Saturday, September 29, 2012

Review: My Life in Black and White by Natasha Friend

Title: My Life in Black and White
Author: Natasha Friend
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Release date: June 28th 2012
Pages: 304
Genre: Contemporary YA
Source: Bought
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Lexi has always been beautiful, but her beauty is taken from her when she goes face-first through a car windshield. Now Lexi has to dig deep to figure out how to define herself. Help on her journey of self-discovery comes from unexpected sources: Ruth, Lexi’s sister, “the smart one” to Lexi’s “the pretty one,” with whom Lexi has never been close; and Theo, a classmate who is still recovering from his sister’s recent death from anorexia.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

My Life in Black and White is subtle but beautiful. It sounded good, but I wasn't expecting to love it that much! I'm finding it hard to put into words what makes this such a great read - I just know for sure it's good. It's not like there's loads fo action; My Life in Black and White just tells a beautiful story with subtle developments and realistic character growth. It's my kind of book exactly!

To be honest, I wasn't expecting to like Lexi. I have a hard time with beautiful, popular, superficial girls as narrators, which I was expecting Lexi to be. She turned out to be so much more than that, though. I'll admit that she did get on my nerves a little in the beginning, but I grew to love her over the course of the story. We're very different people, but it was easy to relate to Lexi's insecurities and struggles.

The rest of the characters are great, too! I was even more worried I wouldn't like Lexi's friends, expecting the popular girls stereotypes, etc. And while Lexi's friends are sort of like that - there's no denying they're superficial - they're also kind of awesome. They're shallow, but in a very endearing, funny way.

One of my favorite parts of My Life in Black and White turned out to be Lexi's relationship with her sister, Ruthie. These two fight all the time. I know loads of books about siblings that get along, ones that are distant from another, or the jealous-sibling storyline, one of them living in the other one's shadow. But I don't know enough books where the siblings argue and just don't get along! I loved that about My Life in Black and White, because, well, that's realistic. Ruthie and her influence on Lexi's development is great, and I just loved reading about these two.

Then there's the romance. Subtle romance is probably my favorite kind - I don't want the guy to sweep in and fix everything, taking the main focus, but I do want him to be a part of the story. Natasha Friend balanced this perfectly in My Life in Black and White. And, of course, it doesn't hurt that Theo is adorable - I loved his character and storyline.

One thing I found a little strange was the characters' ages. The accident takes place the summer before sophomore year, and My Life in Black and White follows Lexi at the beginning of the school year. But to me, the characters seemed older in their actions and their maturity. It'd be fine if one character acted older than their actual age, if that were a part of their personality, but all of them acted very mature for fifteen-year-olds. I get why the author chose to make them sophomores, since you need the stereotypical senior boys for a big part of the novel, which wouldn't have made sense if the girls had been seniors themselves. And I could see where the author tried to make the ages fit. But I still think the main storyline would have worked better with characters a little older than the ones in My Life in Black and White.

I just noticed that I spent almost the entiretyy of my review talking about the characters, but that's just the kind of book My Life in Black and White was for me - Natasha Friend's writing made the characters come to life! A quick, fun read with just the right amount of depth and lots of girl power, My Life in Black and White reminded me a lot of a Siobhan Vivian book. I loved it - highly recommend this book!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Review: Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

Title: Hex Hall
Author: Rachel Hawkins
Publisher: Hyperion
Release date: March 2nd 2010
Pages: 336
Genre: YA; paranormal
Source: Sarah
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Three years ago, Sophie Mercer discovered that she was a witch. It's gotten her into a few scrapes. Her non-gifted mother has been as supportive as possible, consulting Sophie's estranged father--an elusive European warlock--only when necessary. But when Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it's her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters.
By the end of her first day among fellow freak-teens, Sophie has quite a scorecard: three powerful enemies who look like supermodels, a futile crush on a gorgeous warlock, a creepy tagalong ghost, and a new roommate who happens to be the most hated person and only vampire student on campus. Worse, Sophie soon learns that a mysterious predator has been attacking students, and her only friend is the number-one suspect.
As a series of blood-curdling mysteries starts to converge, Sophie prepares for the biggest threat of all: an ancient secret society determined to destroy all Prodigium, especially her.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Being paranormal, Hex Hall is not my normal kind of read, so I wasn't sure I'd enjoy it. But there was no need to worry - Hex Hall is so good, I didn't even care what genre it was.

What's best about this book is Sophie. I'd heard she was a fun character, but I didn't know she'd be that awesome! Sophie is snarky, sassy, sarcastic, and hilarious - my favorite kind of heroine. She thinks and says the most hilarious and weird things. I don't even know how to explain her - the way she thinks about the most inconsequential, ridiculous things in life-or-death situations sums her up pretty well. Sophie is weird, in an awesome way, and I loved it. Her character gave the story a very light, fun feel, even when there was more serious stuff going on.

