Book Review: Fangirl

I just have to say up front that Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is the type of story I love to read, and the type of story I want to see more of in YA lit. It’s about a girl who goes to college and has to navigate the new setting, relationships, and teachers she has. She also needs to figure out her old relationships with her family. No super heightened craziness, just regular everyday life.

In fact, it hits on quite a few of the items on my YA reading wishlist:Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

  1. mental illness – Cath’s dad has bipolar disorder, and I love the way it’s revealed and the way that it explains so much of Cath’s issues.
  2. alcoholism – One of the characters gets busted for alcohol poisoning, and the whole discussion about how she isn’t going to stop drinking because “everyone else drinks” is classic alcoholic behavior (the idea that s/he can drink like everybody else).
  3. nerdy/quirky teens unashamed of their nerdi-/quirkiness – Cath loves Simon Snow, wears her Simon Snow swag, and is just fine talking about Simon Snow. She may not tell everyone that she writes fanfic, but she’s not ashamed of her love or knowledge of the world.

Bonus points for exploring the bullheadishness of students and their lack of awareness when it comes to (a) plagiarism and (b) not following directions. Oh, and female friendship, of course. Oh, and learning disabilities! Also, Cath is so codependent.

Extra bonus points for having a romance in the story and not letting the story become about the boy. Cath’s relationship with the boy is one of the many relationships she navigates, but it doesn’t overshadow or become more important (narratively, I mean) than her relationship with her sister or her father or her other friends.

Also, Rowell’s love affair with redheads continues. There are TWO in this book.

A couple of things that didn’t quite work for me:

1. The story starts out slow because Cath spends the beginning of the book being a mopey hermit. Rowell keeps the narrative from getting too bogged down by showing Cath’s forced interactions with her roommate and classmates. Yay for dialogue.

2. Several times in the story, the characters comment that Cath has online friends, but there’s nothing that shows Cath’s online friends are her actual friends. There’s this undercurrent that those friends don’t count. Cath is a BNF (big name fan), so she would be interacting with her online friends A LOT. This idea of online fans as being isolated in real life but not online is important, and I wish it had been explored more.

3. I liked the excerpts from the Simon Snow books and fic as framing devices for the chapters. I absolutely HATED that huge chunks of parts of the narrative was Cath reading her fic out loud to someone and what she was reading was transcribed in the book. I am not a big fanfic reader of the shows and books that I actually know and love. To read fanfic about a world that doesn’t actually exist–about characters I had zero investment or interest in–felt extra pointless.

All in all, though, I found Fangirl to be a solid read, and I breezed through it. Loved the characters, loved the relationships.

Source: Library

Book Review: Book of a Thousand Days

Eventually I got myself up so I could write what Tegus said. To keep telling my story seems like the last bit of living I can still do.

I read the hardback, but I love the paperback cover so much I'm using it here.
I read the hardback, but I love the paperback cover so much I’m using it here.

Oh my gosh, I loved Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale. Loved. LOVED. I just…I loved everything about it.

1. I love Dashti THE MOST. She is smart and clever. She is honest, hopeful, and grateful. She wants to survive and fights to survive. She is just the best. In fact, she reminds me a lot of Ella from Ella Enchanted in that I love her and think she’s wonderful and amazing. And awesome. Ahhh, I just love her so much.

2. I love that this is a fairy tale retelling, but it’s based on a lesser known fairytale (“Maid Maleen“), so I had absolutely no preconceived notions of what the story should be. (I didn’t read “Maid Maleen” until after I had finished the novel.)

3. I love, love, love that Dashti and Lady Saren wind up saving themselves and each other. I mean, sure, it takes Saren a little while to get to that point but when she does, it totally works.

4. Okay, so a brief synopsis: Dashti is appointed to be Lady Saren’s maid; Lady Saren’s father locks the two in a tower for seven years to try to force Saren into marrying this dude she hates; Dashti journals the experience.

5.  I love the way Hale gives importance to the different strengths people have to show that none are necessarily better but that they’re all different and can be used in helpful ways–even if other people don’t always understand them.

6. The ending was MUCH BETTER than I had anticipated. I knew it could only end a certain way (or that I wanted it to end that way), and I love, love, love the way that Hale makes it happen. It’s believable, expected, AND unpredictable. Also, it rewards the readers by weaving in everything we learn about the characters throughout the story.

