Friday, August 31, 2012


Drama by Raina Telgemeier
4/5 stars
Scholastic, 2012
235 pages
MG Contemporary Theatre

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

This book caught my eye with its setting in a theatrical production-I adore plots set in dance, music, or theater so that made this an automatic read with the added bonus of illustrations since this is a graphic novel. One other cool factoid is that Telgemeier illustrated the graphic novels of the BSC books; I own the first one and love everything related to that series so was already familiar with her drawing. This style is similar but in color so I was glad I had my Nook Color to fully appreciate that!

I happily opened the book and quickly read the sweet story about Callie whose love of theater is great and who faces significant amounts of off-stage drama while working backstage at her middle school's production of "Moon Over Mississippi." In connection with that, the story is divided into acts including an intermission partway through-not that I needed one. I wanted to find out how it all ended.

Callie is a sweet kid with a great mind as she tackles the challenges and applies herself to the hard work of putting on a show. I was less enthused with the drama off the stage just because I could see all the conflict it put Callie through. She and her classmates are still quite young even as they are growing in independence and it made me a little sad to see them obsessing over the drama instead of just having fun. Another problem for me was a pair of twins. Although they dressed and styled themselves differently, they still looked very similar to me, which makes it a little hard to always tell them apart. That's definitely on me though and needing to be a more careful reader.

Overall: A fun quick read set inside the exciting world of theater. I think it would be perfect for its target audience.

Cover: Very indicative of what's inside-I love the orangey-yellow of Callie's sweater against the more purplish curtain.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

My Life Next Door

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick
4/5 stars
Dial Books, 2012
394 pages
YA Contemporary

Source: Checked out of library

This book has received a lot of praise and, as a lover of contemporary, it always makes me happy to see non-contemporary fans fall for one. Of course, I had to check this book out for myself!

 For years, Samantha Reed has watched the Garrett family, growing to contain eight children to the dismay of her single mother who laments their mess and noise. Still to Sam, it looks spectacular, the kind of life she'd prefer to her sterile spoiled life. One night to her surprise, while she's spying on the Garretts, she is greeted by the third-eldest child, Jase who brings her over and introduces her to a whole new kind of life as they begin a romance.

Parts of this plot strongly reminded me of Sarah Dessen's excellent The Truth About Forever. We have privileged daughter who tries to live up to her mother's expectations including the boring jobs that send out the right image while daughter ends up taking a fun job that opens her up in new ways. However suffice it to say that Jase is no Wes (sa-woon) as Jase doesn't seem to have any flaws (such as a bit of a temper which would have been totally justified at one point) and his "perfectness" is exactly what I dislike most about him. Still he is a good guy rather than the bad boy so I give him points for that.

However as the book progressed, some concerns niggled at me.  First the Reeds are quite wealthy while the Garretts are not. Yet they live right next door to each other. How did the Garretts afford that house? Did they inherit it somehow? Have they really been able to keep up with the property tax? Why didn't Mrs. Reed move? This isn't normally something I'd pick at but the fact that they live next door to each other is the main plot contrivance so I feel like it's fair game.

Next why does Sam have a sister? Personally I loved Tracy and would have liked more of her but she spent most of the book away. On the one hand, she serves as an example of what standing up to their domineering mother looks like; but on the other hand, if she didn't exist, it would have made even more sense for then only child Sam to long for what the boisterous Garrett family has.

Third, I was very displeased with the resolution of Sam and Nan's ruptured friendship. Namely because there wasn't any. There were cruel words, hurt feelings, and then that was it. Their long-standing friendship was dissolved. I guess it's okay because now Sam has Jase and a boy can totally replace your best friend of 12 years-note the sarcasm. I started out the book really happy that Sam at least had one friend and was very disappointed with how this was handled.

Lastly was a sudden plot twist near the end involving Sam's mother. It came out of left field for me and just seemed to be used to add some drama to shake up the book. I understand a book needing that jolt but this particular choice didn't sit well with me. And related to that, I found the ending of the book way too ambiguous. Don't worry, romance fans-that part is stable but for everything else, I wanted to know more.

Warning: Extreme language (one character who didn't make it into this review swears a lot and it made me wince every time), drugs, and sexual content probably make this a better read for the older end of YA.

Overall: A strong start but too many loose threads left me dissatisfied by the end.

Cover: Very cute-love the bright summery yellow as this book takes place over the course of one summer.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Dark Unwinding

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron
3.5/5 stars
Scholastic Press, 2012
320 pages
YA Gothic Historical

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

I was interested in this book due to the publishers blurb referencing steampunk. However I would say that is inaccurate and I was reminded more of a Gothic-type novel. There are some cool inventions but there's no alternative-history and everything felt very grounded in Gothic conventions.

The beginning was very jarring to me, coming off of a fun breezy YA contemporary. The writing style was *so* different and I really struggled to get used to it. In fact, I'm not sure I ever felt comfortable with the language. This is weird because usually I can handle historical writing but not so much this time. Because of the writing, I had some trouble with the plot, not always able to follow what was going on.

The basic gist is that Katharine Tulman is being sent by her aunt to investigate her uncle (the aunt's brother-in-law) who seems to be spending his heir's inheritance (Katharine's nephew, the aunt's son) in a reckless manner that could cause him to be committed as insane. Katharine is set on visiting and reporting back to her aunt as quickly as she can, knowing that her own life is dependent on her aunt and then her nephew's largesse.

However upon arrival, Katharine is confronted with creepy unexplained happenings as well as confrontations with the various people on her uncle's estate, all of him do their best to thwart her. See, the uncle is a brilliant inventor but he seems to be autistic and thus does not seem "normal." He has specific routines that cannot be disrupted and those around him have accommodated. Those people are rescues from workhouses, brought to his estate to make their own productive village; this is apparently drawn from real-life where an actual British lord attempted something similar saving hundreds of families from the awful workhouses.

The book continues as Katharine resolves to wait thirty days before reporting back to her aunt. However events conspire to change everything when something big happens. I actually really liked the section after the big event (don't want to spoil you). But that's only about sixty pages so it just felt like too long to reach that point.

Overall: I feel like this is just a book that I couldn't click with. I totally recognize its merits (especially for lovers of Gothic novels and those who are not expecting steampunk when they pick it up) but it wasn't the book for me.

Cover: I love the dress, which I believe is the same shade as one that Katharine wears during the book but the gears are deceptive and toward steampunk, which this book is not.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Confessions of an Angry Girl

Confessions of an Angry Girl by Louise Rozett
4/5 stars
HarlequinTeen, 2012
266 pages
YA Contemporary

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

This is going to sound really bad but I didn't have very high expectations for this book. I just thought, "Oh cool, YA contemporary. That's my fave genre." And I've read a good amount and they can run together sometimes without the defined mythologies of fantasy or the various disintegrations of order in dystopias. So my expectations were minimal.

