Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ten: Favorite YA Reads of 2011

Since I had my Best YA Books of 2011 post up on I Heart Daily, I debated not even doing this personal post. But in the end I couldn't not talk about my favorite YA books that I read this year, whether they were published in 2011 or not. The books are in the order that I read them in.

1. Anna and the French Kiss
Stephanie Perkins
I really worry I've over-hyped this book. I also worry I haven't hyped it enough. Is there any reader of this blog who hasn't read it yet? If so, FIX THAT RIGHT NOW. Seriously. I was late in reading this one because, well, I didn't believe the buzz surrounding it. That was stupid of me because I don't even have words enough for how much I love this book and how incredible amazing perfect I think it is. 

2. Leverage
Joshua C. Cohen
This book is so raw and so brutal that, as much as I've talked it up, I'm not sure I've ever officially recommended it to anyone. This is because what happens here really is so, so horrible. But this horribleness is met by some of the strongest, best characters I've come across. Kurt Brodsky, I love you. 

3. Where She Went (If I Stay #2)
Gayle Forman
I have a thing for sad, tragic stories and Where She Went completely fits the bill with a heartbroken, struggling protagonist and one magical New York night of what was and what could be and what is. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- I loved this second book even more than If I Stay. Gayle Forman is a master.

4. Rival
Sara Bennett Wealer
One of the absolute best debuts of this year, the story of friends-turned-enemies is an incredible, incredible portrayal of the complex emotions that go along with a friendship that falls apart. It's been recommended as a good read for those interested in the arts, since its main characters are aspiring professional singers, but honestly as someone who knows nothing about music, I love love loved this book and would love to have it see a wider readership.

5. Imaginary Girls
Nova Ren Suma
I've heard this book called creepy, weird, scary... all of which is, to varying degrees, true. It's creepy, but it's also really beautifully written and incredibly atmospheric. It walks the line between reality and fantasy, between commercially viable and literary, which I love. But my favorite thing about this book, by far, is the fact that at its core it's about the love and bonds of sisterhood. Definitely one of the best sister stories out there.

6. Summer Trilogy
Jenny Han
The cover of this book is a stand in for the entire Summer trilogy, two books of which I read in 2011. I can confidentaly say that this is the best written love triangle I've read. The emotions of this series are so incredible and so crisp that it became an instant favorite of mine. Add to this the fact that the ending is so, so perfect and it's a complicated love story I seriously, seriously recommend.

7. Before I Fall
Lauren Oliver
Much like Anna, this is another book I put off reading because I didn't believe the incredible buzz surrounding it. Sometimes, you guys, I'm really stupid when it comes to this stuff because Before I Fall is absolutely one of the most powerful books I've read. Bar none. Though living the same day seven times seems like it would give the story a repetitive feeling, in the hands of Lauren Oliver it's a true masterpiece of a story and one I highly recommend.

8. Bunheads
Sophie Flack
I don't even know what to say about this book. It's stuck in my head as something very different from many of the other books I've read this year. Romance takes second place to a girl's struggle to become a soloist in the Manhattan Ballet Company and her struggle to define and redefine her dreams and what success means. The big issues of passion and life choices are set against a brilliant backdrop here and the in-depth look at life as a ballet dancer is fascinating. And aside from that I just love it.

9. Stupid Fast
Geoff Herbach
What could be a dark and depressing tale of misery and woe is instead hilarious and wonderful here. A summer of changes, of secrets uncovered, of love and running and football and growing up. Though I hate to call it a boy book I will say that, male or female, Felton Reinstein has one of the strongest, best voices of any main character this year. Read this book for the story, the characters, or the funnies, but just read it.

Okay, I know this is supposed to be a top 10 list, but honestly there are so many books I've read this year that deserve a spot on the list. It's hard to choose. I loved all of these books and more, so I'm leaving this tenth spot open to interpretation.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Five: Favorite Non-YA Reads of 2011

As far as reading non-YA (especially nonfiction) goes, this year was a total bust for me. I read very few nonfiction books and the ones I did read were mostly memoirs -- no Freakonomics or Malcolm Gladwell reads this year. Likewise most of the mainstream (read: adult) fiction that I read was lackluster. Still, I've managed to come up with five knock-your-socks-off great non-YA reads from the past year.