7. I love that the characters are Mongolian. Yes.

8. Oh, I love the illustrations throughout the story. I also love that Hale finds a smart and believable way to make this Dashti’s story and that she’s the one writing/telling it.

9. Did I mention I love Dashti? I love her SO MUCH.

10. Ultimately, I love what this story says about faith, about passion, about survival, about truth, and yes, about the importance of writing your own story and knowing your own truth.

LOVE.

Source: Library

Book Review: Belle Epoque

Before I get to the review, I just signed up for Bloglovin’, so feel free to follow my blog with Bloglovin. Which I know you could do anyway, but still. It’s, like, official now or something.

Like any person, an ugly woman’s looks are transformed by her conversation, humor, intelligence, and even grace. But all this reverses during the selection process. When a client enters the salon, I’ve seen a girl change from her giddy, laughing self to her repoussoir guise in an instant.

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth RossI was so excited to read Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross. For starters, the premise speaks to my soul. Some dude starts a service for rich women to hire less attractive women so they can appear more attractive. Which, hello, totally speaks to my life experience of always having pretty friends but feeling like I fade into the background when I’m around them because I’m not even a fraction as cute as they are. Then, the main character (Maude) is hired as a beauty foil for Isabelle, but Isabelle doesn’t know that Maude is the help because her mom wants her to think Maude is her friend, which also adds female friendship stuff and mother/daughter drama. So excited!

But then the book was a total letdown, sigh.

First, while the premise is excellent, Maude is so, so boring. She moves to Paris to follow her hopes and dreams! She reluctantly becomes a repoussoir because it pays a whole lot more money than working in a laundry! And then she fades in the background whenever Marie-Josée or Isabelle are in the same scene. What I’m saying is that I wasn’t particularly interested in Maude or her journey.

Second, I don’t understand why this story isn’t told from Isabelle’s point of view. Maude really doesn’t do anything. Yet, Isabelle has all these interests and is full of personality and gets betrayed by her mom and Maude and is courting and and and. I’m not saying Maude couldn’t have been an interesting character whose arc through her relationship with Isabelle could have taken the reader someplace interesting; she just wasn’t. Isabelle seemed to have the true conflict. I think part of the problem is that Maude is just so passive.

Third, the relationships are not well-developed at all aside from Isabelle/Maude and Isabelle/her mother. Maude’s closest friend at the agency is Marie-Josée except I don’t think they’re really friends. M-J serves as a mentor to Maude, yes. Maude wants to run things by M-J. But I get no idea whatsoever of why Marie-Josée would be disappointed because Maude has to work on Christmas. Seriously, why does she care? Because I didn’t feel like I as a reader would be missing out on M-J’s dinner nor did I feel betrayed that Maude blew it off.

The same goes with the love interest. They have maybe three or four interactions and suddenly he’s pissed at Maude and disappointed in her, and she has to apologize. And I was honestly like, “Who cares what this drunk dude that I’ve spent maybe three scenes with thinks?” But I guess the reader is supposed to, which means that relationship was shallow at best.

Fourth, Maude goes to a lot of parties and balls and thinks a lot. That’s really what happens in the whole book. Oh, and she’s kind of taken with the glamor of it all. I guess there was some kind of conflict with Maude thinking she might one day belong in that world or something? I don’t know. I didn’t really care about her.

Fifth, the love interest is so terrible. He’s drunk all the time, and he’s judgmental, but he’s nice once or twice, so I guess that’s all that matters.

Sixth, I wanted to stop reading about 3/4 of the way through, but I really did want to know what happened to Isabelle at the end.

Also, is it wrong that I wish Maude had really been ugly instead of plain? I guess that would have made her more interesting.

SO DISAPPOINTING. The language is lovely, and the premise is great, but the underdeveloped relationships made it difficult for me to like this one. I did enjoy Isabelle a lot, though, so there’s that.

Source: Library

Audiobook Review: Junie B. Jones Collection (Books 1-8)

Junie B. Jones (the book series and the character) is so great, you guys. SO GREAT. I wasn’t sure how she would fare on audiobook, but she is great there, too. Mostly because she acts as an excellent pick-me-up if I’m feeling a little bummy AND she helps brings families together (i.e., me and my daughter whose moods improved in the car because Junie B. was on.)