What I got though was a compulsively readable story with a very intelligent heroine who I could empathize with very strongly. Not that my family situation is anything like hers. First her father died in Iraq (not as a soldier but as a contractor). Then her shrink mom basically shut down and no longer talks while her older brother Peter throws himself into his first year of college, basically leaving Rose alone. Well, not entirely as she does have her best friend Tracy but Tracy is dating a jerk, seriously contemplating losing her virginity to said jerk, and joins the cheerleading squad in an effort to claim popularity. The two are very much at odds throughout most of the book. One last situation is junior Jamie, who Rose knows through her brother and who she kind of crushes on but who has a terrifyingly mean girlfriend who runs the cheerleaders. So there's a lot on Rose's plate.

Even though the specifics of Rose's situation differ greatly from mine, I still identified with her. Why? Because of her uncertainties in navigating high school for one. Like Rose, I sometimes felt like everyone else had a rulebook or had received some guidance that completely passed me by. And as a teenager I felt very uncomfortable in my skin. Additionally Rose is a good student with an interest in vocabulary, something that should connect with us bookish people.

I thought Rose's narration was excellent with a good balance between levity and seriousness. A prime example of the funny would be the oddly hilarious scene of Rose's first gynecologist appointment. I don't know why that struck me so but I was cracking up. On the more serious side is Rose's attempt to build a website honoring her father, part of her grieving process.

I did have a couple of problems with the book. Firstly Rose at 14 seemed a little young for everything that was happening but I think that is because the author wants to have multiple books covering her years in high school. Second was her crush Jamie. I think the conflicted feelings that Rose had were very well-written as was the kissing (not that this is a kissing book) but I didn't think much of Jamie himself. He certainly wouldn't have been the guy I crushed on.

Overall: I'm so glad I picked this book up because I ended up really loving it and I can't wait to find out how the cliffhanger is resolved in sequel Confessions of an Almost-Girlfriend.

Cover: Not my fave but I feel like the block characters convey a certain amount of anger as does the model's posture.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Since You Left Me

Since You Left Me by Allen Zadoff
4/5 stars
Egmont USA, 2012
314 pages
YA Contemporary Religious

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

After reading Zadoff's previous works Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have (which apparently I did not review) and My Life, The Theater, and Other Tragedies, I requested this expecting another great contemporary read from the male perspective. And I would say that I found a sensitive and endearing male voice in the person of Sanskrit Aaron Zuckerman (yes that is his first name as bestowed upon him by his yoga-obsessed mother).

Sanskrit's life isn't going so well. As evidenced by the title, he feels pretty abandoned. His parents are divorced with his mother deeply enmeshed in her yoga studio and his dad barely managing to parent on the weekends. His younger sister Sweet Caroline (yes, that is her full name, like the song) is kind of annoying, as younger sisters are and she seems to be developing her own life away from the family. Sanskrit's crush is forever out of reach. And his former best friend has discovered God after a trip to Israel. His now-deceased grandfather left him an inheritance that can only be spent on school where he must receive a Jewish education despite his own lack of faith.

But the book opens at the parent conference for his orthodox Jewish private school, his flaky mother doesn't show. Since his stubborn behavior already has him on the trouble-list, he blurts out a lie, just a little lie to buy him some time. Unfortunately that little lie has big consequences; some people start to draw nearer but what will they do when the truth is discovered?

Like I said above, I really liked Sanskrit whose voice is compelling and kept me turning the pages even though I knew some bad things would happen as his lies are found out. Because once you tell one lie, you usually end up telling more to cover your tracks. His lies get pretty big but I never lost my sympathy and connection to Sanskrit.

What I didn't like so much was his mother whose guru comes to visit before taking her back to India with him. I just could not handle how selfish she was. I get being frustrated with your life but you don't abandon your kids; you just don't. Plus she was so resistant to Sanskrit's opinions, which were spot-on  even if he wasn't always able to present them as well. I just really disliked the mother and consequently the end. I didn't think much of the father either but he wasn't in the book that much. Sweet Caroline, though somewhat a pain, was pretty cute :) I want to emphasize the importance of their family to the story as it comes to take center stage while the lie percolates at Sanskrit's school.

Overall: A warm novel about family and truths featuring a strong male voice.

Cover: I really like the colors-they're very bold and bright and stand out from all those covers with people on them. The plane is also relevant to the plot.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

In Honor

In Honor by Jessi Kirby
2/5 stars
Simon & Schuster BFYR
235 pages
YA Contemporary

Source: Borrowed a copy from the library

I didn't love Kirby's debut Moonglass but thought it showed a lot of promise so I was interested to pick up her second book especially knowing that it was related to the military. I've had a deep thirst for such books and I was excited for that one.

This book opens with Honor mourning the loss of her beloved older brother Finn who died in Iraq. Soon after learning of his death, she receives his last letter with tickets to a concert (a Taylor Swift-esque singer) and the instructions to go see it. So she blows off her orientation week at college and sets off, picking up Finn's estranged best friend Rusty and making a journey from Texas to California with many mishaps on the way to moving through her grief process.

Soon into the road trip, I was reminded very strongly reminded about why I don't often like road trip books. Honor sets off with barely a plan, unsure of even how to get where she wants to go (are there no maps in Texas? Don't most teenagers have smart phones with GPS functionality? Sidenote: I love the GPS on my Droid-so helpful! I do know that not everyone has such a phone but she could have at least consulted Mapquest or something before setting off.) Soon after she talks about how they only have four days to get to their destination. Yet on their first night they pull over and accept alcoholic beverages (Honor's reasoning is because the girl who drinks is cooler than the girl who passes-um, what? Not comfortable with that message!)

I know I'm more of a planner (and always have been) as well as good at assuming responsibility but it was just baffling me that in the first twenty-percent of the book, she was already so derailed from her plan. If I was traveling with someone else on a frantic road-trip, we would alternate driving and get it done.  Now I realize that my plot would make for a much shorter book but it would also be more sensible.

A character element to mention is Rusty, who other reviewers have compared to Tim Riggins from the amazing TV show "Friday Night Lights." Many have swooned for him but he is definitely my least favorite guy (I mean, I would rather have Billy than Tim is how little I care for Tim). I know that many readers will fall for his bad boy act but I very rarely swoon for the bad boy and this was no exception.