1. The Scene Book
Sandra Scofield
I'm super picky about what writing books I pick up, mostly because I'd like to read them all but I know all the how-to books in the world won't actually write my novel for me. But this one was recommended to me by Sarah Ockler and it was exactly what I needed. This book is an in-depth look at scenes -- their purpose as well as the smaller elements of them -- and as someone who struggles with even understanding what a scene is (no, really), it was huge. I read this one with a highlighter and pen. I'm still not an expert, but I kind of sort of understand it now. Sort of.

2. Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America
Leslie Knope (haha)
I was (what felt like) deathly ill for two weeks this year. It was the kind of sick where just moving seems like a really big deal and though it was right in the middle of the Cybils the last thing I wanted to do was actually concentrate on words. Still, somehow I got it into my mind that I had to go to Barnes & Noble and I had to get this book, which I'd heard was hilarious. At the time the fictional history of a fictional town from a television show was about as deep as I wanted to read. As advertisted, this book was awesome. Laugh all you want but for any Parks & Recreation fan, this book is awesome.

3. Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life
Sandra Beasley
This funny and sad memoir of growing up with lifelong food allergies is not only hilarious but also entertaining and informative. I've never had food allergies but could still relate to a childhood lived with major health issues. Really, really interesting.

4. A Friday Night Lights Companion
Leah Wilson
Yeah, okay, there are two books on this list that are tv-related. Whatever. This is one of the best anthologies I've ever read, which makes sense because its subject matter is the best drama to ever grace our television screens. From insights on sports and community to family and the show's low ratings, every essay in this collection brings something new -- and so interesting -- to the table. I can't recommend it enough for FNL fans.

5. Sleepwalk With Me: and Other Painfully True Stories
Mike Birbiglia
As a reader (and listener of his stand-up comedy), I think Mike Birbiglia is snort-milk-out-your-nose hilarious. He's a gifted storyteller with a knack for bringing out the funny in what are really very serious, painful stories. As a writer I'm impressed by his ability and willingness to share so many of his very personal stories. This book is funny and sad and awkward and then funny again. Love it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Five: Favorite YA Duos and Couples

This year I'm listing my five favorite YA couples as well as five favorite non-romantic duos (friends, siblings, whatever) from books I've read this year. Some you've probably heard of and the rest you should definitely read.


1. Violet & Katie
Mostly Good Girls
Leila Sales
The humor and realism of Violet and Katie's faltering best-ever friendship is insanely well-written. These are both well-developed characters with personalities and wants that often clash, which is handled so, so well. An excellent friendship without veering into the annoying our-friendship-is-perfect-we-have-no-problems territory.

2. Cisco & the Bean (Isabelle & Annie)
Flirt Club
Cathleen Daly
Another awesome best friends duo are the girls from Flirt Club who remind me so much of my own middle school friends. They're funny, awkward, geeky, and awesome

3. Ruby & Chloe
Imaginary Girls
Nova Ren Suma
Honestly the sisters from Imaginary Girls are the whole reason I decided to do a top-five of awesome YA non-couple duos. Their relationship -- loving, confusing, weird -- has a layer of hard-to-describe creepy and yet, at the same time, is remarkably relatable and realistic. The bond of sisterhood is shown so well in Chloe and her charismatic older sister, Ruby, that I couldn't do my end-of-the-year posts without mentioning them.

4. Kurt & Danny
Joshua C. Cohen
One of the rare male friendships in YA, Kurt and Danny are an unlikely duo brought together in spite of the bitter rivalry between their teams. As the rivalry escalates their friendship becomes more difficult, but when the boys are witness to horrific bullying, they must come together to survive and end the war that's overtaken their teams.

5. Becca & Camille
After the Kiss
Terra Elan McVoy
This one's a bit of a cheat. Becca and Camille aren't exactly friends. For much of the novel they don't even know each other and when they do it's in a very casual, superficial way. And yet in spite of that this story, told from both girls' perspectives, highlights how similar and different the two girls are. They deserve a spot on this list because throughout the book I desperately wanted Becca and Camille to become friends. Their story, both sides of the same coin, makes them a strange but great duo.


1. Doug & Lil
Okay For Now
Gary D. Schmidt
Romance isn't at the center of Okay for Now and yet in spite of that the slow-moving and so sweet love story between Doug and Lil, the first girl he meets in his new town, was one of my favorite parts of the entire novel. it's a very simple and sweet relationship that doesn't overpower the story.