Junie B. Jones by Barbara ParkHere are just a few of the reasons Junie B. Jones is so great:

  • She and her best friend Grace take turns sitting by the window on the bus, unless they can’t remember whose turn it is. Then, they settle it with their fists.
  • She loves her baby brother but just wishes he could live somewhere else.
  • She loves her grandparents.
  • She has a best friend Lucille who is a pretty, pretty princess and whose grandmother must be loaded.
  • She used to be scared of going to the principal’s office, but she’s spent so much time there that it’s no longer scary and he’s sort of a friend now.
  • She wants to grow up to be a janitor because janitors are superheroes who save teeth, paint things, and have great big flashlights.
  • She’d rather hide in a classroom than ride the school bus.
  • She wants a tool belt like her grandpa Frank Miller.
  • She calls her grandmother by her first name when she feels like her grandmother is ignoring her.
  • She has contempt for the crybaby kid and is pretty sure she can beat him up.
  • She’s a nutball.
  • When she realizes that her diet may be causing her nutball tendencies, she skips the sugary cereal that day, but realizes that was stupid because sugary cereal is delicious.
  • She thinks too much.
  • She talks too much.
  • She observes the world even if she doesn’t always understand it–especially those wacky grown-ups.
  • When a boy is nice to her, she realizes that he is secretly in love with her so she calls him her boyfriend. The boy will have no idea she considers him her boyfriend.
  • When a new, cuter boy moves to town, she will dump the other boy who was only her boyfriend in her mind.
  • She’d rather stay home and fix the toilet than go to a stupid, meanie boy’s birthday party, even if she does want to be invited.
  • She will jump out of a hamper when she’s spying on you.
  • If she says something first, tough for you because you cannot think, like, or do that thing. Because she said it first, see?
  • She exasperates her parents.

Basically, she is one of us.

This collection has the first eight books of the series on it. Narrator Lana Quintal sounds convincingly like a five-year-old girl and does the voices of grown-ups the way a five-year-old would hear them.

Listening to these books are SO FUN. I’m going on a road trip this summer, and I’m going to get the second collection to keep me company when it’s my turn to drive. I love this kid, and I love that my 14-year-old daughter who read most of them when she was younger can listen to them now and enjoy them.

If you have kids, these books are super for the car, especially because they’re short and silly. Ahhh, Junie B. Jones, you are the best. THE BEST.

 

One Sentence Book Reviews

I am so, so, so far behind on reviews. Trying something new to get caught up.

Also Known As by Robin Benway: This book was fun to read, but I honestly cannot even remember how it ends.

Burn for Burn by Jenny Han & Siobhan VivianAsh by Malinda Lo: Who knew a lesbian retelling of Cinderella with so many fascinating elements could be so boring?

Period 8 by Chris Crutcher: Chris Crutcher writes a mystery and still manages to incorporate every single one of his tropes into the story.

Burn for Burn by Jenny Han & Siobhan Vivian: Three girls—who clearly need lessons from Emily Thorne—try to get revenge on their classmates, which leads to the stupidest cliffhanger ever.

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah: If the author had spent half as much time developing the characters as she did describing their decade-appropriate fashion, I probably would have liked this book a lot more.

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga: An author embeds a meta-narrative on how to avoid writing predictable female lead characters in his novel and then proceeds to write a completely predictable female lead character.

The Friendship Matchmaker by Randa Abdel-Fattah: In a cute retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma (according to the Goodreads summary) (oh, and !!!!), a girl writes and lives the middle school version of How to Win Friends and Influence People to an entirely predictable end.

Deadly Pink by Vivian Vande Velde: I don’t remember much about this book except cheaters suck and sooner or later they have to face the consequences for their actions.

Source: I got all of these books from the library.

Book Review: Silver Sparrow

Mother didn’t ruin my childhood or anyone’s marriage. She is a good person. She prepared me. Life, you see, is all about knowing things. That is why my mother and I shouldn’t be pitied.

Silver Sparrow by Tayari JonesSilver Sparrow by Tayari Jones is the story of two sisters with the same father and different mothers. No big, right? Yes, except the father is married to both of their mothers at the same time, and I’m not talking Big Love style. No, he has his main wife and family and a second, secret family.

