.

I’ll admit I was a little nervous going into this book. I’m not always the biggest fan of series, especially YA series, and I enjoyed “The Raven Boys” enough that I was worried the second book would end up being a big fat disappointment. But hallelujah, I was wrong. “The Dream Thieves” was a rock solid second book. And since this series is a quartet and not a trilogy, "Dream Thieves"—though dark—didn’t fall into the rut of endless angsty-ness that so many second books do. Another bonus to this being a quartet rather than a trilogy is that the overall arc of the series isn’t predictable. Even after finishing this second book, I still have no idea where the series is going next or what’s ultimately going to happen, and I love it.

I adored the raven boys—Gansey, Ronan, Adam, Noah—in the first book, and they grew on me even more in this one as I spent more time with them. I’ve shamelessly loved Gansey and Ronan from the start, and in this book they remained firmly entrenched in my heart, with my crush on Ronan growing even more towards the end. Noah seemed to be more of a background character in this book, but that scene between him and Blue on Gansey's bed . . . hands down my favorite part of the book. Adam has always been the boy I’ve struggled with the most—the chip on his shoulder always seemed a little too self-pitying and bitter to me. But by the end of this book, he won me the rest of the way over, and I’m excited to see what he’s like in the third book. In fact, the thing I'm probably looking forward to the most in the third book is seeing how Adam and Ronan have changed. Because I feel like both of them hit major turning points in this book, and I'm dying to know how it'll affect them and the dynamics within the group.

As for the other characters, Blue was awesome as always, though I wish she was in the book a little more than she was. The women at 300 Fox Way remained thoroughly entertaining and helpful. Mr. Gray was a work of swoony genius from the second of his introduction. I won’t say anything else about him so I don’t ruin anything, but I kinda love him a lot.

Plot-wise, I think this book felt slightly less goal-oriented than the first book. Adam, Gansey, Ronan, and the Gray Man each had their own separate storylines, which sometimes felt more parallel than interwoven. But I didn’t really mind, because the individual storylines were all gripping, and Stiefvater’s solid writing style and humor always managed to make things feel cohesive.

Overall, a solid second book that had me even more in love with the raven boys than before. I did think I’d get out of the book without a cliffhanger, but nope—Stiefvater throws one at you when you least expect it. So now I have to wait impatiently for who knows how long for the third book.

Rating: 4 / 5

“The Dream Thieves” comes out September 17th.

Monday, August 19, 2013

17 Problems Only Book Lovers Will Understand

I've been busy the last little while with the craziness that was sister's wedding, but now that that's over, I have time to read again! If I had a happy dance, I would be doing it right now. Hopefully, I'll get a review up this week, but in the meantime, here's a little bit of truth for you called "17 Problems Only Book Lovers Will Understand." Basically . . . #4 and #15.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Review: The Moon and More

The Moon and More, by Sarah Dessen. The GoodReads summary:
Luke is the perfect boyfriend: handsome, kind, fun. He and Emaline have been together all through high school in Colby, the beach town where they both grew up. But now, in the summer before college, Emaline wonders if perfect is good enough.

Enter Theo, a super-ambitious outsider, a New Yorker assisting on a documentary film about a reclusive local artist. Theo's sophisticated, exciting, and, best of all, he thinks Emaline is much too smart for Colby.

Emaline's mostly-absentee father, too, thinks Emaline should have a bigger life, and he's convinced that an Ivy League education is the only route to realizing her potential. Emaline is attracted to the bright future that Theo and her father promise. But she also clings to the deep roots of her loving mother, stepfather, and sisters. Can she ignore the pull of the happily familiar world of Colby?

Emaline wants the moon and more, but how can she balance where she comes from with where she's going?
Due to the fairly disappointed reviews I’ve been seeing for this book, I went in with pretty low expectations. Which probably made me like it better than I would’ve otherwise, because by the end I was thinking that it was actually decent. I mean, it’s not my favorite Sarah Dessen book or anything, but neither is it my least favorite. I think if this book were by some author I wasn't familiar with, I would have been fairly impressed, but since I've seen Dessen do better, I wasn't as wowed as I might have been otherwise.