I'm sorry, contemporary, but I loved all the paranormal stuff going on in Hex Hall! I'm a little stupid when it comes to understanding paranormal worlds - they easily confuse me, I guess because I just haven't read that many paranormal books. I was worried I'd get confused in Hex Hall, since there are a lot of paranormal creatures you have to keep straight. That wasn't a problem, though - I love the whole world Rachel Hawkins has created here! From the beginning on, it's a given to Sophie that creatures like witches, faeries, shapeshifters, vampires, and demons exist, which I thought was a little strange at first, but totally loved later on - that made it so easy to get immersed in Sophie's world

The action and the mystery are great, too! Rachel Hawkins perfected the balance between the girly drama stuff and the real danger and action. I just loved watching the story unfold, loved trying to figure out what was going on along with Sophie. I did guess part of the revelation at the end, but that didn't take from my enjoyment of the novel at all. The action and the pacing are very well-done, making me finish Hex Hall in just one sitting. The ending moved a little too fast for me, though - I wanted a more thorough explanation as to why all of this happened.

I know I'm totally late to this party, but I now consider myself a Hex Hall fan! The seamless blend of humorous drama and fast-paced action made this a very enjoyable read for me. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of Demonglass!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Review: The Opposite of Hallelujah by Anna Jarzab

Title: The Opposite of Hallelujah
Author: Anna Jarzab
Publisher: Random House
Release date: October 9th 2012
Pages: 464
Genre: Contemporary YA; mystery
Source: NetGalley
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Caro Mitchell considers herself an only child—and she likes it that way. After all, her much older sister, Hannah, left home eight years ago, and Caro barely remembers her. So when Caro’s parents drop the bombshell news that Hannah is returning to live with them, Caro feels as if an interloper is crashing her family. To her, Hannah’s a total stranger, someone who haunts their home with her meek and withdrawn presence, and who refuses to talk about her life and why she went away. Caro can’t understand why her parents cut her sister so much slack, and why they’re not pushing for answers.
Unable to understand Hannah, Caro resorts to telling lies about her mysterious reappearance. But when those lies alienate Caro’s new boyfriend and put her on the outs with her friends and her parents, she seeks solace from an unexpected source. And when she unearths a clue about Hannah’s past—one that could save Hannah from the dark secret that possesses her—Caro begins to see her sister in a whole new light.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I love when a book just completely takes me by surprise! I wasn't expecting much from The Opposite of Hallelujah, but I ended up loving it. It's the kind of book that sneaks up on you - there wasn't one special moment where I found myself going 'wow', and only after finishing it did I notice how amazing the book had been. The Opposite of Hallelujah is subtle in all the right ways.

Caro is such a fun MC! I didn't like her or agree with her a lot of the time, but I didn't mind, because it was just so much fun to read from her POV.  Even when she's being whiny or melodramatic or isn't making any sense, it works, because she knows. She knows that what she's saying is rude, bratty or uncalled-for, but she says it anyways. And that's how real people are. (Well, I don't know whether everyone does that. But I know I definitely do.) I love how Caro is quirky and into science. Her voice is real and honest - and when the voice is good, it's almost guaranteed I'll love the book.

Then there's Hannah. That whole storyline is so complex and unique. I don't want to say too much because I liked watching it unfold without knowing much beforehand, but the whole set-up is original and very intriguing.

The writing is great. It's very descriptive, but I liked it - gives the whole book a nice tone. The Opposite of Hallelujah is 450 pages long, which is very long for contemporary YA, but I like how the author took her time developing plot and characters.

I love how religion is handled in The Opposite of Hallelujah. Religion is a tough subject, at least for me - I've ranted about preachy books on this blog more times than I can count. But I really, really like how the topic is dealt with in The Opposite of Hallelujah. It's always there, but it's subtle - there's no shoving an opinion down the reader's throat, there's just a hint of a message, and the reader can decide what to do with it. Casual doesn't exactly fit, but it's the word that comes to mind when I think of how religion is portrayed in The Opposite of Hallelujah - it shows religion doesn't have to be something strange and old and out there; it can be a part of your normal life. It's a part of life that everyone has to form an opinion on. The message is subtle, and for me, that made it much more powerful.

I did have some complaints, though. I think the characters of the love interest and the two best friends were a little underdeveloped, and I would have liked to see some more depth to Caro's relationship with her parents. Considering the length of the book, I think it should have been possible to make those secondary characters and relationships a little more complex.

Still, I loved this book. It's perfect for anyone who wants to give a relgious book a try but is afraid of a preachy message. But even if you aren't interested in the religious aspect, I recommend The Opposite of Hallelujah, since it's a great sister story and realistic coming-of-age book. With subtle but evocative prose and a main character who's so real, The Opposite of Hallelujah is dark but ultimately satisfying.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Review: The Selection by Kiera Cass

Title: The Selection
Author: Kiera Cass
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: April 24th 2012
Pages: 327
Genre: YA; dystopian
Source: Bought
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For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in the palace and compete for the heart of the gorgeous Prince Maxon.
But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.
Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself- and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

***DISCLAIMER: I don't like to support bad author behavior, but when I bought The Selection, I had not heard of the author/blogger drama surrounding Kiera Cass. Having bought a copy already, I did read it, and I am reviewing it because, well, I like reviewing. This in no way means that I approve the author's or agent's actions, but I didn't let any of that affect my opinion on the book.***

The Selection sounded lika love-it-or-hate-it kind of book - I'd heard some say it's terrible and some say it's awesome. I wanted to read it for myself to see which party I'd agree with. Surprisingly, I still cannot decide - this book, somehow, is both terrible and awesome!