The major tension in this book is the difference between knowing and not knowing. Dana and her mother, Gwendolyn, are well aware of Chaurisse and her mother, Laverne. Dana’s mom argues that having the knowledge gives them an advantage over James’s other family. However, it’s a dangerous kind of knowing. Dana knows from a very young age that she is second best to her father: her needs, wants, and life always come after Chaurisse’s. Because James can’t risk getting caught, Dana often lives in a holding pattern, waiting to see what activities or schools or events Chaurisse participates in before being allowed to commit to anything herself. She also has a distinct awareness that James loves Chaurisse more. Dana is the other, less important daughter, which leads to her accepting unacceptable behavior and spying on James’s other family to see what she’s missing out on.

Chaurisse, on the other hand, gets her father full time (except on Wednesdays when he “works late”).  So, in that way, her journey is a typical young adult journey. She’s not very popular, and she’s not always happy. She wants a best friend and a boyfriend. She has a good relationship with her parents. They’re comfortably middle class. Chaurisse also doesn’t live with the heavy secret Dana does. Oh, she has secrets. Her father doesn’t know she’s sexually active, for example. But, mostly, she’s on a path to learn that her parents are fallible, that they make mistakes, that she won’t always understand their choices.

What surprised me most about this novel is how sympathetic Jones makes the characters. All of the characters. I even felt a sliver of sympathy for James at one point. (A tiny, tiny sliver, but it was there.) It would have been very easy for Jones to make James, Dana’s mother, and the girls’ uncle all villains, but not once do I feel hatred towards any of them. I’m frustrated by James, I’m sad for (and, yes, at times, pity) Gwen, my heart aches for Raleigh. But I understand why they make the choices they do. I get that they’re all doing their best. I mean, sure, James creates the mess by stepping outside of his marriage in the first place, but I can see where he thinks that marrying his daughter’s mother is the right thing so the child won’t be a bastard and the mom can have some sense of respectability. I can see why Dana’s mom insists on being married, even if it means having a part-time husband. And I definitely understand Raleigh’s sense of loyalty, his willingness to go along with the lie, and his heartache. Oh, Raleigh. My hurt so much for him.

So what I’m saying is A+ characters all around.

Jones takes an interesting approach by splitting the narrative between the two girls. The first half of the story is told from Dana’s point of view and the second from Chaurisse’s. On one hand, I was so involved with Dana’s story that I wanted it to continue. On the other, I knew I wanted to hear Chaurisse’s side. Then, of course, there’s the way the second half of the novel is tinged with the best kind of dramatic irony. The audience knows so much more than Chaurisse which gives her narrative so many heartbreaking layers because she doesn’t know what the audience can see so clearly. So a risky choice, but it definitely pays off.

This book had been on my radar for a while, but I hadn’t picked it up because I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’m glad my friend Jasmine told me to read it, and I’m glad Vasilly chose it for her African-American Read-In.

Silver Sparrow is an engaging and solid read with excellent characters and an atypical but intriguing premise.

Source: Library

Book Review: The Girl in the Wall

Good luck 2nite.

Think it may kill me I write back.

wallLet me just say that I know (I know, I KNOW) that The Girl in the Wall by Daphne Benedis-Grab isn’t the best written novel. For one thing, the alternating first-person narrative isn’t distinctive enough (Sera and Ariel sound exactly the same). For another, it’s more plot- than character-driven which isn’t normally my thing.

But. BUT. It’s an action novel that hinges on two former best friends learning to trust each other again so they can survive. In fact, on Goodreads, I said the book was like Die Hard. Which it is if John McClane were two teenaged girls who haven’t spoken in nine months and four days.

In case you haven’t guessed, the main reason this book works for me is the estranged best friends! Learning to work together again for survival! Their love/friendship must overcome all! Plus they are kind of badass (not unrealistically so) and though there are two boys in the story, the boys don’t take over the action and the girls figure out/plan how to get out of the bad situation themselves. I mean, yes, some chivalry is there, but mostly the girls save themselves (and save the boys sometimes too).

Love interests are around, but they’re realistic as can be given the circumstances. Think Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves in Speed (and I know I’m dating myself with all of these action movie references, SORRY).

What else? Oh, right. I thought Benedis-Grab makes the story as plausible as possible (I believed why Ariel would automatically run, I believed the two girls missed each other, I believed the love interests). Could’ve used a bit more show than tell, but overall a fun ride.

