Sunday, October 30, 2011

In My Mailbox: Favorite Authors

Bought: I don't often buy finished copies of ARCs unless I really really really love the book. And I really really really really love Gayle Forman's Where She Went. I can't wait to reread it. And How to Save A Life is by one of my favorite authors. It sounds like something right up my alley and I'm eager to get the chance to read it.

Library: I don't list my library books on here, but it's worth mentioning that I currently have over ten books out from libraries. It's kind of awesome, and also a little intimidating.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Review: Don't Stop Now

Julie Halpern
Feiwel & Friends
When Lillian thinks that her friend has faked her own kidnapping, her and her best friend Josh set off on a road trip to track her down all while Lillian tries to figure out the relationship between the two of them. She's had a crush on Josh forever, but his feelings for her seem to lie in the land of purely platonic, despite the fact that they always seem to be holding hands and cuddling together.

This book, despite the whole kidnapping storyline, is very obviously about the relationship between Lillian and Josh. Friends. Best friends, but nothing more, it seems, no matter how much Lillian is in love with him. It's been a while, I think, since I've read a road trip book and this features a couple of the best parts of road trip books: kitschy tourist destinations and solid bonds of friendship. Unfortunately as far as the road trip goes, there were some logistical things I couldn't quite overlook. The parents here are out of the picture despite the fact that Josh's dad's credit card is paying for the entire trip. And despite the fact that it's mentioned quite a few times that Lillian and her mom are very close, her mom doesn't have a problem (like, at all) with the sudden road trip to who-knows-where. Let's be clear: there are some YA books, quite a few actually, that work without much mention of parents. But sometimes, like in this book, the lack of adults goes from "understandable" to "unbelievable." There was a suspension of disbelief required to accept what was happening.

Character-wise, Lillian is ambitious and creative while Josh has no direction in life. The two of them are almost textbook opposites and as the story continues this starts to work really well, especially as it becomes more pronounced and Lillian starts to realize that maybe Josh isn't the perfect boy she wants him to be. The flip side of this, however, is that Josh isn't really that great of a guy. Some readers might like him, but mostly he just got on my nerves. I had the urge to shake both of the characters -- to tell Josh to quit leading Lillian on and tell Lillian that ohmygod this boy is not worth it. That said, in a book about relationships there was also their friend, Penny, who they seem to have kept as a sort of pity-friend. Throughout the book she's portayed as a loner, kind of pathetic, and entirely too hung up on her own overbearing boyfriend. But the few glimpses there are of Penny's side of the story made me more interested in what was going on in her life than the other characters'. Her family is crazy, her boyfriend is scary, and she's just trying to get by: that was the girl I wanted to know more about, and it's unfortunate that the very serious things going on with her seemed so disconnected from the rest of the story.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Review: Perfect

Ellen Hopkins
Margaret K. McElderry
In Perfect, four teenagers struggle to embody the word and what it means to them. For Kendra, this means being beautiful, which means being thin. For Sean it's succeeding at sports no matter the cost. For others, like Andre and Cara, it simply means forging their own path instead of the one their parents are pushing them toward.

Usually when I read a novel in verse, the first question I ask myself is: did the verse help or hurt the book? Was it the right decision for this story? In this case, I'm not quite sure. Verse tends to highlight the emotions of a novel while, just by the nature of it, skimming over many details of plot and, sometimes, characterization. And sometimes this works really well in Perfect while other times I wanted more information. There are a lot of very serious things that happen in this book - not only the obvious issues of the characters, but also the ways these issues show themselves. There were moments where the verse alone left me wondering about details that hadn't been explained fully.

Like I said, there's a lot to this book. A lot of events, a lot of characters, a lot of everything. And it's a big book, so it carries it well, but sometimes I just wanted to settle into one story. POV tended to change at pivotal moments, just as something big was about to happen, and it left me feeling restless. Though each character's journey covers some huge issues and the idea of perfection in different ways, the story I kept coming back to was Cara's family's story. With a twin brother, Conner, who has ended up in a psych hospital after a suicide attempt, Cara finds herself stepping out of what is expected of her more and more, daring to defy her strongwilled mother who cares only how things will appear to others. Cara and Conner's mother is a huge force in their stories (and Conner himself is a big force in every character's story) and because of these things I really wanted the book to go into the family's dysfunction in-depth, but it never did that. Strangely the most compelling characters were the ones who didn't get to narrate their stories. Andre's girlfriend and Conner are the two most interesting characters. While the things the main characters do and the ways they explain them seem almost textbook, there's a complexity and very real emotion when it comes to these two.

The relationships and ways the four characters are related are done very well, as is much of the dialogue, which makes me wish there was more dialogue and that it didn't have to be told in verse. As this is my first book by Ellen Hopkins, I don't have much of a reference point to jump from. It was just as dark as I was expecting, while not quite having the impact I was hoping for except in small doses. This is definitely going to be the exact right book for some readers, such as those dealing with figuring out their own idea of strength and perfection, but for me it didn't quite deliver as strongly as other books more narrowly focused on these topics have.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review: Withering Tights

Louise Rennison
Tallulah would much rather go to the Performing Arts College for the summer than spend time at camp with her brother, and when she arrives at the college the quirky misfit quickly makes friends with other quirky misfits. She determines that this will be the summer she meets a boy, discovers her artistic talent, and finally grows up.

