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stephxsu's 99 for '09 Challenge

50 Book Challenge

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1stephxsu
Edited: Dec 31, 2009, 1:55pm Top

For the first three semesters of college, I basically did not do any reading for fun until I came home for breaks. Starting this year, however, I vow to change that. I mostly read YA fiction, with a smattering of adult middle grade/children's fiction, and some nonfiction educational material in addition to some books for class. Here goes!

For my (and everyone else's) convenience, here is an oft-updated list of books I read. I also post reviews, giveaways, author interviews/guest blogs, and other book-related stuff on my blog, Steph Su Reads. Check it out! :)

My favorite reads of the year will be bolded, so that you can take especial note of them, if you prefer.

BOOKS I READ IN 2009

Number. Title by Author (genre, rating out of 5, message #)

January
1. The Geography of Girlhood by Kirsten Smith (YA verse, 3.5, #2)
2. Play Me by Laura Ruby (YA, 2, #2)
3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (YA dystopian, 5, #2)
4. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (4.5, #2)
5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (YA, 2.5, #2)
6. A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass (MG, 3.5, #2)
7. Stealing Heaven by Elizabeth Scott (YA, 4, #4)
8. Graceling by Kristin Cashore (YA fantasy, 4, #5)
9. What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell (YA historical, 3.5, #7)

February
10. Unwind by Neal Shusterman (YA sci-fi, 4, #10)
11. Becoming Chloe by Catherine Ryan Hyde (YA 4, #11)
12. Colonial Harem by Malek Alloula (nonfiction, 3.5, #12)
13. Secrets of My Hollywood Life by Jen Calonita (YA, 3, #12)
14. Sunshine by Robin McKinley (adult paranormal, 4.5, #17)
15. Generation Dead by Daniel Waters (YA paranormal, 4, #21)
16. Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins (MG fantasy, 4, #23)
17. Evermore by Alyson Noel (YA paranormal, 2, #24)
18. Rhyme by William C. Marks (picture book, #29)
19. Me, the Missing, and the Dead by Jenny Valentine (YA, 3.5, #32)
20. Men in the Sun by Ghassan Kanafani (adult transnational, #34)
21. The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong (YA paranormal, 3.5, #34)

March
22. O.Y.L. by Scott Heydt (MG, 1, #38)
23. Ray in Reverse by Daniel Wallace (adult, 3, #39)
24. Perfect Fifths by Megan McCafferty (YA/adult, 4.5, #39)
25. How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier (YA, 4, #41)
26. Wake by Lisa McMann (YA paranormal, 3, #42)
27. Shug by Jenny Han (MG, 5, #43)
28. North Korea Kidnapped My Daughter by Sakie Yokota (memoir, 2.5, #45)
29. If I Stay by Gayle Forman (YA, 4.5, #46)
30. Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles (YA, 2.5, #48)
31. Fragile Eternity by Melissa Marr (YA fantasy, 3.5, #49)
32. Ophelia by Lisa Klein (YA historical, 2.5, #50)
33. Radiant Darkness by Emily Whitman (MG/YA fantasy, 3, #51)
34. Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber (adult, 5, #51)
35. Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey (YA paranormal, 4.5, #52)
36. White Teeth by Zadie Smith (adult, 4, #53)
37. Every Demon Has His Day by Cara Lockwood (adult paranormal, 3.5, #56)
38. Girl v. Boy by Yvonne Collins and Sandy Rideout (YA, 3, #57)
39. Swim the Fly by Don Calame (YA, 4.5, #58)
40. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (adult, #59)
41. Say the Word by Jeannine Garsee (YA, 3.5, #62)

April
42. A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell (YA, 2.5, #63)
43. Ransom My Heart by Meg Cabot (historical romance, 4, #65)
44. All About Vee by C. Leigh Purtill (YA, 4.5, #67)
45. Heart of Redness by Zakes Mda (adult transnational, 5, #67)
46. Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by R. J. Anderson (YA/MG fantasy, 5, #68)
47. The Season by Sarah MacLean (YA historical, 3, #70)
48. Bad Girls Don't Die by Katie Alender (YA horror, 4, #71)
49. The Boys Next Door by Jennifer Echols (YA, 4, #74)
50. Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia by Cindy Pon (MG/YA, 3, #75)
51. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (adult transnational, 5, #76)
52. Inferno by Robin Stevenson (YA, 2, #76)
53. The Innocent by Posie Graeme-Evans (historical romance, 3.5, #76)
54. Prom Dates from Hell by Rosemary Clement-Moore (YA paranormal, 4, #76)

May
55. The Plague by Joanne Dahme (YA/MG historical, 2, #78)
56. Daughter of the Flames by Zoe Marriott (YA/MG fantasy, 3.5, #79)
57. You Are Here by Jennifer E. Smith (YA road trip, 3.5, #80)
58. The Dust of 100 Dogs by A. S. King (YA adventure, 3, #81)
59. Undercover by Beth Kephart (YA, 4.5, #82)
60. Genesis by Bernard Beckett (dystopian lit, 4, #85)
61. Summer Girls by Hailey Abbott (YA, 2.5, #85)
62. Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers (YA, 5, #85)
63. Split by a Kiss by Luisa Plaja (YA, 2.5, #87)
64. Exclusively Chloe by J. A. Yang (MG/YA, 2.5, #87)
65. Starfinder by John Marco (MG/YA sci-fi/fantasy/adventure, 3, #87)
66. Hunger: a Gone Novel by Michael Grant (YA dystopian, 5, #88)
67. Sea Change by Aimee Friedman (YA, 3.5, #88)
68. Destroy All Cars by Blake Nelson (YA, 4, #88)
69. City of Glass by Cassandra Clare (YA, 4, #92)
70. Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott (YA, 3.5, #92)
71. Sprout by Dale Peck (YA GLBT, 4.5, #96)

June
72. Swoon by Nina Malkin (YA, 3.5, #96)
73. The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale (adult, 5, #97)
74. Hell Week by Rosemary Clement-Moore (YA paranormal, 3.5, #97)
75. Beastly by Alex Flinn (YA retelling, 3.5, #97)
76. The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong (YA paranormal, 4, #101)
77. Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev (YA fantasy, 4.5, #102)
78. Worst Nightmares by Shane Briant (adult horror thriller, 3.5, #103)
79. Lovestruck Summer by Melissa Walker (YA, 4, #104)
80. Back Creek by Leslie Goetsch (adult, 4.5, #104)
81. Battle Royale by Koushun Takami (dystopian lit, 4, #105)
82. Fade by Lisa McMann (YA paranormal, 4, #105)
83. Sweethearts by Sara Zarr (YA, 3, #108)
84. Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George (YA fantasy, 4.5, #108)
85. The Stolen One by Suzanne Crowley (MG/YA historical fiction, 4.5, #109)
86. Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehnert (YA, 4.5, #110)
87. Darkwood by M. E. Breen (MG/YA dark fantasy, 2.5, #110)
88. Bloom by Elizabeth Scott (YA, 3, #110)
89. Project Sweet Life by Brent Hartinger (MG/YA, 3, #111)
90. Breathing by Cheryl Renee Herbsman (YA, 4, #111)
91. The Midnight Twins by Jacquelyn Mitchard (MG/YA paranormal, 2, #111)
92. Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler (YA, 4, #113)
93. Willow by Julia Hoban (YA, 4.5, #113)
94. Fire by Kristin Cashore (YA fantasy, 5, #113)
95. The Treasure Map of Boys by E. Lockhart (YA, 4.5, #113)
96. Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen (YA, 4.5, #115)
97. And Then Everything Unraveled by Jennifer Sturman (MG/YA mystery, 4, #115)
98. Wings by Aprilynne Pike (MG/YA fantasy, 1.5, #116)

July
99. So Punk Rock by Micol Ostow (MG/YA, 2.5, #116)
100. Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink (YA supernatural, 3.5, #116)
101. Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception by Maggie Stiefvater (YA fantasy, 4, #117)
102. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead (YA paranormal, 4.5, #117)
103. Coffeehouse Angel by Suzanne Selfors (MG/YA magic, 3.5, #118)
104. The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry (MG/YA fantasy, 3, #118)
105. Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman (YA fantasy, 4.5, #119)
106. Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick (YA paranormal, 4, #119)
107. Evernight by Claudia Gray (YA paranormal, 2, #120)
108. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater (YA paranormal, 3.5, #120)
109. The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han (YA, 4.5, #120)
110. Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr (YA, 4, #121)
111. Under the Rose by Diana Peterfreund (YA, 4.5, #121)
112. My Soul to Take by Rachel Vincent (YA paranormal, 3, #123)
113. Marked (House of Night, Book 1) by P. C. Cast and Kristin Cast (YA paranormal, 2.5, #123)
114. The Rapture by Liz Jensen (adult apocalyptic, 3.5, #124)
115. Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (YA apocalyptic, 5, #124)
116. Initiation by Susan Fine (YA, 3.5, #124)
117. Meridian by Amber Kizer (MG/YA paranormal, 3, #127)
118. The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan (YA fantasy, 4, #127)
119. Ash by Malinda Lo (YA fantasy, 5, #129)
120. Two-Way Street by Lauren Barnholdt (YA, 3, #129)
121. Girl Stays in the Picture by Melissa de la Cruz (YA, 3, #130)
122. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (MG/YA historical fiction, 4.5, #130)

August
123. Rites of Spring (Break) (Ivy League, Book 3) by Diana Peterfreund (YA/adult, 4, #132)
124. Candor by Pam Bachorz (YA dystopian, 3.5, #132)
125. As You Wish by Jackson Pearce (YA magic, 4.5, #132)
126. Rampant by Diana Peterfreund (YA fantasy, 3.5, #134)
127. Poison Study (Study, Book 1) by Maria Snyder (fantasy, 5, #134)
128. Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff (YA, 4, #137)
129. Magic Study (Study, Book 2) by Maria V. Snyder (fantasy, 4, #137)
130. Intertwined by Gena Showalter (YA paranormal, 2, #137)
131. David Inside Out by Lee Bantle (YA GLBTQ, 3, #139)
132. The Nymph King (Atlantis, Book 3) by Gena Showalter (paranormal romance, 3.5, #139)
133. Cycler by Lauren McLaughlin (YA weird, 4, #139)
134. Rough Magic by Caryl Mullin (fantasy, 1.5, #140)
135. Confessions of a Serial Kisser by Wendelin Van Draanen (MG/YA, 3.5, #140)
136. Fire Study (Study, Book 3) by Maria V. Snyder (fantasy, 4, #141)
137. Ghost Huntress: The Awakening by Marley Gibson (MG/YA paranormal, 2.5, #141)
138. The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill Alexander (MG/YA, 4.5, #142)
139. Bedeviled: Daddy's Little Angel by Shani Petroff (MG paranormal, 3, #142)
140. Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick (YA, 4, #143)
141. Lipstick Apology by Jennifer Jabaley (YA, 2.5, #143)
142. This Is What I Want to Tell You by Heather Duffy Stone (YA, 2.5, #143)
143. Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani (MG/YA, 3.5, #143)
144. The Devouring by Simon Holt (MG/YA horror, 3, #144)
145. Emma by Jane Austen (British classics, 4.5, #144)