Let's start with the world-building, which definitely falls in the 'terrible' category. I can totally see why some people hated The Selection - judging by the world-building, it's one of the worst books I've ever read. The social system in The Selection is nothing new, very predictable - it basically just takes a little from all those dystopian classics and the recent dystopian bestsellers. We don't get a lot of information about the outside world, and what we do know doesn't always make sense. I have no idea how this world works, what's going on with the rebels. Maybe it'll get better later on in the series, but the world The Selection is set in is horribly underdeveloped.

The characters aren't exactly well-written, either. America Singer, you are the stupidest person I've read about in a long time, and that's saying something. Her decisions make no sense whatsoever. What bugged me most about America was the whole she-doesn't-know-how-beautiful-she-is thing - it always makes me want to rip my hair out when a character goes on and on about she's nothing special while everyone around her is gushing about her "natural beauty," blah, blah, blah. Add to that the ridiculous name, and you've got yourself a very frustrating protagonist.

The secondary characters aren't much better - the members of America's family and the rest of the girls in the Selection are all very flat characters. They each fall into a category like sweet and bubbly, shy, or bitchy, and that's it - nothing more than those cliches to their personalities. The whole set-up of the first romance, between America and Aspen, is incredibly stupid. It's the typical forbidden-romance storyline, just without any logic backing it up. America's and Aspen's families are friends, and there's only a one-caste difference between them. Still, they keep their relationship a secret because America's family would not approve, apparently, and the social differences are so huge. Their feelings for one another are melodramatic and can be turned on and off within a page. That whole storyline just annoyed me.

But... despite all of the bad stuff, I kind of loved this book. Once I got over all of that, once I accepted that the boundaries of logic do not apply to a book like this, it was so easy to get lost in the story. Because The Selection is so. Much. Fun. The whole thing just put a huge smile on my face. There is delicious drama and all-around fun stuff going on in this book.

And Prince Maxon. I loooove Maxon. I'm not even sure why, since he's not exactly a well-developed character, but I thought the romance was awesome. The way Maxon and America interact is hilarious! I guess I'm just a sucker for any pining-for-your-best-friend storyline, and Maxon and America are kind of like that. Usually, with love triangles, I either can't decide or like the back-home guy, which would be Aspen in this case. But in The Selection, I am Team Maxon all the way. I just want Aspen to go away so America can live her perfect life with her perfect prince. (Yes, I'm aware that's a totally superficial way of seeing things. But The Selection is the type of book to bring out your superficial, yay-she's-gonna-be-a-princess side out.)

Really, the comparisons lots of people have made, saying The Selection is like reality TV, sum up my feelings perfectly. If you think about it too much, both are ridiculous, and just plain bad - you can't really admit to liking them. But if you just manage to turn off your brain for a while, if you get used to the idea that things don't need to make sense, this kind of stuff can be awesome, and so much fun. The Selection is perfect feel-good, guilty-pleasure reading, and fun is what it comes down to in the end - even though The Selection was all kinds of terrible, I know I'll be reading the rest of the series. (Well, if it weren't for the author drama. I can't decide yet whether I can support that by buying the books. But still.)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Review: Big Mouth & Ugly Girl by Joyce Carol Oates

Title: Big Mouth & Ugly Girl
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: January 1st 2002
Pages: 288
Genre: Contemporary YA
Source: Sarah
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Matt Donaghy has always been a big mouth but it's never gotten him in trouble -- until one day when two detectives escort him out of class for questioning. Matt has been accused of threatening to blow up Rocky River High School.
Ursula Riggs has always been an ugly girl, a loner with fierce, staring eyes, Ursula has no time for petty high school stuff like friends and dating -- or at least that's what she tells herself. Ursula is content with minding her own business. And she doesn't even really know Matt Donaghy.
But Ursula is the only person who knows what Matt really said that day... and she is the only one who can help him.
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I had high hopes for this book. I hadn't heard much about it, but it sounded great, and Joyce Carol Oates is a renowned author. (I haven't read any of her adult novels, but I do know a few of her essays and some of her poetry.) Big Mouth & Ugly Girl might not be all that hypable, but I was expecting a quiet gem, one of those unassuming but good books. But sadly, that is not what I got.

The feel of this book is very immature, which surprised me, since Joyce Carol Oates usually writes for adults. Maybe it's one of those adult-author-tries-to-write-YA kind of problem, the author dumbing down her style for a younger audience, which I'm never a fan of. Either way, the writing is very basic - short sentences, lots of exclamation points, that kind of thing. Writing like that might fit some stories, but I thought it was kind of strange and didn't fit the serious subject-matter.

What bugged me most, I think, was the portrayal of good and evil, which is very black and white in Big Mouth & Ugly Girl. Each character is either all good or all bad and, well, that's not how real life works. I found it a little unrealistic how everyone turns on Matt. Reading the synopsis, I'd thought Ursula would spend the whole time trying to prove Matt's innocence, but that's just the first part. Matt's innocence is proven pretty far at the beginning, but people still treat him badly afterwards, and that's what the book is mainly about. I'd get that a lot of people would feel weird around him, and that some would even harrass him. But everyone turning on him, even his friends, who were there when Matt cracked those jokes that made someone report him? I can't imagine that happening, to be honest.