Set in the UK, there was much of this book I didn't quite understand in terms of terminology and the places the characters talked about. Really though, I think that probably just made this already-funny book that much funnier. This is the start of a new series (and I'm guessing quite a bit longer than the typical 3-book series in YA) and there's not a ton of wrap-up in the end. Enough to close this particular chapter of Tallulah's story in a nice way, but not enough to tie down the loose ends involving certain boys and Tallulah's new friends.

I'm the only person I know who wasn't a fan of the Georgia Nicolson books so I was honestly worried about enjoying this one, but I shouldn't have worried: Tallulah's just as quirky and about a million times more likeable than her older cousin and I found myself rooting for her right away as she dives into a whole new environment and quickly discovers that while her new friends are mega-talented, she isn't quite, though she still loves the Performing Arts College and hopes to stay on beyond the summer. The friendships she develops with her fellow students are sweet and funny, though it was sometimes hard to keep the characters in her group of friends straight in my head. Compared to the rest of the book, her relationships with the boys seemed a bit lackluster and definitely not the best part of the book. For me, that was probably the thing that seemed most like the first Georgia Nicolson book, so I'm sure others will love it much more than I did. I'd definitely recommend this to fans of the author's previous series, but even broader I'd recommend it to anyone who wants a seriously funny book with a really amusing narrator.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review: The Big Crunch

Pete Hautman
Scholastic Press
June and Wes' love story does not go the way love stories are supposed to go. When they meet, there's nothing, and it's not until later that they feel a spark. By then June is dating one of Wes' friends and even after realizing they like each other, there's a lot of ambiguity in their relationship and where they want it to go.

This book captured me. June's always-on-the-move family made me feel for her even as it was clear she wasn't great at letting people in and this made her personality hard to really see. In fact, this was - let's just get it out of the way now - a problem with both characters, throughout the book. While a few of the peripheral characters had lively personalities, it was really hard to tell who June and Wes were sometimes. Their emotions were clear and I found it easy to relate to them, but even after reading the book I don't think I could tell you what sort of characters they were as far as hobbies, passions, or personality traits. However, even if their personalities aren't always clear, the story itself, which takes place throughout an entire year, gives a clear glimpse of their lives and the relationships they have to others which, in a strange way, makes the characters clear in a different sort of way.

Strangely though, that didn't end up mattering to me, and I think the reason it didn't was because this book was just so well done. At its core this is a teenage love story and the emotions are sharp and poignant. It's obvious throughout the book that June and Wes have something special between them and this never seems forced. We know the characters' lives apart before we ever know them together, and the fact that neither one is actively looking to fall in love or really has great expectations for whatever does happen lends an air of unexpectedness to the story, even though you can easily guess a few of the things that end up happening. At times June and Wes - especially Wes - are impetuous at times, to the point of stupidity. It feels realistic while at the same time a few of the events of the book seem to illustrate the whole love is blind idea.

And this is why the ending seemed, compared to the rest of the book, a bit lackluster as far as the emotion goes. While emotion played a huge part in the rest of the book, near the end it seemed to dissipate, which no doubt some will enjoy but I didn't quite enjoy or buy it, not for these characters. As a whole, the writing style of the book reminded me quite a bit of Lynne Rae Perkin's middle grade novel, Criss Cross -- I'd recommend it to fans of that book, as well as readers who want a different, more uncertain sort of love story.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Writing: New.

(via weheartit.)

Sometime last week (you may know this if you stalk follow me on Twitter) I finished that rewrite I was working on. And all along I'd been thinking that I knew exactly what I'd be writing when I was done.

But then I finished.

And I realized that idea I had, the one I'd been holding up so loftily in my head, didn't exactly have what it needed. It was only part of an idea. A baby idea. I had this vague feeling that I wanted the book to sort of, kind of, be based around this, but I couldn't figure out the rest of it. I mean, I couldn't even figure out if there were three main characters or just one. I thought about going back and revising one of the gazillion (2... maybe 3) novels I have to revise, but I've been wanting to write a first draft for so long.

But when an idea doesn't want to work I kill it by forcing it. This is part of the reason NaNoWriMo never works for me and pretty much the whole reason that novel about the stalker is still just sitting there. (It's not nearly as dark as it sounds, promise.)


All of this is to say that I've landed on a different idea, one that has been working as a side project for a while. Of course, bringing it to the forefront means erasing everything I'd written as a side project because everything's changed now, but that's okay. I think this one might work out. Not to jinx it or anything, but right now it really does feel solid.

This in spite of the fact that there are five main characters. And it's in past tense. Third person. And there are elements that, though I don't mean for them to be, are sort of dragged from a previous novel. But these elements are small, things like the fact that my characters sit on rooftops and live in the same neighborhood. Not, I hope, huge things.

