Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Review: Legend

Marie Lu
Putnam Juvenile
What was once the western part of the United States is now the Republic, ruled by the Elector Primo. The plague sweeps the nation every year, with the poorer citizens dying while the rich are able to afford vaccinations. Futures are decided by an exam (the Trial) taken at ten years old. Fifteen-year old June is a military prodigy and the only person to even get a perfect Trial score of 1500. Day failed his Trial and is now the Republic's most wanted criminal. When June's older brother - a high-ranking military official - is killed on the job, Day is the primary suspect and when June chases after him to avenge her brother's death, both of them discover more about their world than they bargained for.

June and Day, though they're the same in many ways, lead wildly different lives and have entirely different perspectives on the Republic and the book's split-POV narration portrays this so well. Because of getting both perspectives there's a big difference between what the reader knows and what the main characters know; this makes the story even more tense, which is definitely a good thing as certain big plot points in the book are fairly easy to predict, which means that a lot of the story's strength has to lie in other aspects: the characters, pacing, setting, and stakes.

It's often difficult for me to become emotionally invested in a dystopian novel - with the notable exception of The Hunger Games trilogy, not many in the genre have been able to tug at my heart. This book is the exception. The love between June and her older brother, as well as her profound sadness at losing him and her need to bring justice, is not only seen but felt. At one point early on I almost thought I'd have to quit reading because her emotions were so sharp and the story so sad. The fact that Day's story was just as touching only made the tension between them, between his wants and hers, even stronger.

As far as plot goes, though the smaller plots flowed great, with pacing that added plenty of tension, the larger plot points, mostly involving the nefarious activities of the Republic, were easy to predict. While this was a definite problem in the book, the slow world-building and questions about how the Republic came to be ultimately overwhelms the predictability. With characters that are easy to connect to (not only Day and June), true emotional content, and high stakes, this is a book I'd definitely recommend.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Mini-Reviews: Deadly Cool, And Then Things Fall Apart, Paradise, and Pregnant Pause

I haven't been reviewing regularly, which makes me sort of forget how to review a book, but I have read SO MUCH lately. SO MUCH! I read a book today! And a book yesterday! And soon I will start another one! So much reading! I think I could just read and read and read forever and as long as I could also write and drink iced tea and maybe watch television, I would be happy. I don't know if that's really nice or really pathetic. Also I would need country music though, of course.


Some super-short reviews of the books I've read lately. And by super-short I mean super super short. Also, unlike most of my reviews, these are more just my opinions than a real, critical look at the books.

Deadly Cool, by Gemma Halliday -- Quick, frothy murder mystery (ex-boyfriend accused of killing the girl he was cheating with) that did not hook me, though it might you. Recommended if you like series, mysteries, and pop-noir, if that's even a thing.

And Then Things Fall Apart, by Arliana Tibensky -- Plath-obsessed teen writes the story of how her life fell apart (parents' divorce, best friend's betrayal, major fight with boyfriend) while she's sick with the chicken pox. Very poetic-like, lots of musings about life and Bell Jar comparisons. Having never read Plath I really enjoyed it and can only assume you'd like it even more having read Plath.

Paradise, by Jill S. Alexander -- Defying her mother, Paisley joins a country-rock band and falls in love with their new lead singer. Though there are some parts I really enjoyed, on the whole it was mostly forgettable and the ending threw me for a loop.

Pregnant Pause, by Han Nolan -- Teen gets pregnant, marries her boyfriend, and works for the summer at his parents' fat camp while her own missionary parents are in Africa. A few subplots felt a little contrived, but protagonist Eleanor is one I totally love and her journey is as great as she is -- or at least, as great as she wants to be.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review: Okay For Now

Gary D. Schmidt
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Set in 1968, Okay for Now is the story of junior high student Doug Swieteck, whose move to a tiny town shakes up his world. With an abusive father and a brother who steals his most prized possession, Doug looks to spend his time outside of the home. This is how he ends up with a job as a delivery boy for the local deli and bird-drawing lessons inspired by the Audubon book he finds in the library. 

This book is brilliant and impossible to explain. The book covers a year in Doug's life and there's a lot that happens in Doug's life. Between storylines involving his brothers (one a supposed delinquent, the other a soldier), his abusive father, a growing romance with his boss' daughter, drawing lessons, school, and his adoration of baseball player Joe Pepitone there's a lot to focus on. In some books the plethora of plots could be distracting or confusing, but this book is written so well that everything works together. This is about a year in Doug's life -- an important year, but still a whole, complete year when lots of things happen for him. His search for missing pages of the Audubon book unifies the book as does the look forward to sending a man to the moon in 1969. While this book is set in history, I'm hesitant to really call it "historical fiction" because it's not about history, it's just set there. And set there beautifully. The old-fashioned setting works perfectly as Doug, in ways that would never happen in 2011, is able to really get to know his neighbors and become a part of their lives in a very organic way.

