Friday, August 31, 2012

Book Review: Wintergirls

I just finished reading Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson.  First of all, this book left me impressed with the author's versatility, as the voice and style were completely different than her Chains and Forge, which I read earlier this year.  I hear that the style is similar to her first best-seller, Speak, but I haven't had a chance to read that one yet.

In Wintergirls, we meet Lia, an 18-year-old with a severe eating disorder.  She has already been hospitalized twice for anorexia, but she refuses to admit that she's sick.  As the novel begins, she has just been informed of the death of her best friend, Cassie.  Cassie died alone, in a seedy motel room, from causes that no one is quite sure of..... after calling Lia 33 times, during which Lia refused to pick up the phone.

Cassie and Lia have been best friends since they were children.  When Cassie was 11, she began making herself vomit.  Her habits grow into eight years of ever-intensifying bulimia, which eventually leads to her death.  Only Lia is able to understand Cassie's motivations.  But then, Lia is no stranger to destructive impulses herself.  When she is 13, she begins cutting herself as an outlet for the pain she feels over her parents' divorce and disinterest in her.  Shortly thereafter, she and Cassie enter into a pact to become the skinniest girls in their school, no matter what the cost.  The pact becomes a competition between them, with Cassie binging and purging and Lia starving herself.

And now Cassie is dead and Lia is left alone.  She was already mentally and emotionally unstable (not to mention physically), but Cassie's death sends her over the edge.  She believes that she sees Cassie's ghost everywhere, and that Cassie wants Lia to join her in death.

This book was EXTREMELY powerful.  It is written entirely in Lia's voice and vividly demonstrates the destructive self-talk that led to her eating disorder and cutting.  She immediately assesses the caloric count of every food she comes into contact with, and even the chapter headings are written in the format of pounds of a scale.  The imagery is a bit heavy at times, but I did not feel that detracted from the story.  Lia's voice was strong and absorbing.  I can't say that I actually "enjoyed" this book; I cringed continually while reading it.  The descriptions made me feel that I was truly in Lia's world, trapped inside her personal horror story.  Wintergirls is definitely not for the faint of heart.

I especially enjoyed the Guardian's review of Wintergirls; I thought that it provided an excellent explanation of what made this novel so exceptional.  You can read it here.

Book Review: Where We Belong

After re-reading some of my other Emily Giffin favorites, I finally got to sit down and read her new relase, Where We Belong.  It has been an All-Emily Giffin August for me thus far, as this is my fourth of her works this month.  (But I'm pretty sure I'm going to be able to squeeze in one more book by a different author by the end of the month.)

I was very excited to pick up Where We Belong, first because I love Giffin's writing, and second because this book dealt with a very different topic than her previous works.  Her previous novels have focused primarily on romantic relationships, with side storylines delving into friendships.  This new book, however, tells the story of a mother and the daughter she gave up for adoption.

When Marian Caldwell was 18, she looked forward to a perfect life--college, then grad school, then a career in television production, all peppered with wealth and perfect relationships.  But in the summer between high school and college, she falls in love with Conrad Knight.  Conrad isn't from "her world" of college-bound high-achievers.  He's a musician, who thinks and feels things deeply, and he's not planning on any kind of higher education.  They have an unspoken understanding that as much as they may care for each other, they both understand that their relationship can only endure for the summer.

But then Marian misses her period.  Conrad swears that he will love and support her, no matter what.  She takes a pregnancy test.... and it's positive.  But in a split-second, gut-instinct decision, she lies to Conrad and tells him that it's negative.  Later that day, she breaks up with him.  She then goes on to ignore his phonecalls, thus severing any contact with him.

She confesses the truth to her mother but swears her to secrecy, even from her own father (who yes, is still married to her mother).  She plans to get an abortion.... but once she's on the table in the clinic, she can't go through with it.  She decides to give the baby up for adoption instead.  So she defers her college admission for a year and goes to live at her family's lake cottage, where she endures her pregnancy in complete secrecy, except for occassional visits from her mother.  She gives birth to a baby girl on April Fool's Day and gives her up for adoption three days later.  Then she continues on with her original life plan, attending college, then grad school, then becoming a successful television producer, all without ever telling her father, the baby's father, or anyone else that the child exists.  She thinks of the baby frequently over the years, but she keeps her secret, intent on achieving that perfect life she dreamed of.

Now Marian is 36 years old, living in New York City.  Her life does look perfect.  She has a beautiful penthouse apartment, a successful television series, and a handsome, wealthy boyfriend.  She wants to get married and have children, but he's hesitating.

On the same night that Marian and her boyfriend have a fight about his unwillingness to commit, 18-year-old Kirby Rose shows up on Marian's doorstep: the daughter that she has kept a secret for all these years.

After meeting Kirby, Marian's certainties begin to unravel.  She recognizes that giving Kirby up for adoption was the best thing for Kirby.... but was it the best thing for her?  Is her life really all that she wants it to be?  What harm has she done to herself, her daughter, Conrad, and all of her other relationships by keeping Kirby's birth a secret?  And can those relationships ever be repaired?

The narration in this book switches back and forth between Marian and Kirby.  As is typical with my reactions to Emily Giffin novels, I didn't particularly love either character.  (I did kind of love Conrad, but he's pretty one-dimensional.)  Yet I did love the story, in which both women explored where they "belonged" in the world.  The ending left me aching for a sequel, in which I could make sure that both of them ended up in healthy, happy relationships--yet a sequel of that nature would really spoil the original story, where relationships are shown to be something that must be built carefully over time.