It also frustrated me how negatively the school was portrayed. They were told that Matt had threatened to blow up the school, and immediately got the police involved. Yes, that tip they received was crap, but that's not the school's fault! What were they supposed to do, ignore it!? School shootings are no joke, and I'd prefer a school administration that acts immediately, getting the police involved to protect the students, to one that'd do nothing. People kept repeating how the school should have known the scare was false because Matt had always been such a good guy, but it's not like you can tell beforehand who's gonna go and blow up the school. The way that whole issue of school shootings is handled, how the characters don't understand at all that the administration would be scared and tried to protect the students, frustrated me.

I didn't love the characters, either. Matt and Ursula are okay, I guess, but nothing special. I did not like how their relationship developed, at all. Ursula speaks up for Matt, and then they're immediately best friends. Their connection was deep and profound, supposedly, but I didn't see it. And that ending.... just, no.

Maybe I'm too old for this kind of book - I could see Big Mouth & Ugly Girl working a lot better for the younger YA set. But for me, it didn't work - an immature writing style and very basic plot and character development made it hard for me to enjoy Big Mouth & Ugly Girl.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Review: Skinny by Donna Cooner

Title: Skinny
Author: Donna Cooner
Publisher: Scholastic
Release date: October 1st 2012
Pages: 272
Genre: Contemporary YA
Source: NetGalley
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Hopeless. Freak. Elephant. Pitiful. These are the words of Skinny, the vicious voice that lives inside fifteen-year-old Ever Davies’s head. Skinny tells Ever all the dark thoughts her classmates have about her. Ever knows she weighs over three hundred pounds, knows she’ll probably never be loved, and Skinny makes sure she never forgets it.
But there is another voice: Ever’s singing voice, which is beautiful but has been silenced by Skinny. Partly in the hopes of trying out for the school musical—and partly to try and save her own life—Ever decides to undergo a risky surgery that may help her lose weight and start over.
With the support of her best friend, Ever begins the uphill battle toward change. But demons, she finds, are not so easy to shake, not even as she sheds pounds. Because Skinny is still around. And Ever will have to confront that voice before she can truly find her own.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars 

There are two things I consider when writing my reviews: What I felt while reading and how I feel once I've finished the book. But I'm not sure what to do when these two feelings don't fit, like with Skinny. I really liked it while reading, but now that I think about it, lots of it is pretty bad. And I still can't decide which of those things is how I really feel about Skinny.

If you hate everything predictable and cliched, Skinny is definitely not for you - it is Cheese Central. Skinny has all of the typical high school scenes, like Ever being accepted by the popular crowd and abandoning her loyal but nerdy old best friend - we all know exactly what's going to happen. It doesn't get much cheeiser than all of these Cindarella references, or the whole storyline of Ever finding her voice on stage, complete with an excessive load of musical references. The family storyline is cliched, too, and very underdeveloped - I wanted much more depth to Brielle's character, not to mention Lindsay, the other stepsister, whom we never get to know.

The body image message is a little weird. I didn't notice while reading, but now, it bugs me how much it seemed like weight loss solved all of Ever's problems. Ever's self-worth is based pretty much only on other people's opinions, and I wish the character growth had focused more on Ever learning to take care of her body for herself, not just to make people like her. It also frustrated me how Ever losing her mom was never really explored we never got to feel her grief, how that was only used as the motivation for Ever's overeating.

But while reading, I didn't mind most of that, and that's because of the writing. Donna Cooner's style is very honest and it flows so nicely. The writing has an addictive quality to it, making Skinny a very quick read - I didn't even notice the time passing while I was reading. I enjoyed reading about Ever's weight loss and the gastric bypass surgery. It was fascinating to read about something like that, something I wouldn't normally be confronted with.

If you're expecting deep emotional investment, you will probably be disappointed by Skinny - we would have needed much deeper exploration of all the issues for that, instead of just cliches. But I did enjoy reading it, so if you're just looking for a cute, quick read with a more serious subject matter, you should give Skinny a try.

One more thing I have to mention, though, is the cover. What is up with that!? Couldn't they have chosen a model at least somewhat non-skinny? That girl weighs less than Ever ever will, and I hate that covers can't be more diverse and accurately portray the characters.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Book Blogger Confessions #16

Book Blogger Confessions is a new meme hosted by Midnyte Reader and For What It's Worth. You can find out all about it here.

Every second week there is one topic that has something to do with book-blogging that you can discuss on your blog.

This week's topic is: Blogger relations: Are there blogs you visit and comment on because you like their style, voice etc. (maybe you even converse with the blogger on Twitter & Facebook) but those comments are never reciprocated on your blog? Do you get a bit offended or do you understand that they may be busy? Or do you comment just because you like a post not expecting anything in return?

Generally, I don't visit blogs or leave comments in order to get visits or comments on my own blog. I read other blogs because I like reading about books - that's the only reason, really. I've never really commented on memes and left a link to my own meme post, or any of that commenting-in-order-to-leave-your-link stuff because I feel like that's forcing people to read your blog, which I don't want to do. (Also, I'm too lazy.)

That doesn't mean, though, that I never get disappointed because my favorite bloggers don't read my blog. I read blogs that show a taste similar in books to mine, and I assume others do, too. So I figure that if I like their taste in books, they'd probably like mine, too. There are lots of blogs that I read all the time and comment on regularly (well, not so much right now, because I'm super-busy and failing at commenting. But in general...), and it does sometimes make me sad that, as far as I know, they don't read mine. Especially when it's someone I talk to on Twitter, etc., so I can be sure they know I exist.

