Can we say "Hell yeah!" to first person POV romance, because I am all over this maybe-trend. Anyway, believe the glowing reviews--this novella is a wi...moreCan we say "Hell yeah!" to first person POV romance, because I am all over this maybe-trend. Anyway, believe the glowing reviews--this novella is a winner, very fresh and different and smart.
Apropos of nothing, though, I really hate all of Loveswept's covers--they're kind of tacky all around. :((less)
And like most of my plans, it involved deviousness, blatant lying, and coffee.
I started with the coffee first.
About a month ago, I re-watched all five seasons of Alias (and, yes, I'm still mad about the suckitude of the final season) and found myself wishing that I could find books that fit the Alias-style mold: spying, action, romance and humor all wrapped into a quickly-paced, mysterious storyline.
Around the same time, I went to ALA's mid-winter exhibits and ended up in a conversation with one of the representatives from Bloomsbury about how I wished there were more young adult novels that were full of smart humor (I'd just finished reading and loving The Reece Malcolm LIst, which nails that). The rep then dug into her stash of review copies and handed me Robin Benway's Also Known As. Strangely, not only had a never read Benway, I'd never even heard of her, despite that seemingly everyone on the internet adored Audrey, Wait!
Clearly, the reading stars aligned, converging as Also Known As, a fun, fresh and absolutely charming novel.
Maggie Silver has a much more thrilling life than most 16-year olds. She's the child of international spies who work for an organization called The Collective. They move around constantly, stopping bad guys as a family. Maggie's speciality is safecracking, which she picked up as a child by playing with master locks and graduating to working side-by-side with her parents on cases. Maggie also have a great adult friend and mentor in Angelo, who's a snappy dresser and a great confidant for the young safecracker.
After a summer in Iceland, the family is assigned to a new case in New York City--this time, it's a solo assignment for Maggie. Her job? She has to attend a normal(ish) high school for the first time, make friends with Jesse Oliver and gain access to his father's safe--which contains secrets which threaten to bring down the entire The Collective.
After my first week of high school, I was ready for it to be over.
It turns out, high school kind of sucks. Maggie makes fake friends with the school outcast and former popular girl, Roux, who is one of my favorite supporting characters in a long, long time. She's brash and inappropriate and absolutely hilarious. She also manages to fake date her target, Jesse. As happens in this sort of story, Roux quickly becomes a real friend and Jesse a real love interest, and things get complicated, especially as the mystery behind Maggie's assignment unfolds.
While the spy backstory is a fun hook, where Also Known As really shines is in the relationships. Maggie's burgeoning friendship with the aforementioned Roux is one of the most fun teen friendships I've read. Both girls are socially awkward for different reasons, and watching their friendship grow was pretty funny and also very sweet in a slightly dysfunctional way.
She waved her hand toward me. "Your uniform. Didn't we discuss this yesterday?"
"Oh." I glanced down at my plaid monstrosity. "Um, I thought that was more of a theoretical conversation."
Roux just stared at me. "Theoretical conversation? Are you for real?" She continued on before I could even answer. "Look, please do it for me. My eyes, they burn when I look at this situation. Help me help you."
Similarly quirky banter is at the core of Maggie's sweet romance with her target, Jesse.
"We did? I'm kidding!" he said when he saw my face. "You looked like you were about to cry! I'm only kidding, I swear."
"I wasn't going to cry, I was going to murder you." Note to self: Hide emotions better.
"Oh, well, that's more like it. And, yes, we kissed." He shot a sidelong glance at me. "Are we still cool with that or...?"
"Oh we're cool. We're very cool. No worries there, my fried. We are A-OOOOOOO-KAY." Shut up, Maggie. Just stop talking right now. Right this very second. I mean it.
If this were a novel that was intended to be very serious fiction, I would roll my eyes at such self-aware dialogue. But, Also Known As does exactly what romantic comedies do when they really work: It's breezy and smooth and puts a smile on your face. I actually think that sort of dialogue and story and flow in general don't get enough credit for general awesomeness. Writing that sort of story and really making it work has got to be incredibly difficult. In this book, it totally works.
While reading Also Known As, I kept thinking that this did remind me of Alias (one of my Goodreads updates was something like, "This is like reading about Sydney and Vaughn's teen daughter--and it's amazing!") I'm always picking up caper/heist-style novels and not finishing them because I want to find what I love about caper-based movies and television shows in a book. Also Known As finally--finally!--did that.
Like many rom-coms, there are a few weaknesses, however.
