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?