Saturday, July 31, 2010

Such a Pretty Girl

Such a Pretty GirlSuch a Pretty Girl by Laura Wiess

My rating: 4 of 5 stars ("Really Liked It")

This is an gritty, raw book. Without getting too graphic, Such a Pretty Girl maintains an intensity and honesty in addressing the very real terror and fight for control of a young girl who has been raped by her father. The plot of the novel takes less than a week to unfold, as Meredith fights to regain control of her life, her body, and her identity when her pedophile father returns from prison. Though it packs quite a punch, it is not without hope or heart.

It has been a long time since I finished a book in under 12 hours because I just COULD NOT put it down. I am definitely interested in reading more by Wiess. There are layers to this book, full of symbolism & motifs that make it a rich read for adults who enjoy picking apart the literature.

Technically I found this book in the adult fiction section of the local bookstore, which brings up an interesting question of What makes a novel YA?. I would definitely warn students that it deals with a very emotional and powerful issue, but I think they would find Meredith's story awesome and inspiring. Not for younger readers, but definitely worth sharing with young adults.

Recommend: Yes but high school or older.

Topics Discussed: Sexual Abuse, Family Dynamics, Independence, Self-Respect

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Summer Book Review - When You Reach Me

When You Reach MeWhen You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

My rating: 4 of 5 stars ("Really Liked It")

Now THIS is the way it's done! I don't want to give away too much, but this book makes allusions to A Wrinkle in Time and let me just say, this is much better (I don't much care for AWiT). However, it is difficult to say what I like about the book without spoiling too much!

The book begins with a strange falling out between Miranda, our narrator, and her best friend Sal. Left without a single friend to fill the gap, Miranda has to readjust her world and life at school. In the midst of these new changes, she begins to receive - find, really - strange notes addressed to her. The notes are short, cryptic, and know a great deal about Miranda...including things that have yet to happen. The notes urge Miranda to not say anything to anyone, but reassure her that they are meant to save her friend's life. But which friend? When? And why?

The book unravels bit by bit as pieces begin to fit together. Readers can probably catch on to the mystery and conundrum before Miranda does, but only because we perceive the events within a narrowed scope, whereas she has her entire life's context to sort through. Miranda's honest and direct voice captures her audience from the get-go. I was surprised by how quickly I fell under the spell of this novel.

Miranda is 12 years old, and with such a young protagonist, it will probably most appeal to younger teen readers - middle school ages. I'm not entirely sure why it's necessary to take place in the 70s -- if anyone could speculate as to the contribution of the setting, I'd like to hear it.

Recommend: an enthusiastic YES!

Topics Discussed: Time Travel, Friendship, Honesty, Love

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Quick Note

YA series I am currently enjoying: The Boy Book by E. Lockhart (book 2 of the Ruby Oliver series)

Children's Lit series I am currently enjoying, nay, falling in love with: Dandelion Fire by N. D. Wilson (book 2 of 100 Cupboards)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Summer Book Review - The King's Rose

The King's RoseThe King's Rose by Alisa M. Libby

My rating: 4 of 5 stars ("Really Liked It") (truly, 3.5)

If you know the mnemonic rhyme about Henry VIII's wives, you are already familiar with the fate of Catherine Howard. A young girl of only 15, Catherine is thrust into her family's play for power and wealth by accepting a marriage to the king. By this time, Henry is a good deal older and his age is beginning to become quite apparent through his failing health. It is imperative that she maintain the king's favor and deliver an heir. Though Catherine's first few weeks at court are spent reveling in new luxury, she does indeed feels this expectation from her first days as Henry's wife, driving her to choices that ultimately seal her fate.

Having read The Lady Elizabeth, I did not enter this book with a favorable opinion of Catherine, but Libby does the girl justice. Above all, the novel posits that Catherine was a mere teen more likely caught up in her own family's politicking than being power-hungry herself.

Perhaps Libby's best writing, though, is in the final 40 pages, in which we begin to see Catherine's status as Henry's beloved wife take a sudden plummet. Catherine's own mental state begins to unravel, which is adequately portrayed in her moments of confusion and terror.

Recommend: Yes, especially for fans of historical fiction

Themes Discussed: Moral choices, Historicism, Betrayal

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

YA Lit request

Sometimes I get into a rut with reading. Such is the case now, although it could be worse. I find myself more in the mood to read YA Lit than anything else. That's not so bad. But I'm having a hard time branching out and finding new/unique YA Lit.

So, I ask you...anything YA you could recommend? What should I be reading next?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Summer Book Review - How I Live Now

How I Live NowHow I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars ("It was amazing")

Rosoff's fascinating narrator tells a compelling story of the impact a modern war would have on the everyday teen. It's a little bit of an experience for many post-GenY teens (no, really, what is their generation's nickname?) who have no idea what it is like to have a war fought on their home soil. The narrator, Daisy, goes through an amazing growth and change throughout the novel as she fights for survival with her cousins. She recounts the early days of the war, when the scenario felt more like a game, to the later days when they hid in the wilderness and didn't know if members of their family were still alive. Daisy's transformation and character growth is well done, seeing her ushered from a self-pitying young teen into a clever, determined young woman.

