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

Mini Reviews

Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix: I really wanted to like this book because I love Cinderella stories, and the thought of exploring Cinderella’s not-so-happily ever after really intrigued me. I just had a hard time caring about Ella. I found her self-absorption kind of astonishing as I did her lack of foresight/thinking. She got better by the book’s end, but I found the tale a bit too simplistic for the pretty heavy themes it was dealing with. If the relationships had been more developed, I would have liked it more.

Source: own it

Mad Love by Suzanne Selfors: I do enjoy Suzanne Selfors’ work, and this book was a nice, breezy read. I enjoyed the romance, and I enjoyed Cupid’s tale. What I really wanted, though, was to see more of Alice’s relationship with her neighbor Realm. Oh, and I really, really loved the emphasis on the surrogate family. Great characters.

Source: Library

Size 12 and Ready to Rock by Meg Cabot: I liked learning more about Tania and Jordan. Also, this is one of Cabot’s books that deal with a pretty heavy issue (domestic violence), and I tend to like her books with darker themes. She handles the issues well without being preachy and while imparting some pretty good wisdom. All in all great bus read. Too bad I never remembered I was reading it when I was off the bus.

Source: Library

The Alfred G. Graebner Memorial High School Handbook of Rules and Regulations by Ellen Conford: More Ellen Conford! And why not? She is amazing. This novel is more interrelated short stories following one character and all related to how she experiences her high school. Lots of fun stuff, especially because it’s so reflective of the time it was published (1976). Great characters, of course. Lots of humor, too.

Source: Library

The Enchanted Truth by Kym Petrie: I’m not really sure how to talk about this book. It was a fast read with an interesting, though underdeveloped, premise/theme. Also: wow, was it super preachy. Kind of hard to enjoy it with all the preaching going on.

Source: Netgalley

Book Review: Please Ignore Vera Dietz

Let me tell you—if you think your best friend dying is a bitch, try your best friend dying after he screws you over. It’s a bitch like no other.

As the quote above indicates, Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King is about a girl named Vera Dietz dealing with the death of her best friend, Charlie.

I really liked this book, so just a few highlights of what made this book immensely readable for me:

– The title works on several different levels.

– Although it’s not a fun subject, there are a lot of moments of humor–particularly through the POV shifts.

– Vera’s dad, Ken, uses flow charts. I love them. I loooove them.

– Speaking of Vera’s dad, he is so awesome. Such a great character, such a great dad. I really felt for him and really knew he was just doing the best he could.

– This book is largely about the destructive nature of secrets: yours and other people’s. More importantly, the destructive nature of keeping other people’s secrets. (Trying not to be spoilery.)

– Even though the book starts with Charlie dead, and I know he’s dead the whole time, I was just so worried about him. I didn’t know exactly how he died, and I dunno, I just wanted him to be happy, even when he was treating Vera horribly.

– Vera worried me a lot, too. But I knew she would be okay–or at least I hoped she would. At any rate, she’s a fascinating character, and her pain was my pain (probably why I worried about Charlie so much, honestly), and I knew she was drinking because she was in pain, and I just wanted her to be happy, too. She is wickedly funny and smart, though, so not maudlin as a narrator even as she’s dealing with said pain.

– The relationship between Vera and her dad is A+. Strained at times, but A+.

– Gosh darnit, I just want those kids to be happy. Why is that so hard?

– I love any story that deals with best friends, and this book does that in spades.

Source: Library

Book Review: The List

The list is refreshing in that sense. It can reduce an entire female population down to three clear-cut groups.

Prettiest.

Ugliest.

And everyone else.

As the quote above says, eight girls are on the list at the center of Siobhan Vivian‘s aptly titled The List. Two girls are chosen from each class year, one as the prettiest and one as the ugliest. The novel follows the eight girls from the day the list is posted until the Homecoming dance, which ends the week.

What I Liked

– In any story told from multiple viewpoints, I’m sure to glom onto some characters and their perceptions of events or stories more than others. This novel is no different. My favorite characters to follow were Danielle, Lauren, Bridget, and Jennifer. So one girl per class. And, no, not all of them were the ugliest, even though my sympathy automatically sort of lies with the not pretty girl or the girl labeled not pretty. I clarify because in the book, as in life, those two ideas (being labeled ugly and being ugly) are not interchangeable.