September
146. The Sky Always Hears Me, and the Hills Don't Mind by Kirstin Cronn-Mills (YA, 4.5, #144)
147. Frostbite (Vampire Academy, Book 2) by Richelle Mead (YA paranormal, 4, #144)
148. Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, Book 2) by Suzanne Collins (YA dystopian, 4.5, #147)
149. Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough (YA paranormal, 4, #147)
150. One Child by Torey Hayden (inspirational, 4.5, #147)
151. After by Amy Efaw (YA, 3, #147)
152. Hate List by Jennifer Brown (YA, 3.5, #148)
153. Ripley's Believe It or Not! Seeing is Believing! (nonfiction, 4, #148)
154. Drown by Junot Diaz (short story collection, 3.5, #148)
155. Hollywood Is Like High School With Money by Zoey Dean (YA, 3.5, #148)
156. Psych Major Syndrome by Alicia Thompson (YA, 4.5, #149)
157. Leaving the Bellweathers by Kristin Clark Venuti (MG humor, 3.5, #149)
158. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (MG/YA sci-fi, 4.5, #149)
159. Birds of America by Lorrie Morrie (short story collection, 2, #149)
160. Dead Until Dark (Southern Vampire Mysteries, Book 1) by Charlaine Harris (paranormal, 2.5, #149)
161. The Waking: Dreams of the Dead by Thomas Randall (YA horror, 3, #153)
162. How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford (YA, 3.5, #153)
163. Love Is the Higher Law by David Levithan (YA, 5, #154)
164. The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor (short story collection, 4.5, #154)
165. Found (The Missing, Book 1) by Margaret Peterson Haddix (jfic/MG thriller, 3, #154)
166. My Invented Life by Lauren Bjorkman (YA GLBTQ, 3, #154)
167. Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix (jfic thriller, 5, #155)
168. Palace of Mirrors by Margaret Peterson Haddix (jfic/MG, 3, #155)
169. Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli (jfic, 4, #155)

October
170. Liar by Justine Larbalestier (YA, 4, #157)
171. The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z by Kate Messner (MG, 4.5, #157)
172. The Maze Runner by James Dashner (YA sci-fi/fantasy, 4.5, #157)
173. The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp (YA, 4, #158)
174. Varieties of Disturbance by Lydia Davis (short story collection, 3, #158)
175. Little Black Lies by Tish Cohen (YA, 3, #158)
176. Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers (YA, 4.5, #159)
177. Dani Noir by Nova Ren Suma (MG, 4, #159)
178. Front and Center (D.J. Schwenk, Book 3) by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (YA, 5, #159)
179. Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson (jfic historical fiction, 3, #160)
180. Luv Ya Bunches by Lauren Myracle (jfic/MG, 3.5, #160)
181. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (YA steampunk, 4, #161)
182. Hold Still by Nina LaCour (YA, 3.5, #161)
183. Nick of Time by Ted Bell (MG historical fantasy, 2, #161)
184. Tap & Gown (Ivy League, Book 4) by Diana Peterfreund (college, 3.5, #167)
185. The Cinderella Society by Kay Cassidy (YA, 3, #167)
186. The Everafter by Amy Huntley (YA, 3, #168)
187. Soulstice (The Devouring, Book 2) by Simon Holt (YA horror, 3.5, #168)
188. Eggs by Jerry Spinelli (jfic/MG, 3, #168)

November
189. After the Moment by Garret Freymann-Weyr (YA, 2.5, #170)
190. The Rebel of the Family by Eliza Lynn Linton (British lit classics, 4, #170)
191. Ice by Sarah Beth Durst (YA fantasy, 4.5, #170)
192. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (British lit classics, 3.5, #172)
193. When the Whistle Blows by Fran Cannon Slayton (MG historical fiction, 3.5, #172)
194. TTYL by Lauren Myracle (MG/YA, 3, #172)
195. Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie (short story collection, 4, #173)
196. Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (YA paranormal, 4, #173)
197. The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove by Lauren Kate (YA, 3, #173)
198. Stitches by David Small (graphic novel memoir, 3.5, #174)
199. Fallen by Lauren Kate (YA paranormal, 2, #174)
200. Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves (YA paranormal, 4, #174)
201. The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale (reread, see #97)
202. Dracula by Bram Stoker (British classic paranormal, 3, #175)
203. Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondeley (Victorian lit, 3.5, #175)
204. The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein by Libby Schmais (MG/YA, 3, #175)
205. The Type-Writer Girl by Olive Pratt Rayner/Grant Allen (Victorian lit, 2.5, #176)
206. Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor (YA paranormal short story collection, 3.5, #176)

December
207. Shadow Kiss (Vampire Academy, Book 3) by Richelle Mead (YA paranormal, 4, #176)
208. Also Known as Harper by Ann Haywood Leal (jfic/MG, 3, #177)
209. The Red Umbrella by Christina Gonzalez (MG/YA historical fiction, 4, #177)
210. Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore (YA historical fantasy, 3.5, #177)
211. Bound to Shadows (Riley Jensen Guardian, Book 8) by Keri Arthur (paranormal, 2.5, #178)
212. Fat Cat by Robin Brande (YA, 5, #178)
213. Airhead (Airhead, Book 1) by Meg Cabot (YA, 3, #178)
214. Secrets of Truth and Beauty by Megan Frazer (YA, 3.5, #179)
215. Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande (YA, 4, #179)
216. The Dark Divine by Bree Despain (YA paranormal romance, 3, #181)
217. Secrets of a Christmas Box by Steven Hornby (jfic holiday adventure, 1.5, #181)
218. Stolen by Lucy Christopher (YA, 4, #182)
219. The Ever Breath by Juliana Baggott (jfic/MG fantasy, 3.5, #182)
220. Tangled by Carolyn Mackler (YA, 4, #182)
221. Beautiful by Amy Reed (YA, 3.5, #184)
222. The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg (MG/YA, 3, #184)
223. Forest Born (Books of Bayern, Book 4) by Shannon Hale (MG/YA fantasy, 4, #184)
224. Being Nikki (Airhead, Book 2) by Meg Cabot (MG/YA, 2.5, #185)
225. Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate, Book 2) by Gail Carriger (historical paranormal romance, 4, #185)
226. The Mark by Jen Nadol (YA magic, 3.5, #185)
227. Dream Girl by Lauren Mechling (MG/YA, 3.5, #186)
228. Shrinking Violet by Danielle Joseph (YA, 3, #186)

2stephxsu
Edited: Feb 7, 2009, 9:09pm Top

1. The Geography of Girlhood by Kirsten Smith

THE GEOGRAPHY OF GIRLHOOD is a novel-in-verse that stares unflinchingly into the broken and confused life of a high school girl. Penny’s mother left her, her father, and her older sister Tara a long time ago. Tara is the cool older sister who hardly gives Penny the time of day, and Penny’s two best friends are drifting apart, turning into people she hardly knows.

Thus, Penny must navigate the choppy waters of adolescence by herself. Sometimes she gets things right, but most of the time she’ll make mistakes. Either way, however, her story is a real, believable, and heartbreaking one that any teenage girl will like to pick up.

2. Play Me by Laura Ruby

PLAY ME has nearly the same plot of Thu-Huong Ha’s HAIL CAESAR, about a player getting his heart broken, and the story, once again, doesn’t work for me. Maybe I’m a sucker for happy endings, but there are many moments in the novel that I didn’t feel were at all believable, and the first half of the book dragged. The book is chock full of movie references and easy-to-read narration, but I was left not caring for the characters, which is disappointing because I loved Laura Ruby’s first YA novel GOOD GIRLS so much. Perhaps I will enjoy future books of herselfs more. I certainly hope so.

3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

THE HUNGER GAMES is suspenseful, action-packed, and well-written, with an endearing love story. Suzanne Collins spins a terrifying dystopian world for readers. I was only sad when the book ended too soon and left some important issues—will anything be done about the totalitarian government?—unanswered. However, the ending seems to promise a sequel, which I will anxiously await.

4. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

6. A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

This is a sweet and interesting book about an unusual and little-known condition. Mia's world is realistic and sympathetic; her conflicts and relationships, typical of teenagers her age, gains a further depth with the synesthesia. Readers, especially those in middle school and early high school, will be able to connect with Mia's growing up.

3billiejean
Jan 20, 2009, 12:50pm Top

I am hoping to read The Count of Monte Cristo this summer. I have heard that it is a great book! :)
--BJ

4stephxsu
Edited: Jan 31, 2009, 11:37pm Top

Hi BJ, it definitely IS a fantastic book!! I'll be putting up my review of it shortly. Let's just say that it's one of my favorite books now. I hope you get around to reading it. You won't be able to put it down. :)

7. Stealing Heaven by Elizabeth Scott

Professional Thief Learns to Connect

18-year-old Danielle lives with her mother and they are professional thieves. They move quickly from affluent town to affluent town, staying only long enough to find out the information they need and steal what they target, and then they move on. Dani has learned to keep invisible and not form any connections. It may not be the life she wants deep down inside, but it's all she has, all she's ever known.

At the beach town of Heaven, however, things begin to be different. Dani meets several people she thinks she can actually be friends with--if not more. Unfortunately, her and her mother's lives demand that she not make friends, not feel like she wants to settle down.

This puts stress on her budding relationships with two people: Allison, a talkative but genuine girl who lives in the mansion that her mother is targeting next; and Greg, a young and funny local cop who seems intent on making her smile--but he's a cop!

How can Dani not lose her mother's love and respect, while learning how to go for what she wants?

Elizabeth Scott's books remind me very much of Sarah Dessen’s. The characters are well-developed. Greg in particular is charming and will make every girl wish he was real. This is a fun and moving read.

5stephxsu
Jan 24, 2009, 11:31am Top

8. Graceling by Kristin Cashore

In Katsa's world, those who possess a Grace, an unusually powerful skill, recognized by their different-colored eyes, are often shunned and avoided by the ordinary people. Katsa has it worse than most Graced, for her Grace is the Grace of killing, a Grace that her uncle, King Randa, uses to keep his subjects in line.

But Katsa is sick of always obeying her uncle's orders, being forced to perform these tasks she hates and having to hide her good side. Still, she sees no way out of her miserable, savage life...until she meets Po, a prince from a faraway island kingdom, whose secret business coincides with hers. Po is Graced with the art of combat, and they are well matched in fighting.

