Sunday, January 31, 2010

Book Review: Love and Other Natural Disasters

Title: Love and Other Natural Disasters
Author: Holly Shumas
Genre: Literary Fiction
Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: B+

Summary: Eve finds out on Thanksgiving, when she's pregnant with her second child, that her husband, Jonathan, is having an emotional affair. Are emotional affairs as bad, equivalent to, or less bad than sexual affairs? Can Eve ever trust Jonathan again? (Oh, and Eve's family and friends are worth getting to know too.)

First Line: "Some years, I gaze around the Thanksgiving table and I feel almost painfully grateful for my own bounty, for the abundance that is my life, for everything that brought me to this moment, with these people, inside this light. And some years, I just eat turkey."

Review: For reasons beyond the scope of this review, let me just say that this book made me not want to be a writer. Holly Shumas does a pretty bang-up job of writing a book with a seemingly basic hook and keeping you interested. Writing a simple book and making it good is very hard to do. She's set the bar pretty high in this regard. (Perhaps higher than I would ever be able to grasp.)

This book also made me incredibly fearful to ever get married. Shumas is a marriage therapist and I think she might have been writing from some experience. Emotional affairs are no joke. And they probably happen just as often, if not more so, than physical infidelity. The questions that the affair raises in Eve's mind are questions that I'd scarcely want to answer.

A couple of things regarding the technical expertise of this book:

1. The hook came so early in this book that I was nervous for Shumas. I wasn't sure how she was going to sustain this "forgiveness" of the emotional affair for ~300 pages, but she held her own pretty well.

2. She wasn't pitch-perfect in handling this long, drawn-out turmoil in the marriage. At a couple of points I thought, "Yep, it was bad, but you need to piss or get off the pot. Just make a decision about what you're going to do with your life."

3. The climax was kind of surprising. The climax is, not surprisingly, an emotional climax. She has set up the characters of Eve and Jonathan to fit into particular boxes, and then she kind of flips the script. She kept her hand concealed so you couldn't really see "the climax" coming, but it caught me off guard. (But that wasn't all-together bad.) (Neither was it all-together good.)

It's hard to describe the book other than to say this:
1. If you're looking for clean resolutions, don't read this book.
2. If you're looking for a "fun" read, don't read this book.
3. If you don't like to read characters who complain or are "realistic," don't read this book.

Be warned: This book is not for everyone! But, if you like reading about people who live in reality (albeit, perhaps, a reality not like your own) and can take some grief and grit in reading, than this book is totally for you.

Recommendation: People looking for a better alternative to Sue Miller (see this review) will probably enjoy this book.

Book Review: The Titan's Curse

Title: The Titan's Curse (Percy Jackson & The Olympians, Book Three)
Author: Rick Riordan
Genre: Middle Grade, Science Fiction/Fantasy
Rating: A

Summary: The story of Percy Jackson continues in this third (of five) installment of the Olympians series. Percy now has to contend for (actually, try to shrink from) the spotlight (actually, the prophecy fortelling doom) with Thalia, another child of "the big three."

First Line: "The Friday before winter break, my mom packed me an overnight bag and a few deadly weapons and took me to a new boarding school."

Review: I'm not sure quite how to keep reviewing these books in this series independently. It seems as if I'm saying the same thing over and over.

(Read Book #1's Review Here; Book #2's Review Here)

This book continues the upward trend of this series. Riordan retains his humor and good characterization of tweens/teens/young adults, and further ratchets up what we want to see. Specifically, the quest in this book is more harrowing (with some full-fledged carnage) and the god/mortal interactions continue to develop. We also get a deeper peek into the god/god interactions (which is what I've been clammoring for).

Based on some hints that my nephew has (infuriatingly) dropped, I'm sure there are even more good things to come in this series. If you've read this far, keep trucking on, my friend.

