Thursday, November 11, 2010

Marry Him! by Lori Gottlieb

So I have dating on the brain. It's been a subject of discussion A LOT recently, and this book totally coincides with the blessed subject. So Singletons -- this is for YOU. That's right -- If you find yourself hearing the faint sounds of a tick-tock when thinking about children. If you find yourself wandering the home appliances section of Target, AGAIN. If you can't figure out why men don't appreciate the National Treasure that you are, as evidenced by the amount of First Dates that don't progress to Second Dates -- then today is your lucky day! Even if you're married or steadily dating - knowledge is power, right? And if there is anything we ladies lloove it's power.

So in the spirit evaluation . . . let's take a quiz!

1. When walking into class/church/a bar/the discotheque, and spending the first minute scoping out the dudes, you

A) Realize you're way better looking than most people in the room and could probably get whomever you want.

B) Roll your eyes and think, Really? And then gather your girlfriends about you while lauding the many virtues of Girl Time! and how dudes just Suck.
C) Lament that there is only 2 men there that look like they're worth talking to - which is SO lame because it appears as though every other female is thinking the same thing.
D) Acknowledge that these guys may not appear attractive and your heart may not flutter,
but a little social effort may yield some interesting/amusing/educational results. You never know!

2. You've been known to turn down a date because

A) He laughs too loudly and it's totally a turn off.

B) He usually wears beat-up running shoes with everything, including the occasional Hawaiian print shirt. FASHION. DISASTER.

C) There is glaring lack of anything remotely resembling butterflies, fireworks, chemistry or other known analogies that get the blood racing. There's just no interest.

D) He has addictions/a nasty temper/is unkind and rude. In general: RED FLAGS.

3. If you could choose ONE quality that would define your husband-to-be, you'd go with

A) Romantical supreme!

B) Nearly-nerd Smarts!

C) Alpha-male work ethic!

D) Kindness.

Okay that's enough. I've never liked quizzes and my transcripts prove it. SO. If you find that you circled ANYTHING other than 'D' then it's time for you to acknowledge that you need help. Go ahead, say it with me: My name is _______, and I'm single for a reason.

I know. It hurts. But pain is good. Pain teaches us lessons. Pain is just weakness leaving the body. And now that you're hedging on depressed, go pick up this book instead of that pint of Ben & Jerry's you're thinking about. Because here's the thing that Gottlieb presents- there ARE good men out there, but women have a tendency to overlook them because that all-consuming attraction just ain't there with Mr. Good Enough.

Mr. Good Enough is NOT the man the graces the covers of romance novels or Jane Austen movie remakes or sparkles like diamonds in the sunlight. He's the solid and stable (and usually only average looking) man who works hard at a regular job, has a good sense of humor and is kind to his friends and family. Oh and he's also the one whom most women pass up until they realize their mistake, but by then -oops!- some other smarter women has nabbed him and will probably live happily together for the rest of their long and meaningful lives.

Marry Him is Gottlieb's story of her quest to find a husband as a 40-something year old. It's fascinating, it's painful, and it is totally readable. She takes Disney Princesses and feminism and turns them both on their heads, and then does the same to scores of women who continue to "hold out for something better," by consulting with married friends, single friends, matchmaking companies, marriage & family researchers, and a personal dating coach.

Most of this was not new to me (thanks dad!), but I found her experiences fascinating and her takeaways totally right on. I've loaned it to several single girlfriends already, all of whom not only really enjoyed it but also have decided to change a few approaches they have to dating. And for that, Ms. Gottlieb, I thank you .

4.5 fist pumps worthy.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Golden Spiral (Hourglass Door #2) by Lisa Mangum

I started reading this series because I noticed this cover in a bookstore a few months back and it lured me in. Remember that Donald Duck short from forever ago when Disney pulled a School House Rock and had this educational cartoon on The Golden Ratio? That's what I first thought of.

Yeah that takes you back doesn't it.

Anyway. The book is TOTALLY unrelated to the golden mean, so sorry if you got excited there for a moment. In fact, I can't recall a Golden Spiral making an appearance at all. Not as a trippy staircase or Da Vinci diagram or bizarre time concept. I bet that is where all these problems stem from - false advertising with lack of cool spiral.

Abby is attempting to rescue Dante from some freaky in-between world of time, while Zo has gone all Anarchist Tyrant and is ruling the River of Time with an iron fist. Plus he has a big grudge against Abby and is destroying the pasts of her close friends and family, which will in turn damage her and the choices she makes in relation to the Hourglass Door. At least, I think that's what happens. Honestly, I was confused throughout large bits. Time travel jenk seems to do that to me.

The facts are these: The first book was good -- creative premise, likeable characters, decent love story, mystery and good pacing. It had what I require for an entertaining read. This book though? Let's just say there are no good ratios going on here, golden or not.

It's your typical #2 Bridge To The Conclusion. Some parts were really slow, other parts were a hot mess of WTH blended with Whatever I Don't Even Care Anymore. Nothing that is supposed to be Suspenseful! actually is, we get no added character depth, and I'm not sure anything was even accomplished. The Most Obnoxious Award goes to both Abby and Dante. Mostly Abby -- she is a true Mary Sue in this one. Pretty much all they do is kiss and make googly eyes and Dante & Co. tell Abby how brave and incredible she is like 18,000 times and I don't get WHY. She's brave because her friend has gone insane, she's trying to get Dante back and her family is no more thanks to Zo? If that makes you brave than I guess every single one of us is like freaking Captain Heroic so congratulations everybody on being SO BRAVE!

For me The Golden Spiral was something of a let down. Down, down the golden spiral into Meh.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking #3) by Patrick Ness

You know the drill by now with series books, right? Go read the first two and then feel free to come back.

This is a big book and I just don't have it in me to go into detail. So here's the skinny: the shiz has hit the fan. Mayor/President Crazypants is all, "I'm going to brainwash Todd, annihilate The Answer and that upstart Mistress Coyle, and wipe out the entire Spackle population all while discussing gold trim options for my new military uniform with the local tailor." Which he pretty much does.

BUT WAIT. We now have a new voice in town vying for attention. Enter Spackle #1017, whom we briefly (thank goodness - can we say creepster) met in the previous book. He is called The Return by the spackle community, who refer to themselves as The Land. And he is on a mission to destroy Todd and pretty much everything else.

Then we have the Determined Though Conflicted and Quite Possibly Dying Viola, who still is being manipulated by the Machiavellian Mistress Coyle and a host of other people. And maybe Todd? She's not sure because - SURPIRSE! - he can silence his Noise now. Which Viola no likey, and she senses that Todd is slowly being brainwashed by the ever increasing power of Mayor/President Prentiss.

So pretty much its non-stop power plays and broken treaties and bombs exploding everywhere while Todd and Viola continue to be separated way more than they (and we) want. It's truly maddening. Add to that the fact that every time the Mayor or Mistress Coyle was mentioned my eyesight turned red and I chanted DEATH! in my head. In a word: Exhausting.

The spackle/The Land was way more fascinating, and less preachy, than I had anticipated. I liked that we see through their point of view in this. They are flawed, they feel a lot of regret and sadness and hatred, they can be bloodthirsty. The inclusion of the spackle, especially given the very early references given to them and the first spackle war, make the series come full circle.

Let it be known that the end of book 1 and 2 was like, Holy Crap! But the end of Monsters was like HO. LY. CRAP. Yes, Kanye Caps to the max. With tears. Lots of tears. And yet it doesn't end sad, so don't let my sob fest deter you if you've been interested in this series up to this point. In fact, I think its the best ending to a series I've read in a loonng while.

4.5 out 5 stars. I can't give it a 5 because of the High Angst Level caused by Todd and Viola's separation and manipulation. I'm pretty sure it aged me a few years.

Book source: Amazon. As in, I proudly own these.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway

Audrey has decided to finally dump her lame boyfriend. Little does she know that that very night he would write a hit song about her, launching both his band and Audrey into a whirlwind of fame and paparazzi. This is Audrey's side of the story; her take on The Dumping, the Mistake that is Simon Lolita, the Fame Monster (no, Lady Gaga does not make a cameo), the True But Sometimes Misguided Loyalty of her bff, and the Treasure that is James From The Scooper Dooper.

I feel in the mood to start with the downsides. I like ending with the happies.

So the most glaring offense is the language. I went to a high school football game recently and was appalled anew by the language of such short little humans. Still, I'd rather not have it shoved in my face every other paragraph. It's too much for my fragile self.