There's so much I loved about this book: the setting, Doug's relationship with his brothers and mother, as well as the growing romance with Lil Spicer. Though I wouldn't categorize this book as a romance, it's definitely a love story and this becomes more and more apparent as the book continues. I loved this, though I know that some readers may feel cheated by the events that happen near the end of Doug's story. 

Unfortunately, amidst the huge amount of storylines there are a few in Okay for Now that just didn't work for me. A plotline involving a Broadway play seemed to play a much bigger role than it should have; it felt unrealistic and a little tacked-on. Additionally the resolution between Doug and his father wasn't quite enough for me; if there's anything that really disappointed me with the book, it was this too-easy family resolution. That said, the book as a whole is one I most definitely recommend, especially if you're looking to travel back in time with a book or wanting a really sweet, simple (in the best possible way) love story.

Monday, November 21, 2011

I've Been Gone

Contrary to what you might think judging from the state of this blog, I actually haven't given up blogging and I actually am still around. So instead of blogging, here's what I have been doing lately...

  1. Reading Cybils nominees, which I actually need to be doing more of. I think maybe I read so many books in October (30, I think? Or really close to it) that it burnt me out on reading and now I'm slacking a bit and yet still I sort of feel like I'm reading all the time. Which is GOOD and I love it except for the fact that I sort of never feel like blogging, which is a problem.
  2. Writing. I'm in the middle of working on a new first draft which is in the very-very-very early stages, and jumping BACK into edits/revisions/rewritings of Sing Me Away as I get feedback from my beta readers. Writing always takes precedence over blogging, which is another reason my blogging has been sort of horrible lately.
  3. COOKING. Not real cooking, not like fancy fancy people real cook cooking. But I have been making lots of macaroni and cheese from scratch, chicken pot pies, and I also made banana bread. It was all very yummy.
  4. Watching Friends. I don't know why, but I've been watching this show over again. Except that I skipped the first season, I don't know why. But it's so funny, right!?
I'm trying to get back into blogging. I miss it. I WANT TO TALK ABOUT ALL THE BOOKS AGAIN.

PS. I also went to the launch party for Shatter Me. I know! WIN. I now have a shiny signed copy.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

In My Mailbox: Firsts!

Bought: Ahhh I feel like I've been waiting for this ebook (by a bunch of '09 Debs) to come out FOR-EVER. But now it's finally here!!! The only sad thing is that cover is WAY TOO PRETTY to be relegated to an ebook, right? That font! Love it. Can't wait to read.

I've also gotten a bunch of Cybils books this week, but I'm not including them as lately IMM has started doing double-duty as not only a record of my books, but also a list of things I can't wait to read after Cybils season. That said, I'm excited to read The Anti-Prom.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Parents, Teens, and Inappropriate Reading Material

Yesterday I saw this article about the banning of Nina LaCour's amazing debut novel Hold Still (among others) from a Kansas City high school library. To be honest, it annoyed me beyond belief. (The whole ongoing incident, not the article itself.) It's so clear to me that this is not the way to handle your son or daughter reading a book that you find inappropriate. But maybe it's not so clear to everybody, and definitely I think that there are solid, legitimate reasons to not want your child to be reading something. Books, like any other form of media, aren't all good for all people.

And I fully realize that most people who will read this post either already know all this stuff or don't have children anyway or would never have a problem with anything their kid wants to read, but still I want to post it. It's easy to say that censorship is wrong and banning is bad, but it's also important to discuss how the issues that parents have with books can be handled in a beneficial way and mature way.

So You Don't Like Your Child/Teenager Reading That Book 
Step One: Know what it is in the book that you think is inappropriate. Is it cussing? Drugs? Sex? The overall theme? 

Step Two: Why do you not want your teen reading the book? Is it that you have value-based (religious/ethical) objections to it? Do you think your son or daughter isn't old enough or mature enough to handle the content? If it's drugs, sex, or cussing (three big topics) that are making you uncomfortable -- is it just that it makes you uncomfortable to know that your teen is reading something with that sort of content?

