Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Name of the Star

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2011
372 pages
YA; Paranormal; Thriller
5/5 stars

Source: Library

I was so nervous picking this book up. Yes, I've seen lots of mixed to positive reviews but I was hyping it so much in my head that I figured it could never live up to my expectations. However I thought this was fantastic!

The main character is Rory, don't call her Aurora, an American student spending her senior year at a London boarding school while her parents are on sabbatical in Bristol. She has to adjust to a new school, tough academics, and different way of life in England. She also has to deal with a string of Jack the Ripper murders and a mysterious new ability she seems to have developed.

The big deal is the Jack the Ripper murders, which made me think of the television program Whitechapel, which is from 2009 but just aired in the US and also focuses on copycat murders. They are completely different stories, don't worry, but it's interesting to me how Jack the Ripper is popping up in my life because I really have no interest in serial killers unlike the Ripperologists who appear in both stories.  This ties in with Rory, whose boarding school is located basically right in the middle of where Jack the Ripper struck and is thus caught up in the panic that engulfs London.

But that is not the end of the story. One night Rory and her roommate sneak out and when they return to their dorm, Rory sees a man...but the roommate does not despite his proximity. Is Rory going crazy? Don't worry, it's just a paranormal ability. This introduces her to a bunch of other people and leads to the stopping of the murders.

As we journey through the story, we also have some romance, suspense, terror, and even comedy cropping up at odd times. I thought the writing was very assured and each character was well-developed and contributed toward his/her part of the story, whether that was being menacing or adding color to life at a boarding school.

Overall: Highly recommended-great mix of different elements without being too scary. Concludes the story while still setting up a series; definitely will be reading the second book, The Madness Underneath, due out later this year.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Chinese Handcuffs

Chinese Handcuffs by Chris Crutcher
Greenwillow Books, 1989
202 pages
YA; Contemporary
4.5/5 stars

Source: Library

I think I've made no secrets about my love for Crutcher-his books just hit me right in the gut and I love them.  I've been trying to read through his oeuvre slowly in order to be able to savor them for a while. This one hit me hard.

Crutcher does have a lot of the same themes and plots in his books, which I've seen as I read through them. This one also featured some of the darker ones including descriptions of two animals being murdered, two child molestations, suicide, and other assorted acts of cruelty. Brutal-why do you do this to me Chris Crutcher?! In fact, although Crutcher has had similar occurrences in his other books, these seemed more graphic and I was almost ready to put the book down but it's so short so I figured I could power through it.  I just don't have a very strong stomach.

Another problem was that I didn't find Dillon Hemingway as compelling as other Crutcher MCs.  He's in the same mold: talented athlete, school troublemaker, dedicated to figuring out what's right. But for me he didn't have the charisma of TJ. Another thing I didn't like and actually found jarring was that part of the book is told as letters from Dillon to his dead brother (first person), which would then shift to third person narrative.

As you may have guessed from what I've mentioned, this is a pretty intense book. And disappointingly it didn't turn out the way I wanted...well, until the absolutely kick-ass last page. I was caught completely off-guard but just fist pumped at the end because I was so happy.

Overall: Not one of my favorite Crutcher's; I would suggest the other ones I've read.

Cover: So tremendously ugly; I mean this makes sense in the context of the book but they're weirdly arranged and if it didn't have Crutcher's name on it, I never would have picked this book up.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Discussion: Commenting

So I think we all love getting comments (at least, I do ;) But sometimes it's hard to comment-making the time, figuring out what to say, etc. I wanted to share my commenting process and explain why you may have gotten a comment from me on a post that's a week old.

I subscribe to my blogs through either Google Friend Connect or their RSS Feed (I'm just going to ignore the upcoming deletion of GFC-I've been trying to switch blogs over but it's kind of annoying). Every morning and evening (and in the afternoon on weekends) I go through my google reader and see what posts I want to comment on. I used to open those posts in multiple tabs but now I like to use Read It Later. You mark a page and then later can come back to it when you have the time to devote yourself to it. This way I still get to mark all of my reader posts as read but I still get to spend time commenting at my leisure. Of course, sometimes I realize that it's been a week since the post appeared and then I sit down and go through my collected posts. Plus you don't have to use it just for blogging; you can use it for any web page.

So I would like to ask, how do you comment?

One other question for you: How do you decide what posts to comment on? For the most part, I comment on books I've already read and occasionally a Waiting on Wednesday post. I feel most comfortable when I can mention my own opinion on a book. Thus I definitely prefer when bloggers don't focus exclusively on ARCs or else I will never find a review to comment on!

I'm also excited because the SAG awards are on tonight; although I haven't seen many of the movies showcased, I adore awards shows and am looking forward to this one!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
Crown Archetype, 2011
219 pages
5/5 stars

Source: Library

After eagerly anticipating Tina Fey's Bossypants and being disappointed, I was a little leery of picking this up.  I know it's not fair to link these two funny ladies, just because they write and act on NBC sitcoms but they are somewhat linked in my mind because of those facts. Happily I was wrong to doubt because Mindy Kaling's collection was delightful!

