Friday, June 3, 2011

Review: Dash and Lily's Book of Dares

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
4.5 stars

Reasons for reading: 2011 YA Reading Challenge, I loved the authors' other 2 collaborations

Description: "Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?"

First lines: "Imagine this: You're in your favorite bookstore, scanning the shelves. You get to the section where a favorite author's books reside, and there, nestled in comfortably between the incredibly familiar spines, sits a red notebook.

What do you do?

The choice, I think, is obvious:

You take down the red notebook and open it.

And then you do whatever it tells you to do."

My thoughts: I'm so behind with reviews! I love all of the Levithan/Cohn books and was excited to see another one. I loved the Christmassy-ness of it and the device of the scavenger hunt. I probably wouldn't be brave enough to follow the notebook's instructions, but I'm glad Dash was! Lily was so excellently Lily-ish - I'd like to know her - and yet she also grows up a lot in the book and develops into a more mature but still Lily-ish Lily. Dash was great in his own way, even if he was, as Lily's relatives described him, brooding. There are so many weird little touches, from a missing majorette boot to a Dash-Muppet. The book is also a love letter to New York during the holiday season, which I'd love to experience someday. That's about all for this one - read it! (Or save it until Christmas, that would be even better.)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Review: Zombies vs Unicorns

Zombies vs Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier
3.25 stars

Description: "It's a question as old as time itself: which is better, the zombie or the unicorn? In this anthology, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (unicorn and zombie, respectively), strong arguments are made for both sides in the form of short stories. Half of the stories portray the strengths--for good and evil--of unicorns and half show the good (and really, really bad-ass) side of zombies. Contributors include many bestselling teen authors, including Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson, Meg Cabot, Scott Westerfeld, and Margo Lanagan. This anthology will have everyone asking: Team Zombie or Team Unicorn?"

My thoughts: I'm definitely on Team Unicorn!! I'm not a big short story fan, but I enjoyed these overall and  enjoyed the ones by my favourite authors - Cabot and Johnson - the most. Maureen Johnson was on Team Zombie, but her story was so bizarrely funny, with such a thinly-veiled version of Angelina Jolie, that I won't hold it against her. And Meg Cabot's story features a unicorn called Princess Prettypants - what more do you need?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Review: Real Live Boyfriends

Real Live Boyfriends by E. Lockhart
4 stars

First line: "A definition: A real live boyfriend does not contribute to your angst."

Description: Ruby Oliver is in love. Or it would be love, if Noel, her real live boyfriend, would call her back. But Noel seems to have turned into a pod-robot lobotomy patient, and Ruby can’t figure out why.Not only is her romantic life a shambles:
Her dad is eating nothing but Cheetos,
Her mother’s got a piglet head in the refrigerator,
Hutch has gone to Paris to play baguette air guitar,
Gideon shows up shirtless,
And the pygmy goat Robespierre is no help whatsoever.

Will Ruby ever control her panic attacks?
Will she ever understand boys?
Will she ever stop making lists? (No to that last one.)

Roo has lost most of her friends. She’s lost her true love, more than once. She’s lost her grandmother, her job, her reputation, and possibly her mind. But she’s never lost her sense of humor. The Ruby Oliver books are the record of her survival."

My thoughts: Just a quickie - another fun book in this series. I think it's the last one, which is good, as I wouldn't want to succumb to series fatigue since I so enjoy Ruby. I do think her mother should have some actual psychotherapy ordered by family services, as she is more of a child than Ruby is, and her dad isn't much help. The crazy mom provides some definite interest in the series, but I find her pretty horrid - it's amazing Roo isn't even more screwed up than she is with that freakshow raising her.

I hope that Ruby goes on to find actual, non-angst-inducing love, does well in college, and lives a fabulous life. And that E. Lockhart gives us another wonderful, funny series to enjoy soon!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Review: Revolution