I'm excited about this story. I'm excited about these characters. The working title is sidekicks and I cannot stop thinking about how great it all is in my head. IT'S ONLY A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE THIS CRASHES AND BURNS AND I REALIZE THAT IN WORDS IT IS NOT NEARLY AS GOOD AS IN FEELINGS. But that comes later.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

In My Mailbox: Playing Catch Up

I've skipped out on In My Mailbox the last couple of weeks, so I'm taking this as my opportunity to play catch-up for the books I've gotten the last two or three weeks.

Bought: Yes, I bought the fake Pawnee book. But why not? It's hilarious and totally kept me entertained while I was holed up in bed being sick. And I bought the Kim Culbertson book (review here) both because it was on the Cybils list and I'd been wanting to read one of her books for a while. I still need to get my hands on a copy of Songs for a Teenage Nomad.

Book Trade: I'm a sucker for books written in verse and considering how much I loved Samantha Schutz' first book, this novel seemed like a good idea. I can't wait to read it.

Won: Thanks so much to Jessica for this book! I'm so interested in the unique way it's written and I love the cover. Another one I can't wait to read.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

John Green Covers

I have a few reviews to write for you guys, as well as a discussion/opinion post that's been on my mindgrapes for a while, but right now I'm too immersed in writing and Cybils reading to do much of the blogging, which is a shame. I always feel bad when I don't have a post up daily. Not because I think I need something up every day, but because if I skip a day or two it's too easy to skip a month or two. At least, for me it is.

So anyway, what do we think of the cover of John Green's upcoming book? I think it feels a bit too cheery for me, and simplistic in a kindergarten-classroom sort of way instead of a minimalist way. I like it, but I don't like it nearly as much as I'd like to. If I'm being totally honest, I like quite a few of the fan-made covers more than this actual cover.

Also, are any of you going to submit covers for the contest to design the next Abundance of Katherines paperback cover? I HOPE YOU DO. If I had any cover skills at all, I would.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review: The Liar Society

Lisa & Laura Roecker
Sourcebooks Fire
Kate is convinced that the death of her best friend Grace was more than just a freak accident. After a year of therapy and medicine, she still doesn't believe it was an accident and when she starts getting cryptic emails from Grace, leading her to clues about what really happened, she sets off to solve the mystery, Nancy-Drew-style. With her lovestruck and conspiracy-crazed neighbor (Seth) by her side, each clue seems to lead to even more mystery and it becomes obvious that their elite prep school is housing more secrets than just the answer to Grace's death.

I have to start with the absolute best thing about this book, which is the fact that it's like a modern version of Nancy Drew. Though Kate's sarcastic exterior (not to mention the way she used Seth) was more than a little annoying in the beginning, these things led to her being incredibly determined to solve the mystery and an honest friendship growing between her and Seth. The plot was refreshingly unpredictable and made for a page-turner of a book.

In addition to Kate's tenacity and the comic relief Seth brought to the book, the setting of Pemberly Brown, their elite prep school where Grace died, was incredible. Richly detailed, with exactly the sort of creepy history you'd expect, it not only added to the "Nancy Drew" feeling, but also grounded the mystery in reality thanks to how real the school itself seemed. Though Kate's search veers to the outrageous at times, the just-as-outrageous setting makes it seem more realistic.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Liar Society, and then the end came. And it was, at least for me, unsatisfying. I like my books, even as a part of a series and especially as the first book in a series, to house a complete story beginning to end, and in some ways this book didn't live up to that. The last few chapter dragged on, but never gave the resolution I was hoping for and expecting. I'd recommend for fans of mysteries and series, especially if they don't mind non-conclusive endings.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tuesday Ten: Books I Read Because of Their Cover or Title

I rarely read books solely based on the cover or title, if I'm being honest. Especially as I've started reviewing and just by osmosis seem to know so much more about what books are coming out and what they're about. But for this week's Broke and Bookish Top Ten Tuesday, here are ten books where the title/cover played a huge role, even if it wasn't the only thing.

1. After the Kiss
Terra Elan McVoy
That cover. So, so, so good. I just love it.

2. Sweethearts
Sara Zarr
Alright, I admit, the flap copy played a part in me buying this book - the story interested me. But without that adorable and slightly-sad cover I never would have picked the book up. Plus, can we mention how great the title is? LOVE. (It should be noted that this is one of my all-time favorite books.)

3. The Summer I Turned Pretty
Jenny Han
Yes, the covers of the books in this series are beautiful. But what really caught me was this title. I adore it. I'm not sure I can think of a title that's captured my attention more than this one.

4. The Lonely Hearts Club
Elizabeth Eulberg

5. The Geek Girl's Guide to Cheerleading
Charity Tahmaseb & Darcy Vance
Okay, okay, another brilliant title. Just the perfect amount of geeky and quirky here. And who doesn't love a good fish-out-of-water tale?

6. Some Girls Are
Courtney Summers
Another great title. Dang, they're more plentiful than I thought apparently. And I could talk about this one for ages. And yeah, I knew it was about girls bullying each other and that was definitely a big part of the reason I read the book, but the title helped tons.

7. Scrambled Eggs at Midnight
Heather Hepler & Brad Barkley
WIN WIN WIN. So many wins for this title/cover combo. And the book also is great.

