Monday, November 29, 2010

Debut Review: I Now Pronounce You Someone Else

Erin McCahan
Bronwen Alexis Oliver longs to be Someone Else. Stuck in a family where they discuss the news at the dinner table and avoid all topics of personal interest, Bronwen used to think she was switched at birth. Her real family would be normal and her real mother would be okay with having a brown-haired daughter. And then Bronwen runs into Jared Sondervan, a family friend a few years older than her, and she falls in love with him. Him and his wonderful, normal family. When he proposes, she accepts, and spends Senior Year planning a wedding, rushing headlong into becoming an Us and starting her life with Jared, not quite realizing what she might be giving up.

This book is something special. Though the hook here is Bronwen and Jared's engagement and upcoming wedding, that's not really what the book is about. Or, it is. It is and it isn't, because there's so much more here. The story covers a long period of time, starting in Bronwen's junior year, when she runs into Jared at a coffee shop and their relationship begins. The marriage proposal doesn't come until past the halfway mark of this book, meaning that while it's easy to think of this as a story about a wedding, it's actually a love story that starts at the very beginning. Bronwen is a well-developed protagonist who's a lot different from a lot of main characters I've read lately. The issues she's dealing with in the book are ones that I haven't previously seen handled in YA (and haven't seen handled well at all) and McCahan pulls it off. Bronwen is smart, loving, and kind, but also very confused and - dare I say it? - neglected. Jared, on the other hand, is anything but confused and neglected. He's kind, loving, quietly funny, and knows who he is and what he wants much better than Bronwen does. The relationship between them is portrayed wonderfully, and though it sometimes seems too perfect, this is easy to forgive. The unrealistic parts are balanced nicely by the too realistic parts of this book.

As for Bronwen's family - her super-polite mother, kind stepfather, and considered-perfect brother - there's a lot there. And a lot of it isn't good. Though I loved her stepfather, Whitt, and loved the story of their relationship, it's difficult for me to name a character I hate as much as I hate Bronwen's mother. The relationship her and Bronwen share has all the tension and emotional baggage that mother/daughter relationships come with, except that the mom in this case is also absolutely horrible in the most subtle, rage-inducing ways that often don't come out until near the end of the book.

My biggest issue with this book is the pacing. Everything was floating along at a nice, leisurely pace until the point when Jared proposed, and then it was like we were zooming along at double speed. In a way this makes sense because of how busy Bronwen's life suddenly became and all that was happening, but at the same time I felt like we covered a huge amount of time (about two years) in too short a space (less than half the book). There were some times, especially when it came to Bronwen's post-high-school life, that I wanted to take more time with and know more about. In the end a lot seemed like an infodump, like meeting up with an old friend you haven't seen in years and catching up on everything going on in your lives in a twenty-minute coffee stop. I wanted more.

The ending here is incredibly open-ended, a little too vague for my tastes, but I don't think it will make people too angry the way a more definitive ending might have. I know it sounds like a cop-out, but there's really no way to end this book leaving everyone happy, and I think the author did a good job of it in spite of that. Bottom line: this is a great book. It's more than what you expect, covers issues I wasn't expecting, and manages to be a traditional-style love story while also being more than that.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

In My Mailbox: Here Comes the Bride!

Won: I won this from Cover to Cover; it's a super-sweet, super-awesome book that I'm so glad I got to read. Plus, isn't the cover just so great? Review coming soon!

Also, to continue on the subject of yesterday's review discussion post, here's a brilliant and funny post by author Jaclyn Dolamore on the 10 types of reviews that make authors sad. I definitely recommend reading it.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

How Bad Are Negative Reviews?

I know of a lot of bloggers who don't write negative reviews - either because they think it's rude or because they just don't care to review the books they didn't like. And that's fine, but it's not what I do and today I wanted to talk about that because I really hope that nobody finds my negative reviews rude or insulting.

I review every YA or MG book I read. If I finish the book, I write a review, and oftentimes this means writing a less-than-stellar review. Sometimes it means being negative. Sometimes it means really negative. There are some books I just don't like. Some that have flaws that I can't get past or that I wish someone had told me about before picking the book up.

A lot of times I'm that rare minority in the blogging world. The one who doesn't love a book everyone else is gaga over. And sometimes this is just me, just the fact that the book hit me wrong or didn't interest me for whatever reason. Other times though (and most of the time) I genuinely see flaws in the book. Ones that others either haven't noticed or didn't think important enough to point out. But I mention these things - the too-slow pace, the unrealistic relationships, the character I just couldn't stand. I never try to do it in a mean way and though anything you've written is intensely personal to you, I never mean for a negative review to be an attack on the author. It's about the book. I could love the next book an author writes, or the previous book, and still not like the one I reviewed.

One of my biggest policies on the blog and in my reviews is honesty. Even if everyone else in the world likes a certain book, there's still a reason I didn't. And maybe (probably) there's another reader out there with similar tastes, who will appreciate a different viewpoint. I'm fairly in-depth in my reviews and while this is partly because I don't want to leave anything out, it's also because my feelings and opinions on most books are fairly complicated. I'll like some parts of a book and be bored by others, or I'll be surprised or disappointed by something in the book and I want to talk about that, to share it with others. Sometimes this means giving a negative review.

So what do you guys think? Negative reviews: yay or nay? My reviews: yay or nay?

Also, I have more thoughts on reviews (and my system in particular) that will be up within the week. Stay tuned!

Edit: But really, Adele of Persnickety Snark says it better than I ever could.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Please Be Nicer

I've been reading a lot of Goodreads reviews lately, and though this only indirectly related to reading or books, I wanted to address it here because it's an attitude that really does bother me.

In reviews of books like The Truth About Forever, Dreamland, The Pact, Twenty Boy Summer, and other books that have protagonists dealing with things like depression, grief, and people dealing with serious relationship/family/emotional issues (things like losing someone you love, being neglected, or being in an abusive relationship), I've found a lot of reviews that say things to the effect of:
omg, can't she/he just GET OVER IT ALREADY!!!??
i have little sympathy for people this stupid/weak. ugh. 
The answer to the first question is MAYBE NOT and to the second -- sorry everyone can't be as strong/intelligent as you.

