Friday, December 30, 2011

Emily’s Best Books of 2011

My top five (where I cheat and make it a top seven by including the first in certain series) Click on the title to see my review:
1.      Divergent: Dystopia set in futuristic Chicago that involves bravery, love, and self-discovery.
2.      Clockwork Prince (Clockwork Angel): Tessa, paired with two handsome and confusing demon-slayers, finds herself in a battle against evil in Victorian England.
3.      Crossed (Matched): Dystopia in which Cassia must decide between safety and freedom.
4.      Unearthly: Clara is part-angel with a mission to save a boy. But what if she likes a different boy?
5.      Epic Fail: Modern-day Pride and Prejudice mixed with your favorite CW show.   

Not actually published in 2011 but some top picks from books I read this year:
6.      Going TooFar: Jennifer Echols at her finest with this love story between a good boy and a rebellious girl.
7.      The HungerGames (Catching Fire and Mockingjay): Dystopia where kids are set against each other on live television.

There are so many great books I haven’t yet gotten a chance to read, so look for more great reviews of 2011 books in the new year. Special thanks to all my blog readers thus far- Happy New Year!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Clockwork Prince (Cassandra Clare)

Title: Clockwork Prince
Author: Cassandra Clare
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Length: 498 pages
Rating: 4.5/5

Actual text from my friend Meredith: “Have you read Clockwork Prince? I just finished it and I almost died like twenty times ahhhhh I need the next one RIGHT NOW!!!!”

I went out and bought this book the day it came out. To do it full justice however, I didn’t read it for several days because I had to reread the first book in The Infernal Devices series, Clockwork Angel, before I let myself read the new book, hence the above text message. My response to Meredith after reading? “Just. Finished. The. Book. O.M.G. Dyyyyyyyyinnnnnnnnggggggggggggg. I now need to read everything I possibly can about the book online.”

If these girl-ish squeals won’t convince you to read the book, I don’t know what will!

How about a short summary (short because I dare not give anything away!): In Victorian England, Tessa continues to search for a way to destroy the evil Magister with the help of two handsome Shadowhunters, Will and Jem. But the cunning Magister always seems five steps ahead, and Tessa must also fight to save her home from falling into the wrong hands, as well as trying to sort out her confusing feelings for both Shadowhunter boys.

Some things to consider:
1.      Cassandra Clare loves love triangles. And bad boys with dark pasts. Win-win? Only if Jem and Will don’t kill me with their awesomeness first. The character growth in this novel is great.
2.      All the good people in this book are young, while the evil people are old. Youth power! I refuse to grow up!
3.      Anyone else feeling a love connection between Cyril and Gabriel? What? Don’t give me that look of exasperation. Everyone else is pairing off…
4.      The poetry. Clever, brilliant, beautiful, but so much of it that it comes across as just a little too pretentious for me. The only thing that actually bothers me about this series thus far is the excessive amount of poetry.
5.      The cover is beautiful, and the perfect darker compliment to those of the Mortal Instruments series.

Go read Clockwork Angel, then Clockwork Prince. You won’t be disappointed. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Crossed (Ally Condie)

Title: Crossed
Author: Ally Condie
Publisher: Dutton Books (Penguin)
Length: 367 pages
Rating: 4.5/5

This sequel to Matched takes Cassia to the farthest reaches of society. But even in the Outer Providences, where she searches to be reunited with Ky, she can’t quite escape the long arm of society. Her search brings her to deep canyons that show the promise of a different life, and Cassia is drawn to the promise of a revolution, a revolution that pulls her away from Ky, and somehow, back to Xander.

Loved the first, loved the sequel just as much. Don’t you hate that moment when you’re reading a book, and you realize, it’s not a sequel, but only the second in a trilogy instead? You can’t for the life of you figure out how this will end positively, and then you realize you have to wait for another book to find out how it ends. Agony; sweet torture. Often in a trilogy, the second book seems to be a filler between first and third. Not this one.

This book is alternately narrated between Cassia and Ky’s point of view. I argued in my first book that I wanted more character depth, and the switching perspective between main characters allowed for this. My only complaint here is that I couldn’t distinguish between Cassia and Ky’s voices; I would be two pages in and still be confused as to who was narrating, and had to go back and a few too many times. However, I forgave this reading roadblock because the characters grew on me even more as they grew as people.

And the book cover? Did not disappoint!! If you’ve read the books, let me know what you think the third book cover will look like in the comments below. November 2012, I wait for you!

Note from an English major: I love that even though society may not be able to as closely monitor our characters in the far reaches of society, we (as the reader) still watch them. I’ve always loved/hated the idea of reader as voyeur. Cassia at one point says she’s never been this free from people watching, but really, we’re still watching her…cue intense, creepy music…

And finally, from Ryan Gosling Reads Young Adult, Happy Holidays everyone!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Epic Fail (Claire LaZebnik)

Title: Epic Fail
Author: Claire LaZebnik
Publisher: HarperTeen
Length: 295 pages
Rating: 4.5/5

Elise Benton is the new girl at an elite LA prep school. If this didn’t make things difficult enough, her mom is the new (disliked) principle. But things start looking up when her pretty older sister friends one of the cutest, nicest guys in the school. When they start spending a lot of time together, Elise gets to spend time with his best friend and son of Hollywood’s It Couple: Derek Edwards.  But despite Derek’s fame and handsome good looks, Elise isn’t taken in by his charm, and friends his archenemy, social outcast Webster Grant instead. But in this modern Pride and Prejudice, first impressions are rarely right.

It’s a modern Pride and Prejudice. It’s the Clueless to Emma. Need I say more? Okay, I will. I loved the modernization and how the author updated Austen’s world into today’s world. Even thought I knew what was going to happen, I couldn’t put this book down. It was brilliantly done, with just enough changes to keep things interesting.