8. Tweet Heart
Elizabeth Rudnick
This one's a bit of a cheat: if I'm being honest I bought the book 100% because it was written in tweets. (Tweets!) But I figure it sort of works because I could tell that from the title. Right?

9. An Abundance of Katherines
John Green
I know a lot of people didn't love the hardcover cover of An Abundance of Katherines, but I must be in the minority here because this cover was THE ENTIRE REASON I picked up the book. I absolutely love it and am sad that I now have the paperback version. (Thank you to my dad for LOSING THE BOOK. Or giving it away. Or whatever my dad does to the books I let him borrow that makes them disappear.)

10. A Little Friendly Advice
Siobhan Vivian
Again, the cover, so adorable. So perfect.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Review: Shine

Lauren Myracle
Amulet Books
When Cat's best friend is viciously beaten and left with hateful words written on him, the town and police blame it on gay-bashing out-of-towners. But Cat knows that there is badness inside the confines of her small town (Black Creek) and she thinks she knows who's to blame. However, as she sets off to find her best friend's attacker, she discovers that there's much more lurking under the surface of her town and succeeding in finding the attacker will mean going further into the darkness than she ever considered.

At the outset this book seems, while horrific, fairly straightforward: gay teen gets beat up in a backwater town. And while this was the catalyst for everything else, the story quickly becomes bigger and more complicated. Cat discovers, along with the reader, that nothing about the attack is as simple as it appears. Cat, who is dealing with her own trauma that happened years earlier, takes on the case of the attack when no one else will. Her dad is a shut-in, the aunt raising her prefers to brush anything bad or ugly under the rug and forget about it, while her brother let her down the moment she most needed him and she hasn't been able to look at him the same since. The police, stifled by the town's most powerful family, have virtually given up on solving the case, and when Cat starts asking questions the whole town knows it. She's poking her nose in where it doesn't belong.

What Cat does - the choices the makes, the people she seeks out - wouldn't work in other books. On more than one occasion she puts herself in harms way, seeks out danger in order to get closer to the truth of what happened that night, and in any other book I'd be thinking what are you doing? This will not end well! The difference is that here, in Shine, Cat's doing what she has to do. What nobody else will.

This is an extremely dark, disturbing book, but it has to be. There are parts of the story that I really would like to talk about. Shine blew me away with how well and how realistically it handled certain topics, ones that I haven't read in other books. One subject in particular left me stunned by not only how well it was handled, but the fact that it was handled at all. This book goes where others don't, tackles incredibly difficult but all-too-real issues of Black Creek and towns like it. And it does it in a way that left me stunned.

Unfortunately, not all of this book was done so well. The romance aspect, while a small part of the book, seemed out-of-place and very shallow compared with the rest of the story and Cat's trauma in particular seemed to be given the same shallow treatment in the end. Because the book is written with such depth in aspects of setting, characters, themes, and plot, the parts where it falters stand out all the more.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Writing: HELLO, END

I'm coming up on the end of the novel I'm currently revising. And by "coming up" I mean that I have about 6,000 words until I make my deadline. If I stay up all hours tonight, there's the possibility that I COULD FINISH IT. (Of course, if I sleep then that's ruined and still, hopefully, I'll finish it this weekend sometime.)

I hope I hope I hope.

And after this is finished -- the revision (which is really a rewrite, whatever, I don't know the difference) and polishing and everything else, I'm not sure what I'll be working on. There's a part of me that wants to get going on the next draft of my sister story, but then there's another part of me that really wants to write a FIRST DRAFT of something. Maybe, say, that idea that's been waiting ever-so-patiently? I DON'T KNOW.

Update: It is 3 am. I have finished. In a related news story, guess who's tired!!??

Friday, October 14, 2011

Review: Instructions for a Broken Heart

Kim Culbertson
Sourcebooks Fire
When Jessa finds her boyfriend making out with another girl just before their drama club's trip to Italy, she has no idea what to do. But her best friend does; she gives Jessa twenty envelopes, each with a different reason that Sean (the now-ex-boyfriend) is a jerk, along with instructions to help heal her broken heart. However, when Jessa gets to Italy and starts following her friend's meticulously thought-out reasons and instructions, she realizes that in some ways they're causing more harm than good and maybe she has to find her own way to figure things out.

Every so often I'll read a book that doesn't seem to match the back cover/inside flap pitch, and this is one such book. While the summary would have you believe it's a love story orchestrated (or at least helped) by the instructions from Jessa's best friend. This isn't quite true. Not only is it not a love story, but it quickly becomes clear that Jessa - and the friends around her - have some misgivings about the instructions. Instead, this is a story of Jessa trying to get over her heartbreak, sure, but also figure out why it happened and who, away from her everyday life, she really is and wants to be.

Jessa's pain, right from the outset, is huge and overwhelming. Unfortunately, these emotions are told more than shown -- I never truly felt Jessa's pain and maybe part of this is because while Sean is a huge force in Jessa's thoughts, he's really not very present in the book. We get her thoughts of him (sort of) and her best friend's angry thoughts, but I never felt that Sean's character or their relationship was very dimensional. He felt like a placeholder and their relationship felt, sadly, like a sort of stock "first love," which prevented it from having much depth or resonance. Her hurt just never clicked with me even as those around her echo how hard it must be for her to be on a school trip with her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend. I consistently felt like I was missing something.