2. Belly & The Boy
We'll Always Have Summer (Summer #3)
Jenny Han
Alright, I was going to totally ruin the ending of this series, but then I decided not to. And since I can't ruin it, I can't say much about why I love this couple so much. I will say: it wasn't the ending I was expecting and yet, when it happened I thought oh, this is perfect. They belong together. And really, isn't that the best?

3. Lacey Anne & Ty
Small Town Sinners
Melissa Walker
I'm surprised at just how much I loved Lacey Anne and Ty, but their relationship is really one of the most interesting I've seen in YA and Ty is one of the more compelling love interests. The two care about and are attracted to each other, but they also challenge each other and help each other to grow. It's not an easy relationship, but it's one that really obviously works and is important to them.

4. Adam & Mia
Where She Went (If I Stay #2)
Gayle Forman
Oh, Adam. Oh, Mia. A heartbreaking love story if there ever was one and yet... and yet it's so great. So great I don't even really have words for how much I love the love story of these two.

5. Anna & St. Claire
Anna & the French Kiss
Stephanie Perkins
If I had to choose a favorite contemporary YA couple, it would be, hands down, Anna and St. Claire. Their romance is sweet and confusing and awkward and, for lack of better words, meant to be. I don't normally say that but Anna and St. Claire honestly are soulmates and I love them so, so, so much. LOVE! SO MUCH LOVE! <3  <3  <3

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Five: Favorite Characters From 2011

1. Kurt Brodsky
Joshua C. Cohen
KURT BRODSKY!!!!! This is a football-playing character wonderful and complex enough to rival the guys of Friday Night Lights, which just shows how amazing this character is. Not only is he one of my favorite characters of 2011, but he's an all-time favorite character of mine.

2. Eleanor Crowe
Pregnant Pause
Han Nolan
Eleanor, the pregnant, married, confused, and rebellious girl from Pregnant Pause is up there with Courtney Summers' protagonists in possible unlikability. Never mind that I love her. She is, at least in the beginning, as flawed and messed-up as they come, but her personal journey as the book progresses is such a great one as she tries to become a better person, figure out what she wants, and figure out if there's any way to make a few of her mistakes right. Awesome, awesome character.

3. Ari Mitchell
Other Words for Love
Lorraine Zago Rosenthal
On the other side of the spectrum from Eleanor is Ari Mitchell, a good girl who does exactly what her family expects of her, even when she feels like it's too much. She's a multi-dimensional, well-written character who's easy to relate to.

4. Adam Wilde
Where She Went (If I Stay #2)
Gayle Forman
I've talked to plenty of people who didn't like getting the story in Where She Went from Adam, who at times seems like whatever the male equivalent of a diva is. Some found him completely unlikable, but I didn't have that problem. Adam is one of the more complex and interesting characters out there, one who in dealing with the aftermath of the events of If I Stay becomes a person he and those around him don't recognize anymore... and then can't quite figure out how to get back to himself. My heart breaks for this character.

5. Deb
What Happened to Goodbye
Sarah Dessen
It's rare for a secondary, almost background, character to become one of my favorites, but here it is. Deb, who is underestimated and overlooked many times throughout this book is nevertheless the most interesting, likable, and compelling characters in it. I'd happily read a whole novel about Deb.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Five: Books I Didn't Expect

I can usually tell, at least to a degree, what books I'm going to like. But there are always surprises -- books I like more or less than expected as well as books that are just different from expected. With that in mind here are the most pleasantly surprising books I read in 2011, regardless of when they were published.

1. Sequins, Secrets, and Silver Linings (Threads #1)
Sophia Bennett
This Cybils nominee was not appealing to me. I didn't like the cover, the title, or the fact that it's all about fashion. But I had it laying around and, hey, someone on the YA panel had to read it. So I picked it up, not expecting to even make it through (I'm being very honest here, as you can tell) and was so surprised to find out that I actually... liked it. It was cute. It was funny. I cared about the characters and their story. I read the whole thing. I went online to see when the next books in this series are going to be published in the US (answer: not soon enough!) I liked - loved - this book so much that it made my I Heart Daily list of the best YA of 2011. I sincerely recommend it to anyone wanting a cute and funny story that's full of heart. Liking or understanding the fashion world is not required, thank goodness.