I was worried this would turn into just-another-bad-teen-movie-book, but page nine got rid of my fears when Elise acknowledges that she’s seen all the cliques about being a new girl at a new school, and she refuses to be one. (I have to say though: the cover art? A little cliché…but I was totally won over by the title). 

The part of the modernization that really sealed it for me was Elise’s family. Juliana is Jane, the perfect, peace-keeping best friend of a sister who happily reminded me of my own sister, while Layla is Lydia, the annoying younger sister who refuses to listen to anyone and self-destructs. The mom was the kicker- overly strict, totally out of the loop and not in a charming way, while the dad had the charm but also the cluelessness. A modern Bennet family to be sure, but also a modern family that anyone can relate to in some way.

If you like Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Clueless, or contemporary YA fiction in general, you’ll love this book. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

FFFT: Ryan Gosling and other delightful things

Who doesn't love Ryan Gosling?! For your viewing pleasure: Ryan Gosling Reads Young Adult and Ryan Gosling Works in Publishing

Prefer the books on this blog to the stuff they make you read in school? You're not alone. Here's a funny article about how Kids Hate Classic Books Through Hilarious Tweets at #worstbookever. I always wondered if "depressing" was the main criteria for choosing a book to be read by high-schoolers. 

And finally, I'd like to introduce to you, my other blog! Drum roll please...Ginormous Fun (as part of my internship with CutiePie Publishing.) On this blog, you can find all sorts of fun, kid-friendly parties ideas, games, crafts and general fun- check it out! 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Iron King (Julie Kagawa)

Title: The Iron King
Author: Julie Kagawa
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Length: 363 pages
Rating: 2/5

Meghan Chase never thought herself ordinary, never seeming to fit in with the rest of the world, ever since her father mysteriously disappeared when she was six. But she never imagined she was extraordinary, burdened by the density that comes with being the secret daughter of a mythical faery king. When her brother is kidnapped, she discovers her true identify and is launched into an adventure that challenges all that she knows about the world and herself. Aiding Meghan against the mysterious evil are an untrustworthy cat, her prankster best friend who was a faery all along, and an icy, gorgeous faery prince.

I had trouble getting into this book. Nothing ever goes right, ever, and there’s no variation or anticipation when the worst always happens. The tone was dark and brooding, and Meghan wasn’t a strong enough character to pull me out of the gloom. Puck (best friend) and Ash (prince) were bright spots but like everything in the world of faeries, they had an intangible alien strangeness to them that kept me from completely liking them. It was all very Alice in Wonderland-esque but without the positivity that comes with the power of imagination. Meghan feels powerless to make any sort of impact and I felt powerless as a reader. However, I did keep reading, as I wanted to know why Meghan was so special, if she could rescue her brother, and if something significant would happen between her and Ash.

Overall, worth the ninety cents procured in late fees at the library (this review was also a factor in why I kept reading), but at not enough to make me read the rest of the series. Have a disagreeing opinion? Tell me below!

Monday, December 12, 2011

You Killed Wesley Payne (Sean Beaudoin)

Title: You Killed Wesley Payne
Author: Sean Beaudoin
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Length: 359 pages
Rating: 3.5/5

Dalton Rev is a seventeen year old Private Dick (that’s detective in Beaudoin-ese). He transfers to the seedy Salt River High to find out who killed Wesley Payne. To solve the crime and get the cash, he must fight his way through killer cliques, questionable cops, corrupt authority and pretty (but can he trust them?) girls.

The set of Salt River High is like the cliques in Mean Girls on steroids. See chart below:

Understanding the cliques might be the key to solving the mystery, but it’s like learning a whole new language (there’s even a glossary at the back of the book). It was hard as a reader to plow through this crazy world at time, but really funny and insightful at others. Dalton is our perfect guide- hilarious, smart, not the world’s best detective (he gets his PI skills from his favorite literary detective, Lexington Cole), but ultimately, the guy you want to get the job done.

Everything in Dalton’s world comes with a price, and it’s usually a steep one. It’s capitalism at its greediest (for example, not having Calculus on every slot on your school schedule is $60 in the pocket of the school registrar). The reader gets to see Dalton unlike anyone else in the book, learning his real motive behind solving crimes. But as in any good detective novel, he keeps some facts from us readers, so it’s worth it to keep reading, and not just for the answer to the crime. 

(I did not!)

An enjoyable read if you're looking for something different than you've read before, or if you like mysteries. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

FFFT: Characters and Contests

I'm fascinated by the female characters that populate and usually protagonize (new verb?) young adult literature. I usually mention if I like/dislike a character in my reviews and why, and often, the more I like a main character, the more I like a book.

An editor I admire created this list of positive character traits (find them at her blog here). I agree with all of them and more.
Lesson for Writers:  Cheryl’s Fourteen Qualities of Attractive Characters***:
  1. Newness (someone I haven’t seen before)
  2. Viewpoint (the POV character)
  3. Desire (the character wants something)
  4. Expertise
  5. Friends (the character likes or is liked by people the reader likes))
  6. Enemies (the character is disliked by people the reader dislikes, so we like the character -- Harry Potter being hated by the Dursleys is the classic example)
  7. Action (the character does something)
  8. Jeopardy (being in it)
  9. Kindness
  10. Positivity (a good attitude in general)
  11. Humor/Wit
  12. Enthusiasm (passion for one specific thing)
  13. Complication (meaning that while they have at least one likeable element, as per #9-12 generally, they do experience darker & deeper emotions)
  14. Mystery (the character is keeping secrets, even from the reader)
Speaking of Cheryl's blog, she's running a contest right now for some of her latest books. What's that? You missed the link above? Here you go! A couple of her books are on sale right now as ebooks. Have I told you I'm joining the tech-savvy world and getting an e-reader for Christmas? Might have to partake of this sale myself!

