Movable Type 3.2
April 27, 2011
Look, it's another book that comes out this week! I feel so on top of things! (If I were actually on top of things, I've had posted these reviews a week ago, but whatever.)
Bumped takes place in a dystopia (so big right now!) in which almost everyone becomes sterile around age 18, so teenagers are encouraged to have children and give them up for adoption to older couples - for pay. 16-year-old Melody has been raised by her scientist parents to be the perfect surrogate, but while she's waiting to be matched up with a partner, she discovers that she has a twin, Harmony, who was raised in a strict religious community, where teens get married young and they think pregnancy for profit is a sin. Harmony shows up on Melody's doorstep, everything changes for both of them and they have to figure out what to believe.
I thought the premise of this novel was fascinating, but it didn't quite live up to my hopes. The take on the issues was less complex than I'd hoped, and the answers provided were somewhat facile or, at times, obvious - extremism in any direction tends to end badly! Really! We had no idea! That said, it was fast-paced and compulsively readable, and McCafferty clearly had a lot of fun creating this world. It's drawn in incredible detail, which is great most of the time, but occasionally the extensive invented vocabulary throws the reader out of the story - at several points I stopped to think "What does that mean? Oh, that's clever!" rather than just reading. I must also admit that I didn't particularly warm to either Melody or Harmony, but I adored Melody's best friend Zen, who is obviously in love with her but is too short to make an acceptable partner in her conception contract. He's funny and smart and insightful and I might just have to elevate him to Literary Boyfriend status.
All that said: The ending of Bumped suggested that there will be at least one sequel, and I'm eager to read it. And I guess that's what matters, in the end.
April 26, 2011
Review: The Last Little Blue Envelope
First, HUGE CAVEAT: I work for the author, Maureen Johnson. I had nothing to do with this book, but obviously I am completely biased. That said . . .
I LOVE THIS BOOK and it was released today and you all should read it. Ahem. This is a sequel to 13 Little Blue Envelopes, and while you could certainly enjoy LLBE on its own, you'd get more out of it if you read 13LBE first. And that one's great too, so why not? Anyway. Briefly: In the first book, the main character, Ginny, was sent by her missing aunt on a sort of scavenger hunt through Europe, where she had all sorts of adventures and discovered family secrets and met a boy and learned a lot about herself. But her backpack containing the envelopes that instructed her along her journey was stolen when she had only one envelope left, so she always felt like her journey was unfinished.
This new book starts when Ginny is contacted by a mysterious person who has found the envelopes, and she goes back to Europe to figure out who he is and what the last envelope is telling her to do, and also to figure out the status of her relationship-ish thing with the boy she met on her previous trip. So she has more adventures, some of them terrifying, and learns a lot about herself and other people, and makes some sort of peace with some of the difficult things she's gone through. And let me just take a moment to mention how impressed I am with Ginny, because she's a regular girl, not a superhero or spy or trained wunderkind, but she handles all the crazy stuff that's thrown on her and goes on this trip alone without having any idea where she's going, or any sort of plan, and dear Lord, as anyone who's traveled with me could tell you, I COULD NEVER EVER DO THAT.
Really, though, this book has it all: mystery and action and heartbreak and grief and self-actualization. And Christmas in London - with a dinner from Harrods - and New Year's in Ireland and other gallivanting around Europe. And humor! Did I mention that it's FUNNY? (If you've read Johnson at all, I probably did not need to specifically mention that.) And there's an awesome uncle, and a bunch of flawed but real and compelling characters, including a guy who may be evil. Or may be the hero. Or may be both. In any case, he banters, and he's interesting, and maybe-evil bantery heroes are really my favorites. And at the heart of it all is Ginny, a strong heroine who isn't annoyingly perfect, and is just trying to figure herself out in the midst of her wacky but dire circumstances.
March 29, 2011
Non-Spoilery Review: The Demon's Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of reading an ARC of The Demon's Surrender, the final volume in Sarah Rees Brennan's Demon's Lexicon trilogy. There's always a little trepidation that comes with reading the last book in a series, because what if it's not as good? What if it sours your memories of the whole series? What if it ruins everything?