First I love Kaling's sense of humor as evidenced by my adoration for many of her episodes on "The Office" as well as my love of Kelly. Kaling helpfully provides a list of where their personalities diverge although even after reading this book, I may conflate them a bit. She follows a rough chronological timeline of her life from awkward childhood to awkward adolescence through college and post-grad life going to work on "The Office" with some diversions about friendship and comedy and lots of comedic gems.

The chapters are amusingly titled and short, always a plus in my book. Besides sharing about personal experiences, there are also musings on what makes a great best friend and some concepts for movies she'd like to make (all-girl Ghostbusters remake). I wouldn't say this is a deep book with Kaling revealing her innermost self but I don't think it was meant to be so that is not a failing in my opinion. Instead it is a light and frothy afternoon read-I could not put this book down!

Overall: Certainly worth a read if you think you share a similar sense of humor to Kaling; I know I do.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Time-Traveling Fashionista

The Time-Traveling Fashionista by Bianca Turetsky
Illustrations by Sandra Suy
Poppy, 2011
263 pages
MG; Time-Travel
3.5/5 stars

Source: Library

After reading April at Good Books and Good Wine's review, I knew it was time to pick up this book. Short chapters, fast read, fun times, gorgeous illustrations-just the kind of book for me!

Main character Louise Lambert has a deep love for vintage fashion and is excited to receive an invitation to look over some vintage clothes. Mysterious proprietors Marla and Glenda allow Louise to try on a beautiful pink dress (the one represented on the cover) when she collapses.  When she awakens, she is addressed as Miss Alice Baxter, famous actress traveling across the Atlantic on a luxurious liner in 1912; when Louise realizes it is the Titanic, she desperately tries to change history.

The pictures were so colorful and beautiful. I am not particularly fashion-savvy but I can appreciate the designs for these elaborate dresses.  I do also have a layman's appreciation for vintage clothing, stemming from my love of the Golden Age of movies. The illustrations were definitely my favorite part.

The rest of the book was a little shallow; Louise takes FOREVER to realize she is on the Titanic, which is foreshadowed by her history teacher's discussion of the event and immediately obvious to me when I the date is revealed. Of course the book also made me feel old-Louise was born in 1999, several years after the movie was released (note: it is also being re-released this year and I can't wait to see it on a big screen since I wasn't able to see it originally). Perhaps if Louise was older, she would have taken more of an interest in history and thus would have discovered her location faster.  Louise also might want to read more about time-travel and try not to change history-it's just not a good idea.

The other characters didn't have much depth: Louise's persona has a maid who is very sweet; her persona's guardian is a decent chap; there's a doctor who is basically just evil. The characters from Louise's real life didn't have much of a presence either but it sounds like this will be a series so there's plenty of time for them to be sketched out more.

Overall: A cute, middle-grade story, perfect for tweens and those interested in fashion.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Look, I Made a Hat

Look, I Made a Hat by Stephen Sondheim
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011
430 pages
4/5 stars

Source: Library

After finishing the first book Finishing the Hat, I was beyond excited to get my hands on this second book, which features a string of awesomeness, if not popular successes: Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Wood, and Assassins (my personal favorite Sondheim). And those sections were great. I loved finding out their origins and following their development. I was already pretty familiar with most of the lyrics but reading them over brought new pleasures. It was great to linger over and savor my imagination of how they might be staged (I have seen the filmed stage versions of the first two)

There are also more essays from Sondheim such as his opinion on awards (he appreciates those that come with cash) and one on critics. These were fascinating and I would have enjoyed more of them. I kept paging through some of the later sections, hoping for more essays.

Unfortunately the rest of the book wasn't too my taste, featuring Passion, Wise Guys/Bounce/Road Show: A Saga in Four Acts, and other musical, movie, and television songs from Sondheim. I just didn't really care. I wanted to read about complete shows that I loved. While I do think I'll find at least something to enjoy in Passion whenever I sit down to listen to it, I haven't done so yet and it fell flat for me. I feel so bad saying that but this review is my opinion and that's how I felt. Certainly theater geeks will want to read these but I found the content of the first book far superior.

Overall: Obviously something you'll want to complete the set but I preferred the first book.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Thorn and the Blossom

The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora Goss
Illustrated by Scott McKowen
Quirk Books, 2012
77 pages
Contemporary; Romance
4/5 stars

Source: Received a review copy from Amazon Vine.

I first heard about this book due to its unique appearance. It has accordion-fold binding with a story on each side. One side is Evelyn's story; the other is Brendan's. They cover the same period but only reveal what each person is thinking at that point in time. There are also some (black and white) illustrations that made me think of engravings and a very beautiful box to hold the book.

Honestly the book was a little awkward to hold and I ended up bending a few pages but it's so short that it shouldn't be too much of a problem when you go to read it for yourself. Part of the gimmick is that you can read either story first so I chose to start with Evelyn and I'm really glad I did. Both of them have their surprises but I think finding out Brendan's through Evelyn's eyes was more satisfying than the other way around would have been. Of course, you are free to do as you want!

Again it's not a long book but the gist is that Evelyn and Brendan meet in his small hometown in England where he recounts the legend of Gawan and Elowen. After a serious misunderstanding, they are separated until a reunion years later at a small Virginia university where they have both created literature around that legend of love. More misunderstandings with an ambiguous but hopeful ending come.

