Nostalgia: Sweet Valley Twins and Friends: The Magic Christmas

I am reading two very serious books (serious in different ways–one is an autobiography, another is just kind of hard to read), so to give myself a break on Christmas Eve, I broke out my copy of The Magic Christmas because I knew it would be easy, and it’s always fun.  The twins get dolls that come alive!  They go to a magical world!  There are riddles to solve!  And magic!

Anyway, there’s not much to say about it except I totally laughed at Elizabeth being self-centered and twelve because her grandmother was all, “Samantha and Amanda stopped speaking because Samantha (I think) framed the love of her sister’s life and got him sent to prison and they regretted it their whole lives” and Liz is basically like, “Yeah, okay, whatever, but Jessica hated my lame Christmas gift so she totally deserves my ire.”  HAHAHAHA.  Oh, Liz.

The book is great because even if you don’t know the twins, it’s easy to follow their drama.  Also, you could cut out all of the details that make it specific to Liz and Jessica and turn it into a story about some other twins.  Plus also, it is kind of creepy cool that each girl basically develops a crush on her sister’s personality doppelganger.  I don’t know how to feel about that except…creepy cool.

Fun way to end the year.  Now I have to finish the other two books.

Book Review: Once Was Lost

Right now I would love to have a personal message from God.  I want to believe the way I used to, when my dad or mom or sometimes both would pray with me at night and I would picture God listening, kind-eyed and bearded.  He was real to me, as real as my own parents.  I don’t know when God stopped being someone I saw as my true friend, and turned into something I’m mostly confused about.

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr is about Sam, a preacher’s kid, who has a crisis of faith that is compounded by the kidnapping of one of her peers.

oncewaslostWhat I Liked

– I really enjoy Sara Zarr’s writing.  She is a sparse writer, but the emotion in all of her scenes is palpable.  I feel what Sam feels, always.

– The tension between Sam and her father.  That he doesn’t belong to just her but to the community, but that she wants him to see her as just as important and worthy of his attention as his calling to his congregation.

– Likewise, I love the way Sam’s mother is handled in this text.  I’ll have to agree with the review on Zarr’s page about how the mom isn’t villainized because she’s an alcoholic.  Because, yes, it’s true that not all drunks are mean drunks.  That doesn’t mean it’s a positive experience having an alcoholic parent, but…right.  Not all drunks are mean drunks.  That’s all I can say about that.  I also like that it’s clear Sam’s mom is suffering from depression, specifically, and not just raging alcoholism.

– The relationship between Sam and Nick.

– Okay, so basically all of the relationships in the book are fantastically handled.

– I also just really, really like how Zarr handles Sam’s loss of faith and how she navigates that necessity for something to grasp on to, not just to understand God, but to understand her world, which has been shattered first by her mother going to rehab and next by Jody’s abduction.

– The tension between who and what people expect Sam to be and just who she really is and how she really feels is well-handled.  You know, like everything else in the book.

I used to think my faith was mine. […] I thought that what I believed was what I believed.  Now I think maybe I’m just…here because my parents expect it.

What I Didn’t Like

– This is honestly a dumb complaint, but the book is so sad.  It’s dumb because the book is melancholy from the outset, and the subject matter lends itself to sadness.  However, I have to say, I felt overwhelmed by sadness as the book continued, and I really, really wanted Sam to be happy, and it frustrated me that she was so unhappy.  Which is the point!  So, yes.  Dumb complaint.  But also a hint at how much I connected with Sam.

In conclusion:  Great book; great theme; excellently handled world, characters, and plot.

Book Review: The Treasure Map of Boys

“I can’t do anything but try to stay out of trouble.”

“Then how will you stay out of trouble, Ruby?” she asked me. “There must be something you can articulate.”

I thought for a moment.  “I can keep away from boys,” I answered.

The Treasure Map of Boys
is the third book in the Ruby Oliver series by E. Lockhart.  In this book, Ruby is still in therapy and still trying to navigate her interpersonal relationships in the Tate universe.

treasureWhat I Liked
–    I love Ruby Oliver.  She is totally one of my favorite characters ever.  I cannot say that I personally relate to her, but she would be a friend of mine in real life.  I don’t know what that says about me.  Or my friends.  But there you go.