Next, the story. "Audrey, wait!" is the name of the infamous song, the reason for all the calamity that follows. No teen, especially one who cares about music, will be in love with a song that is ALWAYS played on the radio and MTV and every other media outlet. Every person Audrey has contact with comments on how much they lluuurvve this song! Really? NO ONE hates it? Emo, Indy, Punk AND Pop fans all adore it? Right.

Then the fame. Audrey becoming an InstaCeleb is a stretch. Remember when that song "Hey there Delilah" was playing every two minutes, and how The Real Delilah made page 48 of US Weekly, and people were like, I wonder who Delilah is and what makes her sooo great? But actually didn't care after 3 seconds? Yeah. Not here. So while that parts requires some imagination, I DO like the Average Girl Is Involuntarily Thrust Into Spotlight And Tries (always without success) To Retain Her Normal Lifestyle theme.

Which brings us to The Likes. I like Audrey, potty mouth and all. She's very witty, fairly rational, generally kind and totally spunky. I like her relationships with people. With her entertaining parents, her best friend, and even, in the end, her Ex BF. I love her blossoming relationship with the Charming Nerd James.

I like that this book, just like Amy & Roger's Epic Detour which I read right before this, has a song line at each chapter heading. Because Audrey, being the cool girl she is, is REALLY into music.

Though I can't say that I'd recommend it because of the language, Audrey, Wait! really is a fun read. 3.9 Grammies for this catchy piece.

Book source: Paperback Swap

Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

I'm fairly certain that had I read this in June my summer would have been vastly different. Namely, I would have cajoled a girlfriend to road trip with me, which would've resulted in an added 5 pounds from craptacular food, a few small roadkills, that affair with a lifeguard I've been meaning to have, and a notebook full of pictures and playlists. In short: Awesome.

Kind of like this book.

Amy Curry's life has taken a nose-dive over the past few months. Her twin brother is in rehab, her father died, and her mom put their house up for sale and is moving them to Connecticut. All right before her senior year. Mrs. Curry arranges for a friend's son, Roger, who is also headed to the east coast, to accompany Amy on the trip.

I feel that more plotline summary is unnecessary -- just think "Good Read About A Road Trip" and you can probably guess what happens. Adventures/Life Lessons/Tears/Romance/New Friendships all make a flashy appearance. As does a topiary moose, a Stealthy Break-In, and a sock-slide at WalMart.

The Favorite Bits: The pictures -- copies of receipts, flyers, emails and playlists. It makes the journey feel real and personal. Also love that each chapter heading features a song line that ties in somehow. Morgan Matson I approve of your taste in music, and have even looked up a few songs on Roger's playlists. Totes to you, dear lady. Parenthetically, your bio picture is disgustingly adorable.

I also loved Bronwyn (despite her name) with her refreshing kindness (she's from Texas, so...) and"Get up, dress up, show up" mantra. And can I also say how nice it was, for the first time in living memory, to read something that takes place (only somewhat, obviously) in southern California? Finally a book that isn't obsessed with New York! I kind of love Miss Matson more because of her obvious love of the LA area; that, and her featuring of some of the nations' favorite foods -- should I ever decide to go to Kentucky.

The Not So Much: I'll try not to be spoilery, but I rarely succeed at that, so whatever. Here's the thing with Amy & Roger - by the end of the book they've still only known each other for like a week. I know long road trips force you to bond faster yada yada yada. But I REJECT the end. It felt cheap and rushed. Some highway bonding and romantic tension should not an intimate relationship make. Particularly with characters who want long-term commitment. So I'm not buying.

I've heard this book as being touted as something Sarah Dessen could've written. I would qualify that with a "But Not Quite As Innocent" follow-up. The F word is dropped a few times, and there's some hanky panky insinuations thrown in for good measure. I love that I just used the words hanky panky. How pervy does that sound.

Epic Detour is an Ultimate Summer Read that can be enjoyed any season of the year. Two thumbs up for a good exploration.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce

Scarlett and Rosie March have dedicated their lives to hunting and killing the Fenris. Scarlett carries physical scars from when she was attacked in an effort to protect her little sister Rosie, but Rosie carries the weight of guilt from that night. Now, armed and trained and a bit bloodthirsty, Scarlett wants to take the hunt from the country to the city, with Rosie and their neighbor/hunting partner Silas in tow. But when things become more dangerous than they had imagined, Rosie finds herself wanting a new life while Scarlett thrives more than ever in the slaying of Fenris.

I have conflicting feelings on this one. None of which are very strong. What intrigues me about this story is the sister relationship. I had the same feeling about The Last Summer (of You and Me) by Ann Brashares. It's that whole We're Opposites And Yet Sometimes The Same Person thing that's going on. Maybe it's because the only sister I have is 15 years younger, so this bond is somewhat foreign to me. Scarlett is fiercely (read: overly) protective; Rosie continually does things out of a She Saved My Life So I Owe Her mentality, which gets old. But there's a real love there beyond duty and shared DNA.

The Fenris thing - meh. Kind of overdone. And not all that gripping, actually. The best part was the slight blend with Little Red Riding Hood. Because the girls lure the wolves in with their red cloaks and then chop their heads off. Heh. The action sequences are good, but I wasn't breathing quickly in anticipation or anything.

The Big Mystery is pretty clear from early on, which is always a let down. I like feeling incredibly smart by guessing how it will go, getting it right, and then claiming that I KNEW IT! all along. (It brings to mind Gwenyth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam in Emma -- "Triumph?! You made a lucky guess!" "Have you never known the triumph of a luck guess?!") So when Big Mysteries are really obvious I feel cheated of my rightness.

And then there's Silas. The Love Interest. Whom Rosie falls for but doesn't want Scarlett to know, since Scarlett sees romance as a distraction from wolf gutting. Plus, he is her hunting partner, so that might get messy. The Tension comes from 1) it being unlikely that Silas feels that way towards Rosie since he's 5 years older and much cooler, and 2) keeping it all hush-hush from Scarlett. Which, as we all know, never works. But after some confessions and tears and a Close Call, all works out well.

So, I feel good about this one. But not great. 3.5 sharpened axes for Sisters Red.

Book source: Local library.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Perchance to Dream (Theatre Illuminata #2) by Lisa Matchev

When Eyes Like Stars left off, Bertie was about to set off on a quest to reclaim her dashing swashbuckler from the evil clutches of a frightening sea witch, and to also find out more about her past and to actually step outdoors for once in her life and to cavort about with Ariel and probably do some other things I can't remember.

And that is where Perchance opens. Honestly, I can't give a real summary because I myself feel a bit confused about what happens. There is lots of adventuring, which I always like, but this involved too much Maybe This Is Real And Maybe It's Not scenes and not enough witty banter/fairy pranks/Nate the Pirate. Some more Secrets From Bertie's Past are revealed, involving an interesting father-part-time-bird, the Love Triangle continues to drag on with Ariel taking the lead, a couple new charming secondary characters are introduced, and then it just sort of eeennddsssss.

But not really.

Because there is still another book on the way. Of course.

The premise of these books is quite fun, and I like the carnival/gypsy/Euro thespian feel it has going for it -- Colors! Circus men! Flying carriages! -- but in Perchance it started to drag a bit. Drag confusedly. Part of the problem, I think, is that we don't get enough insight into the characters. And because they are interesting characters it just seems like there is so much to explore with them.

Ah well. I hope better things for the next one. At least we can expect (probably) more lovely cover art.

3 out of 5 dancing elephants.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen

I've been meaning to review this for a while now, and then I realized the movie has been out for like a month - so, a little overdue.

I haven't seen the movie, so I couldn't say how true to the book it is. The first time I watched the trailer though I thought that 1) I had no idea it took place in the 50s/60s, so either that's a new addition or I'm a bit thick, and 2) I really like how they capture the glow of the book. Because it's one of those reads that's just sweet and warm and chocolate chip cookies with cold milk. Take a gander:

In essence, Flipped is the story of two kids, Julie & Bryce, who live across the street from each other. They recount flashbacks and their current 8th grade year from their alternating perspectives.

I like this book because it slowly changes how you view the characters. At first, Julie is a somewhat obnoxious girl who has no concept of boundaries, and Bryce is understandably afraid of her and her propensity to chase him around the playground. As they get older Julie really comes into her own, and both Julie and Bryce's family is given more color and presence. Both learn valuable lessons about family and loyalty and understanding.

The problem for me were some of the memories that Bryce and Julie both shared views on. It just dragged it out too much and sometimes bogged down the story. I know it was important to see each side of the story, and thus understand the characters more, but sometimes it was just too much of the same event over and over.

