Monday, May 31, 2010

Mini YA reviews

Do you ever buy books based solely on the covers? I do it all the time. All of these books? I didn't know almost anything about them before I bought them. But I figured they'd all be light-hearted YA romances and added them to my basket on Amazon. And with one exception, they are fun, light-hearted reads.

Bloom by Elizabeth Scott - I've always heard really good things about Elizabeth Scott, and Bloom has a very friendly looking cover, doesn't it? The daisy and that green colour, everything about it screams a comforting read to me. And while nothing happens in Bloom that I didn't expect to happen, that's not a bad thing. It's nice sometimes to know the sort of book you're reading, know where it's heading and where it'll end up. Sometimes I need to read a book like that. And Bloom was perfect for it. Put a smile on my face.

Amazon's blurb: Lauren has a good life: decent grades, great friends, and a boyfriend every girl lusts after. So why is she so unhappy?

It takes the arrival of Evan Kirkland for Lauren to figure out the answer: She's been holding back. She's been denying herself a bunch of things (like sex) because staying with her loyal and gorgeous boyfriend, Dave, is the "right" thing to do. After all, who would give up the perfect boyfriend?

But as Dave starts talking more and more about their life together, planning a future Lauren simply can't see herself in -- and as Lauren's craving for Evan, and moreover, who she is with Evan becomes all the more fierce -- Lauren realizes she needs to make a choice...before one is made for her.

I don't know about you, but as I'm reading a book, most of the time I have this idea in my head of the characters. Some are more vague than others and some just leap out at me as one person and stays there. And as I was reading Bloom, I kept seeing Griffin from Party of Five (you know? Julia's boyfriend? The one who worked with motorcycles?) as Evan. Another thing to make me smile. I shall be reading more books by Elizabeth Scott. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

Sticky Fingers by Niki Burnham - Now, Sticky Fingers is a different matter altogether. This was a real case of judging a book by it's cover. Look at that cover, what does it say to you? To me, it said 'teen romance' and probably more on the steamy side of things. And I didn't know anything else about the book. Perfect girl goes to a party to let her hair down and her life changes. Not big on the details, is it?

Blurb from Amazon: Bulletproof, that's how Jenna Kassarian sees herself. It's all about control: As long as she works hard, nothing can hurt her. So Jenna constantly pushes -- for perfect grades, the ideal boyfriend, the best, best friend.

The only problem is, she doesn't know if she can stop. If she relaxes even for a second, she's afraid she'll lose control completely.

Then Jenna decides it's now or never. She goes to a party and has one drink. But one drink is all it takes for her perfect facade to shatter. Suddenly she realizes straight A's can't protect you in the real world.

I don't know. Maybe it seems obvious to someone else, but I didn't expect this book to be an 'issues' book. It would have been fine if I knew that beforehand, but I didn't. The book seems to slowly be building towards something and everything that I thought it would be, it was not it. Anyway.

When It Happens by Susane Colasanti - Now, here's a cover that I really love. I love her skirt and it took me forever to realise that he's holding a guitar (how did I miss it? how is it even possible?) but now that I know that, I can't help but notice it everytime I look at the cover. And very much like the guitar on the cover, it didn't really occur to me until 2/3 of the way into that book that everything about When It Happens really has a sort of Say Anything feel to it and that really should have stood out to me before that!

Amazon says: Sara and Tobey couldn’t be more different. She is focused on getting into her first-choice college; he wants to win Battle of the Bands. Sara’s other goal is to find true love, so when Dave, a popular jock, asks her out, she’s thrilled. But then there’s Tobey. His amazing blue eyes and quirky wit always creep into her thoughts. It just so happens that one of Tobey’s goals is also to make Sara fall in love with him. Told in alternating points of view, Sara and Tobey’s real connection will have everyone rooting for them from the minute they meet!

The only thing is, once the comparison to Say Anything is made, the next logical step is to compare Tobey with Loyd Dobbler, and his fantastic 'I don't want to sell anything, buy anything or process anything' speech. And while the characters in When It Happens are great, they're not quite as charming as Loyd/John Cusack. But it is still a sweet little book. Again, I will definitely be on the look out for more books by Susane Colasanti!

The Book of Luke by Jenny O'Connell - And while it never occurred to me that When It Happens felt like a movie, I felt right from the start that The Book of Luke felt like a movie. Only I couldn't work out which one. It took awhile, but it finally came to me. This reminds me of the film John Tucker Must Die. Do you know it? Where three of John Tucker's ex-girlfriends team up to make one girl be the perfect girlfriend for John Tucker with the ultimate goal of breaking John Tucker's heart. See what you think...

Amazon says this: Emily Abbott has always been considered the Girl Most Likely to Be Nice -- but lately being nice hasn't done her any good. Her parents have decided to move the family from Chicago back to their hometown of Boston in the middle of Emily's senior year. Only Emily's first real boyfriend, Sean, is in Chicago, and so is her shot at class valedictorian and early admission to the Ivy League. What's a nice girl to do?

Then Sean dumps Emily on moving day and her father announces he's staying behind in Chicago "to tie up loose ends," and Emily decides that what a nice girl needs to do is to stop being nice.

She reconnects with her best friends in Boston, Josie and Lucy, only to discover that they too have been on the receiving end of some glaring Guy Don'ts. So when the girls have to come up with something to put in the senior class time capsule, they know exactly what to do. They'll create a not-so-nice reference guide for future generations of guys -- an instruction book that teaches them the right way to treat girls.