A friendship develops between Katsa and Po, and they are thrown together even more as they set off to defend their world from the clutches of a powerful and dangerous king. Katsa must contend with her wild nature if she is to get to know Po, if she is to learn about the truth about their Graces and characters. Together, they may just be able to save their world and make it a better place.

The characterizations of Katsa and Po in Graceling are incredible; it's impossible to not like them and feel for them as they struggle with their internal conflicts and emotions for one another. On the other hand, I felt like much of the plot-conflict in this novel was thrown in almost helter-skelter; conflicts were suddenly introduced and resolved in a matter of pages. I would have liked more back-story, so that I could've better understand Katsa and Po's world. That being said, Graceling is still an incredible debut fantasy novel, sure to appeal to all fantasy lovers who also like a good romance.

6theaelizabet
Edited: Jan 24, 2009, 11:57am Top

Hi stephxsu,

Just curious. Do you think a well-read 13 year-old would enjoy Graceling? My daughter is always looking for good books and this sounds like something she would enjoy.

7stephxsu
Edited: Jan 29, 2009, 1:24am Top

9. What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

Growing Up Is Never Easy...Especially for Evie

Tags: YA, historical, WWI, lies, anti-Semitism, coming of age, mystery
Recommended age: 14+
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

You'll Like This if You Also Like: Ann Rinaldi, Judy Blume

After her stepfather Joe returns home from serving in the Second World War, 15-year-old Evie Spooner believes that things can now return to normal. No more rationing, no more faking, no more worrying with her beautiful mother Bev if he will be in a particular battle on a particular day.

However, things from Joe’s war past seem to come back to haunt him, and he spontaneously moves his family down to a hotel in Palm Beach, Florida. There they befriend the Graysons, a wealthy-looking couple, and Peter Coleridge, a handsome young man who knew Joe from the war. Joe doesn’t seem to like Peter, and Evie can’t figure out why. She certainly likes him very much, as they go out to town together with Bev and occasionally have romantic encounters.

But something is seriously wrong with this group. Lies, betrayals, and hatred arise, culminating in a devastating event that forces Evie to choose whether to be loyal to her parents or be just. Bev can’t hide Evie behind a makeup-less face and childish dresses anymore; it’s time for Evie to grow up and face the complex adult world.

Judy Blundell packs so much into this small but giant book. Issues regarding anti-Semitism, family loyalty, love, growing up, and lying all come up, among others. While I thought Evie seemed over-the-top naive sometimes with relationship tensions that are obvious to readers, Blundell does a fantastic job of making her grow up through the book. WHAT I SAW AND HOW I LIED is by no means perfect, but it’s a good read if you’re looking for a historical suspense coming-of-age story.

Reading Next: Unwind by Neal Shusterman

8spacepotatoes
Edited: Jan 29, 2009, 12:03pm Top

Hi, stephxsu. I've been in a similar situation with school taking up a lot of my reading time, so I can totally relate to wanting to make up for all of that lost time! 99 books is a little too ambitious for me but good luck to you, looks like you're off to a great start so far :)

Re: The Count of Monte Cristo - this may or may not be a silly question but how does the book compare to the movie? I wasn't too impressed by the movie and I do tend to prefer the books, but haven't read this one yet. I'd like to give it a go if it's really good! My fiance has been getting into more of these classics lately too (Frankenstein, The Picture of Dorian Gray, etc.) so maybe I can convince him to read it with me...

9stephxsu
Feb 5, 2009, 8:12pm Top

10. Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Tags: YA, sci-fi, dystopia, abortion, human rights, religion
Recommended age: 12+
Rating: 4 out of 5

In an alternate (or future) United States, the Heartland War between pro-life or pro-choice parties has been fought, and one of the compromises that the people have come up with is unwinding: any teen between 13 and 18 can be signed over by their parents to the government, to be "unwound" into parts for other people's bodies. It's not death, they say, because you remain in divided parts. But is it really living?

Connor is a troublesome teen whose parents are having him unwound. Risa is an orphanage at the overcrowded state home that is planning to cut costs by having a number of kids unwound. And Lev is a tithe--born and raised to fulfill his role of being an Unwind, and thus giving back to his god and the community.

The three teens are thrown together in a desperate adventure to save their own lives--and, eventually, the lives of thousands of other Unwinds. But the journey they must make is a dangerous one, one that can fall apart at any second through betrayal or bad luck. How much can they possibly do to undermine the system that threatens to dismantle them?

UNWIND takes on a variety of challenging topics that to this day still have no clear answer: abortion, how to deal with unwanted pregnancies, religion, and the existence of souls. Thankfully, it provides no cut-and-dry answer to these issues, and instead presents them in a thrilling and approachable novel. While I was not particularly impressed by Shusterman's writing style (too much telling and not enough showing), the characters--especially Connor and Risa, but even some of the secondary characters--come across as strong, unique, and appealing. They are good protagonists for readers to follow in this book that will most certainly leave an impression on you.

10stephxsu
Feb 6, 2009, 6:45pm Top

11. Becoming Chloe by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Tags: YA, road trip, abuse, homosexuality, self-discovery
Recommended age: 14+
Similar Authors: Jerry Spinelli, Wendelin van Draanen, David Levithan, Rachel Cohn
Rating: 4/5

17-year-old Jordy--a runaway after coming out to his homophobic parents--didn't know it was going to change his life when he saves a beautiful blond girl from rape. Suddenly he's stuck taking care of Chloe--which is not her real name but is preferred over her real one--who is strangely childlike although incredibly smart and determined at times. Jordy's got problems of his own, too, but he can't help feeling that he must protect Chloe, that something terrible has happened to her and that she is using her childlike disposition to mask her past.

An unfortunate string of events leads to Jordy and Chloe heading on a road trip across America, so that Chloe can hopefully learn that it's a beautiful world out there, not just full of abuse and neglect. They see beauty, but they also encounter some terrible things as well...but in the end, isn't that what it's all about? The world is both good and bad, and it's only by becoming part of it that you can truly live life.

Catherine Ryan Hyde is an amazingly talented writer. From the start, I was pulled into Jordy and Chloe's predicament, and despite the perpetual air of mystery that hung around the duo, I was able to get to know them very well. Chloe reminds me a lot of Stargirl, only with a dark past that we never get to know. Leaving Chloe's past a mystery may be frustrating, but it strengthens the message of this here-and-now book, which is to live life in the moment and not allow your past to dictate your future. For anyone looking for an uplifting road-trip story that will linger with you for a while, Becoming Chloe is THE number one choice.

Reading Next: Sunshine by Robin McKinley, Secrets of My Hollywood Life by Jen Calonita

11stephxsu
Feb 7, 2009, 9:53am Top

12. Colonial Harem by Malek Alloula

Tags: literary criticism, postcards
Recommended age: 16+
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Read this for class, interesting collection of Algerian postcards voyeuristically depicting females. Alloula does an interesting job of analyzing the voyeurism and privacy violation of these postcards, but in the end can't mask his own sexual frustration at not being able to "penetrate" these women's harem himself, using his possession of them in his analysis of them to attempt to do so.

13. Secrets of My Hollywood Life by Jen Calonita

Tags: YA, Hollywood, undercover
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Meg Cabot, Kate Brian, Melissa Senate
Rating: 3 out of 5

Meet Kaitlin Burke. Oh, wait, you already know everything about her: phenomenal star on the soap opera Family Affairs, best friend with her costar Sky Mackenzie, and voted hottest teen star by practically every magazine out there....Or do you?

Life is not well in Kaitlin's privileged world. Sky, with whom she has never gotten along, is spreading nasty rumors about Kaitlin's prissy personality to the tabloids (descriptions that better suit herself, quite frankly). Her career-crazy parents and pushy publicist seem to be trying to drown her in a ton of work and feature appearances on talk shows. Her only respite is with her best friend Liz, the "normal" daughter of a powerful lawyer, who attends the normal high school of Clark.

Desperate to know what it's like to be a regular teenager, Kaitlin goes undercover as the nerdy Rachel Rogers, British import, at Clark. The experience is so much more than she expected, however. There are annoying Sky-like girls there as well--but "Rachel" makes friends, too, and meets an incredibly cute guy, Austin, who seems to like her for who she really is: a nerdy, Star Wars-obsessed math prodigy.

But Kaitlin is teetering on the edge of her double life. How will she deal with it when it all comes crashing down on top of her?

SECRETS OF MY HOLLYWOOD LIFE has been touted as "what it's really like to be a celebrity 'It' girl" (Us Weekly), but having had no experience in the Hollywood world, I don't know whether that is true or not. What I do know is that it's always nice to have a down-to-earth, unjaded girl for a protagonist, even if Kaitlin's character doesn't really ring to me. Same with the other characters. They're likable...but only to an extent, the same way you'd like, say, your assigned chem lab partner whom you never get to know really well. Still, the book is a fun romp through the L.A. glam life, perfect for those who are tired of looking at it from the self-satisfied top.

12theaelizabet
Feb 7, 2009, 10:00am Top

Great reviews. Have to admit that I'm still scribbling down many of your titles to pass on to my daughter.

13spacepotatoes
Feb 7, 2009, 6:50pm Top

I second that, these are really good reviews! Becoming Chloe is going on my TBR list, sounds interesting.

14stephxsu
Feb 7, 2009, 9:05pm Top

Thanks so much, theaelizabet and spacepotatoes! It makes me really happy when people can use my reviews to find good reads (whether for themselves or others!). If you want, you can check out my blog at http://stephsureads.blogspot.com. I just started it, as a place to put all of the hundreds of reviews I've written over the past few years, hehe. Some of the reviews might be repeats, but on the days when I can't finish a book a day--and, um, there are lots of those days--I put up old reviews that I've written.

Again, thanks!

15theaelizabet
Feb 7, 2009, 10:57pm Top

Congratulations on your blog! Glad to see the link for John Green. His books recently popped up on my "radar screen." I ran a synopsis of Paper Towns by my daughter and she thought she would give it a try.

16stephxsu
Feb 8, 2009, 11:10am Top

Most teens (and adults, I'm not biased here!) end up LOVING John Green's works, although most have mixed reactions about Paper Towns. If it's your daughter's first Green book, though, I'm sure she won't be disappointed, and will eagerly track down his previous books as well!

17stephxsu
Feb 11, 2009, 12:29am Top

14. Sunshine by Robin McKinley

Tags: adult, vampires
Similar Authors: Megan McCafferty, Annette Curtis Klause
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Rae Seddon, nicknamed Sunshine for her love of daylight, is just your average young woman, with maybe a slightly greater-than-normal interest in the Others: paranormal creatures such as vampires, Weres, and demons. She's a master baker (her cinnamon rolls are to die for) at her stepdad Charlie's coffeehouse, and has a good relationship with her boyfriend Mel. Sunshine's life was going on fine, until the night she decides to drive out to the lake to be alone with her thoughts for a bit, and finds herself smack dab in the middle of an epic ongoing fight between two vampires, Con and Bo.