The strength of this novel lies not in its emotions or the actual catalyst of Sean's betrayal, but in the setting of Italy and the group of people that Jessa is with. It's clear from the beginning that her drama club -- students and teachers -- act as something of a large family together. While Jessa has her friend Tyler by her side the entire time, there are also glimpses of her relationships with other students in the class as well as both teachers on the trip. This gives more insight into Jessa's character and life as we get snippets of what her classmates think of her and how they react to the various instructions she's following. In the end, this was more a story of Jessa finding out what, not who, she wanted. There were aspects of the book that felt underdeveloped; I would have liked more personality when it came to Sean and Jessa's best friend and, in many ways, Jessa herself. Many times during this book I wondered why Jessa continued following the instructions as they didn't seem to be helping as much as they were meant to and the extreme anger that they were written with did not endear me to her best friend. There were subplots, usually concerning Jessa and her best friend, that held so much promise and disappointed me when they seemed unresolved by the end.

There's a lot of beauty in this book; the Italian setting seems written so well for Jessa's personal journey, and the closeness of the drama club was refreshing. The characters kept me interested and I did enjoy the book, but many aspects didn't tie together so well, leaving the overall effect to feel somewhat frayed and scattered.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Review: Dash & Lily's Book of Dares

Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
Knopf Books for Young Readers
Despite never having met, a red notebook connects Dash and Lily, two teenagers in NYC who pass each other dares and messages by leaving the notebook at various locations. What starts as a way to pass the time becomes bigger as Lily and Dash's adventure starts to involve not only them, but also their friends and family members.

Full disclosure here: I've never been a huge fan of either Rachel Cohn or David Levitan. No particular reason, but I've never found a book of theirs that I really truly enjoyed, so I was a bit nervous about reading this one. Especially as, in the beginning, it's hard to deal with the unique personalities and quirks of the two protagonists. Dash is pretentious in that annoying, not-as-smart-as-he-thinks-he-is sort of way while sheltered Lily comes off as very, very young. The over-the-top-ness of these characters is annoying in the beginning, but the overall story is so cute and cheerful that it eventually overtakes the characters who, after time, become more relatable as they mature a bit. By the end of the book I really liked Lily and thought that she, even more than Dash, had grown up and became a more relatable and likable character.

There were definitely parts of this book that I found unrealistic - the lack of adult supervision for one, especially with Lily, whose entire extended family seemed to be focused on her at times. It required a bit of suspension of disbelief, but overwhelmingly, thanks to the adorable romantic-comedy adventure, this was a very cute love story. Even cute enough for me to overlook the fact of the ridiculous fake Pixar movie that was referenced. (Yes, I know this is a small thing. But, come on, it's Pixar.) I'm sure all David Levithan fans will love this book no matter what, but I'd also recommend it to anyone who loves a cute romance.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Review: Five Flavors of Dumb

Antony John
Piper has one month to get her school's best rock band - Dumb - a paying gig in order to earn a share of the profits and become the band's manager. But not only is the band a mess, Piper also knows nothing about music in the first place. And she's deaf. Still, determined to make some money to help restore her dwindling college fund, Piper quickly teaches herself the ropes in order to become the band manager that Dumb needs.

I'd heard plenty of good things about this book but, being completely honest, it didn't blow me away at first. There was a lot of suspension of disbelief needed in order for me to accept that not only was Dumb Seattle's best teen band, but that Piper, who had absolutely no interest or knowledge of music, would be their manager. Piper's home life is a mess thanks to a dad who, partly because he never learned ASL, has almost no relationship with her and a baby sister who's getting all the attention because with her cochlear implants, she can hear while Piper can't. Piper has a lot of anger, especially in the beginning, and a lot of it (mostly directed towards her father) makes perfect sense. However, while it made sense it also made the character a little difficult to relate to when many of her decisions were fueled by anger and resentment.

However, as the band and Piper's rock-music education became a bigger part of the book, things started coming together more smoothly in the story. While I at first found the deaf-band-manager plot to be unbelievable, the reality of Piper's emotions and reactions as she learns more about the band, music, and how to be a good manager, elevates the book. Through music, which her dad and brother both love, the different parts of Piper's story (family, band, school) come together into a unique and wonderful story.

The family subplot, though it felt weak at the start of the novel, wound up being one of the strongest parts of the book, especially as Piper's relationship with her father changed. I loved the family history and the complicated relationships Piper had with each of them. And while some of the secondary characters fell flat, a few of them, including band members Kallie and Ed, were well-developed characters who really shone. Though I had a few problems with the too-tidy ending and the ASL-written-with-English-grammar, this is one book I wouldn't hesitate to recommend, especially if you're looking for a music-based book.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

In My Mailbox: SO MONEY

Bought: At the West Hollywood Book Fair I got to meet Cherry Cheva, who is seriously awesome and one of the few people I've met who seems to love television just as much as I do. So of course I had to buy one of her books and though I'm swamped with Cybils reading right now (again, yay!) I can't wait to read it.