But when her friends draft Emily to test out their tips on Luke Preston -- the hottest, most popular guy in school, who just broke up with Josie by email -- Emily soon finds that Luke is the trickiest of test subjects . . . and that even a nice girl like Emily has a few things to learn about love.

Do you see the connection? Nice girl versus heartbreaker? Well, whatever. That's what I kept picturing in my head as I read the book. And to be honest, while I did enjoy it, aspects of the book made me cringe. Perhaps this is a case where I'm just too old for the book and people more in the target teen audience would view some of the tips in Emily's handbook to be less offensive than I did right from the start. I really just wanted to smack Emily quite a lot. And I think I'm meant to feel that way to an extent. Emily really has a lot of growing up to do during the course of the book. Growing up in ways that I didn't need to share with her. That isn't to say that I didn't enjoy the book, I thought Emily had fantastic chemistry and it was a lovely diversion of an afternoon!

So there we have it. Do let me know if you've read any of these books. And also, your experiences with judging a book by it's cover!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

More library loot

The Ambassador's Mission by Trudi Canavan - First book in a new series by Trudi Canavan? I'm so there.

Amazon says: Sonea, former street urchin, now a Black Magician of Kyralia, is horrified when her son, Lorkin, volunteers to assist Dannyl in his new role as Guild Ambassador to Sachaka, a land still ruled by cruel black magicians. When word comes that Lorkin has gone missing Sonea is desperate to find him, but if she leaves the city she will be exiled forever, and besides, her old friend Cery needs her help. Most of his family has been murdered - the latest in a long line of assassinations to plague the leading Thieves. There has always been rivalry, but lately it seems the Thieves have been waging a deadly underworld war, and now it appears they have been doing so with magical assistance ...

Florences and Giles by John Harding - I saw this on somebody else's Library Loot post and thought it looks and sounded great. So when I saw it on my library's New This Week shelf, I snatched it off quickly!

Amazon says: A sinister Gothic tale in the tradition of The Woman in Black and The Fall of the House of Usher 1891. In a remote and crumbling New England mansion, 12-year-old orphan Florence is neglected by her guardian uncle and banned from reading. Left to her own devices she devours books in secret and talks to herself - and narrates this, her story - in a unique language of her own invention. By night, she sleepwalks the corridors like one of the old house's many ghosts and is troubled by a recurrent dream in which a mysterious woman appears to threaten her younger brother Giles. Sometimes Florence doesn't sleepwalk at all, but simply pretends to so she can roam at will and search the house for clues to her own baffling past. After the sudden violent death of the children's first governess, a second teacher, Miss Taylor, arrives, and immediately strange phenomena begin to occur. Florence becomes convinced that the new governess is a vengeful and malevolent spirit who means to do Giles harm. Against this powerful supernatural enemy, and without any adult to whom she can turn for help, Florence must use all her intelligence and ingenuity to both protect her little brother and preserve her private world. Inspired by and in the tradition of Henry James' s The Turn of the Screw, Florence & Giles is a gripping gothic page-turner told in a startlingly different and wonderfully captivating narrative voice.

Sleepwalking by Nicola Morgan - I was really looking for Nicola Morgan's latest book, Wasted, but found this and the following book instead!

Amazon says: The Citizens of this future world drift contentedly, their every emotion regulated. There is no pain, no suffering, no evil. And no freedom. Just safety and drug-induced happiness. But a small group, known as the Outsiders, crave real emotion, real freedom, even suffering. To them, the power of ideas and language cannot die - it is essential to being human. And they have a plan to change society. For years, a group of 'special' young people have been raised to have the strength and knowledge to overthrow the system. Now, when a deadly virus strikes, four of these teenagers, Livia, Cassandra, Marcus and Tavius must act quickly to infiltrate the sinister headquarters of the Governators and corrupt the system. But their plan carries enormous risk. Can they discover the chilling secret behind this saccharine dystopia? Are they really only ‘handfuls of dust and splinters of bone’?

The Passion Flower's Massacre by Nicola Morgan

Amazon says: Eighteen-year-old Matilda is looking forward to the freedom her summer away from home this year will offer. Freedom from her oppressive parents, freedom from the guilt and anger she feels over her brother's death some years ago. When she arrives at the fruit farm deep in the idyllic Devon countryside, the super-nice people, and Matt, the gorgeous guy she's already bonded with, make it all seem too good to be true. And soon the people who run the farm, the 'lilies' as Matt calls them, are pulling the vulnerable Matilda closer into their group, singling her out for special attention, feeding her delicious cake and tea, seducing her with their loving concern. These people seem to understand her, she can tell them anything and she feels part of something at last. So when they want her to join them in the big house they all live in on the hill, and meet their leader, Peter, she is ready and willing. She doesn't realise that she is dangerously involved in a religious cult, and that she is being brainwashed and drugged in preparation for a mass suicide, planned by the pathologically driven Peter. He's going to burn all of them alive, because he believes it will save their souls for God. Will Matilda escape? What has happened to Matt? Twenty-five years later, Peter is about to be released from prison. Has he been punished enough? Has he been forgiven? An old woman has been visiting him in prison. She has her own ideas of God's will, faith and justice. Who is stronger? Who is right? Who will win?

