Thursday, August 25, 2011

Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door

Lola and the Boy Next Door
Stephanie Perkins
2011; Dutton (Penguin); ISBN 978-0-525-42328-7

Summary:  Lola's life couldn't be better.  She lives in the fantastic Castro District of San Francisco, she loves her parents Nathan and Andy, she's always got a unique costume to wear, and best of all is her boyfriend Max.  The only fly in the ointment is that Max is five years older than Lola, and her parents don't like him.  At least, that's the only problem until the Bell twins move back into their house next door to Lola's.  Calliope Bell is just self-centered, focused on her figure skating career.  But her brother Cricket . . . he's the boy that Lola loved once.  Now that he's back, Lola finds that perhaps her feelings haven't changed.  But what about Max?  And does Cricket actually like her?  Lola will have to search her soul to discover whether her costumes hide or reflect her true self.

Another insightful romance from Stephanie Perkins, author of Anna and the French Kiss, one that mixes Lola's journey of discovery with an epic teenage romance.  Although the novel is a bit slow to start, with some muddled interplay between the present and the past, it picks up speed when Cricket returns to Lola's life.  Cricket is perhaps the perfect teenage boy: sweet, smart, and totally in love with Lola.  The reader can't help rooting for Lola and Cricket to figure things out, although it takes some time.  Lola begins the novel lying to her parents about Max and refusing to see that Max is too old for her.  Slowly, she realizes that he's not the boy for her, a process that helps her learn how to be honest to herself and others.  This maturing process is handled well, leading to a satisfying ending not just for Lola, but for Cricket and Lola, too.  Fans of Perkins' first novel will be happy to see Anna and St. Clair as supporting characters in this one.  Lola's gay parents--one of whom is biologically her uncle--are not there for shock value or controversy, but to reflect the novel's setting and to give Lola two happy, caring parents.  Fans of Anna and the French Kiss will keep Lola and the Boy Next Door circulating.

Other Reviews
A Million Words:
Write Meg:
The Readventurer:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Laini Taylor
2011; Little, Brown; ISBN 978-0-316-13402-6 (hardcover)

Summary: Karou is a very unique young woman.  She has blue hair, speaks multiple languages, and has vivid tattoos on the palms of her hands.  For the other students at her Prague art school, they're used to Karou's mysterious life, with her unusual sketchbooks full of fantasy creatures.  The truth is stranger than fiction: the creatures in Karou's art are real, and they are the ones who raised her.  What Karou doesn't know is that there is a civil war between seraphs and chimaera, between angels and monsters--a war of which she's in the middle.  The seraphs are lead by Akiva, a beautiful warrior angel.  There seems to be some kind of connection between Akiva and Karou . . . one that changes both of them.

With rich atmospheric details and memorable characters, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is an unusual fantasy. While the story loses steam at the three-quarters mark after a major plot revelation, there is much to like in this novel.  The setting of Prague is vividly portrayed, infusing a sense of history into the story.  Karou is a fascinating yet believable protagonist, grounding the fantasy even as she performs amazing acts.  Laini Taylor's talents for word and description is obvious in Daughter of Smoke and Bone.  Pass this novel to fans of Holly Black.

Other Reviews
Good Books and Good Wine:
Reading Rants:
The Allure of Books:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Review: Blood Wounds

Blood Wounds
Susan Beth Pfeffer
2011; Harcourt; ISBN 978-0-547-49638-2 (hardcover)

Summary:  In Willa's blended family, there's Willa and her mom Terri, and Jack, Terri's second husband.  Most of the time, Jack's two daughters from his first marriage, Brooke and Alyssa, live with them.  Jack's ex-wife, Val, is rich and gives Brooke and Alyssa anything they could want, from horses and tennis coaches to trips to Europe.  Willa, by contrast, can't even have the voice lessons she wants since her mother can't pay for them.  To cope with the pressure of feeling unloved and unvalued, Willa cuts herself in secret, spilling her own blood.  But then Willa's estranged father commits an unspeakable act towards his new family.  In grappling with this horrible legacy, Willa tries to learn more about her parents' past.  Her new knowledge leads her to confront the assumptions and unspoken tensions that lie at the heart of her family relationships.  Willa discovers that Tolstoy had it wrong: every family, whether happy or unhappy, is different.

