Fluffy little middle-grades book about Desi, who wants to fit in but isn't one of the cool girls. She discovers she has magic in her and is sent out o...moreFluffy little middle-grades book about Desi, who wants to fit in but isn't one of the cool girls. She discovers she has magic in her and is sent out on jobs as a substitute for princesses who need a break. It's certainly a quick read and not quite as clever or quirky as I hoped it would be, but it's a cute debut.(less)
I’m writing this as I’ve just finished the book, and I still have traces of tears in my eyes and on my cheeks. This book is utterl...more. . Review found here.
I’m writing this as I’ve just finished the book, and I still have traces of tears in my eyes and on my cheeks. This book is utterly perfect. It’s the best young adult novel I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot of them. It just couldn’t be better.
Anna is looking forward to her senior year at her Atlanta high school. Her best friend, Bridgette, will be there, and she’s got a fighting chance with her huge crush, Toph. But her father, a best-selling novelist, sends her away to boarding school, and Anna thinks her life is over. Despite her new school being in Paris, of all ridiculously wonderful places, it’s not what she wants, and she resists it.
Thankfully, Anna quickly makes friends with Mer, Josh, and Rashmi. And then there’s St. Clair. He’s an American-born French boy with an English accent, and he’s kind of perfect. I can’t say more, because I don’t want to give away the tiniest morsel to anyone who hasn’t read the book, but yeah. He’s pretty perfect.
This book debuted early in December 2010, but I think it’s going to be the book of the year in 2011. It’ll be that “Have you read this? You HAVE to read this!” book that people pass on to friends and nudge strangers about in book stores. I usually sell or trade all my books on Paperback Swap, but not this one. This one’s going in my permanent collection, and it’s just totally fitting that it’ll go right next to Diana Peterfreund’s Secret Society Girl series, because those are the only other books that have made me laugh, cry, ache, and tell everyone, friends and random strangers alike, that they HAVE to read this. Just have to. (less)
Oh, Rachel Hawkins, *fists of fury* at you! How could you leave us hanging again?!
SPOILERS ahead, so don’t read this unless you’ve read Hex Hall, whic...moreOh, Rachel Hawkins, *fists of fury* at you! How could you leave us hanging again?!
SPOILERS ahead, so don’t read this unless you’ve read Hex Hall, which I highly recommend you do right now!
Sophie has discovered she’s a demon, even though she’s always thought she’s a witch. Demon is far worse in Prodigium world, and far more dangerous. Turns out she’s one of only two known demons in the world, her absentee father being the other one. Plus, she discovered at the end of Hex Hall that her mega crush, Archer Cross, is a member of The Eye, who are hell-bent on killing her. And then there’s the whole thing about watching her friends die at the hands of her grandmother, Alice, a demon who went very, very bad when raised by a coven of witches at Sophie’s school, Hecate Hall.
So, pretty much, you could say things aren’t going so well for ol’ Soph.
Her father shows up at Hecate Hall and insists on taking her to Thorne Abbey in England, the new site of the Council that oversees the witchy world, for her protection. Sophie will go as long as her best friend, the vampire Jenna, goes as well. The two set off for a summer in England, hoping things will be quiet and safe. Yeah, right. Rachel Hawkins does not write “quiet and safe,” friends.
The Eye find out where Sophie is, and Sophie finds out some terrible news about things happening at Hecate Hall, where the fall term of school is beginning soon. There’s also the little matter of Archer showing up again, too. Sophie never knows who to trust with her life or her secrets.
Sophie grows a lot in this story, coming into both her own powers and her confidence. Her friendship with Jenna is tested, for understandable reasons, and the two must figure out how to navigate Sophie’s emerging powers while still remaining friends. Cal, the Hecate handyman with astonishingly delicate and life-saving powers, is a revelation. Hawkins says that teenagers are Team Archer and grown women are Team Cal. So true. I hope Sophie and Cal end up together, though I know it’s not likely.
This is another excellent offering from Rachel Hawkins, and I can’t wait for more. I’m only mad that the series’ third and final installment doesn’t come out until March 2012. So unfair. (less)
It’s sophomore year at Penford High School in Rochester, NY, and April Bowers is lonely. Her best friend, Haley, has moved out of t...moreReview posted here.
It’s sophomore year at Penford High School in Rochester, NY, and April Bowers is lonely. Her best friend, Haley, has moved out of town, and April, who has never been popular in her large high school, now feels completely alone. The only person who seems to give her any attention is Delvin McGerk, who she thinks is “stalkeriffic” and the king of all losers. It’s not looking good for April.