What a truly amazing book! I listened to this on audio and found my jaw dropping at times. I couldn't get from CD to CD fast enough. The violence and utter destruction of war is aptly portrayed, as is the dispersion (and unraveling) of families and friends. The book is quick and easy to follow, and could easily appeal to boys or girls.

Recommend: Yes, but only to mature 8th graders and up. See Topics Discussed

Topics Discussed: Anorexia, War/Violence, Sex (Daisy has a relationship with her cousin...a little weird for modern audiences)

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Friday, July 9, 2010

Summer Book Review - Revelations

This next installment is actually the third book in the Blue Blood series by Melissa de la Cruz. Previous reads are Blue Bloods and Masquerade .

Revelations (Blue Bloods, #3)Revelations by Melissa de la Cruz

My rating: 2 of 5 stars ("Eh...It was OK")

The thing about this series is that if you think too hard about the concept driving it, it starts to fall apart. So, my simple solution is: I don't.

For whatever reason, I find these engaging and fun reads. I think it's the characters. Though there are obvious moments of de la Cruz living vicariously through her characters (the modeling/fashion scenes), the young protagonist and her sidekicks (Bliss & Oliver) are charming, clever teens. I'm engaged with them and the mystery they are attempting to unravel. This book lost some of the "historical fiction" appeal that the first and second book had (moreso in the first), which is unfortunate, as it was an aspect of the books that I particularly enjoyed.

I would caution fans of the earlier books to not expect too much from this one. It doesn't have the more solid feel of the first or second novel, but it's still entertaining enough. For me, this is ultimately just a guilty pleasure; I know it's not terribly good, but I enjoy it anyway.

Recommend: For people who enjoy paranormal/vampire fiction, Yes, but with reservations - it's a guilty pleasure. Don't expect too much. And definitely read the previous two first.

Topics Discussed: Fantasy, Destiny versus Freewill

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Summer Book Review - Willow

WillowWillow by Julia Hoban

My rating: 2 of 5 stars ("Eh...It was okay")

This book started at four stars for me. Willow was a sweet, likable character whose experience in losing a parent at a young age is relatable for me. Some of the wisdom she shares about the power of grief and awkward condolences and peer relationships are so incredibly true, well-stated, and sensitive. At first I thought it would be a book about cutting. Then I thought it would be a book about grief. Then I saw how neatly they were intertwined for Willow, and I admired that feat.

Now, Willow was likable, but I wasn't always sure she was entirely believable. Having lengthy literary discussions at the age of 16? Pretty rare. It really appealed to my inner English major nerd, but I don't know that even I would have had a conversation like that at the age of 16. It was then I began to have doubts about these characters.

Willow lost a star rating when she just wouldn't stop whining. I'm sorry, but that's it. Putting aside the grief and and the guilt she feels, we get a LOT of whining from Willow. It is a pet peeve for me when characters torture themselves needlessly because of their own refusal to communicate with another character. Willow could have spared herself a lot of pain and loneliness if she had confronted her brother early on about the change in their relationship. Instead, she "tests" him in subtle ways, evaluating his responses in an attempt to read his mind. That really, REALLY bugged me.

*spoiler alert*

The other slight qualm I had was the fact that Willow & Guy manage to have sex without ever actually saying the word or any euphemism for it. Same goes for the use of a condom. I realize teens will be teens but honestly -- if you aren't even mature enough to SAY sex (or even use a euphemism! "make love" "sleep with", etc.) then you probably shouldn't be having sex. But that's just a drop in the bucket. By that point, the book had already dropped a star and had lost another half.

I rounded down to a two because my concern is that there's a subtle message of "get a boyfriend, solve your problems!" here. Numerous times I wondered if this would be better with a female friend or even a completely platonic male friend accompanying her on her journey. I just think it's a dangerous pit that hurting teens fall into - they can't rely on leaning on someone else to solve their problems.

Recommend: Generally, No. More sensitive-teen types will appreciate Willow, but few adults or more pragmatic teens.

Topics Discussed: Cutting/Self-Mutilation, Death, Grief

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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Summer Book Review - Paper Towns

Paper Towns Paper Towns by John Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars ("Really liked it")
I was set to give this book a 3.5, but rounded up to four from the last part of the novel.

After a crazy night of pranking with Margo Spiegelman, Q wakes up the next morning to find her gone. This is something Margo has done previously, but her time spent with Q the night before both scares and stimulates him -- he needs to find her. Together with his best buds, they look for Margo, study a little Walt Whitman, and discover something about relationships and their own faults and strengths.

Green seems to have a thing for precocious, uninhibited thoughtful girls, as Margo reminded me a bit about the tragic Alaska in his award-winning novel, Looking for Alaska. Similarly, the guys in this novel are precocious nerds (not unlike the hero & supporting cast of Looking for Alaska), who seem to be too smart for their own good. Still, on the whole, the guys are fairly relate-able, finding enjoyment in typical male humor (balls!) and late-night video gaming.

