Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie)

Title: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie
Publisher: Hachette Book Group
Length: audio book: 5 hours
Rating: 4.5/5

Born dirt-poor on the Spokane Indian reservation with water on the brain, Arnold “Junior” Spirit emerges disadvantaged. But despite his alcoholic parents, recluse sister, violent best friend, and lopsided body used as target practice for many feet, this book-loving, comic-drawing narrator refuses to give up on his sizable dreams. He realizes that he can only fulfill his dreams if he leaves the reservation, so he transfers to Reardan High School, where he is the only non-white kid, and in doing so, becomes the most hated person on the rez.

Hearing all sorts of good reviews about this book, I picked it up in audio form for a road trip. You may remember that I usually dislike audio books, but this one was wonderful! The semi-autobiographical tale is narrated by the author himself, and his voice is full of humor, heart-break, and it perfectly captures the trials of a part-time Indian. Alone in my car, I laughed, I cried, and I felt like I really got to know Arnold and his many plights. The only thing I missed were the hand-drawn cartoons scattered throughout the physical version of the book (but a quick flip through a book story copy made it all better). Both the audio and regular book are definitely worth your time.

This book covered a lot of serious topics, but boy was it funny! It was very refreshing to read a book that didn’t take itself so seriously, yet dealt with serious subjects like racism and death. I learned a lot about Indian culture, and white culture too, as Arnold navigated both as an exile and an immigrant. And even though I’d read about basketball, first love, and friendship before, everything in Alexie’s voice seemed fresh and new and funny.

Is it too cliché to say “a wonderful addition to YA literature”? Well too bad, I just said it. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

FFFT: Things that make me squeal

GO AWAY I'M READING. I want these. I want all of them. And you can download them free!

We all know how much I looooooved Divergent. And just released, a sneak peak of the next book in the series, Insurgent! Check it here!

I already covered the best YA books of last year. But how about the best kid's books of all time?? Check out this list of 100 Greatest Books for Kids!

and finally, from Shelf Awareness on 2/15:

             Quotation of the Day

The Art of Publishing 'Good Books for Bad Children'

"I was taken out to luncheon and offered, with great ceremony, the opportunity to be an editor in the adult department. The implication, of course, was that since I had learned to publish books for children with considerable success perhaps I was now ready to move along (or up) to the adult field. I almost pushed the luncheon table into the lap of the pompous gentleman opposite me and then explained kindly that publishing children's books was what I did, that I couldn't possibly be interested in books for dead dull finished adults, and thank you very much but I had to get back to my desk to publish some more good books for bad children."
--Ursula Nordstrom, who was head of Harper's department of books for boys and girls from 1940 to 1973 (from the book Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, which was showcased by the Brain Pickings blog).

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Name of the Star (Maureen Johnson)

Title: The Name of the Star
Author: Maureen Johnson
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Penquin)
Length: 372 pages
Rating: 4.5/5

Rory Deveaux is spending her senior year of high school in a London boarding school instead of her Louisiana hometown. She finds London a pretty great city until a Jack the Ripper copycat starts murdering people right near her school. The police are baffled until Rory spots the killer at the crime scene. But she’s the only one to see him, and he definitely sees her. Why can only Rory see this man? And can she survive his haunting threats?

Normally I don’t like “scary” books. But Maureen Johnson hyped the heck out of this book on Twitter (follow her, she’s hilarious: @maureenjohnson) and so I read it, and therefore loved it!

You’ll love this book if you love:
1.      London (or England in general). If you’ve ever spent time in London, this book will make you miss it like WOAH. If you ever want to go to London, you’ll want to go even more after reading.
2.      Mysteries/thrillers. Also, the idea of overcoming your own fear.
3.      Not being able to put a book down.
4.      Romance in the book, but not the main focus. Sure, Rory gets her snogging on, but it’s really about #5
5.      Ghost stories. I love that Rory is presented with the supernatural/impossible, and sure, she’s doubtful, but she accepts it soon thereafter. You know I hate books where the main character can’t accept the premise of the book.
6.      Strong female characters. Even better, a strong female, contemporary character. Rory is awesome- I want to be friends with her. 

If you want to read something different and awesome, this is the book for you!