The back of the book includes some blurbs from professional reviews that I felt really described my feelings on Giffin.  People magazine said, "Giffin's talent lies in taking relatable situations and injecting enough with and suspense to make them feel fresh."  True--while the storyline was far from unique, the characters' lives and reactions still captivated me.  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said, "Giffin excels at creating complex characters and stories that ask us to explore what we really want from our lives."  Also true--while I haven't particularly loved any of Giffin's characters (or the situations in which they find themselves), I just can't seem to stop reading her works, because they all leave me with such interesting contemplations on what the "right" choices are, both for the characters and for myself.  If you're a fan of Giffin, I definitely recommend this book, particularly as an interesting departure from her usual topics.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Book Review: The Diary of Darcy J. Rhone

This short novella is a must-read for any fan of Emily Giffin's Something Borrowed and Something Blue.  It is available only in ebook form and is quite short, just over 20 pages.  It was published basically as a teaser for Giffin's newest release, Where We Belong, and the downloaded pages contain three chapters (just over 40 pages) of the new book.

I read The Diary of Darcy J. Rhone all in one sitting, thinking that it would tide me over until I could get my hands on a copy of Where We Belong.  But I simply loved it so much that instead, I went back and re-read both Something Borrowed and Something Blue, pushing Where We Belong down several spots on my reading list.

The Diary is written as journal entries by a teenage Darcy, telling about various episodes in she and her best friend Rachel's high school experience.  Nearly all of the events in the Diary are referenced in Something Borrowed and Something Blue--though often there from Rachel and Ethan's points of view.  Since I absolutely loved the voice of Darcy, it was fun to read about those events from her perspective.  The high school Darcy was every bit as shallow and self-absorbed as we would have expected.... But for the first time, we see her true appreciation for her friend Rachel and her steadying influence in her life.

For any fan of Darcy and Rachel, this novella is a quick, satisfying, cute read.  If you're like me and do not yet own an ereader, you can download a Nook app from Barnes and Noble's website and then read the book on your computer.

Happy reading, everyone!

Book Review: Something Blue

I recently re-read Emily Giffin's Something Blue, which I read for the first time about two years ago.  Something Blue is a companion to her first bestselling novel, Something Borrowed, and in my opinion, definitely the stronger of the two.

Something Borrowed ends (spoiler alert!) with Darcy Rhone breaking off her engagement to Dex.... then confessing to her best friend Rachel that she has been having an affair with groomsman Marcus and is now pregnant with his child.... and then discovering a boxer-clad Dex hiding in Rachel's closet, thus leading to the realization that Dex and Rachel have been having an affair of their own.  All in about 10 pages.  So clearly, this was begging for a sequel.

While Something Borrowed is told from Rachel's point of view, Something Blue is wholly Darcy's story.  It picks up right where SoBo left off, with Darcy storming out of Rachel's apartment.  Darcy has always led a charmed, perfect life, getting exactly what she wants.  She is spoiled, selfish, and shallow--the kind of woman you'd never want to be friends with in real life, but who manages to be utterly captivating in fiction.

In Something Blue, though, Darcy's charmed life takes a series of dramatic turns.  First, she decides that having a baby with her boyfriend is a "hip, trendy" thing to do--her primary concern is that it might slow down her social life.  But after learning about Dex and Rachel's relationship, she is overcome by jealousy and regret.  She cannot seem to stop fixating on them, their supposed betrayal of her, and the current status of their relationship.  Her parents completely disapprove of Marcus (with good reason) and are shocked to learn of her pregnancy, and Darcy reacts with typical selfish immaturity, cutting off all communication with them.  And then Marcus breaks up with her--the first time in her entire life that she has been on the receiving end of a breakup.  When her socialite friend Claire tries to reassure her with promises of setting her up with another eligible bachelor, Darcy confesses her pregnancy to Claire.  Not only does Claire utterly ditch Darcy as a friend, but she spreads the juicy gossip about her situation.  In a fit of anger, Darcy takes an open-ended leave of absence from her glamourous PR firm (where Claire also works).  And suddenly, the girl who has always had a perfect life is utterly alone--friendless, jobless, boyfriendless, not speaking to her own parents, and pregnant.

Rather than making any amends, Darcy sweet-talks her childhood friend Ethan into letting her come to London to visit him.  He thinks it will be for a few weeks, tops; she plans to make the relocation permanent.  She spends her early weeks in London burning through her savings by purchasing designer clothes and keeping a lookout for rich, eligible, handsome men that might not mind the fact that she's pregnant with another man's child.  And remarkably, she finds one.  It seems like she's on track to get back her perfect life.

But she also learns that she's not going to have the beautiful little girl she envisioned.... rather, she's having twin boys.  As a single, jobless mom.  Yikes.  And then, in the midst of the pregnancy hormones and self-pity over how rough her life is, Ethan lays into her about how poorly she treated Rachel for all the years of their friendship and how irresponsible her current lifestyle is.  And she actually listens and takes his words to heart.  And slowly, the shallow Darcy begins to grow into a character that we can not only like, but admire.