Flipped is one of those books that all ages seem to really enjoy. Short and sweet, much like this post.
4 puffy little baby chicks for this one.

Book source: Local library.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Scarlett Fever (Scarlett #2) by Maureen Johnson

I feel hungover from Mockingjay. For, like, the past 3 days and counting. I finished Scarlett Fever right before jumping into Mockingjay, and now I wish I'd waited to read it after. Heaven knows I need a literary percocet.

Oh well. Onward.

So. Scarlett is concluding her Summer of Hamlet & Heartbreak and is now the personal assistant of the great 'n crazy Mrs. Amberson. This is, of course, a recipe for many a disaster. Here is an itemized list of the wonderful things you can expect to find in this delightful second book of a planned trilogy:

1) More Spencecapades. Spencer witty comments, Spencer stunt falling/tripping/crashing/death, Spencer accidentally becoming New York's Most Hated Citizen. The usual.

2) Flying doughnuts.

3) Marlene being even FREAKIER because, for completely unknown but surely devious reasons, she is being NICE.

4) Personal assault in Biology perpetrated by Scarlett herself.

5) Murray the Surly Doorman and Murray the Tinkling Rat-dog, both of which are pretty intolerable.

6) A burgeoning love triangle that TOTALLY blindsided me. Which was refreshing because usually an approaching Love Triangle is about as subtle as a naked priest doing cartwheels during service.

For me, Suite Scarlett and Scarlett Fever easily sweep the oh-so-prestigious Summer Must Reads Award. It's neither very heavy nor too fluffy. Superb writing, great story flow, fun characters -- the works. I do, however, have two small problems with this latest installment.

First, Chelsea. The Up And Coming Star, who, I think, was supposed to be really obnoxious -- and maybe mean?-- because Scarlett intensely dislikes her. But I just felt bad for the girl. I mean, she hadn't had a milkshake in like TEN YEARS and her mom is straight-up psychotic.

Second, THE ENDING THAT LEFT ME PLEADING FOR MORE. Just like your common (or rather my common) neighborhood drug addict, I NEED MORE NOW. Did you hear me Maureen Johnson?! N-O-W. This whole Max thing -- what?! And also, YES.

Get to it, Johnson.

Nutshell: Just as fantastic as the first. 4 out 5 flying jelly-filled doughnuts.

Book source: Local library.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mockingjay (Hunger Games #3) by Suzanne Collins

Okay if you live in a cave and haven't heard of The Hunger Games and especially if you haven't read Catching Fire than don't bother reading this. Go read those instead.


You guys. It's been almost a year since Catching Fire came out and I, like a million other salivating Americans, have been on the verge of anxiety over the conclusion of this story. Seriously - like, I thought about it all the time. I made up all these different scenarios of what could happen, and what SHOULD happen, and I kind of feel like a Twilight Fan Girl in that regard. I became emotionally attached okay? Don't judge me.

Obviously after so many months longing for some kind of conclusion to this the Worst Cliffhanger Ever That Haunts My Dreams, my expectations might have been just kind of high. Really, haven't I learned my lesson about that by now?

So after having JUST finished it, here is what I think:
I think I want to grab my mom's new carving knives and STAB THIS BOOK REPEATEDLY. And then maybe stab myself repeatedly. Because I just realized how much of a sucker I am for a happy ending a la City of Glass where the characters are beat-up and bloodied and traumatized but they heal emotionally and physically and gain back their hope and the world is bright once more.

Not to say that Mockingjay has a sad ending, because it's not, it's just a SAD BOOK. Seriously -- start to finish it is one big ball of bleakness and despair and misery, blended with some backstabbing and power vacuums and gore of the Grand Theft Auto variety. And considering the storyline of the previous two that is saying something.

Mockingjay opens about a month after Catching Fire ended. Some beloved characters are dead. And everyone else is so messed up by this point that you almost WANT them to die, just so that their misery ends. Talk about Baggage. Baggage, of course, is totally understandable and realistc. Look, it's not like I was expecting rainbows and unicorns and Magical Therapists. But honestly? This was too much for me, all of the sadness. I grew to love these characters, and the ones that survived were such train wrecks that I felt like I didn't even know them anymore. And honestly, it hurt me.

Okay I can't help it, I need to rant for a sec - so SPOLIERS AHEAD YA'LL! Just close your eyes and scroll to the bottom or something if you don't want any Big Secrets revealed.


So, at the end of the last one I cried. Because Peeta was my favorite, and Katniss was so powerless. I figured that Collins probably wouldn't kill off Peeta, but more than likely he'd be tortured and probably brainwashed and maybe Katniss would have to go through another Games to get him back or something. Then, with any luck, she would finally (in a fit of rage) yell at him that she does in fact love him and that he needs to snap out of whatever funk he's in, and he would because he loves her so, and then they would merrily snag the President and toss him off a cliff and make it back home by dinner.

If only.

I guess I was kind of right about the brainwashing. Except it was Ten. Times. Worse. and we don't really see again the Peeta we knew and loved. Katniss is either insane with despair or completely void of emotion. A couple of her breakdowns were actually freaky, and a few others made me weep because really - how much can a 17 year old girl take?

I've always rooted for her and Peeta. He brings such a great balance to her, which I guess she comes to recognize, so yes I was glad she ends up with Peeta, despite his occasionally losing his mind and trying to kill her. Which put a major damper on their relationship, because what happens when the Steady character becomes unsteady? I feel like I can't forgive Collins for damaging him so badly.

So the love triangle fizzled, though my heart hurts a little for Gale. I'm just glad Collins didn't kill either of them off in an attempt to solve the Love Triangle Crisis -- such a cop out. BUT. Katniss never becomes good at showing Peeta how much she cares about him. We only know because of the way she seems to die inside when she thinks he's dead/being tortured/damaged beyond repair. Somehow I needed more from her on that. More communication. As a sign of maturing and learning Love Life Lessons.

And killing Prim? REALLY? That seemed cheap and low. Did Katniss really need MORE reasons for joining ranks of the Living Dead? Since she was already so destroyed at that point it seemed unnecessary to the story. I guess Collins wanted her to be just as crazytown as Peeta. And did anyone feel good about that ending? A few quick paragraphs dedicated to their Scarred Ever After? FOR REAL?! After all we've been through with them! I guess it's happy that they love each other, but it certainly doesn't feel that way. I want to feel that connection again, like the couple of heated moments they had in #2. I don't feel real closure with them. I'm not convinced that she or Peeta ever found peace. Maybe they aren't supposed to. But I don't like leaving the heroine, the fighter and survivor, broken.

Also. I have questions. Oh so many questions . . . What happened on the Peeta Rescue Mission? Did his brain hijack just wear off over time or did Beetee find some kind of cure? What was Gale's family doing the whole time and why were they never mentioned other than that they were alive? Why did Finnick's life flash before Katniss' eyes when he was killed? Why did Katniss agree with Hunger Games v2.0? How was that strategic? Why don't I write these things down as I read them so that I don't forget them when I review the book? I swear.

You can come back now.

So. About a third of the way through I was like, Why does this all seem so weird? And then I realized it's because it feels TOTALLY different than the first two books. There are a variety of "important" secondary characters who come into the picture for like a second so we never get to know them. The pace seems slow and maddening because there seems to be no real objective. The settings are hastily described, as though Collins is rushing through the story so fast that she doesn't have time to describe situations that don't make much sense. Unless they're hospital scenes, because about half of the book takes place in a sterilized room. The characters, probably because they're all emotionally and mentally shredded, often act in ways that don't align with what they would normally do or say. Half the time Katniss is so out of it that I had no idea how much time was actually passing. The plot seemed directionless. The Big Showdown I was expecting was a more of a Major Letdown, which turned into a lot of the What Just Happened moments.

Ugh this is making me exhausted all over again. All day I've been emotionally drained from this roller coaster. I probably should have let more time lapse before writing this. Obviously I'm still wounded. And confused. Now that I think about it, there were a truckload of What Just Happened moments where I had to re-read but still didn't get it. Although it might have something to do with me being in such a rush to see What Happens that I kind of gloss over some details. Hm. Obviously I need to do another read of it. That usually helps. Or maybe Collins can take more time doing revisions.

You probably think I hated it after all that. Actually I did like it (unless I was hating it), but I was so sure that I would LOVE it. I was so sure I would close the book thinking, I can't start a new book because I want the taste of this one to stay a while longer. Instead I was like, Where's the Prozac when you need it? But I guess it did what it was set out to do - finish a war. And wars have steep costs which, in real life, aren't ever healed. I just usually expect more hopefulness in my YA lit, but there I go with my expectations again.