I really didn't need to go to the library today. In fact, my intentions were to drop off the one book I'd read from my last library loot (Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow) and leave with nothing. What's that I hear? You lot laughing at me? That's fair.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

REVIEW: Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

OH MY GOD. Seriously. I've never read a book like this. The third in the amazing Chaos Walking trilogy, Monsters of Men was really explosive reading. I had to stop reading about 100 times reading this book because my heart was beating furiously and I almost couldn't breathe, it is THAT exciting. And as much as I wanted to read and read and read to find out what was going to happen, I was also really, really scared. I've been so emotionally-invested in these characters that I wasn't sure how I'd cope if anything bad happened to them. And the book is about war. As in, war makes monsters of men... which can only mean bad things. I don't want to spoil anything for anybody, so I'll keep the details to a minimum.

My poor heart was seriously tested reading this book. And while there is excellent characterisation in the entire series, and everything is very fast-paced and actiony, I also loved all of the questions of morality placed on our two main characters, Todd and Viola as they make some tough decisions between two really powerful and opposing forces. There's so many important themes that run throughout this entire series. The aspect of Noise and privacy of thought, power and control as seen by the ways in which Mayor Prentiss and Mistress Coyle behave. The rights of women, the morality of war. It's such a powerful trilogy of books and I can't stress enough just how much I loved them. They're so intelligent and thought-provoking and moving. I was in minor shock whilst reading the last 100 pages or so of Monsters of Men. Patrick Ness, I salute you for the achievement of these books. Truly wonderful.

Monsters of Men is by far my favourite book of the year and the Chaos Walking trilogy is amongst the best I've come across in a really long time. If you haven't read this books, what are you waiting for?

Monday, May 24, 2010


Last month I got a bee in my bonnet about clearing out some space in my TBR shelves. So I ended up picking the slimmest looking books and reading them, not because I really wanted to but because I need some space, damnit. A terrible way to pick the next book, but it worked. It had the added bonus of clearing some of shelves of books that had been there up to a year AND it gave me that wonderful sense of accomplishment when I finished a book. Luckily, I mostly enjoyed the books I read as well. Here are five of the books I read at the same sort of time. I only realised afterwards that three of the books had 'Girl' in the title. I love weird coincidences like that.

Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith - I picked up Girl Meets Boy awhile back, after reading The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood. I loved the idea of Canongate's Myth series, this retelling of old myths by popular authors. It's an interesting way to engage readers with myths of the past. And I'd wanted to read Ali Smith for awhile and I thought a slim little book like this might make a good place to start. And oh, it was so good.

I can't say that I'd heard of Iphis and I know almost nothing about Ovid's Metamorphosis, but it really didn't matter once I picked up the book. It is absolutely lovely and romantic and just plain sweet. I really wanted to read passages out to anyone who would listen because the writing is just so beautiful. In Ovid's myth, Iphis is a girl who is transformed into a boy in order to marry Ianthe who she passionately loves. In Smith's novel, the myth is brought to life again as the story of two sisters in Scotland, Midge and Anthea, and they come to terms with Anthea's relationship with another woman, the meaning of love and where their place in the world is. And while the side story of a woman's place in a corporate world is also fascinating, it's the love story that blew me away.

Shopgirl by Steve Martin - I picked up Shopgirl by Steve Martin from a library sale. That happened more than a year ago, possibly. I'd seen the film with Claire Danes and Steve Martin previously, but I kind of wanted to check out Steve Martin's writing style. I was a bit curious about it (but not enough to put it at the top of my TBR pile, obviously). I'm really not sure what I was expecting.

This novella is really similar to the movie in terms of style and pacing. It's a very gentle story about this lonely girl, Mirabelle and the ways in which she changes her own life after meeting two very different men. Her life really isn't going anywhere, she's almost content to let things happen to her, until she meets Ray Porter. I don't know. At some points, it felt like there was something more to Shopgirl, I found some of the observations to be really spot-on, and I felt a little protective of Mirabelle throughout the story but when I finished, I wasn't left with any big emotional impact.

The Graduate by Charles Webb - Yeah, I didn't really connect with The Graduate very well. I have to admit, I've never seen the film. In fact, the only thing I really know about The Graduate, is what I saw in the film Starter For Ten with James McAvoy? Remember, when he walks in on his crush's mother in her underwear? And made a stupid comment about Mrs Robinson? That's a terrible reason for me to have picked up The Graduate, isn't it? At least it was short.

I could see the whole disillusionment of Benjamin's character coming back from university thing. The pressures and expectations of his family and bizarrely what the neighbours think. And the train-wreck romantic relationships at the end. But it all just didn't work me for me.

Girl With Glasses: My Optic History by Marissa Walsh - Here's another one I've had on my stack for awhile. After I commented on Keris' review of it over on Five Minutes Peace, she kindly sent me her copy. It was really quick to read, light and fun. There was a lot I could relate to.

I started wearing glasses from before my third birthday. I went through the trauma of horrible plastic lenses and the 'four-eyes' teasing. I went through the different phases of despising my glasses, hiding behind my glasses and finally embracing my inner-Girl With Glasses. I'd have liked to hear more about some of Marissa Walsh's experiences, it kind of felt like she was glossing over some of the more interesting stories and sticking with the glasses thing a little too much. But that's OK. It was an interesting diversion on a lazy afternoon.