2. Shine
Lauren Myracle
(Warning: this bit includes a possible spoiler.) This was another Cybils nominee and all I knew going into it was that it was supposed to be about a hate crime in a small town. I hadn't enjoyed Lauren Myracle's TTYL series and went into this one very ambivalently, but it was so incredibly different from what I was expecting. This book was not nearly so much about homosexuality, hate crimes, and acceptance (though there was that) as it was about (POSSIBLE SPOILER!!) meth use in a small town. The ways this subject was explored was fascinating and really really devastating. One of the most powerful, and definitely brutal books, I've read. It's a very real topic that's not tackled much (or at all?) in YA and I was not expecting this sort of read from Myracle. I'm wary to recommend this because it does handle some very touchy topics, but for those interested and who think they can handle it, it's a worthwhile read for sure.

3. Anna and the French Kiss
Stephanie Perkins
This book had so much buzz behind it. Every blogger I talked to absolutely L-O-V-E-D loved it. Everyone wanted to live in Paris. Everyone wanted to marry St. Claire. Everyone went gaga over the writing. People called it perfect. It's fairly often that I just don't get the books that everyone else seems to adore, so I was super-wary of this one. I waited to buy it until I could get it for $5, which shows how I felt about reading it. I was pretty sure I wouldn't like it. I was pretty sure it would, at the very very best, fail to live up to the buzz. In a crazy twist: the book was good. The book was awesome. The book was, somehow, EVEN BETTER THAN EVERYONE KEPT TELLING ME. I freakin love this book. LOVE!! It's brilliant! It's amazing! I'm not even exaggerating. I know I shouldn't hype it so much but I just can't help myself. I was surprised to realize that this book is, yes, perfect.

4. Small Town Sinners
Melissa Walker
It's not that I didn't think I'd like this one, but there were certain things I expected to happen. I expected the protagonist to fall in love with a bad boy. I expected her to do a 180 on her faith. I expected her best friend to be the typical rebellious YA "best friend" who mocks the main character for her good-girl ways. NONE OF THAT HAPPENED.  And I was thrilled. Instead of being stereotypes or even just types, the characters in this book are realistic and fully developed. They weren't what I thought they'd be. And besides that (maybe because of that?) I liked the book so much more than I thought I would.

5. Okay For Now
Gary D. Schmidt
Another book I read for the Cybils and another one where I really didn't know what to expect. I know that I had a feeling I would like it, but like it in that sort of bland, it's-okay sort of way. But this book. OMG. I hesitate to call it beautiful, because the writing isn't really that pretty. It's a slow-moving story with tons of characters and storylines. But somehow it just worked. I fell into Doug's 1960's world and the small town his story takes place in. It surprised me with one of the sweetest love stories I've read yet, especially in a younger YA book with a male protagonist. I didn't expect to love this book, but I did. 

So, what books surprised you (in a good way) this year? & what do you think of my picks?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Five: Favorite YA-ish Blogs of 2011

Quite a bit has changed in the blogging world (and my blog-reading habits) since I made last year's list of five amazing YA bloggers. My picks are a bit different this time around... here are my top five great YA blogs/bloggers of this year.

1. Forever Young Adult (various bloggers)
This is a YA blog aimed at those of us who are, shall we say, reading below our grade level. The adults who love YA. It's funny and smart and snarky and covers not only books but also tv shows (mostly not ones I watch, but whatever) and movies. Their reviews are among my favorite reviews to read, whether or not I agree and whether or not I've even read the book. It's entertainment all on its own.

2. that cover girl (Capillya)
Here's a blog that focuses on the shiny outsides of a book. Yep, a blog devoted almost entirely to YA book covers. It has interviews with designers and authors, analysis of book covers, and plenty and plenty of pretty pictures. If you're someone who pays as much attention to book covers as I do (um, a lot!), this is definitely a blog worth checking out.

3. Early Nerd Special (Clementine Bojangles)
This is one that isn't entirely YA but more of a mix of everything: television shows, movies, music, books of all sorts. Her reviews are in-depth and interesting and, of course, I love blogs with a television-as-well-as-books focus.

4. hitting on girls in bookstores (Adam)
I just recently started reading this blog but OMG. It's awesome. Again, not strictly YA but at least mostly. The reviews are a bit non-traditional and often bullet-pointed, which I really really like. (I love lists. Can you tell?) Very funny. Very good.