Once you're in the hands of vampires you're pretty much dead, which is why Sunshine is absolutely terrified of herself when she not only escapes, but manages to save Con from Bo's gang as well. Now she and Con are inexplicably and dangerously linked, and Sunshine is only beginning to realize her magic heritage and the extent of her powers--powers that are wanted by SOF, the "police force" that deals with the Others. Sunshine and Con must form the strangest alliance ever--between humans and vampires--in order to defeat Bo and save each other from sure destruction.

SUNSHINE is quite different from previous Robin McKinley's books I've read and loved. First of all, this IS an adult book, and so some of the themes and content may be uncomfortable for younger readers (although, knowing McKinley readers, most are pretty mature already). Sunshine is also an unusual narrator; I think of her as almost the Jessica Darling of the vampire genre, with her snarky, diary-like commentary, which I enjoyed most of the time except when it got dragged out a bit in the middle and you just wanted to get to what happens next, to the action!

I'm not sure how Twilight fans will respond to this one because vampires are not glorified in SUNSHINE, although Con is attractive in his looming, expressionless way. However, if you are looking for a paranormal book with an extremely strong female protagonist's voice, be sure to check this one out.

18billiejean
Feb 11, 2009, 2:51am Top

My daughter, a big Twilight fan, loved this book. We gave it to her for Christmas. Nice review.
--BJ

19theaelizabet
Feb 11, 2009, 6:46am Top

Another great review, Stephxsu. If I might ask, why the mixed reactions about Paper Towns? Must admit that I've thought about reading the John Green books, too.

20stephxsu
Feb 11, 2009, 4:13pm Top

>billiejean: Glad she liked Sunshine as well! It was certainly a way different world from the world of Twilight, though, haha.

>theaelizabet: I believe that people are having mixed reactions about Paper Towns because of its similarity to his first book, Looking for Alaska. Namely, that there is this ineffable, unreachable, cool/enigmatic girl, loved by a slightly dorky guy.

That being said, I love these Magic Pixie Dream Girls, as I believe the Wikipedia entry is called (one example from adult literature that I always think of when I hear the term MPDG is Caddy from Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, but that might be just me). It doesn't bother me that Green's first and third books have similar main characters; that's probably why I enjoyed them both so much.

21stephxsu
Feb 14, 2009, 1:43am Top

15. Generation Dead by Daniel Waters

Tags: YA, paranormal, zombies, prejudice
Recommended age: 14+
Similar Authors: Jerry Spinelli, Kelley Armstrong
Rating: 4 out of 5

They don't like to be called zombies. Or dead heads, or worm food, or whatever pejorative terms the "creative" people of the world are coming up with. They're differently biotic: American teens literally rising from the dead into some semblance of their former selves. Everyone is terrified of them. What are they, and why have they come back from the dead?

High school junior Phoebe doesn't share the world's qualms. In fact, she just might have a crush on Tommy Williams, a quietly powerful differently biotic boy who shocks all the students of Oakvale High when he tries out for the football team, just to prove that he can. Phoebe admires Tommy's guts, but there are people less happy with his actions, most notably Pete Martinsburg, fellow teammate and soul-crushing zombie-hater who just might do anything to stop the differently biotic from living a life that is not theirs to live.

Phoebe's best friend Adam is secretly in love with her, and thus finds it difficult to believe that she can like, well, a dead guy like Tommy Williams. But as Adam begins to learn about the plight of the differently biotic, the prejudices and difficulties they face, he realizes that maybe the only way he can help Phoebe be happy is by protecting Tommy... no matter the cost.

Wow! Daniel Waters creatively plugs into the typical YA reader's love for paranormal romance and ends up teaching us all a lesson about civil rights, prejudice, and tolerance. All of the characters are carefully constructed to be three-dimensional: readers can even empathize with the jerk Pete Martinsburg's tortured feelings towards zombies. I also appreciated the generous--and accurate!--details about sports (football, baseball, Frisbee) because that is not something I come across often enough in YA literature. While occasionally the lecturing about tolerance goes on for a page too long, overall GENERATION DEAD is a fun way of being enlightened about the issues regarding bigotry and prejudice.

22theaelizabet
Feb 14, 2009, 7:29am Top

Once again I must tell you, that as the Mom of a soon-to-be 13 year-old, I'm loving your reviews!

23stephxsu
Edited: Feb 15, 2009, 2:49pm Top

16. Gregor the Overlander (Book One of the Underland Chronicles) by Suzanne Collins

Tags: middle grade, adventure, series, war, prophecy
Recommended age: 9+
Similar Authors: Margaret Peterson Haddix, Jeanne DuPrau, Nancy Farmer, Rick Riordan
Rating: 4 out of 5

Eleven-year-old Gregor thought he was going to spend his whole summer sweltering in his NYC apartment babysitting his two-year-old sister Boots and his deranged grandmother. But when he and Boots fall through a chute in his laundry room, they end up in the Underland, a scary world filled with huge, creepy critters, he doesn't realize that life as he knows it is going to completely change.

For the royal human family in the Underland thinks he is the long-awaited "Overland" warrior from a vague prophecy. The prophecy insists that Gregor--along with an odd assortment of allies that includes members of the royal family, spiders, cockroaches, bats, and even the dread rats--embark on a quest that may determine the survival of them all.

Even though he doesn't think he is the warrior, Gregor has a personal motive for going along with the prophecy: it's one way he can possibly discover what happened to his father, who disappeared years ago. That, and the thought of keeping Boots safe and getting back home to New York City, keeps Gregor along the path of mortal danger, and causes him to make decisions he never knew he was ready to make.

GREGOR THE OVERLANDER marks the beginning of a remarkably well-written fantasy adventure series for nine- to twelve-year-olds. It's been a while since I've read anything in this genre, so maybe I can't justifiably say that I thought characterization slightly lacking and the ending all too suden. Because I found tears pricking at my eyes at many touching moments in the book. Gregor is an admirable protagonist who grows throughout his adventure, and all of the supporting characters are interesting and unique in their own respects. Middle-school boys and girls alike will want to pick this book up, and for the rest of us who are anxiously awaiting the release of Collins' Catching Fire (the sequel to The Hunger Games), this is a great series that will engross us in the meantime.

24stephxsu
Feb 17, 2009, 11:39pm Top

17. Evermore by Alyson Noel

Tags: YA, paranormal
Recommended age: 14+
Similar Authors: Stephenie Meyer, Melissa Marr
Rating: 2 out of 5

After the accident that took her parents' and sister's lives, 16-year-old Ever can see people's auras and read their thoughts. She even has conversations with the annoying ghost of her little sister, Riley. The stimulus she receives from the outside world is overpowering, and so she constantly tries to shut it out by wearing large hoodies and toting an iPod with earphones in everywhere.

Until the new student, Damen Auguste, comes into her life. He's dark, beautiful, talented, and perfect--and Ever is terrified of him, even when she's mysteriously drawn to him as his presence and touch somehow manages to calm the psychic chaos in her head. However, there may be more to Damen than he's admitting, and it involves Ever as well--involves her to the point where it may cost her her life if she doesn't come to turns with who she is and what she can do.

I've tried reading Alyson Noel's other books before, and I didn't get very far into them. Now I remember why. Ever's character is about the only redeeming thing I can find in this book. Her character grows and changes in the course of the novel, from a sullen and frightened trauma victim to a teen beginning to "come into herself," so to speak. I found the other characters flat and annoying. Ever's friends Miles and Haven didn't seem real, and I was especially annoyed that there seemed to be no development to Damen and Ever's romance; it was like one moment they've just met and she's avoiding him, and the next--BOOM!--he's stalking her with red tulips and she's grudgingly admitting to herself that she likes him. Please. Additionally, while the story idea is intriguing, the writing lacks immediacy and there are lots of moments when I wanted to throw the book across the room because I did not understand why insert-your-choice-of-plot-device was thrown in so suddenly and randomly.

Still, it's not hard to see why the Immortals series will have a large fan base. Damen--or at least the idea of him--gives Edward Cullen a run for his money. Fans of Stephenie Meyer may do well to check out Alyson Noel's latest book.

25girlunderglass
Feb 18, 2009, 8:14am Top

I'm curious, how do you decide on the similar authors? Are they LT recommended authors for the one you mention or is it your choice of what you think most resembles the ones you've read?

26spacepotatoes
Feb 18, 2009, 8:36am Top

The plot of Gregor the Overlander reminded me of the animated movie that came out a couple of years ago, Arthur and the Invisibles. Sounds interesting.

27sydamy
Feb 18, 2009, 8:47am Top

I have to agree with #22 theaelizabet, I also have a soon to be 13 yo, well read girl and have already added books to her wishlist from your reviews. I have now starred your thread. Thanks for all the good work, keep it up!

28stephxsu
Feb 18, 2009, 10:08am Top

girlunderglass,

Sometimes I like to the LT similar authors for comparison, although I tend to only list the authors whose works I've read and thus whose writing style I know. Most of it is really just based on the feeling I get when I'm reading the book. For example, a book that I'm reading right now reminds me a lot of Jaclyn Moriarty's works. I try to list authors whose writing most people are familiar with.

>sydamy, Thanks for the kind words! :)

29stephxsu
Feb 18, 2009, 10:24am Top

18. Rhyme by William C. Marks (sent for review)
Illustrated by Erin E. Gennow

Tags: picture book, politics, pigs, animals
Recommended age: 3+

In the gorgeously dirty city of Muck, Rhyme--so named because that's all he speaks in--is elected Penator. In a series of stirring speeches reminiscent of famous political U.S. speeches, Rhyme transforms Muck into the muddiest and best place for pigs to live.

Rhyme is well-loved in his city, but he needs to go on an adventure. He catches a train to Joyville, where he immerses himself in studying, working, and interacting with humans. He misses the mud of Muck, however, but when he returns it is only to find that his rival, Ulysses S Grunt, has been elected Penator in Rhyme's absence and has cleaned all the streets up! Will Rhyme's charisma and love of dirt win out over the clean sullenness of Grunt?

It's been a while since I've read a picture book, but this one helped me remember how much fun they are. Children will be delighted with Rhyme's, well, rhyming speeches, and I'm sure there will be boys who can empathize with Rhyme's love of dirt. Adults will get a kick out of all the pig jokes so aptly illustrated by Gennow (need a book? Go to Boar-ders! The train departs from Pen Station). I'm going to give a special shout-out to Gennow's wonderful illustrations. She really brings the pigs to life and creates a fun, pig-inhabited world that will engage both children and adults. There are new things to look at on each page with every rereading.