The problem is that it's so short; 38 and 39 pages respectively so there isn't much room for the character development I like to see. Things just happen and I was left wanting more to flesh out the story.

Overall: Cool concept and lovely packaging.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Way We Fall

The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe
Hyperion, 2012
309 pages
YA; Disease
4/5 stars

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I mostly picked this book because it came from Hyperion, an imprint that usually steers me toward very enjoyable books (mostly contemporary with fantastical elements in my experience) so this one looked like a change.

I was excited once I opened this book and saw that it was told in letters from main character Kaelyn to her estranged best friend Leo; I've seen around the blogosphere that it is not always a popular format but I'm a complete sucker for books told in the epistolary way.

And this book differs from the current glut of apocalyptic and dystopia YA by starting at the beginning. At the start life on an island in Canada is not great for Kaelyn, of mixed race who has spent time off the island. Worse Kaelyn's best friend Leo is in New York City and they haven't spoken in years, her big regret.

But life continues on until slowly a mysterious illness strikes. Kaelyn first notices it in a friend's father and then in that friend. Soon the hospital is overflowing and death is everywhere. The island is cut off from the rest of Canada, with the military not allowing anyone to leave and with the internet connection down. Violent gangs fight over the remaining supplies and wantonly destroy property.  People are frightened and confused, with no idea what will come next as they try to protect their loved ones from something they don't even understand.

The growing fear of the people was well conveyed and really got under my skin. Additionally I find epistolary novels highly addictive so I kept coming back for more. Even as I gasped at the depths people sunk to, I was consoled by the good that many aspired to do. However I didn't think much of the characters. None of the main ones were awful but none really stood out. I didn't feel like I got to know them and consequently am less interested in continuing to follow their adventures in what seems like a series.

Applause to Crewe for her different take on the genre (starting at the beginning adds some really dramatic tension) but I wish I had felt more for the characters.

Monday, January 23, 2012

My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan

My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan by Seth Rudetsky
Random House, 2012
211 pages
YA; Contemporary
4.5/5 stars

I have a total talent crush on Seth Rudetsky. I've seen him be hilarious on that Legally Blonde talent search show, I've read his columns for Playbill.com, and I've heard him on Sirius XM on Broadway. He's so funny and so knowledgeable about music and Broadway. However I wasn't sure if he could write a novel with characters I would care about-he's so good at that other stuff; could he be good at this too?

Well, I am happy to say that I found this book immensely satisfying with a likable MC and lots of funny bits, even if it is very predictable. The plot revolves around unpopular Justin, a sophomore with an intense crush on jock Chuck and a burning desire to be popular. However he's awkward with weird friends until he comes up with a brilliant plan: pretend to date Chuck's secret girlfriend Becky since her dad hates Chuck; get closer to Chuck; become insanely popular. Of course, as the reader, you can spot all sorts of flaws with this plan but that doesn't mean that I stopped reading even as I predicted every element of the plot.

First Justin is a sweet kid even if his priorities are a little messed up. He loves piano and he knows every bit of Broadway minutia; I would totally want to be friends with him and like Becky, may even have developed a misguided crush, were I around him. His best friend Spencer is also a great kid even if he's a little frustrating. I also liked that both boys knew they were gay and were pretty comfortable with that despite some of the awful kids around them. The story isn't so much about being gay as about navigating high school pitfalls, which everyone can relate to.

Second this book is SO funny. I'm already familiar with Rudetsky's writing style from his columns but I found his fiction writing just as enjoyable. The pacing was pretty good although some parts dragged too much for my taste.

And my last main point is that I loved the representation of the parents. They're pretty aware of Justin's life and a little interfering but with good intentions. They seemed pretty realistic and are responsible for some of the funniest moments. Love good YA parents!

Now I'm not saying that this book is in any way groundbreaking. As mentioned it's very predictable but I think the humor adds a welcome aspect to it and really made me enjoy it. I closed the book with a big smile on my face because I was just so happy!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Artist (2011)

After seeing the great success of The Artist at the Golden Globes as well as the adorable Uggie, my mom became interested in seeing it. Since it expanded to a theater near us, I readily agreed and we set off. There were lots of reasons to be excited. I love classic films and what I knew about this evoked "Singin' in the Rain" and "A Star Is Born" as well as the only silent film to win Best Picture "Wings."  I am also trying to watch every Best Picture winner and I'm more than halfway through that goal; I will be ahead if The Artist triumphs on February 26.

We set off and settled in to our seats and were promptly surrounded by people. My sister mentioned that The Artist hadn't done that well since expanding to more theaters but it sure seemed crowded there! The audience definitely skewed older and we saw some pretty lame trailers.

The movie itself was pretty good. My absolute favorite part was the dance sequence that closed the film; this picture is from that scene. I was pretty astonished at how much I enjoyed the no talking part. I'm very comfortable with black and white films but have had a harder time with silence. I also really loved the actress Bérénice Bejos-she is so beautiful. Her and the lead actor both have very expressive faces, necessary for a film like this.