5. incrush (Nomes)
This Aussie-located blog is just... ahhh, just so good. I don't even have that much to say about it except that it's awesome and one of my favorite blogs to read. Also? Check it out because the layout/theme is so goshdarn pretty.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Five: Books I Can't Wait For in 2012

Please remember: these books aren't in any sort of order. I'm looking forward to all of them so, so much.

1. The Disenchantments
Nina LaCour
I love love loved Nina LaCour's debut novel, Hold Still, and this one sounds similarly awesome with a music-and-roadtrip premise and, of course, LaCour's stellar writing. Here's hoping it lives up to expectations.

2. Something Like Normal
Trish Doller
I can't even tell you guys how long I've been waiting for a book of Trish Doller's to be published. When I heard she'd gotten a book deal for Something Like Normal I did a little happy dance. Every excerpt she shares of her WIPs are awesome and I cannot wait to read Travis' story. 

3. Cinder
Marissa Meyer
A space book! A space book! *flails about* Despite not exactly loving the traditional Cinderella story, this one sounds crazy awesome and I've already heard plenty of good things about it. Yayayayayayayyyyy!!!!!

4. The List
Siobhan Vivian
Everyone please go read the description of this book and then tell me if that doesn't sound like the best story ever. I love that there are so many main characters and that it takes on the subject of body image - how the girls see themselves as well as how others see them. 

5. Bittersweet
Sarah Ockler
This one is a bit of a cheat since I've actually already read it (but I don't own a copy yet and it's not published yet so it still counts, right?), but I couldn't help myself. It's just so good. It has winter! And snow! WINTER!!! Also cupcakes and skating and a dreams and family and friendships and boys. It's battling Twenty Boy Summer for my favorite Sarah Ockler book. I suggest you read it.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Review: Crossed

Ally Condie
Dutton Juvenile
Since this is a review of a sequel (Crossed), there may be slight spoilers for the first book in the series, Matched.

The second book in the Matched trilogy, Crossed is told from both Cassia and Ky's perspectives as Cassia, having left the Society, travels through the wilderness to search for Ky. Along the way she discovers more about the Society and those who rebel against it.

I loved Matched. Loved it. It wasn't the most action-packed dystopian novel, but it was beautifully-written with a kind and compassionate protagonist. I was looking forward to the continuation of Cassia's story, but I have to admit - Crossed was a disappointment. A large part of this, I suspect, is that half of the book is from Ky's POV and I just don't get him. I don't see the big deal. His personality mostly seems to be an extension of Cassia's. In the first book it was fine that there wasn't much to him because we got to view him through Cassia's love-colored glasses, but getting his first hand account slowed the book for me.

This book suffers from the worst type of middle-book syndrome in that there's a lot of set-up for the next book and plenty of things carried over from the first book, but just on its own there's not much there. Despite Cassia finding out about some fairly big revelations about the Society, Ky, and what lies ahead, it always felt like there was nothing happening. Cassia and Ky are, aside from a few travel companions, mostly cut off from other people - Cassia's family isn't part of this book and though Xander is still important to Cassia he's not much a part of the story this time around. And whereas in the first book the obsession with words and art was meaningful as it showed the choices that Cassia wanted but didn't currently have, here it slows the book even more as, apart from the Society, it was harder to see the poetry and art as forms of rebellion.

One of the things I loved so much about Cassia in Matched was her devotion and loyalty to her family. And while this is still a part of her character it's fairly unimportant here as her family isn't around. With all of her emotions and attention focused on finding Ky and on how much she loves him and how much she's willing to risk to be with him, she started to feel like a one-note character. If I liked Ky, of course I would probably feel differently about it.

This was an extremely slow read. Yet in spite of that I kept reading. Partly because I felt invested in the story after liking Matched so, so much, and partly because there are just enough seeds planted for the next book in the series that I didn't want to give up on it. Though Crossed was ultimately a disappointment I still have hope that the series, as a whole, won't be.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Five: Best YA Debuts of 2011

Last year I did Persnickety Snark's end-of-year top five lists. Though I don't think she's doing it this year and I haven't heard of any other bloggers doing it either, I still really want to do an end-of-year-best-books-most-favorites tribute sort of thing. Today I'm focusing on (in no particular order), my top five YA debut novels from 2011.

