Friday, August 31, 2012

contemporary ya questions

I found this book survey over at the tumblr Bookshop.Girl (yes, another survey/meme thing okay, I know, I like these).  The topic is YA contemporary (realistic) fiction and it's so impossible for me to choose just one for each of these questions, so I'm going to choose 2-3.

Also, I'm not going to repeat any books (because there are so many good ones), even if a book fits into multiple answers for me.

1. Favorite YA contemporary novel? 
(Please note here that it was really, really hard to narrow this down even to three. But these are the ones that I probably have the deepest love for.)
serafina67 *urgently requires life*, by Susie Day - This one is my absolute favorite YA novel in the sense that I can read it again and again, flip open to random pages and passages, and always end up smiling. I love it.
Sweethearts, by Sara Zarr - In addition to being truly one of the masterpieces of YA lit and character-driven novels this one also has my all-time favorite quote from a novel. (I've mentioned that before.)
The Truth About Forever, by Sarah Dessen - I believe this was probably the first YA novel I read, or at least one of the first, and in reading it I found an incredible author as well as the sort of sweet, emotional, character-driven stories that I wanted to write.

2. Contemporary YA that deserves more recognition?
After the Kiss, by Terra Elan McVoy - This author in general deserves more recognition. Of course I have no idea how many readers are actually reading her books, but it's pretty rare for me to see them on blogs and she's got such a unique voice. After the Kiss is by far my favorite of hers and I'd love to see more people reading it.
What Happens Here, by Tara Altebrando - I just... sigh. I know this one is a few years old (maybe more than a few? I don't know), but it's a brilliant little book and one that I absolutely love. A unique, yet straightforward take on "grief YA" before If I Stay or Twenty Boy Summer came about.
I Now Pronounce You Someone Else, by Erin McCahan - This one is just so different from so much of what's out there. The writing and characters are top-notch and it's got that slightly-literary quality I just love.

3. What contemporary YA novel made you the saddest?
Twenty Boy Summer, by Sarah Ockler - It's rare for me to all-out sob over a book, but this one had me in major tears by page 18. And while it definitely has a lot to do with the specifics of how/why Matt died, it still totally counts. A very personal kind of sadness.
Hold Still, by Nina LaCour - This book went beyond sad. It went deep into the psyche of an incredibly depressed girl and it was just impossible not to feel for her and what she went through.
Fall For Anything, by Courtney Summers - Gut-wrenching is all I can say.

4. Cutest contemporary YA you've ever read?
Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins. Honestly, nothing else even comes close.

5. What contemporary YA made you feel all of the feels?
Love and Other Perishable Items, by Laura Buzo - This one's actually not out yet but OMG, guys. Way more emotion and way more complexness than I was expecting.
We'll Always Have Summer, by Jenny Han - The whole series really, but this last book really tied everything together and brought it to a new level of emotional-ness. Is that a word? I don't know.

6. Who is your favorite character from a contemporary YA?
Kurt Brodsky, from Leverage, by Joshua C. Cohen - THIS GUY IS WAY AMAZING.

7. What character do you relate to the most?
Well, my real answer would be one of the characters from a book I've already mentioned, but since I'm trying not to repeat books I'm going to choose a second choice.
Ari, from Other Words for Love, by Lorraine Zago Rosenthal - Quiet, loyal, etc etc. I saw so much of myself in this character.
Eleanor Crowe, from Pregnant Pause, by Han Nolan - Not her situation (pregnant teen), but certain aspects of Eleanor's personality just reminded me so, so much of myself.

8. What contemporary YA surprised you the most?
Fangirl, by Ken Baker - Another one that's not out yet (October!); I expected a cute story from this one but did not expect it to be so incredibly well-executed or for me to absolutely obsessively love it as much as I do.

9. Why do you enjoy the contemporary fiction genre?
So many reasons. I like finding characters I can relate to, like to see how they handle situations, like getting a glimpse of a life that's maybe not mine but that's real enough that it could be somebody's life. I've always loved reading about people, emotions, and relationships more than anything else, and contemporary YA offers character-driven, emotional stories in spades.