Enter Britney Taylor, fellow sophomore, and self-ordained queen of the popular kids. Despite only being in 10th grade, she manages to thinks she has the level of popularity usually reserved for seniors. She has a small group of sycophantic girlfriends who follow her around like lap dogs, and she’s got boys drooling over her body. Britney seems to have it all, so April is confused and flattered when Britney and her friends welcome her to their lunch table.
What follows in the first half of the book is the common ugly duckling story. April, who’s cast in the role of the ugly duckling but isn’t actually ugly at all, gets made over by Britney the puppet master. Britney is the queen of back-handed compliments and never fails to let her feelings be known, no matter how hurtful the insult may be. April’s clothes and hair are changed, and she’s backed into the corner when it comes to signing the Lipstick Oath, a list of seven rules she must agree to follow in order to be friends with Britney and the girls.
There are expected insults, hi-jinks and hurt feelings, and at a ridiculous party in a field, it all changes when somebody calls the cops and April gets blamed. She’s immediately out of the group, and Britney sets out to destroy April’s reputation. (What reputation? April was unknown before Britney came around, and the girls have puffed-up senses of superiority, so how would anybody realize April had changed anyway?)
The first half of the story is interesting and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. The second half, however, tumbles out in a rush, all telling and no showing. It’s a breathless read of “this happened, and then this happened, and then OMG this happened!” It’s like a bad Disney Channel or ABC Family movie which spends the first half setting up the plot nicely, and the second half desperately trying to cram it all in with a nice little lesson in the last five minutes.
April takes revenge on Britney by gathering up other girls who broke the Lipstick Oath. They call themselves the Lipstick Lawbreakers, and they plot and scheme to ruin Britney’s life. One of their tricks, involving fake love letters and a showdown on the football field, is far beyond anything a high-schooler would ever do, and the other is not funny and could be deadly for Britney.
Some of the book’s major plot problems include:
* The character of Brandon is interesting, if not a little gross. He disappears. Why? * Delvin is clueless but sweet and obviously a catch for a nice girl, and then turns into a “total hottie,” which is all the girls seem to care about. But April still treats him like trash. And we’re supposed to root for her? April and her friends are completely shallow and care nothing about a guy’s intelligence, manners, kindness, or how he treats his mama. If he’s a hottie, he’s in. Gross. * Totally implausible things, like laughing hysterically or jumping around excitedly for “five minutes straight,” or three people saying exactly the same sentence at exactly the same time. There’s willing suspension of disbelief when you read a fluffy YA novel, and then there’s just bad writing and editing that make you roll your eyes.
The overarching problem with this book is that it’s hard to like a book at all when the main character is so wholly awful and unlikable. There is nothing redeeming about April, and her new-found mean girl status is reversed and wrapped up nicely with a bow in the end. But it’s completely unbelievable. I didn’t root for her for a moment in the whole book. She is everything you wanted to avoid while growing up, and everything you don’t want your children to be now.
I’ve read several reviews saying this is great for young teenagers, but I don’t know how a parent, teacher, or librarian could recommend impressionable young girls (possibly dealing with their own mean girls) read about people who are so mean and awful that the reader is left feeling let-down and miserable by the end of the story. A feel-good ego boost this is not. (less)
In the future, a virus has rendered everyone over the age of 18 infertile. Society has become baby...moreReview posted here on my blog.
What a strange book.
In the future, a virus has rendered everyone over the age of 18 infertile. Society has become baby-obsessed, putting the job of procreating squarely on the shoulders of boys and girls who are basically still children themselves. Finding the right kid to carry your child is a million-dollar business, and only the best, brightest, fittest, smartest, and most attractive are hired.
Melody is on her way to being a “Surrogette,” just waiting for the boy she’ll be matched to “pregg” with. She’s fighting her feelings for her best friend, Zen, but he’s too short and too Asian to be a professional. What Melody doesn’t know is that she has a twin sister, Harmony. The two were separated at birth and raised very differently. Melody is from the baby- and money-obsessed Otherside, and Harmony has been raised in Goodside, which appears very similar to modern Amish communities.
The girls meet, and, through a series of mistaken identities and admitting they’re not so different after all, they’re driven in two surprising (to them) directions and the book ends on a sequel-obvious cliffhanger.