Back to characters we love. Check out this fun Tournament of Heroines from the YA Sisterhood, a fellow YA blog. 

But what about those characters you love to hate? Here's an interesting article about Bella from Twilight that argues she's not the weak, passive character you see upon first glance.  

Okay, that's enough reading for your Friday. Enjoy the weekend!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sweethearts (Sara Zarr)

Title: Sweethearts
Author: Sara Zarr
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Length: 217 pages
Rating: 3/5

Quiet, shy, unpopular Jennifer with only one friend to her name has transformed herself into happy, dating, popular Jenna. But when her one childhood friend, Cameron Quick, suddenly reappears in her life (he’s not dead?!), Jenna is confronted with her past and how it continues to affect her present, no matter how hard she tried to hide it.

Jenna and Cam are clearly meant to be together- they’ve shared too much not to be. But Jenna has a new life now- one she’s taught herself to be happy in, even though she’s thinks it’s all a façade. She needs the resurfacing of her past to teach her to actually appreciate her future, not just to pretend to. A good lesson about appreciating what you have.

The book presents a moment in Jenna’s life where she must forgive her past, figure out who she is, embrace it, and for heaven’s sake, stop binge eating to make herself feel better. The book is real, and doesn’t tie everything up in a happy, unrealistic ending. I liked Cam, I didn't like Jenna, and overall, it was a little unsatisfying, like eating five cookies yet still feeling hungry. Maybe that’s because I prefer happy (even if they're cookie-cutter) endings. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Love Story (Jennifer Echols)

Title: Love Story
Author: Jennifer Echols
Publisher: MTV Books (Simon & Schuster)
Length: 243 pages
Rating: 4/5

Erin wants to be a writer. She gave up her inheritance (a multi-million dollar Kentucky horse farm) so that she could major in creative writing rather than business at her dream university in New York. On the first day of critique in her writing class, she pours her heart into a story about starcrossed lovers on a Kentucky horse farm, starring the stable boy who was given her inheritance. Then he turns up in her class, and so begins a war of words in which Erin and Hunter try to come to terms with their past through the stories they share in class. Can Erin write herself a happy ending?

Oh Jennifer Echols and her screwed up characters who are perfect for each other…you pulled me in again and wouldn’t let go! What I love/hate about her books is that the characters are realistically flawed, which causes tension, drama, and misunderstanding and fuels the plot. Hate because you want to shout, “get over yourself/why are you being such an idiot?!” And love because it causes romantic tension and the characters always work it out in the end and are better people for it.

What’s great about Love Story are the snippets of the stories written by the characters interspersed throughout the book. Erin’s stories are all based on something in her past, which allows the reader and Hunter to get to know her better. (Side note: it bothered me just a little that Erin only wrote about what she knew. If you want to be a writer, you have to be brave and branch out a little! But I understand that this was both a plot devise and a way to show that Erin was still inexperienced, so I’ll forgive it). I would have liked more of Hunter’s stories, written to drive Erin crazy though- those were great!

What’s also great about Love Story is Hunter. You can’t have a good romance without a great male character, and Hunter is handsome, knows how to work with his hands, and carries a torch for Erin, despite all the dumb stuff they’ve done to each other.

This is your book if you’re an English major looking for a good love story, or let’s be honest, anyone looking for a good love story. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Matched (Ally Condie)

Title: Matched
Author: Ally Condie
Publisher: Dutton Books (Penguin)
Length: 366 pages
Rating: 4.5/5

In Cassia’s society, officials decide where you live, who you marry, what your work is, and when you die. Cassia never questioned this, seeing it as a small price to pay for safety and health. On her seventeenth birthday, she is shown her Match, and couldn’t be happier when her best friend Xander appears on the screen. But then another face she recognizes flashes by, and in that brief moment of seeing Ky’s face, everything changes. Cassie begins to question everything about her society and her life and must make the ultimate choice: whether to live without choices or to risk everything by choosing a life of her own. Safety or freedom? Xander or Ky?

Dystopias aren’t just THE big thing right now. Apparently they’re MY big thing too. Maybe it’s because I grew up on Ender’s Game, or maybe it’s because they take teenage rebellion to a whole new level, but I’m liking this trend in YA lit. Dystopias are all about personal growth. The more a character learns the imperfections of their seemingly perfect society, the more they learn about themselves.

Cassia has never really had the power to choose before. Everything has been determined by society, and there is little free will, and therefore little chance for rebellion. But it turns out that everyone in the novel has been rebelling in their own little ways. Everyone has a breaking point when they choose not to do what society tells them, and it’s always for the people they love. I really liked this about the book. There may not be a terrible evil to fight, but love is still the game changer.

Ky and Xander. Sigh. You didn’t think I was going to write a review without bringing up the love triangle did you? I loved them both, and Cassia too, but wanted more out of them. They’re all a bit surface level, and I wanted to see what makes them tick, making their love for one another even more believable. Perhaps in the next novel!

Some more things I liked:
1.      The character names! I’m a sucker for unique names and everyone in this novel has one.
2.      Eyes. Again, sucker for authors who focus on characters eyes (window to the soul and all).
3.      Poetry used in a different way!! Instead of epigraphs no one reads (cough so many other authors cough), this book presents a society in which only 100 poems have been saved. (Also only 100 paintings, history lessons, songs, etc). When Cassia’s grandfather gives her a poem thought to have been destroyed, its words become her song of freedom, its words the one thing society cannot take from her. Poetry used this way made me value words rather than curse the increased word count.
4.      The cover. So pretty! I love the simplicity and symbolism.

Confession of the day: I liked this book so much that I bought it!! (Gasp! Unheard of!) And its sequel, just so I could get my hands on it. 

So go read this book- you’ll like it!