The relationship between Maggie and Jesse develops really, really quickl and there are big pronouncements and big decisions made really quickly. The relationship between Maggie and her parents is charming and the adults are very present, but I kept thinking that they were kind of clueless for international spies. Ultimately, those shortcomings didn't inhibit my enjoy of Also Known As whatsoever. None of these downsides are unexpected for this sort of story and the snappy, crisp writing certainly helped me suspend my disbelief.
The characters and old-school caper plot come together in the best of ways, and I am so excited that we're going to get more of Maggie, Roux and Jesse soon! Robin Benway is working on a sequel (it sounds like this was originally written as a stand-alone). This is such a memorable voice and definitely is one that could carry a second book or even a series, so I am thrilled by this news.
Initial Reaction: This was super fun. It's really hard to find a book that's got such a nice, quick flow and good humor--I'd love to find more like this. Definitely recommended if you like heist and caper type stories or are looking for a YA version of Alias.(less)
Initial thoughts: You guys, this is really phenomenal. I haven't loved a post-apocalyptic novel in a lonnnnnng time and this one really hit every mark. It's definitely got a Tomorrow, When the War Began sort of vibe, but it's also enveloped with an ominous and overwhelming sense of paranoia that makes so much sense in the context of the story. The multiple points-of-view also really give The 5the Wave an expansive feel that is often missing in the giant crop of post-apocalyptic books that hit the shelves in the last few years.
Basically, I'm DYING for the second book and the first isn't out yet. (It's not too cliff-hangery, though.)
Chatted with the editor at ALA and while this isn't my normal thing, she got me super excited for it.(less)
This is a novella introduction to Ruthie Knox's new series that's coming out next year. It's got Ruthie's trademark good humor and fun chemistry, but...moreThis is a novella introduction to Ruthie Knox's new series that's coming out next year. It's got Ruthie's trademark good humor and fun chemistry, but I far prefer her longer novels because the character development is light in just 100 or so pages. And (this may make me sound like a prude) because of the shortness of this one, there's an extended sex scene that takes up a significant percentage of page time, so there's not a ton of plot, which left it feeling unbalanced, and the conclusion feels extremely rushed.
However, since I am apparently Sarah, Defender of Smut, I will say the sexytimes are very well done and female-positive.
Because I am a Gen Xer, I loved that this was set in 1999, on the cusp of everyone freaking out about Y2K.
We'll post a longer review (probably in tandem with her other early 2013 release) on the blog in Jan. (I'm guessing that Rebeca aka Renegade will like this one more than I did.)
(Disclosure: received for review from the publisher.)(less)
I feel like this book had the potential to be a lot better than it was--the bones of something unique and moving were there. But, there were...more2.5 stars
I feel like this book had the potential to be a lot better than it was--the bones of something unique and moving were there. But, there were numerous plot holes and some elements that just needed more development as well as some key points that were not particularly realistic or believable for me. It's a three star book because the surfing scenes were great and the multicultural aspect was good too. I wrote an actual review of this one on Clear Eyes, Full Shelves - http://cleareyesfullshelves.com/blog/...(less)
So good! I still like Such a Rush and Going Too Far the best of Jennifer's books, but this one is right up there with those. The music stuff is absolu...moreSo good! I still like Such a Rush and Going Too Far the best of Jennifer's books, but this one is right up there with those. The music stuff is absolutely fantastic and this is absolutely the best setting in any Echols' book. (less)
I had no idea that a book in which LARPing receives so much page time could be so endearing and fun. The Summer I Became a Nerd is lighter fa...more3.5 stars
I had no idea that a book in which LARPing receives so much page time could be so endearing and fun. The Summer I Became a Nerd is lighter fair done right. While it's not breaking any ground, there's a lot of merit in reading a breezy book that's so engaging. I really enjoyed Maddie's journey of coming to terms that it's okay to like the things she likes and being okay with that being against the grain. If you prefer your YA to be more "mature" and less teenage, then you'll probably not like The Summer I Became a Nerd, but I'd give this to teens (and middle-schoolers) in a heartbeat. Nerdy sort of folks will appreciate the various references and homages (I'm sure I didn't catch the majority of them because I'm not a science fiction enthusiast) as well. I also loved that the former boyfriend wasn't a bad guy in order for the new love interest to be the "right" guy (which happens a lot in this sort of YA). Their relationship instead just ran its course, as happens, especially in the teen years.
