Friday, April 26, 2013

Review: Sweethearts

Sweethearts, by Sara Zarr. The GoodReads summary:
As children, Jennifer Harris and Cameron Quick were both social outcasts. They were also one another's only friend. So when Cameron disappears without warning, Jennifer thinks she's lost the only person who will ever understand her. Now in high school, Jennifer has been transformed. Known as Jenna, she's popular, happy, and dating, everything "Jennifer" couldn't be---but she still can't shake the memory of her long-lost friend.

When Cameron suddenly reappears, they are both confronted with memories of their shared past and the drastically different paths their lives have taken.

From the National Book Award nominated author of Story of a Girl, Sweethearts is a story about the power of memory, the bond of friendship, and the quiet resilience of our childhood hearts.
This is a reread for me. I picked it up again because it’s the book my book club is discussing this month and I didn’t remember anything about it besides that I didn’t like it. So I was more than a little wary going into it, especially since Sara Zarr doesn’t tend to be an author I connect to much.

The big reason I didn’t like the book the first time around was the ending—it was too realistic and sad and didn’t have the amount of resolution I needed to be happy with it. But this time I went in prepared for the ending—I knew what to expect. And as a result, I appreciated it more. I’m not saying I’m a fan of the ending now, but now I can see how it fits the story. Cameron and Jenna’s relationship is multilayered and complex, and a straightforward, happy ending wouldn’t do them justice. They both have a lot of growing to do, and the ending that Zarr’s written for them allows them to do that.

Something I noticed this time that I didn’t before, is how consummately readable this book is. Yes, it’s a short book (only 217 pages), but the way the story flies by has less to do with its length than with how well-written it is. I think rereading this book has sold me on Sara Zarr as a writer. Her stories are always a little too bittersweet for me to totally fall in love with, but “Sweethearts” made me realize that, despite the bittersweet, I can’t argue with her writing and storytelling skills. They’re both exceptional in this book.

Overall, I’m glad I reread “Sweethearts.” It still isn’t one of my favorites, but this time around I could appreciate how well-done and well-thought out it all was. The first time I finished it, I just felt let down and frustrated, but this time I feel . . . pensive and thoughtful, I guess. Which I’m okay with.

Rating: 3 / 5

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The quote that's summing up my life right now...

Do you ever have those days (/weeks/months/years) when you just want everyone to leave you alone and all your responsibilities to go away so you can hole up in your bedroom and read for 48 hours straight? That's the point I'm at right now. Man, am I at that point. Whenever I'm feeling this way, I think of this quote, which is one of my favorites about reading:

"Most things people do seem to me to be rather dull and silly. In my ideal life I'd be left alone to read." 
-Dreamhunter, by Elizabeth Knox

Story of my life right there. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente. The GoodReads summary:
Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.
I’m feeling very a bit on the lazy side, so I’m just going with the good ol’ bullet-point format for this review:
-This book was definitely quirky. It kinda reminded me of a mixture of Alice in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

-It seemed more like a children’s book for adults rather than a children’s book for children. Like, it was trying so hard to be unique and clever that I feel like a lot of it would go over a kid’s head or just be unappreciated by that age group.

-The book has a lot of description, as well as frequent interpolations by the narrator. Which is part of what makes me think this book would go less appreciated by children than by adults. But I generally felt that while the descriptions, etc., were witty and observant, they also made the book drag a little.

-I wasn’t that fond of September as a main character at first, but she did grow on me and I came to like her for her courage and pluck. Similarly, it took me about half the book to really get into the story, but once I did, it was all smooth sailing from there.

-I really loved the resolution with the evil Marquess. It was probably my favorite part of the book, actually. I was totally not expecting it to work out the way it did, and I just love it when a story works itself out much more skillfully and sensitively than I was anticipating.
Overall, a unique and quirky book that felt more geared for older readers who are young at heart than for actual children.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Review: Let’s Get Lost

Let’s Get Lost, by Sarra Manning. The GoodReads summary:
Isabel is the girl who rules the school with an iron fist and a gang of minions who do her bidding. Her friends are scared of her, her teachers can't get through to her, and that's just the way she likes it. With her razor-sharp edges and tall walls, nothing gets to Isabel and no one, but no one, is ever going to discover her dark, sad secrets. Then she meets Smith. And Isabel learns that sometimes when all the expectations and pressures are too much, you just need someone to help you get lost.
So here’s the thing. Isabel isn’t really a likeable character. Like, at all. She’s sarcastic and bitchy and closed off and frustrating. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But the thing is, despite all that, I cared about her. Even when I was at the point where I was going to chuck the book across the room if she did one more selfish or self-destructive thing, I sympathized with her. Her emotional pain was so obvious, and while that didn’t make her any less frustrating of a character, it made me want to read through to the end to make sure that poor girl got some resolution. And man, does the author make you work for that resolution. Isabel doesn’t budge an inch or let go of one ounce of her steely control for, like, 98 percent of the book. So when she finally does, oh my goodness does it feel worth it. I felt like a giant weight was taken off my shoulders as well as Isabel’s.