The fact is that people go through things. Real people, real issues, every single day. And even though the reviews I've read are for fictional books, aimed at fictional characters, the sentiment behind them startles and worries me because I can only assume they feel the same way about actual people who go through these things. Asking someone who is depressed if they can just "get over it already??" is insensitive and rude. The word "depressed" gets tossed around a lot, and pretty carelessly by many people, but depression is a real issue. And it's not a bad day, or a bad week, or something most people can just snap out of. Clinical depression is something that makes people feel hopeless and worthless; it's so much more, so much worse than just having a bad day. It often requires medical treatment and isn't something that should be treated lightly or scoffed at.

And guess what?

There are things in life that hurt people. The death of a loved one. Heartbreak. Family problems, personal problems, health problems, all kinds of things that aren't obvious when meeting someone could be affecting them emotionally. And I know there are people who are able to get up, dust themselves off, and move on when it comes to these things,b but for other people the events can be crippling. We all handle things and react to things differently. What might hurt one person, might affect them for years and so much longer than anyone thinks it "should" could, for someone else, not be a big deal.

We are all fragile, and different things can break us.

I am not stupid or weak. My friends and my family are not stupid or weak. And yet so many of us, so many of the people I know and love, have been through things that hurt them, that broke them. Anyone -- if hit at the wrong time, with the wrong thing, can become that "stupid" or "weak" person. They can fall apart. They can lose themselves and find that it's really not that easy to get over it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Contemporary YA Lit 101 (The Recommended List)

Last week I introduced my posts on Contemporary YA Lit 101, sharing the fifteen contemporary YA books I consider to be "required reading" for the genre. I really love this idea of bringing together all the best of the genre (or of any genre that you're passionate about). A few days ago I saw a girl in my Lit class reading The Hunger Games and when I asked her about it she said she really liked the book but had hesitated buying it (even though her friend recommended it) because it was in the "teen girls' section" of the bookstore.

As someone who loves the teen girls' section of the store (which, by the way, is not just for girls), I was a little disappointed to hear someone mention it as if those books are somehow "less" than the other books in the store. But of course, this happens all the time. The last time I went to my favorite used bookstore the woman working there found me in the YA section and told me that I was probably a little too old for those books. And I understand that because by its very nature YA is geared towards teenagers, not those in their twenties. But I hate the dismissal of the genre just like I hate the dismissal of children's books just because they're "written for children."

So, with that in mind, here are the five recommended reading books for Contemporary YA. Note that I originally had five books chosen for this list, but I realized that one of them is actually more dystopian than contemporary.

Contemporary Young Adult 101 Reading List: Recommended Reading:

Some Girls Are, by Courtney Summers -  <3  ??
When Regina gets frozen out of her popular group, the girls she used to call her best friends turn on her. They ice her out, bully her emotionally, physically, and online. They turn everyone against her and, after having done the same thing to others in the past, Regina finds that she has no friends left to lean on. This book explores bullying, the dynamics of mean girls, and toxic friendships so much better than anything else I've read. It's intense, often horrifying, but insanely impactful.

Dreamland, by Sarah Dessen -  ??  <3  FAM  ^_^
While most of Dessen's work has a slow, nearly plot-free feeling to it, this one is different. Though it's still very character-driven, there's a very definite storyline in the relationship between Caitlin and Rogerson - the boy who seems so perfect, until suddenly he's anything but. There's a lot of exploration of family in this book, as in all of Dessen's books, but even stronger is the story of the abusive relationship Caitlin finds herself in.

Tell It to Naomi, by Daniel Ehrenhaft -  LOL  <3  FAM
One of the most thoroughly and wonderfully "typical teenage" books on this list, here is a story of unrequited love, friendship, and the protagonist's well-intentioned plan to win the girl of his dreams. The plan, of course, is far from perfect and the result is both awkward and hilarious at the same time.

Twenty Boy Summer, by Sarah Ockler -  <3  &  
An incredible and well-crafted story of friendship and grief, set during a summer beach vacation. This is another very authentic teenage book, not only in the writing but also the ways that Anna and her best friend handle their grief, which is part of what makes it such a great read and example of YA.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Favorite Newberries

Last night I dreamt I got in a fight with someone because they called Children's/YA books "trite." What they actually said was, "touche," but you know how sometimes in dreams things mean something else and you know it even though it doesn't make any sense? It was like that.

Anyway, in honor of "touche" children's literature, a list of my five favorite Newbery Winners.

1. Bridge to Terabithia 
Katherine Paterson
I swear, this book ends up on every "favorites" or "top 10" list I make that it's eligible for. I love it so much. If you haven't read it yet, buy yourself a box of tissues and sit down and read it. Because it's amazing. And the movie is pretty good too, actually.

2. Criss Cross
Lynne Rae Perkins
One of the more recent winners (2006), this book seriously deserved it. Perkins is a master of words and this book, like her earlier All Alone in the Universe completely resonated with me. It's a very character-driven story that sometimes seems to be lacking in plot, but all the different threads of this book come together so perfectly. It's incredible.

3. The View from Saturday
E. L. Konigsburg
Please don't ambush me for thinking this is better than the formidable The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Because it really is the best.

4. The Higher Power of Lucky
Susan Patron
There's just something wonderful about this book. Probably, um, the whole entire thing, actually.

5. Ginger Pye
Eleanor Estes
This book is definitely the oldest on my list -- it won in 1952 -- and I haven't read it in ages, but I remember absolutely loving it.

What are your favorite Newberries?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I Don't Love These!

I recently read a book I didn't love. Yes, this happens often and yes, expecting to love every book you read is asking too much. But this book specifically was one that disappointed me, that I wanted so much to love, or at least to like more than I did. Not only is it by an author I adore and whose previous book is one of my favorites, but the whole premise of what this book was about had me hooked. It sounded exactly like my kind of book.

And then I read it.

And I liked it, don't get me wrong.
But that's it. I didn't love it, didn't really like it. It was just good. I know other people who've read it and loved it; I even sent a text to one of my friends while I was reading it, telling her how iffy I was about the book.