1. Where Things Come Back
John Corey Whaley
The greatness of this book is in large part due to its incredible setting. It's a lazy, slow-moving story in the best possible way. The main story of the disappearance of Cullen's younger brother is interspersed with a very different narrative that while at first confusing eventually ties together so perfectly. It's about no-longer-extinct birds, a nothing little town, best friends, and brothers. It's highly literary and one of the best comfort reads I've read in a while.

2. Rival
Sara Bennett Wealer
You might know I absolutely eat up stories about friendship gone wrong, and this is one of the better ones. It's not about mean girls or stereotypes, but instead an honest look at two girls whose close friendship falls apart in hurtful and complicated ways. Years later the girls face off as competitors in an already highly-competitive singing competition and their unresolved feelings must finally come to a head. One of the books I feel most confident in recommending to others, especially if you already enjoy contemporary YA or stories centered around music/performing.

3. Flirt Club
Cathleen Daly
If Rival is about friendship falling apart then Flirt Club is the exact opposite as Isabelle and Annie have a rock-solid, thoroughly geektastic best-friendship. This book walks the line between YA and MG. It's written as notes between the two girls (both of whom are a bit way nerdy) and is one of the few books to have me laughing out loud at it.

4. Leverage
Joshua C. Cohen
Ack. This book is brutal. Definitely one of the most brutal books I've ever read. It's characters are a mix of the worst and the best possible (KURT BRODSKY FTW) and though I'd love to reread it I'm a bit scared to if you want to know the truth. Still, if you want an amazing, if horrifying, story with awesome protagonists, this is your book.

5. Other Words for Love
Lorraine Zago Rosenthal
This is one of those complicated books where my feelings on it aren't so clear-cut right away. It's been almost an entire year since I read it though, and this is still a book I find myself thinking about every so often. Ari is one of the more realistic and well-written characters I've come across and her story is one I absolutely love.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Review: Everybody Sees the Ants

A.S. King
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Lucky Linderman is anything but. His dad hardly talks to him, his mother is addicted to swimming, his school thinks he's depressed, and Nadar McMillan has been bullying him for seven years. When his mother finally notices that the bullying has gone too far, she packs up Lucky and herself to stay a few weeks with her brother in Arizona, where Lucky's uncle proves to be more of a father than his actual dad and where his aunt is convinced he's going to kill himself. Meanwhile, in his dreams, Lucky is searching for his grandpa who went MIA during the Vietnam War and whose absence casts a long shadow over his family.

This is the first A.S. King book I've read and to be perfectly honest I wasn't sure what to expect. There's some question over whether Lucky's dreams are dreams or reality (they seem to hang somewhere in the in-between), so it's not entirely contemporary but the more fantastical elements never affect the plot. This is a book of family, of growing up, of bullying, and of making peace with the past, and it a lot of ways it walks the line. The characters were weirdly realistic and though I found it hard to really root for any of them I also found it difficult to dislike them. Individually the members of Lucky's family are crazy, but together they're some kind of normal, which is a strange line to walk.

In Arizona, Lucky meets a gorgeous, older girl named Ginny, who is, sadly exactly what you'd expect from that statement: beautiful, experienced, entirely out of his league though after a few hours with her he's hopelessly in love. It's worth stating that in most cases I don't have a problem with Manic Pixie Dream Girl characters, but in this book I found that Ginny was more of a trope than a character. She was a perfect cut-out of the MPDG; her being a part of Lucky's journey felt a bit obvious to me and because of this that aspect of the book fell flat.

Despite the fact that the fantastical elements and his relationship with Ginny didn't work, I loved Lucky's voice and the realizations he comes to through the course of the book. The dynamics between him, his parents, and his aunt and uncle are the strongest aspects of this book. The adults in his life are, in many instances, pretty useless in helping Lucky with his problems in school and with Nadar, yet despite that the book never vilifies them but instead show the realistic struggles each character is dealing with. The bullying aspect of this book was incredibly well-done -- so much so that for a good part of the book I felt like oh, this is too much. This is too sad. WHY IS NOBODY DOING ANYTHING!? Fortunately this hopeless attitude does not permeate the entire book and I'm so glad I kept reading.