Basically from the moment I started reading this book, I fell right back in with Dessen’s writing style. That aspect of her books always just does it for me, you know? No matter what I think of the story, her writing always makes me feel at home.

Character-wise, this book was a bit of a mixed bag for me. Emaline, the main character, didn’t especially stand out, but it’s not like she annoyed me either. Theo, I didn’t like all that much, but since I don’t think you’re supposed to like him, I was fine with my dislike. Luke, I did like. Obviously, what he does to Emaline towards the beginning is totally jerky and wrong, but that aside, he seemed to be a good guy generally. I also really liked Emaline’s family. Dessen always shines in her portrayal of family relationships, and this book was no exception—from her mom to her stepdad to her sisters and half-brother, I was pretty happy whenever any of them were in a scene.

I think what made this book not stand out as much for me as most of Dessen’s other books—aside from the lack of a happy fall-in-love storyline—was that it didn’t feel as focused. I feel like in Dessen’s other books, by the end, the main character has learned or overcome something specific. But that wasn’t really the case here—yes, a lot of things happen in Emaline’s life over the course of the summer, but I don’t feel like she herself really changed at all. There wasn’t really a clear, driving issue to keep the plot centered.

Overall, if you haven’t read any Sarah Dessen books yet, I wouldn’t recommend making this your first. And if you are already a Dessen fan, expect a decent book but not one of Dessen’s best.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Friday, August 2, 2013

10 Outfits From YA Fiction You Wish You Owned

This post about the 10 Outfits From YA Fiction You Wish You Owned was worth it for me just for the Baby-Sitters Club outfits. I thought those girls were the essence of coolness when I was growing up. Especially Claudia--she was the real deal. You all know I'm right.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Review: Daddy-Long-Legs

Daddy-Long-Legs, by Jean Webster. The GoodReads summary:
A trustee of the John Grier orphanage has offered to send Judy Abbott to college. The only requirements are that she must write to him every month, and that she can never know who he is. Judy's life at college is a whirlwind of friends, classes, parties, and a growing friendship with the handsome Jervis Pendleton. With so much happening in her life, Judy can scarcely stop writing to the mysterious "Daddy-Long-Legs"!
This was a short, cute read. It’s written as a collection of letters from Judy to her anonymous benefactor over the four years she’s at college. Judy’s pretty hilarious, and the book made me wish I was more of a letter writer because her letters are so entertaining. Even though the book was written in 1912, it didn’t feel that old—it was very readable and accessible. Some of the things she talks about obviously date the story, but Judy’s narrative voice itself felt surprisingly modern, and if I was judging based on the style alone, I don’t think I’d ever guess that it was written over 100 years ago.

The story was fairly predictable, and I guessed what was going on behind the scenes pretty early on, but the predictability didn’t make the journey any less fun. I do feel indignant on Judy’s behalf for what I feel was some unfair manipulation, but I won’t go on about it as much as I’d like to because it would be too hard to avoid major spoilers. So I’ll just say that while my indignation over a few things was very real, it never made it to the point where I was ever seriously turned off from the book.

Overall, a light, fun story. It’s not exactly a book with hidden depth, but all the same, despite some issues I had with it, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, July 22, 2013

Review: Green Heart (Green Angel & Green Witch)

Green Heart (Green Angel & Green Witch), by Alice Hoffman. The GoodReads summary:
When her family is lost in a terrible disaster, 15-year-old Green is haunted by loss and the past. Struggling to survive in a place where nothing seems to grow and ashes are everywhere, Green retreats into the ruined realm of her garden. But in destroying her feelings, she also begins to destroy herself. It is only through a series of mysterious encounters that Green relearns the lessons of love and begins to heal as she tells her own story.