Overall: Definitely not a book for me but if you like road trip books and/or have a thing for the bad boy, this might be more your read.

Cover: Super accurate-it is mentioned that Honor wears a dress with red boots and drives a black Impala (I assume that the car is an Impala but I don't know anything about cars so that could be false).


Saturday, August 25, 2012

For Darkness Shows the Stars

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund
4/5 stars
Balzer + Bray, 2012
402 pages
YA Science-Fiction Austen-Inspired

Source: Picked up from the library for review.

This book was billed as a science-fiction adaptation of Persuasion. Um, what more could I need to know to want to pick this book up? I've read only a few Persuasion retellings and I don't think I've ever read a futuristic Austen-adaptation. Those two little elements alone help this book to stand out.

In this version, Anne is reworked into Elliot North, younger daughter of Luddite Baron North, and the only one who is actually working to keep the estate profitable while her father and older sister lounge around and bask in their privilege. Although it has been hard for her since the death of her mother and since her best friend Kai ran off the estate, she keeps going and has hopes of turning around their fortunes. One way to do that is to accept the generous offer from the Cloud Fleet to use their shipyard; this rent money should put them in a better position. Unfortunately it also brings back Kai, now known as Captain Malakai Wentforth (not sure why that was changed from Wentworth as it irked this Janeite) who seems determined to hurt Elliot for her decision not to leave with him o so many years ago.

Okay, so there's actually a lot more to the setup of this book but I'm going to leave that all to you to discover if you choose to pick up this book as well. It took me almost a hundred pages to feel comfortable in the world and its behaviors, which is not my preference. I want to be at home in a world within a few pages. But there were so many new histories and rules I had to learn that were slowly doled out over the pages.

However my biggest complaint about this book is how cruel and unfeeling Kai is. I love Captain Wentworth for the entirety of Persuasion even as I see how Anne is hurting. Meanwhile I flat out hated Kai for over half of this book. Elliot believes he thinks the worst of her and his actions do nothing to dissuade her and this reader from that. I knew that the two had a long-standing friendship (cleverly shown through letters every couple of chapters and setting the reader up for the final letter that harkens back to the beautiful one in Persuasion) and that romance was inevitable in a retelling. But I had a hard time rooting for them because Kai was just so loathsome. This disgust is furthered by the discovery of a big decision Kai made during his years away, one that is particularly abhorrent to Elliot's way of life. Somehow Kai does change into a more acceptable romantic partner (not entirely sure how Peterfreund managed that) but the bad taste lingered in my perception of him.

Obviously I spent a lot of time comparing this book to Persuasion. While many of the changes are understandable (I loved the change in Elliot's cousin to be a stronger villain), some were a bit baffling. For example Elliot no longer has a younger sister; I liked the indolent older sister and the frivolous younger sister bookending the sensible Anne. They really highlight her isolation within her own family. Additionally this Elliot has a loving if dying grandfather and friends among the servants. Although Kai is really the only one who understands her, she finds many people who love and support her unlike Anne's virtual isolation. Furthermore there is no Lady Russell character to talk Elliot out of running away with Kai; she makes that decision on her own. While this book is not titled Perusasion and has its own focus, this departure from one of the critical themes of the original displeased me.

Have you read Persuasion (if you haven't, you should-it's pretty short!) and this book? Did you have similar feelings about the changes?

Cover: I actually really don't like this girl. First it is whitewashed as has been pointed out but second I hate her ponytail and how it goes around her head.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Keeping the Castle

Keeping the Castle by Patricia Kindl
4/5 stars
Viking, 2012
261 pages
YA Historical Romance; Austen

Source: Picked up at library

I love the cover for this and was immediately sold when I saw that it seemed to draw inspiration from Jane Austen's works. What more could I possibly want?

Well, and not to be mean, but a more original story that pays less homage to Austen would have been appreciated. There's one scene that is basically straight out of Emma with the names changed. But let's look further.

Keeping the castle, besides being the title, is alos the primary motivator for the main character Althea Crawley (Downton Abbey, what what). The castle and its land are the inheritance of her young brother Alexander. Its decrepitness does not give them much of an income forcing them to rely on Althea's stepsisters fortune those few times when some money can be pried out of their hands. Thus Althea sees no choice but to use her beauty (and it is an extraordinary beauty) to marry money.

After accidentally bungling a proposal from a local man (in the humorous opening scene), Althea is thankful that new prospects are coming in the person of Lord Boring (never quite understood why that was his name; if it's a joke, it's not very funny). Other gentlemen include the Marquis of Bumbershook, who is ever so kind to her mother, and the very disagreeable Mr. Fredericks, doing his best Mr. Darcy impression.

As stated earlier, this book owes a lot to Austen, most especially Pride and Prejudice and Emma. The book blurb also cites I Capture the Castle, which I can see. As these are stories I enjoy, it is no surprise that I enjoyed this one. But alas it did not really have anything new to capture my heart and imprint itself on my book-loving memory.

Overall: Enjoyable while reading but not clever or unique enough to standout and stake its own claim.

Cover: I do like the cover; even before reading the synopsis, it made me interested in the book.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

This Scarlet Cord

This Scarlet Cord by Joan Wolf
2/5 stars
Thomas Nelson, 2012
303 pages
Inspirational Historical Romance

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

After enjoying Wolf's retelling of the story of Esther in A Reluctant Queen, I eagerly anticipated her next book especially as I've read some other retellings of Rahab and enjoyed them. I really do love reading about the women who are listed in the genealogy of Jesus.

BUT. I really struggled with the first part, which is titled "First Meeting" and introduces Rahab and Sala (Salmon being a name that has unfortunate connotations for most modern readers as Wolf explains) as young people. I was not sure why this was included as it is never shown that the two had met before their story is told in Joshua and it seemed like a weird padding to the story. I also found it very slow-going, which meant it took me longer than usual to finish this book.

However despite my misgivings, I decided to plunge ahead only to dislike more and more. Now obviously there are going to be changes when taking a short story and expanding it to novel-length, adding elements to appeal to a contemporary audience. But I didn't like that Rahab and Sala already knew each other from childhood and basically had insta-love; I also didn't like that Rahab was not a prostitution but merely considered one due to her culture by the Hebrews. The other ding against this novel is how much I loved Pearl in the Sand, a different retelling of the story of Rahab. Because of the strong impression it left on me, I constantly compared this book and whenever something was different, thought it was "wrong."

I don't want to sound completely negative because there were some things I liked. First was the political maneuvering of Jericho's royal family and the presentation of their belief in Baal, deeply entwined. I found this fascinating to learn about. Second was that I really liked Rahab's sister-in-law whose longing for a child and pain over her barrenness sends her into the arms of Yahweh.