Book Review: Lost in the Forest

Title: Lost in the Forest
Author: Sue Miller
Genre: Literary Fiction
Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: D-

Summary: Eva is divorced from Mark with two teenaged daughters, Emily and Daisy; she's remarried to John with a toddler, Theo. John is tragically killed and the members of the family each cope in their own way. Eva and Mark start to move back toward each other, Emily grows up, Theo fantasizes, and Daisy embarks on a path of destructive behavior.

First Line: "Emily telephoned, his older daughter, 'Can you come get us?' she said. 'It's an emergency.'"

Review: This is the second of Miller's books that I've read, and I'm finding that she has some consistent patterns. Some are good patterns, things that keep you reading; some are bad patterns, things that make you want to throw the book at the wall (or at least roll your eyes hard enough to harm your vision).

The Good Pattern: She loves the theme of messy marriages. And she's right, it's not easy. I like reading about the way she writes marriages. The way she talks about the boring aspects of being married, etc., and the way that the person you've been married to for years (or decades) can still surprise you.

The Bad Pattern: She loves the theme of sexual exploration, but she's a prude about it. For example, instead of using the word "vagina," or any of its myriad slang synonyms, she calls it "sex." Like, in this book, she talks about one character's "sex" clicking when she opens her legs. Really? You called it her "sex"? That's just stupid. I'm not opposed to the idea of using sexuality as a motif or backdrop used to tell the story of discovery, but don't be so weird about it. Her writing comes off as if she wants to talk about sex, but she's embarrased. Either do it well, or don't do it all (and I'm speaking of writing here, if you know what I mean).

I think I'm done with Sue Miller. I've got her figured out. I don't disagree that marriage is messy. I don't disagree that sexuality is a complex part of our persona. I just don't, personally, need to read her narratives of it because it can be done better.

I didn't want to finish this book. It was going nowhere fast, but she did have a good thing going in that the perspective of Daisy is told from a bit of flash-back, and you want to know how she comes out in the end. For that, she kept me reading (begrudginly). I finished, but just barely. Hence, her D- grade.

Recommendation: I recommend that you skip this book and read other books in the category of women's fiction.

Book Review: First Kiss (Then Tell)

Title: Fist Kiss (Then Tell): A Collection of True Lip-Locked Moments
Editor: Cylin Busby
Genre: Non-fiction, Young Adult
Rating: C-

Summary: A collection of relatively well known YA authors share true stories of first kisses in various forms and with various outcomes.

First Line: "'He likes you,' my friend Missy whispered to me as we sat on the curb, watching our guy friends skateboard down a concrete ramp."

Review: This is your typical short story collection. Some good, some bad, some redundant.

My favorites were:

  • "Bad Reputation," by Cecil Castellucci (with implications regarding the influence of friends on the kissing dynamics);

  • "Yeah, I Know," by Jon Scieszka (a down-to-earth guy's perspective that tells it like it is... smelling rubberbands?); and

  • The she said/he said, "Our First Kiss (with each other)" by Shannon and Dean Hale.
There were two other stories, but (because they were so similiar), they cancelled each other out. Both "Pashin' or The Worst Kiss Ever" (by Justine Larbalestier) and "Lips, Tongues, and Dr. Pepper" (by Lauren Myracle) were cute to read (because they were so cringe-inducing), but they had the same theme. And, unfortunately for Myracle, Lauren's came later and seemed unnecessary. This showed that the book could have used tighter editing. Larbalestier (who is a really good author) didn't even write regarding her own first kiss--it was a friend's--so Busby should have worked to get something original and different (to give Myracle's room to breathe).

A good number of the other contributions were of the same theme: if you haven't kissed someone by 15, then you're destined to be a spinster. Therefore, do everything in your power to get that kiss under your belt. Not the best message in the world to be sending. Over and over again.

I did appreciate that they mixed it up with graphic contributions ("The Third First Kiss" by Amy Kim Ganter was my favorite of this group) and some in verse.