The Unfinished Novel and other Stories by Valerie Martin - Ahhhh, I'm absolutely terrible at reviewing short stories. I picked up The Unfinished Novel in a library sale just after I read Property a few months back. I didn't like the characters in Property, but I enjoyed Martin's style of writing, so I really wanted to give another try. Short stories though, I kind of love them and I kind of don't. The thing with The Unfinished Novel is that I read it just after reading some of Ernest Hemingway's short stories, and I was kind of burnt out on them already.

Valerie Martin's short stories in this book are all about artists. Writers, painters, actors, anything really creative and the relationships that they are involved in. And they don't really go well. All the relationships are either doomed or failed and I'm sure she was trying to say something about the passion of artists. Some of the stories really gripped me and others I found myself losing interest a little bit. A different time, different circumstances I'm sure I'd have felt differently. I still want to read more Valerie Martin someday, but maybe I'll stay away from the short stories for a little while...

And there we have it. A little round-up of the shorter books I've been reading lately. Have you read any of these books?

Friday, May 21, 2010

New library loot!

I finished my book this morning (Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson, which was very enjoyable) and because I wasn't *excited* to read anything else on my TBR pile, I thought I'd take a trip to the library. The library nearest to me with the best YA section was open today, so I was in luck and picked up the following books...

When I Was Joe by Keren David - I can't really remember how this book first popped up on my radar, but it did and I started reading Keren David's blog and I was really happy to see this book on the shelves today. It sounds like a thrilling read. And longer than I expected it to be..

Beautiful Dead: Summer by Eden Maguire - Ah, I just keep coming back to this series. They have such pretty covers too. Third book in the series about pretty zombies. It makes giggle a little bit just thinking about it. But once I start reading it, I'll get sucked in again.

Strange angels by Lili St. Crow - I've seen reviews of this one around. The shininess of the cover sort of appeals to me, even if the basic premise doesn't immediately grab me. I will try it anyway!

Fallen by Lauren Kate - It's funny how other people getting excited about books makes me want to read them. News of an ARC of the sequel to Fallen has been spotted on a few blogs and yes, I like to feel included. Before the book came out I was a little excited to read this one, until some mixed reviews starting showing up. In any case, I thought I'd better read this one, make up my mind about it.

The Queen of Everything by Deb Caletti - I keep hearing Deb Caletti's name around. Someone recommended a different book of hers to me, said they weren't that impressed with this one, but it's all they had at the library. So I took it. Anyone else read anything by Deb Caletti?

Killing God by Kevin Brooks - This book and Kevin Brooks was recommended to me by a friend. I feel like it's going to be really gritty and kind of horrible to read, but I shall give it it's chance. I felt the same way about The Road of the Dead, but it was also really beautiful at the same time.

And finally, we have Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynn Jones - I haven't read many books by Diana Wynn Jones, but the ones that I have I really loved. And this one has a pretty cover! And a lot of the books I picked up seem a little dark. With zombies and violent attacks and all. I felt like I needed to tip the balance a little bit.

And that's all! What great books have you picked up lately? Have you read any of these books?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Like Bees to Honey by Caroline Smailes

Now time for some exciting news! If you don't already know (you should, you should!), Caroline Smailes' new book, Like Bees To Honey, will be published next week. And I cannot wait to read it. I've been following Caroline's blog for ages now and Like Bees To Honey sounds like a really personal and emotional story. Set in Malta, which makes me really intrigued. Just look at that beautiful cover! And read the synopsis... doesn't that sound wonderful?

A major new novel from the acclaimed author of In Search of Adam and Black Boxes. Nina, her son Christopher in tow, flies to Malta for one last visit with her aging parents. Her previous attempt to see them ended in tears. Disowned for falling pregnant while at university in England, she was not allowed into the house. This will be her final chance to make her peace with them. But Malta holds more secrets and surprises than Nina could possibly imagine. What she finds is not the land of her youth, a place full of memories and happiness. Instead she meets dead people. Lots of them. Malta, it transpires, is a transit lounge for recently deceased spirits and somehow Christopher enables her to see them, speak with them and help them. And, in return, they help Nina come to terms with her own loss. One so great that she has yet to admit it to herself. Like Bees to Honey is a story of family, redemption and ghosts. It is a magical tale that will live with you long after you finish reading.

(product review from Amazon)

Today, I am thrilled to take part in her blog tour, where the entire book will be previewed for you all! Start from the beginning at Caroline's page here and when you're caught up, the chapter following mine will be found here! And enjoy!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Graphic Novel round-up

I've always been a little intimidated by graphic novels. Mostly because when I think of graphic novels, I always think along the lines of Batman and Superman comics and the sort of hard core fans that come with them and I don't think I'll ever feel comfortable in those conditions. But graphic novels aren't limited to superheroes. Graphic novels are just as diverse as regular novels and there are some really great ones out there and I'm only just discovering some of them.

Maus by Art Spiegleman - I believe this was the first graphic novel I read. And I read it back in January. It's amazing. I remember people raving about the book when I worked in Books Etc all those years ago and now I'm kicking myself that I waited so long to pick up Maus.

I really loved the illustrations - the Nazi cats and the Jewish rats, I thought that was really clever. At the same time as telling this heartbreaking story of his father's survival during WWII, there's also this complicated relationship between father and his new wife, and father and son and the effects that the war has had on all their lives. I've only read the first part of the story and I'm anxious to read the second part. I'd really like to get back to these characters, especially the sarcastic Vladek.