I won't spoil anything, but I'll just say that Green does well to stay away from the formulaic - there were a few points in the novel I thought I knew what would happen next, and I was going to be very irritated if so. Thankfully, that wasn't the case. The last few pages of the book contain an extremely cathartic scene, which definitely makes the journey worthwhile.

Recommend: Yes, with a strong conviction to keep with it - the ending is worthwhile.

Topics Discussed: Finding Identity, Community of Human Nature

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Summer Book Review - Wake

Hope you had a delightful Fourth-of-July weekend! We still have fruit and pasta salad leftover from our little (very little) party here.

Wake (Dream Catcher, #1) Wake by Lisa McMann

My rating: 4 of 5 stars ("Really Liked It")
This book is as gripping as the dreams that capture our protagonist! The conflict challenging Janie is a unique one: she gets dragged into other peoples' dreams, forced to partake as a silent bystander in the dreams of friends and peers. This trait has been a part of Janie's life since she was a young child of 8, but as she progresses through the teen years, it begins to take a new life. Through repeated focus and concentration, Janie learns to take control of this supernatural ability. Though she studies what she can on her own, it is not until she receives some surprising help that she finally begins to take ownership of this talent/curse/responsibility.

It feels a bit rushed in parts, which is why I docked a star. I did find McMann's use of space on the page interesting. Typically authors use page breaks to designate a passage of time, as in a day or "meanwhile..." scenario. McMann, however, often utilizes the spacing on the page to prolong tensions and silences within a particular scene. Took me back to my studies on reader response critical theory.

It turns out this is the first book of a trilogy. Warning - make sure you have the other two on hand when you check this out from your local library. You'll likely devour this one in no time at all and be immediately hungry for more!

My reviews on Fade (book 2) and Gone (book 3)

Recommend: Yes, definitely

Topics Discussed: Alcoholic family members, self-realization, empowerment, being different

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Friday, July 2, 2010

Summer Book Review - 100 Cupboards

100 Cupboards (The 100 Cupboards, #1) 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars ("Really Liked It")
Forgive the comparison, it will be made - this is a sort of modern Lion, Witch, & the Wardrobe. Well, OK, from the standpoint that there are other worlds of fantasy that can be entered through portals disguised as ordinary household objects. When Henry goes to live with his aunt & uncle in Henry, KA (yes, really), he discovers secret cupboards hidden away behind a wall of plaster. What are these strange doors? What are they doing? that mail coming in one of them? With his cousin Henrietta to help, Henry discovers more about the house, his own history, and worlds of fantasy than he ever before imagined. This was a thoroughly enjoyable read. The characters are dear, and I would love to see more of them.

One of the special things about this book is that there isn't a slew of despicable adult characters. In fact, the adults in this book are on the whole very warm, charismatic, and trustworthy. I dare you not to fall in love with Uncle Frank.

The magical suspended reality is done quite well. With a 12-year-old protagonist, it's probably on the younger side of YA lit, but late elementary through early high school students would enjoy it. There are scenes that are downright creepy in that fantastic, engaging way of the imagination. The writing style had delightful turns of phrase and personification, which adds a delicious richness to the text suitable for adult palates. All in all, a fun book for a family to read aloud or listen to together.

I'll warn you now; it's the first book of a series, so be aware of that when approaching the end. It is probably the only reason that I deducted a star. Though I loved the book overall and can't wait for more, I think 100 Cupboards held back a bit, in anticipation of books to follow. (the second is Dandelion Fire and I intend to get my hands on it ASAP).

Recommend: Yes! I would definitely recommend it to younger YA audiences or for a family read.

Topics Discussed: Magic/fantasy, independence and courage

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Summer Book Review - The Luxe

If you have questions about any of the books I review, ask away!

If you want me to read and review a book, make a suggestion!

If you want to argue with me about my interpretation, leave a comment!

The Luxe bThe Luxe (Luxe, #1)y Anna Godbersen

My rating: 2 of 5 stars ("It was OK")
Human nature hasn't changed much over 2000 years. This includes teen girls. These cunning, ruthless, and competitive late Victorian "ladies" could hold their own against the Paris Hiltons and Kristin Cavalleris of the 21st century. The Luxe, set in turn-of-the-century New York, recaps the deceit, betrayal, and pressures of several young socialities.

This book had long caught my eye mostly because of the lavish cover. That sumptuous dress commands the attention of your inner princess. Unfortunately, the novel didn't live up promises of its lush cover. It was a bit of a let-down. I had heard it was a take on Gossip Girl for the late 19th century, but the parallels are just too much. I could easily substitute certain characters for GG personas and the audience wouldn't bat an eye. Characters are just cliches, from the gay-best-guy-friend to the uptight, socially conflicted goody-good. Most of our understandings of the characters came from direct characterization, rather than allowing readers to deduce it from the unfolding action. The overall plot was also quite predictable. It was mindless fluff, but I'm not sure I'll be picking up the others. In general, I was pretty bored, merely trying to get through it as quickly as possible.

Recommendation: I would probably recommend it to teens who are fans of Gossip Girl or students who are interested in fashion or historical fiction.

Topics Presented: Social/familial pressures, historical attitudes, betrayal

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