Book Review: Belong to Me

Title: Belong to Me
Author: Marisa de los Santos
Genre: Literary Fiction
Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: B+

Summary: Cornelia Brown and her husband, Teo, move from NYC to suburban Philadelphia--Teo is a doctor and Cornelia is a well-educated homemaker (sans children and too much home-making inclination). Lake Tremain and her son, Dev, move from California to suburban Philadelphia--Lake is a waitress and Dev is a genius (of the 14-year-old variety). Both Cornelia and Lake's lives tangle together with the formiddable Piper Truitt (who was already living in suburban Philadelphia). The three stories seem unconnected, but they reveal (eventually) that they are very much woven together.

First Line: "My fall from suburban grace, or, more accurately, my failure to achieve the merest molehill of suburban grace from which to fall, began with a dinner party and a perfectly innocent, modestly clever, and only faintly quirky remark about Armand Assante," (Cornelia as narrator).

Summary: That first line of the book is pretty indicative of what you're going to get with reading Belong to Me. It's very literary in the way it's written (just count the number of words in that paragraph/sentence of an opening line). It's pretty clever and intriguing (I know you're wondering, "How in the world is Armand Assante going to play into this story?").

The book is, all things considered, a really solid read. Lots of complex interactions: female friends, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, children, exes, this list could go on and on. Yet, all of these interactions are told from a very tight perspective--not a bajillion characters to keep track of. Very well drawn, if you will.

You read the book from three perspectives--Cornelia, Piper, and Dev. And, as with most really good literary works, each narrator is equally engaging. You can crawl far enough inside their persona to understand (to some degree) why they behave the way they do. There are some characters that we never get to hear from that you'd like to peek into further (Teo, Lake, Tom, Toby), but what is written is enough. Sure, you'd overindulge, if you could, but the book is definitely satisfying as is.

The primary problem with the book, in my humble opinion (and hence why it wasn't in the A range) is the pacing around the climax of the book. At the end of chapter 15, page 283, the plot "twist" is revealed. I knew what was going on. However, in a bit of literary self-congratulation, de los Santos doesn't reveal the climax to the characters until page 318, and we don't get the full impact of said climax until page 326 and following.

Now, you might be thinking, "Thirty-five pages to the 'first reveal' and another eight pages to the 'big reveal,' forty-three pages in all, isn't that long to wait." And you're right, it's not exceptionally long, but it was unnecessary. They could have easily shifted some chapters around in there and made the climax escalate at a frenzied pitch to keep you reading. But they didn't. I easily sat the book down at page 284 (as soon as I knew it wasn't going to continue with the climax, I knew I could wait to read more later). And, as I've said on this blog before, having readers be able to easily put your book down is a really bad sign. A bad sign regarding writing or (more likely in this case) editing.

And, you might be thinking, "But one editing issue gets it knocked all the way from an A to a B+? That's kind of harsh." It wasn't just once. It happened a couple of times. She [or her editor] were trying to string us along, but it didn't work. It just bogged things down.

But, to end on a happy note: because this was, by and large, a really great book, let me leave you with this snippet that tickled me (and I read it aloud to my sister because I found it to be so funny). The setting is that Dev and two friends (the female of which is a touch crazy) are in downtown Philadelphia trying to track down Dev's deadbeat dad:

"'We aren't lost,' [said Aiden]. "I just wondered if you all noticed where we are?' He pointed surreptitiously at a large, rainbow-striped flag flying from someone's balcony.

'So what?' asked Dev.

Lyssa glanced at the flag and then said, 'My mom says decorative flags are tacky.'

Aiden shook his head at this, then intoned, in a deep, radio-announcer voice, 'My friends, we are entering the heart of'--he paused dramatically--'the Gayborhood.'...

'Oh,' said Dev, quietly.

'Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold up,' said Lyssa, turning to Dev, her pale blue eyes round as quarters, her eyelashes weedy and ink black in the noon sunlight. 'Your dad is gay?'...

'I don't know,' [said Dev].

'Oh, you'd totally know,' said Lyssa, tightening her ponytail. 'God, it would suck to have a gay dad.'