10. What contemporary YA are you most looking forward to being released this year?
Honestly the two books I'm most looking forward to are ones I've already read the ARC of, but I'm also really wanting to get my hands on a copy of:
Meant to Be, by Lauren Morrill - It looks adorable and great in a sort of retro way (this is just from the cover, mind you), and I love the whole idea behind it. High hopes.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

half-year-ish favorites of 2012: the random

Day four! I'm determined! (Days one, two, and three of this can be found by clicking on those links.)

1. favorite first sentence: This from John Green's The Fault In Our Stars: "Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death." NOW IF THAT ISN'T A GREAT FIRST SENTENCE I DON'T KNOW WHAT IS. (It's a bit long, but that's okay.)

2. favorite book title: Love and Other Perishable Items, by Laura Buzo. So, so great.

3. favorite reading experience: There were plenty of good reading experiences this year, but the one that stands out to me is reading A Million Suns, by Beth Revis. This book just sucked me in and I spent my day curled up on the couch, blanket on top of me, furiously turning pages. I was hooked and it's not often that a sci-fi book hooks me like that.

4. book with the best food in it: The Summer I Learned to Fly, by Dana Reinhardt. This one takes place in a cheese shop. A CHEESE SHOP! Nobody can beat that.

5. book with the most sensual weather: Bittersweet, by Sarah Ockler. I'm a sucker for winter and snow and gloom and this book is perfect in that regard. LOVE.

6. most embarrassing book cover: 7 Clues to Winning You, by Kristin Walker. Book covers don't tend to embarrass me exactly, but even I have to admit that this is a bit hard on the eyes. It's like an ad for acne cream, but not the ad they actually choose to use.

7. can't believe i waited so long to read the book: Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech. NO QUESTION. It's amazing. It's beyond amazing. I have no words, honestly, just read it if you haven't... or if you haven't since you were a kid. I totally see why it won the Newbery, as I'm not sure I've read a more deserving book, ever.

8. book i'd give your mom to read: Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech. I actually did give my mom this one to read. And my dad. They both loved it.

9. book i'd give my dad to read: A Million Suns, by Beth Revis. If this weren't the second in a series I'd make my dad read it, but he has an even more serious aversion to series than I do; you've no idea how long it took to convince him to give The Hunger Games a try and even now he's taking an exceedingly long time on starting Mockingjay.

10. book i'd like to give my past self to read: What Did I Do Wrong? by Liz Pryor. This would have been a good book for me to read when I was 18 or 19.

11. book that lived up to the hype: Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi. There are actually a few books that lived up to the hype, but this is the one I was most surprised about. Due to a combination of the dystopian hook, the cover, and the all-raving early reviews, I was skeptical of this one. But we all know how much I love it. Went way above expectations/hype for me.

12. book i stayed up the latest to finish: Tiger Lily, by Jodi Lynn Anderson. I don't know how late I stayed up, but I'm pretty sure I had work the next morning so I definitely paid for it.

13. book i was dying to read the most: How to Save A Life, by Sara Zarr. Every Zarr book is a treat for me because her stories are constant enough to be reliable (as in, I'm pretty much assured of liking all of them) and different enough to be surprising.

14. fattest book (by page count): The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. 522 pages and worth every one. It also reminds me I need to do a reread of Gone With the Wind when I can get around to it. You know, when I feel like devoting a few weeks of my reading life to that tome.

15. killer cliffhanger award: Cinder, by Marissa Meyer. The title of this award is appropriate because cliffhangers usually make me feel like killing the book to death. Luckily none of this year's books have had cliffhangers that are too terribly bad -- Cinder was the worst of them not because anyone's in peril or anything, but just because it makes you want to know what's happening next RIGHT NOW.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

i now pronounce you someone else totally lives up to my memories

The first thing that hit me when I started rereading I Now Pronounce You Someone Else was that the switched-at-birth aspect felt just as out of place as I remembered. I barely touched on it in my review of the book the first time I read it, but part of the "hook" of this book is that the protagonist, Bronwen Oliver, doesn't fit into her super-blonde, super-polite family and has this whole story in her mind about how she might be switched at birth and what her real family is like and how one day the phone will ring and she'll get the family she always wanted while her mother gets the blonde, peppy daughter she always wanted.

