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.