–    Another complex look at female friendships and relationships.

–    The book is funny and fun.

–    I really like the way that Lockhart uses the books to examine issues related to feminism (more on this later).

–    I loved the ending a lot.

What I Didn’t Like
I cannot think of anything!

Women Unbound?
I know that The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is Lockhart’s specifically feminist novel, and while it obviously is with its emphasis on power structures, the old boys club, and the glass ceiling, I really enjoy Ruby Oliver’s brand of feminism more—probably because as a teen, I’d be more able to relate to it.  Ruby likes boys and is constantly negotiating her world because liking boys and being liked by boys creates so much confusion for her with the other girls.  I mean, she is a famous slut and hasn’t done anything, really.  And it’s all reputation, which is very important, especially for teenaged girls of her socio-economic status.

There are also moments in the novel, like when Ruby is organizing the bake sale, where the characters specifically address gender roles and responsibilities.

And why was it that I had to lie to my friend in order to do the right thing by her? In order to be a good person, I had to pretend I didn’t feel the way I felt.

Ruby encapsulates the double bind.  She is also selfish and self-centered in her way, which makes her authentically a teenager.

In conclusion:  Great read if you’re looking for something fun.

Book Review: Highway to Hell

I’m not much of a badass demon slayer.  Superheroes always have a cool origin story, but not me.  I’m not on a quest for vengeance or atonement.  I’m not the chosen one.  I’m just a girl who can see things that most people can’t.

Highway to Hell by Rosemary Clement-Moore is the third book in the Maggie Quinn series about, as the quote says, a girl who vanquishes evil because she has the gift of Sight.  In this book, Maggie and Lisa run across demonic hi-jinks in their quest to achieve that college ritual known as spring break.

highwaytohellWhat I Liked
–    D&D Lisa owns my soul.  She is a fantastically complicated character.

–    Female friendship.  This series takes a great look at female friendship.  Lisa and Maggie’s relationship is so complex and has so many layers.  I love that they can call each other on any manner of b.s. but at the same time, we see Maggie’s hesitation to address certain things with Lisa because she knows her so well.  While their relationship isn’t tentative, it is still in a pretty fragile state because of the events of the first book and the fact that they’re in different places in their lives (literally—they go to different colleges in different states), so it’s clear that they’re still trying to understand all of the shifts in their relationship and how to relate to each other.

–    Road trip!

–    As always, the action is based on a ritual, but this time, they don’t get to take part in said ritual (like with the prom and the sorority), so it’s not the same story of the ritual being an excellent site for evil, so much as how/why they can’t be “normal.”

–    I learned a new term:  cryptozoology.  Also?  Giant squid.

–    The romance is truly secondary to the friendship and the action/quest.  Also, it’s just another way to explore their interpersonal relationships and how those relationships define them as characters.  And it’s not really about the relationships so much as how they function in the relationships.

–    Badass female characters.

–    The setting is pretty fully realized.

–    The male characters are pretty ace as well.  And my favorite thing about them is that they’re not there to save the girls or point out how they’re wrong, but just to help because…

–    …everyone has his/her own area of expertise, so no one character knows everything.

–    I love that Clement-Moore doesn’t divorce religion from demon fighting.  At all.

What I Didn’t Like
I always like reading the books, but I usually feel like they’re just okay until I think about them more.  I don’t know why that is because they are so well-written, and I always enjoy the characters.  Maybe because the humor isn’t over the top?  Maybe because I don’t strongly identify with the fantasy/paranormal aspect?  I don’t know!  It’s a weird response is all.

Women Unbound?
Oh yeah.  This is all about the power of women, how they harness that power, how they use their power, and how sometimes women don’t quite understand the power and strength that they have.  Or sometimes that they do, but don’t want to quite unleash it or share it or let it go for whatever reasons.  Love this series.

In  conclusion: I really should own this series.  I like it that much.

Book Review: When You Reach Me

“Well, it’s simple to love someone,” she said.  “But it’s hard to know when you need to say it out loud.”