There are some fairly predictable moments, and I would have liked to have seen the friendships explored a bit further, as the resolution to that conflict was really fast, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment of it.
Jennifer Echols is one of my go-to writers for quality character development, sharp dialogue and memorable stories. Needless to say, her foray into fiction for adults with Star Crossed was one of my most anticipated novels of the year.
While I adore Jennifer's dramatic novels like Such a Rush and Going Too Far, I have a soft spot for her more light-hearted books, particularly Major Crush. What can I say? I'm a sucker for a good romantic comedy to balance out all the angst and drama.
Fortunately for me, Star Crossed falls into the lighter vein of Jennifer's oeuvre.
Wendy Mann is a publicist to the stars. She's spent six years saving celebrities from their public disasters, rescuing their images and turning around careers. She's blunt and tough, and that's why she's so good at her job. Her beloved career is threatened when one of her clients pushes back and almost gets her fired. In order to save her job at the high powered PR firm where she works, Stargazer, she's sent to Las Vegas to salvage another career--that of a young singing who's nasty habit of posting inappropriate photos of herself on Twitter and publicly sparring with her ex-boyfriend.
Wendy finds herself up against her old college rival, Daniel, who's representing her client's ex. The two competed for top rankings all through school and their firms are also rivals (Daniel's father owns the firm where he works and he's expected to take over leadership of the family business). The pair's history is pretty fun. Daniel secretly crushed on Wendy from afar, but Wendy simply saw him as a rival to be squashed (she's extremely competitive). I enjoyed that their shared history wasn't as dramatic as in a lot of novels of this ilk, it's more of a vague thing that doesn't have a lot of baggage.
She texted Sarah,
I made him laugh like an embarrassed teenage boy.
As she waited for Sarah's answer, she read her text over and considered it. She'd been a teenager, eighteen, and she assumed he'd been the same age, when they'd first met. Except she wasn't so sure they'd ever met, officially. So... when they first became aware of each other. Or when she first became aware of him. She did hope he knew who she was, and that he'd only been pretending to have a hard time placing her. She would hate to think that after all those nights she'd agonized over whether she could beat him for the Clarkson Prize, he hadn't even known she existed.
When they're thrown together thanks to a series of mildly ridiculous, yet reliable, rom-com contrivances, and are forced to pretend they're dating (hell, yeah, there's a fake dating plot!), sparks fly and hijinks ensue.
Despite the fluffy premise, I was was surprised at the depth of the character development in Star Crossed.
While Wendy loves her job and career path, Daniel isn't happy with his. He's obligated to take over the family PR business, but he'd rather be doing something that's more meaningful.
His eye looked as bad as it felt. At least his whole socket wasn't bruised, but the knuckle mark underneath was turning from red to purple. For the life of him he couldn't remember a single piece of advice that GQ had ever dispensed about this.
He hated this job.
Wendy is nearly obsessive in her drive to succeed, terrified of not making it in the pressure cooker of her professional world, and being forced to return to West Virginia.
The tension between Wendy's drive to the top and Daniel's desire for something different makes for something more interesting than many contemporary romances--it actually reminded me a bit of Julie James first couple of books which were pretty light, but brought together high-powered, competent, witty professionals whose goals conflicted. This scenario, which is so respectful of both characters' career path reads as fresh and current and the resolution is one that I didn't expect and is both unusual for romance and realistic (intentional vagueness to avoid spoilage).
I was also struck by what a fun setting Las Vegas was for a comedic romance.
Since Vegas is, well, absolutely ridiculous, the silliness of some of the scenarios in Star Crossed didn't seem particularly off-the-wall. The characters are colorful, the timeframe is condensed and it all makes sense, because it's Vegas. There are all-nighters, visits to strips clubs and even an Elvis sighting, all which makes Star Crossed a lot more fun than your average contemporary romance.
She turned to Lorelei. "Get the DJ to put on some Missy Elliott."
Um... kay." Lorelei scampered away.
As Wendy slipped out of the booth, Daniel slip to the seat where she'd been. "Your stripping soundtrack is Missy Elliott?"
"She was very big in 2003, and this was my small protest against the patriarchy. While stripping. I know. Shut up."
That's not to say Star Crossed is flawless.
The book includes an absurd and unnecessary subplot about a stalker who's been after Wendy for years. It's wholly unnecessary and adds nothing to the plot. It essentially exists to create conflict and tension when the main storyline did that quite effectively. There's also a subplot about the two clients' relationship that is cute enough, but didn't do a whole lot to move along the main plot.