All in all, I am happy that I saw this movie but I'm not insistent in recommending it. I probably would have enjoyed seeing Mission:Impossible Ghost Protocol again more (in fact, I almost bought tickets for that instead, just because I was thinking of it!)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Strings Attached

Strings Attached by Judy Blundell
Scholastic Press, 2011
310 pages
YA; Historical
3.5/5 stars

Source: Library

After reading The Girl Is Murder, I was left craving other YA historical fiction from the same time period. Due to my ignorance of hair styles, I thought this book was probably from the 1940s. Instead it's a bit later in the 1950s which is still pretty good as that means red scares, bomb scares, an entirely different war, and all sorts of other problems.

And it did have those things but what it really has was a confusing narrative structure with frequent jumps to the past. Sometimes as little as a month, sometimes going back to main character Kit Corrigan's childhood. Each chapter does start with the month and year in which it is set but such jumps are not my favorite way to convey a story. I understand why the story was told this way as the revelations fly off the page but I don't have to like it (and I didn't.)

Also while fears about Communists, bombs, and death in Korea were present, they were not the focus. Instead we have Kit's dreams of being a dancer on Broadway and her family's history with the charismatic but destructive Nate Benedict, lawyer for the Mob. While Kit's father was somewhat entangled with gangsters during Prohibition, he got out; Benedict only got in further, leading to some benefits (money) and many drawbacks (the cost to his family).

While Benedict seems largely benign at the start, his choices mean that he reaps what he sows and becomes quite scary toward the end. His son Billy is a particularly unfortunate case. He and Kit had been involved but his temper and, as we learn, guilt over his father's misdeeds lead to the end of them. Of course, Kit plays her own role by accepting Benedict's generous offers in exchange for increasingly morally difficult favors. And I didn't find Kit to be a particularly compelling character

Overall: I guess I wanted more of the glamour of 1950s Broadway and Communist searches and less of the mobsters. Also again I found the narrative style off-putting.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Girl Is Murder

The Girl Is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines
Roaring  Brook Press, 2011
342 pages
YA; Mystery; Historical Fiction
3.5/5 stars

Source: Library

I love the cover for this, as it immediately conjures up a historical mystery for me. This one is set in 1942 New York City, with a young girl and her injured private detective father (lost his leg at Pearl Harbor).  Beyond references to the war and topical events like the zoot suits beatings, the most obvious reference to the time period was the slang. There was a lot of slang, which was a little jarring with how much is peppered through the novel but still easy enough to understand.

Obviously the war plays a huge role. Most of the characters have at least one relative serving or who has served and the uncertainty about their fates hangs over them; food and cloth is rationed and the draft is about to be implemented which will call up most of the young men at the main character's school. I really enjoyed all of these elements as they painted a vivid picture and created a great world. I felt immersed.

What I didn't like was the main character Iris, who starts the book out okay. She's worried about her father and his ability to pay the rapidly piling up bills; she's missing her dead mother; she's scared about starting at a public school after years at a tony private girls school; she seems pretty normal. As the book progressed though, she grated on me. She lied and lied and lied and continually acted in ways that she knew were wrong! She was also a bit of a snob in her transition from private to public school, although the quality of her education definitely decreased.

The other characters were a mix of fun and annoying. They definitely had suspicious qualities and they also had their own changes in personality, with lying, wrong-doing, and double-crossing. They were not nice people. The only characters I liked were the adults, Iris's father and Mrs. Mrozenski, who owns the place where Iris and her father are lodging. She is an immigrant who gives Iris space but does care for her.

I did not solve the mystery and actually ended up a little confused with all of the players involved and their twisted motivations and actions. But I think there is the possibility for more stories in this mystery setting and hopefully Iris will have learned her lesson and behave more correctly.

Cover: Beautiful-love her hair! However it does remind me of some other YA covers so perhaps it isn't exactly distinct enough.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Alphabet of Dreams

Alphabet of Dreams by Susan Fletcher
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006
291 pages
YA; Historical
3/5 stars

Source: Library

While browsing at my library, I came across this older YA book and thought it looked intriguing. I knew nothing about the plot or the author's writing when I checked it out, which made for an unusual read. As a YA blogger, I'm usually very aware of the latest books and have an idea of what to expect but this is an older one so I had zero expectations.

As I read this back in December though, I realized how appropriate it was for the season as it is a twist on the story of the Three Wise Men arriving at the birth of Jesus. However the Magi are secondary characters, to Mitra and her younger brother Babak. They are currently surviving as thieves until Mitra discovers that Babak can seemingly dream prophecies, which can be and is monetized. Then their fortunes become entangled with the Magi as they journey to seek a king.

I thought the beginning was solid. Mitra and Babak are of royal blood but are in fear for their lives as their father's failed rebellion against the king leads the way to retribution. Babak is a sweet little boy and Mitra is a protective older sister, disguised as a boy for her own safety, who longs for her old life and what she sees as her birthright. She doesn't always make the best decisions, being young and somewhat selfish but she's understandable.

However as the book progressed, I found the story becoming muddied. Mitra is in an imperfect disguise as a boy, which is discovered by several of the guys she meets and she soon starts wondering about two of them and contemplating a future with either. One guy just "knows" her but she wishes for the other guy to discover her secret as well. It was annoying and pointless to me. The journey meanders too with many characters introduced but with few of them impacting the story much.

I did like the twist on the famous story of the Wise Men but thought the interweaving of Mitra/Babak with the Magi was a little awkward. I definitely still love the idea of having classic stories expanded with more color and personality for the characters but I didn't think this one was handled well.