– I wasn’t that interested in Abby, but I did like the interesting ways Abby’s relationship with her sister paralleled/contrasted with Bridget and her sister.

– Lauren’s mom. I mean, WHAT was going on there?

– The best part about Danielle’s story is that it shows just how crushing peer pressure can be and how different people handle it. Like, okay, you’re named the ugliest freshman. How does your boyfriend deal with it? And what does that mean for you? Loved that angle on the whole ordeal.

– One of my favorite, favorite things is that the ugly girls aren’t automatically to be pitied. I’m avoiding spoilers here, but the highlight for me is that one of the ugly girls is completely nuts. She’s desperate, needy, and clingy, so, by the end, I can see why she’s universally kind of shunned, even as she doesn’t deserve to get on the list.

– No one deserves to be on the list, btw. It’s completely subjective, and, as the narrative reveals, petty division based on arbitrary details/criteria.

– I do like that Vivian reveals how this particular list is made and the criteria for each group. Something to think about.

– I kind of love the principal and her role. I liked the way some of the adults responded to her (she’s pretty!). I would have liked to see just a bit more revealed about her past as she tried to relate to the girls. I’m not sure how that would happen (or even if it would’ve been realistic), but it would’ve added a nice element to the story.

– The end. The idea that the things are just as they should be is both refreshing and terrifying.

What I Didn’t Like

– The girls are all kind of interchangeable. In some instances I forgot who I was reading about. In fact, if the sections hadn’t been completely delineated with the girl’s name in the first paragraph/line, I wouldn’t have known whose story it was.

– Sarah is so gross that it was hard for me to take her seriously.

– Some of the conclusions are a little too easy/typical. Yes, it’s hard being pretty. Oh, the pretty girl’s mom is just as obsessed with popularity as she is? The ideal of perfection is hard to achieve? Okay, I know that.

This complaint really goes with the interchangeable bit, I guess, but more shading and more atypical complications for each story would have been nice.  There is a generic quality to quite a bit of the girls’ stories.

– Vivian shines at writing interpersonal conflict and exploring relationships through dialogue. Seeing the girls in relationship with each other and with others instead of spending a lot of time in their heads would have added a lot to the story as well.

In conclusion: All in all, a pretty breezy read that raises some interesting questions about beauty standards and perceptions.

Source: I bought this!

Audiobook Review: Sorry, Wrong Number

Sorry, Wrong Number by Lucille Fletcher (performed here by L.A. Theater Works) is a famous one-act play (made into a movie!) about a handicapped woman who overhears a murder being plotted and starts to FREAK OUT because she can’t get anybody to do anything about it.

This book is only 23 minutes long, and it is INTENSE. We listened to it while running errands today, and, wow, we were totally invested in the story. The voice work is fantastic. I love that the play is performed by a full cast, and the voice-only production (with a few ringing phones and busy signals thrown in) kind of adds to the mounting terror. Everything is so sparse that it’s like I was sitting trapped in the room with Mrs. Stevenson, trying to get someone to listen to me.

I think because this book is so short, it would be an excellent introduction to audiobooks for someone who wants to try them out. Not only is the action intense, but the storyline is clear, and it’s easy to keep track of all of the characters and what’s going on. Also? It’s really fun to listen to.

Audiobook Challenge: 8; Page to Screen: 7

Note: I received this book for free to review from the publisher through the Solid Gold Reviewer program over at Audiobook Jukebox.

Book Review: One Lonely Degree

Things don’t always change with a bang. Sometimes they change so gradually that you can’t clearly pinpoint the last moment they were truly the same.

I was super excited to read One Lonely Degree by C. K. Kelly Martin because I really enjoyed her first novel.  Another slice of contemporary realism from Martin, this book follows Finn as she struggles with changes in her family while she battles depression brought on by a traumatic experience at at a party.

What I Liked

– The characters are top notch. They’re all well-developed with clear personalities and their own little conflicts within the text.

– Friendship of the female AND male variety. Also, a slight love triangle, which. If I were still working on my dissertation, I might use this book.

What I Didn’t Like

– Oh my word, this book is BORING. Like, super boring. It starts to pick up in the last four or so chapters and then it’s OVER. Just when it gets interesting. I was so disappointed. I mean, seriously. It is well-written, the characters are well-developed, but it lacks serious oomph. I would put it down and forget about it. And then when I finished it, I seriously thought, “…that’s IT?” The worst part is I kept reading, hoping for that special something that makes realistic fiction so great for me, that identification, seeing some glimmer of interestingness or thinking that’s different, and it was just boring.