However, despite those niggles, Star Crossed one of the fresher, funnier, more modern-feeling romances I've read.
She teased him, singing, "You're going to get wrinkled," but her voice came out weak and pitiful.
"For some reason," he growled in her ear, "around you, I'm as wrinkled as I've ever been. Metaphorically speaking."
"I metaphorically wrinkle you," she puzzled...
I'm so looking forward to the next book in this series, Playing Dirty, out this fall. That one features Sarah, who is a sharp, snarky friend of Wendy's who also works at the Stargazer PR firm. However, I do think that fans of Jennifer's YA novels may be a bit disappointed in this series because it is so very different from her recent YA novels, particularly because it's written in third person, so the wonderful internal narration of Such a Rush and others isn't there, but it's certain made up for in lots of quirky, witty dialogue. If you enjoyed Jennifer Echols earlier works, then this foray into adult fiction will certainly satisfy you, and it will also likely appeal to fans of Julie James, Ruthie Knox and Shannon Stacey.
We walk outside to the parking lot. Sunshine and blue skies. Again. I open my mouth to let her know about the name mistake, except that I really like the thought of being Devan Malcolm. And if I tell her, she’ll call up New City, get it fixed, and I’ll have to go back to being Devan Mitchell. And suddenly she’s the last person I want to be.
When just the right book comes along at just the right time, it's a real treat. Such is the case of Amy Spalding's debut, The Reece Malcolm List, which ticked so very many of my want-to-read boxes.
Devan Mitchell finds herself suddenly thrust into an unfamiliar world when she's shipped to Los Angeles from a small town near St. Louis to live with the mother she never knew following the death of her father. Devan knew very little about her mother, aside from that she's a best-selling novelist who seemingly never had an interest in a relationship with her daughter.
When she arrives in L.A., Devan's world transforms. Always an accomplished singing and hardcore musical theater fan, she's enrolled in a private performing arts high school where rather than being the weird musical girl, she's kind of, well, normal.
Devan chronicles the little bits of information she learns about her unusual mother in a notebook, while navigating her new, vibrant world. There's a bit of romance and a lot of unusual and realistic family issues explored in this memorable debut with a knock-out authentic teen voice. The result is a gem of a book that equally tugged at my heartstrings and put a grin on my face with its wit.
If I were to make a Devan-style list about The Reece Malcolm List, my review would look something like this...
Things I Love About The Reece Malcolm List
1) L.A. is a lively and fun setting for a young adult novel. The experiences of young people in a city like that are absolutely fascinating.
2) Family dynamics are complicated--but not what you'd expect. Devan's mother, The Reece Malcolm, has a charming boyfriend, Brad, who's a great guy who loves to cook and so different from most parental boyfriends or step-parents in YA. Devan's developing of a relationship with a mother she never knew--and whom she may be more like than she imagined--is touching and real.
We get our usuals, enchiladas for her and the chile relleno for me, both orders to be split in half and shared. I still can’t predict what she’ll say or do, but it’s nice we’ve gotten into this routine with food. Maybe it’s silly that it makes me feel more connected with her, but in this tiny way it does.
3) While Devan is a bit dense when it comes to understanding issues related to her family, she's pretty smart about what she wants when it comes to boys. There are two boys in this story, but she doesn't flip back and forth between the two.
4) Devan develops relationships with interesting adults. These adults play important roles related to plot and character develop--they don't just exist to teach Devan Very Important Lessons.
5) Like a lot of kids who are into things, at her former traditional high school, Devan was a bit of a strange ranger; the performing arts school is different, where being excited about performance is expected. While reading Reece, I kept thinking how wonderful it was "watching" Devan find "her people."
6) Realistic friendships make The Reece Malcolm List shine. They get mad and jealous and are a bit contradictory--just like real friendships.
7) There are boys with good hair. This is important--I shouldn't have to explain why.
Of course, I’ve never stood near the cutest guy on the planet pre-audition before. “Hey!” He jumps up from his chair as I walk into the music department waiting room at New City School. His hair is nearly black and kind of swooped forward, some- where between really preppy and a little punk. It is Very Serious Hair. I think about how it would feel to run my fingers through it. (Good, obviously.)