Monday, November 21, 2011

City of Bones (Cassandra Clare)

Title: City of Bones
Author: Cassandra Clare
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Length: 485 pages
Rating: 4.5/5

On a night like any other, Clary Fray and her best friend Simon go to the Pandemonium Club in New York City for some dancing. But then Clary witnesses a murder by a few tattooed teenagers, and Simon doesn’t see a thing. Next thing you know, Clary’s mom disappears and Clary is attacked by a huge, creepy demon. Modern New York City isn’t all that it seems as Clary is thrown into the world of Shadowhunters, warriors who rid the world of demons, in a search for her mother. Why can Clary see demons and Downworlders all of a sudden- iosn’t she just an ordinary mundane? Where is her mother and who is this evil Valentine everyone keeps talking about? And why is Jace, Shadowhunter extraordinaire, so hot?

I told you in my review of Clockwork Angel (first in the prequel series to this series) that I would do what was necessary to get my hands on this book. I suffered through almost five CDs (not because they were awful but because I’m incapable of actually paying attention to audio books) before finally flying to Michigan to borrow the book from a friend (okay, full disclosure, I was visiting said friend, CD player in tow, and she just happened to have the book). So while the first hundred pages or so are rather blurry on the details, the rest was pretty awesome!

It’s crucial for me to like the main character of a book. I loved Clary. She’s snarky and funny and just the right amount of clueless (much like Tessa…). When the going gets tough, she rises up to it, and never backs away from a challenge, whether it’s breaking into a hotel full of vampires or not sleeping for 48 hours (or more? Does she ever sleep?).

Clary’s world is completely turned inside out and what’s great for the reader, is that everything we know is turned inside out too. It's set in modern New York. Kinda cool to think of other-worlders running around behind our backs (also creepy, but that’s where Shadowhunters come in).

The Shadowhunters in this book are the coolest teens EVER. Jace, Alec and Isabelle are attractive and pretty much run around New York killing demons without parental supervision. Talk about teen empowerment. Jace is the epitome of awesomeness: he’s brooding, mysterious and great at killing demons and making Clary crazy.

And in case Clary’s world didn’t become crazy enough, things get crazier. I can’t wait to dig into City of Ashes, the second book in the Mortal Instruments series.

Also, movie? Yes please. Can't wait!

Spoiler alert!! Don’t go any further if you haven’t read this book.

Stop reading!

Have you read this book?

Okay, you can keep reading.

What, Star Wars, WHAT?
That’s all. Please tell me it’s a lie.
No, I’m kidding- don’t tell me anything!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Shut Out (Kody Keplinger)

Title: Shut Out
Author: Kody Keplinger
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Length: 273 pages
Rating: 4/5

Sports and YA books? My two favorite things!

Here is a summary of the book from the mouth of the author (from her blog): SHUT OUT is a story about Lissa, a senior in high school, who decides to put an end to a decade old rivalry between her school's football and soccer teams after her quarterback boyfriend ditches her a few too many times on behalf of hazing the other team. Her plan is to start a sex strike - gathering the girlfriends of all the players of both teams and agreeing that none of them will hookup with their boyfriends until the rivalry is over. What follows is an all out battle of the sexes as the girls begin to explore issues of teen sexuality and the boys attempt to seduce the girls into breaking their oath. Lissa is determined to win, but she never expects the sexual tension that rises between she and Cash Sterling, a member of the soccer team and leader of the boys' side.

I like that this book doesn’t shy away from anything. It openly discusses double standards, sex, peer-pressure and more. And not in a preachy way, but in a girls chatting at a slumber party kind of way. And it’s all part of a funny story where a group of girls team up to get their boyfriends to behave. And of course, there’s some great sexual tension thrown in there too. Lissa is a little obnoxiously controlling at times, but she has to learn to loosen up a little in life. I'm willing to forgive my narrator because she does grow some in the end. 

You'll learn, you'll cringe, you'll celebrate, and with a hot guy named Cash involved, how could you not enjoy this book?

Friday, November 11, 2011

FFFT 11/11/11

I have oodles of things to share with you on this Friday!

Put all of these on the TO-READ list: Publisher's Weekly and Amazon have both released their top YA books for 2011 lists.

Ever wonder how a book cover is created? See a sample of the process through Blood by K. J. Wignall. (This book will be reviewed on the blog soon. I mean, just look at the picture below!).

We all do it. We think, do teens actually act this way? Here about the "believability factor" from a YA author. 

Remember my obsession with Divergent (still the best book I've read all year)? If you loved it as I did, you might be interested to hear how Veronica Roth was inspired to write it.

And while I'm aware that it's no longer October, I found these pumpkin carving ideas and just had to share!

CONTESTS! I love them, you love them. Here's one to win free YA ARC's from The Young Adult Literature Review.

Okay finally, this is hilarious: Is YA Lit RUINING Our Children?? Mad-lib style.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Nightshade (Andrea Cremer)

Title: Nightshade
Author: Andrea Cremer
Publisher: Philomel Books (Penguin)
Length: 452 pages
Rating: 4/5

Yep- another book in a series. I was at Barnes and Nobel the other day, casing the teen section for new reads and noticed that nearly all the best sellers are part of a series. Made me wonder: is this just a way to sell books, the standard for YA books right now, or something else entirely? Let me know your thoughts below!

Calla is leader of her shape-shifting wolf pack, destined to marry sexy alpha wolf Ren to unite their packs so that they can continue guarding their Keepers’ sacred sites. But then she breaks all the rules and saves Shay, a human boy, who makes her question all that she knows about her history, her pack, and her heart.