Overall: Shaky beginning and my mental comparison to a different retelling left me decidedly not in love with this book.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Between You & Me

Between You & Me by Marisa Calin
3.5/5 stars
Bloomsbury, 2012
245 pages
YA Contemporary

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

I love love love epistolary novels (this one is told as a screenplay in homage to the main character's love of films) so I thought this would be an enjoyable read. Plus it had a couple of hooks that sounded different from other YA novels-I don't think I've ever read a book that had those two elements together.

But I think it ended up being too gimmicky. First the book is told in second-person POV which always confuses me. The "you" does not refer to me the reader and it is hard to remind myself of that. The "you" refers to Phyre's best friend whose gender is not revealed but who is not too subtly in love with Phyre. We the reader are encouraged to make up our own minds about the gender of the friend (personally I think the friend is a girl but I don't have a specific reason why.) Would love to hear your thoughts-just say agree or disagree in the comments if you've read.

Beyond those gimmicks, the story is pretty unexceptional except for the fact that Phyre becomes obsessed with and thinks she is in love with the new drama teacher Mia.  This teacher never acts unprofessionally but Phyre goes way overboard due to the extremes of her feelings. She doesn't really question that her feelings are for a woman whereas she had really only ever crushed on boys before-a more hopeful view of sexual orientation than is usually presented? I feel like most people would have spent more time wondering about that. I was also uncomfortable with Phyre's feelings; although I know that students get crushes on teachers plenty, it never happened to me and I couldn't identify such an attachment.

Overall: A quick read with a good hook that didn't quite work for me.

Cover: Perfectly appropriate although it is zoomed a little too close on her face for my taste.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Dreamless by Josephine Angelini
4/5 stars
HarperTeen, 2012
487 pages
YA Paranormal
#2 Starcrossed

Source: Picked up from the library for review.

Honestly I was pretty astounded when I picked this up from the library and saw how fat it is. Almost 500 pages? That is a lot! Happily though Angelini's writing is incredibly absorbing and I absolutely flew through the book.

Thanks to a refresher from Jen Ryland, I opened this book prepared especially with a reminder about a big spoiler from Starcrossed. I had completely forgotten and it does play an important part in the plot.

The prologue had me very confused though as it starts with Zach's perspective. I did not remember Zach and thus was confused that he was there. Who was this guy? Why did he matter to the story? But soon the book does return to Helen, a character I did remember.

This change in focus is both good and bad, in my opinion. Good because Helen was the main character in Starcrossed and it is right for her to continue to be the focus. She is also the Descender who descends to the Underworld every night trying to find the Furies so she can break the curse that has dogged the Scions for generations.

However it was bad because she kept angsting over Lucas who pissed me off in this book (sidenote: I kept picturing him as Kellan Lutz, probably because of those Time Warner Cable commercials. This is not a compliment for the character of Lucas). There was so much angst over their forbidden lovey-dovey feelings (and we get to see it from both of them-*yay* (sarcasm)). Meanwhile Helen meets a new super-hot guy in the Underworld named Orion. Although I sense the futility of it, I am completely Team Orion.

There was also a lot of angst among the secondary characters about mortal/Scion relationships. Helen's two best mortal friends Claire and Matt are frustrated by their love interests Jason and Ariadne-none of them handle this situation very well. I liked that there was an explanation for all of this young love: since most Scions don't live very long, they like to get started on their love life right away.

Other highlights include getting to meet some of the Twelve: Hades and Ares (Persephone and Eris also pop up). This gives me hope that we'll get to meet the rest in the concluding book as more of the overarching plot of the book is revealed and we seem to be propelled toward war. Like most of the recent Greek retellings I've read, Hades is presented as a more sympathetic character and I loved his brief appearances.

Overall: A compulsively readable book that is sure to please fans of the first book.

Cover: I don't really like the colors-I preferred the more blue/purple palette of the first book's cover.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Smart Girls Get What They Want

Smart Girls Get What They Want by Sarah Strohmeyer
4/5 stars
Balzer + Bray, 2012
348 pages
YA Contemporary

Source: Received for review through Amazon Vine.

I wasn't really interested in this book until I saw a couple of positive reviews of it (most notably from Christina T at Reading Extensively) and figured out that the author had written one of my favorite "chick-lit" books, The Cinderella Pact. Thus I was excited to pick this up. Basically the three smartest girls in the class (narrator Gigi and her best friends Bea and Neerja) are dismayed to realize that grades don't translate to popularity.

Part of my problem with this book draws heavily from my own experiences as a "smart" kid like Gigi. First I would never expect the smartest kid in school to be well-known to his or her peers. If the student population and culture does not value intelligence, and usually it doesn't, preferring to elevate sports stars, then why would Gigi expect to be known? Second, what kind of schedule does she have? For me, I was mostly in AP classes and thus hung out with other AP kids. Here it seems like it is just Gigi, her two friends, and a couple of other kids. At my school, there was basically a whole huge clique of us who took all the same classes, just at different times and didn't necessarily interact much with non-AP kids like Gigi does in this book. Obviously it depends on the school but it doesn't ring true with my experience.

Happily as the book progresses there ended up being a lot of things I did really like. However I must mention the one thing that just drove me crazy, which was Gigi's crush on new rich kid Will who was obviously playing her. Her determined ignoring of his still very much in the picture girlfriend drove me crazy. For a smart girl, she sure was dumb about some things.

Now on to what I did like. Most notably would have to be the friendship of Gigi, Bea, and Neerja. This is heavily featured even as the girls explore other interests that they don't share. Since friendship is one of my strongest memories from high school, I am always so glad to see a YA book that includes a good one and this is definitely one of the best I've read. I also really liked their challenges: Gigi faces stage fright to run for class rep, Bea takes up skiing again, and Neerja pursues her drama passion. Their efforts are often humorous but with immense growth for them. There are also various flirtations with cute boys.

Overall: I would say it's pretty predictable but a lot of fun!

Cover: I'm not the biggest fan of this cover with the words so prominent and just the girl standing in space although she does seem pretty true to Gigi's description so that's good. It actually turned me off until I saw some reviews.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Discussion Post: Spoilers in Reviews?

<sorry no picture; didn't have time to look for one that was allowed or to upload one of my own.>

This is the concluding post, for now, about some items I've been thinking about lately. Personally I am very pro-spoilers but I have been thinking about a few things relating to them.