But Bronwen doesn't actually think she's switched at birth, which is part of why starting the book out this way strikes me as a bit odd. It confuses things a little right off the bat. However, this is such a small thing in the big picture of the book and honestly, rereading this incredible novel was just so, so great. Bronwen's the sort of character I wish there were more of and this is the sort of book I'd like to read more of. It's long on emotion and relationships with such well-developed characters. It's the sort of book you might be able to refer to as, "good clean fun!" if not for the fact that many of the issues are a little too deep and close to the heart to be taken so lightly.

I love this book. I know these rereading recaps are supposed to be about my experience reading the book a second (or third, or whatever) time, but with this one... honestly there were very few differences in my first and second readings. The book is just as great as I remembered it being, if not more so.

The one real difference in my reading this time as opposed to the first time around is that this time I didn't see the ending as being as vague and open-ended as I had the first time around. Maybe because I chose a more optimistic outlook or maybe because last time I just hadn't been able to see the optimism because I'd been so gobsmacked by some of the events that came before it, but the ending felt a bit more settled this time (in a good way) than it had before.

(Okay, a second thing I noticed that I didn't pay as much attention to the first time I read it is the fact that everyone in this book is wealthy. Not in an annoying way either, but just a matter-of-fact way that could easily come off as ugh, rich people and their summer houses but instead doesn't because it's woven into the story so seamlessly and the writing is so top-notch.)

I love this book. Absolutely love it. It's my kind of comfort read and a book I could easily see myself wanting to reread year after year: Bronwen and Jared's love story and Bronwen's personal journey are just so great.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

tuesday 10: bookish confessions

This week's topic from The Broke and the Bookish is ten bookish confessions, so here goes...

PS. All of these were really hard to come up with, and most of them aren't real confessions.

1. I haven't read the Harry Potter series and don't plan to. All the magic/wizard stuff is the reason and I know, I know, that is not like "the point" of the series or anything. But still. (This is probably not a secret. Are these things supposed to be secrets? I don't even know.)

2. I sometimes search out horrible reviews of books I love. I don't quite know why. Just to prove how truly subjective all this book stuff is, maybe.

3. I hate dog-earing, but doesn't everybody?

4. I way prefer physical copies to ebooks. Especially when it comes to YA. I'm not quite sure why, but I'm (mostly) fine with buying ebooks of memoirs or adult titles, but when it comes to YA the only reason I ever buy an ebook is if it's way, way cheaper and not something I think I'd want to keep or write in or reread.

5. Sometimes my opinion of a book changes drastically over time. I can think of at least two books that I was totally hooked on as I was reading them, but after a few days of sitting on the book realized that I really, really didn't care for them. These books were hard to put down, but it didn't make them good.

6. Casual drug use is probably my number one pet peeve in YA books. Or at least, it's the surest way to make me set a book down and not pick it back up again.

7. I loathe the terms "fluff" and "beach read." They always feel super-insulting and dismissive to me. And I've even used the term "fluff" myself; I even hate when I do it. I wish there were a better term for light, cute books. Something that doesn't sound so dismissive.

8. It bugs me when all the characters and a book have dull names. A book full of Mary, Bill, John, and Beth bores me. And it's so stupid, I know, but I just hate getting the feeling that the author didn't care about the character's names. This is such a silly thing. I feel silly even writing it but it's true.

9. It's cheaper for me to buy books than check them out of the library. Honestly, I'm such a chronically late book returner that the library should just have my face on a flyer up front: DO NOT LEND TO THIS PERSON. It's awful. Sorry, librarians, I really mean to return the books on time. Really!

10. It makes me laugh when people associate YA so strongly with vampires and paranormal romances. Probably this is because (with the notable exception of Twilight) these are precisely the YA books I know nothing about.

Monday, August 27, 2012

a bookish survey

I found this survey over at The Broke and the Bookish and, hey if there's one thing I like it's book surveys! (Actually, there are many things I like and book surveys don't even crack the top 20. But I do like them.)