My recommendation is to read it (sans expectations of it being the same calibar as the first two), but find a way to stimulate some endorphins before, during and after. Trust me, if you love these characters like I do, you'll need all the Happy you can get.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Eyes Like Stars (Theatre Illuminata #1) by Lisa Mantchev

Beatrice Shakespeare Smith lives in a theater. An enchanted theater no less. But she is about to be forcibly removed from her magical home full of Fictional Characters Come To Life because, despite being the beloved orphan of the Theatre Illuminata, she is a total prankster and the Stage Manager just can not handle it anymore.

So she makes a deal with the Theater Manager- she can stay so long as she contributes something important to the theater. She's no actress, so she takes up directing (to the dismay of all characters whom insist they need no directorial support seeing as they are the character that was written). Then somehow, I can't remember at the moment as it's a Friday afternoon, but this Really Important Book is compromised and the characters can leave the theater - which I guess I forgot to mention has been impossible to do at this point. And pretty much everything turns to Chaos!, and she sort of forms this plan at the end for how to solve it but then it just ENDS.

Was that kind of spoilery to mention that? I mean, this is labeled as Theatre Illuminata #1 so I assumed deductive logic would rule out the notion of a resolved ending.

Anyway. I'll start off by stating that I liked this book, not luurve it like I always want to, but I think I might be biased for two reasons.

1. I am no theater connoisseur. I like seeing a jolly stage production every now and again, but that is about the extent of it. Maybe I would've appreciated parts of this more if I were more of the thespian sort. Or not. Who knows.

2. The cover art is just so pretty. And I have a weakness for anything shiny, sparkly or lovely to behold. I know it has nothing to do with the content which is why you shouldn't make judgments based on the cover yada yada yada. Still makes me happy to hold a pretty book though.

Okay so, substance. It lacked some of that. The idea of the theater: creative. The characters: fun. All of it mixed together: sloppy. The plot reminded me of a badly edited low-budget film. It just didn't flow very well. I found myself re-reading scenes just to get an idea of what was happening, and that detracts from that Getting Lost In The Story feeling. It was choppy at parts and felt underdeveloped. Like maybe Matchev didn't have lots of details about the history, the environment, or the mysterious binding magic in her head.

The characters should've been developed more. As it was, I liked them all enough to be interested in them even though I never felt a real connection to them. Bertie (ugh - that was one of my hang ups. Bertie? Really? Can Beatrice not be shortened into something that doesn't sound like the village cross-eyed boy whom everyone tries to be nice to even though he is really obnoxious and slightly creepy? Come on.) - anyway, Bertie is a fun heroine. She dyes her hair whacked-out colors. She sets off minor explosions. She has Turkish baths on the stage when it suits her fancy. Plus, she's witty. And she's got these little fairies that hang about her all the time who are quite humorous as well.

"You didn't just write the play, Bertie," Peaseblossom said suddenly. "You ordered the Players about, shouted, and threw an artistic hissy fit. Do you know what that makes you?"
"A temperamental fusspot?" Mustardseed guessed.
"Crazier than a bag full of crazy?" Moth said.
"Close," Peaseblossom said. "It makes her a Director."

There's a Not Quite But Aiming To Be Love Triangle, which is hard for me to buy into because it's just so obvious whom she'll pick, but whatever. I still loved it. Partially because Nate is a Swashbuckler with a Scottish accent and a penchant for teasing.
"One o' these days, lass, I'm goin' t' still that mouth o' yers."
Um, yes please.

As I said earlier, the Non-End resolves just about nothing. I feel like my arm is being twisted to go read the next one. Which is pretty unnecessary because if the story and characters were that great than duh I would go read the next one. And I will read the next one, Perchance to Dream, with some theatrical gusto because that is what it seems to call for. Or maybe it's because the cover is even prettier.

On the whole it's a fun read but not necessarily the best read in terms of writing. It just needed MORE. I wouldn't have minded another 50 to 100 pages if we got more detail and better story flow.

3 large and brightly decorated cakes, because I laughed.
"She's under duress," Peaseblossom said.
"I don't care if she's under duress, over it, or alongside it," Moth said. "Nothing in this world supersedes cake."

Book source: Local library.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Manifesto on Reads

I was having a chit chat about blogs and such with Cousin A over the weekend, and she commented (read: lamented, but it a really nice way) on the amount of teen lit I've been reading as of late.

She's not wrong, obviously. The word cloud makes that pretty recognizable.

But it wasn't always this way. In fact it's something of a recent thing; one year ago I kicked off The Summer Of YA Lit. Which oh-so-quickly turned to fall, though I told some friends that YES I could indeed still call it Summer Of YA Lit in October because it's Indian Summer right now don't you know. But then the holidays rolled around. "I'll just keep with it one more season," says I. Right. Just like when "I'll only have one more piece of pie" or "I'll only leave Target with what I came here to get."

I like me some variety, and all the genre hopping of yore was a result of getting bored with certain subjects. I mean, really - can you blame me? HELLO History major. I couldn't even touch any kind of historical account for like a year and a half after graduating for fear it would set off some kind of post-traumatic stress from my last semester of reading (or, you know, skimming) 2 or 3 books a week. So I tasted some biographies, some science, some contemporary adult lit (blech) -- you know, just doin' what I do. Then last year I stumbled upon Angus, Thongs & Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison.

And that was it. The moment I became a Teen Reader For Life.

Since my tete-a-tete on Sunday I've been ruminating on my new relationship with teen lit, so here, Cousin A, are two reasons why I've taken a proverbial dip into the pond of Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction with reckless abandon and with zero intentions of leaving the pleasant waters:

1. My reading motivations have changed. Remember the days when I used to be rather snobbish about books? Probably not, as it's not something that usually pops up in daily conversation (or The Blog), but I was a bit elitist about what I read. Shocking, I know.

Ya, well, those days are over. My high horse gave me saddle sore and a bad case of faux intellectualism, which just isn't my color. Instead of reading solely to gain some more smarts to cram into me little brain, I began reading just for sheer enjoyment of it.

That is not to say that teen lit is just a load of mindless drivel created only to entertain the young, the base and the dim-witted amongst us. No indeed! I find it, more often than not, to be just the opposite. Which brings me to the next point:

2. YA/MG lit SPANKS adult lit. Now I hate to generalize, but -- well, actually I don't because I generalize all the time even though I know I oughtn't -- but adult lit by in large? BLAH. And please don't leave some comment about how wrong I am because of the merits of such-and-such book because I KNOW. I've read lots of good fiction in my day, okay? I still think most of it's crap though.

Ooh this makes me want to play Word Association Time! Okay just real quick. Here we go -- When I think Contemporary Adult Fiction, I think: drug addiction. any kind of addiction. self-medication. crappy relationships. never learning how to not have crappy relationships. the whole world sucks. lots of bad words. lots of graphic jenk. poorly developed characters. characters I can't relate to. which is probably a good thing. mediocre storytelling. not much complexity. and certainly no subtlety. sloppy writing. way more repetition than this world needs. we all need years of therapy.

Alright sooo - more than one word. Whatever. It's my game and I play it how I want.

In ya fiction, however, you will find Danger! Major Decisions! Adventure! Inner Turmoil! Communication Issues! Witty Banter! Life Lessons! Some Really Heavy, Dark And Crappy Life Lessons Learned The Hard Way! Minimal Emotional Baggage! Previously Unknown Specialness! Sexual Tension! Abounding Love Triangles! Hope For Mankind! The Innocence Of Youth! The Lack Of Innocence Of Youth! Teens Who Converse Like They Are 26! A Plentitude of Irrational Behavior!

With all that and so much more, why NOT read it? And if your answer is something like, Because Sparkly Vampires don't really kookoo my coco puffs, then hear ye this:

There is more to teen lit than urban fantasy paranormal romance love polygons!

Though bookshelves might suggest otherwise, being flooded with cover art of fangs and claws and wings and creepy smoke and illuminated stones and whathaveyou. And there are a number of quality entertainment reads of the above stated kind, but if it's not your thing then cool. There's plenty of other subject material in YA/MG to choose from.

Okay, so now you (all 3 of you) know way more than you wanted to about the history and probable forthcomings of my reading choices.

So -- do you wish I would dabble more in other genres and have recommendations? Would you like some recommendations for A Foray Into YA Lit that you're thinking about making? (I know you are!) Do you have some recommendations of things I should put on my ever growing TBR list? If so then by all means tell me. Feedback is appreciated, though I do love to feel like I am contributing to a cosmic void. Come one come all!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking #2) by Patrick Ness

If you haven't read The Knife of Never Letting Go and you intend to, you may as well skip this one. It'll be fairly boring anyway, seeing as that I really liked it.