Apologies, I have literally formatted this 5 times and it still won't work, I give up! Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly 3.25 stars Reasons for reading: I enjoy Donnelly's books; YA Reading Challenge Description: "BROOKLYN: Andi Alpers is on the edge. She’s angry at her father for leaving, angry at her mother for not being able to cope, and heartbroken by the loss of her younger brother, Truman. Rage and grief are destroying her. And she’s about to be expelled from Brooklyn Heights’ most prestigious private school when her father intervenes. Now Andi must accompany him to Paris for winter break. PARIS: Alexandrine Paradis lived over two centuries ago. She dreamed of making her mark on the Paris stage, but a fateful encounter with a doomed prince of France cast her in a tragic role she didn’t want—and couldn’t escape. Two girls, two centuries apart. One never knowing the other. But when Andi finds Alexandrine’s diary, she recognizes something in her words and is moved to the point of obsession. There’s comfort and distraction for Andi in the journal’s antique pages—until, on a midnight journey through the catacombs of Paris, Alexandrine’s words transcend paper and time, and the past becomes suddenly, terrifyingly present." My thoughts: Donnelly really has a gift for historical fiction and this is another well-researched, well-written book. I did find it a bit too long - maybe some of Andi's angst could have been cut out while still giving us what we need to understand her. And that pain and depression is very poignant, I really felt for Andi. I could just maybe have heard a bit less about it. The device of going back and forth between Andi and Alex was well-done - I was right there with Andi wanting to know what had happened to Alex and the little prince. But, as with Andi, I also could have done with a bit less of Alex's struggle out of poverty and burning desire to become an actress and then her quest to be there for Louis-Charles during his imprisonment. The idea was great, but I found it was repeated a few too many times for me. There was a little bit too much...almost magic realism for me. The guy responsible for Truman's death is basically named Robespierre and I fell out of the story somewhat when "the past becomes suddenly, terrifyingly present." Was it a dream sequence? Did she hit her head? Was it magic? It was a bit too much of a gimmick for me. But while those scenes weren't my favourites, Donnelly's descriptions of the filthy, smelly, violent Paris of Robespierre's day overlaid with Andi's knowledge of present-day Paris really work well and have clearly been thoroughly researched, as has everything from the music to the history for this novel. While I'm not all that well-versed in music, I did think the musical history sections, with connections between composers like Handel and Radiohead, were interesting. I've just checked and discovered that the subject of Andi's thesis, Amadé Malherbeau, does not exist, which makes sense given that he had to fit into the story, but seems a bit of a shame when the book contains so many facts about the Revolution and Prince Louis-Charles. Donnelly also has a sense of humour, which is great. Andi's friend Vijay is constantly being interrupted by his hen-pecking mother who feels he should spend every waking moment on his political science thesis, rather than wasting it talking to Andi. And I wonder if Donnelly went to the archives in Paris, as Andi does - as there are some very funny, spot-on-seeming descriptions of the hoops one must jump through to gain access to the materials. Overall, I found Andi's journey from suicidal depression to a functioning life in Paris and Alex's story of the horrors of the Revolution to be worth reading, despite my reservations.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Review: Somebody Everybody Listens To

Somebody Everybody Listens To by Suzanne Supplee
4 stars

Reasons for reading: I loved her first book; Southern Literature Challenge

Description: "Retta Lee Jones is blessed with a beautiful voice and has big dreams of leaving her tiny Tennessee hometown. With a beaten down car, a pocketful of hard-earned waitressing money, and stars in her eyes, Retta sets out to make it big in Nashville. But the road to success isn’t a smooth one in a town filled with dreamers, and Retta begins to have doubts: can she make her mark while staying true to herslf?"

First line: "Even on graduation day, the Starling High School gymnasium smelled just like it always did – a combination of old sweat and dust masked somewhat by cherry-scented disinfectant and floor polish."

My thoughts: I'm so behind in writing this, I read it at the beginning of the year! But I really enjoyed this book - it was really refreshing to read a YA novel about a real-seeming person, not one that was all about rich kids or yet another paranormal romance. And I liked the small-town Tennessee and Nashville settings (most Southern YA I've read lately has been in the lush, gothic vein - not that there's anything wrong with that - but again, not very realistic). Supplee must have spent time in Nashville, because she provides great descriptions of the city, particularly Music Row. Each chapter is named for a country song and a brief bio of the singer, including their struggles to get to Nashville, is included, which was a fun touch, and it includes both classic country stars and newcomers like Carrie Underwood, which is good for a YA novel.