As she heals, Green lives every day with feelings of loss. Her family is gone, the boy she loves is missing, and the world she once knew has been transformed by tragedy. In order to rediscover the truth about love, hope, and magic, she must venture away from her home, collecting the stories of a group of women who have been branded witches for their mysterious powers. Only through their stories will Green find her own heart's desire.
So the book’s called “Green Heart,” but it’s actually a compilation of two novels, “Green Angel” and its sequel, “Green Witch.” Both of the two novels are short, like less than 150 pages, so reading them together was basically the same as reading one full-length book. In Green Angel, Green is dealing with the grief of losing her family and slowly finding her way back to herself. In Green Witch, she’s searching out the women known as the Enchanted and ends up on a mission she wasn’t expecting. The stories pull together elements from both the dystopian and fairy-tale fantasy genres, which was a bit of an unusual mix, but it worked for me.

So now that those explanations are out of the way, can I just fangirl over this book a bit? Cuz I liked it quite a lot. First off, the writing was dang gorgeous. Writing styles that draw attention to themselves can go either way for me, but in this case, I thought it shaped the atmosphere and tone of the story really well. It made me feel like I was being told a story, rather than simply reading one. And speaking of stories, the plots of these two novels clicked with me. They aren’t super complex or detailed or anything—after all, the two books are short. But despite that, they feel complete and satisfying and not at all simple. Plus, I’m a sucker for stories about girls who have hit rock bottom but manage not only to survive but to bloom, despite their circumstances.

I don’t have that much more to say, actually. Some books just reach me on a level that I can’t express with words. And I’ll admit that elements of these two stories reminded me a little of certain Robin McKinley books, and once that connection was made, no matter how tenuous, my adoration of these books was pretty much cemented. But Robin McKinley aside, these are wonderful stories in their own right.

Overall, two gorgeous stories that I totally fell in love with. I was trying to decide if I prefer one over the other, but nope—I love them both. They’re both quiet stories, but Green Angel is especially so, since it focuses on Green’s inner journey while Green Witch deals with an actual physical journey. So actually, having both novels together in one book was really nice, because together they have a good balance. Anyway, moral of the story, I wholeheartedly recommend both.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Review: Hooked

Hooked, by Liz Fichera. The GoodReads summary:
When Native American Fredricka ‘Fred’ Oday is invited to become the only girl on the school’s golf team, she can’t say no. This is an opportunity to shine, win a scholarship and go to university, something no one in her family has done.

But Fred’s presence on the team isn’t exactly welcome — especially not to rich golden boy Ryan Berenger, whose best friend was kicked off the team to make a spot for Fred.

But there’s no denying that things are happening between the girl with the killer swing and the boy with the killer smile...
So there I was totally enjoying this book—I had some issues with it, sure, but I was really having fun—when wham! The ending came and ruined it. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a book with such promise muff it so badly when it came to the resolution. I mean, it almost left me speechless with just how majorly the ending fell apart. It did not resolve anything in a believable way. Every single thing about how it all worked out was far too easy and superficial and unbelievable. Not to mention the ending felt abrupt—I was expecting at least another chapter for the characters to work things out, but nope. I got sent straight to the epilogue. It all left me feeling rather frustrated and disappointed, especially considering how much I was enjoying the story up to that point.

But enough about the ending. The other main thing that bugged me about the story was Ryan, the love interest. What a douche, is all I have to say. Actually, that’s NOT all I have to say; I’m going to harp on him a little more. He’s trying, I’ll give him that. And I know it can be hard to stand up to your friends, but still—he’s a coward in my book. He does manage to stand up for Fred in the little ways, but every time it really matters, he drops the ball. So I got really tired of him always doing the wrong thing. And don’t even get me started on the way he gets back in Fred’s good graces with a dramatic gesture rather than by consistently proving that he’s changed.

As for Fred, I liked her and the fact that she goes after her dreams despite her difficult circumstances. And I loved that she never lets the Ryan drama affect her committment to golf. I also thought her reactions to her Native American culture were well written. She’s maybe a little embarrassed by it at times, but she’s generally respectful and proud of it. The only thing that got on my nerves about her was that her expectations for her relationship with Ryan were too high to fast—like, she expected one date and a kiss to mean that they were going to live happily ever after forever—so I kinda rolled my eyes at her dramatic reaction to Ryan being a jerk to her after that.