I like spoilers because I like knowing what is going to happen. I live on the West Coast so I can check out what East Coast people say about my favorite dramas before watching them for myself. I can also choose not to; it's all about having options! I especially like having spoilers in book blogger reviews because sometimes they can really shift your reading experience. Say an unexpected couple kiss and it makes you squee or maybe the author killed off your favorite character-isn't that going to greatly affect how you feel about the book? And you need to communicate that to the reader but you should also give them the option to decide how much they want to know.

Of course, you definitely have to warn people. If the review comes before the book is officially published, then it definitely needs to be marked. But when does that run out? I remember people having spoilers galore about Mockingjay within 24 hours and not always marking them as such (I was upset because my book was not delivered the day of release despite Amazon's promise). I also feel like some spoilers are necessary in order to properly discuss that book as well as others. However now it's been two years since the release-do you still mark spoiler? At some point, do you no longer have to warn your readers? I feel like this is more relevant for classics blogs but still applicable here.

Another element related to spoilers is the goodreads and publishers synopses that feature spoilers. For me, Glamorous Illusions did this. I was very interested to find out how an aspiring teacher, the daughter of farmers in Montana, ended up embarking on a grand tour of Europe and goodreads told me right away instead of enjoying the very emotionally powerful opening chapters that laid the groundwork. I usually jump on goodreads to pursue reviews after reading the first chapter or so and was really disappointed in this instance. I've seen other reviewers mention similar problems with the official synopses for other books as well.

So do you love spoilers or do you avoid them? Is there a time-limit on how long something has to be marked as spoiler? And how do we get other sources to edit their info so there's not a spoiler?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Beauty for Ashes

Beauty for Ashes by Dorothy Love
4/5 stars
Thomas Nelson, 2012
325 pages
Christian Historical Romance

Source: Received an ARC through the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review.

Last year I read Beyond All Measure and enjoyed how faith was incorporated into the book while also mostly liking the historical setting of just post-Civil War. So I eagerly snapped up this next book, a companion novel set in the same small town but focusing on different characters. I feel like it could be read as a standalone but since I've read the first book, I'm not the best source.

It has been four more years, long and lonely ones for the widow Carrie Daly whose elder brother has recently decided to take a wife, the insufferable Mary, mother to two rambunctious boys. After repeated instances of disrespect, Carrie is fed up and leaves, attempting to make her own way in the struggling town of Hickory Ridge. Meanwhile she attempts to fight her feelings for charming Griff Rutledge, master horseman who has no intentions of settling down. Can these two people follow God's plan for their lives and find their way to each other?

This book actually follows a lot of physical movement on the part of Carrie in addition to her emotional changes. First she lives with her brother, then she moves out and ekes out a living through several odd jobs in town before returning to live with her new family. It is a hard life that is described, not just because of the historical time period, rural setting, and Depression-era economy. I felt so overwhelmingly grateful for my life after reading this. All the work that Carrie must do just to ensure that everyone has the basic necessities while their meager Christmas celebration especially brought home just how fortunate I am.

A large element of this book is the romance but there are many sections of the book where all Carrie and Griff do is stare after the other. I enjoyed the scenes when they were together as Griff has charm to spare and I was heavily invested in Carrie's well-being, which would be improved by a relationship with Griff. It just took a really long time for that to be the centerpiece. I think part of that is because both Carrie and Griff need to have their character changed in some ways before they are ready for each other. But it left me a bit disappointed.

Overall: Some beautiful lessons in faith but there are definitely some slow moments that may frustrate other readers.

Cover: I love the green dress, the hat, and the horse, the latter two which are plot elements of the book. I don't remember the green dress featuring but it doesn't really matter.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Rape Girl

Rape Girl by Alina Klein
4.5/5 stars
Namelos, 2012
123 pages
YA Contemporary Issues

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

This book grabbed my attention with its provocative straightforward title. Although I anticipated some tough passages, I thought that this would ultimately prove to be an important book that deserved to have the spotlight shone on it.

The plot is pretty straightforward.  While her mom's away, Valerie has a party including the guy she likes. Although she pukes on his shoes that night, he returns the next day and rapes her. After days of anxiety, her mother helps her report it, setting off a nightmare experience for Valerie, for now she is known as "Rape Girl."

I struggled a little with the beginning of the story as it alternated between "Before" and "After." Soon though I was pulled in by the simplicity of the writing and the power of the story. Valerie is miserable and conflicted, feelings well illustrated during the support group she attends (I would have liked to see more scenes there). Her rapist was a popular guy while she was relatively new in town and school is a chore for her. To compound it, her best friend drops her and she is treated like the criminal, even going so far as being forced to take math privately so they don't end up in a class together (when other crimes are committed, usually the victim is not penalized). It was so hard to read about him going about his life, seemingly unaffected while Valerie's life was in disarray.

Overall: Although I would have liked a little bit more depth into the main characters and especially the support group, I appreciated this read and I hope it gets the notice it deserves, sparking conversations among us.

Cover: I do not like this cover although I think it would be a hard cover to create but it's just so ugly to me. I feel like there has to be a way to get a more appealing cover without taking away from the seriousness of the topic.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Kissing Shakespeare

Kissing Shakespeare by Pamela Mingle
2.5/5 stars
Delacorte Press, 2012
337 pages
YA Time-Travel Shakespeare

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

Like many book bloggers, I have a deep fondness for Shakespeare and I love retellings that incorporate him. I wasn't entirely sure how this one would do that but I knew I wanted to take a chance and read it. I thought this could be a cute read with a modern girl getting the chance to meet Will Shakespeare.

Well that's where the problem starts. The synopsis makes it sound like Miranda is asked to come back in time to meet Shakespeare; she's actually forced into it by a really rude guy named Stephen who has been pretending to be her contemporary who for some reason needs her to go back in time to ensure Shakespeare becomes the famous playwright he should instead of joining the Jesuits. I did think it was cool to learn more about young Shakespeare (I always picture him as Joseph Fiennes in "Shakespeare in Love") but I could not get past Stephen's jerky introduction and repeated meanness to Miranda, who is surprisingly calm if often acting in dumb ways during her journey to the past.

I could not connect with her at all and that's pretty much my main deal breaker. It took me several hours to get through the first 50 pages when I would have been able to finish the book had I felt engaged. I also would have liked more insight in Shakespeare's character as well as Miranda's inner conflicts since in the beginning of the book, she bristles against her actor parents' treatment of her and considers giving up acting as well. I thought that was referenced occasionally but not as much as I wanted.