The Comical Tragedy or Tragical comedy of Mr Punch by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean - I've always, always had a bit of a literary crush on Neil Gaiman but I've tried reading the Sandman graphic novels without any success so far. When I saw this book, I thought 'wahey, a stand-alone Neil Gaiman GN!' and did a little dance. My dance was short-lived. Because Mr Punch is one of the darkest, creepiest things I've ever read. Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, my god, there is such darkness in your heads for creating this gruesome little story and accompanying it with those frightening illustrations! Gave! Me! Nightmares! I finished this and I swear to you, I had to watch scenes from musicals like The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music on youtube to tip the balance of the disturbing occuping my head. I will never again think of Mr Punch in the same way. *shudder*

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang - This book was unexpected. I didn't know much about it beforehand, just that several people mentioned it as a starting place for first-time graphic novel readers. So I requested it on my book-swapping website and when it arrived, I thought, 'ooh.' And I read the little synopsis which read that the book is split into three parts, the first a folktale of sorts about a monkey who would like to be revered as a god; a Chinese boy who falls in love with an American girl; and a high school student who is embarassed by his Chinese cousin, Chin-Kee. And if you think you know how these three stories go together, you'd be wrong. I promise. Like I said, American Born Chinese turned out to be something entirely different than I expected. It's very weird. And uncomfortable to read in parts, especially in regards to the depiction of Chin-Kee. It brings up issues of racism and stereotypes and is meant to make people feel uncomfortable.

I did like the overall message of being comfortable with who are and highlighting the racism that exists, but the strangeness of some of the storylines probably overshadowed that message for me.

And finally, we have Embroideries by Marjane Sartapi - Earlier in the year, I read Persepolis by the same author and loved it. So I made it my goal to hunt down some of Sartapi's other works to give them a try as well. And first into my house is Embroideries. And what a fun, little graphic novel this was. It relates the stories of Sartapi's (female) family and friends and neighbours. And specifically the stories that concern their love and sex lives. And the sex lives of a bunch of Iranian women is not something I thought I would ever read about, but it's refreshing to see such topics being openly discussed and it brings to light a lot of different issues, such as the importance of virginity and the ways in which women have been treated over different generations. The stories include happy and unhappy marriages, love, and keeping up appearances. It's mostly light and entertaining. I'm glad that I read it, but I wish it were longer and that some of the stories were told more in-depth.

So, there we have it. Four very different graphic novels. Now that I've read these, I'm desperate for more. Have you read any wonderful graphic novels lately? Leave your recommendations in the comments!

Monday, May 17, 2010


I am currently drowning in notes and revision for my exam in June. At the same time as theories and research methods are swirling around in my head, so are blog ideas and mini-reviews of the books I've read recently. And as much as I love this little blog, I really need that space for the revising, because I am absolutely terrified of not doing well. (I can do it, I can do it, I can do it!) I've even put on hold the book I'm reading (Monster of Men by Patrick Ness! A book I'm absolutely DYING to finish!) in order to concentrate fully. Sigh.

I can't seem to find that right balance between reading, blogging, revising and looking after my children (what was I thinking going back to university with two small children?). So you'll notice a slow-down of blogging in the next month or so (a slow-down, not a complete absence!) . But don't despair, I am still here and I have something very exciting coming up this week... Look out for it. And when I DO start blogging regularly again, things will be new and fresh and fun!

Until then, if you have any spare positive thoughts, you can send them my way! I need 'em.

Friday, May 14, 2010

REVIEW: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

“What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?

Samantha Kingston has it all: the world's most crush-worthy boyfriend, three amazing best friends, and first pick of everything at Thomas Jefferson High—from the best table in the cafeteria to the choicest parking spot. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life.

Instead, it turns out to be her last.

Then she gets a second chance. Seven chances, in fact. Reliving her last day during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death—and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing.”

Before I Fall was such an amazing book. I read it awhile back and then it's taken me some time to collect my thoughts about the book. It's just very different than I was expecting. And I'm even more suprised by Before I Fall because it's a debut novel and it's so good it nearly knocked me on my ass while I read it.

I love the structure of story, with the day - February 12 - being relived, Groundhog-style over the course of a week. But Oliver made each day different enough that the same material isn't being dredged up seven different ways. Each day seems to build a little more onto the last and we're left with this complex story with layers and layers of deeper characterisation and meaning. And it was really sad and beautiful and honest and heart-breaking all at once.

I think something has to be said about the characters. Sam and her friends are not very nice and it took me awhile to warm to Sam as a main character. Her group of friends are very bitchy and queen-bee-like in their high school. Everything seems to come to them naturally and more than occasionally they're just not very nice. And those actions and consequences are really what's being dealt with in Before I Fall. And what I loved about these characters is that they're aren't perfect. By the end, everything isn't perfectly cleared up and resolved. Instead, we have this clearer image of these girls who treat some people badly, but they're loyal to each other, like family. And Sam's character really develops as well, as she figures out what's important to her and what things she's willing to change in order to make things right. With her friends, her family and in her romantic life.

It's a really wonderful story and it comes highly recommended!

Friday, May 07, 2010

YA mini-reviews

I figured the only way I'll ever catch up on some reviews is if I do a whole load all at one time. All of these books were read more than a month ago, so I figure I don't have enough to say about them to do individual reviews! (plus, I think I'm coming down with a cold)

Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols - I picked up Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols solely because of a review by Lisa at Books. Lists. Life who read it last year. She put John After, the male main characters into her list of hot love interests in a YA book, and OK - that's really what sold it for me. And 'hot' is a pretty good word to describe this book.