'Shut up, Lyssa,' said Aiden.

'Well,' said Lyssa, loftily, 'I'm sorry, but I just don't believe in it.'

'You don't believe in gay people,' snickered Aiden. 'Like believing in them is optional? Like gay people are the Easter bunny?'"

Recommendation: I didn't realize it before reading, but Belong to Me is actually the second book of de los Santos' with Cornelia and Clare as key characters. The first was Love Walked In; therefore, if you enjoyed this one, then you should pick that one up too. (Or vice versa.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Weblog Love on Wednesdays

The always awesome Mandy of Edge of Seventeen makes yet another appearance on Weblog Love on Wednesday (I've got a lot of love for her blog) with some very awesome news. Let me just let her say it in her own words (because they were pretty awesome):
"...You can read the first chapter of Sourcebooks Fire's new Teen imprint! I'll post the direct links here.

It's a great way to really see if you'll get into a book.

Beautiful Dead by Eden Maguire

Merlin's Harp by Anne Eliot Crompton

Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin

Dreaming Anastasia by Joy Preble

But there are others on the Sourcebooks Fire website, so go check them out!"
I will DEFINITELY be checking them out. Click over to Mandy's blog (via the link at the top of this post) and check out the covers of the titles she featured then just try and tell me that Beautiful Dead didn't capture your attention. It's impossible because the cover is awesome. (Can you tell what this week's key word is? Hint, hint: It's an awesome key word.)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I Love This...

This picture is from an article on James Patterson (aka, the Book-making Machine) that was pimped by Eric at Pimp My Novel. I love this picture. I should stop writing about it and just let the picture speak for itself.

There is a philosophical statement about the art/craft/science of writing in this picture. Please speculate in the comments.

Cute-sy Cute Book for my TBR

I don't typically recommend cutesy chick-lit type books on this blog (because I rarely read cutesy chick-lit type books), but 5 Minutes for Books featured a book on their blog that just looked delectable (pun intended).

The summary of A Taste of Fame (The Potluck Catering Club, Book #2) says:
Is America ready to meet the Potluck Catering Club on reality TV?
The women of the Potluck Catering Club have a growing business. They even became the subject of a budding filmmaker's class project. Problem is, they didn't read the fine print when they signed off on his documentary. When he enters the club in the reality show The Great Party Showdown, the ladies of Summit View, Colorado, must head to the Big Apple for the unexpected adventure of their lives.

Between navigating New York City, dealing with cutthroat contestants, and trying to maintain their close friendship in the surreal world of reality TV, the Potluck women must keep their eyes on the prize–a cool million dollars–and work together if they're going to make it back home in one piece.

A Taste of Fame serves up the perfect blend of humor, misadventure, and mouthwatering recipes. Fans new and old will love this exciting trip into the wild world of competitive cooking!
This book combines friendship, food, and reality TV. Sounds like a perfect trifecta to me. It's going on to my TBR... what about you?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Weblog Love on Wednesdays

This week's LOVE-ly content is coming to you, courtesy of my imaginary blogging boyfriend: Eric at Pimp my Novel.

Eric wrote a great little essay on the benefit of negative reviews. Seeing as how I have a philosophical imperative to review all books I read--the great, the mediocre, and the down-right bad (as we'll probably see this week... I've got three in store)--his views were refreshing, as opposed to the seemingly more wide-spread opinion in book blogging that, "If you can't review it positively, don't say anything at all."

He writes, "...One of the principle reasons why, à mon avis, the negative review should be written: to help correct the bias generated by solely positive reviews, since such reviews are oftentimes met only with silence by those with dissenting opinions. "

Take heart, dear readers, literature is art; therefore, our opinions are highly subjective. This means that: 1) Our review is not the be-all-and-end-all; and 2) Our review has some merit, regardless of our love/hate of the book. (Also note: I did not say that all opinions are equal. I'll write more about that at a later time.)