While I always love Emily Giffin's writing, I typically do not like her characters very much.  I simply cannot sympathize with most of them.  But I absolutely LOVED Darcy's voice in Something Blue.  She was utterly selfish and completely unapologetic.  She was charismatic and unabashed.  And somehow, in spite of the fact that she "had it coming to her," I found myself rooting for her entirely.  I consider this a huge win for Emily Giffin, who drew Darcy's character so beautifully that readers grew to love her in spite of themselves.  There's nothing "literary" or substansive about this book, but it was a charming treat--much like Darcy herself.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorites


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly event hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week's topic is "top ten best books you've read since starting your blog."  Well.  That is HARD.  I've modified it slightly in order to make it a *little* easier to answer.  First, I considered only the books that I've read in 2011 and 2012, all of which are reviewed on this blog (which I technically only launched this week, but included older reviews on).  Secondly, I only allowed myself one title per author... which cut the list down considerably where some of my favorites are concerned.  So here they are, in no particular order:

1. John Green - It is truly a toss-up which of his makes my list.  Looking for Alaska was my introduction to John Green, so maybe that should be listed because it's the one that inspired me to read all his others.  Paper Towns *might* have been my favorite because of the wide range of emotions that it covered.  But I simply couldn't put down The Fault in Our Stars or Will Grayson, Will Grayson either.

2. Sarah Dessen - Again, a tough choice.  This Lullaby was the book that started my obsession with her.  What Happened to Goodbye and Along for the Ride also get honorable mentions, but my favorite might have been Just Listen.

3. Scott Westerfeld - I absolutely adored his trilogy about characters Tally and Shay, so I'll list Uglies (the first book) here.

4. Lauren Oliver - While I loved her dystopian Delirium and its subsequent series (anxiously awaiting the last book!), I have to say that Before I Fall is the one that has really stayed with me.

5. Ransom Riggs - I really enjoyed Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, not just for the excellent storyline, but also for the fascinating photographs that accompanied it.  I'm looking forward to seeing more from him.

6. Maggie Stiefvater - I devoured her Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy, but the first book in it (Shiver) was definitely weaker than the other two (Linger and Forever).

7. Swati Avasthi - Split was a realistic, engrossing story about a survivor of abuse.  This was Avasthi's first book, and I'm very interested to see how she follows it up.

8. Jenny Han - Oh, how I loved The Summer I Turned Pretty!  I can hardly wait to get my hands on the sequel.

9. Stephanie Perkins - Although I was initially turned off by the cheesy title, I truly loved Anna and the French Kiss.  Looking forward to reading more from her!

10. Emily Giffin - While I do tend to have a problem with not liking her main characters, I just love Giffin's writing.  Since I just finished re-reading Something Blue, I'll list that as my contribution for her.

Honorable Mentions:
I remembered these after posting my Top 10... I couldn't bring myself to cut any of the ones I previously posted, but these are definitely worth a read as well:
* Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
* When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
* the Crank trilogy by Ellen Hopkins

What are YOUR favorites?  What do I need to pick up next?

Book Review: Something Borrowed

While waiting to get my hands on Emily Giffin's new release (Where We Belong), I reread her debut novel, Something Borrowed.  As always, the book version is infinitely better than the movie, which made some changes to the characters that I think will really impact the sequel (Something Blue).

In Something Borrowed, Giffin tells the story of Rachel White, a New York lawyer stuck in a tedious job.  For her entire life, Rachel has played second fiddle to her glamorous, confident best friend, Darcy Rhone.  Darcy is brazen and brash, gorgeous, self-confident, and materialistic.  Darcy has always led a charmed life, with the perfect job and the perfect man just appearing as a matter of course.  The story begins on the night of Rachel's 30th birthday, when Darcy (predictably) throws her a surprise party and seizes the opportunity to steal the show.  What's not so predictable is that after Darcy goes home drunk, Rachel goes out for "one more drink" with Darcy's fiance Dex.... and the two end up sleeping together. 

The next day, Rachel realizes that she should be racked with guilt, yet can seem to summon up very little of that emotion.  Instead, she starts to recognize her long-buried attraction to Dex and resentment for Darcy.  Thus launches an affair between Rachel and Dex.  Most of the story centers around the "what ifs": What if Rachel had started dating Dex herself when they were in law school together, instead of introducing him to Darcy?  What if they continue their affair?  What if Dex calls off the wedding?  What if Rachel loses her lifelong best friend?

I truly enjoyed Giffin's writing in this book.  It was the first of hers that I read (first read it two years ago), and it inspired me to read all her others.  However, I actually don't enjoy the storyline very much.  I simply don't like Rachel as a character.  Her entire life is stuck in a state of limbo due to her lack of initiative.  In this book, she justifies her affair with her best friend's fiance by telling herself that Darcy has taken advantage of her for their entire lives.... but that apparently Rachel didn't recognize this until she fell in love with Darcy's fiance.  Then she comes up with all kinds of examples of how Darcy has apparently wronged her throughout their 25-year friendship.  In this case, it seems to me that it's Rachel, not Darcy, who's the bad friend.  At least Darcy, while somewhat shallow, is open and honest about her emotions instead of letting them fester for two decades.

Furthermore, the rest of Rachel's life also displays a lack of action.  In college, she dated a boy named Joey for several years, in spite of the fact that they had nothing in common and that she was actually interested in someone else.  But hey, Joey liked her, so might as well date him.  In law school and after, she clung to her boyfriend Nate as a security blanket, something to make her life transitions easier.  As an adult, her only significant romantic relationship has been with a guy that she wasn't even all that attracted to or interested in, simply progressing because he was interested in her.  And now, she's in this relationship with Dex--simply because he finally acted on his long-hidden feelings for her and she is too indecisive to end the relationship (or to ask him to leave his fiance for her and legitimatize their relationship). 