It's interesting to note a few things that seemed "off" in this book. The fantastic elements, as I've said, felt out of place in the book. Lucky's MIA grandfather is a strong force in the novel, but I often felt like Lucky's "dreams" weren't exactly necessary in order for this to be the case, as his grandpa's influence was obvious in the way Lucky's home life was. Additionally, the novel switches back and forth from freshman year to the summer after, when Lucky is in Arizona with his mother. The chronology of the dual-stories confused me, though admittedly that might just be my problem and nothing with the book. Strangely, I don't have many books to compare this to, but if you like more experimental stories/writing, this might be right up your alley. I'd also recommend it to those looking for a book that handles the topic of bullying really well.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Review: Legend

Marie Lu
Putnam Juvenile
What was once the western part of the United States is now the Republic, ruled by the Elector Primo. The plague sweeps the nation every year, with the poorer citizens dying while the rich are able to afford vaccinations. Futures are decided by an exam (the Trial) taken at ten years old. Fifteen-year old June is a military prodigy and the only person to even get a perfect Trial score of 1500. Day failed his Trial and is now the Republic's most wanted criminal. When June's older brother - a high-ranking military official - is killed on the job, Day is the primary suspect and when June chases after him to avenge her brother's death, both of them discover more about their world than they bargained for.

June and Day, though they're the same in many ways, lead wildly different lives and have entirely different perspectives on the Republic and the book's split-POV narration portrays this so well. Because of getting both perspectives there's a big difference between what the reader knows and what the main characters know; this makes the story even more tense, which is definitely a good thing as certain big plot points in the book are fairly easy to predict, which means that a lot of the story's strength has to lie in other aspects: the characters, pacing, setting, and stakes.

It's often difficult for me to become emotionally invested in a dystopian novel - with the notable exception of The Hunger Games trilogy, not many in the genre have been able to tug at my heart. This book is the exception. The love between June and her older brother, as well as her profound sadness at losing him and her need to bring justice, is not only seen but felt. At one point early on I almost thought I'd have to quit reading because her emotions were so sharp and the story so sad. The fact that Day's story was just as touching only made the tension between them, between his wants and hers, even stronger.

As far as plot goes, though the smaller plots flowed great, with pacing that added plenty of tension, the larger plot points, mostly involving the nefarious activities of the Republic, were easy to predict. While this was a definite problem in the book, the slow world-building and questions about how the Republic came to be ultimately overwhelms the predictability. With characters that are easy to connect to (not only Day and June), true emotional content, and high stakes, this is a book I'd definitely recommend.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Mini-Reviews: Deadly Cool, And Then Things Fall Apart, Paradise, and Pregnant Pause

I haven't been reviewing regularly, which makes me sort of forget how to review a book, but I have read SO MUCH lately. SO MUCH! I read a book today! And a book yesterday! And soon I will start another one! So much reading! I think I could just read and read and read forever and as long as I could also write and drink iced tea and maybe watch television, I would be happy. I don't know if that's really nice or really pathetic. Also I would need country music though, of course.


Some super-short reviews of the books I've read lately. And by super-short I mean super super short. Also, unlike most of my reviews, these are more just my opinions than a real, critical look at the books.

Deadly Cool, by Gemma Halliday -- Quick, frothy murder mystery (ex-boyfriend accused of killing the girl he was cheating with) that did not hook me, though it might you. Recommended if you like series, mysteries, and pop-noir, if that's even a thing.

And Then Things Fall Apart, by Arliana Tibensky -- Plath-obsessed teen writes the story of how her life fell apart (parents' divorce, best friend's betrayal, major fight with boyfriend) while she's sick with the chicken pox. Very poetic-like, lots of musings about life and Bell Jar comparisons. Having never read Plath I really enjoyed it and can only assume you'd like it even more having read Plath.

Paradise, by Jill S. Alexander -- Defying her mother, Paisley joins a country-rock band and falls in love with their new lead singer. Though there are some parts I really enjoyed, on the whole it was mostly forgettable and the ending threw me for a loop.

Pregnant Pause, by Han Nolan -- Teen gets pregnant, marries her boyfriend, and works for the summer at his parents' fat camp while her own missionary parents are in Africa. A few subplots felt a little contrived, but protagonist Eleanor is one I totally love and her journey is as great as she is -- or at least, as great as she wants to be.