But I try not to let it get to me. People are busy; that's just the way it is. A lot of the blogs I read are bigger blogs; they get loads of comments from faithful readers, and I'm just one of them. Of course they don't have the time to read all of our blogs. My blog isn't all that big, but I already couldn't comment back for every comment I get. I try to tell myself that the fact that they've never left a comment doesn't necessarily mean they've never read a post of mine; I read without commenting all the time. And even though it's hard, I think we just have to accept that not everyone will like our blogs. Even if we have the same taste in books, that blogger I like might just not like my blog that much, for whatever reason. And that's fine - you can't please everyone. I just try to be thankful for the people who do read and comment regularly!

What about you - how do you deal with bloggers you love not stopping by your blog?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Review: Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson

Title: Catalyst
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Release date: January 28th 2002
Pages: 232
Genre: Contemporary YA
Source: Bought
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Meet Kate Malone - straight A science and math geek, minister's daughter, ace long-distance runner, girlfriend, unwilling family caretaker, emotional avoidance champion. Kate manages her life by organizing it, as logically as the periodic table. She can handle it all-or so she thinks. Then, like a string of chemical reactions, everything happens: the Malones' neighbors get burned out of their home and move in. Because her father is a Good Man of God (and a Not Very Thoughtful Parent), Kate has to share her room with her nemesis, Teri Litch, and Teri's adorable, troublemaking little brother. And through it all, she's still waiting to hear from the only college she has applied to: MIT. Kate's life is less and less under control-and then, something happens that blows it all apart, and forces her to examine her life, self, and heart for the first time.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars 

Everyone (me included) has read Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak and Wintergirls, but I never seem to hear much about her other novels. Reading Catalyst has shown me that I need to get around to reading all of her books, though - this one is just as great as her most famous novels!

I do understand why something like Wintergirls would get more attention - it's easier to buzz about "that great anorexia book" than about Catalyst, a book without such a set topic. But I for one loved the subtlety of Catalyst, liked watching the story unfold without knowing where it's going. It's not quite as obviously an Issue Book as Speak and Wintergirls, while still addressing some very important issues, which I really appreciated.

You all already know Laurie Halse Anderson can write, but I can't write this review without mentioning her writing. Her writing is simply amazing. Catalyst has some of the stark, raw feeling of Speak and Wintergirls, but it also has a lighter side - it's closer to everyday life, especially in the first half. I enjoyed this balance because it had me absorbed in Kate's story but also made me think about the greater meaning of it all.

Speaking of Kate, she's a great main character. I found her likable and easy to relate to. She's kind of in-the-middle character, not too extreme in any way, which could have made for a boring narrator. But to me, Kate is anything but boring - these qualities just made her feel like a very real character; not a cliche with a larger-than-life personality but a real person. I also really liked the chemistry-geek stuff - we usually get to read about the girl who's into artsy things, so it's nice to have an MC with some different interests.

The secondary characters are good, too, especially Teri - she's such an intriguing character! And her little brother Mikey is adorable. I thought Kate's friends' characters could have been a little more complex, but I didn't really mind their one-dimensionality (is that a word?) because it's not their story. Also, Melinda from Speak appears in Catalyst, and it's nice to see what's going on with her a year after Speak.

The only thing I didn't like is how little we get to know about the characters' pasts. I liked Laurie Halse Anderson's sparse style for the most part, but I would have liked to see some more development of the characters' pasts and backgrounds. For example, why did Kate not apply to any schools other than MIT? She admits that that was a mistake, but I'd like to know what she was thinking at the time. And there's some stuff in Teri's past that could have used a lot more development; what she's been through is never properly addressed, which I found very disappointing.

But other than that, Catalyst is a great book. It perfectly balances the Issue Book aspect with simply telling a story, making it equal parts entertaining and powerful. If this is any indication of the rest of Laurie Halse Anderson's work, I recommending giving some of her lesser-known novels a try.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Review: The Day Before by Lisa Schroeder

Title: The Day Before
Author: Lisa Schroeder
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release date: June 28th 2011
Pages: 336
Genre: Contemporary YA
Source: Bought
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Amber's life is spinning out of control. All she wants is to turn up the volume on her iPod until all of the demands of her family and friends fade away. So she sneaks off to the beach to spend a day by herself. Then Amber meets Cade. Their attraction is instant, and Amber can tell that he's also looking for an escape. Together they decide to share a perfect day: no pasts, no fears, no regrets. The more time that Amber spends with Cade, the more she's drawn to him. And the more she's troubled by his darkness. Because Cade's not just living in the now--he's living each moment like it's his last.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I always have a hard time reviewing verse books because, to be honest, I don't understand them. I have no idea why I sometimes love and sometimes hate them. I just know that, for whatever reason, they either work or they don't - there's no in-between, for me. And The Day Before falls into the 'love' category.

I love when books are set over a very short period of time, one day or night. It must be so hard to get your readers to feel like they know your characters if you have just one day to set their story on, and it always amazes me when an author manages to do just that. I just love the intensity of it all. The Day Before doesn't explain a whole story, it's just a snapshot of two people's lives. It doesn't offer solutions or have big plot twists, but that's fine - I loved going along with Amber and Cade on their short journey.