Likewise, Rachel is stuck in a job she hates, doing menial tasks at her law firm for a senior partner, with no sign that the situation will ever change.... because she's not going to do anything to change it.  When she finally makes an independent decision (to fly to London to visit her lifelong friend Ethan), the reader begins to hope that maybe she'll get a fresh start and turn her life around.  But nope, she returns home to the newly-single Dex, and we end the novel with Rachel feeling happier than she ever has been before.  So apparently all she needed was a man to make her happy?  It no longer matters that her job is on a dead-end track, or that she's lost her lifelong best friend and alienated her own parents in the process?  She's got the guy (who, it seems to me, is not that much of a prize, given his lengthy indiscretion and dishonesty while engaged), so all must be well.

In spite of my problems with Rachel's character, though, I truly enjoyed Giffin's writing.  She neatly weaves together the present with Rachel's memories of growing up.  In spite of having created an unlikable character and a story in which the reader is encouraged to root for the "other woman," her storytelling prowess is clear.  This is why I stuck with Giffin to read Something Blue, where Darcy gets a chance to speak for herself.  Several of Giffin's other books (Baby Proof and Heart of the Matter) also try to get the reader to root for a rather (in my opinion) unsympathetic character, yet somehow, Giffin pulls it off with style.  Recommended to women who enjoy some drama.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Welcome

Welcome to Blatant Bibliophilia!  I'm launching this site today, as a spin-off from my family blog.

I am a former English teacher and future librarian who loves books of all kinds, with a special passion for Young Adult literature.  Here, you can find book reviews, links, and other goodies related the books I've read recently.  Something else you want to see added?  Leave me a comment and let me know.

Happy reading, everyone!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Book Review: The Power of Six

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

The second book in the Lorien Legacies series (and I've read that the series will eventually have either 3 or 6 books). Ben read these too and couldn't put them down.

For a complete review, check out Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: Girls in Pants

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

Clearly, the third book in the Traveling Pants series. This leaves me with only one more reread to go before I can enjoy Sisterhood Everlasting. I hope it lives up to my expectations

For a complete review, check out Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: The Second Summer of the Sisterhood

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

Obviously, the second book in the Traveling Pants series. In spite of the fact that these were rereads, I have to admit to shedding a few tears during each book. Blame it on my out-of-control pregnancy emotions. ;)

For a more complete review, check out Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

I had actually already read the first four books in this series (and loved them, because I'm a sucker for teenagers and lifelong friendship) and was really excited to see a few months ago that Ann Brashares had published a follow-up book, telling what happened to the girls 10 years after the last book (it's called Sisterhood Everlasting). I'm very excited to read that book, but thought that I should reread the others first in order to fully appreciate it.

For a more complete review, check out Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: I Am Number Four

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

After all the hype about the movie (which I didn't see until after I read the book, and didn't like), I figured that the Lorien Legacies series was the next big thing in YA dystopian fiction. I felt a lot about this book like I felt about the Maze Runner trilogy: great plot, but not so great writing (although I would say that this is better written than the Maze Runner). Still probably worth checking out, but only if you're okay with starting a series and then not finishing it, as only the first two books have been published so far (grr).

For a more complete review, check out Book Love or Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: Running Out of Time

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

Even better than her Turnabout. It's the story of a girl who thinks she lives in the 1800s, but then learns that she and her family are actually part of a "historic colony" that is observed almost constantly by tourists. Crazy stuff; good book.

For a more complete review, check out Goodreads.

Book Review: Paper Towns

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

This is a really tough call, since I have loved all of John Green's books, but I think this one might have been my favorite. A teenage boy's next-door neighbor (and long-time crush) disappears, but she has left behind clues that only he can follow. It's both philosophical and hilarious. Run to your library and get it.

For a more complete review, check out Book Love or Bookshelves of Doom.

Book Review: Extras

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

This one isn't exactly part of the Uglies trilogy, but rather a follow-up to it, set in the same society but with different characters. It was okay. (Not exactly a glowing endorsement, I know.) I'm still a big Westerfeld fan, but this one kind of left me cold. I think the trilogy stands better without it.

For a more complete review, check out Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: Mercy

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

Before this year, I would have said that Jodi Picoult was one of my very favorite authors. I have loved everything that I have read by her previously. But since I discovered so many great new authors this year, I only read one of her books. Mercy (focusing on the concept of mercy killing) was definitely my least favorite of Jodi Picoult's books; I actually struggled to finish it. The topic was fascinating, but I really didn't like the characters at all and felt like too much attention was given to a sub-plot. I wouldn't recommend this one, but I'm still planning on reading more Jodi Picoult in 2012.

For a more complete review, check out Kirkus Reviews.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Book Review: Specials

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

Once again, did I mention that I devoured the Uglies books? This is the third in the trilogy.

For a complete review, check out Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: Pretties

Original blurb pubished on January 1, 2012.

This is the second book in the Uglies series, and as I mentioned, I devoured it. It's really a toss-up whether I liked the first or second one better.

For a more complete review, check out Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: Uglies

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

This was probably one of my favorite books of the year. Tally lives in a society where everyone has surgery to make them beautiful on their 16th birthday.... but at what cost? I devoured this entire series and plan to do more Westerfeld in 2012. A must-read for anyone who likes dystopian literature.