I wanted to love it, but I didn't. I finished, set the book aside, and found it impossible to convince myself that the book was more than what it was. I was hoping to write a rave review and ended up writing a mediocre one, because I can't not be honest in my reviews. I mean, theoretically I could, but I know how much I'd hate myself for it. So instead I wrote an honest review (it'll be up in December) and tried to figure out what about the book stopped me from liking it more than I did.

Was it my expectations? My hopes? Generally I try to erase my hopes and expectations before starting a book because I don't want to be disappointed, but this time I found that difficult to to.

Was it the book? Was the writing not there? No. The writing was definitely there.

The fact is that there was just something missing for me personally. That spark, that invisible connection to a book, that magic pixie dust that makes you love something. If I wrote out everything this book was about -- who wrote it, the subject matter, the setting, the premise -- it would look like my perfect match, a book tailor-made just for me. This, more than anything else, is what makes it so sad to me that I ended up feeling so iffy about this book.

And I have to ask you guys, whether you're bloggers, authors, or just readers - has this ever happened to you? Have you ever read a book that you want to love, that sounds just like something you'd adore, that even afterwards sounds like your kind of book - and just not felt it? 

(Also, first person to correctly tell me what the title of this post is a reference to gets +10 Geek Points, which are completely imaginary and arbitrary but also awesome.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Babysitter That Nobody Liked

Everything you need to know about Mallory Pike's personality and social status is summed up in the fact that, at age 11 and in middle school, her best outfit was described (by her) as this:
I finally decided on my red jumper that said Mallory across the front, a short-sleeved white blouse, and white tights with little red hearts all over them. --BSC #14: Hello, Mallory
Dear goodness, this girl has worse fashion sense than I do, and for years my favorite item of clothing was a rainbow-striped Lisa Frank sweatshirt that I still stand by, thank you very much, but at least it didn't have my name on it. And at least it wasn't a whole entire outfit, topped off with penny loafers.

It might not surprise you to know that Mallory Pike, oldest of eight children and unfortunately frizzy-haired, was one of my favorite members of the Baby-Sitters Club. (Bonus points to whoever can guess who the other favorite is.) Not only was Mallory a wannabe writer, like myself, but there were many other STARTLING SIMILARITIES and our shared lack of fashion sense was only the beginning.

Which is why I always hated that she was so, um, well, hated. It was like Ann M. Martin thought to herself - now that I have all of these awesome characters that my readers will be totally jealous of, I need to create someone that awkward preteen girls the world over can feel superior to. And thus Mallory Pike came into existence. She had frizzy red hair, seven younger siblings she was raising always babysitting for free, wanted to be a famous writer, was a total bookworm, and had no friends before joining the BSC and -- let's be honest -- none of those girls liked her. 

They had her draw a map of the digestive system and define the difference between "creeping" and "crawling" in order to determine if she was good enough to join their club. When the girls went to NYC and she took an art class with Claudia, both Claudia and the teacher basically felt sorry for her because she was drawing cute little mice during what was supposed to be a real art class. The only reason Jessi was her best friend in the first place was because Stonybrook is apparently Racism Capital, USA, and the other girls in sixth grade were like GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM LIKE AFRICA OR WHEREVER. That is not even a joke. Mallory was best friend by default. Whenever any of the older girls in the Baby-Sitters Club talk about Mallory there's always this sort of oh, poor Mallory attitude. Like they feel really, really sorry for her just because she's Mallory Pike, which is, apparently, synonymous with loser.

Mallory was the punching bag of the Baby-Sitters Club. And of her family. AND OF THE UNIVERSE. Braces, frizzy red hair, glasses, zero fashion sense -- this is the universal image of the nerd. And because this isn't Disney Channel, Mallory never gets to take off her glasses and everyone suddenly realizes she's OMG SO BEAUTIFUL!!!

While the other girls with hobbies get to be supremely talented (Jessi's dancing, Claudia's art), Mallory's writing gets about one sentence in the infamous Chapter Two, tacked onto the end of a freaking paragraph about what a great dancer Jessi is. And while the other members were getting paid to babysit, Mallory was stuck watching her six younger siblings all the time, free of charge, no matter what else she was doing. "Oh, you have homework? Oh, you have plans? SO WHAT? HERE ARE YOUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS. PLEASE RAISE THEM FOR US." (As a sidenote: Stonybrook parents = WORST. PARENTS. EVER.)

So why do I love Mallory so much?

I don't know.

Partly because she's that representation of every sad, lame, awkward part of every teen girl. Partly because there was so much there. So much potential for her character, this gawky, geeky girl whose own friends didn't even really like her, to become something awesome. But, because it's the BSC and nothing ever changes, Mallory Pike will forever be stuck in the sixth grade with bad hair, glasses, braces, and cringe-worthy fashion sense. She'll always be overshadowed by her cooler friends, always just on the outside of the group she desperately wants to be a part of, and always the total embodiment of that girl you don't want to be.

But honestly? I WANT TO BE MALLORY PIKE'S FRIEND. I feel like we would get along. 

(Oh and also? There's a Get Smart episode about a frizzy redheaded children's writer/illustrator who holds the key to a case that Max is on. She's really awkward and shy and plain-looking -- until the makeover montage -- and I'm convinced that she's Mallory Pike all grown up. The titles of her children's books? The Tiger That Couldn't, and The Elephant That Wouldn't. Obviously her childhood scarred her for life.)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

In My Mailbox: (Almost) Every Genre

Bookswap: I read this book years ago, but after my mom read The Tipping Point (by the same incredible writer), she wanted to read this one, too. If you haven't read Malcolm Gladwell yet, for whatever reason, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? His author bio should just say: "This is Malcolm Gladwell and he's amazing. You betta recognize."

Bought: So many books! Of course I've read The Giver before, but I'd like to read it again and I didn't actually own a copy. This is the second copy I've bought of The History of Love, which is an absolutely amazing book and I got the second copy to send to my grandma. The last book here that I've read is A Northern Light, by Jennifer Donnelly. I don't typically read a lot of historical fiction, but this book is absolutely stunning.

Now, the ones I haven't read: Both Jodi Picoult novels. I did see the Lifetime movie based on The Pact, so I'm sort of spoiled for the book. But I'm really excited; Picoult's books are always very hit and miss with me, so I'm hoping these are good ones. And The Pecking Order is part of my journey to read more nonfiction - it looks like an interesting book and I'm hoping I like it. Sometimes I'm really disappointed by the nonfiction that I find.