Well. In this case, I needn't have worried. The Demon's Lexicon and The Demon's Covenant were the two best books I read in the past few years, and The Demon's Surrender was EVEN BETTER. And instead of ruining anything about the previous books, it made me love them even more. And it made me want to talk about them to everyone I know, but since this book isn't out until June, no one I know has read it. (I resorted to actually e-mailing the author herself, not to mention constantly harassing her on Twitter, and she has put up with this very kindly.) As I mentioned a few days ago, as part of my quest to make everyone read these books, we're going to do a book-of-the-month thing with the first two in April and May. In the meantime I've been more or less hitting my friends over the head with the first book (sometimes literally).
And the extra-difficult thing to do with talking about this book is that almost ANYTHING I can say about the plot will be a spoiler for the previous books. That's why I've been rambling for two paragraphs here without actually saying anything. It's awesome! I love it! Isn't that enough? No, no it's not. So let me say, in a general sense, that The Demon's Surrender takes everything we thought we knew about these characters and this world from the first two books, flips it sort of inside out, throws in a bunch of new problems, and then resolves everything in a way that is thoroughly satisfying but not simplistic or saccharine. And if you're anything like me, it will make you want to immediately go back and reread the whole trilogy and work out how it was all set up, because it was set up BRILLIANTLY.
One unusual thing about this trilogy is that each book is told from the point of view of a different character. I know some readers have complained about this, but I ended up LOVING that feature and now sort of think that all series should be that way. (Well, maybe not all, but more, anyway.) The viewpoint character of this third book was one on whom I hadn't gotten much of a read in the previous books, so I was a little wary, but I wound up adoring her. But more importantly, I adored the way the world and circumstances of the books looked completely different from her perspective. For example, her version of one of the main characters was funnier than the version seen by the previous narrator, but also less attractive. Her take on magic and demons was completely different. And issues of race and class, which I'd never noticed all that much in the previous books, became vitally important in this one, because they were vitally important to this narrator. At the same time, though, the series was completely consistent and the different narrators were clearly describing the same world. The changes in points of view made the world of the books more believable and more enjoyable, not less so.
What else can I say without spoiling? How about a list of Awesome Things you will find in this book?
1. A gritty, compelling British setting - with an extra hidden layer of magicSo, basically, I'm saying you probably want to just preorder this now, because if you haven't already read The Demon's Lexicon (order that while you're at it) I'm going to browbeat you into that next month, and then you'll want to read the rest of the trilogy as quickly as you possibly can. Promise.
March 14, 2011
Book 7: The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart
The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart
15-year-old Ruby Oliver is sent to a shrink after total social meltdown makes her start having panic attacks, and the doctor has her make a list of all the boys she's ever been involved with, or had a crush on, or anything. This list and her conversations with the doctor about each boy form the framing device of the story, and while I liked the idea of the list and its use in the books structure, it drove me nuts that it was called a "boyfriend" list, because most of the boys on it were not "boyfriends" in any sense in which I have ever heard the word used by anyone ever. Honestly, this one issue probably biased me against this book from the start, and is part of why I gave it a solid B but not higher.
My other main issue was that I had a hard time relating to Ruby, especially at first, because of what I've started calling (you know, in my head) the "But doesn't she have a hobby?" problem. She spent so much time thinking about boys, and so little time concentrating on or caring about anything else. I know boys and crushes and social are a huge preoccupation for teens, but the extent of it seemed unrealistic. I mean, sure, when I was that age I had crushes, but I spent far more time reading and playing the violin and yelling at my mother (sorry!) than I did thinking or talking about boys. On the other hand, I did a quick survey of some friends who had read this, and a few said that this was exactly how they thought/acted in high school, so maybe my experiences were atypical.
But enough negativity! Because there were tons of things to like about this book, too! First of all, there were footnotes, and I love me a novel with footnotes, especially funny ones like these. Overall, the tone was both hilarious and touching, and Ruby had a very strong, distinctive voice. While I thought her obsession with boys and social jockeying was a bit much, many of the specific incidents at school and in her social life felt scarily true. Also, Ruby gets bonus points for living on a houseboat, because that was something fun and different to read about. But my favorite thing about the book was the way that Ruby herself was not exactly quite a reliable narrator - both in ways she was aware of and in ways she only realized as the book went on. She thinks she knows what her problems are, and she sort of does, but there are other things going on that she doesn't want to face, and it's fascinating to watch her come to terms with that.
