Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door

I have mentioned before that I was hesitant to read Stephanie Perkins' debut novel, Anna and the French Kiss.  Both the title and the cover seemed too cheesy for me.  But once I got started, I tore through it in about a day.  I feel absolutely in love with it.  So when I realized that my local library didn't have a copy of Perkins' sophomore novel, Lola and the Boy Next Door, I ordered it through inter-library loan and waited anxiously for it to arrive.

But once I actually got it, I let it sit for a few days.  True, it happened to arrive during a particularly busy week for me.  But I was also a little worried.... what if the same magic wasn't there?  A large part of the reason that I loved Anna so much was because it reminded me so vividly of my own experiences studying abroad and traveling through Europe.  But Lola is set in San Francisco, and the title character is a high school student who prefers "costume" to "fashion."  (I, on the other hand, do not pay much attention to either.)

At first, this novel's characters all seemed like they were too extreme.  There's Lola, the dramatic costume designer who is never quite sure which version is her real self.  And her two gay dads, who are emotionally aware, overprotective, and supportive..  And her boyfriend, Max, 22 years old to Lola's 17, a heavily tattooed rocker who always dresses in black and has somewhat of an anger problem.  The sweet boy next door, Cricket, who has always been in love with her and will do anything to win her (and also happens to be a talented inventor).  And Cricket's twin sister, Calliope, an Olympic-hopeful figure skater, with an icy, stuck-up, impermeable personality to match.

But.  Somehow it just works.  It never feels forced or overdone.  It flows beautifully.  Remember that "really busy week" that I mentioned?  In spite of my many other commitments, once I started reading, I pretty much had to force myself to put it down long enough to show up at that other stuff.  Stephanie Perkins definitely retained her magic.

As in Anna, the setting itself heavily influences the story, almost becoming a character of its own.  While I've only been to San Francisco once, this book made me fall in love with it.

And as an added bonus, Anna and St. Clair are also in this book.  They're now both living in San Francisco, each attending a university.  Anna works at a movie theater with Lola, and St. Clair lives in the same Berkeley dorm as Cricket.  Anna and St. Clair have become precisely the couple that I hoped they would; they are just perfect together.

While Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door aren't exactly a series and can be read independently of each other, Stephanie Perkins calls them "companion novels," and they're definitely delightful together.  The third companion novel, Isla and the Happily Ever After, will be released sometime in 2013.  I highly recommend these books to any fan of Sarah Dessen or Jenny Han, or to anyone who loves a good romance.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Stacking the Shelves: October 18

Every week, Tynga's Reviews hosts Stacking the Shelves, where book bloggers share what books they've acquired this week.  This year, Thursday is my designated "library day," so I'll be sharing my haul with you each week.

For me:
Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
A companion novel to her Anna and the French Kiss.
Son by Lois Lowry
The much-anticipated sequel to The Giver, which was first published 19 years ago.
For my kids:
No T. Rex in the Library by Toni Buzzeo
We checked this one out a few months ago, and my 2- and 4-year olds liked it so much that they wanted it again.
Rhino's Great Big Itch! by Natalie Chivers
Check-out inspired by my daughter's mysterious and itchy rash last week.

The Rusty, Trusty Tractor by Joy Cowley
Great for my son during harvest time.

Please Try to Remember the First of Octember! by Dr. Seuss
It's October, and my kids always love Dr. Seuss's wordplay.

Lucky Fays with Mr. and Mrs. Green by Keith Baker
Looked great for my 6-year-old to practice her reading.

Zelda and Ivy: The Big Picture by LauracGee Kvasnosky
My 4- and 6-year old daughters have really enjoyed other stories about Zelda and Ivy.

Go, Spud, Go! by Linda Estrella
My 2-year-old son grabbed this Bob the Builder story off the shelf and refused to be partd from it!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Childhood Favorites

Top Ten Tuesday is an event hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish.  This week's topic is a Rewind, in which participants can go back and answer any previously posted question--so it's a great time to jump into the fun!

For my choice, I'm going back to the very first Top Ten Tuesday topic (of 116 currently posted).... Top Ten Childhood Favorites.

1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  I wanted to live inside this book as a child.  I don't even know how many times I read it, but I teared up when Beth died each and every time.  I can even remember, as a fifth grader, reading that chapter to my male best friend, demanding, "Isn't this just the saddest thing you've ever heard?"  (He did not agree.)  I also deeply loved Little Men.

2. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.  Again, I wanted to live inside these books.  They inspired countless hours of imagination for my friends and me.  I was totally determined to find a wardrobe, or a lampost, or some yet-undiscovered magical portal to Narnia.  And when I got a bit older and came to understand the Christian undertones, well, all the better.  Re-read this entire series over and over again (all except Prince Caspian, which I didn't really enjoy), but Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Last Battle were my favorites.

3. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner.  I remember this being the first real series that I read, and it probably came not too long after my introduction to "chapter books."  The first book was my favorite to act out, and I remember organizing neighborhood kids (who had never read the series) into various roles (then being mad when they didn't play the parts right).  I started reading this series aloud to my oldest daughter last year, when she was 5, and while that was probably a bit young for her to understand it all, she has loved it (and we just let concepts like "uranium mines" go over her head for the time being).

4. The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Again, re-read the entire series countless times and acted out epic storylines in my backyard.  I totally wanted to be a pioneer girl.  I remember Farmer Boy and By the Banks of Plum Creek being my favorites (and The Long Winter and The First Four Years being my least favorites).

5. The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander.  This series consists of The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, and The High King.  I loved every last one of them.  They were one of my earliest forays into the world of fantasy novels, which remains one of my favorite genres today.

6. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin.  So, so good.  So many quirky characters and plot twists.  I never got tired of re-reading this one.  In fact, I think I'm probably about due for a re-read now!

7. Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Paterson.  Such a sad book!  I don't really know why I returned to this one over and over again, as it made me cry each time.  I just loved Leslie's imagination and seeing how the power of stories transformed Jesse's life.

8. The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg.  What an adventure for Claudia and Jamie!  Running away from home (admittedly for silly reasons), surviving on their own in such a glamorous location, and solving a mystery to boot.

9. The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.  Four imaginative kids create their own private world of ancient Egypt, but reality has a scary way of interfering....  This was another one that inspired many hours of imagination for me and my friends.

10. The Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald Sobol.  These short stories were just the best.  I loved how Encyclopedia solved all of his cases through logic and was often smarter than the grown-ups.  These inspired my friends and I to run our own detective agency as kids.

Ah,  how I loved the books of my childhood!  Just making this list has reminded me of tons of others that I want to include.....for example, A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle, which remains one of my all-time favorites (and only didn't make this list because I read it when I was a little older than the other books listed here).  I so look forward to sharing all these great books with my own kids!

Book Review: The Kill Order

I'm clearly way behind on my posting, because I finished James Dashner's The Kill Order a whole week ago and am just now getting around to reviewing it.  Warning: this review may include some spoilery.

To begin, I need to say that this book was not what I wanted it to be.  When I heard that James Dashner was going to publish a prequel to The Maze Runner, I thought, "Oh good, finally some of those unanswered questions will be cleared up."  Boy, was I wrong.  I wanted to read about the beginnings of WICKED and what Thomas and Teresa truly believed before their memories were wiped.  But The Kill Order takes place 13 years before The Maze Runner.  WICKED doesn't exist yet, and Thomas and Teresa are only mentioned in the preface and epilogue.  This book focuses on life after the sun flares, when the virus that comes to be known as the Flare is first released.  In short, this book raised even more questions for me.... and left me hoping for another book to cover the story between it and the beginning of The Maze Runner.

Well played, James Dashner.  I am hooked.

In The Kill Order, we follow the story of Mark and his friends, including Trina and Alec, as they struggle to survive in a world left ravaged by the sun flares.  Through flashbacks, we hear about the arrival of the flares and their devastating effects on both human life and the earth's climate.  Then, in Mark's present time, we witness a Berg arriving in the village of huts that he and other survivors have cobbled together in the Appalachian Mountains.  The Berg holds armed gunmen, all wearing protective suits, who open fire on Mark's village.  The darts that they shoot contains a deadly virus, later dubbed "the Flare," which mutates as it spreads between hosts.  The virus works by destroying the brain, and victims spiral into insanity.

Before their own sanity runs out, Mark and his friends struggle to find out why they have been attacked and what they might be able to do to reverse the effects of the Flare.  By the end of the book, (spoilery ahead!) they conclude that their only real hope is in the form of Deedee, a 5-year-old girl who seems to be immune to the virus.  (Contemplation: So does Deedee grow up to be Teresa?  Because WICKED changes the names of all the Immune kids they collect....  Or is she a different character entirely?  Only another book will tell....)

My feelings on The Kill Order were very similar to my thoughts on Dashner's other books.  The characters are not very well-developed.  Even Mark, the main character, is mostly one-dimensional.  Alec, his mentor, is a "grizzled old soldier" (described in slight variations of that phrase ad nauseum), and Trina is strong, brave, and beautiful, the ideal girl--yet utterly lacking in personality.  All other characters are developed even less than that.  Likewise, none of the characters have any depth of feeling.  They are "shocked" and "scared," often so much so that they "lack words to describe" any other emotions.  So if you're looking for a character to fall in love with or a book to take you through the emotional wringer, this one is not it.

But if you are looking for an action novel, well then, you've come to the right place.  I can't even count the number of times that Mark found himself hanging out a window or precariously balanced in some other ultra-dangerous situation.  As in the rest of The Maze Runner trilogy, the plot twists just keep on coming, hard and fast.  As I said, I was left with more questions than answers.... but that also left me hoping for another book to be added to the series.  A quick read without great substance, but enjoyable nonetheless.