Also, I know Jodi Picoult is not a YA author, but The Pact does seem like it could be a YA novel, so what would you guys think of me reviewing it on the blog?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Contemporary Young Adult Literature 101 (Part Two)

Yesterday I talked about what a great genre contemporary YA is and how many amazing books it holds, if only you now where to look. I also posted part one of my Required Reading list, promising more to come. Today I'm sharing with you the second part of  my Contemporary Young Adult Lit 101 list, and next week I'll post the Recommended Reading list, made up of the books that didn't quite make it into the first fifteen.

Contemporary Young Adult Literature 101: Required Reading (pt.2):

Paper Towns, by John Green - LOL  <3  ^_^
John Green's third novel tells the story of Quentin Jacobsen and the amazing, erethreal girl he's loved since childhood. When the magnificent Margo Roth Spiegelman disappears before their high school graduation, Q chases after her, finding clues he believes that have been left for him along the way. This is an incredible mystery with plenty of exploration of friendship, love, and our perceptions of others.

This is What I Want to Tell You, by Heather Duffy-Stone - FAM  ^_^  <3
This story of two twins and their best friend, is told in alternating point-of-view from the siblings, as the two slip further and further away from each other, one starting a new chapter in his life while the other seems to be spinning out of control. This is one of the most deeply emotional novels I've read; the slim book has extremely strong characters and packs quite a punch.

The Chosen One, by Carol Lynch Williams - ??  ^_^
This is a gut-wrenching story of a young girl attempting to escape from the strict, polygamist community she's grown up in after becoming betrothed against her will to her uncle. It's a harrowing, insanely intense novel that's gratifying while seeming very authentic and realistic.

Suite Scarlett, by Maureen Johnson - FAM  LOL
Without a doubt Maureen Johnson is one of contemporary YA's best and funniest writers and her newest series, focusing on a New York family who owns, runs, and lives in an old hotel, is arguably her best work yet. Though this book is the first in a series it works incredibly well on its own as the family's teenage daughter deals with the eccentric new guest, her older brother's hilarious and crazy antics, and the new love interest in her life. Above all, this is a LOL-for-real book full of memorable characters and relationships.

Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson - ??  &
This is a beautifully-written, haunting novel about a teenage girl battling anorexia -- the same disease that killed her best friend. The plot, voice, and characterization are all handled amazingly, not to mention that the subject matter itself is intensely compelling. Though it's a difficult topic to tackle or to read about, this book is definitely a must-read.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart - <3  ^_^  LOL
Frankie is a funny, feisty, whip-smart protagonist and her story is one of love, feminism, wordplay, and incredible boarding school hijinks. The book is hilarious, touching, relatable, and one of the best-written books I've come across. I can't say enough good things about it.

The Mockingbirds, by Daisy Whitney - ??  ^_^ 
This book tackles issues the issues of date rape, justice, and right vs. wrong in an incredible way. When Alex, a student at the prestigious Themis Academy, is date-raped, she can't go to the administration and instead she turns to The Mockingbirds - the student body's own justice system. Through her wonderfully-written story, this book tackles some very important and difficult subjects in a great way.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Contemporary Young Adult Literature 101 (Part One)

I feel protective of YA. I feel protective of it in much the same way that I am with country music, thinking that if you don't like it it's just because you haven't yet read or heard the right stuff. Both genres are, aside from being favorites of mine, intensely personal to me and of course I am biased because of this.

Still, whenever I hear someone say they don't read YA, don't like YA, or maybe just give me that blank stare when I tell them that's what I read (the look seems to say, "but you're smart! you're educated! you... you... I expected more of you!") - whenever this happens I feel like giving them a list of all the truly great YA books, the ones that YOU MUST READ. Contemporary Young Adult Lit 101*, as it were. YAL 101 might not include the "benchmark" YA books that everyone has heard of, but instead would be focused on the best of the best. The YA that really represents not only the best of what the genre has to offer, but also the best of what books themselves have to offer.

This list (so exhaustively made by, um, me) includes fifteen required reading YA books and five recommended reading books. There will be three posts: the first two for the Required Reading and the last for the Recommended Reading.

Contemporary Young Adult Lit 101 Reading List: Required Reading (pt. 1):

If I Stay, by Gayle Forman -  FAM  ^_^  <3 
Gayle Forman's incredible novel tells the story of a teenage cellist who has everything one could want - a close-knit, loving family, an amazing boyfriend, and a chance at the musical education she's always wanted. Then, with one tragic car accident all of this is taken away. Her family is destroyed, she's in a coma, and suddenly she only has one choice: will she fight to stay, or will she let go?

Deadline, by Chris Crutcher - &  <3   ^_^
When he goes to the doctor for a routine physical, Ben finds out he has a rare disease and one year to live. Not wanting to undergo the risky treatment, he instead decides to hide his "deadline" from the world and live his last year to the fullest, doing all the things he always wanted to do someday. This is an amazing novel with a relatable protagonist and carpe diem feeling.

The Rules of Survival, by Nancy Werlin - FAM  ??
Written as a letter to the protagonist's younger sister, this novel chronicles the life of Matt and his younger siblings under the care of their abusive and cruel mother. The characters are put in harrowing situations, often forced to walk a figurative tightrope in order to survive in their day-to-day. A heartbreaking portrayal of twisted family dynamics and the struggle for self-preservation.

Sweethearts, by Sara Zarr - <3  ^_^
As children, pudgy Jennifer Harris and misfit Cameron Quick were best friends and after Cameron died and Jennifer found herself facing life alone, she reinvented herself. She became skinny, friendly, and popular. Then she finds out that Cameron isn't dead and comes face-to-face with not only her past, but also the one person who means more to her than anything and anyone else. This is an incredibly bittersweet, unique sort of love and friendship story.

The First Part Last, by Angela Johnson - FAM  ??
When Bobby's girlfriend gets pregnant, his life is irrevocably changed. Things like school and hanging out with friends suddenly fall to the wayside as Bobby finds himself trying to figure out what to do, how to handle things. Suddenly this sixteen year old troublemaker has someone else depending on him, and his journey to figure out his new life and make the right decisions is sharp and wonderful.