Oh, and all the boys? On the list? Most of them were really not so great - a few were downright awful - but there was at least one dreamy boy toward the end of the list who has real potential. My curiosity about him, as well as my interest in Ruby's ongoing self-actualization, made me go from having a hard time warming up to Ruby to immediately requesting the second book from the library. And it doesn't have "boyfriend" in the title, so my hopes are high!
March 10, 2011
Book 6: Seth Baumgartner's Love Manifesto by Eric Luper
Seth Baumgartner's Love Manifesto by Eric Luper
Seth lost his job, got dumped by his girlfriend, and saw his father on what looked like a date with a woman who wasn't his mother, all in one day. This novel follows him as he tries to navigate these situations and his life in general now that everything he thought he knew has crumbled. He starts an anonymous podcast called the Love Manifesto but, of course, it doesn't stay anonymous for long. He gets a new job. He finds a new girl, and then maybe another. He plays in a golf tournament. He starts to realize that things - good and bad - may never have been as they seemed. And everything slowly spirals out of control.
I really liked most things about this book - Seth's voice was strong and distinctive, the plot was less predictable than I thought at first, and it was interesting to read a teen book written from a male point of view that dealt with romance and family themes more often associated with "girl books." And I'm going to sound like a hypocrite here, because you know I usually like it when YA protagonists have hobbies and interests that feel real. But in this case, the fact that Seth had two hobbies - podcasting and golf - that he talked about a lot made the book feel rather infodump-ish at times, and that made it a little hard for me to get through. By the end, though, I felt like it was all worth it.
February 21, 2011
Book 5: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
When Anna's father sends her to boarding school in Paris, she's pretty unhappy - she has friends, and a job, and a boy she just started kissing, and she doesn't speak French. But then she starts making friends, including Etienne, who becomes her best friend and is basically perfect - except that he has a girlfriend. And Anna has that boy at home. Or does she? And what pain is Etienne hiding? And will Anna, a budding film critic, ever get confident enough to go to the movies in Paris alone?
This charming debut teen romance was a little slow to get going, but then I ended up staying up until 2 a.m. to finish it, so it's safe to say that I was thoroughly in its thrall by the end. One of my favorite things about it was that Anna had a big passion other than the romantic lead: she's obsessed with film and has a review site. So often, it seems YA heroines are either completely boy-crazy, or more or less blank slates so that readers can easily insert themselves in the story. In both cases, it makes the characters less interesting and doesn't exactly encourage girls to pursue things that are meaningful to them, so I was completely thrilled that Anna had her own Thing she kept pursuing through the ups and downs of the romance.
And the romance - wow. Etienne is definitely swoonworthy, but he's not perfect, which makes him a really good character. And the twists and turns were heightened for dramatic purposes, of course, but also realistic enough that I kept mentally yelling at Anna, "Don't do that! I've done that! It doesn't work! Bad idea!" Like romances, this one had a Big Misunderstanding that lead to many of the obstacles between the main couple, but the Big Misunderstanding was more believable than such plot devices usually are, so I was okay with it. If you're in the mood for a satisfying romance with a fun setting, give this one a try.
February 19, 2011
Book 4: The Demon's Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan
I have been putting off writing this post (and therefore letting other book reviews pile up) for OVER A MONTH, so now I'm just forcing myself to get on with it. There are two reasons why I was procrastinating: 1. THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD I can't even figure out what to say about it. And 2. There's basically nothing at all I can say about the plot that won't give away MAJOR twists in the first of the series, and I really really don't want to do that.
So! Let's just say that anything else will have a hard time knocking this out of the "best book I read this year" slot (although since book three is coming out in June, I guess that has a chance). It's virtually perfect. It's perhaps even better than the first book. If you have any interest at all in urban fantasy, you must read these immediately. NOW. I have a list of reasons to read The Demon's Lexicon here, and they all hold up for the second book as well. This one is from the point of view of a different character, which was slightly disconcerting at first, but I ended up loving her narration and the character herself. And the Ryves brothers are up there on my list of favorite fictional brothers, right at the top with the Salvatores and the Winchesters.