1. The book I'm currently reading: I'm not! I guess I should quick grab one off the shelf and start reading it, right? Actually I'm 50-something pages into Burn for Burn, but I've already decided to give up on it. Just not my cup of tea, despite how big a fan I am of both of the authors.

2. The last book I finished: Flawless Ruins, by Kieryn Nicolas. A different sort of dystopian. The parents in this one were named after a popular pop culture couple with alliterative names. Any guesses? (No seriously, guess. Winner gets the GLORY OF WINNING.) Review to come on this one.

3. The next book I want to read: I have ARCs of both Scarlet, by Marissa Meyer, and Prodigy, by Marie Lu, that I'm wanting to read. But I'm not sure which I'll pick up first.

4. The last book I bought: I finally found book 9 of The Series of Unfortunate Events at my local used bookstore. And I AM JAZZED. Now I just need number eleven and MY COLLECTION WILL BE COMPLETE, BWAHAHA AND I CAN COMMENCE READING THEM ALL IN ORDER.

5. The last book I was given: Not counting books sent by publishers, of course. The last book I was given was actually four books that my mom got for me while she was in the UK recently. The second and third books of Sophia Bennett's awesome Threads trilogy, The Look, by the same author, and Kiss, Date, Love, Hate, by Luisa Plaja, which was an odd read for me.

As always, I'd love to see your answers.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Half-Year-ish Favorites of 2012: The Scenes

Way back in July I started doing my best of 2012 (so far), using this post from inkcrush as a template. Part one (the books) and part two (the characters) have been up for so long that I almost feel like I should redo them in light of reading so many more books since then. But I'll wait until the end of the year, probably.


Here's the long-awaited (nobody was waiting. me, probably.) part three -- the scenes!

1. best first chapter: Bittersweet, by Sarah Ockler. Technically, this is a prologue, and it's one of those rare times where the prologue not only works but is also really, really necessary to the story. This "first chapter" sets up Hudson's past and its influence on her present so well.

2. best climax: Life is but a Dream, by Brian James. The ocean scene near the end of this one was so gripping, so eerie, and so fitting for the story that it was.

3. best ending: Tiger Lily, by Jodi Lynn Anderson. And by "ending" I really, really mean ending. Like, the last two pages. They were just... well, I feel like I'm already overusing the word "perfect" in this post, but they really were perfect. Anderson managed to change some HUGE things about the classic Peter Pan tale and make it work in a really fitting, wonderful way.

4. best plot twist/revelation: The List, by Siobhan Vivian. I know the point of this book wasn't to figure out who's behind the list, but the scene where we find out is just perfect. To me it turned the whole book on its head in a way. It made all the pieces click together, even the pieces I hadn't realized I had questions about. 

5. scariest/most disturbing scene: Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi. The toddler scene. I don't remember much about it except that it was way, way disturbing and really one of the points in the novel where I felt like, okay, this is going too far. Honestly, for how much I love that book, there really are moments that I found pretty horrific.

6. sweetest kiss: Bittersweet, by Sarah Ockler. Again, I have to go with this one. The couple in this book is just so, so sweet. Hudson/Josh forevah.

7. best swoon-worthy moment: Skipping this one as I don't know. I am not a swoony person, to be honest. The word makes me think of old-timey ladies fainting dead away and needing to be revived with smelling salts. I don't even understand any of what I just said.

8. biggest nail-biting moment: Unwind, by Neal Shusterman. It has  to be a scene from this book, but there are quite a few to choose from. Chapter 61 (at least, I think it was 61) for one option, of course. But also the pre-Clappers moment, and the moments in the airplane graveyard.

9. most hilarious scene: She's So Money, by Cherry Cheva. I don't think I can choose just one scene, but this book is so funny that it just has to be from here, honestly.

10. most heartbreaking, tear-jerker moment: Sisterhood Everlasting, by Ann Brashares. In the interest of not totally spoiling the book for those who haven't read it, I won't say the actual scene or what actually happens. But if you've read it, YOU KNOW. "Sad" doesn't quite do it justice. At all.

bonus #11. favorite meet cute: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, by Jennifer E. Smith. This one, between Hadley and Oliver, is pretty dang classic. It involves an airport, baggage, etc. etc. Basically the traditional "meet cute."