The Truth About Forever, by Sarah Dessen - FAM  &  ^_^  <3
Sarah Dessen's best book to date is about Macy, a teenage girl attempting to be perfect after the sudden death of her dad. Ever since that morning, Macy's life has been a game of pretend. Pretending she's not grieving, pretending to be perfect, pretending to be okay with the tiny box that is her life. It's a wonderfully-written story of grief, family, and love.

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler - LOL  <3  FAM  ^_^
As if dealing with her weight, insecurities, and relationships wasn't confusing enough, now Virginia's older brother is on probation from college. For allegedly date-raping a girl. The information comes as a shock to Virginia, who has always admired her brother, and suddenly she's looking at everything in her life - especially her family - a bit differently. This book manages to be both funny and profound at the same time.

Scrambled Eggs at Midnight, by Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler - <3  FAM
One of the best love stories I've read, this book follows Calliope and Eliot as their lives come together. One lives at a Christian-themed fat camp run by his money-hungry father while the other travels across the country to Renaissance Faires with her mother. The characters are well-developed, the two dynamics of the two families are both heart-aching and realistic, while the love story is sweet and near-perfect without coming across as a Disney fairytale.

* I read contemporary and know the genre better than I know any other. If any blogger out there wants to make a Fantasy, Paranormal, or Dystopian list, or explore a smaller subset of the Contemporary genre, feel free. But let me know, please! I'd love to see what you think are the must-reads of your favorite genre!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Debut Review: The Lonely Hearts Club

Elizabeth Eulberg
This book was quite win. After the boy she's loved since forever breaks her heart, Penny Lane Bloom (named for the song) decides that all guys are jerks and vows not to date. At least, not until she's done with high school. She starts a Lonely Hearts Club with herself as the sole member. However, when her recently dumped ex-best-friend wants to join, the club and its mission of female empowerment becomes bigger than just Penny Lane. Soon other girls, either broken-hearted or just disillusioned by the  less-than-stellar guys around them, join the club. And Penny Lane finds that she's started a revolution. But of course, swearing off love is more difficult than it seems, especially when Penny Lane finds a guy who genuinely seems to like her and reminds her that not all guys are jerks.

Penny Lane is a stubborn and determined heroine, convinced that every guy is The Enemy. Her harsh attitude would get old quickly, but it soon mellows out and we're reminded that she's angry because she's hurt, because her fairytale came crashing down around her. The way that this particular part of the book is written felt spot-on and was a place of genuine sadness and regret in an otherwise fun and cute story. The characters here were fun and relateable, but, with a few exceptions, not especially original, and there's a large cast of girls in The Lonely Hearts Club that we never get the chance to know. However the book's real triumph is in its relationships. More specifically, the friendship shared by the members of Penny Lane's Lonely Hearts Club. Though there are a lot of characters we don't know much about, the friendship between the three  main girls is positive and realistic while the club as a whole has a very supportive and upbeat atmosphere. These girls are in different grades, have different interests and previously existed in separate social circles, but thanks to the club they come together as friends and learn to support each other even while having differing opinions. Honestly this is one of the best depictions of friendship that I've come across lately and I definitely wanted to jump into the book so that I could be a part of the fabulous Lonely Hearts Club.

The romance aspect lacked spark; the boy (whose name I won't spoil for you) was nice, normal, and sometimes funny, but seemed boring at times. I wanted the feisty Penny Lane to end up with someone more spectacular and it's a good thing the love story here plays second-fiddle to the larger, more important story of the girls' friendship and self-discovery. While the setting is fairly standard - a nondescript high school - Penny Lane's love for and obsession with The Beatles carries over into the rest of the book. From the title and cover to quotes inside the book and many, many Beatles references, the mood of this book perfectly matches that of the British invasion music. Though the ending of this book felt a little too perfect for me, the story is adorable, Penny Lane is a cheer-worthy protagonist, and the many musical references made me want to hug this adorable, wonderful book.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

10 Embarrassing Movie & TV-Related Facts About Me

  1. Kicking and Screaming, the Will Ferrell movie about a dad who coaches his son's horrible soccer team, is one of my all-time favorite movies. I sincerely and absolutely love it. It's the rare movie that I can not only watch all the way through, but also watch over and over again.
  2. At one time I found the WORLD'S WORST REALITY SHOW on Hulu. It was called America's Most Smartest Model. I watched way way way more episodes than I'd like to admit, only stopped because one of the judges was so incredibly horrible, and legit loved that show. It was beyond hilarious.
  3. I love infomercials more than any sane human being should. The world's best infomercial was the one for the Magic Bullet (do they still air that one anymore?) and, after many years of saying omg I want thattt!! my mom actually bought me the Magic Bullet. And guess what? IT ROCKS.
  4. Last week I went to the grocery store at about 10:30 at night and bought a box of Hot Pockets, three frozen pot pies, and a soda. I have never felt more like Liz Lemon. (And, trust me, I almost always feel like Liz Lemon.)
  5. I love fanvids. (Def. A music video made by a fan of a television show or movie, using a song and video clips from the show/movie.) Seriously seriously seriously love them. I have tons favorited on YouTube.
  6. The episode of Gilmore Girls when Rory slept with Dean made me hate her and it took a couple of entire seasons for me to love her character again.
  7. I've had the theme song to Elmo's World stuck in my head for years. For a while it was so bad that I'd take notes in class, go over the notes later, and find that I'd written la la la la elmo's world over and over in the margins. I would, of course, have absolutely no recollection of doing this. (And I don't live with kids, so I don't know how I always have that song stuck in my head. Obviously I'm just a kid at heart.)
  8. I hate (hate hate double hate) the movie Clueless.
  9. I watched half an hour of the Wizard of Waverly Place Movie and even though I knew those two characters (I don't know their naaaames) were brother and sister, I still expected them to kiss. Because Disney Channel doesn't understand sibling relationships or something they have serious issues. (But honestly, did anyone else watch this movie? Was the campfire scene seriously messed up or what?)
  10. I tend to remember movies and television shows that nobody else seems to have heard of. Do any of these ring a bell to you: Flash Forward (the old Disney Channel show) So Weird! (another Disney Channel show), some show about a girl who sits in her window and talks to the moon at night, Superfire (a made-for-tv movie)? Anyone? Bueller... Bueller?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Review: Every Soul A Star