No, seriously. I know I'm not actually saying anything here, but I really don't want to ruin anything about the plot. Just. GO READ THESE BOOKS.
January 21, 2011
Book 3: Blood Promise
Blood Promise by Richelle Mead
Blood Promise is the fourth book in Mead's Vampire Academy series, and I'm hesitant to say anything about the plot, because basically anything I said would give away what happened in the previous books. And I care about that because . . . I think I'm still recommending this series. More or less. This one was a lot weaker than the previous volumes, but I have two more to read, so I won't decide for sure about the series until then. This one had Rose, the main character, going on an Epic Quest that, to be honest, got a little boring at times. The world is less coherent and well-drawn when she leaves the school at the heart of the previous books. And her Epic Quest means that she's away from the other main characters for most of the book; she has a psychic connection with one, but using that to allow the reader to follow what was going on with different groups of characters just started feeling like a lazy device. I wish Mead had dropped her commitment to having this be in the first person and just used an omniscient narrator instead. And Rose herself got really annoying in this one, much as I liked her in the first book. Bleh. I kept wanting to tell her to just get over herself, which isn't really the reaction the reader is supposed to have to an Epic Quest.
Some bright points: Mead revealed more about the way the world works, and the reader got to learn along with Rose, which worked well. Some of the other characters - especially Adrian and Christian - continue to be delightful, even if they weren't in this book enough. And it at least kept me curious enough about where the plot's going to make me want to read the rest. Eventually. I need a break.
If you're curious about the premise of the series, here's what I wrote about the first book.
January 19, 2011
Book 2: Paranormalcy
Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
Evie is a regular teen (more or less) who can see through the glamours of paranormals, so she's more or less adopted by the International Paranormal Containment Agency and forced to help them catch various paranormals in order to protect society. But when weirder-than-usual things start happening, and a hot shapeshifter shows up, she starts to realize that she's being used as a pawn in a bigger game than she realized. Either that or she's at the center of a faerie prophecy. Or both. Will she figure out what's going on? Who are her true friends? Will she get to go to prom like a normal kid?
Paranormalcy is the first in a series, but it doesn't really feel like it, and that's both good and bad. The world White has created is complex and compelling. But there were a few times when past events were referenced in a way that made me flip back to see if I had missed something, and I hadn't. Specifically, Evie's history with a particular faerie is made much of, but I couldn't get enough of a handle on what had happened to figure out how it was affecting her current decisions.
Other than that, though, this was a fun read, and I will definitely be continuing with the series. (Next one comes out later this year.) And the shapeshifter, Lend, has totally made it onto my list of literary boyfriends for the year. You should also read White's take on the criticism she's received that her main character is too girly. And seriously, so many main characters in YA (especially in fantasy and paranormals) are either self-identified tomboys or make a big deal about how they're nerds who don't care about clothes and stuff, and I assume that's partially due to audience demand and demographics, but reading about a heroine who loves watching teen dramas and wearing pink was a really refreshing change.
January 06, 2011
Literary Boyfriends of 2011
I had a conversation on Twitter a few days ago about Literary Boyfriends - you know, those characters in books you want to make out with/date/sleep with/marry/etc. I thought it would be fun to keep a running list of them this year, and maybe at the end of the year I'll rank them or something.
1. Nico Rathburn (April Lindner's Jane) - A smoldering rock god tortured by his past? With an adorable little girl? Sign me up!
January 03, 2011
Book 1: Jane by April Lindner
Jane is a modernization of Jane Eyre: Jane Moore is an orphaned college student who, penniless, drops out and takes a job as nanny to the daughter of Nico Rathburn, a rich, reclusive rock star. The plot then pretty much exactly follows the plot of Jane Eyre, so you probably know what happens, and if you somehow don't, I don't want to spoil it. I also don't want to say too much about Jane at the moment, because I'm working on a review for another site. When that's posted, I'll add the link to this post. For now, I'll just say that, despite a few points at which the adherence to the original plot made the modern plot a bit hard to believe, this novel was amazing. I felt completely bereft when I finished it, and could only convince myself to return it to the library once I'd used a bit of my Christmas money to order my own copy from Amazon. If you like Jane Eyre, Gothic romance, rock and roll, or just a good read, you must read this now. (And if you do, tell me! I'm dying to discuss it with someone!)