In conclusion: Tragically boring. I mean, really.

Support Your Local Library: 12/30; YA Reading Challenge: 7/20

Mini Reviews: A Mish Mash

Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore: I really liked this book. The premise is…different: a showgirl is plucked from obscurity to sing with a wealthy magician’s automaton. See, doesn’t that just sound different and interesting? There are some shades of gothic here (nods to Jane Eyre, even), and the main character is fun. My only complaint, really, is the romance, but if I just accept the fairytale aspect of the novel, it’s easier to swallow. The only thing I don’t like is that it has a sequel, and I have to wait to read it. Blast and tarnation.

Support Your Local Library: 6/30; YA Reading Challenge: 6/20: POC Reading Challenge: 5/15

Smile by Raina Telgemeier: This was another fun one. It’s a graphic novel memoir about Raina’s orthodontic adventures after she trips and breaks her two front teeth. Oh, and, of course, her adventures through middle and high school. The illustrations are great, and I love, love the coloring. The dialogue is authentic and, wow, middle school. I mean, it’s painful enough without having extra orthodontia issues, and Telgemeier really gets into the shifting relationships and societal expectations of those in between years. Bonus! The author also did the graphic adaptations of the Baby-Sitters Club, and you can view some of her webcomics on her site.

Support Your Local Library: 7/30; Graphic Novel Challenge: 1/10

Wonder Woman: Who Is Wonder Woman? by Allan Heinberg:  Wonder Woman has an identity crisis after killing a dude, basically. (Don’t worry; he’s a bad guy.) So there are three different Wonder Womans flying around, but the main one (Diana) assumes a secret identity and joins a task force to find herself. Literally. It’s interesting enough. My favorite bit is probably when Circe confronts Diana about being so concerned with mankind that she neglects the very real issues of violence and poverty women face in their day-to-day lives. Easy read, nice graphics. My daughter did complain about the extra-sexiness of the drawings, so.

Support Your Local Library: 8/30; Graphic Novel Challenge: 2/10

The Dream Book: Symbols for Self-Understanding by Betty Bethards: The most useful part of this book for me was the dream dictionary in the back, but that’s only because I already read Jeremy Taylor’s book, and a lot of the same information is covered. Bethards’ book is less dense and faster to read, but it also tends to be kind of foofy in places. (I’m not making light or fun, but she talks about her spirit guide and uses that kind of language, and I find it foofy, for lack of a better word.) So it was a nice, complementary read to Taylor’s book.

Support Your Local Library: 9/30

Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief by Wendelin Van Draanen, narrated by Tara Sands:  Sammy Keyes is awesome, her grandmother is awesome, and her best friend is awesome. She is predictable and unpredictable all at the same time. My daughter and I listened to this one on audiobook, and the narrator is great. Believable as a twelve-year-old, great variation in voices. We missed some stuff because a few of the CDs were scratched (this is what happens sometimes with library audiobooks on CD), but we were able to follow along easily and enjoyed the humor and the conclusion. Also, the characters are great. Did I mention that?

Support Your Local Library: 10/30; Audiobook Challenge: 1/6

Nice Dreads: Hair Care Basics and Inspiration for Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Locking Their Hair by Lonnice Brittenum Bonner: I already have locs and so does my daughter, but I picked this up just to see if there was any information in here that I didn’t already know from message boards, etc. There wasn’t really, but Bonner has a conversational style that made this book a breeze to read. I would totally recommend it for someone considering locs who has questions about maintenance.

Support Your Local Library: 11/30; POC Challenge: 6/15

Book Review: Insatiable

The vamps were just too alluring. And their victims just never seemed to think they deserved better than the treatment they were given. It was almost as if they were afraid to put their foot down, because they thought they’d never get anything better…

Insatiable is Meg Cabot’s entry into the current vampire craze that, instead of taking a romantic vision of vampires, takes every opportunity to point out how vampires are, well, soul-sucking parasites who prey on those weaker than them, whose minds are easiest to be read and manipulated.