Wendy Mass
This book has one of the most unique premises I've come across lately. The story follows three young teens during their stay at a stargazing camp called Moon Shadow as eclipse-chasers from around the world prepare for a total eclipse of the sun. The book is told in first person, from three different characters: Ally, whose family has run the campground for longer than she can remember; Bree, a wannabe model who's mortified to learn that her family will be taking over care of the camp after the eclipse; and Jack, a loner on the trip with a tour group headed by his science teacher. The story follows these three teens from a little over a week before the eclipse right up to the big event. Bree's trying to come to grips with being exiled out in the middle of nowhere for the next three years while Ally has to deal with leaving the place she loves for the dullness of civilization, where she'll have to navigate the complexities of public school and peers.

This book had tons of potential but, unfortunately, failed to live up to it. While the premise is amazing, the plot meanders along at a snail's pace; it takes until nearly a third of the way through before the story really begins, and even then it goes incredibly slow as I kept waiting for something to happen. There was a lot of science here, which would have been really interesting and good if it had been better integrated instead of ending up as long-winded, academia-heavy speeches from the more knowledgeable characters. As it was it felt far too easy to get lost - or bored - during the explanations of eclipses, space junk, and dark matter. I found myself wishing that this book were told from just one character's POV as all three narratives had very similar voices, enough that I often forgot whose chapter I was reading and had to double check. The characters themselves  are sometimes complex and well-developed (Jack and Ryan, who was one of the most interesting characters) and sometimes flat and stereotypical (Bree and Ally).

Jack, the loner of the group, is the only one of the three main characters with any real dimension to him - he's interested in science fiction but failed his actual science class, he has no friends back home but quickly finds his place among the eclipse-chasers, and though he can sometimes be boring, he's a very kindhearted character. Ally, the "astrodork," has grown up completely isolated from anything resembling civilization - no internet, no television, no texting, no music - and this makes her interesting, but dull as I sometimes found myself wondering how she could be that out of the loop. Bree on the other hand, is beautiful, popular, and completely vapid. She wants to be a model, has a grading system for other people's appearances, and starts the book one hundred percent annoying though she definitely grows as a person through the course of her narrative. The relationships here are fairly predictable - sweet, but predictable as middle-school-style romances form, new friendships are born, and everyone learns to get along with people who are nothing like them. It's good, but it mostly feels boring, which is the biggest problem with this book.

I continued reading this book in the hopes that it would pick up, that something would happen, that there would be a big payoff at the end and, unfortunately, there wasn't. It was a decent book with an interesting subject, but the plot was too slow and the writing was too dull to really hold my attention.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bloody Red Heart (OMG!)


(For those of you who didn't click the link, RED has now been adapted for the stage. It's called Bloody Red Heart, which was the initial working title of the book, and is playing in LA this month. I saw this when it was being workshopped and I'm crazy-excited that it's like a real thing now.)

20 Songs I'll Listen To

iTunes on shuffle. First 20 songs I don't want to skip past.
  1. Freight Train - Alan Jackson
  2. Speed of Life - Sugarland
  3. The Dynamo of Volition - Jazon Mraz
  4. Not Your Year - The Weepies
  5. Chasing Pavements - Adele
  6. Evening Kitchen - Band of Horses
  7. Long Distance Runaround - Yes
  8. Stronger Woman - Jewel
  9. On My Way Back Home - Band of Horses
  10. Glad - Tyler HIlton
  11. Wanted - Alan Jackson
  12. Naked - Avril Lagigne
  13. The Best Damn Thing - Avril Lavigne
  14. A Man on a Tractor - Rodney Atkins
  15. Better Life - Keith Urban
  16. Army Men - Charlotte Sometimes
  17. Blah Blah Blah - Ke$ha
  18. Another Place to Fall - KT Tunstall
  19. Brand New Key - Deana Carter
  20. The Day Before You - Rascal Flatts

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In My Mailbox: Friends & Family

Bookswap: I've actually been wanting to read this book since it was published last year, so of course I had to snatch it up when it was listed on Goodreads' Bookswap. (And had to read it right away.) It's absolutely as adorable as it looks and I'm so glad I finally read it. 

Won: I won this one from the author herself and you have no idea how excited I am to read it. I loved TWENTY BOY SUMMER and Sarah Ockler's second novel sounds just as interesting and lovely, especially since it deals with the mother-daughter relationship. I'm terribly excited about it.

And again, if anyone out there has great nonfiction recommendations, I'd love to hear them. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Where Have All the (Stand-Alone) Stories Gone?

As  rule, I'm not a big fan of sequels. Sure, there are a few really great sequels, trilogies, and series that I absolutely love, but I'm always hesitant to pick up a book that I know is going to turn into a series.

Especially if it's contemporary.

Sci-fi and dystopian (especially dystopian) is different; lots of times the story contained in a dystopian novel is too big to tell in one book. These books have world-building, good guys and bad guys, epic battles, and, very frequently, world-changing events. The need a lot of space. A lot of pages. More than one book.

But contemporary novels? The stories in them, more often than not, are one-shots. They're about falling in love or falling apart or finding yourself or losing someone else. They're about family, friends, school, life - and the events that change us, shape us, or make us. These stories are incredible, but they fit in one book. Much of contemporary YA is writing about a person, event, or time, that really matters to the protagonist. Someone or something that changes them, teaches them, or makes them into someone better than they were before. Oftentimes it seems like turning these fabulous stand-alone stories into series just diminishes the impact. It drags out a story that shouldn't keep going. A story that works so great alone.

And it makes me sad to see so many perfectly wonderful stand-alones being turned into or planned as series. Yes, there are fabulous contemporary series; there are stories that need more than one book to be told and worlds where, even if the story can be contained in one book, it's such fun to read more. But there are also a lot of series that shouldn't be, and personally I'm not averse to reading the first book and - even if I love it - stopping there. Because sometimes that's what needs to happen.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hello, Stereotypes!