PS. My dog is being really weird right now. If anyone was wondering.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Review: Forge

Laurie Halse Anderson
After having earned his freedom fighting in the Revolutionary War, slave-turned-soldier Curzon must enlist in the war once again because despite the freedom he's earned, his lack of papers makes him an escaped slave instead of a freed one. As he deals with the harsh conditions at Valley Forge, he tries not to dwell on Isabel, whose whereabouts are unknown. He focuses on America's fight for freedom even as his own freedom is not yet secure.

Not having read the first in this series, Chains, I started Forge playing catch-up. The book works as a stand-alone, but I suspect it would work a lot better as a sequel. Historical fiction is a hard sell with me and the Revolutionary War period is one that especially tends to bore me for some reason, so it took quite a while for me to find my footing in this book. Though Curzon and the secondary characters (especially Eben, who I loved) is written well the fact that I came into the story partway through was definitely a stumbling block I don't suggest.

This is the first historical book I've read by Laurie Halse Anderson, but I'm happy to report that her historical writing skills are every bit as good as her contemporary writing skills. Though there were points when the story seemed to drag on, I have a feeling that's more my fault than the books and about halfway in I was hooked. The focus on slaves in the war - the fight for the freedom of a country versus the freedom of a people - is an incredibly interesting subject and well-done here as Curzon's opinions on the matter don't always match up with the opinions of those he cares about (Eben and Isabel, for instance). The relationships between the characters, most notably Curzon and his fellow soldiers, is one of the strongest points of the novel. It's easy to get caught up in these characters and their lives. The perspective of an escaped slave also brings a new POV to a part of America's history that often seems boring and rote, especially to those readers (like myself) who have mostly learned about the war from textbooks.

This is the first book to get me interested in the Revolutionary War. With well-crafted characters, an interesting subject matter, and rich historical detail that adds to the story I definitely recommend it to historical fiction fans as well as readers who are a bit more lukewarm about the genre.

Friday, October 7, 2011


About a week-ish ago I applied to be a Cybils panelist in the YA Fiction category. For those who don't know, the Cybils is a book award given by bloggers for the best YA and children's books of the year. We all know how much I love YA, especially the contemporary sub-genre, and I've wanted to be a part of the Cybils for years.

Somewhat incredibly, I MADE THE CUT. Which means I'm actually a Cybils first-round judge for the YA Fiction category. AND I COULD NOT BE MORE JAZZED.

If you haven't nominated anything for the YA Fic category yet, I have some suggestions of books that haven't yet been nominated:

Popular, by Alissa Grosso
Other Words for Love, by Lorraine Zago Rosenthal
Stay, by Deb Caletti
Vaclav & Lena, by Haley Tanner (although honestly I can't tell if this one was published as YA or adult)


Thursday, October 6, 2011

40 Day Book Challenge - Favorite Crime Fiction (09)

Day 09 - Favorite crime fiction book
I don't read crime fiction. Aside from Nancy Drew (does that even count?) I honestly can't think of anything I've read that qualifies as crime fiction, though there must be something, right?

No? Okay, I'm going with Nancy Drew. Any of the first 17 books, which are all smooshed up together in my head as one big awesome Nancy Drew mystery.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fall TV - Pilots

I know this is primarily a book blog, but with my unabashed enthusiasm for television I can't help but give you my opinions on the (many) shows I've seen so far this fall. First up: pilot episodes of brand-spanking-new shows. I ended up watching more pilots than I had planned on and might actually end up watching a couple more.

Here are two things I like and one thing I love: Christina Applegate, Will Arnett, and NBC. So of course I was going to tune into the new show Up All Night, in which the two portray new parents struggling to keep being the "cool kids" they used to be. Maya Rudolph, who plays Reagan (Christina Applegate)'s best friend/boss rounds out the main cast and while I don't care much for her character, this show is definitely a winner in my book. It's so much better than the new-parents premise makes it sound. Reagan and Chris are have a cute and hilarious relationship and though it wasn't nonstop laughs, there were more than enough genuinely funny moments (like Chris trying to find cheese "all I can find is the fancy salad bar cheese") and a whole lot of heart to keep me watching. Some of the plots are ridiculous, but also strangely real and believable. Plus, how much do I love that Nick Cannon is in the show? So much. This is the first time I've seen Will Arnett play a sort-of regular character and I'm definitely going to keep watching this show.

I really wasn't planning to watch this show, but iTunes had the pilot as a free download and I figured eh, why not? Plus it has that guy who played David on Friends. Not that I noticed -- my sister had to tell me. But still. ANYWAY. This show sort of flips the romantic comedy on its head with lead characters (one divorced, one whose fiance has died) who have already gotten together and then decided it was the worst idea ever, so of course they're just going to be friends. Because that's going to work! (No. It's not.) It was a lot funnier than I was expecting it to be, mostly because the leads are actually pretty funny together and the surrounding characters are equally as funny, but the romantic aspect seems forced. I'm sure these two will eventually get together, but the fact that they seem to work so good as friends and everything else seems forced makes me think that a lot of the show might seem forced. Still, it was a lot better than I was expecting and though I probably won't keep up with it, I still might watch it when I'm bored.