Cover: A non-white MC who is represented on the cover! It was more the title that grabbed me but that definitely caught my attention.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Finishing the Hat

Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim
Alfred A. Knopf, 2010
421 pages
Non-fiction; Musical
4.5/5 stars

Source: Library

While Stephen Sondheim is one of my favorite composers and lyricists (Gypsy, Assassins, and A Little Night Music being among my favorite musicals), I wasn't originally interested in this book as I thought it was just a collection of Sondheim's lyrics. Interesting as I find the writing, I can read all of the lyrics online or just listen to the songs as I have recordings for all.

Then I found out that Sondheim also included notes about the writing of the shows and about specific lyrics, which sounded very interesting. Another bonus was the pictures of the cast and of Sondheim's handwritten lyrics although they're in black and white so you don't get to see the colorful clothes and hair styles of the cast.

The book covers roughly the first half of Sondheim's career, from 1954-1981. The shows included are Saturday Night, West Side Story*, Gypsy*, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Anyone Can Whistle, Do I Hear a Waltz?*, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, The Frogs, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Merrily We Roll Along (asterisks denote shows where Sondheim wrote the lyrics only). This includes some great shows but I remain more interested in the shows that will appear in the second collection (specifically Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, and Assassins).

This is a great collection for ANYONE interested in musical theater or songwriting as Sondheim does not just discuss his career but also lyric-writing (and creating a show in general) and evaluates other lyricists, such as Lorenz Hart and E.Y. Harburg. I hope that will be continued in the second collection as well.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Tempest by Julie Cross
Thomas Dunne Books, 2012
334 pages
YA; Time Travel
3.5/5 stars

Source: Received an ARC from Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

This book has had a generous publicity campaign; I remember seeing it mentioned in Entertainment Weekly along with the news that the film rights had been bought and I've seen many reviews of it around the blogosphere. Meanwhile I was excited about a male MC (since I tend to prefer female) of college age, lots of exciting action, and a perennial beloved topic of mine, time travel.

However this is not time travel as I like to picture time travel. My time travel is free-wheeling and crosses time and space at the mere whim of the imaginer (my time travel is more fun!)  This one seems more grounded in what time travel might be like as main character Jackson is limited to his own life, and very short jumps at that. Throughout the book he is experimenting with the parameters of his ability along with the help of his genius friend Adam.

But besides time travel, Jackson is very focused on his girlfriend Holly; when two men break into her dorm room and shoot her, it kicks off a very strange succession of events, starting with Jackson jumping around his past.  Most of the book actually takes place in 2007, two years before the story is set, when Jackson is supposed to be a high school senior and before he has met Holly.

Once he realizes he is stuck there, he sets out to track down Adam for help and Holly because he can't imagine being without her.  Now I have nothing against Holly but she didn't have much substance so I'm not really sure why Jackson cares so much. Of course, Jackson is kind of a tool; there were a lot of times I didn't like him. I thought Adam had a much stronger characterization and was more sympathetic. Holly didn't do much other than being the girlfriend to Jackson. Beyond these important peers, Jackson also has to confront memories of his dead in 2009 twin sister and his relationship with his father, which is not the strongest. Additionally there are other time travelers and most of them seem to have malevolent intentions. As you might guess, there is a lot going on!

A tricky element for time travel books is keeping track of when exactly it is. For the most part the book is successful, but sometimes my attention wandered and I was confused about who knew what. One thing I appreciated, although it didn't always work out like I wanted, was that Jackson cannot change the past when he jumps. I'm not entirely sure how that works because there are times he definitely interferes but it does not materially change the present.

Overall: Some fun action, exploring time travel and tough decisions but the characters didn't grab me. Jackson was a very matter of fact narrator who kept the narrative moving fast but didn't let me inside.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Never Eighteen

Never Eighteen by Megan Bostic
Graphia, 2012
202 pages
YA; Contemporary
4/5 stars

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest reivew.

I believe this first came to my attention last year for part of the Contemps Challenge, but I think its release date ended up being pushed back and it was not a part of that. Luckily I still got a copy from Netgalley and dived in eagerly looking for a great contemporary read.

The story revolves around Austin and his last days as he reaches out to people to encourage them to really live their lives. He visits his grandmother, old school friends (and enemies), his estranged father.  He also wants to experience some things like super spicy food and a beautiful vista.  All of this is courtesy of the car owned and driven by his best friend and long-time crush Kaylee.  Can he tell her how he feels? Does he dare to express his love for her even as he knows that he will never reach the age of eighteen?

At first I thought it was a little weird that Austin didn't specifically reference his disease especially since the title so obviously forecast that. It almost seemed like Austin just randomly decided to embark on this journey because of an epiphany rather than being motivated by his pending demise. Still the writing was lovely and I enjoyed reading most of his meetings.

However I didn't really feel like I got to know Austin or Kaylee. I mean, I still cried at the end because I cry easily and it did ruffle my emotions somewhat. But it didn't hit as hard as it could have. Austin just went from place to place, checking off meetings instead of putting me through the wringer. Still a decent contemporary and fine for an afternoon read.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Week of 15JAN12 Updates

Last week, I asked about commenting systems and got some very helpful information about Intense Debate. In light of that, I will be staying with Blogger-this is ideal for me because I don't have to do anything :) I believe I do have embedded comments now available due to blogger updates so that's cool.