8) Devan's teenage voice is authentic without being dumbed-down. She's clever and witty, but not in a talky Dawson's Creek way. For example, her commentary on show choir,
I actually think it’s kind of a little pretty cheesy. People say the same thing about musical theatre, but I don’t think that’s true at all. It’s one thing to burst into song in character because there’s such an overflow of emotion it can’t be contained. It’s another entirely to randomly sing and dance, apropos of nothing. I mean, I love it, but I can’t deny its cheesiness. (Musical theatre, on the other hand, I’ll defend to its—and my—death.) Still, show choir is a small group of talented people, and you occasionally even get to sing songs from this century. It’s the best of all of them. I know Amy has a comedy background and it shows in her writing, but it's not in a, "Now we will be FUNNY!" sort of way. It's imbued within Devan's character and her new surroundings and experiences.
9) I am an idiot when it comes to musical theater (yes, you may all gasp in horror now), but Devan's enthusiasm for it bubbles of the page in such an infectious way that it made me love musical theater for 352 pages.
10) Dialogue. Dialogue. Dialogue. I love dialogue that I can hear--and I sure could in The Reece Malcolm List.
“What’s your favorite—” She cuts herself off. “I was about to ask what your favorite thing about L.A. was so far, but I should probably ask if you can even stand it enough to have a favorite thing.” “Is it dumb if I say the weather? It’s totally a cliché, right?” “It’s a cliché for a reason,” she says. “It’s generally glorious here. I won’t deduct points for lack of originality.” “What’s your favorite thing about L.A.?” Right now feels like a safe time to ask. “Oh, God, don’t repeat it, but probably that most of the people I care about are here.” She raises an eyebrow at me. “But I’d hate to lose my rep of not giving a shit.” “So the weather?” “Right,” she says with a smile. “The weather.”
FNL Character Rating: I had to bring Laura in for a consult on this one, and after a long discussion via text message that because of the touching exploration of family and friendships that it's worthy of a Becky Sproles when Becky realizes who her real family is near the end of season five rating. Though I lobbied hard for a one-of-a-kind, "the perfect effortless wave of Tami Taylor's hair" FNL Character Rating.
I absolutely loved this and I was totally nervous and reading it because I really enjoy chatting with Amy of Twitter and I was super worried I wouldn't like her book and I'd have to be all vague in my reaction or whatever.
But, it's such an original novel and Devan is a totally believable teenager with such a unique voice. The family stuff is fantastic and really different from what you find in a lot of YA.
This book also has a fantastic wit that I'd love to see more of in YA.
Finally, I'm surprised how much I liked LA as a setting. I can't imagine how weird it is to grow up there and this book really captures that but doesn't mock it, though it has it's funny moments because LA is weird.(less)
Putting this one on ice for awhile. I loved Angelfall but this sequel seems very unfocused and I'm 50% in. Maybe it's me, maybe it's the book... I'll...morePutting this one on ice for awhile. I loved Angelfall but this sequel seems very unfocused and I'm 50% in. Maybe it's me, maybe it's the book... I'll revisit it later.(less)
I never say this, but I kind of feel like this series needs another installment.
This was not at all the book I expected (I avoided reviews, so I assum...moreI never say this, but I kind of feel like this series needs another installment.
This was not at all the book I expected (I avoided reviews, so I assumed Just One Year would pick up where Just One Day left off, but actually stars at the beginning of the "One Year" timeline in Just One Day). So, if you've read JOD, you know what story I expected.
Anyway, I'll write more about this on the blog, but I really appreciate that this pair of books tackles a lot of unusual themes, particularly related to family and self-determination. After the success of If I Stay/Where She Went, Forman could've followed up with a similar series and I'm betting a lot of people would've loved (including me) another duet of dramatic, romance-focused stories, but this is a very different pair of novels and I appreciate the author's gutsy direction for them.
Anyway, I think that people who really clicked with Just One Day and Allyson's story will love this, people who were unsatisfied with it, thought Allyson was spoiled etc, will probably feel the same about Willem.
But... (view spoiler)[I do wish there'd been more (any, really) page-time with Willem and Allyson together. I would have loved to see how they negotiated their relationship which so defined both of their identities. (hide spoiler)]
Even though I had the little nitpicks about the college stuff, this book was outstanding, exactly what I'd expect out of Gayl...more4.5 (I'm a rounder upper)
Even though I had the little nitpicks about the college stuff, this book was outstanding, exactly what I'd expect out of Gayle Forman. I love that it's so Different from If I Stay/Where She Went and I really, really related to the main character and the way traveling changed her. If things don't work out for Allyson in the sequel, I may set something on fire.
I do suspect that the sequel will be really interesting, because we really don't know anything about Willem at that book's from his POV. (less)