Have a LOVE-ly middle of the week, dear readers.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Weblog Love on Wednesdays

I've got a few treats in store for you all this week.

I discovered a couple of lovely new blogs, "...Just Let Me Finish This Page" (this Louisiana-based public librarian (with a penchant for YA fiction) does some great reviews and keeps you up to date on all the book-to-film news), and "I Want to Read That" (hosted by a UK-based bookshop employee with an obsession with YA has some great features). Both of these blogs were featured in an ages-ago Fresh Face Friday post on "The Story Siren" that I'm just now checking out.

The fine ladies at Stacked reviewed an ARC of The Naughty List by Suzanne Young. I'd seen this cover (and been moderately intrigued), but their review sealed the deal for me. I skipped the spoiler part, but I definitely want to read this book (which is the first in a series).

Monday, January 11, 2010

Book Review: The Sea of Monsters

Title: The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Book Two)
Author: Rick Riordan
Genre: Middle Grade, Sci Fi/Fantasy
Rating: A-

Summary: Percy Jackson gets reunited with old friends, old foes, old fathers as he learns more family secrets and proves that he isn't your average, run-of-the-mill Olympian. [Read my review of Book #1 in the series here.]

First Line: "My nightmare started like this."

Review: I got my wish, well one of my wishes, a little bit. The challenges that Percy (and crew) face in The Sea of Monsters were much more harrowing than in The Lightning Thief. Percy is starting to show that he is the son of Poseidon--and so much of this book takes place in/around water, that his lineage comes in pretty handy.

Also, we find out more about Percy, his family, and the his dad (whom I am quickly forming an opinion of as the coolest Greek god known to man).

There is still a lot to be explored in these books, and they keep getting better--more action, tons of laughs, deepening relationships and bonds. It's enough to keep me reading to the end (barring a huge "tanking" in one of the subsequent three books).

Book Review: The Hate List

Title: Hate List
Author: Jennifer Brown
Genre: YA Literary Fiction
Rating: A

Summary: Valerie's boyfriend, Nick (whom she still loves), brought a gun to school and went on a killing spree until Valerie jumped in front of a bullet--injuring herself--before Nick turned the gun on himself. Fast-forward five months and Valerie is returning to school for her senior year.

First Line: "The scene in the Garvin High School cafeteria, known at the Commons, is being described as 'grim' by investigators who are working to identify the victims of a shooting spree that erupted Friday morning."

Review: This book gave me a headache to read... because I was trying my darnedest not to cry (and failing).

Valerie is so confused and conflicted, and you can't help but think that you'd (unfortunately) be equally confused and conflicted in the same situation. Brown uses current events, coupled with flashbacks and news clippings, to paint the whole picture, and it's not pretty. Nick was bullied. It was rough to read. As much as it pains me to say, this kid's life sucked balls and you can almost (and that's a HUGE almost) see what drove him to it. Not that I'm condoning what (fictitiously) happened, but the scenes where Nick is being harassed by other boys--at the movie theatre (page 145) or in the lunch room (page 276)--were so tough to read. I cried (hard) for a fictitious character.

The book reminds you that high schools can be a scary place. And teens face a lot of crap--at school and at home. It's imperative that concerned adults get involved and start making a difference because teens need to know that they're valuable and that they're loved.

But, on the flip side, Brown gives you a look at what life is like for the victims of the shooting--before and after--and that breaks your heart too. This isn't a tidy story. Nobody was completely innocent and nobody was the sole guilty party either.

I also was gripped by Valerie's life after the shooting, trying to reconcile all the pieces of herself. Trying to come to grips with what happened, assess what (if any) part she played in it, trying to learn to trust other people again. There is a long scene (pages 309-326) where Val thinks she might be fitting in again, but then she faces a stark reality that some people think she's a monster... and she always will be.

There were a lot of other players in this book--Val's parents, her brother, her therapist, two other students--who were all interesting character studies as well. I'd have happily read this book (or portions of this book) from their perspective as well, trying to crawl into their minds. Good writing all around.