This week I wanted to ask about custom blog designs. It's something I've been thinking about but inertia is strong with me (I like my polka dots-they're bright and cheery). I was wondering how close you look at designs or do you mostly just hope everything is readable and not too garish? Do you have a custom design? Who would you recommend?

Beauty and the Beast 3D/Tangled Ever After

This weekend I took my sister to see B&B in 3D, a format we both hate because of the awkwardness of the 3D glasses over our actual glasses. That is the second worst thing about 3D (the worst is that it is usually just a money grab and not at all necessary, as it was in this case). Still we do love B&B and we also love Tangled especially Maximus and Pascal so I was so excited to see this. It was very cute and ridiculous! However it is not necessary to see it in theaters; I believe it is supposed to hear on the Disney channel this spring and you could wait until then.

It is also the Golden Globes tonight-the best award show! The award itself is basically meaningless but it has television AND movie people, lovely dresses, and an abundance of alcohol. Plus Ricky Gervais is back (I thought he was hilarious last year-perfect for a gossip junkie like me) so it will also be funny and hopefully move at a good pace. I'll probably post pictures of my favorite dresses later as awards season is one of my favorite times of the year!

How was your weekend?

Saturday, January 14, 2012


Chime by Franny Billingsley
Dial Books, 2011
361 pages
YA; Fantasy
3/5 stars

Source: Library

Although I had seen this book around, I didn't really pay attention to it until the Chime/Shine kerfuffle. Having already read Shine (and loved it), I wanted to compare this one. So I guess there is some positive here in that it made at least this reader want to be fully aware of what happens in each book.

I had seen a lot of positive reviews of this but I also saw reviews, saying it didn't get really good until 100 pages in; um, I don't want to read 1/3 of a book before it gets good! Although I do kind of agree with that assessment. The narration and writing is quite different from other YA with our main character Briony being unreliable and poisoned by lies that have imprinted themselves on the way she views herself and her world. I think it took at least 100 pages for me to adjust to the world and the writing.

For example, and I fully admit that maybe I was a little dumb, but Eldric is introduced as having a lion eyes and tawny mane, which made me think that he was part lion and perhaps the world included many people who were part animal. I'm fairly sure that Eldric is not part lion but that is how I continued to picture him. The world also seems to be set in an entirely alternate fantasy world but there are also mentions of modern objects such as cars. Additionally Briony would occasionally veer off course in her narrative, leaving me gaping and wondering how she had made that connection. See, it's confusing!

Still I pushed on, hoping to see what others had seen. Unfortunately I did not end up seeing it. I think this book would be well worth reading for those who enjoy the prose but I prefer something a little less complicated as well as more contemporary.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Little Friendly Advice

A Little Friendly Advice by Siobhan Vivian
Push, 2008
248 pages
YA; Contemporary
3/5 stars

Source: Library

While browsing my library, I came across this book. Having mostly enjoyed Vivian's book Not That Kind of Girl, I eagerly picked this one up, expecting a fun contemporary story about friendship.

The four girls, as represented on the cover, are main character Ruby, her best friend Beth, their friend Maria, and the girl who has recently started hanging out with them, Katharine. Ruby thought she was used to her father's abandonment of her and her mom. But she's not, as she realizes when he suddenly returns on her sixteenth birthday throwing her emotions into a tizzy.

I read mostly YA and I can handle different levels of maturity in that category but wow I thought Ruby was really at the lower level of that scale. I think I tend to prefer precocious or overachieving characters to ones like Ruby. By that I mean, teenage characters who use alcohol as a coping mechanism, who rage at parents when said parents really don't suck, characters who don't seem to possess much common sense. I don't require characters that I can admire but I think it is a preference of mine.

And I did not admire Ruby who does not handle the events in this book well at all. My favorite part about her was the boy she meets named Charlie, who's practically perfect. He's able to deal with his egotistical, bullying father AND Ruby's neuroticism. He's also really charming and, in my imagination, super cute. I found him far more compelling unlike Ruby.

Yes, Ruby does demonstrate some growth. But as a whole, I found the plot and characters all over the place with many receiving only superficial treatment. I wanted more character development and a more cohesive narrative. Still I do enjoy Vivian's writing and will be on the lookout for more of her books.

Cover: Really good-the pictures relate to an actual plotline in the story and I can imagine each as one of the friends.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Life: An Exploded Diagram

Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet
Candlewick Press, 2011
385 pages
YA; Historical
4/5 stars

Source: Received an ARC through Amazon Vine.

When I received the Vine Newsletter, I browsed and didn't see anything that immediately caught my eye; so I started searching on goodreads and saw that this was historical fiction during the Cuban Missile Crisis, something about which I know little. I love historical fiction but don't always read very much of it and don't see it hyped around the blogosphere. Thus I requested this. Then I saw an enthusiastic review on Forever Young Adult, which solidified my decision to read this; I really enjoy their review style.