For a more complete review, check out I'd Rather Be Reading or Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: The Scorch Trials

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

This is the second book in the Maze Runner trilogy. I didn't like it as much as the first one, but I still devoured it. I still think that James Dashner's writing leaves a lot to be desired, but dang, he comes up with some good plots.

For a more complete review, check out Book Love or Bookshelves of Doom.

Book Review: That Summer

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

I didn't like this one as much as This Lullaby, but since this was the first book that Sarah Dessen published, it stands to reason that she's gotten better over the years. A teenage girl faces a summer in which both her father and her sister are getting married, and she longs for the simplicity of an earlier summer.

For a more complete review, check out Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: Turnabout

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

I read this one in conjunction with my old book club and then drove down to Indy to make a guest appearance and discuss. It was a fascinating concept--reversing the concept of aging, until these women who were 160+ years old were teenagers again and facing the reality that in a few years, they'd be babies again, unable to care for themselves.

For a more complete review, check out Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

I decided to give the Cohn/Levithan combo another try, particularly since I'd heard so many good things about this movie (I know, I know, the book and the movie are never the same....). I really didn't like this one and had a hard time finishing it. Doesn't make my list of recs.

For a more complete review, check out Bookshelves of Doom or Kirkus Reviews.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Book Review: Blink and Caution

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

I also picked this one up for the YA book group through IUPUI. It's about two homeless teenagers, both on the run from their past and getting into plenty of trouble in the present. There were some parts that I wanted to be better-developed, but overall, thumbs up.

For a more complete review, check out Book Love or Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: Heart of the Matter

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

This is her newest book (and as I said, I've read all of them). I thought it was her best by far. It alternates narrators, from the wife to the potential mistress. It contemplates what makes a marriage, what makes a family, and what those things are worth. Read it (you'll find it in the adult fiction section).

For a more complete review, check out the Washington Post.

Book Review: The Maze Runner

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

Thomas wakes up in a box (actually a sort of elevator), knowing nothing but his name. From there, he is deposited in a colony of all boys, who seem to be held prisoner by forces unknown, with the only imaginable way out to be a maze (whose walls rearrange every night) filled with nightmarish creatures. Loved the story, but I thought the writing left a lot to be desired. If you're into dystopian literature, though, (which I am) I'd recommended it as a good, quick read.

For a more complete review, check out I'd Rather Be Reading or Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

This one took me a long time to read, largely because I had to return it in the middle of my reading in order for us to move, and I didn't pick up another copy for a good long while. I read it with my book club (though I finished way after them). It's the true story of a poor black woman named Henrietta who died of cancer. Her cells were taken without her permission or knowledge, and they went on to form the well-known culture of HeLa, which has been used in an incredible amount of important experiments over the years. It's filled with science, history, and family. It found it to be both shocking and depressing, but I'd still recommend it.

For a more complete review, check out Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: This Lullaby

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

This was my first book by Sarah Dessen, and it started my obsession with her. I've only read two of her books to date, but I plan on burning through all the rest of them in 2012. In the summer before she goes to college, Remy finally faces her abandonment/love issues, and discovers that falling in love isn't always a choice. If you like both YA lit and chick lit (which I didn't know that I did until Sarah Dessen and Emily Giffin), you need to read Sarah Dessen.

For a more complete review, check out Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: Ship Breaker

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

This one has gotten a good bit of buzz in YA circles this year, and I picked it up because the Young Adult book group from IUPUI (which I have never actually attended, but often read along with) was reading it. I was disappointed. I thought the whole thing (poor boy saves rich girl, overcomes his personal demons, and is rewarded) was pretty predictable and dull.

For more complete (and more positive) reviews, check out Book Love and I'd Rather Be Reading.

Book Review: An Abundance of Katherines

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

Another win for John Green! The narrator, a prodigy of a teenage boy, has been dumped by 19 successive Katherines. During a road trip to "find himself," he also tries to develp a mathematical formula for deterining dumpage. Great book. It was probably my least favorite of John Green's books, but that's only because I loved them all, and I would still rank it higher than a lot of other books on this list.

For a more complete review, check out Bookshelves of Doom or Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: Love the One You're With

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

Here, a woman runs into the former love of her life on the street, and he wants to reconnect. Problem: she's happily (at least until then) married to a man who is much better for her. This book explores the "what ifs" of marriage and the lives we could have had. My favorite of Emily Giffin's to date.

For a more complete review, check out Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: Dash and Lily's Book of Dares

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.


I'd heard really good things about this one, and I really liked the basic premise, which is that a boy finds a red moleskin book tucked away in a bookstore, filled with clues that will lead him to a girl. Cohn and Levithan alternate the chapters, and both Dash and Lily are nicely developed. All in all, I should have loved it, but I thought it was just all right.

For a more complete review, check out Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: Glass

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

See, I told you I ran right out to get the sequel to Crank. In this book, Kristina's addiction worsens and we see more of the consequences for her family and loved ones.

For a more complete review, check out Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: Crank

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

It sounds like a weird book: it is written entirely in poetry (mostly free verse) and tells the story of a teenage girl's addiction to and struggle with meth. Not to pun on the theme, but I found it totally addictive. I rushed out and read both of the sequels (even begging my local library to order the second one for me), and I plan to do more Ellen Hopkins in the coming year. It's a thick book, but it goes quickly because of the form.