That quote doesn’t really encapsulate the main plot of When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, but I just loved it so much, it deserves to be the breakout.  The book is about Miranda, a twelve-year-old in New York, who is writing a letter to an unknown recipient who says he needs information to save her friend’s life.  It’s kind of hard to explain without spoilers, I think.

when-you-reach-meWhat I Liked

– First of all, I love that her mom is going to be a contestant on $25,000 Pyramid.  Hosted by Dick Clark!  I used to watch that show when I was a kid, so I got a kick out of the practice sessions they did and also that Stead very specifically emphasizes the importance of practice.  The mom practices every single day and gets everyone involved.  It’s very Akeelah and the Bee that way.  I also loved all of the references to the necessity of a non-idiotic celebrity partner.

– Fantastic characters.

– This is a book about friendship!  I love friendship books.  And it does some really good/interesting things with friendship as well.  My favorite.

– The references to A Wrinkle in Time, which I still haven’t read yet.  I know, I know.  I should get on that.

– Deftly handled class and race stuff.

What I Didn’t Like

I cannot think of anything!

In conclusion:  A sweet and engaging book.  It’s a super fast read, and I didn’t want to leave the characters after it was all said and done.

2010 Young Adult Reading Challenge

J. Kaye is hosting a YA Reading Challenge that runs Jan. 1 – Dec. 31, 2010, and since the bulk of my reading is YA lit, it seemed like a gimme to sign up.  Heck, it almost feels like cheating.

I’m going to go for the glory here, and do the 75 books, Super Size Me challenge.  I’ll list the books as I go because that is my style.

Ze List o’ Books

  1. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince as read by Jim Dale
  2. Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  3. Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
  4. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
  5. The Diary of a Young Girl:  The Definitive Edition by Anne Frank
  6. Knocked Out by My Nunga-Nungas by Louise Rennison
  7. Tangled by Carolyn Mackler
  8. The Eternal Smile by Gene Luen Yang & Derek Kirk Kim
  9. The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake
  10. Backtracked by Pedro de Alcantara
  11. My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson
  12. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  13. Just One Wish by Janette Rallison
  14. Kitty Kitty by Michele Jaffe
  15. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as read by Jim Dale
  16. Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
  17. Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon & Dean Hale, Nathan Hale
  18. Derby Girl by Shauna Cross
  19. Temping Fate by Esther M. Friesner
  20. Calamity Jack by Shannon & Dean Hale, Nathan Hale
  21. Icon: A Hero’s Welcome by Dwayne McDuffie
  22. Flight #116 Is Down by Caroline B. Cooney
  23. Scarlett Fever by Maureen Johnson
  24. Runaway by Meg Cabot
  25. Sharing Sam by Katherine Applegate
  26. Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess by George O’Connor
  27. Princess Ashley by Richard Peck
  28. Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers
  29. Life Is Funny by E. R. Frank
  30. Mockingjay (Hunger Games #3) by Suzanne Collins
  31. The Fortunes of Indigo Skye by Deb Caletti
  32. Played by Dana Davidson
  33. Virgins by Caryl Rivers
  34. Alex Unlimited Volume 1: The Vosarak Code by Dan Jolley


Book Review: Such a Pretty Girl

They promised me nine years of safety but only gave me three.

prettySuch a Pretty Girl is by Laura Wiess.  It is called her debut novel, but I know better.  (And, yes, I know, pen names.  But still.  ALL SHOULD KNOW THE GIRL FRIENDS SERIES.)

At any rate, I sought this “debut” novel out because, of course, my love for the Girl Friends series knows no bounds, and I had to see what kind of writing one of my favorite series writers is up to.

In brief, Meredith’s father, a pedophile who raped her as well as several other children, is released from prison on good behavior six years early.  Her mother is still in love with him and demands that Meredith give her father another chance.

What I Liked

– This book is extremely short and fast paced, and Wiess does some truly spectacular character work in so few pages.  I could clearly picture all of the characters in my head, and I had a good sense of their personalities, their smells, everything.

– I finished the book in one sitting because I was so worried about Meredith and her friends and family.