If your objection is based on a feeling of uncomfortableness, step back for a minute. Look at your teenager's environment and look outside of your own home: think about the school they go to, the friends they hang out with, extended family influences, etc etc. And then ask yourself if you're uncomfortable because you really think they'll be harmed by reading that book or if you're uncomfortable because you're just uncomfortable. Is it really an issue with the book? (Hint: probably not. Probably it has more to do with not wanting your teen to be subjected to unpleasant parts of life or not wanting them to grow up too fast or or or... anything else that doesn't really have to do with the story or how it's written.)

If, however, your objection is based on something more -- the overall content of the book or the values/actions portrayed, then...

Step Three: Know what you're talking about. Ideally this would mean reading the book, but if you don't feel comfortable reading the book at least some good, in-depth reviews of it. You may have misinterpreted what you think it's about or, then again, maybe you didn't. Either way, it's good to know.

Step Four: Talk to your teen. Wait, let me repeat that again. TALK. TO. YOUR. TEEN. Tell them your objections. Have a conversation about why this book is unacceptable or inappropriate or whatever word you want to use. Decide together if the book is one that shouldn't be read in your family. If the book is one that your teen is reading for enjoyment, this is where it ends. Don't try to get the book banned from the school, please. If this is an assigned reading book that you have some real objections to then...

Step Five: Talk to your teen's teacher. Set up a meeting where you can discuss your concerns and decide on a course of action; maybe there's a substitute book that could be read instead.

A parent's course of action should not be to try and get the book in question taken out of school. What's too mature or inappropriate for one student is right for another student. Teenagers are people. They do not all come from the same environments or have the same maturity level or the same interests. Blocking a book from other students because you don't want your teenager reading it or you don't think any teenagers - or even any people, really - should read it is harmful to those teens who, maybe, would benefit from reading it. Sure, there are exceptions, but these exceptions are probably books like A How-To Guide for Killers or something like that. They're not the books on your ninth grader's extra credit reading list. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Blogger Pet Peeve

For a while there I was reviewing every single title I read for the Cybils. It completely wore me out -- I've read over 20 books since Oct. 1st and as much as I want to I just can't put my usual amount of time, thought, and energy into writing the reviews as I normally do. At least, not if I also want to do everything else in life. You can tell from the weird lack of posts on my blog that it was wearing me out. I'm going to continue reviewing Cybils books, but it'll likely just be the ones that really speak to me or that I really want to share with you guys.

In non-Cybils, non-review news, I do have so many posts I want to write and lately I just haven't found the energy to write them. So, my apologies. Today I really do have a post to write though! I've had a few slightly strange review pitches come to me in the past few weeks and I kind of want to comment on them because this particular thing is starting to be a Blogger Pet Peeve of mine.

Please please please don't say you're a fan of my blog if you're not. Authors and publicists, when you email saying that you love my blog I think it's awesome. When you go on to pitch your fantasy epic/paranormal romance trilogy/historical memoir, I can't help but think you're lying to me just a little bit. Maybe you're not lying, maybe you do read my blog but just haven't checked my review guidelines.

In any case, let me say: if you're pitching your book to me please read my guidelines. I don't read paranormal. I don't read fantasy. This is a blog of YA (and sometimes MG), which means that I'm not going to review mainstream (adult) fiction, memoirs, or nonfiction aimed at adult readers. It's just because I've chosen to give this blog a narrow focus that works well for me and -- I hope -- my readers.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Review: Ten Miles Past Normal

Frances O'Roark Dowell
When she was nine years old, Janie Gorman thought it would be awesome to live on a farm. Five years later she's beginning high school and realizing firsthand the havoc that actually living on a farm will play with her social life. Separated from her friends from middle school she spends most lunchtimes in the library and though she longs to be normal it's not until she starts to find some decidedly not-normal friends that she thinks there might be something better than that.

It's been a while since I've read a book I've just flat out liked as much as this one. It's easy to slip into Janie's crazy, goat-milking life, and despite her protests that she just wants to be normal it's clear that "normal" is one thing Janie will never be. And that's a good thing. While her best friend Sarah is on a tirade against cocoa (yeah), Janie finds herself doing things she never imagined. Joining the Jam Band, for instance, making friends with a boy named Monster, and discovering the bravery of those in her town.

This book has great characters, not least of whom is Sarah's older, wilder sister, Emma. I want to be best friends with Emma. Scratch that, I want to be Emma. She's freakin' awesome. So is Monster. So is Janie, and her mom, and her sister, and her dad, and her new friend Verbena. This book is full of the kind of characters that are both awesome and realistic, and a lot of this is due to the amazing dialogue. From the very start the dialogue in this book captured me -- way before I knew how awesome the rest of it is. Dialogue is one of those things I often overlook in my reviews, in favor of discussing the plot or characters or setting, but when it's really great, dialogue definitely makes an impact.