High school senior Meg revels in being a rebel. She sports choppy blue hair, and tight t-shirts, cuts class, and is often found where she's not supposed to be. Like hanging out on a railroad-tracks-covered bridge that's off-limits to trespassers. When she and her friends are busted for trespassing and underage drinking, she's sentenced to spend her spring break riding along with a rookie police officer on his nightshift patrol. Compounding the punishment is the fact that the cop, John After, is only two years older than Meg, and a former classmate to boot. He thinks he has Meg's number and has nothing but contempt for her childish rebellion. Meg in turn has nothing but contempt for Officer After's straight-laced, by-the-book attitude. But Meg has her reasons for lashing out, and John has his reasons for his need for law and order. And they're about to discover that they have a lot more in common than either one of them could have dreamed...

I love the tension between Meg and Officer After, and their relationship is pretty sizzling! OH MY GOD. Honestly, I couldn't put it down and then kept reading certain scenes over again. Right through to the end, this book had my heart beating just a little too fast. It was funny and sad and sweet. And the characters were great, complexly written and layered. I loved everything about this book. You should read it. (this makes me even more excited because I've just gotten an email to confirm that I will be recieving an ARC copy of Forget You by Jennifer Echols sometime soon! YAY!)

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan - I'm a little sad. That I read Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist *after* I watched the movie.

It all starts when Nick asks Norah to be his girlfriend for five minutes. He only needs five minutes to avoid his ex-girlfriend, who's just walked in to his band's show. With a new guy. And then, with one kiss, Nick and Norah are off on an adventure set against the backdrop of New York City;and smack in the middle of all the joy, anxiety, confusion, and excitement of a first date. This he said/she said romance told by YA stars Rachel Cohn and David Levithan is a sexy, funny roller coaster of a story about one date over one very long night, with two teenagers, both recovering from broken hearts, who are just trying to figure out who they want to be;and where the next great band is playing. Told in alternating chapters, teeming with music references, humor, angst, and endearing side characters, this is a love story you'll wish were your very own. Working together for the first time, Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have combined forces to create a book that is sure to grab readers of all ages and never let them go.

What was I thinking?! I thought the movie was really cute. I think Michael Cera is absolutely adorable and really liked it. So, I went searching for the book. The first thing that I thought when I had the book in front of me is 'my god, that's a pretty slim book' It's only 183 pages. And it really is quite short. The movie really filled in a lot of the story line with other things and stretched the night out just a little bit more. And I could feel that in the book. Because I'd seen the movie, I wanted there to be a little bit more to pad everything out, make the will-they-won't-they suspence just a little bit more. But it was still wonderful. I thought Nick and Norah were way sexier and that Norah had lots more attitude and feistiness in the book. It was funny and sweet and I loved all the music references and the fun, quirky characters. But all I could see in my head were the cast of the movie. Ah well. Live, learn.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson - I was expecting this book to be hard to read. And it was. But in a way, I also just couldn't stop reading it either. I couldn't look away from all the pain and suffering in this book. Everything felt so raw and emotional. It was all a little heartbreaking. Obviously it's a book about a girl with an eating disorder, but it's also about a girl struggling with the grief of her friend, the guilt of not picking up that phone the night her best friend died. Trying to find some sense of control. Of easing this need towards thinness, of not letting people in, issues with her family. Lia's downward spiral in Wintergirls sparked memories of my own downward spiral after my parent's divorced when I was younger. I wish that I'd been able to read a book like this at the time. As a warning and also as a reminder that I'm not alone.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan - I'm not going to say too much about this book, because oh my god, I've seen ten thousand reviews in the blogosphere of it already. But I loved it. I did. I didn't think I'd love a book about zombies as much as I did, but there you have it.

In Mary's world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth.

But, slowly, Mary's truths are failing her. She's learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future - between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?

I found some scenes to be utterly gruesome, but I expected that and if I'm honest, I expected more gore. Instead, there's an interesting love triangle, some great characters and some real feelings and emotions. I was hoping that more questions would be answered, but maybe that's covered in the sort-of sequel, Dead Tossed Waves? And, there's a movie being made of it? Interesting.

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles - I have to admit, when I started Perfect Chemistry, I couldn't really get into it. It took several chapters before I started to care. And mostly because of that word 'perfect.' There's nothing I hate more than characters in YA describing anything as perfect. Because even though it's painfully obvious to me and to every other reader out there, it never is to the characters until the end. Oh well, it improved. And by the end, I was hooked.

When Brittany Ellis walks into chemistry class on the first day of senior year, she has no clue that her carefully created “perfect” life is about to unravel before her eyes. She’s forced to be lab partners with Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town, and he is about to threaten everything she's worked so hard for—her flawless reputation, her relationship with her boyfriend, and the secret that her home life is anything but perfect. Alex is a bad boy and he knows it. So when he makes a bet with his friends to lure Brittany into his life, he thinks nothing of it. But soon Alex realizes Brittany is a real person with real problems, and suddenly the bet he made in arrogance turns into something much more. In a passionate story about looking beneath the surface, Simone Elkeles breaks through the stereotypes and barriers that threaten to keep Brittany and Alex apart.