However, I wanted to know a bit more about how Ulysses S Grunt takes over Muck and makes it... not Muck. So much emphasis was placed on Rhyme's journey in Joyville, and not enough on the conflict between the two rivals at the end. But that is a petty wish on my part. The story is sweet and uplifting.

30spacepotatoes
Feb 18, 2009, 3:43pm Top

That sounds like a very entertaining read! I'm still cracking up about Rhyme being elected "Penator". Cute.

31d_perlo
Feb 24, 2009, 11:33am Top

Thank you for the review of Secrets of My Hollywood Life. It sounds like a book I would enjoy.
Another interesting take on Hollywood and celebrity in YA fic is One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies. The main character goes to live with the father she has never met after her mother passes away. Turns out, that dad is THE big movie star and she has to learn not only how to live with out her mother and friends in a strange city, but how to relate to the stranger that is her father and the celebrity that now follows her around. Bonus, the book is all in poetry!

32stephxsu
Edited: Feb 24, 2009, 9:13pm Top

> d_perlo: I loved One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies! It was one of my favorites back in high school and it still makes me happy now when I think about it. :) Have you read Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet? If so, what do you think about it? Should I try it out?

19. Me, the Missing, and the Dead by Jenny Valentine



Tags: YA, British lit, mystery, death, disappearance, family
Recommended age: 12+
Similar Authors: Jaclyn Moriarty, E. Lockhart, Jerry Spinelli, Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

One night, 15-year-old Lucas Swain enters a taxicab company office and is immediately attracted to a strange urn sitting on the shelf. He learns that it contains the ashes of one Violet Park, a well-known pianist who lived in the neighborhood, and that the urn was left in the backseat of a taxi years ago. Lucas doesn't understand exactly why Violet called out to him from the dead, but he feels certain that it has something to do with his father's disappearance five years ago. Peter Swain, lifetime ladies' man and difficult to love, simply vanished into thin air one day, leaving behind a distressed wife with two children and another on the way.

The more Lucas finds out about Violet, however, the more he may be forced to admit that his father was never the hero that Lucas makes him out to be by wearing his clothes and clinging to memories of him.

ME, THE MISSING, AND THE DEAD has a simple but powerful premise. One may hardly believe that a story about a teenage boy who is obsessed with some lady's ashes would work, but it does, and it works beautifully. Lucas (by way of Valentine) keeps a morbid subject funny by constantly interspersing lists in different fonts and by having normal adolescent male observations about his older sister, his friends, and girls. Valentine's language is captivatingly easy to read, even delving into the mystical at appropriate times.

Ultimately this book is about family, forgiveness, and growing up. It should appeal to most audiences and makes for a good, lingering one-time read.

33d_perlo
Feb 24, 2009, 9:21pm Top

No, I haven't read Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet. But, now I may have to. ;)

34stephxsu
Feb 25, 2009, 10:10pm Top

20. Men in the Sun by Ghassan Kanafani

Tags: translation, Middle East lit
Recommended age: 14+

Read this for my English class too. The title novella in the collection is engaging and stunning, a well-done, heart-wrenching tale that screams of the hopelessness and oppression suffered by the emasculated males of the Middle East.

21. The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong



Tags: YA, paranormal, series, mystery, demons, werewolves, mental illness
Recommended age: 12+
Similar Authors: J. K. Rowling, Garth Nix, L. J. Smith
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

On the day that fifteen-year-old Chloe Saunders finally gets her period, she sees the ghost, her first since her childhood. It freaks her out so much that she is sent to the hospital and then referred to Lyle House, a private home for mentally ill adolescents--otherwise known as a place to lock the crazy kids up in.

At Lyle House, Chloe takes medication for her diagnosis--schizophrenia--and attends to a strict schedule of chores and schoolwork. But she continues to encounter strange occurrences, such as the ghost who's attempting to contact her. It just might be that there's more to herself than she knows... and more to Lyle House and her housemates than others are letting onto. Chloe and her newfound friends may be in much more danger than they expect.

After hearing so much hype about Armstrong's upcoming sequel, The Awakening, I'm very glad I picked The Summoning up. It felt to me almost like Harry Potter with a female protagonist and fewer subplots. The strength of this series lies in its idea: these teenagers with supernatural powers are funneled into this peculiar house for possibly sinister purposes! The characters' interactions with one another are spiritful, the dialogue vibrant; the characters themselves, though, do not stand out to me in the heavily populated world of YA paranormal fiction.

The exception may be Chloe, who is wonderful, constantly changing and growing and doubting herself--all the things that a normal teenage girl should do, all without being petty or annoyingly shallow. I also found Derek interesting, and would like to see much more of him in the future. Perhaps there will be a romance between him and Chloe...?

But that's a minor complaint, for the story more than makes up for the less-than-outstanding characters. The Summoning ends on a suspenseful, slightly disappointing note as readers wait for the sequel impatiently to find out what happens to Chloe and her friends.

35sydamy
Feb 27, 2009, 9:48pm Top

The Summoning sounds good.I'm adding it to my wishlist, not sure if its wishlisted for me or my daughter! How does it compare to Bitten also by Kelley Armstrong. I read that last year and loved it but I'm not sure if I would let my 12 year old read that. Maybe it is appropriate and I'm just an overprotective mom??

36bgale11
Feb 27, 2009, 10:43pm Top

I have to say you do a great job on reviews I have written down 7 books off your list that I want to read.

37stephxsu
Feb 28, 2009, 12:12am Top

> bgale11: Thank you for the compliment! I hope to continue adding books to your wishlist, then. :)

> sydamy: I believe The Summoning is Kelley's first YA series. I know she's an acclaimed adult author, and many Summoning fans recommend her adult books to fans. But since this book is YA, the content is definitely PG--you and your daughter can and will both enjoy it.

38stephxsu
Mar 1, 2009, 12:33pm Top

22. O.Y.L. by Scott Heydt

Tags: middle grade, infatuation, domestic violence
Recommended age: 12+
Rating: 1 out of 5

Jenna Durstine has not had an easy past couple of years. Her dad is in prison for domestic violence, and yet his presence burdens and frightens her with every move she makes. She is in love with her English teacher, Mr. Sansom, whose intelligence and genuine concern and interest in her make her nearly dizzy with happiness. He is her handsome protector…and totally O.Y.L.: out of her league.

A series of terrifying events leads Jenna into feeling betrayed by people whom she love, and she attempts to retaliate by taking advantage of and hurting those who love her. It will take an acceptance of the past and lots of growing up before Jenna realizes her true feelings and learns to control her behavior.

O.Y.L. was an amateur literary attempt, and it shows. Besides for grammatical and syntactic inconsistencies, the characters are caricatures of people with serious and important issues. This book touches upon themes that every teen must face when growing up—the distinction between love and infatuation, selfishness and selflessness—but the issues are handled awkwardly and incompletely. I was very disappointed in O.Y.L., but can see why, for example, middle school girls might be able to finish this book.

39stephxsu
Mar 3, 2009, 10:00am Top

23. Ray in Reverse by Daniel Wallace



Tags: adult, death, marriage, affairs, homophobia
Recommended age: 16+
Rating: 3 out of 5

In the Last Words group in Heaven, Ray Williams—dead from cancer at the too-young age of fifty—relives small vignettes from his life, one per chapter, in reverse chronological order. The result, along with Daniel Wallace being a brilliant observer and incredibly intelligent with his choice of details to write about, is a poignant and sweet story about an Everyman and the ups and downs of his life.

I enjoyed this book in small bits, not as an entity: it is better read as a collection of short stories, and would only hurt your brain if you try to think of how it works (or whether it works) as a novel. As I said, Wallace’s skill lies in the details and the way he so easily makes minor characters come to life. Not a bad choice for nostalgic nights in front of the fireplace.

24. Perfect Fifths by Megan McCafferty



Tags: series, love, airport, wedding, marriage, Barry Manilow
Recommended age: 16+
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

It’s been three years since Jessica refused Marcus’ marriage proposal, and both of them have moved on with their lives. Jessica now works for the Do Better High School Storytellers Project, traveling across the country to work for ten weeks with groups of girls on finding a voice through writing. She has even found a mini-me in the dregs of Pineville, a cynical teenager with the unfortunate name of Sunny Dae, who gives Jessica meaning to her work. Meanwhile, Marcus has embraced college life, immersing himself in academia and humanitarian projects—and even an affair with an older woman—while elevating his campus reputation as the Sexy Enigmatic Older Man (for lack of a better term) to a sky-high level.

But have they really, truly moved on from each other? A literal collision at the airport as Jessica is latelatelate for a flight to a Caribbean wedding (guess whose!), and Jessica has run Marcus over, barreled straight back into his life as though she never left it. As IF she ever left his life, mind, or heart.

Now, stuck in one another’s company at the airport, Marcus and Jessica are forced to come face to face with their past and everything that they have been imperfect in for the last ten years of their lives. Now comes a resolution to a spellbinding series that is “perfect in its imperfection.”

It’s unlikely that ardent Jessica Darling fans will be disappointed in this last book in the series, not after they have gone with Jessica through her periods of mistakes, growth, regressions, and maturing. Perfect Fifths may start out a little slow, but through a clever and definitely spellbinding use of not-so-very-usual narrative tactics, we readers are taken through an ever deeper discussion and reflection on Marcus’ and Jessica’s bumpy decade-long relationship.

We get to relive our favorite moments from the series. Barry Manilow gets extensive "play." All of the characters that we have grown to love in their complex imperfection (even the truly wince-worthy ones, such as Sara) come back, in one form or another, like this is the fantastical finale to a colorful and dramatic musical.

But it is, of course, the characters of Marcus and Jessica that steal the show. Here is where we cut away all the adolescent and young adult B.S. they’ve been working through in the previous four books. Here is where they—and we readers—discover their true, eternal natures, the ones that their previous behaviors and thoughts were leading up to. This is why the phrase “perfect in their imperfection” is, well, perfect in this situation: what we learn of Marcus and Jessica in Perfect Fifths complements yet improves our previous knowledge of them, and if you didn’t love them before, you’ll loooove them now. I’ve never been one to fangirl on male characters, but if you don’t fall in loooove with the Marcus Flutie that he becomes in this book, then there is no hope for you at all.

It’s always difficult to introduce new characters into a well-established group of characters, but—I don’t want to make assumptions here, because I know nothing, but it just seems this way—there seems to be the possibility of Sunny reappearing in Megan’s future books. Just saying. That’s what it seems like, a little. Just a random (hopeful?) hypothesis.

Also, some readers may be uncomfortable with some extended descriptions of sex and related body parts. While it did not bother me and I actually felt it lent itself wonderfully to the purpose of the book, I can understand why you might not want to let, say, your younger sister or daughter read it. Just wanted to let that be known; it shouldn’t bother most readers, nor should it detract from the reading experience.