For me the most interesting part ended up being the conflicts between the Church of England, Puritans, and Catholics. It's still fairly early in Queen Elizabeth I's reign and tensions are bubbling. Most of the characters in this book are Catholics masquerading as Protestants and plotting to restore England to the church. This isn't something I've read about much and I found it absolutely fascinating! I definitely need to check out some other books from the period that deal with this issue of religion in more depth.

Overall: Not the book for me although it has given me some topics to research!

Cover: I like the pink but the cover reminds me of some for eating disorder and abuse books so it doesn't really convey the story to me.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Jump Into the Sky

Jump Into the Sky by Shelley Pearsall
4/5 stars
Alfred A. Knopf BFYR, 2012
342 pages
MG/YA Historical

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

I was very excited to give this book a read as it is set in America during the waning days of WWII (we actually experience V-E Day as well V-J Day). I haven't read many books during that time and lately have read mostly European-set war books.

Our protagonist is Levi whose aunt has been keeping him in Chicago while his father serves in the army but who is sent to join his father at camp in North Carolina. When Levi arrives, he discovers that he just missed his father and stays with an injured armyman before they journey to Oregon to meet up with the rest of the men. It's not exactly the most exciting novel given that it's all in the US but I appreciated it (just a warning for other readers).

There are however several bursts of intensity surrounding Levi's trips through the South, where he experiences Jim Crow laws and receives threats based solely on the color of his skin. This is scariest when a shopkeeper turns a gun on Levi, who's really one of the sweetest book boys I've ever read, while forcing him to drink. I was actually prepared for even worse things to happen based on the time period and location but that was definitely the most overt aggression although there are many other instances of discrimination.

One place of discrimination is in the army (remember that troops were still segregated although integration will be coming soon). Levi's father was part of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, an all-black airborne unit, whose members crave to serve their country overseas but who are relegated to the homefront, including fighting fires in Oregon and searching for elusive Japanese fire balloons, the very existence of which they come to doubt although their work is eventually justified. Again this isn't something I know much about so it was great to learn something new.

Lastly I wanted to mention themes of family and sticking together. The members of Levi's family always seem to leave, starting with his mother and continuing with his father's wanderings. It makes Levi wonder about his own constancy until the events of this book prove his loyalty and consistency. I also really loved the family Levi stays with in North Carolina. They are a young couple who have a child during that time and they are just good people trying to do their best under difficult circumstances and of course I loved that they took care of Levi.

Overall: A sweet slower-paced book about the homefront toward the end of WWII; vivid descriptions and characterizations reward the reader.

Cover: I'm not a huge fan of the cover given the huge face on the cover although at least he's not staring at me but I do like the plane and paratrooper superimposed over his head.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Wednesdays

The Wednesdays by Julie Bourbeau
3.5/5 stars
Illustrated by Jason Beene
Alfred A. Knopf BFYR, 2012
245 pages
Middle-Grade Fantastical

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

I'm not entirely sure why I requested this book to read other than that I've enjoyed a lot of middle-grade stories lately so I'm always on the lookout for more to love.

The book is set in a small village that seems perfectly normal except for the fact that it completely shuts down on Wednesdays and everyone stays indoors to avoid the awful and peculiar things that happen otherwise. One exception is Max who loves the freedom that comes from no one else being around. At least he loves it, until he runs into literal Wednesdays and discovers that he is turning into one, a fate he desperately wishes to avoid.

Honestly this book was just fine but it didn't have that extra something special that gets a book onto my favorites shelf. I think that was partly because of its focus on the male gender, which may make this a great book for young boys who like that sort of thing. However I tend to prefer a female main character so it didn't work for me. Although girls used to be Wednesdays but no more, that element isn't really discussed or delved into. That might have given this book an extra punch that would have made me more interested.

I thought the writing was fun with a good sense of humor and pretty good pacing. It did get a little scary and tense toward the end but then I'm kind of a wimp so that very much depends on your own fortitude. The illustrations were cool and something I appreciated; I love getting that extra peek into an author's conception of characters and scenes. There are also some great passages about family as Max wants to stay human and be with his.

Overall: A fun adventure, one perhaps better suited for its target audience than adults.

Cover: Love that the dog Thursday is on the cover as the only character who can fend off the Wednesdays.

Monday, August 13, 2012


Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
3.5/5 stars
Dial Books, 2012
539 pages
YA Fantasy

Source: Picked up from library to review

I remember when I first read Graceling and Fire. It was actually back to back over spring break in 2010 (hence the quality of the reviews-I didn't really know what I was doing!) And since then I have been eagerly anticipating another story from Cashore with my wish finally fulfilled with this release, picking up approximately nine years later with one of the important characters from Graceling.

Thus this review is really hard to write because I did not love Bitterblue the way I anticipated. I think I have narrowed it down to a couple of main reasons why.

1. One big reason was my inability to connect with the characters.  I think this might be partly intentional as the characters themselves are in deep psychological pain. It has been eight years since the death of Bitterblue's cruel father King Leck who used his Grace to manipulate everyone's minds. They aren't always in their right minds and many are haunted by the actions he made them take. Queen Bitterblue wants to be a good queen but due to her youth, she is not always able to assert herself and is often looking to her advisers for what she should do next.

2. I also had some general confusion about all of the lies, of who wanted what and who knew what when. Again this is understandable due to the havoc wreaked by Leck but it was difficult for this reader to parse all of the lies, cover-ups, and conspiracies.

3. Another big piece of the lacking was the romance. Bitterblue (another problem was that I kept wanting to call her Butterblue) wants to know more about her kingdom so she starts sneaking out at night, meeting two honorable thieves. She falls for Sapphire (whose name sounds like a girl's name) and I just did not like him. I much preferred his friend Teddy. Thus any time Bitterblue swooned for him, I questioned her judgment. Sapphire spends much of the book being a jerk-why does she like him again?

It's not all bad; there were still a lot of good points. Cashore is an amazing writer and despite the length of this book, it moves fairly quickly. It's definitely a big time commitment but there are quite a few things to really enjoy.

1. One was the character Death (rhymes with teeth) who is the court librarian, loves cats, and has the ability to remember everything he's ever read. He's a new character but one I really enjoyed meeting.

2.  There are a lot of extras in the back of the book such as maps, which help the reader keep track of where characters are located in every scene. I've read some other fantasies that did not include maps and I was grateful that this book included them.

3. There are some really cool examples of ciphering and codes in this book. I particularly loved Bitterblue's discovery of some codes from her parents. I can't share too much without spoiling something.

One note: Bitterblue is billed as a standalone on the jacket flap but I would not recommend that. I would say you'd need to read at least Graceling in order for this book to make sense and it wouldn't hurt to read Fire as well beforehand.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Discussion Post: Intertextuality in Reviews

This is Georges Seurat's famous painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" which I chose to include here not because it's related to anything I'm talking about but because after reading Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead, it's been in my head.