I wish I had liked this book more. Cabot and I are obviously on the same page with our hate of vampires. In her book (haha, LITERALLY, but that’s not how I meant it at first), there is nothing sexy about vampires except for the one vampire who has no interest in killing humans and instead wants to keep the whole vamp thing on the DL and foster positive vampire-human interaction. He’s supposed to be kind of sexy, but the reader is constantly reminded that he’s DEAD (or undead, I guess) and not a viable life partner.  Oh, and also that he has to lie about who he is in order to start a relationship, and even though he is badass, the fact that he’s a dead dude who feeds on the blood of humans. So he has magnetism and a ripped bod, but the whole vampire thing is not sexy at all. It’s creepy and causes way more problems than he’s worth. At least that’s how I read it.

Anyway, the reason I wish I liked this book more is that it could very easily be read as a metaphor for violent and imbalanced relationships. In fact, there are pretty explicit comparisons made between the vampires who feed on girls and abusive men. However, there’s just too much going on for it to be about that one thing. So much so that I can’t even figure out how to review this except to say that it was just kind of there.

Basically, I was interested in the book when I was reading it, but when I put it down, I had no interest in it whatsoever. There were no standout characters, and nothing really for me to sink my teeth into. (See what I did there?) I think it’d be good for a beach or pool read. Or a lunch time read that only requires lunch break levels of commitment. (Which is when I read it, which is why it took so long, and I finally had to just had to bring it home and read it after work Friday so I could be DONE ALREADY, GEEZ.)

It’s not bad; it’s not good. It’s just kind of…there.

Banned Books Week: Book Review: Life Is Funny

So now that’s why I’m sitting here, because I have to be alone to try and figure out two things that are getting on my nerves, bad. One of them is what do I do to stay out of fights at least for the next seven years until I’m done with high school because I’m supposed to graduate and my aunt Eva will kill me if I don’t, but everybody’s always wanting to fight and then you get suspended and kicked out and all that mess. And then the other thing is what do I do if I don’t want my brother, Nick, to be touching on my privacy every night and he comes and does it anyway?

Life Is Funny by E. R. Frank is about eleven teens and spans seven years. The cover says that it’s a novel by E. R. Frank, which is an interesting marketing technique, especially considering that it’s a series of interrelated short stories. I’m not saying it’s not a novel because it most certainly has a clear beginning, middle, and, end (and I like the linear progression of the story, but that’s a discussion for a different bullet point), but, you know, it’s really a collection of short stories.

What I Liked

– I love the way the book is set up. Lots of times, interrelated stories connect in obvious ways or just have one connecting element like the same high school or whatever. But in this book, it’s the relationships that drive the connections. The kids’ lives overlap in seemingly innocuous, but usually heartbreaking ways, and the progression for characters is easily followed even when they kind of drop out of the picture because their stories are over. But that’s the thing. Their stories are never over. They continue.

– The breakout quote above highlights one of my favorite things about the book. Frank deftly shows how kids’ concerns all run together, from the seemingly inane to the completely, devastatingly serious. At the same time, Frank shows how serious everything is when you’re that age. A bathroom fight can lead to a serious stress about friendship, but the real issue is a dark family secret.

I also chose that quote because it hit me in the gut.  It made me suck in my breath and reread it several times to make sure I read it right. And while there are other things that happen to the different characters, that was the first moment I knew the book isn’t just about how teens see things from different perspectives, but that it’s about how they deal with the different levels of pain in their lives.

– I’m making the book sound maudlin, but it’s not. There’s a lot of humor in this book, and, as tends to happen with YA lit, hopefulness. It’s not a bleak read. If anything, it does show that life is funny–both funny ha-ha and funny weird/strange/unpredictable.

– The characters are fantastic, and, like I said, even within the short story format, they are allowed to grow and change. They’re also all likable or have something good about them to cling to. Which may be the point Frank, a clinical social worker, may be trying to make.

Since I have no real complaints about the book, here is where I talk instead about the fact that it’s one of the top 100 challenged books of the past decade, a fact I learned when I signed up for Nikki’s 2010 Banned Books Week Challenge. According to the ALA website, the top three reasons books are challenged are because they are deemed sexually explicit, have offensive language, and are unsuitable to age group. And I gotta say this book has sexually explicit and offensive language. Which, I guess, makes it unsuitable to age group–or at least to middle school students, since this a book that was actually removed from a middle school library because of  a sex scene.