You guys, I'm so tired of stereotypes. As a reader who absolutely adores character-driven novels I always cringe when I come across a flat character who is so easily labeled with a stereotype that everyone knows - and then has no personality apart from it.

I'm sick of, among other things:

  • Dumb & Vapid Model/Aspiring Model -> This stereotype works just as well with cheerleaders, but I've seen it more often lately with models or wannabe models. These characters are portrayed as shallow, entirely superficial, and with no interests other than looking good. They can't carry on intelligent conversations, often judge others (even & especially their friends) based on appearances alone, and they make me want to scream. I get that modeling/cheerleading is one of those things with a very pronounced and often exaggerated culture that is great for stereotypical portrayals, but also very bothersome. Nobody is one-dimensional. My model sister might spend hours organizing her clothes, but she also has a list of books to read that includes quite a few classics, and listens to great music that I've never even heard of.
  • Bad Boy Who Isn't Really -> You know the characters that fall under this cliche; Edward Cullen is just one of them. These are the guys that have been to juvy, that are total womanizers, that do drugs and skip class and are totally horrible. Except, you know, not, because then they find their One True Love and become a changed man and it turns out that they always had a heart of gold! Excuse me but - barf. This can be done well, of course, but it's such a huge cliche that in order for it to work the character's personality and life has to really be explored so that the reader can move beyond the Bad-Boy-With-A-Good-Heart image. And that's a really, really difficult thing to do; more often the third-act revelation that this character is actually one of the good guys is passed off as depth of character when it's anything but.
  • Inseparable BFFs Since Birth -> This happens a lot in YA and MG and I don't know about you guys, but the best friend I had in kindergarten? Not my best friend anymore. Surprising as it is (note massive sarcasm), we changed a bit between age five and the start of high school. Different groups of friends, different interests, different everything. Friendships are hard, best-friendships are the hardest, and it's really rare to stay that close to someone you've been besties with your entire life. It happens, just not often, and not without struggles and fights along the way. Whenever I read a book with best friends who've been best friends since elementary school, who never fight, who completely love and understand everything about each other it ceases to be realistic to me - people are different. Even people who have a great friendship or relationship and who really do love and care for each other - even those people don't agree on everything. 
All three of these massive cliches can be done. They can be done well, they can be done extremely well, but they rarely are. However, this only makes it all the more awesome when I find a book that nails it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Review: The Treasure Map of Boys


Ruby Oliver, the funny, quirky, crazy mental patient, is back at Tate Prep. She's once again dealing with the complicated world of boys (most notably Noel and the ex-boyfriend, Jackson) and friends (Nora and Meghan). She's still seeing Dr. Z and trying to work through her "issues" and deal with the panic attacks that are coming more frequently lately, especially when Jackson's around.

The premise here is a continuation of the first two books, as is the Noel-Jackson-Nora-focused plot. Roo is a crazy, quirky, remarkably confused and likable character that I've always been able to relate to far more than is probably healthy. In the first two books she worked out a few of her boy-and-friend-related issues after her best friend stole her boyfriend, and in the third installment she's trying to figure out just what she does want. What kind of friendships she wants and, more to the point, what sort of boy-girl relationship she wants. And who she wants that relationship with. Because one thing is obvious in this book: Roo wants a boyfriend. Badly. She ping-pongs between the various guys in her life: Noel, Jackson, Gideon, Finn, and despite frequently mentioning her horrible social status, she seems to have a constant group of guys who - it's obvious - would love to go out with her.

Despite the fact that these are the exact same characters that peopled the first two Ruby Oliver books, they seemed a bit flat and superficial this time around. Before, Roo was boy-obsessed, but it was with specific reasons. She was crazy about certain boys and confused over certain relationships. Now, she's just boy-obsessed. Any of them, whatever. And while this may be realistic to the teenage experience, it didn't sit quite right on Roo. In the past she had been focused on figuring out the relationships she had with guys in her life; in this book her goal was a boyfriend. That said, the characters and their dynamics continue to be well-written in this third book and the confusion of just dealing with people, not to mention the complex emotions that go along with having feelings for another human being, are portrayed wonderfully here. There were times when it seemed that there really was no "right answer" for Ruby and, even in the end, the book didn't shy away from this aspect of life.

On the whole, this was a good, funny-but-charming book. As with all of E. Lockhart's novels, there's true heart here. Though I definitely enjoyed the first two novels in the series more, this one is a worthy successor and the ending is fairly wonderful and sets us up for the fourth book perfectly.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Those Books We Love & Hate

I sometimes don't understand the appeal of certain books. Books that everyone else seems to love, that get rave reviews on blogs and elsewhere, that my little corner of Twitter is always abuzz about. Everyone else loves the book and I just... don't. For some books it's just that I didn't care so much about it; there wasn't an impact either way, but for other books I actively dislike them. And I know that as a reader, a blogger, a writer - everything book-related that I identify with - this is probably a horrible thing to say, but it's true. I've read books that I didn't like, that I couldn't force myself to like, that I didn't understand why other people were so in love with, and that I really felt like were getting a lot of attention that, in my opinion, should have gone to what I saw as more deserving books. I've written reviews on these books, trying to be as objective as possible (because objectively, they're usually pretty decent books), but personally some of them made me cringe and wonder what is all the fuss about?

Usually these are "issue books" and my extreme reaction to them this has to do with the book (a) not really being that well-written but getting lots of praise for other things, and (b) striking a particular chord with me in a very, very bad way. Off the top of my head I can think of two different YA books that warranted this reaction with me and though I don't feel entirely comfortable naming names, I do want to talk about it a bit because this issue has come to mind again recently.