Long story short (and without giving too much away; we can discuss the details of our reactions to the book at a later date), Perfect Fifths is un-miss-able, a wonderfully cohesive montage of the previous books in the series, a brilliant ending to a towering achievement. I look forward impatiently to reading Megan’s future works outside of this series, as I think you all will too.

Perfect Fifths is being released in hardcover on April 14, 2009.

40spacepotatoes
Mar 3, 2009, 2:02pm Top

I'm not familiar with this series at all but your review makes it sound like a fun read! I'll have to check it out sometime.

41stephxsu
Mar 3, 2009, 2:53pm Top

25. How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier



Tags: YA, middle grade, fairies, sports
Recommended age: 12+
Similar Authors: Maryrose Wood, Rachel Cohn
Rating: 4 out of 5

In the city of New Avalon, located in an alternate world, where people have personal specified fairies, fourteen-year-old Charlie (Charlotte) Steele is having a hard time. She’s a first-year at the highly prestigious and strict New Avalon Sports High, and she has a parking fairy. She guarantees that whatever car Charlie is in, that car will find the perfect parking space, right when you need it.

A parking fairy is so NOT what a girl like Charlie wants. Not only is it not fun, it also attracts attention from Danders Anders, a slow-minded star athlete who loves to “borrow” Charlie for his car rides. Charlie would much rather have something like an all-the-boys-like-you fairy, the one Fiorenze Stupid-Name has. Stupid-Name is so nicknamed because she is annoying when she attracts attention from all the guys. It gets even worse when the new boy, Steffi, whom Charlie befriends, falls for Fiorenze as well because of her fairy.

How far is Charlie willing to go in order to ditch her fairy? And what’ll happen if she succeeds?

How to Ditch Your Fairy was so much fun to read! Justine Larbalestier does a great job of creating engaging characters who act their age. Charlie is a genuinely relatable fourteen-year-old who worry about making the team and whether or not people like her. The world in which this story is set is fabulous, a success brought forth by the combination of language (lots of slang here, maybe Aussie? Not exactly sure but they add to the book’s atmosphere), description, and quirks (have you ever encountered such a regimented and sports-oriented high school? I didn’t think so). Overall, a story well done and highly recommended.

42stephxsu
Mar 3, 2009, 7:22pm Top

26. Wake by Lisa McMann



Tags: YA, paranormal, dreams, mystery
Recommended age: 14+
Similar Authors: Caroline Cooney, Lois Lowry
Rating: 3 out of 5

Every time someone near her falls asleep, Janie Hannagan gets sucked into their dreams. This is hardly fun at all, as most people's dreams consist of falling, nudity, or sex, and, while Janie is technically awake through these experiences, she's blind to the real world. Talk about an uncomfortable lifestyle.

Janie's troubles only continue to escalate when she starts to fall into the once troubled, now sexy Cabel Strumheller's dreams...and finds that she appears in them as well, and that he, too, is aware of her presence in his dreams. There may be more to her ability to fall into people's dreams than Janie realizes, more power than she realizes she has. So begins a new chapter of Janie's life, one where she learns to control her abilities and use them for good.

What Wake lacks in good writing and comprehensible characters, it makes up in a stunning story idea. McMann's writing style is straightforward and succinct in an almost ethereal manner. This, while effective in exposition, does not work as well when the plot really needs to get going, and I felt like I was missing what was going on between Janie and Cabel as their relationship developed.

Cabel, whom I at first thought to be some sort of Marcus Flutie incarnate, is sadly underdeveloped; I do not understand his motivations nor his attraction to Janie. Janie passes through in a little better shape, as the self-motivated "white trash" girl who learns to rely only on herself, which is why I was upset when she seemed to lose perspective when things with Cabel hit some bumps.

Wake works fairly well as a stand-alone novel, but thanks to its fascinating premise, I think I am going to pick up the next book in the series, Fade, and see if Janie, Cabel, and the situation they're in become clearer to me over time.

43stephxsu
Mar 5, 2009, 11:28am Top

27. Shug by Jenny Han



Tags: juvenile fiction, middle grade, South, growing up, friendship, alcoholism
Recommended age: 10+
Similar Authors: Judy Blume, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Rating: 5 out of 5

Twelve-year-old Annemarie Wilcox—nicknamed “Shug,” which is short for sugar—is feeling anything but sweet right now. She’s entering middle school, her parents are constantly fighting (when they’re not drunk or away for work), and things are changing between her and her friends. Mairi, Hadley, and even her best friend Elaine, a Korean American from up north, are eagerly venturing into the world of becoming a woman and meeting boys. But Annemarie wants nothing to do with that world…not unless it includes Mark Findley, her childhood best friend and the guy she recently realizes she’s in love with.

Trouble is, Mark doesn’t seem to reciprocate her feelings. In fact, Annemarie feels like she hardly sees him anymore, so busy is he with hanging out with Hadley. Instead, she’s spending a lot of time tutoring Jack Connelly, which is too bad because they’re sworn enemies and hate each other’s guts. Annemarie doesn’t want to grow up just yet, but she has to learn the hard way (like we all do) that it’s a painful and necessary, sometimes heartbreaking, process with light at the end of the tunnel.

I love Judy Blume-esque books that focus on that painfully awkward and difficult transition right before puberty; thus, I LOVED Shug. This is a story that’s full of characters that you’ll want to be friends with. Annemarie in particular is a spunky heroine, unafraid to say her mind, the girl we all remember being back at that age and the girl we want to befriend. The supporting characters, too, are not caricatures but rather boys and girls (and men and women) with their own problems. I’m especially a fan of Jack right from the start; the dynamics between Annemarie and Jack are great.

If you want a growing-up novel that’s more Southern than Judy Blume’s and less sex-oriented than Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice series, pick up Shug. You won’t regret it.

44spacepotatoes
Mar 5, 2009, 11:45am Top

That brings back so many great memories! I adored the Judy Blume books when I was in Annemarie's age range - the Sally J. Friedman series and Are You There God, it's Me Margaret were just amazing.

I love your books and your reviews, stephxsu!

45stephxsu
Mar 8, 2009, 11:15pm Top

28. North Korea Kidnapped My Daughter by Sakie Yokota

Tags: memoir, North Korea, abduction, family
Recommended age: 16+
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

In November 1977, 13-year-old Megumi was walking home from her school’s badminton practice when she disappeared into thin air. For over two decades, her parents and twin younger brothers had no lead as to what happened to her. After raised hopes and disappointments, fake leads and hundreds of hours of reminiscence, they discover that Megumi had been kidnapped by North Korean agents, and that she is living in North Korea.

With the usual reservation of a spiritual, unassuming Asian woman, Sakie Yokota, Megumi’s mother, describes the years that her family suffered after Megumi’s abduction. This book doesn’t go into too much detail about the emotional impact of the kidnapping on the Yokota family, which I would've liked more; rather, it focuses more on the process that Megumi’s parents went through in trying to come to terms with their daughter’s disappearance, and the aftermath of discovering Megumi’s whereabouts. Not my usual type of book, but for those who want a first-person account of the sad reality of infamous North Korean doings, this is your book.

46stephxsu
Edited: Mar 9, 2009, 6:14pm Top

29. If I Stay by Gayle Forman (Publication date: April 2, 2009)



Tags: YA, death, music, love, Oregon
Recommended age: 14+
Similar Authors: Sarah Dessen, Elizabeth Scott
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

It was the snow’s fault. Oregoners aren’t used to it. And so a freak car crash kills 17-year-old Mia’s parents and younger brother and leaves her in grave condition at a Portland hospital. Mia has an out-of-body experience and looks down at her own messed-up body: asphalt abrasions, collapsed lung, brain contusions, orphaned, with a grim and devastating future ahead for her.

Even with all her loved ones praying for her in the waiting room, Mia feels like she has nothing left to live for. So what if she gets into Juilliard with her amazing cello playing? So what if her wonderful boyfriend, punk rocker Adam, wants her to stay? What is it all without her adoring family, to be known as the orphan girl for the rest of her life?

No matter what others want of her, the decision is Mia’s alone. Will she let herself go and join her family? Or will she choose the painful life and an uncertain future?

Calling this book stunning and heart-rending is no exaggeration. I was literally in tears for the last third of this book. Gayle Forman’s characters are so well drawn, realistic yet intriguing and lovable. After reading this book you’ll wish you had cool parents like Mia’s! I particularly loved Mia and Adam, the unlikely musical couple: her classical versus his “emo-core.” Their relationship is not perfect, but it’s their imperfections—and how they get through it—that strikes such a chord with me, makes me cheer for them through all their hardships.

I won’t be surprised if If I Stay becomes one of 2009’s most talked-about books, racking up the awards—and the tissues. Don’t miss this one, please.

47girlunderglass
Mar 9, 2009, 9:29am Top

>29 stephxsu: seems to have made an impression! I'll add it to my ever-growing wishlist! :)

48stephxsu
Edited: Mar 13, 2009, 1:14am Top

30. Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

Tags: YA, romance, gangs
Recommended age: 14+
Similar Authors: Kate Brian, Ally Carter
Rating: 2.5 out of 5



Brittany Ellis is the epitome of perfection: blond hair, blue eyes, cheerleader with the hot bod, designer clothes, mansion, money, football quarterback boyfriend. Alejandro "Alex" Fuentes is your stereotypical young Latino gangster. The two seniors at Fairfield High don't have anything in common... except that they are forced to be chemistry lab partners. Sparks fly--and not the good kind.

What they don't know about each other, however, could turn the whole world upside down. Brittany lacks a healthy family life, as her parents hide the fact that they have another, mentally handicapped daughter. And Alex wants nothing to do the gang, but he has no choice: as the oldest man in the family, he's in it for life in order to protect his family.

As the defenses go down and the two get closer, it becomes impossible to deny the obvious attraction between them. However, Brittany and Alex being together may be dangerous for both. How much are they willing to sacrifice for a shot at true love? Their reputations? Their families? Their lives?

I'm a fan of West Side Story but an ardent NOT-fan of Romeo & Juliet; however, I liked the general idea behind Perfect Chemistry. Every once in a while you just want to read a straightfoward story about two lovers overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles for a shot at happily ever after--this is one of those books.

Unfortunately, this was a classic story idea that was poorly executed. The two main characters' conflicts were so clearly defined from the very beginning that the characters weren't allowed to grow very much as a result. The ending was so melodramatic, so fairy-tale perfect, that my teeth nearly rotted out of my head. It left me unable to fully sympathize with the characters' predicaments, nor believe in the seriousness of Brittany and Alex's feelings for one another.

Despite the cliches and Shakespeare drama throwback, I'm glad I picked this up. Perfect Chemistry was a light and enjoyable read, great for a time when you want a version of a timeless love story and a little hope in the saying "Love conquers all."