PS There are still a few plot points I don’t understand. Sadly, I’m no Sherlock Holmes. (Mostly the book was brilliantly put together. I put this here so that if you’ve read it, you’ll write something in the comments so that we can discuss it. My question is about page 313…)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Hourglass (Myra McEntire)

Title: Hourglass
Author: Myra McEntire
Publisher: Egmont
Length: 390 pages
Rating: 4/5

Emerson Coles keeps seeing things that no one else sees. A girl in a Civil War era outfit, a piano trio, a horse-drawn carriage- none seem to really exist, because when Emerson touches these images, they disappear. People think she’s crazy. Emerson thinks she’s crazy. Her brother is determined to find a way to help her, but they’ve tried everything. In one final desperate attempt, he brings in consultant Michael Weaver from the mysterious Hourglass society.

Michael is the first person to fully believe in everything Emerson sees, and every time he and Emerson touch, it’s electric. But the Hourglass is in trouble, and Michael needs Emerson to help prevent a death that never should have happened. Can Emerson trust in Michael and herself enough to change the past? And at what price?

There was a lot in this book that I didn’t expect. I liked that. Physics, time travel, romance, bending the laws of nature. Pretty cool stuff, but I was never overwhelmed by the depth of it all.

Emerson Cole, our seventeen year old narrator: I have a lot to say about her, since we spend most the book in her slightly-messed-up head. I wasn’t completely sold on Emerson until about two thirds of the way through the book. I’m finding that one of my biggest pet peeves is when one of the crucial conflicts in a novel is that main character can’t accept the premise of the book. Emerson was far less willing to accept the idea of time travel than I was, and harped on it unnecessarily. Just accept it! I grew to like Emerson though- she’s head-strong, knows her own strengths and weaknesses, and is adorable awkward, especially when it came to Michael and then the later introduction of the equally gorgeous Kaleb.

Overall, a good balance of sci-fi, romance, and paranormal, and a book unlike any others I’ve read.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Girl in the Steel Corset (Kady Cross)

Title: The Girl in the Steel Corset
Author: Kady Cross
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Length: 473 pages
Rating: 2.5/5

Finley is not an ordinary Victorian housemaid. When an employer tries to take advantage of her, she lets her dark side fight back. Griffin King, an attractive orphaned duke, sees the value in her dark side and takes Finley under his wing. With his own mysterious powers, Griffin recruits Finley to help him fight a criminal called the Machinist.

I started off really liking this book. About half-way though, I wanted to chuck it out the plane window. I can’t tell you if it’s the book itself, or the steampunk genre that didn’t jive. I’ll have to read more steampunk to find out, but for now, let me tell you what I liked and didn’t like about this book.

1.      Finley is a Victorian girl with a backbone, and a wicked fighter at that.
2.      A good range of characters: There’s the attractive duke, his part-robot hulky best friend Sam, their brilliant scientist Emily, and an American cowboy with a secret, Jasper. I was also quite fond of Jack Dandy- the handsome criminal mastermind.
3.      My favorite part was the rich guy vs criminal guy aspect going on. I do love criminal bad-boys with good hearts who fall for heroines.

Didn’t like:
1.      Maybe this is the steam punk thing, but I really didn’t appreciate the explanation of things like flashlights and motorcycles as if they were the coolest thing ever. I get that it’s Victorian England, but in a science fiction/technologically advanced world. But it wasn’t exciting.
2.      An American cowboy? Seriously? What in tarnation was he doing in this book (other than setting up a sequel?) He wasn’t even introduced the first time he appeared- he was just there one day.
3.      Viewpoints were switching all over the place. Normally, I like a little variety. Here it was just too much.
4.      Not enough character growth throughout the book. I wanted to beat Sam over the head with a large rolling pin for being such a complete idiot over and over again.
5.      I figured out important plot points before they were revealed to the characters. Why would I keep reading when I know what will happen?
6.      Things were repetitive and the writing had moments of cliché. Perhaps this book could have used stronger editing to neaten these things up a bit, because despite all these flaws, there was still a good story with fun moments underneath. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Wither (Lauren Destepfano)

Title: Wither
Author: Lauren Destefano
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Length: 358 pages
Rating: 3.5/5

Scientists thought they had created perfect humans until a virus began killing successive generations at a young age- girls at 20, boys at 25. Now science is in a war with naturalists and girls are kidnapped and sold on a black market to create new children before they die. Rhine is sixteen when she is stolen from her hard fought life and married to Linden Ashby with two other kidnapped girls. The girls live like sequestered royalty, but Rhine longs to escape, especially as she learns more about Linden’s controlling father who gathers bodies for his experiments to find a cure for the virus. Things become more dangerous as Rhine develops a romantic relationship with a servant, Gabriel, and they plot to escape together.