Ask picks up about where Knife left off. Mayor Prentiss has beaten Todd & Viola to Haven, Viola was shot and Todd promised to do whatever the Mayor Satan wants if he'll only help Viola. So a deal is struck.

And you know what they say about deals with the devil . . .

Like many a human, I am often disenchanted with Book Two of trilogies. They usually suffer from a drawn-out story stuffed with fillers and maddening subplots and the like. The Ask wasn't that different, other than it was still well written. The beginning and middle seemed slow, largely because Todd and Viola are separated. There were things going on, but it wasn't the constant On The Run pace that made Knife so gripping. Pretty much the first 3/4 of it had me seething at Todd and Viola's separation. Half the time they aren't sure if the other is alive, and then the few times that they are able to have clandestine meetings they still aren't sure if the other hasn't been brainwashed into joining the other side.

This had two major effects on me.
1) I was going out of my mind with frustration and rage at all the people keeping them apart through lies and manipulation, and
2) I ended up rooting for Todd & Viola harder than ever.

I've always loved Todd. But in Ask I LOVE Todd. I think I had some real anxiety about him and the things he goes through, so it kept the pages turning quickly. He grows up in this one, and not just because he technically "becomes a man" when his long-awaited birthday rolls around. He sacrifices, he suffers more loss, he fights to remain good while forced to participate in evil. And he does it all for Viola.

Viola, in her own right, is a strong, smart and admirable heroine. She drove me crazy at times, partially because I felt she was smart enough to see through some of the lies, so I was glad to see her make some hard choices to get back to Todd. Really, I just love them. In Knife they seemed like kids on the run, but in Ask they have a solid bond built on trust and sacrifice and deep caring for the other. I really like where they, as a team, are headed in the end of Ask, so I can't wait for Monsters of Men to be released.

Oh, and I remembered that Viola's POV is brought into the mix. With a pretty little font all her own. I felt that it was a good call on Ness' part since it's an effective way to get to know more about Viola. The downside is that it slowed down the pace, because HELLO she is working in a hospital for a big chunk of it. Not exactly a hotspot of excitement.

You know what else I really liked about this one? The complexity of the evil characters, namely Mayor Prentiss and Davy Prentiss. You're never quite sure of the motivations of the Mayor, and even though you can bet that every word out of his mouth is a lie, he is a master manipulator. By the end Davy is convincingly shown as an abused, brainwashed loser who might not be as sick and worthless as he originally appeared. That, I think, makes for good storytelling. Complex "bad" guys. Straight-up evil is rather boring.

In short, while it wasn't quite as good as Knife, I still loved it. 4 out 5 word-globs of Noise.

Book source: Local library.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

White Cat by Holly Black

Cassel comes from a messed-up family of curse workers. Think X-Men but with powers of manipulating emotion, thoughts, memories and dreams by touch. He's an outsider though because he lacks any curse-working abilities. Thankfully, what he lacks in seemingly faulty genes is made up for by his talents in lying, thievery and conning.

Oh - and Cassel has some baggage from when he murdered his best friend Lila three years earlier. But things really start to go downhill when he begins sleepwalking, again. And his dreams continue to star a white cat who is trying to tell him something. His already shady brothers are acting even more dodgy than usual, and the events surrounding Lila's (accidental?) murder aren't adding up.

So begins Cassel's freaky descent into the dark and gritty world of the curse workers, where things are never quite as they seem.

I for one am not a huge fan of the cover art here. 1) It's weird, and 2) I never trust books where the name of the author is twice as big as the title. Also, I can't ever remember the title because both the words Black and White are on it - which I guess is a personal problem.

Anyway. Moving on. So this has been my foray into the writings of Holly Black and I KNOW she's written all sorts of (insert adjective here) urban fantasy but obviously I'm a little late to all parties. Which probably has something to do with uninterest in her other stuff. Whatever.

This, though, I liked. I liked that the POV was from Cassel. I found him to be an interestingly flawed hero, what with A Shady Past and playing bookie at some snobbish private school and his Lonerness but confidence in his Skills In The Art Of Deception. He is a sympathetic and well-formed character. His brothers were also fascinating, but in more of a Super Creepy And You're Definitely Hiding Something way throughout, and a MAY YOU ROT IN HELL kind of way in the end.

And quite honestly, I enjoyed the concept of the curse workers. It's very Godfather but instead of tommy guns and piano wire people are knocked off by superpowers. Though they lack the classiness of the Corleone family. Which is appropriate I guess, since this takes place in New Jersey.

It took me a while to understand the gist of cursing, since Black never comes outright to explain it, which is all well and good, but I still don't understand some aspects of it. Either I was slightly incoherent from lack of sleep, or Black needed better completion on her world building. The Big Mysteries weren't all that mysterious, but there were some parts that kind of threw me. And, as always, I am annoyed by the non-ending. I mean, isn't it possible to do a sequel without finishing book one by some cheap I SHALL LEAVE YOU BEGGING TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT last few paragraphs?! Alright alright I confess there are some fantastic books that do this, like The Hunger Games and The Knife of Never Letting Go. I'm not sure why it bugs me so much in some books but not in others. Maybe it's because some sequels I wouldn't be that interested in if it weren't for those !@#$%^& cliffhangers that pull me back in for round two (or three, or four . . . UGH I'm so disgusted with authors and publishers right now!!)!


I'll give kudos to Black for creativity of storyline, interesting characters, and some funny bits. So 3.5 stars it is then.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie (Audiobook) by David Lubar

This is one of those high school Coming Of Age stories involving a Nerd With Lots of Potential, the Hulk With A Criminal Record Who Becomes An Unlikely Friend, the Ungettable Girl who is always in some sweet relationship drama with the Football Playing Jerk, a host of Friends From Elementary School Who Go Their Separate Ways, and lots of other angsty things like school plays and student council and quirky parents and such.

I like these stories. Maybe they recreate high school in a way I never experienced it. Who knows. The point is, the story follows Scott (afore mentioned Nerd) as he attempts to weave his way through freshmen year without any major damage. Which, of course, fails. The situations he finds himself in - the school newspaper, stage crew, class president - are all in an attempt to impress The Girl. Along the way his mom gets pregnant, his brother is constantly moving in and out of the house, his BFFs begin to drift away from his inner circle, and new friends are made on the way.

Which is all what I was expecting. What I wasn't expecting was that the audiobook had A FULL CAST. As in, not just the one narrator is speaking for all. Each character has a different person reading their part. Honestly, it's weird. Had I not gotten so used to how audiobooks usually are, I think I would be more non-shocked by it. As it was there just seemed to be too much going on. Like listening to a movie being played but not being able to watch it. Oh ya - there were sound effects and lots of cheesy jazz played by a sax too. I just . . . it was . . . I don't even know.

Also, I didn't like the romance angle. I liked all of his relationships, particularly that with his brother, but I really didn't buy The Girlfriend bit. Wrong. It was all wrong.

Nutshell: It was a fun, quick listen. I enjoyed Scott and his Lessons Learned.

3/5 stars.

Book source: Local library.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Favorites! The Hourglass Door by Lisa Mangum

I accidentally loved this book.

It's one of those times where I picked it up from the library, not remembering I had put it on hold, didn't read the summary, and so began without any idea of what it was about. That certainly helped with the Joyfully Entertained factor. That, and I was lying on Zuma beach in Malibu in the sunshine with a Diet Coke while reading it.

Abby is ready to get out of her hometown. Oh sure, her senior year is going fine. The school play is coming along (though it's quite Stressful), her next door neighbor turned best friend is now her boyfriend (though he's something of a yawn), and her college applications have been sent off (even though she's interested in attending only one). Enter the Italian foreign exchange student Dante Alexander. He's handsome, dark and brooding, and totally Mysterious. That's when strange things start to happen, and Abby's normal life starts to spin out of control. Friends, school, romance - it's all heads south. Nothing about Dante seems to add up, but she can't deny her growing infatuation with him. Ancient Secrets are revealed and Abby finds herself caught in what could be an epic battle over power.

While I did enjoy this book immensely and can't wait to begin the next in the trilogy, The Golden Spiral, I do have some slight hang ups . . .