– Wiess is not graphic at all, but she offers up concrete details that leave an indelible impression.  For example, Meredith mentions the charm on her father’s necklace and says she remembers the whomp of it against her teeth.  That is such a small detail that clearly paints a horrifying picture.  Gah.

– Meredith is in danger because her mother is blind to the horrors her father has committed.  Her mom constantly says he made a mistake and they should give him one more chance, and OMG.  It is awful.  But.  Important.  I had problems with the mother’s characterization, but Wiess makes a good point.  Sometimes it’s the blindness of those around children (EVEN KNOWING WHAT THEY KNOW) that keeps/puts them in danger.  Her mother is so caught up in wanting the dad that she is willing to believe he is not the monster he is convicted of being.  The “they” that promised her safety is the justice system, but more than that, should have been her mom.

– Aside from the mother and father, I loved all of the other characters.

– There’s some interesting religious stuff going on in the book.  Most notably:  victim souls.

What I Didn’t Like

– The characterization of the mother was flat, flat, flat.  I have no idea what made her so gung-ho about the dad.  (Not that any answer would have sufficed, but.)  This is a very self-sufficient woman with her own home that comes from money.  I got no sense of what made her so in love with him or why she felt the appearance of a together family was more important than her daughter’s safety.

– There’s a moment where Meredith equates adultery with pedophilia.  Um.  No.  I understand why it would upset her, but none of the characters ever addressed the fact that there’s a difference between two consenting adults doing the dirty and a grown man forcing himself on minors.

– I had to take some real plausibility leaps with this one.  That her dad lives in the same housing complex as her and legally fought to win that battle doesn’t sit right.  It might be possible, but I want to believe it’s not.  That said, her mother kept bringing him around, so it’s not like any kind of restraining order would’ve actually worked.

– I am not in love with the ending.  I can’t figure out how I feel about it, though.  On the one hand, I like it.  On the other hand…I don’t know.

Women Unbound?

Violence against girls, women, and children.

In conclusion:  This is not an easy book to read, and I’m not entirely sure I would suggest it to someone who has suffered abuse, only because it is so terrifying and Meredith spends so much of the book locked in terror.  Ultimately, though, she does have to figure out how to survive, and she figths for herself every step of the way.

Book Review: Catching Fire (Hunger Games #2)

And if a girl from District Twelve of all places can defy the Capitol and walk away unharmed, what is to stop them from doing the same?…What is to prevent, say, an uprising?

catchingCatching Fire by Suzanne Collins in the second of the Hunger Games trilogy.  It’s possible that you may have heard of it since it’s kind of a big deal.  In this book, Katniss adjusts–or attempts to adjust–to life after the murderous Hunger Games.

What I Liked

– Collins never lets you get comfortable, at all.  Things are constantly changing, the danger for Katniss is palpable and real, and the stakes are so high, it’s amazing there are roofs on the houses in District 12.  The book is tense, and that tension jumps right off the page.

– Peeta.  I am crazy in love with Peeta.

– The first person POV worked for me a lot more in this book than the previous one.  It was nice to be inside of Katniss’s head and truly blind to what was going on.  The twist (um, the second to last one) was as much a shock to me as it was to Katniss, and my reaction was pretty much the same as hers.  That’s a good thing.

– Everything is so messy and complicated.  In a good way, though!  Because Collins truly invites the reader to think and consider all possibilities.

– There is a lot of great character stuff in here, especially about Haymitch.

– I hate to even call it a love triangle, but I like the way, overall, that Katniss’s relationships with Peeta and Gale are handled.  Everything is so messed up, and there are no easy answers, nor is there a right way to handle any of it.  That much is clear.  All three of them have so much pride and in such different ways.  It just works really well.

What I Didn’t Like

– The beginning of the story, while heavy on the characterization, is very heavy on the tell instead of show.  There’s information put in for the sake of the sequel, and it’s obvious that’s why it’s there, because it’s not given the kind of attention it deserves.  I wanted Collins to slow down and let me experience some of the things that were happening (trying to keep this spoiler free) instead of “and then this and this and this and s/he told me this and this and this.”  There were opportunites for great dialogue that were just missed.  And it got to the point where I didn’t/couldn’t remember details/characters that came up later.  There were at least two points when I was asking, “Who is that?  Should I know that name?”  That’s not good.