Today's post is actually about something I am calling intertextuality although the word is so big and encompasses so many meanings that I am only skimming the surface. For the purposes of this post, I am defining intertextuality as using a secondary text to highlight something about a primary text. I was thinking about this in the context of my reviews and specifically my recent review of Seraphina. I know that I often reference other books and media to highlight my feelings and this review is no exception.

I compared main character Seraphina to Tamora Pierce's Alanna, her mentor Orma to Star Trek's Mr. Spock, and dreamy Kiggs to Richard Armitage's portrayal of John Thornton in North and South. If you are familiar with any of those works, you have a great insight in to *my* views of the characters.

And I think that tends to be the way I approach my reviews, the way I find simplest for conveying how I think of them. I read a lot as well as being very immersed in (American) television, movies, music, and general celebrity gossip. I'm very impressed by those bloggers who write these beautiful paragraphs and incisively critique the book. But that's not my style. For me, almost always a character in a book will read me of something else in culture I'm familiar with and I will rely on that when preparing my review. I don't always, of course, but I sometimes think my reviews are the better for it when I can use those points in explaining how they affected my reading experience.

However this can be isolating to the reader. I don't think these references are too obscure because I think most people have heard of Spock and Alanna is a pretty popular character, especially formative to a lot of us bookish ladies, I know. Meanwhile I sourced Richard Armitage so you could do your own search (if you didn't, I highly suggest that you do because he's gorgeous.) But obviously I'm speaking from my own experiences and it may have served as a turn-off to people who found it confusing.

So what do you think? Do you like when bloggers reference other books/movies/TV/etc. to explain their feelings about a character? Has it ever caused you great confusion? Do you ever incorporate such references into your reviews?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sweeter Than Birdsong

Sweeter Than Birdsong by Rosslyn Elliott
4/5 stars
Thomas Nelson, 2012
378 pages
Christian Historical Romance

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

Last year I read Fairer Than Morning and liked it so I was excited to give the second book a try. This time we jump ahead to 1855 in Ohio with the protagonists of that book still playing an important role in anti-slavery efforts including aiding fugitive slaves in defiance of the Fugitive Slave Act and writing an anti-slavery song that ends up being compared to Uncle Tom's Cabin in terms of impact. So it's pretty exciting for a history nerd to read about these events on the brink of the Civil War (including several characters predicting that the country can't hold).

My big disappointment with Fairer Than Morning was expecting more of a romance than I got. I only remembered that when I reread my review so I didn't really have expectations when reading this book. Happily I thought there was a bit more romance although it was definitely of a slow-burning quiet kind as both participants need to conduct themselves by the codes of society.  What we got was very sweet and made me very happy :)

The male is Ben Hanby, son of Fairer Than Morning's love story, musical genius, and committed to a future in the clergy.  The only thing dissuading him from that potential future is the lovely Kate Winter, one of the first female students at Otterbein College, whose society mama has higher expectations than a future pastor. Kate's shyness and awful family life, meanwhile, have her plotting escape until an encounter with a runaway slave jolts her from her plans.

I did think there could have been more about Kate's family life. Her father's a drunk, her mother regrets her decision to leave Philadelphia society, and her younger sister has been emotionally scarred by their toxic home but while the mother's thoughts and feelings are partially explained, the other two are not really talked about. Since Kate's home is so formative to her character, I think it would have been good to have more insight into it.

I thought the historical elements were very well done. I'm not too familiar with the time period but the way that slavery was woven into the story was fantastic. Some of the most exciting and tense passages revolved around fugitives and the simmering conflict among Americans is well-emphasized. I thought the Christian aspect was also well-done. I would definitely not describe it as preachy but instead it was very well-incorporated and sprang organically from the characters themselves.

Overall: An intense historical read about a time period that doesn't always get much attention.

Cover: Hmm, I don't know. I like the hoop skirt (crinolines get a good shout-out in the book) but it doesn't entirely click for me. It's not bad but it's not great to me.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A Path Toward Love

A Path Toward Love by Cara Lynn James
4/5 stars
Thomas Nelson, 2012
307 pages
Inspirational Historical Romance

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

I wasn't sure about this book as the time period setting is not my usual (early twentieth-century America) and with a not pretty dress on the cover. But I decided to give it a try and I'm glad I did.

I found this book compulsively readable. I'd pick it up to read a chapter or two and then discover I had read a hundred pages or more. I just could not stop because I had to know more. This was a little odd as I found the characters flat and the story very predictable. But I could not put it down.

Katherine Osborne is a young widow whose husband's profligacy has left her struggling to manage her inherited orange groves. Her wealthy parents want her to return to New York, rejoin society, and make a brilliant match befitting their status. Katherine is wooed back for a summer by the promise of a loan to save her groves but is still intent on returning to Florida. Another persuasion is Andrew, an attorney who is socially beneath her and is in fact cousin to the man who has been earmarked to her. Yet Katherine has no interest in him, feeling drawn to Andrew despite the many obstacles placed in their way by her snobbish mother.

Obviously that is the main couple and their developing relationship takes up a great part of the book. I thought is was very sweet and I loved their cuteness. However I was less enthused about their conflicts which I found repetitive and tired. Katherine can't decide if she should pursue another romantic relationship after the mess of her first marriage; she's also still struggling with parental and societal expectations. Andrew did not seem to have much of a personality beyond his long-time love for Katherine and his faith in God, both qualities I like in a hero but I need someone with a bit more pizzazz. The other characters were similarly cookie-cutter and flat.

Still, rated highly for my inability to put the book down even as I listed the problems I had it with and the sweetness of the main romance.

Cover: I think it's really bleh-I like bright eye-catching colors but this one is so plain.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


Burn by Heath Gibson
3.5/5 stars
Flux, 2012
257 pages
YA Contemporary

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

I thought the cover for this was very arresting-dark with just a touch of fire that hints at the plot of this book. Once I read the synopsis though, I snorted a bit. Main character William's nickname is Wee-Wee due to his short stature. That is incredibly unfortunate for him. This lack of height also prevents him from a romantic relationship with his image-obsessed crush.

Happily height differential was not a problem in our relationship as I quickly clicked with William, protective brother to his coming out of the closet brother, dutiful son to his high expectations preacher father, quiet to his drunken mother, and loyal volunteer fire fighter. It is this last role that fuels the plot as Wee-Wee begins to see the cleansing power of fire; it wipes out the old and gives you a chance to start anew.  Thus he begins setting fires, using his training to minimize their danger and to ensure no one is hurt. However the lies keep piling up until the shocking and (in my opinion, too) ambiguous ending.