Not to be a Complaining Nelly, but I didn't really connect with the whole gang element of the book either. It felt like we're being told that Alex is this tough guy who does all this tough guy stuff without ever showing us. But apart from that, once the story got going, I really liked Brittany and Alex. Both characters seemed to be under a lot of pressure, from their families and from themselves to put on this front - be the people that other people expect them to be. And it's nice to see those expectations slowly crumble as these two get to know each other. And when that happens, it is kind of hot. As you'd expect with all that chemistry, I'd guess :)

And that's from me! Expect a blog post in the near future about my reasons in reading so much YA, but for now - Why do/don't YOU read YA? I want to hear all about it.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

REVIEW: Della Says OMG! by Keris Stainton

Della’s over the moon when she kisses her long-standing crush at a party – but then she discovers her diary has disappeared...
When scans of embarrassing pages are sent to her mobile and appear on Facebook, Della’s distraught – how can she enjoy her first proper romance when someone, somewhere, knows all her deepest, darkest secrets?

I absolutely adored Della Says OMG! by Keris Stainton. This is another review that makes me nervous to write, because I consider Keris a friend of mine. Friends who've never met, but still friends. And honestly, I'm so proud of her for this book that you'd think I'd written it myself.

And the book really is fabulous. I read it in bed on one of those days where I had an afternoon all to myself. It was the perfect way to spend the day. Della was an absolute joy, I loved being in her head. I could completely relate to her throughout the entire book, when she's agonising over her diary pages being made public, her worries about this new relationship with her long-term crush Dan. I went through so many emotions with Della. From anxiety, embarassment, insecurity, awkwardness. At times, I have to admit, I had to put the book down and breathe. Remind myself that I'm not Della. That these things didn't happen to me. And the whole mystery of who is doing all this completely surprised me.

When Della's diary pages first crop up, my whole face turned red. I was embarassed and mortified for Della. Because Keris really didn't shy away from those uncomfortable topics that aren't really written about or spoken about. And once I got past that initial OMG! moment, I realised that it's a really great thing that's happened. There was a conversation on Twitter about it, comparing this book to that of Forever by Judy Blume where more risque topics are talked about openly. And I can see that comparison. It's a good thing, really.

And besides all that, I loved Dan. He's such a swoon-worthy character and I loved him for being so adorable and awkward and honest with Della. And still, I think I crushed on Della even more. She's just so funny and smart and has this great strength about her. So thank you Keris for this wonderful story with these great characters. The book is hilarious and embarassing and sweet all at the same time.

Della Says OMG is officially released today! Go out now and buy it. You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

REVIEW: Plain Jayne by Hillary Manton Lodge

Hillary Manton Lodge is an old friend of mine from high school. And Plain Jayne is her first book published. I've been a little nervous about writing this review, not because I didn't love her book (which, incidentally, I did) but because it's a completely different book from what I would normally read.

It's .. Amish fiction. And I don't really get Christian literature. I wonder the need for it at all. Why seperate out your fiction into something religiously orientated? Can someone explain that to me? What I do understand, though, is the re-emerging interest in the Amish culture. It's just such a lovely idea, isn't it? These back to basics ideals with family values in a time where it's more normal for people to catch up via twitter or facebook and families don't eat dinner at the table together. That's my take on it anyway. And I really did love how Hillary (ack. in most reviews I'd probably seperate myself more from the author by referring to her as 'Lodge' but I just can't this time. Not when I can see her face and hear her voice in my head!) was able to balance this story well with humour and wit alongside the Amish values.

Jayne Tate is a reporter for the Oregonian. She's kind of a workaholic. So when her boss forces her into taking some annual leave, instead of taking a break to grieve the recent loss of her father, Jayne instead hightails it to the nearest Amish community nearby, thinking that there could be a possible story. There, she meets Levi Burkholder and his family, learns quite a bit from the Amish, and in the process Jayne is able to come to terms with her own issues with her family and is able to have a clearer idea of what she wants and where her heart belongs.

This really is quite a fun story. I love the little quirks of the characters, from Jayne riding a motorcyle and making quips about Star Trek, to Sara, Levi's little sister who is fashion-mad, to Jayne's best gal-pals. I loved all of the pie baking and quilting. How I wish I had those talents. The issues involving Jayne with her family seemed quite believable and everything about the Amish was fascinating to read about. The religious bits of the novel, while there, are fairly subtle and not at all overbearing, which was a concern of mine before I started reading. The romance aspect of the book is quite sweet and while it is a little gentle for my tastes, you will definitely be rooting for the two characters to get together! The dialogue is quite snappy and Plain Jayne was just such a wonderful reading experience, it puts a big smile on my face whenever I think of it.

I can't wait to read the next book in the series, called Simply Sara which is out later in the year!

Hillary Manton Lodge's website

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

REVIEW: The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

I was lucky enough to be sent an ARC of The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. And oh, it was amazing. I thought I'd heard about it in the blogophere before, but when the book was actually in front of me, I realised that I probably hadn't. There is a lot to like with The Sky Is Everywhere. The kooky characters, the music, the poetry, the romantic interest. But what I loved the most is Lennie's emotional journey.

"Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister, Bailey. But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life—and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey’s boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie’s own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they’re the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can’t collide without the whole wide world exploding. This remarkable debut is perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, and Francesca Lia Block. Just as much a celebration of love as it is a portrait of loss, Lennie’s struggle to sort her own melody out of the noise around her is always honest, often hilarious, and ultimately unforgettable."