Many of the other dystopias I’ve read and reviewed here have been action-driven and unputdownable. Wither is much more character-driven and makes the reader think. The question freedom or safety is key, as Rhine must decide whether to stay or escape. Happiness clearly does not lie in safety for Rhine, but she has moments when even the reader is convinced she should stay with Linden and her sister-wives (the other kidnapped girls) and live in caged comfort for her four remaining years. Maybe she could even find happiness there? But then we are reminded of Rhine’s twin brother who she was separated from and longs to be reunited with. So perhaps she should escape, if there’s a way. And so it spirals.

The book gets a little repetitive, because it is mostly Rhine’s though process as she tries to find a way to escape and fights against the allure of safety. Her sister-wives show how each person values life differently, and how time is exceptionally precious, as the elder struggles with mortality and the younger struggles with a new baby.

The tone was quite depressing because it seems there can be no happy ending. I didn’t realize this was the first in a trilogy (The Chemical Garden Trilogy) until I had finished reading, and this book could stand on its own, no trilogy needed. I’m not dying to read the sequel, but probably will at some point (it comes out February 21st).

If you’re looking for a dystopia that makes you think, or struggling with your own battles and need a little reminder of the value of freedom, this is the book for you. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

City of Fallen Angels (Cassandra Clare)

Title: City of Fallen Angels
Author: Cassandra Clare
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Length: 424 pages
Rating: 4.5/5

Writing reviews for sequels or any book that isn’t the first in the series is tough. It’s not like you’re going to randomly pick up book four, even if City of Fallen Angels is awesome (which it is, of course). And I can’t tell you what happens- that would give away everything that happened in the previous books, and then you wouldn’t want to read them…and you might hate me.

All I can say is that yes, this is book four of a trilogy…which is now going to be six books instead of three. Normally I would snort at this. I’ve learned not to question Cassandra Clare. She knows how to toy with your emotions. Bring on more books! (I haven’t devoured an author this much since that summer I read everything written by Tamora Pierce. Someday I’ll devote a post to her amazingness as well.)

1.      LOVE the crossover from Clockwork Prince (book two of the prequel series- The Infernal Devices). If you’re looking to jump on this fabulous bandwagon, I suggest you read Books 1-3 of Mortal Instruments, then Book 1-2 of Infernal Devices and then City of Fallen Angels. And then City of Lost Souls, because it comes out next in May 2012. Got that? GO!
2.      Stop toying with my heart Cassandra! So much drama and angst. The world of Shadowhunters certainly is a messy one. I just a tiny bit hate that every main character finds someone to fall in love with or fall out of love with- it’s just so paired off at points. Come on, now. But whatever, I love it.
3.      Clary on this cover scares me. Cassandra (have you noticed we’re now on a first name basis?) must love it (see her website- I adore her level of fan interaction btw) but WHAT are Clary’s eyes doing?
4.      Simon is growing on me. And again, new (and good-looking!) characters are introduced to spice things up.
5.      Cliff-hanger ending, naturally. Killing me here. Book 5: May 8th

If you're not on this bandwagon, jump on it!

City of Glass (Cassandra Clare)

Title: City of Glass
Author: Cassandra Clare
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Length: 541 pages
Rating: 4/5

In the third book of the Mortal Instruments series, things are heating up. Clary is still determined to save her mother, even if it means illegally entering the City of Glass, the ancient home and heart of all Shadowhunters. And despite her herculean effort to get there, no one seems happy to see her, especially not Jace, who is determined to defeat Valentine without putting Clary in danger. Valentine’s threat to destroy the world they know looms closer, but it seems as unlikely that Downworlders and Shadowhunters will team up to fight him as it does that Clary and Jace will ever resolve their issues. Saving the world is always harder than it seems…

Even though very little time has passed since Clary first discovered she was a Shadowhunter, she’s grown a lot. All of the characters have grown a lot since the first book, which is partially why it’s so rewarding to keep reading. That and you know, the conflicts in the story: the conflict between Valentine and his children/the world, and the conflict between Jace and Clary. My mind spent a good majority of its reading time trying to decipher ways to solve these conflicts.