Never shying away from uncomfortable topics, Susan Beth Pfeffer explores the complex world of modern family dynamics in Blood Wounds.  When her father kills his wife and three daughters, it sets Willa on a journey to learn who she is within her different families.  Her father's acts are only the trigger for the story, belying the summary printed on the ARC I read; the heart of the novel is Willa's relationships and how they affect her.  Willa is difficult to like, but she is easy to understand, with the coil of tension growing ever-tighter until she finally breaks free of the role she thinks she has to play.  The character interactions are messy and complicated and real, heightened by direct prose and brisk pacing.  By the close of the novel, years of resentment and unhappiness are finally revealed, and Willa can create her own place within her family.  Pair Blood Wounds with novels like A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt.

Other Reviews
Practically Paradise:
One Book at a Time:
Squeaky Books:
Bibliosaurus Text:

Monday, August 15, 2011

Review: A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls
Patrick Ness, inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd
2011; Candlewick; ISBN 978-0-7636-5559-4 (hardcover)

Summary:  Late one night, Conor sees a nearby yew tree transform itself into a monster.  It's huge, with scratchy bark and pointy leaves.  But Conor's not afraid of the monster, because he's been expecting a much worse one.  His mother has cancer, and she seems to be sicker as each day passes.  Everyone at school knows about his mum's illness, making him invisible--except to his old friend Lily and Harry the bully.  So Conor's not that scared of the monster, and the monster sees that.  The monster has come because Conor called for him, and he will tell Conor four stories.  Then, Conor will have to tell the monster his own story, a story that's true.  Finding the truth will be a struggle for Conor, though.

Examining issues of love, loss and truth, A Monster Calls is a collaboration between Patrick Ness and the late Siobhan Dowd.  Taking the characters and premise created by Dowd, Ness has crafted a moving, honest story about a boy learning the first lessons of manhood.  The monster is capricious, logical and cold, contrasted with Conor's emotional, passionate nature.  As Conor hears the monster's stories and watches his mother's condition deteriorate, the tension slowly increases to the heartbreaking yet hopeful conclusion.  The story is made even richer by vivid black and white illustrations by Jim Kay.  It's a shame that Siobhan Dowd could not write this story, but how fortunate we are that Patrick Ness was willing to take on this task and create a fitting memorial in A Monster Calls.

Other Reviews
Bart's Bookshelf:
Phoebe North:

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Review: Shut Out

Shut Out
Kody Keplinger
2011; Poppy (Little, Brown); ISBN 978-0-316-17556-2 (hardcover)

Summary:  For ten years, the football and soccer players at Hamilton High have been locked in a tense rivalry.  It's been getting worse--people are getting hurt now.  Lissa, the girlfriend of quarterback Randy, is sick of being left behind and coming second to the battle.  Then she gets an inspired idea: the girlfriends will hold a sex strike until the rivalry is over.  If the guys aren't getting any, they're bound to bury the hatchet.  It all seems to be going to plan . . . but Lissa didn't count on falling for Cash, who is Mr. Unattainable and the leader of the guys.  Lissa will have to figure out if the strike is about sex, the rivalry, or her desire to control everything to prevent getting hurt.

Once again mining the intersection of teenage love and sex, Kody Keplinger has crafted an opinionated, thought-provoking follow-up to her debut novel The D.U.F.F.  Like in the ancient Greek play Lysistrata, Lissa choose to end a war by withholding physical affection.  This makes sense to Lissa, a secret romantic with a powerful need for control.  These two elements of her personality clash throughout the novel, and it's thanks to people like Cash, her father and brother, and her friends that Lissa is able to balance the two sides of nature.  Through it all, the dialogue snaps with truth and the characters act like realistic teens.  Pass Shut Out along to fans of Carolyn Mackler or anyone looking for an insightful look into teen relationships.

Other Reviews
What's on the Bookshelf:
Janicu's Book Review:
Good Choice Reading:

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Review: The Name of the Star

The Name of the Star (Shades of London, Book One)
Maureen Johnson
2011; Putnam (Penguin); ISBN 978-0-399-25660-8 (hardcover)

Summary:  Rory Deveaux arrives in London, immediately feeling shell-shocked by how different England is from Louisiana.  It's cold and rainy, with strange words and celebrities she's never heard of.  But soon, strange murders star occurring, on the anniversaries of murders linked to Jack the Ripper.  Rippermania grips London--but Rory knows there's more going on than meets the eye.  She's the only one to have seen the murderer, and the knowledge changes Rory's life.  Because it's not a copycat killing woman like over a hundred years ago . . . it's a ghost.