The Day Before has made me fall in love with Lisa Schroeder's writing. This is my first of her books, but I know it won't be my last. Seriously, her writing is gorgeous! It's sparse, of course, since it's verse, but it carries so much honest emotion. Many passages had me marveling at the beauty of it all - the writing made me want to savor each word, even though it's such a quick read.

Amber's story is fascinating to read about. In the beginning, I had no idea what was going on with her, and I really enjoyed putting together the pieces and gradually finding out. If it's not too late, I'd recommend not reading many reviews before starting The Day Before because a lot of them would probably tell you what's going on with Amber. The reading experience is much better going in without knowing too much, in my opinion.

I loved Cade's story, too. At first, I was worried about how the author would handle Cade's and Amber's relationship - it'd be very easy to have a romance taking place over such a short time period turn into insta-love. But luckily, that is not the case here. Cade's and Amber's relationship develops fast, but in a very honest and relatable way. These two develop feelings for one another quickly, yes, but it never turns into melodramatic, head-over-heels love; they just meet and get to know each other. Cade's story is great, and it adds a lot to the novel - I love the whole idea of them spending their "day before" with each other. Cade and Amber are adorable together, and definitely put a smile on my face.

Also, I love how The Day Before refers to another YA book. I've complained before about how characters in YA books only ever read classics, or adult romances, never YA. It made me super-happy when Amber compared what was happening to another YA book!

The Day Before is a poignant, bittersweet snapshot portrayal of two teens' lives, and I loved every minute of it. I'm a new Lisa Schroeder fan, that's for sure!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday #22: Books That Made Me Think

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish with a different topic for a top-ten list each week. You can find out more about it here.

The links will take you to my reviews, if available.

This week's topic is: Top Ten Books That Made Me Think

1. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

I know, not exactly a creative way to start this list. But Speak is still one of the best issue books out there, so I thought I'd just get it out of the way and name it first.

2. Dear Bully

Dear Bully made me think so much about all the different sides of bullying; there are so many perspectives and ways of looking at it in this book that I'd never even considered before.

3. Butter by Erin Jade Lange

I'll be honest and say that I'm not the most tolerant person when it comes to obesity, and this book really helped me see what it's like.

4. Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

A book about incest is so taboo, there's no way it'll not make you think and change the way you look at things.

5. Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff

It's hard to talk about Brooklyn, Burning without spoiling anything since everything in it is so subtle, but the gender conception and the way it's presented really made me think.

6. Hold Still by Nina LaCour

It's been a while since I read Hold Still, and I don't remember too much (terrible book memory right here), but I do remember that it really made me think about depression and suicide in a way that I hadn't been confronted with before Hold Still.

7. Hate List by Jennifer Brown

I'm not a huge fan of everything in this book, but I do have to give it credit for making me think. The idea alone is enough to force you to think about all the different sides of school shootings.

8. Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian

Yeah, Not That Kind of Girl is primarily entertaining, but the open and honest way sexuality and feminism are addressed in this book will definitely make you think.

9. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

There's no way you won't think while reading Jellicoe Road. Doesn't even matter about what; this book will have your mind spinning throughout.

10. The Selection by Kiera Cass

Okay, you're right, this is a weird choice for a books-that-made-me-think list. The Selection didn't make me think about life or important issues or anything like that, because that's not the kind of book it is. But it did make me think about our perception of literature, what we consider good and what we consider bad, just because The Selection has so much of both.

Those are some books that made me think - what about you?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Review: Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard

Title: Paper Covers Rock
Author: Jenny Hubbard
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Release date: June 14th 2011
Pages: 192
Genre: Contemporary YA
Source: Bought
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At the beginning of his junior year at a boys' boarding school, 16-year-old Alex is devastated when he fails to save a drowning friend. When questioned, Alex and his friend Glenn, who was also at the river, begin weaving their web of lies. Plagued by guilt, Alex takes refuge in the library, telling his tale in a journal he hides behind Moby-Dick. Caught in the web with Alex and Glenn is their English teacher, Miss Dovecott, fresh out of Princeton, who suspects there's more to what happened at the river when she perceives guilt in Alex's writing for class. She also sees poetic talent in Alex, which she encourages. As Alex responds to her attention, he discovers his true voice, one that goes against the boarding school bravado that Glenn embraces. When Glenn becomes convinced that Miss Dovecott is out to get them, Alex must choose between them.

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I hate having to write this review - I feel terrible about it, because I'm pretty sure it's my own fault I didn't end up liking this book. I could see, objectively, that it was good. But Paper Covers Rock is very, very literary, which I wasn't in the mood for. It requires a lot of work from the reader, and I didn't do the work, so I didn't get anything out of it.

The way Paper Covers Rock is set up is very strange. It's written like a journal, and there are different paragraphs for different days. But those paragraphs aren't in order; Alex, the narrator, just tells us about whatever day he feels like talking about. Each paragraph has a a name, and the paragraphs are split into seemingly random chapters with also seemingly random names. I'm sure all of that has some deep literary meaning, and if I'd looked beneath the surface, I would have seen how smart this set-up is, for whatever reasons. But this book didn't inspire me to look beneath the surface, so all of that was just confusing for me. It took me ages to figure out what happened when and how all the parts fit together. Being confused didn't make we want to keep reading to figure it all out, like it should have; it made me put the book down way too often, which is why it took me so long to get through it.