This seemed promising and I'd heard it was good, so I watched it. UM. I'm sure a lot of people are going to love this show. More than will love a lot of my favorite shows, surely, but it just isn't a show I'm going to be watching. This show relies a lot on crass and sexual humor, which is sometimes funny to me but an overwhelming amount of time it really isn't. I know there were some good jokes here, but I didn't find them funny and on top of that I can't suspend my disbelief enough to really buy into the character of Max (is that her name? The one Kat Dennings plays, with the brown hair). She's great at the role, but the character is hugely rude, sarcastic, and mean, to the point that it felt a bit offensive and I started thinking hey wait, there's no way she can talk like that at her job, to customers and more importantly how the heck do all these other people like her? I mean really. The scene with the hipsters was kind of funny, but more than anything I kept thinking OMG SHE'S SO MEAN!!! And unless there's a compelling reason, I don't like mean characters. And on a side note, there were way too many pop culture references that I just didn't get. So yeah. Not watching this one.

Is there anyone who actively dislikes Zooey Deschanel? No, probably not. I'm not as crazy about her as most seem to be, but the premise of a dorky-cute girl living with three guys was interesting enough to hook me. In most ways this is a typical sitcom, which is to say it's funny but not amazing, there are a few things that really stand out and will ensure I watch the next episode at least, if not the rest of the season. For one thing there are little moments that are just hilarious (the jar, for one). And in spite of the typical sitcom-y situations, the relationships between the characters seem like they're probably going to develop pretty well (or maybe that's me being hopeful). The New Girl's habit of singing her life also reminds me a lot of my sister, so that's cool.

First of all: my sister was right. She told me this show was going to be awful but, I don't know, I kind of thought it might not be? The commercials were funny to me. BUT OH MY GOODNESS, NO. Just, no. NBC, I love you, but this is a fail. As with 2 Broke Girls (also produced by Whitney Cummings), there was a lot of crass humor here. But more than that what put me off the show was the huge reliance on gender stereotypes and being unfunny. That's pretty bold for a sitcom: to rely on not being funny. Just kidding. It tries to be funny, but it just isn't. And as with 2 Broke Girls, the main character is pretty unlikeable. During her rant about how awful and terrible weddings and marriage are I couldn't help but wonder who is inviting this woman to their wedding? Because I sure wouldn't want her at mine. One of my Twitter friends called this show "offensively unfunny" and I kind of have to agree. And the thing is, while I don't think it's aiming for "unfunny," I do think it's aiming to "offensive." I get the feeling that this is the type of show that wants to be so edgy and so offensive because that kind of stuff is funny, but I just don't like shock-value humor and without characters I can relate to at least a little bit I don't stick around. So this is another I won't be watching a second episode of, even if it is on my favorite network. 

Okay, I realize there's plenty of time for this show to go into a horrible downward spiral, but judging by the pilot episode it's fair to say that I love it. I mean, come on! It has aviation/flight and espionage. Plus, it's just so dang pretty. I mean that opening shot of the sky and then the airport with all the Pan Am jets sitting there? Awesome. Right now it looks like the show is probably going to concentrate on a core group of stewardesses and pilots, but there's a mystery aspect that I feel like might become a big thing. The show does a good job of setting up the backstories of the characters and I actually really like all of the characters, which is a major plus. It's definitely a show I'm going to keep watching. 

What do you guys think of the new fall shows, if you watched any of them?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door

Stephanie Perkins
Lola Nolan's favorite things include: the elaborately designed costumes she wears daily, her best friend, her parents, and her older, rocker boyfriend. They do not include Cricket Bell, former boy-next-door who's just moved back in and who broke her heart years earlier. She'd rather ignore the fact that Cricket and his superstar twin sister, Calliope, have moved back to the neighborhood, but when Cricket crashes back into her life and things with her boyfriend Max get more complicated, Lola must confront the fact that her feelings for Cricket might not be entirely gone.

The most difficult thing about reviewing Lola and the Boy Next Door is that it becomes impossible not to compare the book to Stephanie Perkins' debut (and this book's companion novel), Anna and the French Kiss. I'll try to steer clear of that as much as I can though, and judge this book on its own merits.

First, Lola. She's a character with a bit personality and a lot of opinions, but unfortunately a lot of her personality seemed surface-level to me. The descriptions of her "costumes," probably because I find fashion mostly boring and can't get into it, gave me little insight into who she actually was. The backstory with Cricket, a boy who she had been in love with for years before he broke her heart, was definitely one of the best parts of the book and set up their relationship once he moves back to the neighborhood, quite nicely. Though she's in love with Max, her two strict dads disapprove of the age difference (she's 17; he's 22) and her confusion over Cricket isn't helped by the friction in her and Max's relationship. Meanwhile Cricket, tall and awkward, seems to have no confusion over Lola. He's a character who has trouble hiding his feelings or not saying what's on his mind, and I liked this. While Lola seemed to always be hiding behind her clothes and her loudness, Cricket never was; it was like he was incapable of it.