For a more complete review, check out Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: The Tale of Despereaux

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

As is the case with every book that has ever been made into a movie.... this book is better. At its core, the book is about a mouse who befriends a princess, and how they together manage to save the kingdom from despair. The book has way more storylines though, also telling the story of a (questionably) evil rat and a lonely servant girl.

For a more complete review, check out Kirkus Reviews.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Book Review: Prairie Songs

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

A hardy pioneer girl tells the story of the lovely schoolteacher from the East who comes to live in a dugout near them, and how she cannot endure the loneliness of the prairie. Pretty depressing with the woman, but the girl loves the prairie's open freedom and paints some beautiful pictures of it. It's an older book and written for a younger audience, so probably not one that you need to run out and get (unless you, like me, have a history as a huge fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder).

From a book talk I prepared for my Materials For Youth class in April 2011:

Louisa Downing has lived her entire life on the Nebraska prairie.  As a baby, she slept inside a dresser drawer in her family’s house made of sod.  As she has grown up, she’s learned how to tack muslin fabric to the ceiling of her family’s house to keep dirt from falling in on them, how to gather wildflowers while avoiding snakes, and how to collect buffalo droppings to burn as fuel in a land where no trees grow.  She loves the wide beauty of the prairie and finds comfort in its emptiness.
Then one day, a new settler arrives.  Doctor Berryman has traveled all the way from New York with his beautiful, frail, pregnant wife, Emmeline.  The settlers are thrilled to have a real doctor nearby for the first time.  While Doc travels the countryside to tend to his new patients, Louisa and her younger brother Lester begin taking lessons from Emmeline.  She has brought more books with her from the city than Louisa had ever dreamed existed, and through her lessons, Louisa falls in love with the beauty of poetry.

But through getting to know Emmeline, Louisa also learns that not everyone love prairie life as she does.  All Emmeline sees are the hardships—the dirtiness, the hard work, the wild animals, the unfriendly Indians, the lack of supplies, and worst of all, the loneliness.  Soon Louisa begins to wonder along with the adults—will Emmeline Berryman be able to survive the prairie?

Book Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.


I also read this one for book club. I can't really say that I liked it; it skipped all over the place way too much for a logical, organized person like me. :) The narrator was a teenage autistic British boy, and it chronicles his quest to find out who killed his neighbor's dog (and incidentally uncover the truth about his mother's disappearance).

For a more complete review, check out Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

Authors John Green and David Levithan alternate chapters to tell the stories of two teenagers named Will Grayson, who both happen to live in the Chicago suburbs and end up meeting in a most unconventional way. Loved it! Both storylines were great, and it only made me love John Green more.

From my review for Materials For Youth class, written in April 2011:

Considering Will Grayson, Will Grayson as realistic fiction, as defined by Donelson and Nilson (2005), as quoted in the lecture by Dr. Moeller:

PLOT: Is it “interesting and believable… centering around a problem that a young person might really have,” yet not “predictable”?
At its core, Will Grayson, Will Grayson tells the stories of teenagers who experience conflict in both friendship and romance—which are problems that basically every teenager experiences at some point.  Both Wills feel friendless at times, struggle to understand their own romantic feelings (both heterosexual and homosexual), and grow immensely in their relationships with their parents.  According to Jessica Miller, “the authors address friendship, self-identity and acceptance, true love, family, and prejudice” (62).  From these overarching ideas, Green and Levithan create a memorable story.  In no way could readers predict a novel in which Will begins to acknowledge his feels for Jane at a GSA meeting, or the two Wills would eventually cross paths at a Chicago porn shop.


CHARACTERS: Are they realistic, with a “balance of good and negative qualities,” neither “too good or too bad to be believed”?
All of the major characters have both good and bad moments.  Will isn’t initially a very sympathetic friend to Tiny in the present, but their shared memories of childhood explain the depth of their friendship.  will (lowercase) is full of angst most of the time, but in assembling all of Chicago’s Will Graysons at the end, he shows that he has learned to appreciate other people.  As Claire E. Gross writes, “The Wills are almost painfully easy to relate to” (81).  Tiny is the biggest surprise of all—no pun intended.  While he falls in and out of love frequently and seems to take Will’s friendship for granted, his last conversation with will (243-246) reveals how deeply he does feel hurt and his production of “Hold Me Closer” demonstrates his deep appreciation of Will’s ongoing friendship.  Even Maura, who is portrayed as a “hag” for most of the book, is given a bit of a reprieve in her final conversation with will (276-277), in which she reveals her own sadness.


SETTING: Does it contribute to the story, and is it “described so the reader can get the intended picture”?
Both Wills’ worlds are described with enough detail to allow the reader to visualize them.  I particularly loved how Tiny recreated the most significant scenes (such as the baseball dugout he shared with Will, or the swingset where he broke up with will) for his musical.


THEME: Is it “worthwhile” and “leave the reader with something to think about” without being “preachy”?  Does it have “universal appeal so that it speaks to more than a single group of readers”?
The book begins with a memorable scene in which Will disproves the old adage and concludes, “In short: I cannot pick my friend; he cannot pick his nose; and I can—nay, I must—pick it for him” (21).  While the life lessons do become more serious after this, they do not become any less memorable.  Diane P. Tuccillo writes, “Based on the premises that ‘love is tied to truth’ and being friends, that’s just something you are,’ this powerful, thought-provoking, funny, moving, and unique plot is irresistible” (158).