Okay, what’s up with all these books where two guys repeatedly throw themselves at the unassuming girl heroine? (Twilight isn’t the only culprit here) Does this ever happen in real life? Not in my real life…This complaint out of the way, the romance in this book is top-notch. Ren’s a total playboy who can’t keep his paws to himself. And hello, double-standard, Calla is supposed to stay pure until their union. Sexual tension ahoy as Ren is pretty impatient. Throw in Shay to the mix, and it’s like the equivalent of having Taylor Lautner with his shirt off all the time:

As with any paranormal story, there’s a lot of complicated history to wade through. But Cremer does a good job of revealing facts slowly, and then making Calla and the reader question all that has been revealed. Calla finally learns to think for herself rather than just accept what she’s always been taught. What is the real story behind the shape-shifters and the Keepers? I still don’t know- that’s why this book is only the first in a series! Overall, a good, thrilling read. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

How to Say Goodbye in Robot (Natalie Standiford)

Title: How to Say Goodbye in Robot
Author: Natalie Standiford
Publisher: Scholastic
Length: 273 pages
Rating: 3/5

Today’s post is a nostalgic read, as I’m feeling rather melancholy this Monday. For the record, I really like robots and really dislike goodbyes.

Bea is new in town, and somehow she becomes best friends with Ghost Boy (Jonah), who hasn’t made a new friend since third grade, and who is so pale people think he might disappear. Jonah and Bea’s friendship isn’t your topical high school friendship. It’s powerful, and while it’s not quite romantic, it’s love, as Bea and Jonah have finally found that other person just like themselves.

This is a book about the power of friendship. I’m quite taken with the idea of true friendship. But I was a little worried for Bea in this book. Yes, it’s important to always be there for your best friend, but not to the determent of yourself! Bea is just trying to find her place in the new town, and Jonah wants her all for himself, but without giving himself fully. This isn’t healthy and frustrated me as a reader. But it’s all part of the learning process. Friends can be the best teaching tool about oneself that exist. Plus, Bea needs Jonah to teach her to not be an emotionless robot, even if it’s safer to go through life that way.

Another thing that made this book unique is the sounds of a late night radio show peppered throughout the book that Bea and Jonah listen to and connect over. I liked that this book was quirky and completely different than anything I’ve read before, just like the quirky likability of true friends.  

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Beauty Queens (Libba Bray)

Title: Beauty Queens
Author: Libba Bray
Publisher: Scholastic
Length: 390 pages
Rating: 3.5/5

A plane full of beauty queens crashes on a deserted island. Seems simple enough. But is the island really deserted? Is each beauty queen really who she says she is? Where do the hot pirates who land on the island halfway through the book come from? Which is more important: working on your perfect pageant answers or building a hut for survival? Nothing is as it seems, and beauty takes on a whole new slew of meanings in this book.

The book is presented as if it were a propaganda television show, presented by The Corporation, an American company that does it all, from selling hair remover to sponsoring the Miss Teen Dream Pageant. Hilarious footnotes and commercial breaks throughout the book tote the benefits of all of The Corporation’s best products, which are all the most ridiculous things ever, yet eerily similar to many of the absurd things sold today. (Example: “Feast for the Fishermen, the ultimate emo band. Said to be sold with a complimentary prescription for antidepressants and a free flatiron.”) The book has some things to say about our present consumer culture and feminism as well, but all in rather funny ways.

This book was enjoyable, and funny, and absurd, but it was also a lot to wade through at points. So many products thrown at the reader, and so many different characters to follow, all with their own life-defining story-arcs (although to be honest, quite like a tv show in these aspects). Also, quite the diverse cast for a group of beauty pageant contestants. Okay, I shouldn’t really be complaining about the unrealistic-ness of the book, but with all the characters coming to slowly accept themselves for who they are, it felt a little preachy/cliche sometimes. Just a little too teen special for my tastes, but I did like that just about anyone could read this book and find someone they related to. Plus, who doesn’t like hot pirates?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Conspiracy of Kings (Megan Whalen Turner)

Title: A Conspiracy of Kings
Author: Megan Whalen Turner
Publisher: Green Willow Books (HarperCollins)
Length: 316 pages
Rating: 4/5
The forth book of The Queen’s Thief series is from the perspective of Sophos, a character who befriended Eugenides in the first book, The Thief, and who we learned was kidnapped and disappeared in the third book, The King of Attolia. This is his story. Unlike the other books which follow Eugenides from close and afar in what I deemed “limited first person omniscient,” this book is from Sophos’s first person point of view. This narration style is a little more traditional to Young Adult fiction, and a great fit for this book. Whereas Eugenides hides a lot from other characters and the reader, Sophos is open and naïve and still learning. The reader can therefore learn with him, as he goes from scholar nephew of the king, to slave, to a king fighting to get his kingdom back. 

There’s a lot of strategizing going on in this book. If I ever need to take over a kingdom, I would study this book instead of Machiavelli’s The Prince. But surprisingly, I was never bored. I was invested in the characters, and I wanted them to succeed enough that I too began strategizing against those pesky Medes who keep trying to invade.

Even though this book was published more than ten years after The Thief, I could see definite foreshadowing and important themes from the first book carried out in this one. It’s amazing how interconnected everything is. And despite everything I learned reading the first three books, and my love for our hero, Eugenides, this book had me doubting him, because I also learned to love and admire Sophos. I guess it’s not easy ruling any kingdom! Amazing conclusion however- I could not have been happier. 

I would highly recommend reading the entire series from start to finish.

As promised in my last post about the series, I did ask the editor about the inclusion of a map, but alas, there was no response. So instead, I will leave you with this book trailer preview: 
Check out trailers for the others in the series at Megan Whalen Turner's website:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Clockwork Angel (Cassandra Clare)

Title: Clockwork Angel
Author: Cassandra Clare
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster)
Length: 478 pages
Rating: 4.5/5

This is the most exciting/tense/keep you reading/eyes keep jumping to the bottom of the page to find out what happens next book I’ve read since The Hunger Games. And it’s just the prequel to Cassandra Clare’s famous Mortal Instruments series. You know a series is great when its prequel get a series! Although I have yet to read The Mortal Instruments series (the line for the first one, City of Bones, at the library is rather long, but after loving this book and learning the next one in the prequel series isn’t out yet, I requested the City of Bones audio book because its line was shorter. I don’t really like audio books, but that’s how much I liked this book).