I enjoyed the story quite a lot. It’s fresh and original, and I appreciate how neither the sex-obsessed teens nor the highly religious teens are treated as campy stereotypes. Both types are fallible, funny, naive, wise, and normal. I, as a Christian, kept waiting to be offended by either side of the story, but I never was. Kudos to the author for walking the fine line and telling a good story without resorting to cheap insults.
My only quibble, which is minor but continuous throughout the story, is a lot of the words and phrases. Things like “bump,” “pregg,” “facespace,” “dose down,” etc., are cutesy, but so foreign that they can slow down reading. It took me about half the book to get used to the language quirks to really sail through it and not stumble while reading. I imagine that won’t pose a problem in the next book, since I’m now used to the style. (less)
Kate Winters has moved to Eden, Michigan, with her mother. It’s her mother’s hometown, and she’s dying of cancer and wants to re...moreReview posted here.
Kate Winters has moved to Eden, Michigan, with her mother. It’s her mother’s hometown, and she’s dying of cancer and wants to return there to live out her few remaining days. Kate and her mother are close, so Kate is willing to give up her senior year in her New York high school, eager to please her mother and make the end of her life as pleasant as possible. Very quickly we see Kate begin her senior year, make a friend named James, get treated like trash by a girl named Ava, and watch her mother slip into a coma.
And then the tension stops, for everything is revealed.
Let me back up a bit. Ava claims to be taking Kate to a party, but instead takes her to a river (it’s made clear that Kate is terrified of water), makes her cross the river, and then skips off to leave Kate alone and cold on the other side. But something happens, Ava slips and bashes her head on rocks, and dies right there in front of Kate. She’s stranded with a dead frenemy, too paralyzed with fear to cross back over the river and hightail it to civilization for help. But lo! Through the trees emerges a bona fide hottie, of course! He is Henry, and he’s creepy but beautiful, Edward Cullen without the sparkle, and he tells Kate that he can save Ava’s life (and somehow the life of her mother), but she has to agree to live with him for six months out of the year and be his bride.
And, after a couple days of teen-aged angst with her new BFF, the undead Ava, Kate inexplicably agrees to this and goes to live at Eden Manor. Because, you see, Henry is really Hades, ruler of the Underworld, and he needs a new wife to replace Persephone, his one true love.
Yes, that’s the premise here. And what follows is a confusing jumble: Kate must pass seven tests in order to be deemed worthy of immortality and Henry’s hand in marriage; she willingly spends six months in Eden Manor with a host of weirdos, apparently unconcerned about the people out there on the other side of the hedge, wondering what’s happened to a seventeen-year-old girl who’s just vanished out of thin air; there are shenanigans and a murder; and then there’s a big reveal at the end, part of which is enormously insulting to the reader (unless that reader happened to figure it all out in the first third of the book, which I admit I did). The ending is preposterous.
And there’s a sequel coming out, but there’s zero anticipation of what’s going to happen next, nothing that makes the reader write down the next book’s release date, circle it twenty times, highlight it, and put stars and hearts around it.
I admit that I know only the basics of Greek mythology. As a Christian, I figured out pretty quickly when I was younger that the Greek gods and their stories are the complete antithesis of my worldview. They’re not nice “people,” and their stories are not pleasant in any way. So I know enough to muddle through a conversation should I find myself at a party, glass of wine in hand and a desperate will to escape, trapped in a corner by someone having Deep Thoughts about Hera or Dionysus. I do know enough to know that Aimee Carter has twisted and re-created their stories and personalities so radically that they’re hardly noticeable. And she mixes that mythology with the seven deadly sins, which aren’t part of Christian theology but are always attributed to Christianity because there are Scriptures which point out these particular sins. Anybody with a basic working knowledge of either mythology or Christian theology should know that the two just don’t mix at all.
Finally, if I haven’t beat home my disappointment with this book enough, the writing just isn’t very good. There’s an enormous amount of telling – and I despise telling over showing – and very little action. Descriptions are entirely lacking. In addition to shoddy mythology research, Carter seems wholly uninterested in building a world for the reader to picture. This happened, and then this happened, and then this other thing happened, and here is some dialogue tacked on to make it move along. It reads like Greek mythology fan-fiction. I hate fan-fiction.(less)
Alexandria (Alex) Lee is not your typical teenager. She lives on a communal farm in Mendocino, California, with her mother, Louis...moreReview posted here
Alexandria (Alex) Lee is not your typical teenager. She lives on a communal farm in Mendocino, California, with her mother, Louisa. To the world, the commune appears to be for growing herbs and organic vegetables, but the secret is that it’s also a pot farm. Alex has never known anything different, and has always been happy and accepted among the motley group she and her mother consider their family. But Alex’s life is rocked to its core when her mother dies in a terrible one-car accident, leaving Alex an orphan. Her friends and her would-be boyfriend, Reggie, do their best to keep Alex happy, but her world is turned upside-down again when an attorney arrives at the farm and tells Alex she must leave California and move to Savannah, Georgia, to live with the grandmother she’s never known.