First. It has some slight echoes to Twilight in the romance department. Apparently we just can't get enough of our Hot, Mysterious And Quite Possibly Dangerous heroes. Fear not though, Dante is no Edward. He is unsure of himself and what he needs to accomplish. He's brave but more of an artist than a fighter. Abby, while not a whimpering clumsy annoying Bella, is likeable but I didn't love her. She's like many a Mary Sue heroine who is pretty mediocre and yet miraculously finds herself to be The True Love of Every Female's Desire. Both are like most YA characters who suffer from the I Am A Teen But I Express Myself In Ways That Make Me Sound Middle Aged syndrome. And, like every other teen romance, they're rife with teen angst, tension and make-out sessions behind the bleachers. For all Twilight haters, this will undoubtedly irk you since there are plenty of flowery similes regarding the perfection of Dante's eyes or back or whathaveyou. But then again, if that sort of thing makes you vomit then you have probably come to the wrong blog. With YA it's just part of the package, and don't pretend you don't secretly love it.

Second. POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT! The Hourglass Door deals with time travel. And while I do love me some sci-fi time dilemmas, rarely do people succeed in attempting to make a comprehensible story involving time travel. There are just too many paradoxes that are confusing and muddy my head. This element has the effect of both 1) making the story much more interesting, and 2) creating confusion that can detract from the story. You'd think that those two would cancel each other out, but I guess it's just another example of yet another paradox.

Now for the pluses. Mangum is a gifted writer. She has good command of language, the pace flows quickly, and the suspense and mystery make it hard to put down. Really, it's just some good ole' storytelling. I appreciated that both the story and the characters were allowed to build. I liked that Abby was dating someone else, someone she really cared about, and thus struggled over how to handle the obvious chemistry with Dante. And while we all knew that What's His Name Boyfriend wouldn't last, it was nice to see her grapple with decisions and repercussions.

I also enjoyed that I was trying to figure out mysteries at the same time Abby was. I really didn't know what was going on, and I loved knowing it had nothing to do with vampires or werewolves. The Slight Twists & Surprises were creative and intriguing, and I was never confused or felt bogged down by details.

I often rank books by how much I think about them when I can't read them. It's probably not the best way to determine whether the book has true merit, but for me it's a good guideline of how entertaining I find the read. And really, I don't aim for much more in life other than finding happiness in reading something enjoyable. I was only a couple chapters into Hourglass Door and was put-out that I had to go to some party or something instead of staying home to finish it. And the whole time I was out, while people blathered on to me about things, I kept thinking about What Might Happen Next in the book.

In all, a Fast & Furious read that I'll probably re-read in the near future.

4/5 stars.

Book source: Local library.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Audiobook) by Carrie Ryan

There's nothing like a good bout of rage to get you out of your blogging slump. Not that I'm ready to go on a rampage or anything, but I think if I were reading this book as opposed to listening to it on my iPod I would have chucked this book as hard as I could against the wall at the end.

Let me preface.
So, there's Mary. A fairly blah protagonist who lives in a village which is weirdly pretty much the same as the village in the movie "The Village", sans porcupine monsters and Adrian Brody. Also, there are zombies. And a love triangle. Or square, I guess. Anyway, Mary's life has been devastated by The Unconsecrated (zombies); her parents are gone, her brother is distracted and her marriage prospects are Complicated. So she lives with The Sisterhood - like freaky governing nuns with Secrets. A stranger appears from the woods one day, which is kept under wraps but Mary discovers this by accident. Oops. Because supposedly there is nothing out there in those woods except more flesh eating Unconsecrated.

Smells like Dirty Secrets . . .

At first I was feeling it. I'm probably one of the 6 people who actually really liked the movie "The Village" and I am always intrigued by a good zombie flick. I was enjoying the Suspense and Mystery and True Creepiness, and we all know I love me a good love triangle. The narrator bugged me a little because she's monotone, but I get the feeling that Mary would be too since she just so bllecchhh. So it was all okay.

And then I got to the middle.

Mary was becoming more and more obnoxious, what with the Unrequited Love Despair and Obsession With The Ocean. The zombie attacks were becoming depressing, and then . . . then it became REALLY DEPRESSINGER. Seriously. Imagine a night where you do nothing but sit around in your grubby sweats and eat chips and ice cream alone while listening to Dashboard Confessional and then puting in Tristan & Isolde because no one has called or texted you all day and you just continue to feel crappier as the night goes on, and that would be kind of cheery compared to this. Okay I feel myself starting to get worked up -

**Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert**

so you better stop now if you want to read this.

Mary becomes more and more hooked on the idea that such a thing as an ocean exists, and since her village is destroyed by The Unconsecrated, she takes her merry band of Love Square and Jaded Brother into the woods, which pretty much dooms them all. The whole first part of the book Mary's all, Woe-is-me-because-my-true-love-is-marrying-my-best-friend - but THEN when she and Travis are trapped for a few weeks in a tree house she's like, I have to ponder on the great mysteries of what lies beyond the woods. And I'm like, Okay but you've got a wonderful loyal boy with you whom you should probably talk to sometimes because he just keeps sacrificing things for you, and you also love him and have ached for him for the first half of this book, remember? And she's like, Ya I love him and I like playing house but we have to leave the tree at some point. And I'm like, True. And she's like, But I think I'll choose the ocean before Travis. And I'm like, WHAT?! WHY?! Because The Ocean can cook for you? and massage you? and protect you and make you laugh and be a good companion AND GIVE THEIR EFFING LIFE BECAUSE YOU ARE A STUPID SELFISH MORON?!?! AARRGGHHHHH!

(taking some deep breaths)
**Spoilers Over**

Okay. Obviously, I don't like things turn out in this book. I feel a bit betrayed because YA, while often graphic and sad and dark, is usually more hopeful than this depressing monstrosity. In all fairness though I need to put it out there that Carrie Ryan has written this very well. The story is gripping, and while not always fast-paced, it's always intriguing. The Love Square feels heart-wrenching sometimes, and is always Unjust/Unfair/Frustrating. (Personally, I like Love Triangles because there is always a loser. And while you can argue that everyone loses because they're ridiculous and overly-dramatic and all parties involved retain emotional baggage, there is always one person who walks away with nothing but TWO who walk away with each other. Not so here. In this Forest EVERYONE loses.)

The characters, while nothing out of the ordinary, are interesting and sympathetic enough. EXCEPT MARY. Ugh. I wish she had died in the end. I think I would have liked that better. I know the next book, The Dead Tossed Waves, is about her daughter but I just have no intention of going there because I actually like my life.

2.5 mangled zombie bodies because I wanted to slit my wrists at the end.

Book source: Local library.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Cardturner by Louis Sachar

I'm not sure how I feel about this one. When the premise is "Teen Gets Stuck Helping Old Relative For A Season" you kind of know what to expect. Usually it involves a Disaffected Youth, a Crotchety Geezer, some Life Lessons and A Mournful Yet Fulfilled ending. Cardturner was that, and also somehow not.

Alton, while not truly disaffected, is kind of blah. He isn't really anything. Nicer than his parents, stupider than the lead girl, somewhat swayed by his best friend, a fairly decent card player. I didn't dislike him but I didn't love him either. Uncle Lester, known as Trapp, comes off as your typical C.G., what with all the bossing about and putting people down and such. Usually I find these characters delightful in all their grumpiness and hating of life, but Trapp didn't sell me on it. I wish there had been more from him. More surliness, more put-downs, more depth to the character. And more gross old people stuff, like pranks with dentures and wacking kids with canes and other delights that only old folk can do.

The story involves A LOT of bridge, and by a lot I mean that if you are the type to 1)fall asleep or 2)get violent because card games bring up bad memories of that fateful weekend in Vegas or something, than this is not the book for you. As I've mentioned on NRL, I'm not much of a card player. I think that was a big part of my problem, because I found my eyes glazing over on a few occasions when bridge explanations got technical. I do have a new respect for the game though, and I plan on taking up bridge when I get a maid, become a trophy wife and the day increases from 24 to 30 hours.

My biggest issue came from The Twist that came about halfway through. I'm not sure if it annoyed me or if I liked it that way, because it tweaked my previously stated Known Formula Of Old People Plots.

For character development that left something wanting, I give Cardturner 3/5 Aces. Also, I don't get the cover. There was never a mention of a train station, Alton reading, or Alton being a bum at any kind of transportation station. Weird.

Book source: Local library.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

So I've been reading a lot this past week but have a major case of the lazies.

Need I give a summary of this? I mean, what more do you need to know besides it being an account of good ole Honest Abe and his secret life as a Vampire Slayer? Not much. Here, though, are my thoughts:

First, I liked it better than the author's previous work Pride & Prejudice and Zombies. It was more compelling because of some (obvious) liberties taken with the life of Lincoln. There are a host of fictional characters thrown in, a secret journal, an unexpected friendship with a mysterious vampire, and an underground network of powerful undead who may hold the fate of the nation in their cold and deadly hands. It all adds up to a mediumly funny spin.