Now to focus on the book at hand: Clockwork Angel, the first in The Infernal Devices series. Tessa Gray travels to London to find her brother, the only family she has left. But he’s gone missing and she’s kidnapped by the Dark Sisters, who teach her that she has the power to transform into another person. Because in this Victorian London, magic is real, populated by Downworlders like vampires and warlocks. The Dark Sisters work for the Magister, the shadowy leader of a nefarious The Pandemonium Club, who wants Tessa as his bride. Tessa escapes and takes refuge with a group of Shadowhunters whose duty is to rid the world of demons and protect humans. Among these Shadowhunters are the fearless and volatile Will, and his best friend, the calm yet hiding a deadly secret Jem. Naturally, Tessa would much rather marry one of them than the creepy Magister. Now Tessa’s on a mission to find her brother and take down the Pandemonium Club.

I thought I was over paranormal series for a bit. Turns out, I’m not. Tessa’s got the characteristics I like in a heroine: determination, hidden talent, small amount of wide-eyed innocence, spunk, and a great character arc through the book. The boys Jem and Will are the perfect compliments/foils to each other and to Tessa, and while there was a little romance, it was refreshing that the story didn’t revolve around it. While some of the plot twists were expected, Clare’s suspenseful writing kept me turning page after page, and I was still surprised quite often. And I was left with many questions and an overwhelming desire to read the next book!

If you’re looking for a new series, this is your book. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Jellicoe Road (Melinda Marchetta)

Title: Jellicoe Road
Author: Melinda Marchetta
Publisher: HarperTeen
Length: 419 pages
Rating: 4.5/5

I usually challenge myself to write a summary that isn’t straight from the flap copy at the beginning of each post. But this book is tough- there is a lot going on…and the flap is so spot-on! But here goes…

Taylor Markham is haunted by the past. She was abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road when she was only eleven and has attended the boarding school there ever since. Now seventeen, she is the reluctant leader of her dorm and of the all-out war that takes place every year between the boarding school kids, the townies, and the cadets who camp out nearby. But while the war rages, Taylor’s past becomes more and more present, especially when the leader of the cadets is the brooding Johan Griggs, the boy she unsuccessfully ran away with to find her mother. And haunting Taylor at every turn are the lives of five kids who lived on Jellicoe Road eighteen years ago. Can Taylor put the pieces of her past together before she falls apart?

1.      I read this book in one sitting. Sat down, couldn’t put it down, and didn’t get back up until the final page.
2.      I almost cried several times. I did cry at least once. As I’ve said before, I want books that make me FEEL. This book did ten times over, and stuck with me after I turned the final page.
3.      Usually I don’t like reality. I don’t like being reminded that youth is fleeting and we’re not immortal. (This is why I like fantasy so much- it’s reality in an unreal setting.) But this book was real, and it was amazing. Real people, real problems, real emotions.
4.      Mystery, intrigue, a haunting past. Taylor is plagued by all of this. Sometimes she can’t handle people, she has too much to handle with just herself. I can relate.
5.      Not your typical love story. And yet, I read this book because someone suggested Jonah and Taylor as one of the best YA couples of all time. There’s a touch of destiny about everything in the book, including their relationship.
6.      The book takes place in Australia, which means all sorts of British-isms. After studying abroad in England, I’m a sucker for anything remotely British. And it’s nice to read a book not set in either a fantasy world or contemporary America.
7.      It’s a book about lifelong friends and what you would do for them, about the meaning of home, and about accepting the past into your future. Deep, real, and amazing.
8.      I’m still a little confused about certain aspects. So many interwoven storylines and characters. This book may require a second read sometime in the future. 

Friday, October 14, 2011


It's FRIDAY!! Nothing too crazy to share with you this week- just a couple articles about how awesome YA is right now:

This one is from Scholastic: Kid lit: not just for kids anymore! (well, YEAH!) I like this because of the book suggestions though- many are going on my to-read list.

This one's from another blogger: What Makes YA Fiction So Hot? A rather lengthy interview of several librarians, but they also have good thoughts about YA right now and lots of book suggestions. Got to love librarians...and bloggers of course.

And because I'm sharing, here's the stack of books I'm going to read for you next:
It looks more precarious turned on its side...

And finally, a happy Friday present for all you Harry Potter fans!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Phantom Tollbooth (Norton Juster)

Title: The Phantom Tollbooth
Author: Norton Juster (Illustrator Jules Feiffer)
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Length: 256 pages
Rating: 5/5

I’m either fifty years late to this party, or have perfect timing as to finally read this great classic on its fiftieth anniversary. Let’s go with the latter. What can I say that hasn't been said (see this New Yorker article for more about its history)? It’s the American Alice in Wonderland, a book where word-play rules and there is a fine line between imagination and real life.

It was refreshing to read a book with illustrations, and there are so many crazy visuals in the book, the pictures were necessary. Don’t classic children’s books always have the perfect marriage between words and pictures? Even for me, a some-what adult reader, some things were hard to picture because they were so abstract. A marketplace of word! Stairs to infinity! The demons of Gross Exaggeration and Threadbare Excuses!

The English major in me was having a field day with the way words were used, and I thought, every English major should be required to read this. But philosophy majors and even math majors would find something to enjoy. Perhaps every college student should read this.

It’s a book for all ages that reminds us that there are plenty of demons slowing us down, but with a little imagination and determination, even the impossible is possible. 