The only thing that I didn't like about this book was this off-beat community art teacher, Bea, who was just... bizarre. I think she was intended to get Val back into touching base with her art, but Val's therapist had already opened that window. (Val's therapist was AMAZING!) I thought the character was eccentric and this story just didn't call for eccentricity--it was surreal enough without theatrics.

Recommendations: If you like other "gritty" portrayals of real life (like Love Sick, Smack, lots of stuff by Lori Halse Anderson or Ellen Hopkins), then you'll probably enjoy this as well. In terms of future recommendations: I'm going to pick up, We Need to Talk About Kevin, which is another work of fiction that examines the aftermath of school shootings from the perspective of the parents of the shooter.

Book Review: The Lightning Thief

Title: The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Book One)
Author: Rick Riordan
Genre: Middle Grade, Sci Fi/Fantasy
Rating: B-

Summary: Percy Jackson has always had trouble in school--bad grades, bad experiences, being kicked out of one right after the other. When, the summer after sixth grade, he and his mom and his best friend (who Percy quickly discovers is half-goat) are attacked by a giant bull, Percy quickly figures out that his life isn't normal. He's an Olympian--son of Poseidon--and he has to go on a quest with some friends (including the goat/boy) to save Zeus' master bolt and thwart World War III.

First Line: "Look, I didn't want to be a half-blood."

Review: I read this book in preparation to see the movie (which comes out this President's Day). I also read the book at the vehement urging of my nephew. Background on my nephew: he's 15, a reluctant reader, was only required to read the first book in this series, and has now read them all (voraciously). So, I went in expecting to get something that he'd like... which wasn't necessarily something I'd like.

And, although this book was far from perfect, it was really pretty good.

Some good things include the humor of the book (Riordan's writing is, at times, down-right hilarious), the use of mythology (I love books that cleverly are teaching young readers... and it inspired me to brush back up on my Homer), and the complex relationships.

Many of the Olympians don't know who their Deity parent is, and even those who do are rarely treated to interaction with the god (because the gods aren't allowed to show favoritism). I liked that Percy had that level of ambiguity, some bitterness, some healthy respect, and a whole lot of confusion. I'm looking forward to how the god-parent/child relationship will further develop.

I'm also looking forward to the plot developing in future books. This one was pretty light on challenges--Percy, as a son of one of the "Big Three" gods, should have been challenged a little more. Here's to hoping that he has to prove his mettle a little more in future installments in the series.

Also, some of the god-god interactions were briefly touched on in this book, but those should be more fun to read about as the series progresses. I, personally, love reading about the gods--they bring the drama and, coupled with their crazy powers, this makes for many fun-filled stories.

Recommendation: It's hard to recommend anything else because I haven't seen a lot of MG authors using mythology really well. At work, I've been recommending this series to HP fans, and I've been encouraging teens (usually girls) who enjoy it to read Troy High if they want to stay on the Greek train.

Book Review: The Maze Runner

Title: The Maze Runner (The Maze Runner #1)
Author: James Dashner
Genre: YA Sci Fi/Fantasy
Category: Dystopic Fiction
Rating: A

Summary: Thomas takes an elevator ride up to a place he doesn't know, he doesn't know how he got there, and he can't remember anything that happened before he got into that elevator. When the doors open, he's greeted by a new world--The Glade. Boys fill The Glade (a new one has joined them every month), doing jobs, and trying to find a way out of the maze that surrounds them; at night, the walls seal and they're safe (if they're inside The Glade). The day after Thomas comes up, a girl (the first ever) is delivered to The Glade with the message that she'll be the last one to come. And then all hell officially starts to break loose.

First Line: "He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air."

Review: This book rocked my face off. I loved it to bits and pieces. Here are the bits and pieces that I loved:

1. The pace was quick (without skipping too much, there were sufficient details to help you keep all of the key players in The Glade separate) and the action was so well described that I cringed while reading about the night that Thomas, Alby, and Minho were stuck outside in the maze.