However I was surprised when I first started reading as the book does not begin with working-class Clem and his romance with the local landowner's daughter Frankie during the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Instead there is quite a bit about Clem's grandmother Win and her romance during World War I and then Clem's parents marriage during World War II leading to his birth during that period.  This part was a little slow for me, mostly because I was thrown by it. I kept thinking, "Isn't this supposed to be about the 60s?"

Then we do reach that time period, having followed Clem growing up and experiencing some upward mobility. He isn't very interested in the political part as he is first focusing on school and then absolutely infatuated with Frankie, rebellious and daring. I personally didn't feel much for their relationship, as it seemed more based on the physical and I prefer love stories that are peppered with witticisms no matter the implausibility.

However my favorite parts were the weaving of historical fact in to the story. There are some tidbits during the early sections but it really picks up, focusing on John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev. The book cites several primary sources for its information and it read well to me. I found it more absorbing than Clem's romance as the suspense was much more powerful. Two teenagers with disapproving parents or battling groups of politicians with the potential to blow up the world? I mean, come on, one is clearly more interesting.

I do have to mention that it did make one error that bugged me. On page 233 of my ARC, it states that Kennedy was the youngest-ever president. He was actually the youngest-ever ELECTED president. Theodore Roosevelt was almost a whole year younger when he was sworn in after the assassination of William McKinley. This is very important to me since the 1858 in my ID comes from Roosevelt's birth year and quite frankly I don't like Kennedy so I don't want to laud him for an untruth. This is a very minor detail that only appears on the one page but it is a pet peeve of mine. I hope this is corrected in the final copy and will update if I can confirm that.

Overall: Excellent writing although the characters didn't entirely work for me. The historical aspect was very strong and would probably be an excellent resource to students studying the time period; give them something very interesting to supplement what might be a dry text.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Whole Story of Half a Girl

The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani
Delacorte, 2012
209 pages
Middle-Grade; Contemporary
4/5 stars

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I really applaud this book for tackling a lot of big issues and balancing them well while keeping the book at a middle-grade level. To start with, this book looks at a young girl in a typical nuclear family, parents and sister, who live a comfortable existence. After her father loses his job, it causes a big shift in the family dynamics and precipitates a lot of change.

This could totally have been an issue book. Sonia's dad loses his job, causing a big change in the family finances and pushing her dad into depression. Sonia has to leave her beloved private school to start sixth grade at public school where she has to navigate mean girls and an entirely different school culture. She also starts to wonder: is she Indian? Is she Jewish? Can she be both? Plus she's growing up and is soon going to be a teenager with all those emotional issues. Basically there's a lot of stuff here! Any one of those could have been the focus of a book. But this one never felt weighted down despite the seriousness, which I would have to say speaks well of the writer. At times some issues were dealt with superficially in my opinion but remember that this is a middle-grade novel and for that age group, I would say it does a good job.

Particularly interesting to me was the family situation. I don't think I've read many books with a depressed character and seeing  its impact on this family really struck me. I also really loved Sonia, which is a big plus. She's confused about some of the changes in her life and is just trying to do the best she can. Of course, she makes mistakes (one colossally huge one later in the book) but she always retained my interest and sympathy.

Overall: A very pleasant experience with excellent balance between light and serious for a fast and absorbing read.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Ditched: A Love Story by Robin Mellom
Hyperion, 2012
273 pages
YA; Contemporary
4/5 stars

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

After a string of meh books (perfectly fine books that didn't really excite me), I was looking forward to a funny, charming YA contemp. And I got that-main character Justina is a bit of a worrywart and chatterbox, in the vein of a Meg Cabot heroine; a high compliment in my opinion.

The story begins at the end with Justina ending up on the side of the road, alone with a stained and tattered dress. She totters to a 7-11 where a sympathetic cashier and customer listen to her meandering story. She does this by pointing to various stains on her dress (the e-ARC I had was in greyscale, which made the stains difficult to discern; I am not sure how this will be represented in the actual book) and explaining how they came about on what was supposed to be the best night.

You see, prom is the night where Justina is going to break her eight month no-kiss sabbatical as she has realized her feelings for her best friend Ian and wants to seal the moment with a kiss. But nothing seems to go right. First she looks like a blueberry after following the advice of her mother; then she gets curry on her dress before even leaving the house. And the incidents just pile up from there.

Justina gained a reputation due to he variety and multitude of boys she kissed. In response, she made a vow not to kiss again...until she became such good friends with Ian and saw him in a certain green shirt. Now that's all she wants from the night and it seems like the one thing she won't get due to various misunderstandings and stiff competition from another girl.

While Justina and Ian were perfectly fine characters (not that we get that much of Ian since he spends most of the night off on some mysterious errand), I totally fell for the Stoner Mikes and their girlfriends. They were nice people (I guess you could say mellow) who were so warm and protective to Justina when she needed it most.

Overall: I got what I expected: a cute, funny, sweet story; worth curling up with one afternoon.

Cover: What an atrocious dress-those sleeves look so eighties although I do like the color as I'm a sucker for blue. However it is very true to the book so yay!

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Gathering Storm

The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges
Delacorte Press, 2012
387 pages
YA; Historical; Fantasy
3.5/5 stars

Source: Received an ARC from Amazon Vine.

I was so excited about this one-historical fiction in tsarist Russia that's not about Anastasia? Sign me up! Except that there are also fantasy elements (unexpected but something I can handle) and well, then there's the characters.