Favorite quote: “I think I’ll continue to see things as a child. It’s not so far to fall.” –Milo
This is why I love children’s and young adult books. This is why I want to work in children’s publishing. My own version of being Peter Pan.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Unearthly (Cynthia Hand)

Title: Unearthly
Author: Cynthia Hand
Publisher: HarperTeen
Length: 435 pages
Rating: 5/5

Clara is part-angel and has just discovered her purpose, the reason she was put on earth. She sees visions of a raging forest fire and a boy standing among the fiery trees. Her family picks up and moves to Wyoming where her visions take place so that she can prepare herself. There she discovers Christian, the boy from her visions who is perfect and conveniently gorgeous. While trying to fit in at her new school, she also tries to get to know Christian to find out how and why she is supposed to save him from the fire. Christian may be her dream boy, but there’s another boy in the picture too: Tucker, who appeals to Clara more and more, even though he’s a distraction from her purpose. By the time fires ignite in Wyoming, Clara faces a tough choice. Christian or Tucker? Destiny or love?

This book was crazy addicting. I only put it down once between pages 50 and 435. And that was for five minutes. There are so many mysteries. What isn’t Clara’s mom telling her about angels? Why is Clara’s purpose what it is? And what is her purpose exactly? As you might have guessed, this book is the first in a trilogy, so even though I was left with a ton of questions, there is still hope for answers in upcoming books. Why isn’t it January of 2012 so I can keep reading?

This book was so enjoyable because even though Clara is super-human, she’s easy to relate to. She experiences high school cliques, the jealousy of friends, first love, and my favorite theme, self-discovery. Clara’s the way cooler version of me in high school. Except that good-looking boys talk to her a lot more. She takes being gifted to a whole new level and I think YA readers will be able to connect to that, as we’re all gifted in our own ways.

Finally, this book is great because it’s easy to see it as a metaphor for any reader’s life. Aren’t we all trying to figure out our own purpose?

Now go and pick this book up- you won’t put it down!

And speaking of relate-able girls, I read a great article about female role models in YA literature. Can I just say I love all the amazing female characters mentioned?! I aspired to be certain aspects of all of them- from Anne's imagination to Alanna's bravery to the March sisters' perseverance- they all inspired me and still do today. 

Friday, September 30, 2011

FFFT: Friday Food for Thought

I’ve found some things close to my heart to share with you this week.

First, I’m sure you all heard about the tornado that destroyed Joplin, Missouri, a town two hours south of my home in Kansas City. My sister is a teacher who lives one town over from Joplin, and her roommate of five years was a middle school teacher in Joplin for a while. So any information about schools and libraries in Joplin post-tornado is of much interest to me. This article shows how Kansas City locals are helping Joplin by creating mobile libraries to put in classrooms. Huge shout-out to Pete from the Reading Reptile for spear-heading the project. I chatted with Pete for nearly an hour the other week about children’s bookstores, and he’s as awesome as the article suggests. If you want to help out by donating, there is information in the article. I’ll be going to Reading Reptile to buy books to donate soon so let me know if you have any suggestions!

YA Saves. This was mentioned in last week’s FFFT as Maureen Johnson’s campaign to get people reading YA. Now there’s a tshirt! Get yours here. Anyone want to get me one as a birthday present? Just kidding- go donate books instead. 

I’ve mentioned boys reading vs. girls reading before, and how there is both a perceived and realistic gap in different ways. And I personally know how hard it is to get some boys to read. I nannyed and tutored Charlie for a summer. We read together every day. And every day it was a battle. Even though he was smart in other ways, reading wasn’t Charlie’s strong suit. As this article by the awesome Jennifer Echol’s (remember my post on her?) suggests, you have to find something they’ll relate to. This is why we read every Time Warp Trio book in existence…and a ton of Star Wars books! But this really relates to any reader- if you find something you like to read, you’ll want to read it! I can’t tell you how many times my mom told me to “put the book down!” when I was a child. I have far too many interests…

Finally, as proof that there are boys who read, check out this interview with a 16-year old boy book blogger. Not gonna lie, he sounds cooler than me as a blogger. I can only keep aspiring! 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Goddess Test (Aimée Carter)

Title: The Goddess Test
Author: Aimée Carter
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Length: 293 pages
Rating: 4/5

“Become immortal or die trying” says the cover of this Harlequin Teen novel. Kate and her mom move back to her mom’s childhood home in tiny Eden, Michigan. A valid premise for any teen novel, but it gets more complicated. Kate’s mom is dying of cancer, and Kate wants to spend all her time with her mom, rather than trying to make friends at a new school. Normally I don’t like books where the premise involves anyone dying, but I was willing to give this one a chance because of Henry. Not a pale, tortured vampire, but a dark, brooding god of the Underworld. Excellent.

After Henry demonstrates that he can bring people back from the dead, he offers Kate a choice. He’ll keep Kate’s mother alive as long as Kate agrees to live with him for six months of the year and pass seven tests. Failing any test means death for Kate’s mother…and Henry too. But if she passes, she becomes Henry’s bride and a goddess.

As a practiced reader, I was more than willing to suspend my disbelief and accept that Henry was Hades, god of the dead. Yay for more Greek mythology! However, it took Kate 136 pages to accept this. 136 pages of her doubting what I had accepted when reading the back of the book was frustrating, and it was hard for me to get into the book at first. But as I read on, I came to accept that was just part of Kate’s personality. She’s a little obtuse, but also very selfless, and she grew on me as the book went on, especially as she learns to accept things, and learns to value her own life, not just the lives of people she’s trying to save (her mother, Henry, and the list goes on). Because it turns out that it’s not just Kate versus 7 tests, it’s Kate versus a mystery person trying to kill her before she passes the tests. Just in case it wasn’t hard already.

The moments between Henry (who is still working on getting over Persephone) and Kate were some of the strongest in the book. There was also some good betrayal and plot twists in the novel to keep a reader interested. And of course the major questions: will she pass the tests in time or will she die trying?