49stephxsu
Mar 13, 2009, 9:42pm Top

31. Fragile Eternity by Melissa Marr (Publication Date: April 21, 2009)



Tags: YA, urban fantasy, love triangle
Recommended age: 14+
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

You would think that once the malevolent Winter Queen Beira’s reign was destroyed and the Summer King, Keenan, was restored to full power when he found his Summer Queen, Aislinn, that the this alternative faerie world, located in Philadelphia, would be peaceful again. But it’s not. The monarchs of all three faery courts have changed hands, and former friendships (Niall, Keenan’s former advisor, now the king of the Dark Court) and flames (Donia, the new Winter Queen) will become enemies to be wary of.

Meanwhile, in between adjusting to being a faery and learning her duties as Summer Queen, Aislinn struggles to find balance between Keenan—her king, her partner, her friend, to whom she experiences an undeniable attraction—and Seth, her wonderful mortal boyfriend. Seth is frustrated that his mortality hinders his ability to protect Aislinn from faery threats. With a hint from Bananach, the dangerously insane faery of Chaos and War, Seth goes to Sorcha, the faery queen of Reason, in order to be changed into a faery, so that he and Aislinn may stay together forever and equally.

What none of them except Bananach know, however, is that every one of their actions takes them all a step closer to a war that could destroy everything they knew…

Review

If you thought the world of faerie couldn’t get more dangerously sexy and alluring than Melissa Marr’s first book, Wicked Lovely, well, you’re wrong. Fragile Eternity focuses mostly on the characters’ relationships with one another. And what brilliantly hot and tension-filled ones they are! Lengthy conversations between Keenan and Aislinn, Keenan and Donia—okay, Keenan and anyone—should come with a “sexual tension!” warning/preview. Melissa Marr definitely writes wonderfully complex characters who are stuck in situations that have no easy solutions.

The writing of Fragile Eternity is fantastic: lyrical, magical, completely befitting the ideas it wants to express. This is poetry in motion, beauty in black and white. (And this is not mentioning the gorgeous cover that this book is graced with.)

When I read Wicked Lovely I thought it was a decently written urban fantasy novel but nothing special. That’s why I was so surprised at how much better I thought Fragile Eternity was. Parts of the story are still frustrating to me—despite how well drawn the characters are and how good the writing is, I still can’t seem to fully connect with them—but I have no doubt that fans of Wicked Lovely will run out to buy this one. The ending, while rather anticlimactic after so much buildup over 300+ pages, promises a possibly even more exciting and tension-filled sequel. This may not be a hands-down favorite fantasy series of mine, but the love triangle and Melissa’s beautiful writing are enough to keep me reading, and far less picky fantasy lovers will passionately declare their ardour for Marr’s faerie world.

50stephxsu
Mar 16, 2009, 9:11am Top

32. Ophelia by Lisa Klein



Tags: YA, historical fiction, retelling, Shakespeare, murder, deception, feminism
Recommended age: 12+
Similar Authors: Jennifer Donnelly, Libba Bray
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Summary

Shakespeare’s tragedy, Hamlet, is practically required reading for every English student. But how much is really known about Ophelia, Hamlet’s “girl,” who goes mad and commits suicide in the original play?

Lisa Klein offers us a different perspective on the undeveloped Shakespearean character. Ophelia is a strong-willed and beautiful young woman living in the often treacherous world of court intrigue. For the most part shunned and used by her father and brother, the once tomboyish and willful Ophelia grows into a lady with wit and passion under the wings of court women such as Queen Gertrude. Yet she sometimes feels separate from the rest of the ladies when they speak of things such as love and marriage.

That is, of course, until she crosses paths with Prince Hamlet. Their attraction for one another is undeniable, and Ophelia soon finds herself spiraling downwards into love. But when, after the suspicious death of his father the king, Hamlet’s passion for Ophelia turns into a dreadful passion for revenge, Ophelia must carve out her own path, with or without her love, if she wants to live.

Review

It is refreshing to have one of Shakespeare’s usually passive female characters retold as a strong personality. Ophelia is very much a modern woman stuck in the early seventeenth century; you can find hearty doses of feminism and religious zeal in many passages throughout. Supporting characters, however, are incompletely sketched, and I never felt any real connection with Ophelia and Hamlet’s love for one another.

About half of the book focuses on what actually occurs in the play; the rest is about Ophelia’s attempt to survive away from Elsinore. Because she ends up at a convent, the second half of the book is very much focused on religion and finding peace with oneself, so much so that at times it can begin to sound preachy. Likewise, Ophelia seemed to approach the reliving of her past at arm’s length, and that, I think, unfortunately detracted from the story’s intimacy and appeal.

Overall, however, Ophelia is an interesting way to reapproach a familiar piece of literature. If you’re looking for something pro-feminism with period language that sounds genuine, pick this one up.

51stephxsu
Mar 19, 2009, 10:10am Top

33. Radiant Darkness by Emily Whitman



Tags: YA, middle grade, retelling, Greek mythology
Recommended age: 14+
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

Teenage goddess Persephone lives in the loveliest vale created especially for her by her mother, Demeter, to protect her from the influences of men. But Persephone is not happy in her own little heaven. Demeter is belittling and babying, never allowing Persephone to attend any functions of mortal worship, always buying her toys that Persephone had loved as a child but now find childish.

One day, a dark and alluring stranger appears in the vale with his chariot. Persephone is imperceptibly drawn to this stranger, and even when he turns out to be Hades, powerful and feared king of the Underworld, she barely hesitates at his offer to be queen by his side for eternity. In Hades’ Underworld Persephone assumes her queenly duties but also finds delight in her garden and observing the mortals. Her husband is not perfect, but she is happy.

But all is not right in the world. Demeter, grief-stricken and determined to get her daughter back in her “safety,” ravages the world until Persephone cannot deny the fact that her mother is destroying the earth to get her back. Persephone must make a choice: will she remain in the Underworld where she is successful and happy, or will she right the wrongs that her leaving has created by returning to her mother?

Review

RADIANT DARKNESS is like a lot of Greek myths and fairy tales: fascinating although perhaps not brilliantly written. (Who said the Grimm brothers were actually skilled with words, not just ideas?) The world where Persephone and her fellow gods, goddesses, and shades reside is alluring and inviting: descriptions of lush valley life and the hustle and bustle of a busy Underworld will make you, like me, long for somewhere on earth that’s just as beautiful.

Persephone is a surprisingly versatile character, really just a teenage girl who’s trying to gain independence from her overbearing mother. Her conflict with Demeter, one that comes naturally with the territory of adolescence, is something we can all relate to.

However, I found RADIANT DARKNESS lacking in almost everything else. Besides for Persephone, none of the other characters—who were all fascinating characters that I would have loved to know more about—were solidly defined for me. Hades’ and Persephone’s relationship developed swiftly and excitingly, and then fell flat on its face once, you know, they were actually married. And you wonder why people always say it’s all downhill from the wedding. No excitement. No change.

It’s not a particularly brilliant written story—will probably appeal more to middle school mythology fans—but RADIANT DARKNESS still has its charm and its strength in its protagonist.

34. Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber

Tags: nonfiction, therapy, psychoanalysis, abuse, multiple personality disorder
Recommended age: 14+
Rating: 5 out of 5

SYBIL is the true story about a woman with the most famous case of multiple personality disorder ever treated. Sybil, a pseudonym, attends therapy with psychoanalyst Dr. Wilbur for numerous years, uncovering her past: a childhood shredded apart by the abuse of a schizophrenic mother and the neglect of a passive father. Feeling unable to escape from her miserable life, Sybil “splintered” into sixteen different selves, each with its own unique way of coping with a particular situation that Sybil is in.

This book is extremely well written and thus engaging, a book that you’ll never want to put down, even as you must read through the horrifying parts. Readers will be left cheering for Sybil while simultaneously wondering at the extent to which humanity can sink in its, well, human-ness.

52stephxsu
Mar 22, 2009, 2:12pm Top

35. Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey



Tags: YA, paranormal, vampires, romance, war
Recommended age: 14+
Similar Authors: Stephenie Meyer, Kelley Armstrong
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Debut author Beth Fantaskey explodes onto the heavily populated YA vampire lit world with her amazing book, Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side, which is sure to convert Twilight fans into having a new favorite vampire and vampire-novel heroine. Or if it doesn’t do that, then at least it will leave you smiling, biting your nails, and reading far into the night.

In rural Pennsylvania, math nerd Jessica Packwood is about to enter her senior year of high school, determined to have a good time, potentially date Jake Zinn, a nice and handsome boy in her grade, and win some more math competitions. But her carefully imagined plan goes down the drain with the arrival of Lucius Vladescu, a hot but arrogant student from Romania who is under the unfortunate delusion that he is a vampire prince destined to marry Jessica, who is apparently a vampire princess from a rival vampire family. Their marriage would end a centuries-long war between the two families and ensure peace for all their vampire relatives.

Jessica, who loves scientific facts, is understandably confused, scared of her reluctant attraction to Lucius and unable to believe the “parlor tricks” that he performs: a flash of fangs here, a miraculous recovery from a serious injury there. But just as she begins to finally believe—in Lucius, in herself—Lucius suddenly begins to court Faith Crosse, the evil-souled reigning cheerleader-slash-prom-queen of Woodrow Wilson High, and Jessica finds herself struggling to win him back, and not just for the sake of her own heart. For if she doesn’t, both vampire families, not to mention Lucius, could end up being destroyed.

Wow! It is almost unfortunate that this book has such an unwieldy and frothy, though eye-catching, title, because I did not realize the extent of what I was in for when I started reading. Jessica and Lucius are two of the best main characters that I have read about in a long time: they are fully three-dimensional and undergo incredible growth through the 350-some pages. Lucius’ intensity and arrogance makes me simultaneously laugh and be attracted to him at the same time, and some of my favorite chapters were those that consisted of Lucius’ letters to his uncle back in Romania. The relationship that develops between Jessica and Lucius seems totally natural, the growing love not forced. The plot goes beyond a typical Twilight spinoff (which all current YA vampire novels are inevitably being compared to), and reaches its awe-inspiring conclusion wonderfully.

Action, love, mortal danger, family, humor—Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side has everything. I am wholeheartedly a fan, and you will be too.

53stephxsu
Mar 23, 2009, 10:34pm Top

36. White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Rating: 4 out of 5

I got to read this for a class. I don't think I would've found out how good it was otherwise. How can this monumentous book be summed up in a few short sentences? Let's just say that Smith's writing is brilliant, cuttingly witty and totally hilarious. The ending left me a might dissatisfied, but overall I'm really happy I got to read this book.