2. The emotions were raw. The scene where one boy is banned from The Glade at nightfall (meaning that he'll be stuck out in the maze after dark--a certain death) nearly made me cry. It was tense.

3. Dashner brings you along without beating you over the head. For example, there is a language (or slang) that is unique to The Glade, but Dashner never really explains anything--you just figure it out from context. It's helpful that Thomas is learning too because you learn right along with him.

4. Having a largely male cast in The Glade was nice because, unlike most YA, this book focused purely on plot and character--no angst. A nice switch-up from the standard fare being marketed to... well, nearly everyone.

5. The ending: total cliff-hanger. Even though I knew that this book was the first in the series, the twist at the ending got me. I almost said, "Oh, no they didn't," out loud. (I restrained myself, but it was hard.)

The only thing that was a bit off for me (and knocked this down from an A+ to an A) was the implausibility of the structure and order in The Glade. (Now, mind you, I suspended reality to allow for the fact that a bunch of teenage boys were being shipped mysteriously to a place called The Glade.) My only issue is that they referenced the constant need for order, but they never talked about how that order came about. Thomas is obviously (as second-to-last) coming to The Glade a little late, but I'd have appreciated some back story as to how the distribution of labor was set up. They do show you that they have no tolerance for disorder (see item #2 above), but I guess that I was just craving a little bit more history. Maybe we'll get more in future books...

Recommendation: Fans of Lord of the Flies (and all that other YA dystopic loveliness) will like Dashner's series. If you find that you've enjoyed this one (and can't wait for the next one), placate yourself with the Gone series for some more dystopic awesomeness.

Source: This book was an ARC that I picked up from the previously-read bin at the book store that I work at.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Book Review: Whip It

Title: Whip It (Formerly [aka, before it was optioned as a movie] Derby Girl
Author: Shauna Cross
Genre: YA Commercial Fiction
Rating: A+

Summary: Bliss Cavendar couldn't be less blissful about her life in the pageant-crazed small town world of Bodeen, Texas. She has a dynamite best friend, Pash, who aids and abets Bliss' desire to escape the doldrums of their town and drives her north (not too far) to Austin where Bliss discovers the fabulousness that is roller derby. She also discovers the fabulousness of dating indie rock stars. But, as comes with roller derby, Bliss takes some hits.

First Line: "I don't know how it happened or what sort of back-room deal went down, but apparently I'm living in a small Texas town with two culturally clueless impostors for legal guardians, when I just know my real parents are out there somewhere."

Review: When I saw the trailer for Whip It, I knew that I wanted to see it. (I'm not a huge Ellen Page fan, but Kristen Wiig is pretty fantastic in my book.) But then I found out that it was based on a book and I had to put the brakes on. I'm strictly a read-it-before-you-see-it kind of gal when it comes to adaptations (if I know it's an adaptation).

So I picked up this little gem and sucked it down during a flight (~2 hours). It was that good. Seriously.

Bliss' life is far from, well, blissful, but she does her best. She remains plucky and hopeful. Too often in YA literature the narrators who aren't caught up in the trappings of beauty and popularity come across as completely "above it all" and have a voice that is too superior and esoteric, but not Bliss. She's hilarious (as is Pash) and, sure, she doesn't like her parents, but she's at least moderately respectful.

The scenes in the roller derby world were so perfectly described that you wanted to be there. Seriously. We have a roller derby league in Indianapolis that I've never seen, but now have pretty high up on my priority list. It's that good.

The love/romance angle of the book is awesome. It has everything you need and the ending is (to avoid spoilers) simply kick-butt. I cried with Bliss and cheered with her at the end.

I'm sad to say that this book was actually so good that now I can't stand to see the movie. Even though it looks like a really (really, really) faithful adaptation, I loved this book WAY TOO MUCH to sully it with the movie.