The book that has, once again, brought this to the front of my mind is Daisy Whitney's debut novel, THE MOCKINGBIRDS. Which, as you know, I absolutely loved. However, upon finishing the book I knew two things:

  1. Most people who read this will absolutely love it.
  2. Some people who read it will absolutely hate it, possibly even for the same reasons that I love it.
So, readers, I have to ask: has there ever been a book that was highly-praised, that others loved and everyone recommended, but that you just did not like at all? Maybe that you even hated? Aside from the obvious fact of people just being different, why do you think we have such extreme and different reactions to the same exact book?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Debut Review: The Mockingbirds

Daisy Whitney
Alex Patrick should remember her first time, but she doesn't. She doesn't remember ending up in his bedroom, doesn't remember having sex, doesn't even remember that his name is Carter. When she's date-raped after a concert at first she just wants to forget it ever happened, pretend everything is fine. But then the boy starts spreading rumors, everyone thinks she wanted it to happen, and now Alex wants justice. She wants her life back. She wants to be free to eat in the cafeteria again and play her favorite song without feeling the horror of that night. But at Themis Academy, a utopia for the best and brightest, the faculty believes their students to be perfect. Perfect grades, perfect lives, and perfect behavior. Alex doesn't want to get the police involved, so she goes to The Mockingbirds, the somewhat-underground justice system her older sister founded years earlier. The Mockingbirds will help her. They'll protect her. They'll bring the accused to trial, because the Mockingbirds are law at Themis Academy.

This book has an incredible premise, but none of that matters if the writing and the plot can't live up to that promise. Fortunately, the plot of this book is finely crafted, winding almost seamlessly from point A to point B and everywhere in between. The protagonist, Alex, is a talented pianist in love with Ode to Joy - a piece of music that becomes tainted after this night. Her confusion, pain, and anger come through loud and clear, grabbing the reader with the first sentence and refusing to let go. Alex's story is about rape, but more than that it's about standing up for what's right, about justice, about a code of honor and right against wrong. It's about being brave and tough when those are the last things you feel like you can be. The supporting cast of this book - Alex's older sister, her roommates, key members of the Mockingbirds, and even Carter himself - are all amazingly well-written. Each character is there for a reason and each character, even the most minor, have distinct personalities that make them stand out. The cast of characters here is fairly large, but it's written in the most manageable way possible and the dynamics that exist between certain characters, such as Alex and her roommates, add additional layers and depth to the story.

The prestigious and seemingly perfect Themis Academy is wonderful, enchanting, and vaguely creepy at the same time, and I loved it. This is not a book "about" setting, but it is one where the setting plays a vital role and it works to the advantage of the story as a whole. The book is inspired by To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, and as in that book the trial plays a big part here. Because of this the messages in this issue-heavy book are often at the forefront, stated very clearly and obviously in a way that would be annoying or insulting in any other context. However, because so much of the story is focused on justice in a very real way, it works. Not only does it work, but it works so well that some of the most issue-heavy, heeere's the moral! passages were the best in the book.

For me, everything came together in THE MOCKINGBIRDS. Alex's voice was true-to-life and full of emotion; the writing was amazing; the ending was nearly pitch-perfect. This book, to be honest, blew me away. I had high hopes and nervous expectations after hearing some really great things about it, and those hopes were left in the dust. This book is spectacular. Incredible. I can't recommend it enough.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

In My Mailbox: Stars & Forever

Bought: I found both of these books. I've been wanting to read something by Wendy Mass for a long time and haven't ever picked up one of her titles before, so I thought Every Soul A Star would be a good introduction. I think technically the book is labeled as YA, but it seems to be right on the fence between YA and MG. The other book, The Bright Forever, is part of my attempt to expand my reading horizons and read more outside of the YA world. I haven't started reading it yet, but it definitely looks like something I'm going to really like.

Also, as part of my attempt to broaden my reading horizons, if you guys could suggest some really good nonfiction books that would be great.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Blog Hop (Losing Followers)

Book Blogger Hop

What are your feelings on losing followers? Have you ever stopped following blogs?

I try not to pay attention to how many followers I have but let's be honest - that never works. At least, not for me. I have what I consider a decent number of followers and I really hope that they're all following me because they actually want to and that they enjoy my posts and reviews. It definitely bothers me to lose followers, but I don't let it bother me for long. Personally I have stopped following blogs. Every so often I go through all the blogs I follow and get rid of the ones that either don't post or that I'm just not that interested in reading anymore. If I follow your blog it's because I'm interested in what you have to say and I enjoy reading your posts - and I hope that you're following me for the same reason. If someone isn't following me because they're interested in actually reading the blog, then it's no great loss when they unfollow.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Reading Breakdown

This past week in talking to a fellow blogger over Twitter, she mentioned that she rarely ever reads YA because she finds it difficult to relate to. This caused me to ask myself a few questions:

  1. Will there come a time where I can't relate to young adult literature? Also, how can I make that not happen? (For all of you readers who are in your 20's or older... do you still relate to YA despite no longer being a teenager? Do you think this will change?)
  2. Is the way I relate to books, and YA in particular, different because I also write it? And why do I write YA instead of, say, mainstream fiction or children's?
  3. How much of what I read falls under the YA umbrella?
During the conversation (what do you call a conversation held over Twitter, anyway?) I guessed that I read about 75% YA. However, when I looked at the books I have listed on Goodreads I found that the actual number is surprisingly lower. On my Goodreads "2010" shelf I have listed all 41 books I've read since, oh, July-ish (which was when I really started using Goodreads).

The breakdown goes like this:
Nonfiction: 10%
Average Star Rating: 3.66
This includes: one Malcolm Galdwell book, one teen memoir, one memoir in the form of a graphic novel, and a book on education that I'm in the process of reading for school.

Mainstream Fiction: 7%
Average Star Rating: 2.66
This includes: one awesome book sent to me by Becca as part of our Book Buddies program and two fairly disappointing used-bookstore buys.

Classics: 10%
Average Star Rating: 3
This includes: three books I read for Lit class, although one of them was FAHRENHEIT 451, which I've always loved, and  my favorite novel, GONE WITH THE WIND.

Science Fiction: 2%
Average Star Rating: 2
A book of short stories.

Young Adult: 56%
Average Star Rating: 3.78
This includes: everything I've reviewed, with the majority being contemporary and a few dystopian books thrown in.

Middle Grade: 15%
Average Star Rating: 3.33
This includes: everything else I've reviewed. Again, mostly contemporary.

This means that, even if I lump YA and MG novels in the same category, they take up 71% of my reading and, to be perfectly honest, I expected my reading habits to be a bit narrower than this, especially seeing as how my bookshelves are so full of YA and this blog focuses on that genre almost exclusively. 

Now I have to ask you... what's your reading breakdown? Do you have any idea?