To say that Savannah is nothing like Mendocino is an understatement, and Alex feels completely out of place. She’s a few pounds overweight (which the author reminds us of repeatedly and annoyingly, in what is truly my only quibble with the book), she dresses like a hippie, and her hair is in dreadlocks, which Alex eventually admits was a foolish mistake in an effort to entice Reggie. Alex wants to save the world, while the girls and women she encounters in Savannah seem to want nothing more than to be rich and beautiful.
But there’s more at play here than just cultural differences. Some of Savannah’s women are members of a society called The Magnolia League, and nothing they do appears normal. Alex’s grandmother, Miss Lee (never Grandmother or Grandma, but always Miss Lee), is the founder and head of the League, and is unnaturally beautiful and young-looking for her age, as are her best friends. The girls thrust in Alex’s way to be her new friends are also beautiful and never seem to suffer from common teenage ailments such as bad skin or a few extra pounds from eating too much junk food.
Alex is expected to join The Magnolia League, since it is her birthright. Her grooming will culminate with the League’s annual debutante ball at Christmas, where Alex will be formally presented to Savannah society. But first, Miss Lee and Alex’s new friends, Hayes and Madison, must give her a makeover that includes more than just clothes.
And that’s where the re-telling must end, for to give more away would detract from the real meat of the story, which involves an old Gullah family, hoodoo magic, spells, and beauty and wealth that come at a great cost. I spent my honeymoon in Savannah and greatly enjoyed the book’s meandering strolls through some of the city’s best-known streets and parks. Folks in Savannah take their Gullah and hoodoo legends seriously, and The Magnolia League captures that spirit in an extremely clever and entertaining way. The book ends with a cliffhanger, perfectly priming it for a sequel. I, for one, can’t wait.(less)
In general, I have a bit of a problem with Christian fiction of the romance/chick-lit variety. I get tired of the wooden, stereotypical characters, th...moreIn general, I have a bit of a problem with Christian fiction of the romance/chick-lit variety. I get tired of the wooden, stereotypical characters, the unrealistic holiness, and the too-good-to-be-true heartthrob. (And let’s not even get started on that other creature, Amish fiction. Ugh.) So I’ve vowed a hundred times that I’ll never read Christian romance/chick-lit again. Well, let’s just say I’m very glad I broke my own rule with this one.
I puffy cartoon hearts adored this book. I know, that doesn’t sound very professional or Book Reviewer-ish, but it’s true. Start to finish, every single word, I loved Save the Date.
Lucy has had some hard knocks in her life. She grew up poor, the only child of a house-cleaning single mom. She worked her way through college and has been on her own since her mother’s death. She lives in Charleston, South Carolina, and runs Saving Grace, a home for young women who have aged-out of the foster system but still aren’t quite ready to be out on their own. Her best-friends are a group of self-described science fiction nerds. Things seem to be going okay for Lucy. She’d been dating Matt, a reliable but boring accountant. Just when Lucy thought Matt would propose to her, he broke up with her and moved away.
Fast-forward and Saving Grace loses most of its funding. Lucy is lonely and worried about Saving Grace, wondering how she’s going to keep it all afloat. But then Alex Sinclair comes along. He’s an old classmate from Lucy’s childhood, a former NFL quarterback, and a congressional hopeful. He also happens to be irrevocably tied to the foundation that’s just cut Lucy’s funding.
What happens next seems implausible but is completely believable in the hands of Jenny B. Jones and her gift for storytelling. And I’m not going to tell you what that something is, because the book is so good you should read it yourself. It’s often laugh-out-loud funny, incredibly sweet and endearing, and more than just a little romantic.
What I love the most about Jones’ writing is her characters. She has quite a knack for creating fully-formed folks you think you could know. I want to be friends with Lucy. I want her to be real! And call me crazy, but I had a hard time not picturing Eli Manning as Alex. I mean, come on.