Perkins is so excellent at writing the very real emotions (awkwardness and angst especially) that come with falling for someone and that's definitely true here. The complicated and sometimes conflicting emotions between Lola and Max, and then Lola and Cricket, are honest and well-written. However, the fact that I found it difficult to really connect with Lola meant that sometimes it was easier for me to identify with Cricket's emotions than hers. Because while the feelings are incredible, the relationship itself isn't as well-developed as I wanted it to be.

The setting of San Francisco (and here's where I have to talk about Anna) was written in much the same way that Paris is in Anna and the French Kiss -- Lola is enamored with her city and seems to approach it more as a tourist than a girl who has grown up in the city. She loves the color, the diversity, the progressiveness, and this is where the book fell into a strange territory for me. Because no matter how "different" or "quirky" your hometown is, it's your hometown, which means you take it for granted. It's home, no matter how much you love it, and I didn't get that sense from Lola and it threw me off. 

Writing-wise, this book was cute and sweet and quirky and well-done. Some of the information felt info-dumped in the beginning, but this fairly quickly faded as the story took off. I have a feeling that some of the things that bothered me about it (Lola's feelings on her birth mother, for instance) have more to do with me and less to do with the book itself. All in all, this was a cute, quirky, sweet book but the fact is that I find it impossible to not compare it to Perkins' first novel, and for me Anna and the French Kiss was the stronger read.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Review: Virtuosity

Jessica Martinez
Simon Pulse
Carmen is a young violin virtuoso who already has a Grammy under her belt and a scholarship to Juliard, but for her that's not enough. Her career in music hinges on winning the prestigious Guarneri competition, which comes with a worldwide, year-long tour. She must win not only for herself, but also for her mother whose own career as an opera singer was cut short and has poured her love for music into her daughter. When Carmen begins to fall for her competition, Jeremy King, she finds that she also has to confront her reliance on the anti-anxiety pills she takes before every performance - and most of her lessons. Though her mother says that taking the pills is ethical and her doctor assures her you can't become addicted, Carmen has her doubts.

This book is brilliant. I know that. From the characters and plot to the sheer writing ability, there's genius at work here. And yet in spite of that something in this book didn't sit right with me. I didn't love it the way so many others have seemed to. Carmen is a sharp, smart, and sheltered teen who nevertheless seemed to me much older than her 17 years. She's naive, but has a sort of confidence that comes from not only being one of the best (if not the best), but also from being so incredibly comfortable in her world. Though the book's synopsis makes a point of Carmen's addiction to her anti-anxiety drugs, the fact is that very early on in the book she gives up the pills, knowing that there's something wrong in her taking them. As someone who admittedly knows absolutely nothing about the classical/competitive music worlds and is as tone-deaf as they come, the subtle comparisons between anti-anxiety medication and athletes taking steroids made me uneasy; it doesn't seem comparable to me, but again, I could be very wrong on this. Another thing that confused me was the fact that Carmen called her mother by her first name. It fit well with the formal and sometimes stiff feeling of their relationship, but I wish the reasons behind it had been explained.

Carmen's mother was a very shades-of-grey character; in the beginning she seemed strict and a bit overbearing, but not horrible. However, she got worse as the book went on and by the end I absolutely hated her. Jeremy King was a similarly confusing character, at least in some ways. He's introduced as Carmen's only "real" competition in the Guarneri and this puts their relationship in a weird spot: is he using her, or does he genuinely like her? The scenes between Carmen and Jeremy - especially their dialogue - was always brilliant. These two had moments that had me laughing out loud. Despite everything going on around them and the fact that their relationship seemed very sudden, I wanted these two to end up together and happy.

I can't quite pinpoint why I didn't love this book like I should have, but I suspect it might be a combination of the subject matter (competition-music stories are a hard sell with me) and Carmen's character. Though she was likeable and sympathetic, I didn't ever really feel her love for the music that would have carried me through the book. I felt her  conflicting feelings when it came to her mother, the pills, and Jeremy. I knew that she loved her stepfather and that the competition was important to her, however her mother's overbearing need for her to be the best overshadowed whatever feelings Carmen may have had about the situation. I never felt like she really loved what she was doing and partly because of this I kept wondering why, when she had so much, the Guarneri was so important. Because Carmen isn't an unknown talent; she has multiple CDs out, a scholarship to Juliard, a Grammy win, and plenty of financial support. I suspect that my feelings on this could possibly be because I've never played an instrument myself (or at least, never played one well. or passably.) and that others, who have more musical experience, will be able to see Carmen's love for the music where I couldn't.

This book is brilliant and well-written, especially in terms of atmosphere, and has a captivating story. The fact that I didn't love it doesn't mean you won't.

Virtuosity hits shelves October 18th.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

In My Mailbox: LOLA!!

Bought: Only one book this week but that's totally okay because it's my pre-order of Lola and the Boy Next Door!! SUPER SUPER SUPER EXCITING!! (Now, that girl on the cover totally looks like a robot, right?)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

40 Day Book Challenge - Book That Blew Me Away (08)

Day 08 - A book that blew me away
I wasn't expecting to like this book nearly as much as I did. In fact, if it weren't for reading the author's next book and seeing what a brilliant writer she is, I never would have picked it up in the first place. But having read it I can wholeheartedly agree with everyone who told me that Before I Fall was incredible. This book completely blew my mind.