Second. It's Lincoln. How many people do you hear these days say, "Oh I don't think that Lincoln bloke was much of a president. In fact, I forget he even was president." Right. So you can't help but like the main character. Grahame-Smith does a good job at making fictional journal entries capture the essence of Lincoln. I was going to quote a few passages but I returned it without writing them down. So, sorry. But I appreciate the journal aspects because the language fits the times and also includes some rather charming dry wit. Example: After defending his client whom he later learns is a vampire and therefore has to destroy, Lincoln writes down in his journal, "Well I suppose that may be the only time I ever defend a client in court and behead them in the same day." Or something to that effect.

Third thought. It's not the page-turner that some other recent reads have been. It does read like a biography, and as I'm not in the mood for a biography, I found myself trudging through parts. And now that I think about it, I wonder how many people actually think this is a real biography of Lincoln . . .

Anyway. Good but not awesome. 3.5 bloody axes for creative writing and lack of sparkle-in-the-sun vampires.

Book source: Local library.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Favorites! Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson

Scarlett is the third of four children in the Martin family. The Martins live in and manage a shabby hotel in NYC that dates back to the 1920s. When Scarlett turns 15, she is put in charge of one of the hotel's 27 rooms- the Empire Suite. Into this room moves Mrs. Amberson, a failed 1970s starlet who has returned to New York to write her memoirs. Soon, Scarlett is taking dictation, running around town with Mrs. Amberson, and getting caught up in her Auntie Mame-meets-Bianca Jagger adventures. In the midst of all this, Scarlett falls in love - or so she thinks - and it takes Mrs. Amberson to help her see the light. Taken from Goodreads.

I'd heard good things for quite some time - but I saw it in the library and that was it. Because HELLO red lipstick with adorable black dress straps on what is presumably a fantastic dress from the neckline down? Sold.

As it turns out, the inside was as delightful as the outside. Meet Scarlett, 15, who is about as endearingly normal as any heroine you'll (not) find. She writes, she does chores, is kind of poor, is obligated to assist an eccentric and winning Mrs. Amberson, is devoid of any spectacular summer plans (unlike her rich Manhattanite friends), and still has some growing up to do. Plus, she isn't simpering, whiny, tom-boyish, manipulative, rude, stupid, or clumsy. A breath of fresh air let me tell you. She's got some quirks and flaws, but she reminded me of what is what like to be 15 (sans most of the awkwardness) and have a crush and sometimes think you're a victim of your parents' ridiculousness.

The Charm Factor of the book, though, is the Martin family. I admit I had a few moments where I was like, Can I trade my family in for them? Not really, but you know what I mean. The Martins certainly are not perfect though - the siblings constantly bicker and lie to their parents. But they're also very close and exchange lots of witty banter and IOU's and Game Plans and moral support and things.

“Chip has a boat. Fancy boat,” Spencer went on. “And he did promise Marlene a ride.”

“This is my ex-boyfriend we’re talk about,” she [Lola] said.

“I know,” Scarlett said. “It’s asking a lot. I’m not asking you to get back together with him...”

“She’s definitely not asking that...” Spencer cut in.

“This is just asking him to take a little boat ride,” Scarlett finished.
“You mean you want me to use him.”

“Stop it,” Spencer said. “You’re making me love you more.”

Also, they live in a vintagey hotel.

This is my idea of a good summer read. Talented writing, fun story, jogging pace, clever lines, fun characters you actually care about. It merits some hammock-time and an ice cream sandwich or four.

3.5 glittery stars for sweetly lingering in my head long after I finished it, much like an exchanged glance from a sexy mysterious passerby.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Airhead by Meg Cabot

Emerson Watts, 16 and female, loves playing video games, hanging out with her best friend, Christopher, and has made peace with her less-than-supermodel-esque looks. But when she's involved in a mysterious accident, she wakes up to find she's now in the body of...a supermodel. Who was behind this switch? What was the motive? And how can she get Christopher to realize she's still the same person inside? Taken from Goodreads.

So, confession: I've never been interested in reading anything Meg Cabot. And that is based solely on the opinions of others, overly-fluffed plot descriptions on the back cover, and also the movie Princess Diaries, which I normally would've liked but I just CANNOT handle Anne Hathaway. Maybe not the best reasons to dismiss an author, but whatever.

And that is pretty much how I feel about this book: What. Ever.

The premise is too out there for such a cotton candy read. Freaky Friday I can handle, but this? Just not working for me. And what is with my constant referencing of Disney films featuring starletts who crashed and burned? (Okay, not Anne. She was actually very classy through her whole My Ex Is Now In Jail Because He Is A White Collar Criminal ordeal, and sported some truly lovely dresses and hairstyles while probably feeling like a hot mess inside. I was, in fact, referencing Lindsay Lohan . . . and, well. I need no further explanation I think).

So the storyline never felt real or solidified. The main character, Em, is another "heroine" who hates fashion (don't they always? or they're totally sloppy and don't know what to do about it. PLEASE.) and has a boy BFF (enough already! get a girl friend for a change) and disdains anyone who finds wearing sweats in public pathetic (read: anyone who hasn't given up on life). It's apparent that I am really over the main girl who is Clumsy And Dresses Like A Slob And Hates All Things That Seem Too Girly Including Other Girls And Whines A Lot About Everything.

I knew going into this that it would be short and silly and your typical teenage pool read. And it is. But after reading Suite Scarlett, which I found to be flufftacularly delightful, this just seemed a bit sloppy. The writing wasn't very tight, the characters never develop, the dialogue is more movie-like than real life. And that, I suppose, it just how the whole thing feels: like it's written solely to be made into yet another Disney starlett movie. Actually, I bet it already is one. A straight-to-dvd perhaps. I bet my little sister would know . . .

Also, it ends weird. Like how a chapter ends. Cliffhangers I can do, but this isn't really a cliffhanger. There is absolutely no resolution to anything, a new sub-plot has just begun, and BAM. Over. Please See Book 2. And I'm like, This obviously wasn't written to be a trilogy. (Rolling my eyes). Which is how I've heard about these books - the 3rd one recently came out people have been talking about them. And despite my unthrilledness with Airhead, I just might read the other two because of a charming secondary character, Lulu, who thinks that Em and Nikki had a "spirit transfer" a la Freaky Friday and isn't bothered by it in the least.

All in all, Meh in high heeled shoes.

Book source: Local library.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Blue Bloods (Blue Bloods #1) Audiobook by Melissa De La Cruz

When the Mayflower set sail in 1620, it carried on board the men and women who would shape America: Miles Standish; John Alden; Constance Hopkins. But some among the Pilgrims were not pure of heart; they were not escaping religious persecution. Indeed, they were not even human. They were vampires. The vampires assimilated quickly into the New World. Rising to levels of enormous power, wealth, and influence, they were the celebrated blue bloods of American society. The Blue Bloods vowed that their immortal status would remain a closely guarded secret. And they kept that secret for centuries.

But now, in New York City, the secret is seeping out. Schuyler Van Alen is a sophomore at a prestigious private school. Suddenly, when she turns fifteen, there is a visible mosaic of blue veins on her arm. She starts to crave raw food and she is having flashbacks to ancient times. Then a girl from her school is found dead... drained of all her blood. Schuyler doesn't know what to think. Could those vampire legends really be true? Steeped in vampire lore and set against the heady backdrop of the rich, young, and powerful in the heart of New York City, Blue Bloods will be devoured by Melissa de la Cruz's legion fans. Taken from Goodreads.

Sigh. I just . . . I know I'm not the only one who is over vampires. I feel like I don't need to explain that. But my friend gave me these cd's, knowing I was looking for something else to listen to while working, I couldn't just say NO now could I. It was free after all. So despite the big bite marks on this chick's neck that was hard to overlook, like a big red WARNING sign I blew right past, I put the cd's on my iPod and . . .

City of Bones first draft?! That was my first thought. Because it starts off with Schuyler (pronounced Skylar - I've always disliked that name so I was tainted from the get-go) who is nervously standing in line with her boy best friend (strike #2 - must all BFFs be of a different gender these days?) to get into a nightclub with fake IDs. Much like City of Bones sans the Simon witticisms. And after openly declaring my love for the Mortal Instruments series, you can imagine how thrilled I was by something that seemed like a janky spin-off. By which I mean - not thrilled at all.