The plus is that the second half of the book relies a lot more on showing instead of telling and so the narrative picks up considerably.

– Even though the book is from Katniss’s point of view, everything is very male heavy.  I don’t really get a sense of her sister or mother as real people at all–which has a lot to do with how Katniss views them, granted–but all of the other major people in her life, the ones who do the most helping, are men.  Her stylist, Haymitch, Peeta, Gale.

Women Unbound?

Does this book examine the relationship between gender and power?  Yes.  One of the things that is compelling about the series is the idea of putting on an act and a show of who you are supposed to be based on the audience.  Katniss is supposed to be a girl consumed by love, silly and superficial.  Not helpless, necessarily, but bound to traditional ideas of femininity with her upcoming wedding etc.  Katniss is a hunter, provider, rule breaker, unfrivolous, and everything opposite of what her Games character is supposed to be.  But the Capitol wants her to be that kind of girl, so that’s the kind of girl she has to pretend to be for her own survival–and her family’s.

There’s so much about class and gender wrapped up in these books and it’s handled so subtly and deftly that it can be easy to miss.  Not only is she just a girl, but she’s a girl from District 12 no less.  But Katniss is the girl on fire, the girl who becomes symbolic of a revolution.  I think that makes her pretty unbound.

In conclusion:  The book is certainly a thrilling read.  I can’t wait to read the sequel.

Women Unbound: Start of Challenge Meme

unbound1smallerStart of Challenge Meme

1. What does feminism mean to you?

For me, feminism means exactly what the dictionary says it does:  the belief that women should have the same opportunities, power, and rights as men.

Does it have to do with the work sphere? The social sphere? How you dress? How you act?

It has to do with everything, yes.

2. Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?

Yes. Being a feminist means I believe in feminism; it means I think women deserve equal rights.  I’m not ashamed of that, and I’m not going to eschew the term because it makes people uncomfortable.

3. What do you consider the biggest obstacle women face in the world today? Has that obstacle changed over time, or does it basically remain the same?

It all, for me, comes down to the double standard that then leads to the double bind.  Because, then, any choice made is the wrong choice, and, silly women, don’t you see why you shouldn’t have choices at all?

And, no, it absolutely has not changed over time.

Women Unbound Reading Challenge

unbound1smaller I have decided to sign up for the Women Unbound reading challenge that runs from November 2009 – November 2010.  (I decided last month, but I’m so behind on my posts that I’m just now getting to the announcement.  Anyway.)

I’m signing up at the Suffragette level here, and to truly challenge myself I’m aiming for eight works of nonfiction before I think of the challenge as complete.  I read a lot (a lot, a lot) of fiction, which means I would basically be done with the challenge in two months.  Plus, it’s a challenge!  I’m going to take it seriously.

Or as seriously as you can take something fun.

So far, I have only decided on two authors whose non-fiction I definitely want to read:  Angela Davis and Zora Neale Hurston.

I have recs for Laurie Notaro and Sadia Shepherd from friends of mine, so they’re also on the list.

Ooh, and Jenna Jameson was on Oprah recently.  Maybe I’ll read her book.

So, I will basically wing it is what I’m saying.  Still, it should be interesting.

I actually read Flygirl with the challenge in mind, so I’m backtagging it as such.  So I’m not cheating by posting that review first.

ETA:  The non-fiction books I’ve read for the challenge.


  1. Angela Davis:  An Autobiography by Angela Davis
  2. The Diary of a Young Girl:  The Definitive Edition by Anne Frank
  3. Dust Tracks on the Road by Zora Neale Hurston
  4. The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  5. Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi
  6. I, Tina by Tina Turner
  7. Sex for One by Betty Dodson
  8. Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything by Geneen Roth
  9. The Wisdom of Your Dreams: Using Dreams to Tap into Your Unconscious and Transform Your Life by Jeremy Taylor
  10. On My Own Two Feet by Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar
  11. Adult Children of Alcoholics by Janet G. Woititz
  12. Life’s Companion by Christina Baldwin