I know it is a little crazy to think that teens have sex and/or talk about it using dirty words instead of referring to it as “making love” and such. And it is really, really, REALLY crazy to think that middle schoolers are not familiar with any of these terms or ideas. I mean, I know when I was in middle school, we didn’t even know that sex was called anything but “making whoopee” (oh, The Newlywed Game, how sly you were) and that Lucy and Ricky made a baby sleeping in separate twin beds.

(That was sarcasm, by the way.)

I have to say, I do not think this book is appropriate for my sixth grader, and I would tell her as much. What I would not do is tell an entire school full of children, some of whom are probably 14, that they shouldn’t read it or have access to it because it has sex in it. Especially if I read the whole book and not just a passage taken out of context and understood that this book may offer hope to a girl who has been molested that she can have a positive sexual experience. Or that I understood this is just two teens’ experiences out of many, several of which don’t focus on sex, and many of which focus on recovery from trauma.

So what have the children from that school missed out on, seeing that at least one of the challenges on this book was successful? An opportunity to think about what’s really going on with the boy or girl in their class and trying to understand that they all have different experiences. But more importantly, an opportunity to know that THEY ARE NOT ALONE. There is someone else out there who feels stupid but isn’t, who has messed up parents, who has great friends, who has lost friends, who can find a great boyfriend or girlfriend in spite of his or her other experiences, who doesn’t have money but goes to college, who loves his or her parents, who hates his or her parents, who doesn’t have parents and on and on.

It’s no accident that the book starts with the characters aged eleven and twelve years old.

POC Challenge: 20/15; YA Reading Challenge: 29/75

Audiobook Review: Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

In the end, you will fail to save that which matters most.

My daughter is a Percy Jackson fangirl. (How big of a fangirl? She was practically inconsolable when the series ended, she won a trivia contest [and collector’s edition of the first book] at our local Borders during their movie kick-off event, she began studying Greek mythology, she was thrilled to get a copy of The Odyssey for Easter, and she was PISSED about the movie version BEFORE IT EVEN CAME OUT. Et cetera. I mean, I could go on.) So after we listened to all of the Harry Potter books, I promised her we would listen to the Percy Jackson books. As always, we started with book one: The Lightning Thief as read by Jesse Bernstein.

What I Liked

– I think the book is a lot of fun. The characters are great, especially the main trio (Percy, Annabeth, and Grover). Percy and his imperfections make the perfect kind of protagonist for reluctant readers, and the fact that he is a reluctant reader himself would probably endear him even more to that particular demographic. Annabeth is smart, snarky, and fearless. And then there’s sweet sidekick Grover.

The best thing about the trio is that they all have their own reasons for going on the quest, and they all have something to prove. Unlike in the Harry Potter books where Ron and Hermione are mostly helping out because Harry is their friend (and for the good of wizard-kind), every member of this trio has his or her own separate, personal, and mostly selfish reasons for joining the quest.

– The reliance on Greek mythology is awesome. As I stated above, it definitely fueled my daughter’s interest in Greek mythology (as well as other mythologies). There’s lots of fun background info given to the readers, and it’s all easily woven into the narrative instead of an obvious attempt to school us about Greek mythology.

– I also love the way Riordan modernizes Olympus and ties the United States and its geography to the gods and goddesses. That the record company is the entrance to the underworld? Awesome. DOA Recording Studios? BRILLIANT. The depiction of the gods and goddesses is also cool. Ares as a motorcycle head, Poseidon as a retired beach dude, and Zeus as a CEO? Nicely done.

What I Didn’t Like

– This is a very male heavy narrative. Annabeth is smart, snarky, fearless, insecure, and has something to prove. Percy’s mom (who is in an abusive relationship) is interesting and nuanced. However, Percy’s mom is absent for most of the narrative and the other female characters that are present (besides Annabeth) are villains and bullies. I hope that changes in the rest of the books.

– As for the audiobookiness of it all, the narrator is really annoying. Percy sounds like a whiny sixteen-year-old rather than a smart alecky twelve-year-old. And Jesse Bernstein narrates THE WHOLE SERIES. Shoot me now. Also, I should point out that my daughter hates the narration as well. It’s a very, very, VERY good thing the story is so compelling because there is nothing remotely appealing about Bernstein’s narration.

Except Ares. I’ll give him Ares. His Ares is very good.

In conclusion: I recommend the book, but not the audiobook version–unless you like your smart alecky twelve-year-old boys to sound like whiny sixteen-year-olds. The story is superfun, and I can see how and why Percy’s story has become so popular.