To be fair though, as far as vampire stories are concerned, I thought there was some creative spin on the mythology of the undead. The connection to fallen angles, the phases of vamp evolution, the fact that there is something ancient and mysterious that is hunting them. It makes for some good storytelling.

But. But but but.

If there is anything I've learned lately, it's the importance of connecting with characters. And without relatable or sympathetic characters, it doesn't matter how interesting the story is. If you've watched all 6 seasons of LOST I'm pretty sure you're with me on this one. And I love the Losties. The Blue Bloods though? Not so much. I didn't connect with any of them. In fact I think it's safe to say that I don't care whether they all Live Happily Ever with their true loves and an endless supply of Grade A blood, or whether they all get struck by God's holy lightening bolts and are forced to do the Macarena in Hell with Lucifer till the end of time. And as much as I dislike not having resolution to a story, I just don't think I care enough about any of them to read (or listen to) the rest of the series.

Part of the problem is that I don't know what any of them want. I don't know or understand their motivations. They all seemed one-dimensional. And while there are multiple perspectives from different characters, and therefore multiple conflicts and love interests, none of said conflicts- and particularly said love interests- were believable or compelling. Jack and Schuyler lack chemistry, We Could Make An Awesome Power Duo togetherness, or any kind of emotional bonding. He's gorgeous, she is gorgeous and vulnerable, he doesn't understand why he is attracted to her, yada yada yada. Which, by the way, I find valid because I don't know what he sees in her either. She's boring and whiny, kind of like everyone else in the story. Are you having flashbacks to any other famous vampire series right now? Because I know I am.

My other problem was the narrator. She just sounded too old to be reading first perspective views from teenagers. Kind of like a grandmother. And let me tell you, picturing my grandmother reading a kissing/heavy flirting scene or something made me slightly squeamish. Speaking of - there are one or two scenes that are really innapropriate. If I had a teenage daughter I wouldn't let her read these.

Frankly, I would really only recommend this to fans of Twilight-ish books, unless you're dying for a fluffy summer read where the setting isn't limited to high school.

2.5 out of 5 stars. It just fell flat for me.

Book source: Friend (who got it from the library).

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him — something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn't she killed by the germ like all the females on New World? Propelled by Todd's gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is. Taken from Goodreads.

I checked this out some months ago, but could barely get through the first chapter because it was too . . . weird. After seeing that the third one (yes, another trilogy) is due to come out this fall, and stumbling upon more raves over this book, I decided to give it another go. I think I should address my initial hang-ups, because I think there are others who would shy away from The Knife of Never Letting Go for the same reasons.

First, the language. The voice of Todd, and a handful of other characters, read the way I always imagined The Blue Fugates (you know - the Blue People of Kentucky/West Virginia) would probably sound. Thick southern drawls where creatures are "creachures" and lots of "a-ridin off" and "ain't ya's" and certain men's Noise is IN Different font. This can either be an effective attention-grabber or a jarring distraction - I think it's supposed to be both, actually. I like it. Ness wisely uses language, punctuation (or the lack thereof), and font choice to evoke a certain momentum or emotion. For example:

"And he's grabbing her by the neck with one hand and smashing a cloth over her nose and mouth with the other and as I call out and take a step forward I hear her scream from beneath it and she tries to fight with her hands but Aaron's holding her tight and by the time I've taken my second and third steps she's already swooning from whatever's on the cloth and on my fourth and fifth steps he's dropping her to the ground and Manchee is still in my arms and on my sixth step he's reaching behind his back and I don't have my knife and I have Manchee with me and I can only run toward him and on my seventh step I see him bring around a wooden staff that's been strapped to his back and it swings thru the air and strikes me full on the side of my head with a CRACK . . ."

The Punctuation Rejection works well to keep the scene fast and gripping. Love it.

Initial Hang Up #2: there is this creepy aura about this world Todd lives in. The whole environments feels like the color of the cover - like the way the sky looks when there has been a huge fire. Red-orangey gray without true sunlight, swamps and tumbleweeds and poverty and cruelty. The Noise of the men is usually desperate, bleak, and hopeless. And while Todd hints at some of the things he regularly sees in the Noise of their memories of women, it never gets graphic or offensive.

I think when I did my First Attempted Reading I just wasn't in the mood for something dark and despairing. Now that I've rejected the pleasurable things in life and have begun kicking puppies and making rude gestures to old people I guess this genre is more fitting to me now. Anyway. I found this to be a great read; compelling characters, fast-paced storytelling, gripping suspense and a dash of mystery.

Highly recommended to dystopian/sci-fi fans.

Book source: Local library.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Friday Favorites! Spilling Ink by Ellen Potter & Anne Mazer

Dear Ellen Potter (and, ahem, Anne):


Truly. I've gone through a number of Books On Writing, and Spilling Ink smothers the competition. I knew that it was aimed for younger readers, but I'm very much a beginner writer and I've never taken a creative writing class, so the clear and concise way the information is presented is exactly what I need. And honestly Ellen, I just gobbled it up because it felt like reading one of your fictional books; funny and interesting and delightful. That part on Suspense - with the man crawling up the window sill towards your little friends - I was sitting on the edge of my seat just like you knew we all would be.

I loved the way it was itemized. The chapters are short, easy to understand, and illustrated with helpful stories/examples and drawings. I found the I Dare You sections to be helpful prompts before I begin a writing session. I learned new things, like the different kinds of third person narratives. Um, Third-Person Limited what? Yes, I graduated from college. All very informative.

What I really needed though, and found such great help in, was the bits on Character and Voice. It's completely changed the way I approach my stories now. Needing to know the desires of your characters? Duh - why didn't I ever think that was important? I found this book so helpful that I brought it with me to Friend Sherry's house for Weekly Writing Night. I rushed to explain my Duh moment, and she looked at me while I pointed to the chapter and I knew she just had a Duh moment too.

Lastly, I'd like to thank you for the age accessibility of this book. When Patron X FINALLY saw fit to return it, and I ran down to the library to pick it up, my eleven year old sister was just as excited as I was. We poured over it together, her with a notebook and pen in hand. The layout was perfect for her - not just a lot of small words crowding a page, but easy to read print with fun pictures and clear-but-not-dumbed-down language. It will make for some great sister bonding time, and it will help her refine her already-impressive talent.

So thanks for this winning collaboration! Two thumbs way up for Spilling Ink. I'm giving mine back to the library for others to enjoy, and buying it on Amazon to have for keeps.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Lamplighter (The Foundling #2) by D.M. Cornish

Rossamund has begun training as a lamplighter, which he quickly realizes he doesn't have much talent for. Just as he begins to settle into his routine, the barricaded city of Westermill is beset by monster attacks, a girl joins the ranks of the lamplighters (which is unheard of), and old friends and acquaintances make sudden reappearances in Rossamund's life. Mysterious dark deeds, political hoodwinking and strong-willed females have Rossamund caught in one undesirable net of confusion.

You know, after mentally trudging through 600 pages (not including the index) I'm a bit worn out. Not that it was painful per se, but recounting it all certainly would be. As you probably noticed with my incredibly detailed and verbose story summarization. How about I do us all favor and itemize this one? Okay then.

- What I said originally about the world Cornish has created still holds true in The Lamplighter. I enjoy his world, and his pictures!, of strange lightening-wielding humans and good-or-evil monsters, etc. All very creative.

- It's SO long. And wordy. I like certain kinds of Wordy, but this story just gets so bogged down in the details. The immense descriptions and overuse of invented terms seem wrong for the genre (adventure-fantasy for kids). Perhaps I've become rushed, impatient and slightly ADD in my old age, but I feel confident in asserting that I would've never gotten through the second chapter a child or teen.

- Not enough action. For the plot and length of the book there should be plenty of action/adventure/intrigue scenes, but they're few and far between and often seem flat. The intrigue that was there was . . . well, unintriguing. The Mystery was fairly obvious a few hundred pages before Rossamund ever put it together and I found myself doing lots of eye-rolling and audible sighing whilst thinking that Rossamund really is just as daft and oblivious and he often seems.

- I about threw the book across the room when I got to the end because - low and behold - it's NOT THE END. And because I hate not having resolution I know I'll end up reading the next one, whenever that comes out.

This sounds all very bitter doesn't it? The thing is, I did like it. But I wanted to LOVE it, so there's something of a let-down.

3 out of 5 turkeys. Recommended if you have an upcoming family reunion you're dreading and need an excuse something along the lines of "I made a commitment to read ALL of this before I return home and I keep my promises!"

Book source: Local library.