Ta-dah! I would say that day 4 of this is coming up, but hahahahaaa the best I can do is say I'm going to TRY, okay? Anyway, what are some scenes that would be on your list for these things?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

review: being friends with boys

Terra Elan McVoy
Simon Pulse
(bought finished copy)
As with every Terra Elan McVoy novel I've read, the front-flap summary for this one is much simpler than the story itself, as well as fairly misleading. Yes, this the story of a girl who is friends with a bunch of boys and falls for one of them, but it doesn't go down quite the way you think and it's also a lot more complex. Really this is about Charlotte, manager to her friends' band (Sad Jackal), as well as the brilliant mind behind their song lyrics, and what happens when the band breaks up, her most solid friendship falters (and then falls apart altogether).

And my feelings are mixed. To be perfectly honest, there were too many characters in this book that I just didn't like. I'm one of those readers that likes to like characters; as a general rule, I don't want to read about someone I can't stand. And though Charlotte, her three sisters (two steps- and one biological who's off at college), and a few of the more center-stage characters (her best friend Trip, for instance, as well as "bad boy" Benji) were plenty likable, there were plenty of other characters (mostly band members) that I just wasn't a fan of. And maybe it's the territory that comes with a boy-dominated novel but there was sometimes a little too much vulgarity for me personally.

But. Despite the issues I had with some of the characters, Being Friends With Boys, just like McVoy's other novels, manages to be so much more complicated than the summary can explain and also sneak in more than a few moments of stark honesty and realism. Because Charlotte has so many relationships (friends, family, crushes) going on throughout the course of the book, there's also plenty of opportunities for those all-too-honest small epiphanies. There's her older sister who's started college and how much Charlotte misses her and doesn't quite know how to deal with the fact that their lives are now so separate. There's there best guy friend who seems to quit their friendship at the same time as he quits the band, and Charlotte not understanding what happened between them. There's also her (ex) female best friend, whose dismissal of Charlotte is a big part of the reason she's a-okay having only male friends. Strands of friendship and family are woven so neatly throughout the music-fueled story. In many ways, Charlotte reminded me of Ruby Oliver, at least in the later books -- she's a girl surrounded by plenty of friends, living what looks from the outside like a very cool life but who is dealing with some very painful relationship issues including broken and struggling friendships.

Of course, there's also a romantic storyline (more than one, really) in this novel, but despite the fact that there's more than one Potential Boyfriend for Charlotte, it's obvious who she should end up with and their storyline is sadly very minor, especially compared to the other storylines.

I liked this book. It's well-written and so full of different types of relationships, which is one of my top favorite things about reading realistic fiction. However, I did have a few fairly large issues with the book's unlikable characters and often dysfunctional relationships. If you're a first-time Terra Elan McVoy reader, I'd start with The Summer of First and Lasts and save this one for later.

Monday, August 13, 2012

review: tiger lily

Jodi Lynn Anderson
Harper Collin's Children's Books
(review copy sent by publisher)
Tiger Lily is to Peter Pan what Wicked was to The Wizard of Oz. I'm wary of calling it a retelling, though technically that's what it is, because this isn't the Peter-and-Wendy story we all know. Nope, this is Tiger Lily's story and though it overlaps with the original it's also markedly different. Because this is the love story between Tiger Lily and Peter Pan. It's narrated by everybody's favorite mysterious fairy, Tinker Bell, and incorporates many of the events from the original, but at the end of the day it's very much Tiger Lily's story.

And in many ways, I loved it. This Tiger Lily is sharp and smart and desperate and unruly. She's all but incapable of "playing it cool" or acting like she cares less than she does, and she finds it difficult to be the demure lady that the rest of her tribe expects her to be. She falls for Peter despite being promised in marriage to an older man in the tribe and despite the fact that Peter and his Lost Boys are legendary for their brutality and ruthlessness. However, the Lost Boys that she meets are much different than the ones she's been described. They're boys; they're messy and loud and friendly and more human than she was expecting. And Tiger Lily quickly falls in with them -- with their games and their underground home and she fits into the dynamic so completely. But of course it can't be as simple as Tiger Lily and Peter falling in love, of Tiger Lily finding a place she belongs and people she belongs with. There has to be some trouble and Tiger Lily delivers it in spades. From Giant (the man Tiger Lily's supposed to marry), to Tiger Lily's cross-dressing father, to the Englisher who's causing trouble in the tribe and in Neverland, there's more than enough friction between everybody, and more than enough obstacles in the way of Tiger Lily and Peter.