STYLE: Is the dialogue natural, or is it “forced or inappropriate to the characters”?
The characters speak with beautifully natural voices.  Each Will Grayson is completely distinct, and Tiny has his own unique voice as well.  Texts, IM conversations, and song lyrics are woven neatly into the text.  However, according to Library Media Connection, “The language is extremely graphic with excessive profanity” (71), so I would only recommend this book for high school age or older.

Book Review: Frindle

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

This one is a classic of late elementary/early middle literature, but I had never read it. It's about a boy (who is not usually a troublemaker, or so he claims) who convinces his entire class to call "pens" "frindles" instead, which incenses his extremely strict English teacher, who happens to deeply love the dictionary. Dunlap people, the teacher totally reminded me of Mrs. Applen.

From my review for Materials For Youth class, written in April 2011:

 As Tunnell and Jacobs say, the “one unfailing earmark of a good novel” is that it “must tell a satisfying story” (128). In this regard, I would say that Frindle is a huge success. I personally loved the book, and based on the long list of awards that it has won, I’d say I’m not alone in that. The book has also been made into a play, which recently appeared at Butler’s Clowes Hall (if I’d read this book sooner, I would have wanted to go!).

In regard to Donelson and Nilson’s (2005) criteria for solid realistic fiction, as quoted by Dr. Moe in this week’s lecture:

*
 Plot that is “interesting and believable . . . centering around a problem that a young person might really have,” although not “predictable” – While few of us have been cursed with appearances on Good Morning, America or multi-million dollar trust funds, I think that most students can relate to the impulse to challenge authority in some way. Certainly kids don’t always understand teachers’ rules, and every kid will be able to relate to Nick’s desire to cleverly waste class time. We teachers would like to believe that some students will also be able to relate to Nick’s love of learning as well.   And the novel is certainly not predictable, as kids make up words all the time without consequence!

*
 Characters who possess a balance of “good and negative qualities,” yet are neither “too good or too bad to be believed” – While Nick is a troublemaker (though a lovable one) who throws his entire school into chaos, he also maintains a deep respect for Mrs. Grange and genuinely loves learning. And while Mrs. Granger may have “chosen to be the villain” (Clements 99), she clearly cared deeply about her students and taught them well—both about the dictionary and about how to think for themselves.

*  Setting should be “described so that the reader can get the intended picture” and contribute to the story – Lincoln Elementary School and the quiet little town of Westfield, New Hampshire, were both drawn with sufficient detail for the reader to envision how the “frindle phenomenon” disrupted their daily routines.

*  Theme is “worthwhile” and leaves reader with “something to think about” – Nick learns the important lesson that kids have the power to change the world (and the dictionary, and school lunches). But Nick isn’t the only one with a lesson to teach. As Pamela K. Bomboy says in her review, “A remarkable teacher’s believe in the power of words shines through the entire book” (201). Mrs. Granger imparts a less-common lesson:

Words are still needed by everyone. Words are used to think with, the write with, to dream with, to hope and pray with. And that is why I love the dictionary. It endures. It works. And as you now know, it also changes and grows.” (100)


That’s a sentiment that this English teacher-turned-librarian really, really loves.

Book Review: Anything But Typical

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.


This book tells the story of a teenager autistic boy who loves to write and struggles to fit in. I was fascinated to read a story from his point of view, and his own creative stories provided a nice offset to the narrative of his experiences.

From my review for Materials for Youth class, written in April 2011:

In Anything But Typical, the reader is allowed to see the world through the eyes of a 12-year-old writer named Jason. His autism often prevents him from looking people in the face, so he cannot use visual clues to read people’s moods or meanings. He is also confused by how often “neurotypicals”  (regular people) talk when they have nothing to say, or worse, say things that they don’t really mean. But through his careful observations, he comes to understand the people around him and learns that it is not just him, but also them, who are “anything but typical.”

For instance, Jason’s younger brother Jeremy won’t eat his food if different types have touched. His mother cannot master even the most basic technology and gets anxious when taken out of her comfort zone. His Aunt Carol and Uncle Bobby are too busy bragging about their son Seth’s accomplishments to recognize his weaknesses. While his aunt and uncle choose to reject Jason because of his differences, his immediate family embraces him as he is, and he is actually able to help them work through their own struggles. As S.D.L. writes for Horn Book Magazine, “The book’s greatest strength, though, is communicating to readers how some of the same things that bother Jason might also bother them—whether it is bright lights, noisy rooms, or foods that touch—and establishing common ground” (289).

This problem novel (as defined by Tunnell and Jacobs, 134) certainly addresses the issue of autism in a beautiful, realistic story. But more than that, it also shows Jason as a “typical” 12-year-old dealing with many of the same issues as his classmates, even if he doesn’t express them in the same way. Jason’s “powerful and perceptive viewpoint” (Publishers Weekly 49) and writer’s voice give every young reader something that they can relate to. While not every reader will be autistic or know someone who is, the vast majority will be able to relate to the idea of having some trait about themself that they wish they could hide from a potential new friend. I believe that young readers will completely sympathize with Jason as he agonizes over going to the Storyboard convention and the chance of seeing Rebecca there; his fantasizes of her having a huge facial blemish, or being blind, or being “atypical” herself in some way; and then his intense disappointment in being initially rejected by her. Jason shows incredible strength in dealing with the struggles brought on by both his autism and “typical” adolescence, and he can serve as a great role model for young readers.