Isabel’s relationship with Smith I’m a little meh about. I appreciated that he was the one person Isabel felt safe around and the one person willing to call out Isabel on all her crap, but Smith remained a little too one dimensional for my taste. I think the book was so centered on the development and slow revelation of Isabel’s character that Smith’s character development fell by the wayside. As a result, I never felt like I truly got to know him.

Overall, though Isabel pushed my patience almost to the breaking point, I just couldn’t give up on her and her story. I didn’t want to. Which is the thing that I kinda really adore about Sarra Manning’s books. That ability to keep me invested in characters I don’t relate to much at all.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, April 8, 2013

Review: Tiger Lily

Tiger Lily, by Jodi Lynn Anderson. The GoodReads summary:
Before Peter Pan belonged to Wendy, he belonged to the girl with the crow feather in her hair. . . .

Fifteen-year-old Tiger Lily doesn't believe in love stories or happy endings. Then she meets the alluring teenage Peter Pan in the forbidden woods of Neverland and immediately falls under his spell.

Peter is unlike anyone she's ever known. Impetuous and brave, he both scares and enthralls her. As the leader of the Lost Boys, the most fearsome of Neverland's inhabitants, Peter is an unthinkable match for Tiger Lily. Soon, she is risking everything—her family, her future—to be with him. When she is faced with marriage to a terrible man in her own tribe, she must choose between the life she's always known and running away to an uncertain future with Peter.

With enemies threatening to tear them apart, the lovers seem doomed. But it's the arrival of Wendy Darling, an English girl who's everything Tiger Lily is not, that leads Tiger Lily to discover that the most dangerous enemies can live inside even the most loyal and loving heart.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Peaches comes a magical and bewitching story of the romance between a fearless heroine and the boy who wouldn't grow up.
This is a book that I contradictorily want to share with everyone and keep secret. Because it’s rather special, and so I feel protective of it in a way I don’t feel with most books. It’s like, I want people to read it, but only those people who will love it.

I think a big part of why I feel this way about the book is because it’s the way I feel about the character of Tiger Lily herself: that ugly-beautiful girl, so strong and fierce but not quite as sure of herself as she would have everyone believe—ferocious but not infallible. I loved every flawed piece of her. And her relationship with Peter was simultaneously one of the loveliest and most heartbreaking I’ve read in a long time.

I’m not usually much of one to share quotes in my reviews, but I think in this case, the book can speak better for itself than I can. So here are three quotes that capture the heart of this book for me:

From the very beginning:
Let me tell you something straight off. This is a love story, but not like any you’ve heard. The boy and the girl are far from innocent. Dear lives are lost. And good doesn’t win. In some places, there is something ultimately good about endings. In Neverland, that is not the case.
A description of Tiger Lily:
There was a beast in there. But there was also a girl who was afraid of being a beast, and who wondered if other people had beasts in their hearts too. There was strength, and there was also just the determination to look strong. She guarded herself like a secret.
Tiger Lily’s relationship with Peter:
An unspoken rivalry threaded their relationship, in which Tiger Lily thought that if she could keep up with him, she could hold tighter to him. It didn't occur to her there was anything in which Peter would want her to fail. But sometimes, I could see that, even for him, she was too fast, too sure-footed, and didn't seem to need him quite enough.
Overall, an exquisitely written story with characters so beautiful they make you ache. I didn’t give it a 5 star rating only because I felt there were one or two places that could’ve used a tad bit more fleshing out or development.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Review: The Selection

The Selection, by Kiera Cass. The GoodReads summary:
For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself--and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.
I just . . . don’t know how I feel about this book. I liked the premise a lot. I mean, come on! Who doesn’t secretly love The Bachelor? So take the idea of The Bachelor and make it a competition to marry the prince, and you’ve got a potential goldmine. And on top of that, I thought the story was quite readable—even at the points where I wasn’t thrilled with the plot or the characters, I never felt like I didn’t want to read through to the end.