Save the Date strikes that perfect balance between secular and Christian romance/chick-lit. It’s not profane as some secular offerings are, and it’s not at all sickly-sweet as some Christian ones are. It’s instead a delightful read full of delightful characters from an author whose other books I’ll now seek out and gobble up. (less)
Well, that was a quick read. I zipped through it in a couple hours this afternoon.
I'm from the Mississippi Delta (Clarksdale, to be exact, though I li...moreWell, that was a quick read. I zipped through it in a couple hours this afternoon.
I'm from the Mississippi Delta (Clarksdale, to be exact, though I lived for a few years in Greenville, and my Southern girl street cred is further established by a degree from Ole Miss) and I expected this to be funny and a happy reminder of my upbringing. Instead, I read a tart and acerbic screed by two wholly unkind and unlikeable rhymes-with-witches. What a terribly unpleasant picture they've painted of the South, and of Southern mothers and daughters. Trust me: we don't all fit their snooty stereotype. Some of us love our home and ancestry with a fierce devotion but actually have compassion for others and original thoughts of our own.
As far as I’m concerned, Jen Lancaster is the queen of the memoir. She’s written five: Bitter Is the New Black; Bright Lights...moreReview here at my blog.
As far as I’m concerned, Jen Lancaster is the queen of the memoir. She’s written five: Bitter Is the New Black; Bright Lights, Big Ass; Such A Pretty Fat; Pretty in Plaid; and My Fair Lazy. She has a knack for making her life seem a lot more hilarious than the rest of ours, and she can turn an event that probably took five seconds in real life into a pages-long, pratfall-filled romp. I love her books. I laugh out loud reading them, I gasp for air, I make my husband lean over in bed to read over my shoulder when I’m laughing so hard I can’t speak. Jen’s a great memoirist.
I was excited to hear her next book would be fiction. Everyone who reads her knows she’s an excellent writer and storyteller. But fiction is a challenge if you’ve never really done it before (just as the memoir is a challenge to a fiction writer). Could Jen pull it off?
Well, yes and no. You see that I’ve given the book five stars. It would be hard for me not to give one of her books five stars. I’ve read her blog, her books, her Facebook and Twitter feeds for so long that I feel like I know her. She’s always funny. She lets fans into her life in a way most authors don’t. So I’m predisposed to love everything she writes. And I did love this. Just not at first.
The book’s stars, Mia and Mac, are married, (happily) childless, and live in Chicago in a neighborhood that’s just about too violent. They’re renting the perfect house, but they don’t feel safe, so they begin a search for a house in the suburbs where their dogs can run free in a big backyard, and where Mia and Mac can feel safe but still be close to their friends in the city.
Anyone who knows Jen at all sees the obvious parallels. She is Mia (three-letter name!) and her husband, Fletch, is Mac (last name nickname!). Both couples have pit bulls (real one: Maisy; fictional one: Daisy). Both have a herd of near-insane kittens with badass names. Both lived in a spotty neighborhood in a house that’s utter perfection. Both couples struggled to find the perfect house in the ‘burbs, and finally found one with major fix-up needs, though the real Jen and Fletch obviously got the nicer house. The fictional friends’ names and occupations are even similar to their real friends. At first, I felt mildly annoyed about and uncomfortable with all this. How was Jen changing names, but basically writing another memoir? How could she get away with that?
But as the book goes on – and this is what really saves it – the similarities end. Mia and Mac experience house woes of such an epic, money pit level that I found myself thankful Jen and Fletch didn’t really go through any of it. Jen throws in terrific John Hughes references throughout the book (it’s dedicated to him, in fact). Their neighbors are comically awful. The money they spend would make anyone blanch.
And there’s a great story woven throughout, of Mia being a young adult novelist who’s written a series of books about young Amish zombies in love. And if that seems ridiculous, then you’ll love her digs at Stephenie Meyer’s young vampires in love. Jen wrote a caveat that she’s actually a huge fan of Meyer’s, and if you’ve seen her re-enactment of the Twilight saga with Barbie dolls, then you’ll know the jabs are purely for literary effect.
So in the end, this is yet another fantastic bit of fun from my favorite writer. It wobbled a bit at first but ended up being exactly the kind of warm, funny, bawdy experience I’ve come to expect from Jen Lancaster. I hope she writes more fiction, but I certainly hope she doesn’t abandon the memoir!(less)