After reading a couple of reviews, I was very unsure about this novel but I find William to be very sympathetic with well-written thought processes that explain exactly why he finds his arson streak to be justified. He's wrong, of course, but completely understandable. I really felt for him as he tried to fight the many wrongs he sees in his community as well as live up to expectations in his broken family.

Other great characters include an amazing teacher who is fired after an accident, Will's brother Steven who boldly steps out and owns his homosexuality despite the many bigoted reactions he receives, and new girl Samantha who also steps out and owns her actions, trying to make a better tomorrow. The setting will also likely be of interest to some people, a small town in Alabama, illustrating the closeness of that community-people will step up and help out but it's nearly impossible to keep a secret of any kind.

Overall: A very unique concept that brings up a lot of discussion topics but the ending left me disappointed.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Narc by Crissa-Jean Chappell
3/5 stars
Flux Books, 2012
266 pages
YA Contemporary

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

The title of this book is what attracted me to it: the use of the word narc is bold and eye-catching. I'll admit that it also made me think of the film "21 Jump Street" although I did not expect much humor from this book based on the cover.

I was right to not expect much humor because if I had, I would have been disappointed. Instead we have the story of Aaron, coerced into informing about the top drug dealer at his school in exchange for leniency toward his sister (I was very uncomfortable with the way the cop used Aaron's underage sister in this situation and I hope that is atypical behavior for our police officers). Thus stoner and mostly invisible Aaron has to break out of his shell and get close to the power players who have been supplying the kids at his school.

My overwhelming feelings toward this book were a big fat MEH. I could not connect with Aaron and had trouble following some of the plot threads. Why was he hanging out with this person? How did Aaron know that she was involved? Is that really the next logical step in bringing down the drug ring? How is that person related to this situation? I'm still not entirely sure how everything came together and was startled to realize how close to the end I was without feeling ready for any kind of conclusion. I did feel a bit more interested at the end because the action became more intense but it also brought in some completely new characters who pushed the book in a different direction and did not erase my confusion.

I thought the book did a pretty good job of capturing Aaron's moral conflicts during his stint as a narc though. As he grows closer to some of the people they are targeting, he increasingly wants to protect them, seeing them as messed-up kids themselves who are in need of help and trying to balance that against protecting his own family. I just wish I had felt more interested in Aaron's situation.

Overall: A book that failed to capture my interest; cannot recommend.

Cover: The dark grime captures the seedy look into the underground drugs ring at the local high school.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Liar & Spy

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
4/5 stars
Wendy Lamb Books
180 pages
Middle-Grade Contemporary

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

I thought the cover and the blurb for this book looked cute so I requested it. I didn't realize this the author of When You Reach Me (it is written in rather small font on the cover photo) and I haven't read that any way so I did not enter this book with any expectations.

Our main character is Georges (named after George Seurat, the painter of the very famous pointillist masterpiece "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jette".) He is undergoing some big changes as his family has moved to a new apartment because his father lost his job. Meanwhile he never sees his mother because she has been at the hospital, picking up every double shift that she can. In this new apartment building, Georges meets Safer, part of an eccentric family (how eccentric? The parents waited until the kids were about two and then named them based on their personalities.) Safer is the resident spy and he recruits Georges to spy on their neighbors. At school Georges deals with bullies and negotiating his way through middle school.

For the most part, this is a pretty quiet contemporary story with not much action (although there are some suspenseful moments when Georges and Safer put their investigative skills to the test). One of my favorite elements was the mention of the reform spelling movement (of which Theodore Roosevelt was a proponent) from one of Georges' classmates in some funny scenes. I also enjoyed seeing Georges navigate the rocky waters of school and implement an excellent plan for handling his problems there.

As I read though, I thought, "This is pleasant enough but how is this book going to wow me?" Well, it turns out that it will have a twist that makes you go back and rethink many of the passages that came before. I can see this twist was included (I don't want to be spoilery about it but for the right reader, it could be very emotional) but I found it to be cheap and manipulative, leaving me with a bad taste in my mouth. I think there could have been a bit more work done to prep the reader.

Overall: A heartwarming story except for the little matter of the aforementioned spoiler.

Cover: I love this cover-I think it's really cute and appropriate for the story.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Age of Desire

The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields
3/5 stars
Pamela Dorman Books, 2012
352 pages
Adult Historical Fiction

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

I have been discovering that I love historical fiction centered around a real person. In this case the person is acclaimed author Edith Wharton, whose books I adore. But I didn't know much about her real life so I was excited to catch a glimpse through this book.

...I kind of wish I hadn't. About all I knew beforehand was that she was part of New York's upper-class, hence the fact that she wrote acclaimed stories about them like The House of Mirth (haven't read yet) and The Age of Innocence (have read). What I didn't know was that she had an affair with a journalist, learning what passionate love could be about after years living a repressed existence with a man whose intellect was beneath hers. I really really need to get better at reading the synopsis because I'm sure this affair was mentioned and it could have served as a warning to me to steer clear: I don't usually like books featuring infidelity and it tends to render the main character extremely unsympathetic as it did in this case.

More promising was the relationship of Edith and her right-hand woman Anna who began as a governess but now serves as Edith's typist/secretary and early critic. Anna, like me, is horrified by Edith's new "friendship" and that forms the bulk of their conflict which leads to Anna traveling and leaving Edith without her trusty secretary while Anna pines for the old relationship she had with Edith.

Another wrench in their life is managing the swinging moods of Edith's husband Teddy who suffered from acute depression. His highs and lows frighten everyone around him and leave them on pins and needles. Although he is an unpredictable presence, the parts with the husband were some of my favorites. This is mostly because he was more active but also because I didn't feel much for Edith who receives far more page time than Anna as the famous person. I was able to feel much sympathy for him and his devotion to Edith, which made me think of this quote (I've never seen it attributed to anyone in particular): "Just because somebody doesn't love you the way you want them to, doesn't mean they don't love you with all they have."  Although not her intellectual equal, the picture painted of Teddy is of a decent man who should not have married Edith and whose mental problems did him in.

Unfortunately there is not as much about Teddy but there is plenty about Edith and her foolish longings for the journalist (who is kind of a gigolo) as well as some depictions of her famous friends like Henry James, a welcome presence.

Overall: Adultery renders main character intolerable to this reader. But the writing is quite good and I was able to read this book fairly quickly.

Cover: I do like this cover (which features a pretty dress in a gorgeous cover-how I love those!)

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