But. I thought the book fell short of its potential. I mean, you’ve got 30-something girls competing for one guy, but there’s practically zero drama? I felt a bit let down by that. There’s one girl who’s kinda catty, but other than that, everyone’s friendly and well behaved, so it got a little . . . not exactly boring but . . . not as interesting as it could’ve been, let’s just say. Especially since the competition is also a reality show, so the girls are being filmed as well as competing for the prince. You’d think that the combined pressures would make somebody snap eventually, but nope. Everyone’s super chill. I just wanted one good catfight out of it, to tell you the truth.

I also didn’t like America. And I’m not honestly sure why. She pissed me off for sure at the end because I felt like she was playing both guys, but even before that, practically from the beginning, she rubbed me the wrong way. And it’s not like I even have a specific reason why she got on my nerves. She just did. Something about the way she seemed to take herself too seriously, maybe? Anyway, I didn’t click with her personality, so I had a hard time caring about her feelings and actions. And let me tell you, it’s difficult to sympathize with a character that you couldn’t care less about.

Overall, this wasn’t the book for me. I couldn’t relate to the main character, and I thought the story was sadly lacking in drama. But I know plenty of people who loved this book, so don’t let my whining stop you if the premise appeals to you.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Review: Adorkable

Adorkable, by Sarra Manning. The GoodReads summary:
Jeane Smith's a blogger, a dreamer, a jumble sale queen, CEO of her own lifestyle brand, and has half a million followers on Twitter. Michael Lee's a star of school, stage, and playing field. A golden boy in a Jack Wills hoodie. They have nothing in common but a pair of cheating exes. So why can't they stop making out? This novel is about an unlikely relationship, but it's also about roller derby, dogs on skateboards, dogs on surfboards, dogs doing any form of extreme sport, old skool hip hop, riding your bike downhill really fast, riot grrrl, those boys you want to kiss but punch in the face at the same time, dyeing your hair ridiculous colors just because you can, stitch 'n' bitch, the songs that make you dance, the songs that make you cry, being a bad ass, cake, love, death, and everything in between.
So before I read “Adorkable,” I’d read Sarra Manning’s two adult romances: “Unsticky,” which I fell head over heels for, and “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” which I enjoyed but which didn’t inspire quite the same enthusiasm as “Unsticky.” But they both were good enough experiences that it made me curious about Sarra Manning’s YA books, since she has quite a few out. Not exactly knowing where to start, I decided to start with her most recent YA, “Adorkable.”

The main thing I’ve noticed in Manning’s books so far is that even though her characters can drive me up the wall and completely frustrate me, I inevitably come to care for them by the end of the book. The same holds true in “Adorkable.” It took me about halfway into the book to really settle in with the characters. Up to that point, neither Michael or Jean was winning me over. Jean especially was hard for me to handle at first. She’s bossy, stubborn, argumentative, and condescending. But as I slowly got to know her and her situation better, I admired her more and more until by the end I was rooting for her. She still has all the same flaws at the end that she does in the beginning, but I couldn’t help loving her for not apologizing for who she is. Michael, for most of the book, comes off as just as boring as Jean thinks he is. Despite half the book being from his perspective, he’s not particularly memorable. But towards the end, he comes to life a little more and I liked getting a glimpse of who he is under his nice-guy persona.

The thing that kept me reading, even before I started liking the characters, was the development of Jean and Michael’s relationship. They’re complete and total polar opposites, so it was a lot of fun to watch dislike turn to lust turn to tolerance turn to friendship turn into something more. And it wasn’t all in that nice linear fashion that I just outlined either—just when you think Jean and Michael are making progress, things tend to go wrong, and even when the two of them are getting along, they tend to argue practically nonstop. So their relationship had me riveted, because I didn’t want to miss seeing if and how it would all work out between them.

I still had a few issues with the book though. The main one was that the story didn’t grab me at all until about a third of the way through. The only thing that kept me reading past that point was my previous good experiences with Manning’s other books. I also had a hard time suspending my disbelief about Jean’s life: I just didn’t quite buy that her parents would let her live by herself or that she would’ve gained quite so much internet fame. But the awesome thing about Sarra Manning is that she always gets me invested in the characters despite the imperfections of the book.

Overall, I liked “Adorkable” enough to try reading more of Sarra Manning’s YA novels. While I didn’t think “Adorkable” was a YA masterpiece or anything, I enjoyed it. Plus, it had a slightly different feel from a lot of other YA contemporaries—maybe because it’s British—that I found refreshing.

Rating 3.5 / 5
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