Overall, I think the disappointing ending made me slightly more critical of this book than I would’ve been otherwise. Because really, up until the end, the story is totally readable. I even made it through Ryan’s douchey-ness because I was having such a good time reading the book. And I appreciated that though it’s essentially a teen romance, it explores issues in a way that’s meaningful without becoming too heavy-handed for the type of book it is. And then it had to go and lose my respect with that ending. Grrr.

Rating: 3 / 5

Monday, July 15, 2013

Review: Salvation

Salvation, by Anne Osterlund. The GoodReads summary:
Salvador Resendez--Salva to his friends--appears to have it all. His Mexican immigrant family has high expectations, and Salva intends to fulfill them. He's student body president, quarterback of the football team, and has a near-perfect GPA. Everyone loves him.

Especially Beth Courant, AKA the walking disaster area. Dreamy and shy, Beth is used to blending into the background. But she's also smart, and she has serious plans for her future.

Popular guy and bookish girl--the two have almost nothing in common. Until fate throws them together and the attraction is irresistible. Soon Beth is pushing Salva to set his sights higher than ever--because she knows he has more to offer, more than even he realizes.

Then tragedy strikes--and threatens to destroy everything that Salva has worked for. Will Beth's love be enough to save him?
I’ll admit when I picked this one up, I was hoping it was going to be along the lines of “Perfect Chemistry.” Because that one, while approaching the overdramatic and over the top, never actually crosses the line and never tries to be more than it is, so it manages to be a lot of fun. But “Salvation” didn’t quite succeed in the same way for me.

I mostly felt that the book was trying too hard to be deep and meaningful. I just wanted to be taken on a soap-opera-worthy ride through a dramatic cross-cultural relationship, but I ended up feeling like I was being force fed a “moral of the story.” Like, I felt the author was a bit too obvious in the message I was supposed to take away from the book. I also thought the writing could be a bit over the top, and that’s one of the things I always find hardest to forgive in a book. But while I found the writing a little much, I thought the story was still pretty readable, and I never seriously thought about not finishing it.

I did like that Beth and Salva knew each other for quite a while before starting a relationship. The story takes place over most of a school year, and the two of them spend quite a bit of time together during that period. So I respected their relationship a little more than I maybe would have otherwise. I also liked that the story was about the girl saving the guy, and not the other way around, like it so often is in YAs. I feel like usually it’s the girl struggling with personal or familial issues, and the guy helps her sort things out and get back on track. But the tables are turned in “Salvation,” and even though Beth wasn’t necessarily my favorite character ever, I did like that she was the one to help Salva work things out.

For me, the resolution of the story was waaaay to easy. I won’t go into spoilery territory, but something tragic happens towards the end of the book that Salva needs to deal with. And it weighs heavily on him. But then within the space of, like, two pages and one conversation, it’s all magically fixed, and that didn’t sit well with me. I wanted to see him struggle a little more, and I wish that the solution would’ve been something a little more complex than “true love heals all wounds.”

Overall, not my favorite book, but it did have a few redeeming qualities.

Rating: 3 / 5

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Review: Stealing Heaven

Stealing Heaven, by Elizabeth Scott. The GoodReads summary:
Dani has been trained as a thief by the best--her mother. Together, they move from town to town, targeting wealthy homes and making a living by stealing antique silver. They never stay in one place long enough to make real connections, real friends--a real life.

In the beach town of Heaven, though, everything changes. For the first time, Dani starts to feel at home. She's making friends and has even met a guy. But these people can never know the real Dani--because of who she is. When it turns out that her new friend lives in the house they've targeted for their next job and the cute guy is a cop, Dani must question where her loyalties lie: with the life she's always known--or the one she's always wanted.
This is one of those books that I’ve seen recommended on enough blogs that I thought I should give it a shot. Or to be strictly honest, being the cheapskate that I am, I bought it for my sister for her birthday and then pretty much simultaneously asked if I could borrow it. But anyway, the book turned out to be decent. Not quite the game changer I was hoping for, but still generally enjoyable.

Basically the best thing about the book, in my opinion, is Greg. He’s beyond adorable. In fact he’s so adorable that there’s pretty much no way he could exist in real life, but hey—isn’t that why we read fiction? His appeal comes from the fact that he sees the best in Dani and never gives up on her, despite the fact that she’s incredibly standoffish to him and only gives him the smallest slivers of outward encouragement. But Greg keeps trying anyway, and he’s such a decent guy that his persistence comes off as endearing rather than creepy.