I don't normally rely on the publisher's summary, but I was unable to write my own. There's just so much going on in this book. One of my favourite aspects of the book are Lennie's sorrow-filled poems that she writes, on anything she can find, paper cups and scraps of paper that are buried or hidden or left to fly in the wind. I like that idea. The thought of someone randomly finding such a poem, letting my thoughts and emotion be spread out like that.

I also liked how music and literature play a part in Lennie's life. I'm not sure what a clarinet actually sounds like, but I imagine it to be a little haunting, but in a beautiful way. And I can just imagine Lennie's battered old copy of Wuthering Heights. It's a very artsy family, Lennie's. With the clarinet and the book-nerdiness. The poetry, the grandmother's green-lady paintings. I could just see everything so well. The picture of Lennie's family, and her grief is portrayed so realistically that when I finished reading this book, I found it hard to adjust. This characters became so real to me.

And while I thought the relationship between Lennie and Toby was a little icky, I could still understand it. Lennie being so messed up and holding onto the things closest to Bailey, sitting in Bailey's closet and not touching her things. Not moving on. Until Joe Fontaine. Now, really. If there was ever a boy to have a crush on in a YA book, it's Joe Fontaine. Just the thought of him puts a smile on my face.

So many themes running through this book, grief and loss. Secrets and lies. First love. There's something for everyone here. It's one of my favourite books to have read this year. I keep comparing other YA books I've been reading to this one and finding other books to be lacking. I hope if you haven't already, that you pick up this book and read it. Fall in love with it like I did.

Monday, May 03, 2010

REVIEW: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Oh how I adore John Green. I'd read Looking For Alaska last year and it was almost life-changing. So I had really high hopes for An Abundance of Katherines, and while I thought it was incredibly funny and nerdy, and I loved Colin and Hassan and their relationship, it wasn't quite as emotional as I'd like. And yet I still loved it.

Colin Singleton is a child-prodigy who's pretty talented at languages and anagramming, but one who hasn't gone on to becoming a genius. Instead, he's been dumped by a whopping 19 girls named Katherine. He's a total Dumpee. So just after his high school graduation, his best friend Hassan decides that the only thing to do is to go on a road trip. And somehow Colin and Hassan end up in Gutshot, Tennessee, home of the grave of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. There, Colin tries to work on a mathematical theorem that will predict how long a relationship will last. They meet Lindsey and her mother Hollis, who owns a company that produces tampon-strings and while there, Colin and Hassan have some pretty interesting adventures including a hilarious pig-hunting trip.

I really did love the relationship and banter between Colin and Hassan. I think their dialogue was the reason that I loved this book so much. At the start I wasn't really drawn to Colin as a character, but by the end his social-ineptitude was kind of adorable. I thought the anagramming and the footnotes to fun facts were a nice touch. I kind of skimmed over the maths, because maths isn't really my sort of thing. But I did appreciate the graphs and everything in a way. It's all so nerdy. And I do love nerdiness. I also loved how the novel turned into a reflection of sorts on story-telling and the story Colin tells at the end about his relationships with the Katherines really blew me away.

I'm glad that I read this. It was funny and sweet and intelligent. And John Green, you sure didn't forget to be awesome!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

The Sunday Salon: April

The Sunday
I read so many great books in April. If I had to choose favourites, they'd include Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver and The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. With runners-up including Graceling by Kristin Cashore and Fighting Ruben Wolfe by Markus Zusak.

I've really tried to keep up with reviews this month, but you can see badly I've been accomplishing that. I love the variety of books I've read: it's taken me from Battle School in space, to a boy being raised by wild dogs to lots and lots of first love. I've written reviews for An Abundance of Katherines and The Sky is Everywhere coming up this week, but if there is anything on this list that you're dying to hear about, let me know and I'll write about those books first!

1. Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card
2. The Firework-Maker's Daughter by Philip Pullman
3. The Butterfly Tattoo by Philip Pullman
4. Unsticky by Sarra Manning (reread)
5. Graceling by Kristin Cashore
6. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
7. What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones
8. Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith
9. Girl With Glasses: My Optic History by Marissa Walsh
10. Shopgirl by Steve Martin
11. The Graduate by Charles Webb
12. Heartbeat by Sharon Creech
13. Dog Boy by Eva Hornung
14. Ash by Malinda Lo
15. Beautiful Dead: Jonas by Eden Maguire
16. The Body Artist by Don DeLillo
17. Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway
18. The Unfinished Novel and other stories by Valerie Martin
19. Beastly by Alex Flinn
20. Fighting Ruben Wolfe by Markus Zusak
21. Beautiful Dead: Arizona by Eden Maguire
22. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
23. Bloom by Elizabeth Scott
24. The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
25. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
26. Scarred by Julia Hoban
27. Sticky Fingers by Niki Burnham
28. When It Happens by Susane Colasanti
29. The Book of Luke by Jenny O'Connell

I'm still a little in shock that I read 29 books this month. I'm sure every other month in the year won't come close to these numbers! I do love that only six of these were from the library, the rest were from my own shelves. Yay for clearing space!

And for what I'm reading at the moment? I'm reading North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley, which book bloggers everywhere seemed to enjoy. It's going a little slowly as I haven't been making much time to read lately. Hopefully today I'll be able to squeeze some time in. After I'm finished North of Beautiful? Hoping to get to Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson.

How did your reading go in April? What're you reading at the moment?