This book also introduces a few new characters to feast your eyes upon, namely Sebastian, the good-looking but seemingly-too-suave-to-be-true Shadowhunter. I also became more attached to old characters like the always-loyal Simon and I-want-him-as-my-own-uncle-Luke.

Occasionally, it seems the more inept the adult characters in a book, the more I like the teenage characters (maybe because they’re forced to take things into their own hands). This is one of those books. Adults are always tied down by the past. Kids look past this and see the future. Here they see a world where Downworlders and Shadowhunters can live in harmony, a world without corrupt laws and evil guys like Valentine. So of course, the kids are the ones actually getting stuff done, rather than just talking about maybe, possibly, something happening.

As to the angst expressed in my last two reviews, FINALLY, it is resolved. The series could end here quite happily, but of course it doesn’t. There are more books to come, and yes, I will be reading them!

Movie?! Movie?! Movie?! Not soon enough!

Monday, February 6, 2012

The One That I Want (Jennifer Echols)

Title: The One That I Want
Author: Jennifer Echols
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Length: 359 pages
Rating: 4/5

Gemma has just made majorette at her school, and is shocked when the kicker for the rival football team notices her at their respective training camps. Max is adorable, and Gemma is utterly confused when he asks out her so-called best friend Addison instead. Worse, Addison drags Gemma along on their date. The more Gemma gets to know Max, the more she likes him, but how can she tell him without selling out her friend?

Let’s bullet point this review:
·         I have yet to meet a Jennifer Echols’ book I did not enjoy. And this one, she sent to me autographed. There might have been squealing when the postman came- I’ll never tell.
·         This is a book primarily about misunderstandings and learning to say what you really feel. The infuriating but endearing Max teaches Gemma that the easy way isn’t always the best way.
·         Finally, a book about a girl losing weight I didn’t hate. Gemma loses weight to feel comfortable as a majorette, and everybody- from her closest friends to her mom- doesn’t understand it. The way each character reacts to her weight loss shows how flawed their relationship with Gemma is, and the book focused more on fixing relationships than on the typical, “hate yourself heavy/love yourself thin” theme I see in far too many books. Gemma has already accepted herself as a person, and Max helps her realize that those around her need to accept her too instead of holding her back. So really, this book is less about a girl losing weight, and more about a girl untangling the mess in her life and setting things right.
·         Max: “he makes girls mad.” Clueless at times, but swoon-tastic and tells it like it is, even when it gets him into trouble. How could you not root for him?

Max is the one that Gemma wants…but will they finally resolve all the misunderstandings keeping them apart? You better read to find out- the paperback comes out TOMORROW!

Friday, February 3, 2012

FFFT: It's been too long

1. If you're into lists or looking for books beyond my blog to read, here's a few more BEST BOOKS lists:
The Teens Are All Right: 2011's Top 5 YA Novels from NPR
100 Titles for Reading and Sharing: Children's Books 2011! from the New York Public Library
2012 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults from the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)

So many books, so little time! Some of books listed on the above lists have been reviewed on the blog- check them out!

2. From the wonderful Cassandra Clare's blog (if you like the Mortal Instruments or Infernal Devices series, you'll love this blog), a definition of YA:
For adults who read YA
“To my mind, YA is a subset of adult fiction, not of children’s fiction, and should be considered as having an entry reading age rather than an age *range*. The entry level is probably 13 or 14, but there is no upper level because the books are also for adults. Saying YA is 13-21, or 13-18 or whatever misses the point, because it suggests that the books are not for older adults, whereas I would say that in fact the core audience of people reading YA (and YA SFF in particular) are in fact 16-35. But this is only the core and the readership extends more broadly upward in age and down as well.” [From Podcast Coode Street Episode 20, second comment]
— Definition by Garth Nix. Love it!
Cassandra, I love it, and I love you!

3. SECRET WORLDS!! What all my favorite books are about. Read about the connection between Narnia, Hogwarts, and more! Quote: "It’s no wonder that these stories don’t just draw teens in droves, they draw adults, too." Brilliance written, of course, by Cassandra Clare.

4. Wonder what goes on behind the publishing curtain? Another favorite author of mine, Veronica Roth, reveals all!

5. Still wondering why George is curious or what the Brown Bear actually sees? Check out this funny article debunking famous children's books!