Dani herself is a likeable narrator. I did find it frustrating, though, that she felt like she had no alternatives to being a thief. I get why she felt that way, and that a lot of it had to do with wanting to feel worthy of her mother’s affection, but at the same time, I just wanted to shake her and tell her that she’s better than that.

Plot-wise, I was good with it all until the end, when the story takes a more serious turn. The serious stuff didn’t ruin the book or anything, it’s just that I thought the book was already doing a good enough job dealing with consequences and what not, so the added seriousness at the end felt unnecessary to me.

Overall, a good read. I didn’t fall in love with it in quite the way I hoped I would, but I still liked it well enough, all things considered.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Review: Every Day

Every Day, by David Levithan. The GoodReads summary:
Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.

There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.
I finished this book a while ago, but I just realized I never wrote a review for it. I blame it on having exactly zero free time at this point in my life. Usually, I write my reviews right after I finish a book, because I tend to have a really short memory for remembering the specifics of what I thought about it, so if this review is kinda vague, that’s why.

But anyway, this is the first book I read that was completely by David Levithan. I’ve read two of the books he co-authored with Rachel Cohn (“Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares” and “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist”), and I liked both of those a lot. Still, I had pretty low expectations for this book going into it. Probably you know by now of my unfair yet unshakable prejudice against books by male authors.

But I actually thought “Every Day” wasn’t bad—it ended up being much better than I expected. Which is not to say that I didn’t have any issues with it, because I did. It just surprised me with how readable it was and well the story flowed. Considering the main character is in a different body and a different life every day, I was impressed with how cohesive the plot was. The main character was pretty likeable, despite being a bit of a know-it-all. I thought it was a unique plot device that the MC is genderless—it made for some interesting explorations into what the substance of relationships really is. Still, in my head the MC came off as a boy. I’m not entirely sure why—probably just because the author is male so the narrative voice came off as more male to me.

Pretty much the whole plot revolves around the MC falling in love and trying to make it work despite being in a different body every day. So of course I was super curious about how the book would end and how it would all work out. Generally, I thought the ending was well done and realistic, though there was one aspect of it that had me feeling indignant on Rhiannon's behalf and that spoiled the ending a bit for me.

Overall, a much better book than I was expecting. Maybe it’s because my expectations were so low to start with, but I ended up enjoying the book for the most part.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, June 24, 2013

Review: Pivot Point

Pivot Point, by Kasie West. The GoodReads summary:
Addison Coleman’s life is one big “What if?” As a Searcher, whenever Addie is faced with a choice, she can look into the future and see both outcomes. It’s the ultimate insurance plan against disaster. Or so she thought. When Addie’s parents ambush her with the news of their divorce, she has to pick who she wants to live with—her father, who is leaving the paranormal compound to live among the “Norms,” or her mother, who is staying in the life Addie has always known. Addie loves her life just as it is, so her answer should be easy. One Search six weeks into the future proves it’s not.

In one potential future, Addie is adjusting to life outside the Compound as the new girl in a Norm high school where she meets Trevor, a cute, sensitive artist who understands her. In the other path, Addie is being pursued by the hottest guy in school—but she never wanted to be a quarterback’s girlfriend. When Addie’s father is asked to consult on a murder in the Compound, she’s unwittingly drawn into a dangerous game that threatens everything she holds dear. With love and loss in both lives, it all comes down to which reality she’s willing to live through . . . and who she can’t live without.
Okay, this is going to be short. Basically, I wasn’t wowed by the first three-fourths of the book, but it was just barely interesting enough for me to keep reading. Similarly, I found Addie, the main character, annoying at times but never annoying enough to make me quit the book. I liked the idea of seeing two possible futures and enjoyed that general aspect of the book, but some of the other plot points I thought lacked development. The last fourth of the book is where the book got legitimately good. That’s where the two futures started overlapping more and where the pace finally picked up. That last chunk saved the book for me.

Rating: 3 / 5
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