Book Review: You Don't Even Know Me

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.


Sharon Flake's You Don't Even Know Me: Stories and Poems About Boys is a book of short stories and poems about young, urban black boys. While it did inspire Ben and I to walk around the house randomly retorting, "You don't even know me!" for several weeks, I really did like it. Definitely very different than my life as a suburban (now rural) white 30-something stay-at-home mom, but well-written and thought-provoking.

from “You Don’t Even Know Me”
You know, I’ve been wondering lately,
Trying to figure out just how it could be
That you’re around me so often
And still don’t know a thing about me.

So how does it feel…
To marry the love of your life… When you’re both 16 years old and she’s pregnant?
How does it feel… to burn to find your grandfather’s killer?
And what do you do when you get kicked out of the house for running with your friends?
Or what if you had to tell your family that you had a terrible disease?
Or how would you handle it if someone you loved died… leaving you alone to deal with their terrible secret?

Meet Harvey, who just wants a new pair of shoes.
Eric, who spends the Fourth of July doing everything he loves in North Philly.
Tyler, who can get any girl he wants.
And Malik, who might not be able to resist the advances of a neighbor twice his age.
Ever wonder what they think? Now you can know.

For a more complete review, check out Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.


Loved this book! I read it with my book club, and it led to some really interesting discussion of how Chinese, Japanese, and American parenting are different. It it set during World War II and tells the story of a young Chinese boy and his friendship with a Japanese girl, who is eventually "relocated." You won't find this one in the YA section, but I definitely recommend it.

For a more complete review, check out Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: White Cat

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.


While this is the first book in a series, I spent most of the book feeling like I had jumped in in the middle of a story, trying to figure out what in the heck was going on. It's about magicians, who can control thoughts, dreams, and actions by just touching your skin. Lots going on, and I felt like I didn't really get with the program until the very end. That being said, its sequel (Red Glove) is on my "to read" list.

For more complete reviews, check out I'd Rather Be Reading and Bookshelves of Doom.

Book Review: Wait Till Helen Comes

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.


I  think I first read this book in fifth grade. Back then, I thought it was the creepiest, best book ever. As an adult, I still liked it, but many of my classmates did not. It tells the story of a lonely little girl and how she becomes a little too friendly with a vengeful ghost.

For more complete reviews, check out Bookshelves of Doom and Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: Odd and the Frost Giants

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.


This novel dove into Norse mythology to tell the story of a crippled Viking boy and how he assisted the gods, in spite of a terrible family situation. I didn't like it as much as The Graveyard Book, but it was a pretty quick read. I did find that it was a little difficult to understand everything without knowing about Norse mythology--which provided me with a great excuse to learn. :)

For a more complete review, check out Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: Mouse Guard--Fall 1152

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.


This one is a graphic novel. I would NOT recommend this one, nor will I be reading its sequel. The illustrations were great, but I thought the plot was seriously lacking, or at least had major holes in the storyline. It's about mouse soldiers defending their hidden kingdom, and I got the distinct feeling that the author had this whole world and epic novel in his head and just couldn't get it out on paper.

For a more complete review, check out Bookshelves of Doom.

Book Review: Smile

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.


This was my first graphic novel, and I kind of loved it. It's the simple story of a girl who has braces (and other pretty severe orthodontic problems), as well as the story of her growing up. Cute, light, well-drawn and written, a great introduction to graphic novels.

For a more complete review, check out Kirkus Review.

Book Review: No Choirboy

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

I read No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row by Susan Kuklin for my Materials For Youth class.  A totally different read than anything else I picked up in 2011. It's the nonfiction accounts of several teenagers who were convicted of murder and sent to death row (many are still waiting there) for their crimes. Reading their stories, and their accounts of life in prison, is definitely sobering.

For a more complete review, check out Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: Baby Proof

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.


I  read this one for book club. I have also now read all of Emily Giffin's books, but I have kind of a love/hate relationship with her. I like her writing and her books (although chick lit) always make me think, but I kind of hate all of her main characters and think they make terrible choices. This book contemplates one woman's desire to remain childless and its effects on her marriage, as well as the effects of children on her friends' lives and relationships. Clearly an interesting topic for a group of moms to discuss!

For a more complete review, check out Kirkus Reviews.

Book Review: Jellicoe Road

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.


 I have to say that I loved this book. I couldn't get it out of my head for a long, long time after I had finished. But I also have to say that I think there were a lot of details included that didn't need to be, and I was left wondering about a lot of other details that I think would have really added to the story. It's set in the Australian outback and is the story of an orphan being raised at a boarding school. Throughout the book, she pieces together her past and reveals the story of her own parents growing up at the same boarding school years before.

For a more complete review, check out these:
* from Book Love
* from I'd Rather Be Reading
* from Bookshelves of Doom
* from Kirkus Reviews

Book Review: Looking for Alaska

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.


This was my first book by John Green, and I must warn you now that I gobbled up every book he wrote in the coming months.  Alaska was definitely somewhat of a dark story, as the entire second half focused on boarding school students contemplating whether or not their vivacious (and depressed) friend Alaska had or had not committed suicide. Great, great book; I highly recommend it (and anything else by John Green).

As a side note, I listened to part of this one on a Playaway and highly recommend the audio version--the narrator was excellent.

For a more complete review of this book, check out Bookshelves of Doom or Kirkus Reviews.