The fantasy elements actually play a huge role to my dismay. The time period is already so rich that the book felt overstuffed with so much being introduced even if not integral to the plot. The main conflict stems from the blood drinking royal family of Montenegro who have very sinister intentions toward the tsar's family and toward our heroine. But there is also conflict between two Faerie courts and all of this is tied up with another plot against the royal family. I think we have only scratched the surface of what Bridges has planned in the paranormal realm.

Then we have the characters. Main character Katerina wants to be a doctor rather than the proper expected wife; fine. But I found many of her decisions questionable, not a trait I seek in a doctor. While she can study serious scientific texts, she apparently can't handle wearing an amulet to protect against being charmed despite having seen its efficacy in a previous outing. This gets her engaged to someone who wants to drink her blood and absorb her power of necromancy. She is also threatened with pain to her family if she tells what she knows about him; BUT her father and brother already seem to know some of that stuff as well as have some success at protecting the family so far. She is clearly in over her head and she really could have used their help instead of relying on her young cousin and herself. My main problem with this book really does stem from her and her inexplicable changes in behavior (sometimes sensible, sometimes dumb).

However there are some great action sequences and some sawoony romance with Grand Duke George Alexandorvich, second in line to the throne behind his brother Nicholas, although I just looked up his end and it is...not so happy; however this character seems more healthy and vigorous than the real-life man. He is suspicious of As a history nerd, I really liked seeing Nicholas court German Princess Alix, a woman he adored but didn't marry for quite a while, even knowing their eventual fate (they were the end of the Romanovs). I knew that their marriage was a love match and I look forward to reading more about these romances in future books.

Overall: I originally rated this a 3 but I kept thinking about this and what might come in a second book so I upped it to 3.5.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Week of 08JAN12 and Commenting Systems

I want to start by talking about Commenting Systems. I just have the standard blogger commenting. But I've been commenting on several blogs that use Intense Debate and I really like it, especially the ability to leave a link to a person's most recent post. I think that's great, unobtrusive advertising. So my question is twofold:
1. Have you changed your commenting system on blogger to Intense Debate or something else? How was the process? Do you have a preference for when you comment?
2. Is there a way to add the link back to the current blogger commenting system?

Moving on...this was a pretty good reading week for me; I'm almost through my ninth book and I've already had a 5-star book (Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?-review coming at the end of the month). This week is all YA-with three 2012 releases, two 2011, and one older book. I'm not sure how many books I'll be reading this week as my evening commitments resume but I will enjoy what I can.

I also saw Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a movie I had been highly anticipating through the month of December. I heard amazing things about Gary Oldman's performance and have great admiration for the rest of the cast too (Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Hardy, William Hurt, and Toby Jones). What could go wrong?

Well, after the action-packed M:I4 the quietness of this movie didn't work for me. There was walking and silence and I honestly almost fell asleep (In hindsight, we probably should have left and gotten a refund to see M:I4 again). Plus since I'm so familiar with the actors, I had trouble keeping track of their character names; I just called them by their real name. So overall I cannot recommend this movie although lots of other people have enjoyed so don't go by just my thoughts.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Under the Never Sky

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
Harper, 2012
374 pages
YA; Dystopian; Science-Fiction
4/5 stars

Source: Won a copy through goodreads.

I was so excited to win this book because I love winning and I'm always eager to give YA debut authors a chance. I wasn't entirely sure I'd love this due to my general dissatisfaction with the genre and the sameness. Happily I was somewhat caught off guard and found the book pretty unique.

There are two main characters who tell the story in alternating third-person perspective, a nice change from first-person. The best part of that choice, to my mind, is that it ups the chances that one of them might die; not that I'm bloodthirsty and desiring death but I never think the main character of a first-person narrative will really die. I'm not going to spoil you by telling you if one of them dies but I can promise some at least some violence in this futuristic world.

Anyway back to the characters. On the one side we have Aria who lives in a Pod, where most people live after the collapse of their society, fearing the outside known as the Death Shop (cheery). But the book opens with her breaking out with companions in order to try to find her mother, who has strangely been incommunicado. After this jaunt turns violent, Aria is expelled and left to die. She is saved through an encounter with Perry, an Outsider, who has little sympathy for Aria. Still they must work together to accomplish their goals: Perry wants to recover his kidnapped nephew and Aria wants to find her mother.

My favorite parts were Perry and Aria learning to trust each other and work together. This created a more plausible romance (definitely no instalove) and there was no love triangle! Instead just a solid foundation of pretty responsible people (for their age and situation)

I was a bit put off by some of the descriptions of Perry scenting Aria. His sense of smell is incredibly powerful and heightened and for whatever reason, I was creeped out. I understand the context of using smell, which is only one of the incredible powers possessed by certain Outsiders but it grossed me out instead of pulling me in.

However while I mostly enjoyed this book, I didn't love it. I felt a bit of dread every time I had to pick it up although I could usually immerse myself back into the story fairly quickly; I was forcing myself to read rather than eager to read. I also would like to know more of the history of the Realms, how exactly we reached this point and how the technology was developed to sustain it.

Overall: An action-packed novel with good characters that just didn't click with me.

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