Many of the most important plot points happen pretty late in the story (as is sort of a trademark of Jodi Lynn Anderson's slow, meandering writing style) and I don't want to spoil them except to say that there are some surprising things here. Some horribly sad things that change, in little ways, the trajectory of the story. But it's okay. Because as sad as Tiger Lily is, it's also not, which sounds confusing. But really, like all the best YA novels, there's an unmistakable lining of hope and happiness in this one.

However, Tiger Lily does change some fairly important parts of the original tale, beginning with the fact that in this version Tiger Lily isn't an indian princess, but instead the daughter of the tribe's medicine man. That's a fairly small change though; there are much larger deviations from the original story, and if this weren't such a beautiful story the changes from the original story might have been a deal breaker for me. But, for the most part, Anderson pulls it off. And while this book builds slowly once it hits its stride, it really hits its stride. While the book wasn't perfect, my mostly-minor complaints are pretty spoilerific and for the most part I loved it. It's a heart-tugging, angst-ridden love story with a complex and feisty heroine at the center. So great.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Reading & Ratings Breakdown

A quick starred breakdown of all the books (across all genres/categories) I've read since the start of this year. I'm doing really good at giving up on (abandoning) books that I'm not liking -- you can tell this because I only have 1% of books rated one star. I could do better on giving up on the 'meh' sort of two star reads though.

Still, fully fifty percent (wow!) of what I read I'm really, really liking -- all four or five stars.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

review: mothership

Martin Leicht & Isla Neal
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
(copy sent for review by publisher)
I've read quite a few YA novels that feature the pregnant teen issue, but they've all been contemporary/realistic. Until now. Mothership is a sci-fi novel set in the year 2074, about a girl (Elvie) on board an orbiting school for pregnant teen girls. Her school is attacked by invaders, one of whom is her MIA baby daddy, at about the same time it's revealed that the faculty of Hanover School for Expecting Teen Mothers are evil aliens.

Haha -- wait, what?

Yeah, that was my reaction to the summery of this story also. But, surprise! It's good. It's, like, really good. Okay, the story's a bit hokey. Okay, a lot hokey. It's outrageous, really. But the comedy is sharp, the pop-culture references are more than solid (even if I was confused as to why there's so many 20th century film references in a book that takes place in 2074), and the characters are awesome. Elvie's a smart and witty protagonist who has plenty of humor about herself and her crazy alien-fighting situation. Her prepared-for-anything dad and supernerd best friend are one of the most solid and loving supporting casts I've seen lately. And Cole, the not-quite-ex-boyfriend-turned-alien-fighter manages to be sweet, stupid, and cheerworthy all at the same time.

It's so rare, in my experience, to find science fiction or comedy novels with incredible characters, but Mothership manages to be darkly funny, a solid sci-fi, and stacked with an amazing cast of characters. The actual plot involves incredibly good-looking aliens, pregnant teenagers, fighting in space, and then even more aliens. Honestly it's almost too crazy to talk about. There are quite a few twists, though most of them can be easily predicted in advance -- not that it takes anything away from this book, which is much more a comedy than a mystery or suspense novel. While I'm sure those with a bit more sci-fi and world-building knowledge than I have might be able to poke a few holes in this plot, I was just happy to be along for the ride. Elvie's definitely one of the best protagonists I've read this year and I'll admit that I really fell for the romantic aspect of this story.

And while I was dreading the cliffhanger ending I'm happy to report that while this book (which, yes, is the first in a planned trilogy -- fingers crossed it doesn't get cancelled!) doesn't tie up all the loose ends, it also doesn't end on an infuriating cliffhanger, but instead had a little question mark of an ending. I I have any complaints with this book it's that some of the more violent parts were difficult for me to get through. It's all what I think of as comic-book violence (like the POW, KAPOW! of the old animated Batman show), but still there was just a little much of it for me. That said, this is definitely a winner. It's a sci-fi comedy full of heart. A crazy combination that totally, totally works.