Recommendation: You'd probably like this book if you're a fan of John Green (smart, funny, thoughtful). On another recommendation angle, if you read this and like it, I recommend reading The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz. I haven't read this one yet, but (according to this write-up), it seems to have a similar tone/voice. It's on my TBR for sure.

Weblog Love on Wednesdays

I've got so much to share from this past week, I thought I'd put it in chronological order...

Tuesday, January 5, 1:41 p.m.
Edge of the Seventeen posted another entry into her "Shelf Grazing" portfolio and delighted me by bringing to my attention the intriguing (and unique) hook/plot summary of Nothing Like You by Lauren Strasnick. Thank you, Mandy, my TBR shelf is a little bit more full. [Also, for fun, check out Lauren Strasnick's website, per Mandy's suggestion, because it's pretty awesome. Kind of inspiring, as far as author-blogs can inspire aspiring author types (like me).]

Tuesday, January 5, 8:54 p.m.
Books on the Nightstand (newly minted over at Word Press) posted their 59th podcast. I haven't listened yet; however, I did click through to read the list of the twenty worst offenses in the average book reviewer's vocabulary. After reading the article I thought I was safe, but then I scrolled down and saw that she added another word: "unputdownable." I do use that word (which I don't think is technically even a word) from time to time. I'll have to keep an eye on that.

Wednesday, January 6, 1:30 a.m.
100 Scope Notes posted his "Morning Notes" and highlighted that Katherine Paterson (noted author of Bridge to Teribethia and other kid-lit greats) has been named the new International Ambassador for Young People's Literature. Congrats to her... check out the write-up in the NY Times. [Also, for fun, check out the "Book Buzz" in that Morning Notes feature... I love reading the one-sentence book/series summaries they write. Twilight = Vampires and Werewolves in School.]

Thank you to everyone who is filling the internet with great book fodder via blogging. I (heart) you all.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Book Review: Ex-mas

Title: Ex-mas
Author: Kate Brian
Genre: YA Commercial Fiction
Rating: B-

Summary: Lila Beckwith is planning to have a smashing Christmas, including having her gorgeous, Stanford-attending boyfriend return home just in time to attend her event-of-the-year Christmas party. Of course, none of that goes right. Everything goes wrong. But, because this is fluffy YA fiction, everything turns out just right.

First Line: "Mr. Geary had to be kidding. It was literally moments before the last bell was supposed to ring on the last half-day of classes--three seconds to Christmas break and the holidays and freedom--and the earth science teacher was handing out homework with every indication that he expected people to be paying attention. Had he finally lost it?"

Review: I picked this book up as my 2009 Christmas read. (Last year I read [and reviewed] Let it Snow, a series of intertwined stories by Maureen Johnson, John Green, and Lauren Myracle.) This book fell pretty far short of the high standard set by the JGM trio.

If judging solely on the basis of YA contemporary fiction, this book wasn't bad. You had some good angst-y love/hate relationships going on (Lila's ex, Beau, seemed like a loner dreamboat), social drama, and some family dynamics that made for a fun, light (roughly three hours total) read.

If judging on the basis of a Christmas story, this book flopped. Maybe it was because this book was set in California (so we didn't get much Christmas-y weather) or because it all happened before Christmas, but the holiday wasn't central to the story. I think this book could have been set in any time of the year and still worked. (Frankly speaking, I think it was a gimmick used to market the novel around Christmas for increased sales).

If you're looking for a YA book that will get you in the Christmas spirit, don't bet on this one. But, as far as YA books go, Brian's not a bad little author.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Things to Come

I promise (sort of... because I don't want to break your heart if I miss a deadline) that I'm going to review the following books this week:

- Ex-mas by Kate Brian (this was my annual "Christmas read")
- Whip It (formerly Derby Girl) by Shauna Cross (this was one of my read-it-before-you-see-it books)
- The Maze Runner (The Maze Runner Series #1) by James Dashner
- The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson & the Olympians Book One) by Rick Riordan (another read-it-before-you-see-it book)