Also, this book would make an AWESOME movie. As long as they didn’t try to give all the awesome stuff to boy characters. In which case, yuck.

Source: Library

Book Review: Graffiti Moon

“Humor without sadness is just a pie in the face.”

Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley is a delightful book. The action all takes place in one night as Lucy Dervish searches for Shadow, the graffiti artist who is right under her nose.

The characters in this book are so ace as are the conflicts between them. Although the POV shifts between Lucy and Ed, everything going on with Jazz, Leo, Daisy, and Dylan is well-developed. I love the complicated relationship Lucy’s parents have and even the information we find out about Bert and his wife.

I also dig that the book is a love letter to at least three art forms: poetry, glass blowing, and graffiti.

Another major plus in this book’s favor is that I would be totally down to read about this night from Jazz & Leo’s points of view or Dylan & Daisy’s. Okay, maybe not Dylan and Daisy’s, but definitely Jazz & Leo’s. I mean, yes, I do know a little about what Jazz & Leo’s night was like because of the brief bits of poetry included, but…yeah. I would totally read their story as well even though I know how it turns out.

While the book is a romance, I really like that Ed and Lucy are really striking up a friendship and being open with each other in interesting ways. Man, night time is the right time, yeah? Nothing like that cocoon of darkness to make people honest.

Source: Library

Graphic Novel Reviews: Raina Telgemeier

Over the past few months, I devoured five of Raina Telgemeier‘s graphic novels: the entire Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels collection and Drama.

I was a huge BSC reader back in the day, so I was excited when I first saw/heard about the graphic novels. I was interested to see how Telgemeier was going to translate the diary-heavy first-person texts to the page. Also, as someone who loved and read The Truth about Stacey approximately 8923473 times, I was really, really interested to see how Telgemeier was going to address the bedwetting thing.

What’s really sad is I had Kristy’s Great Idea on my shelf for over a year before I read it. Over a year! I have no idea why I was so resistant to starting it because I loved it. In fact, I loved all of them. The biggest surprise to me was how much I loved Claudia and Mean Janine. I didn’t remember much about it going in, but the Mimi story hit me particularly hard. My grandmother passed away earlier this year after having a stroke, so every single frame about Mimi dealing with the frustration of the stroke’s effects kind of made me want to cry. So I found that book particularly touching/moving.

Which leads me to the illustrations. I love Telgemeier’s style. Her characters are so expressive, and the drawings are sharp. The background detail adds to the story. And, obviously, she captures emotionally heavy moments really well (see above re: wanting to cry).  And that’s just in black and white!

Drama by Raina TelgemeierIn color,  Telgemeier’s drawings really pop. Drama was more fun to look at for that reason. Nice, bright colors really make the pictures, story, and characters come alive. Which was really great for Drama because it was about theater and middle school and a musical! So much fun to read, really breezy. I love the diversity of the characters Telgemeier includes in the story.

I should also mention that my daughter devoured Drama after I finished reading it as well.

In conclusion, if you haven’t read any of Raina Telgemeier’s work, you really should. She creates memorable and vibrant characters.

Oh, and I would love a page from Claudia and Mean Janine as a gift. I’m just saying.

Sources: I own Kristy’s Great Idea, got the rest from the library.

Book Review: Eve and Adam

I was super excited to see that Katherine Applegate wrote a new book. I ignored the part where it’s co-written with her husband and fellow author, Michael Grant. Why should I care? New Katherine Applegate! I love her! I love Boyfriends/Girlfriends (only the first eight, and I will never call it Making Out, sorry) and Ocean City and Summer!

Except…Eve and Adam is not either of those book series. Eve and Adam is about a girl (Evening) whose mom is into some grody science stuff. And a boy named Solo who lives in Evening’s mom’s science compound.

So it starts out being all about Evening and her damage with her mom. Oh, and her wacky best friend in a sucky relationship. And Solo is a loner who is all excited about meeting kids his own age. Especially a pretty girl! So complicated mother/daughter stuff, complicated friendship stuff, and a tentative romance. All good!

But then it devolves into a sci-fi thriller with a chase scene, and some of the cool things going on with Aislin (the friend) and Evening and her mom are all frittered away. And! There is no wrap-up of something that seemed to be a pretty big deal. Also, Solo is boring, and I cared so little about him.

So that happened.

Source: Library