I don't even know what to say about our main character Alex, because I don't really feel like I got to know him. Again, this is my fault and not the book's - if you'd taken incentive and interpreted more into all of his actions and thoughts, you probably could have gotten a getter grasp of his character. But the way I read it, Alex just bugged me with his apathy. The way Alex talks about himself is strange; Paper Covers Rock is written in first-person, of course, since it's a journal, but Alex also refers to himself in the third person. He has these names for himself and uses those instead of 'I' in some paragraphs. I suppose that shows how he feels like he's just another guy, nothing special, but it felt stilted to me.

Then there's the whole student-crushing-on-his-teacher thing. I wanted to like the story, but the whole thing just made me feel icky and wrong. It bugged me how much of this book is set in English class - I get that it's necessary to show Alex's and Miss Dovecott's relationship, but I have my own English classes and don't really need the detailed descriptions of another one. There are texts printed in the book that the class had to read, and then what they discussed about it, what these texts mean according to the characters. And just... WHY??? Okay, I get that can show the characters' ways of seeing the world and whatnot, but it just made me want to stop reading because, well, I don't care.

Alex's grief for Thomas didn't work for me, either - I didn't feel it. It's more of a what-he-didn't-say kind of book, so reading between the lines, you do see that Alex is hurting. But his grief was never strong enough to make me feel anything. In the beginning, there's some kind of mystery about Thomas's death, but that storyline sadly doesn't go anywhere. I found the ending, - or non-ending, for the lack of resolve - very underwhelming.

A lot of Paper Covers Rock resolves around The Plan - what Glenn and Alex want to do to Miss Dovecott. They want to find out how much she knows about Thomas's accident, and to get her fired so she doesn't tell anyone that she saw them drinking. All of that just made me go, What? Yes, I get that 25 years ago at a strict boarding school, it would have been a kind of big deal if people found out, but getting a teacher fired is better than facing the consequences!? All the drama about that felt very contrived and unnecessary to me. The Plan felt way too complicated and pointless, because why would Miss Dovecott keep quiet and then tell on them? I didn't get all the drama surrounding it.

Really, what it comes down to is that reading this book felt like work. And I read to enjoy. I wanted a story I could enjoy getting lost in, and instead got something much too literary for me. If you like literary fiction, I recommend giving this book a try, but for me, it just wasn't what I was looking for.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Review: Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

Title: Imaginary Girls
Author: Nova Ren Suma
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Release date: June 14th 2011
Pages: 348
Genre: YA; mystery
Source: Bought
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Chloe's older sister, Ruby, is the girl everyone looks to and longs for, who can't be contained or caged. When a night with Ruby's friends goes horribly wrong and Chloe discovers the body of her classmate London Hayes left floating in the reservoir, Chloe is sent away from town and away from Ruby. But Ruby will do anything to get her sister back, and when Chloe returns to town two years later, deadly surprises await. As Chloe flirts with the truth that Ruby has deeply hidden away, the fragile line between life and death is redrawn by the complex bonds of sisterhood.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Dude. This book TRICKED me. Tricked me into reading something... I don't even know what. Paranormal? I'm not sure what Imaginary Girls is, but it's not contemporary. The description makes it seem like it's contemporary with a little magical realism, and the book does start out that way, but then it gets weirder and weirder and turns full-on supernatural. It's sort of ghost-story-y (I know, great word), but not really.... WEIRD is the only way to describe it. But however weird this book is, the weirdest thing is... I kind of loved it.

Nothing much happens for the most part of Imaginary Girls - I couldn't sum up the plot if I tried. But that doesn't mean it ever gets boring. Nova Ren Suma's writing is gorgeous and completely distracted me from the non-existent plot. The atmosphere Nova Ren Suma (yes, I'm gonna be repeating her full name all over this review because how awesome is that name!?) created in her novel is... I don't even know how to describe it; it's unlike anything I've read before. It's super-creepy and eerie and downright scary. I don't normally love all that supernatural stuff, but I kind of love how it made everything in Imaginary Girls even more scary. I had no idea what was possible in this world, what these... forces, I guess, are capable of, and that made it even more terrifying. 

The characters, like everything else about this book, are hard to explain. When I tried reading Imaginary Girls as a contemporary, assuming all of this takes place in our world, the characters didn't really work. Ruby is, let's face it, a total bitch, and I thought the whole everyone-is-obsessed-with-Ruby thing to be overdone. It bugged me how much spineless Chloe centered her whole life around Ruby. But once I got used to the idea that there's something supernatural going on, that Ruby isn't just the average beauty queen but has some kind of magical powers, it totally works. Once I got into the supernatural element, I understood why Ruby has such a hold on everyone around her. There's something mesmerizing about her; much like the rest of the characters in the book, I was put under Ruby's spell. I still didn't like her, but she had some kind of power over me. And I guess that's the point.

I did feel that the ending was lacking something. I kept wanting some kind of resolution, some kind of explanation of how all of this works. But I guess that's just my used-to-contemps brain - I still think within the borders of our world's logic, which doesn't work with a book like this. But I also kind of love the wistful, unfulfilled-hope type of feel of the ending. It lets us feel like Chloe does, still fascinated by Ruby's power without really understanding any of it.

Yes, I'm aware that this review doesn't make all that much sense. But that's kind of how I feel about Imaginary Girls - I can't make sense of any of it, but I know it's good. It has lots of elements that I wouldn't normally like, but somehow, it works. If you like dark, weird, creepy books, you should definitely give Imaginary Girls a try.