Retta is a likeable character and I admired her determination to get to Nashville, even when just about every kind of bad luck befalls her and she even has to turn back at one point. She makes mistakes along the way, but she's talented and good-hearted. I liked that it wasn't a rags-to-riches tale, she doesn't suddenly skyrocket to number one on the charts or anything. Much better than that, it's a story about being brave enough to follow your dreams and to work hard to achieve them.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Review: The Perfect Love Song

The Perfect Love Song by Patti Callahan Henry
2 stars

Reason for reading: Okra Picks Challenge

Description: "Jimmy Sullivan has been living on the road with his brother, Jack, and his band The Unknown Souls. Without a place to call home, Jimmy and Jack lead a nomadic life filled with music and anonymous cities. When they return to a place Jimmy never wants to see again—their old hometown of Seaboro, South Carolina—he falls in love with Charlotte Carrington.

With his soul now filled with hope, Jimmy writes his first love song. When he performs it at a holiday concert to a standing ovation, the lyrics are dubbed the “Perfect Love Song,” so much so that Jimmy finds himself going on tour with famous country music stars, catapulted into a world where the trappings of fame and fortune reign supreme.

All too soon, the hope that had once inspired Jimmy to write such beautiful, genuine lyrics is overshadowed by what the song can do for him and his career. In his thirst for recognition, he agrees to miss Jack’s wedding in Ireland to sing at a Christmas Eve concert. And his ties to Charlotte seem to be ever so quickly slipping away.

Alone in New York City on Christmas Eve, Jimmy finally sees—with the help of a Christmas miracle or two—that his material gains are nothing compared to love, that he is losing all that really matters in his life. Is it too late to find his way to Ireland, to his brother, and to love?"

My thoughts: I agree with this review from Publisher's Weekly "This wallows in the pitfalls of intrusive narration, simplistic storytelling, and overly moralistic asides, and is stocked with characters with all the staying power of a snowflake in July."

This just didn't work for me at all. I felt like I'd missed getting to know the characters and their background somehow and I wasn't surprised to find out in the notes at the end that they were featured in one of the author's other books. Maybe if you'd gotten to know and love them there this book would be fun, but for me it wasn't. Why Kara was so devoted to Maeve Mahoney that she basically dedicates her wedding to the old woman wasn't very clear (presumably it was featured largely in the other book, but it's only mentioned in passing here), the narrator (who I guess is the ghost of Maeve?) is definitely intrusive and there are all kinds of sappy aphorisms throughout. Jimmy is a jerk. It has all of the bad stuff about Christmas movies - sappiness, "Christmas miracles" and someone's bad attitude being transformed on Christmas Eve. Definitely a Christmas turkey.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Review: Love, Charleston

Love, Charleston by Beth Webb Hart

3 stars

Reason for reading: Okra Picks Challenge

"Charleston's Anne Brumley has long dreamed of love while ringing the bells at St. Michael's, but those dreams are beginning to fade. Her sister Alisha and cousin Della encourage the thirty-six year old to move somewhere new for a fresh start.

Widower Roy Summerall has happily ministered to the country folks of Church of the Good Shepherd for years. So why would the Lord call him and his daughter away to Charleston--the city that Roy remembers from his childhood as pretentious and superficial? Surely the refined congregation of St. Michael's won't accept a reverend with a red neck and a simple faith.

Meanwhile, Anne's sister, Alisha, struggles with her husband's ambition, which seems to be taking him further from their dreams of a happy family. And Cousin Della's former fiance has returned to Charleston, making her wonder if she chose the wrong path when she married her gifted but unemployed-artist husband.

Family, friendship, and faith converge in a beautiful story about how God's transforming love works in the Holy City of Charleston."

My thoughts: I hadn't realized this was Christian fiction when I added it to my to-read list. Not that I have anything against the genre, I just don't have any real interest in it at all. Most of the book was pretty darn depressing - Roy's wife died of cancer, Alisha and her baby almost die and then she suffers from terrible post-partum depression and her husband is a jerk, and Della almost has an affair. While it's tagged as being a love story between Anne and Roy, Anne is away in England for a large part of the book and it honestly seemed a bit of a pairing of convenience - she's an old maid bell-ringer, he's a widowed minsiter, they should get together. I always love books set in Charleston, so that helped. But I particularly thought the last pages where Della, an author, ponders over whether it's a happy ending was a bit too meta for me. I'd probably recommend this author to someone looking for Christian women's fiction or a non-sexy romance, but it wasn't my cup of sweet tea.