Despite the fact that Janie lives on a farm, the setting is not the strongest part of this book. It's not weak by any means, but the amazing characters and Janie's journey from surly to powerful takes over anything else the book has to offer. Despite the offbeatness of it, Janie's personal journey is one we can all relate to and it's a book I'd feel more than comfortable recommending to just about anybody. Authentic, sweet, and with a surprisingly powerful heart.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why I Love Contemporary YA, by Cara from Chasing Words

I'm participating in Just Contemporary Month, hosted by the blogs Chick Loves Lit and Books from Bleh to Basically Amazing. My first blog swap is with Cara, from Chasing Words, who writes about why she loves contemporary YA. You can head over to her site if you want to read my post on the same topic.

I love reading contemporary YA because there are no wizards in my high school.

I love reading contemporary YA because I can't sic my dragon on mean girls in the halls.

I love reading contemporary YA because I don't know any ninjas who can save me from tripping in front of a crowd.

I love reading contemporary YA because it helps me live vicariously through others while not going into an entirely fictionalized world.

I love reading contemporary YA because the boys aren't always bad.

I love reading contemporary YA because the word "swoon" is almost never used when describing said boys.

I love reading contemporary YA because it includes awkward characters in awkward situations sometimes. Not everyone is built like Fabio or that wolf from Twilight.

I love reading contemporary YA because sometimes I feel as though I'm the only one experiencing something and contemp. YA reminds me that I'm not alone, ever.

I love reading contemporary YA because it's exciting and moving and emotional and hysterical. Because it's brilliant and corny and interesting and eye-roll inducing. Because it's real.

I love reading contemporary YA.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Review: The Future of Us

Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler
It's 1996 and Emma's friend Josh has just given her an AOL CD-ROM to go with the computer her dad bought her. When she creates an email address, she accidentally stumbles fifteen years into the future -- onto her future self's Facebook page. Once they get past thinking the page is an elaborate practical joke, Emma and Josh realize that they can see their futures -- and what they see isn't what they're expecting. As Emma tries to change the future and Josh tries to hang on to it, each of them must take a step towards what they want now.

I'm just old enough to be totally spazzing out about a book set in the 90s. All the references! The sly future in-jokes! I'm old enough to remember 1996, in a very child-like way (because, um, I was SIX) but honestly I don't think the time period is going to throw off a lot of teen readers the way you might expect. Even if someone doesn't remember the particular reference or year, they'll easily find their footing amidst all the music references and VHS-talk. This book has a cool mix of being slightly old-school and offering up Back-to-the-Future-style shenanigans; this is where it's true appeal lies. The premise is pure AWESOME.

Beyond the premise, I didn't always love the two main characters, Emma and Josh. Emma, who goes a bit crazy with trying to change her future, is a bit prickly. She seems to know exactly who she doesn't want to be, but has no idea who she does want to be and there were many points in the book where I just got irritated with her as I felt like she kept missing the point. She could be a little dense. Josh, on the other hand, is the ultimate Nice Guy. He's got a crush on Emma (or did, at least) and finds it easy to go along with what she and her other friends suggest without making many decisions for himself. If the book had been reliant on the characters alone, it would have been an okay-but-bland read. Luckily, this wasn't the case. Some readers might not love that the future world Emma and Josh discover can be changed by the decisions they make in 1996, but I thought this was a great part of the book and brought into play some incredibly interesting themes having to do with happiness, personal responsibility, and the ripples that seemingly small changes can create in the future. Though I sometimes felt like Emma went too far in her small-changes-big-ripples idea, I liked that this part of time-bending-warping stuff (whatever you call it) was brought up.

There are quite a few subplots in this book - most of which would be spoilers to talk about - and I did find myself wishing the book had dealt with them better in the end. While some were things that really didn't need to be resolved, the ending seemed to come too suddenly and there were loose ends that I wish had been tied up a bit neater.

But The Future of Us isn't about it's subplots, or it's ending, or even Emma and Josh, really. It's about seeing your future and figuring out what to do if you don't like it - or if you do - and it's about remembering the now even as you're focused on what comes next. This is a quick, immensely fun read, and though it feels lighthearted, it will leave you thinking.

The Future of Us comes out Nov. 21st.