This this is fun book, especially if you’re into mythology and romance. And apparently it’s the first in a series, because YA rarely does solo books these days.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Going Too Far (Jennifer Echols)

Title: Going Too Far
Author: Jennifer Echols
Publisher: MTV Books
Length: 245 pages
Rating: 5/5

I feel obliged to admit I’ve got a total girl-crush on Jennifer Echols. I tend to love everything she writes, and Going Too Far was no exception. It seems like a simple enough premise: bad girl, good boy. Meg is a reckless teen dying to get out of town. One night she goes too far and her punishment is riding the night shift with a play-by-the-rules rookie cop, John. How could they not start to fall for each other? But both have a lot of baggage holding them back, especially the fact that John has chosen to stay behind in the tiny town Meg can’t wait to escape.

Things I loved:
1.     Characters: I dare you to read this book and not love John. I also dare you to not like Meg. She’s spunky and witty and flawed. Yeah she’s got issues, but don’t we all?
2.      Witty dialogue: the story happens in a pretty short time frame, so there’s a lot of dialogue between Meg and John as they ride around. It’s great because it’s not beautifully styled. Sometimes the dialogue jumps around just like it would in a real conversation. Maybe it was because I had just watched Rookie Blue, but the dialogue made the book kind of like a TV show or movie running through my head. It was great and I had a lot of trouble putting the book down.

Things you should know before reading
1.    If this was a movie, it would probably get a PG-13 rating. Sex is alluded to on page one, but I wouldn’t call it a bodice ripper. YA romance has its dignity…or maybe that’s John…
2.    Let me repeat again that this isn’t just a light fluffy read. The characters have baggage, they’re flawed. All this just made the story better. This is one of the things I really like about Echols- she writes great romance, but it’s not all about the romance- the characters have personality and depth and well, character.
3.    Echols has written similar books (same genre, same size, same publisher) and I plan on reading them as well. I’ll let you know what I think!
     PS A frequently asked question on Echol's website is this: Is John from Going too Far based on a real person, and can I borrow him?
     Her answer? No
     Well darn...

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Queen/King of Attolia (Megan Whalen Turner)

To recap the series:
The Thief (reviewed here)
The Queen of Attolia (reviewd below)
The King of Attolia (reviewd below)
A Conspiracy of Kings

Author: Megan Whalen Turner
Publisher: Green Willow Books (HarperCollins)
Length: Queen: 279 and King: 385
Rating: 4/5
The next two books in the Queen’s Thief Series did not disappoint. (As a side note, one of the great things about the library is that you get to read books in their original form. As these books were published about five years apart, I get to see the evolution of their book cover designs first hand. I admit to thoroughly judging a book by its cover, so it’s always interesting to see how covers change through time. After much scrutiny, I approve of the current hand-obsessed book designs.)

No matter how many books set in fantasy worlds I read, I continue to be amazed at the level of detail created by their authors. The world presented in these books is no exception. I really wish I had a map so I could better picture the lands of three main countries of Attolia, Eddis and Sounis. And while the HarperCollins catalogue promises a map in the latest book, I’m not seeing one.

The cover of the book I read
The current cover
The Queen of Attolia (2000): Things I liked:
1.      It jumps right into the story. The Thief starts with our hero (of sorts) Eugenides in prison in Sounis, and the second book opens with Eugenides trying to stay out of prison in Attolia. Fitting for Eugenides, a thief named after the king of thieves. All of the books begin with action and then piece together how Eugenides came to be in that pickle, and how he will escape (or often can’t escape, but tries anyway).
2.      We get more than Eugenides point of view. This book is called The Queen of Attolia, and we often get her thoughts and actions as well. I’m going to call it limited first person omniscient, as much is hidden despite seeing so much.
3.      It’s unconventional. The ending is never expected, but you grow to love Eugenides enough that you can accept whatever the author throws at you.

Other thoughts: The physical book I read has lived in the library for about ten years. Somewhere in that time, a reader took it upon themselves to ink out any “bad” words in the text. I never verbally swear myself, but even I don’t have an aversion to the words chosen to be crossed out (I had to guess based on context they were so well scribbled over, but usually I don’t find “hell” and “whore” to be that deplorable). What I’m saying is that I’m not a fan of censorship. I first read these books ten-ish years ago, and my young, (slightly righteous) sensitive mind wasn’t offended then. If it’s your book, do with it what you will. But if it’s a library book, I say treat it with more respect- let each reader decide what they like and what they don’t. Have you ever come across a censored book or been tempted to censor a book?

Current cover (as I read it)
The King of Attolia (2006): Things I liked
1.      By this point, we know not to trust the narrator, whoever they may be, to tell the reader the full story. This book pushed it even further, introducing a new narrator, Costis, who is clearly wrong in a lot of his interpretations. It was frustrating seeing everything from this skewed point of view, but necessary for the development of the plot. It’s almost a mystery story the way things are revealed and everything comes together.
2.      Eugenides will always be one (or five) steps ahead of everyone else. He’s like the author, pulling strings and making things happen, unseen in the background.
3.      Each book introduces a new and ever-expanding cast of characters. This keeps the books fresh even though they’re always about Eugenides and happen in a short period of time.
Other thoughts: Unreliable narrators abound in fiction. Sometimes I like them, taking pleasure in noting things the main character does not. Sometimes I hate them, thinking they are really wrong and stupid and need to figure things out. Sometimes I don’t even notice until it is revealed a character was wrong all along. What are your thoughts on unreliable narrators?

I had the great pleasure of meeting Megan Whalen Turner’s editor at Green Willow Books, Virginia Duncan, while at the Denver Publishing Institute, so I might have to email her and find out the story about the missing map as I read A Conspiracy of Kings. A review will be forthcoming! 

And in case you were curious:
As I read it (the original I believe)
Current Edition