Friday, August 3, 2012

uk ya review: kiss date love hate

Luisa Plaja
Random House Children's Books (UK)
(received as gift)
Lex's group of friends have been falling apart for a while, but when her and her best friend George get their hands on a Sims-like video game that lets them make changes to people's looks, life outlook, and even who they fall in love with, they never dream that those changes will carry over into the real world. But when they do, Lex sees the perfect opportunity to get back with her ex-boyfriend, Matt, who's currently in love with a girl (Gemma) who used to be one of Lex's closest friends.

I love the idea behind this book and was excited to see how these computer-game personality changes would play out in the real world. But unfortunately if not for the fact that I sort-of accidentally read a few pivotal, spoilerific sentences near the end of the book I probably wouldn't have finished it. But, having some idea what was coming, I wanted to see how things shook out. Because while this is a romantic little story with a wish-fullfilment twist, it's hiding a big secret that changes your view of the rest of the story and especially of Lex. It's the sort of big reveal that, while it adds another dimension to this mostly-superficial story, also puts Lex's narration in question. While I wouldn't exactly call her an unreliable narrator, and the reasons for keeping the SPOILER secret are obvious, as a reader I did feel a little betrayed by how things played out.

And while Lex's narration left some to be desired, her outlook was humorous and Drew, a possible romantic interest here, is a wonderful character -- by far my favorite in the book. On the whole I found myself disappointed by this book. I kept wanting more substance, especially when it came to her rocky relationship with her mother, which was hinted at but never really shown in detail.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

review: boys, bears, and a serious pair of hiking boots

Abby McDonald
Candlewick Press
(bought paperback)
Jenna, a suburban teen from New Jersey, is all about saving the planet. Between her "Green Teen" activism and all-organic, all-natural lifestyle, she's used to holding tight to her ideals. But when she finds herself spending the summer with her godmother in a tiny Canadian town in the middle of the wilderness, she has a tough time making her new life (where the town is hoping for more tourism, not less, and the people she meets think nothing of eating meat or even hunting it) fit with her long-held green idealism.

I have some conflicting thoughts and feelings about this book, but let's get this part out of the way first: I (definitely) liked it. Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots is a story I haven't read before. Its unique blend of environmentalism and real nature is by far one of the most readable and compelling parts of the book. Jenna's used to handing out flyers at the mall and holding protests to protect empty lots in her town, but finding herself in the middle of true wilderness, with boys who find her environmentalism off-putting at best and offensive at worst, is an entirely new experience.

In addition to the environmentalism-and-nature storyline, there are also a couple of different romance-related subplots, including an all-out-crazy crush on one of the guys she slowly makes friends with in Canada. This romance doesn't happen until about the second half of the book (although the book's summary uses it as a selling point) and though I didn't find the boy lacking when he was just one of many friends, as a romantic interest he lacked depth and I didn't feel that the two had enough compatibility to really make me care about their story.

Meanwhile, Jenna's best friend is working on a collective in New York and finding her way to a more extreme brand of environmentalism; just as Jenna is finding a deeper appreciation and understanding of her ideals, her best friend seems to be becoming more angry than passionate. The summary for this book talks about Jenna finding a way to compromise when it comes to her "long-held ideals," but to be honest I don't see it that way. To me compromise when it comes to beliefs, ideals, things that you're really personally passionate about, isn't necessarily a good thing. And what I think Jenna does, instead of compromising, is discover how her ideals and lofty ideas play out in a bigger sense than she's seen before. She develops an honest appreciation for the wilderness, thanks in part to the survival guide for mountain men she finds at a used bookstore (honestly, this part of the story -- with the survival guide she uses to help herself make friends and achieve things -- was one of my favorites).

Unfortunately, this uniquely awesome story of a girl discovering nature came a bit unravelled in the end, at least for me. While Jenna's personal story was great, the various subplots involving a few other characters (including her best friend) felt unnecessary to me and in the end wound up overshadowing Jenna and pulling the narrative away from the heart of the story.