Also, here's a shout-out to whoever designed Nova Ren Suma's covers - aren't they GORGEOUS? This cover perfectly captures the creepy feel of the novel. And the hardcover is just as amazing - I might just have to buy a copy of that one, too, so I can have both beautiful books on my shelf....

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Review: Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick

Title: Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick
Author: Joe Schreiber
Publisher: Houghton Miffin Books for Children
Release date: September 19th 2011
Pages: 190
Genre: Contemporary YA
Source: Sarah
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Perry Stormaire is a normal high school senior—he is busy applying to college and rehearsing with his band—until he agrees to go to the prom with the Lithuanian exchange student who is staying with his family. It turns out that Gobi Zaksauskas is not the mousy teenager that she seems but rather an attractive, confident trained assassin. Instead of going to the prom, Perry finds himself on a wild ride through the streets of New York City as Gobi commandeers the Jaguar his father lent him for the prom in order to take out her targets. Perry learns a lot about himself—and ends up with some amazing material for his college application essays.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

No, this book is not deep or complex, and some aspects are definitely underdeveloped, as is to be expected at only 190 pages. Some parts don't even make sense, and none of it is realistic. But... I didn't care, because Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick is just so much fun!

To say the plot in Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick is fast-paced would be an understatement. It is non-stop action! I couldn't turn the pages fast enough, couldn't wait to see what crazy situation Perry and Gobi would get themselves into next. The stuff they do is ridiculous, and no, it's not exactly realistic, but it was so much fun to see how these two escaped one almost-got-shot situation after the other.

The characters are good. They're not the most complex ones I've ever read about, but they're well-developed enough for a story like this one. Perry is a nice guy and easy to relate to. Gobi is a character I found myself constantly surprised by - I never saw any of the stuff Perry figured out about her coming. And the dynamics between Perry and Gobi are great - the way they talk to each other brought a smile to my face.

It's not a huge part of the story, but I did really enjoy the family aspect. It's understated, but the storyline of Perry finding his own way and standing up to his dad is definitely there. I really liked seeing how Perry's relationship with his dad evolved, even though the book is set over such a short amount of time.

I also love the way the book is set up. At the beginning of each chapter, there's an essay prompt and what college it comes from. Maybe it's just because I'm so depraved of new adult books that any mention of college makes me happy, but I really liked what that aspect added to the story.

The ending was a little confusing, for me. If this were a stand-alone, I wouldn't really get the point of that last scene. But I've heard there's going to be a sequel, so it makes sense, since that last part does add some intrigue!

Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick is pure fun. If you're looking for a quick, entertaining read that doesn't take too much effort or thinking on your part, give this one a try!

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Review: Stealing Parker by Miranda Kenneally

Ttile: Stealing Parker
Author: Miranda Kenneally
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release date: October 1st 2012
Pages: 245
Genre: Contemporary YA; romance
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Parker Shelton pretty much has the perfect life. She’s on her way to becoming valedictorian at Hundred Oaks High, she’s made the all-star softball team, and she has plenty of friends. Then her mother’s scandal rocks their small town and suddenly no one will talk to her.
Now Parker wants a new life.
So she quits softball. Drops twenty pounds. And she figures why kiss one guy when she can kiss three? Or four. Why limit herself to high school boys when the majorly cute new baseball coach seems especially flirty?
But how far is too far before she loses herself completely?
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars 

I'm having a hard time coming up with a way to start this review - the only words I can think of right now are "LOVE" and "squee!" because that's just how I felt about Stealing Parker! I loved Catching Jordan, and this is another fun but poignant read from Miranda Kenneally!

At first, I wasn't sure what to make of Parker - she's not the type of character I'd usually connect with. But somehow, I grew to love her. Sure, she makes some bad decisions, which can be frustrating for the reader, but she has a good heart, and I could relate to her on a different kind of level. Her character growth is tremendous, but it's presented in a very honest and realistic way. She provides some variety from the MCs I normally read about in contemporary YA, that's for sure.

One of my favorite aspects of Stealing Parker is the way the secondary characters are presented. Their portrayal is very... balanced, I guess you could say; none of them are black-or-white, good-or-evil type of characters. There's a story to each one of them, making you understand where they're coming from, even when you don't approve of their actions. I loved each of their stories, but especially Drew's and Will's. Speaking of, the boys are yummy. Seriosly, Miranda Kenneally knows how to write some swoonworthy love interests! I loved all of them, and I would have been fine with whichever of their stories should be told. I'm very happy with the direction Miranda Kenneally ended up taking things, though.

I even loved the religious aspect! I don't tend to like when authors sneak religion into their stories, but I really like the way it's handled in Stealing Parker. It's subtle and honest, and feels like a very natural part of the way the story unfolds.

The only tiny thing I did not like is that brother's and one of the love interest's names are so similar, Ryan and Brian. That caused for some, umm, interesting misunderstandings on my part...

But none of that is what Stealing Parker is about, for me. What it comes down to really is the "LOVE" and the "squee!", it's how this book made me feel. Miranda Kenneally's writing makes me ridiculously happy; it makes me want to laugh and dance and scream "I LOVE BOOKS!" at the top of my lungs. And who doesn't like a book that can make you crazy/happy like that?
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