The first novel in a new series, The Name of the Star is a dark, atmospheric tale of what lies beyond death.  For such a modern city, blanketed with CCTV and cell phones, London is well aware of its history.  Into this new world is thrust Rory, who slowly comes into her unusual ability to see ghosts.  The details are revealed carefully, leading up to the surprising cliffhanger ending.  Rory meets the challenges thrown at her with realistic reactions of curiosity and fear.  Similar in feel to Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, The Name of the Star is an intriguing departure for Maureen Johnson.  Her talent for characterization shines through in this historical-tinged thriller.

Other Reviews
Dark Readers:
Diary of a Book Addict:
I Eat Words:

Friday, August 05, 2011

Friday Fun: Interesting Reading

A few links to articles that I came across this week on the blogosphere!

How Young Adult Fiction Came of Age
Excerpt:  I am familiar enough with the basics: that YA is not to the written word as PG is to film. That it is publishing's closest thing to a safe bet in years. That it has seen explosive growth as a result. To wit: 3,000 young adult novels were published in 1997. Twelve years later, that figure hit 30,000 titles--an increase of a full order of magnitude. In 2009, total sales exceeded $3 billion, which is roughly all the money. 

YA Books are Booming--but not That Much
Excerpt:  Before I tell you what the correct figures are, how I think Mr. Grady got those numbers wrong, and why that matters, I do want to say that the article as a whole is a solid piece of work. Unlike the infamous Wall Street Journal article that complained about YA literature being too dark (I won't link to it, but you can find it if you search), Mr. Grady clearly likes YA books, and develops some good points: that adults are reading YA, for various reasons; that "New Adult" is what some in publishing hope to establish as a next step after YA; and that the commercial/literary divide may be shrinking.

"She's Not a Strong Reader"
Excerpt:  She resisted help at first. But after two failed attempts to get the book she wanted, she finally let me help her. I got her a wonderful stack of Libba Bray and Sarah Dessen and left her alone, only to have her mother announce to me, “She’s not a strong reader.” As if that explained why her daughter was taking her time to choose the right book.

Where Children Sleep (from the New York Times)
Excerpt:  As he considered how to represent needy children around the world, he wanted to avoid the common devices: pleading eyes, toothless smiles. When he visualized his own childhood, he realized that his bedroom said a lot about what sort of life he led. So he set out to find others.

Your Mom Reads More YA Than You
Excerpt: What struck me about the WSJ debate was not whether or not YA veers into a damaging darkness; rather, it was the allegation that mothers are unaware of, or disapprove of, the current YA offerings.  It was striking to me because, in my own experience promoting a YA novel, mothers have been some of the most ardent and vocal harbingers of what’s new and what’s next in the genre.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Review: Small Town Sinners

Small Town Sinners
Melissa Walker
2011; Bloomsbury; ISBN 978-1-59990-527-3 (hardcover)

Summary:  Lacey Anne Byer is a good girl.  She listens to her parents, does well in school, and is a strong supporter of her church.  In fact, Lacey can't wait to audition for a part in Hell House, her church's haunted house of sin.  But then, things start changing for Lacey.  Ty, a childhood friend who's returned to town, encourages her to question what she's been told in church as he stirs romantic feelings in her.  Her best friend's older sister gets pregnant out of wedlock.  Another friend is bullied by a schoolmate, one who doesn't get punished for his actions.  Lacey can't talk to her parents about all these new questions she has.  Instead, she will be on her own to find the answers that make sense to her.

A thought-provoking look at an evangelical coming-of-age, Small Town Sinners is also a very clean novel.  Lacey and her friends Starla Joy and Dean seem very innocent, their interactions from another time.  It might feel dated and out-of-place, yet as the reader sees how conservative and prescribed Lacey's world is, this innocence makes more sense.  Ty and Lacey's conversations about faith and sin may lean towards the didactic, yet Melissa Walker manages to keep the focus on Lacey's journey.  For readers who are curious about their own beliefs or anyone looking for insight into a different way of life, Small Town Sinners is a great choice.

Other Reviews
YA Librarian Tales:
Presenting Lenore:
Addicted 2 Novels:
I Read Banned Books:

Monday, August 01, 2011

Giveaway Winners!

Congratulations to the winners of my birthday giveaway!  Bridget won the book pack, and  donnas won the ARC pack.  Thanks to everyone for participating.