54tash99
Mar 24, 2009, 3:51am Top

Hi, I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your reviews. I'm not much of a YA reader, but quite a few of the books you've mentioned sound really interesting. Also, I work in a bookshop and constantly get asked for recommendations for teenagers, and I think I'll have to bookmark LT on the shop computer so I can refer to your thread when someone stumps me - keep up the good work!

55stephxsu
Mar 24, 2009, 6:36pm Top

tash99, thank you SO much for the kind words! I do hope I'll be able to help you out more in the future when your customers ask for it. :)

56stephxsu
Mar 24, 2009, 10:46pm Top

37. Every Demon Has His Day by Cara Lockwood (Publication Date: April 2009)



Tags: paranormal, chick lit, murder, demons, Southern, comedy
Recommended age: 14+
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

It all started when Constance’s clumsy husband Jimmy was killed with a screwdriver to the back on the day when she was going to get him to sign the divorce papers. So of course no one in the town of Dogwood believes Constance’s story: that a demon who calls himself Yaman and dressed in refined clothing did it.

Constance knows that her story sounds like make-believe, but just when she begins to doubt her eyes herself, her life gets even weirder. With the help of an angel disguised as a French bulldog who speaks English with a British accent, Constance realizes that she is actually a prophet, one whom Satan and his minions are keen on because she supposedly will have a vision of who will be the mother of the Antichrist. With Yaman and his partner Shadow intent on beating her into submission, Constance definitely needs help.

Unfortunately, help comes in the form of some odd characters. Like her mother, Abigail, an eccentric psychic of the tie-dye crystal-ball sort. Or Father Daniels, who has a penchant for violence. And last but not least, she has Nathan Garrett, Dogwood’s new sheriff and the notorious young ladies’ man who took her virginity and left without a word all those years ago. Unfortunately he’s still looking as good as ever, and there’s no denying the attraction they still have. With this ragtag group of supporters, will Constance be able to stop the destruction of the world?

Review

This paranormal chick lit book is one heck of a fun read! Every Demon Has His Day has a great blend of the supernatural, the ridiculous, and Southern, and the sexy. The conversations that the demons have amongst themselves border on slapstick comedy; in fact, all of the supporting characters are hilarious.

What makes this book really stand out from similar books, though, is how readers immediately come to care for the two main characters, Constance and Nathan. From the moment they are introduced to us, they are three-dimensional, with the passions and fears and disappointments of, say, an intriguing new neighbor whom you’d want to get to know. The attraction between them is sizzling! My only complaint is that we don’t get to see enough interactions between them. But that may only be because I have a slight crush on Nathan, the reformed ladies’ man with the anguished secret but sincere attraction to Constance, now…

Overall, Every Demon Has His Day is a delight to read. Its energetic pace and likable characters will keep your eyes glued to the page. This book is 100 percent fun.

57stephxsu
Mar 26, 2009, 10:57pm Top

38. Girl v. Boy by Yvonne Collins and Sandy Rideout



Tags: YA, literacy, high school journalism
Recommended age: 14+
Similar Authors: Robin Benway, Gayle Forman
Rating: 3 out of 5

Luisa Perez and her best friends have mastered the art of not participating in their high school, Dunfield aka “Dumpfield”’s extracurricular activities. That is, until sophomore year brings a literacy challenge to the city, girls against boys. The prize for which group raises the most money for literacy awareness? Extra weeks of winter break.

Lu is snagged to write an anonymous column about the fundraising effort, exchanging words with a male counterpart. The debate between “Scoop” and “Newshound” becomes heated and turns into a battle of the sexes, and their column gains more popularity as a result.

However, heated exchanges occur in other aspects of Lu’s life, too. Her family life is not the best, what with her overbearing older sister constantly talking her down, and having to fend off the raucous male factory workers at the diner where she works. But there are plenty of opportunities for possible romance—sometimes in the most unexpected of places…unless the effects of the literacy column destroy any chance that Lu has at love.

Girl v. Boy was a pleasant, if predictable, read. I have trouble describing how I felt about it, and yet when I was reading it I couldn’t put it down. Lu and her friends and classmates are fun to read about. The ending was predictable, yes, but the beginning and middle were not as predictable, thus sparing me from reading something painfully boring. That being said, Girl v. Boy was definitely an enjoyable read that will appeal to high school girls looking for a hearty dose of rapid-fire battle-of-the-sexes dialogue and a solid romance.

58stephxsu
Mar 28, 2009, 4:30pm Top

39. Swim the Fly by Don Calame



Tags: YA, humor, boys, swimming, friendship
Recommended age: 14+
Similar Authors: John Green, Benjamin Esch
Rating: 5 out of 5

Every summer since they were little, Matt Gratton and his two best friends, Coop and Sean, have set goals for themselves. This year, it’s to see a real live naked girl. Pictures don’t count. Porn doesn’t count. A real girl, alive and warm and luscious, counts.

Meanwhile, Matt is busying trying to figure out how he can win the attention of Kelly West, a beautiful fellow swimmer. He decides to volunteer to swim the 100 fly—the hardest race ever—in order to impress her, but quickly realizes that he is NOT equipped to swim the fly at all.

In between trying to accomplish their goal and trying to make sure he doesn’t end up making a fool of himself, Matt doesn’t realize that he also has time to open his eyes to some bigger and better things that are out there for him.

What can I say about SWIM THE FLY that will do it justice? This book absolutely blew me away. I found myself rolling on the ground in laughter and devouring the pages as I couldn’t stop flipping through them, eager to see what sort of scrapes Matt and his adorable friends get themselves into. Think There’s Something About Mary starring teenagers, and you can get a slight sense of the appeal that this book will have for both males and females.

Besides for being just an all-around terrific writer, Don’s strength seems to lie in drawing realistic yet unique characters. Matt, Cooper, and Sean had distinct personalities and ways of talking, which is a feat that is rarely accomplished in writing about a tight group of friends. If you ask me to pick a favorite character from SWIM THE FLY, I don’t think I can even give you a straight answer; all of the male characters are HILARIOUS. (See: Matt’s grandfather.)

SWIM THE FLY is just the right combination of gut-splitting humor, teen romance, and failed “missions” to win the hearts of any reader. I await Don’s future novels with great impatience now!

59stephxsu
Mar 31, 2009, 1:33am Top

40. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Read this one for my fiction writing workshop, because my professor, like, worships Elizabeth Strout. It's a collection of short stories that usually center around the larger-than-life (physically AND mentally) character of Olive. I wasn't really a fan of the lack of plotline, overly long run-on sentence descriptions, and the general lack of interesting-ness as I went through this book. However, Elizabeth is a fantastic reader; I had the fortune of hearing her read her work tonight. I guess Olive Kitteridge might be one of those rare books that appeals to me more if it's read to me!

60sydamy
Mar 31, 2009, 9:19am Top

Yikes Steph, That is my next book. It's in my bag to start reading on my ride home after work. I have not read Elizabeth Strout before, but the 'will you like it' thingy says I will LOVE it. I hope I don't need to hire her to read to me!

I have been trusting your reviews and have added many to my daughters wishlist - she's 12, and a reading machine. So thank you again for your wide range af reading.

61stephxsu
Mar 31, 2009, 10:05am Top

Haha sydamy, have no fear! I admit that Elizabeth Strout's writing is not my usual taste, which is probably why I felt it dragged. However, scores of other people like her, and I can certainly see why it would appeal to a lot of people. So try it! I'd be interested to see what you think of it. :)

62stephxsu
Apr 1, 2009, 7:13pm Top

41. Say the Word by Jeannine Garsee



Tags: YA, homophobia, anger management, family
Recommended age: 14+
Similar Authors: Sarah Dessen, Elizabeth Scott
Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

Shawna Gallagher’s mother left her and her father for another woman, Fran, and her two sons, Arye and Schmule, when Shawna was just seven, and now, ten years later, has suddenly died. Shawna doesn’t know how to feel. She can’t be especially mournful about the loss of a mother whom she hardly knew, especially a self-centered mother who abandoned her.

However, things begin to fall apart in everyone’s lives when Shawna’s father, a control freak with anger management issues, insists on staking genetic claim on the son whom he never knew he had, a son whom Shawna’s mother tried to pass off as Fran’s. Shawna’s father is determined to get his way, even if it meets using or hurting a dozen people in the process, including those close to him. Shawna has lived under his control all his life, but now just might be the time for her to take a stance and do what SHE believes is right.

Review

Jeannine Garsee tackles the difficult subjects of homosexuality, homophobia, and family loyalty in SAY THE WORD. In particular, I found the family loyalty issue most striking. It’s incredibly difficult for an author to create a despicable character who we want to beat the crap out of, yet still empathize and understand where he’s coming from. Mr. Gallagher, and, to a lesser extent, Shawna, are two such characters. They’re flawed, sometimes with unadmirable points of view or attitudes, and yet you can’t help but feel for them, can’t help but understand where they’re coming from, even as you wish for them to grow up.

I feel like the issue of homophobia could have been discussed more in-depth, and I certainly wasn’t satisfied with the blasé way in which Shawna’s sex life was treated. The characters of Shawna, her dad, Schmule, and even Shawna’s friend LeeLee were well developed, but something was missing in Shawna’s budding friendship with—and later, romantic attraction to— Arye. That came out of nowhere, and I found myself unable to understand their relationship.

Even with those small complaints, I found SAY THE WORD to be an overall good read, perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen and Elizabeth Scott.

63stephxsu
Apr 5, 2009, 9:39pm Top

42. A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell



Tags: YA, middle grade, death, art, family
Recommended age: 12+
Similar Authors: Laurie Halse Anderson, Brigid Lowry
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Summary

Being a high school freshman is usually traumatic enough. For Cora Bradley, however, it’s worse than average: she lives in the shadow of her older brother, Nate, a notorious misunderstood troublemaker who killed himself when he drove into a tree. The Bradley household, once a warm and friendly place, is now cold, silent, and overbearing. So Cora throws herself into art, drawing elaborate maps of far-off places in her futile attempt to escape the ghosts of her small town.

Cora must deal with normal teenage girl troubles, too, though. As she and her ex-best friend drift apart, Cora finds solace in the unlikeliest of places: in Damian, Nate’s best friend, who was in the car with him that fatal night. Damian shows her things about Nate that Cora never knew before, but her parents despise Damian and blame him for their son’s death. What will happen when all these different points of view clash? Will Cora come out stronger in the long run?

Review

After hearing amazing things about Lisa Ann Sandell’s stunning writing, I was more than disappointed in A MAP OF THE KNOWN WORLD. There is wonderful descriptive prose, yes—the kind that makes you want to stop after every period and drink in the sentence you’ve just read, the kind that makes you think, Wow. This is what writing is about.

Unfortunately, this lyrical language is interspersed with really elementary dialogue and predicaments. Cora may be a high school freshman, but high school freshmen do NOT need to sound so whiny, shallow, explosive, and unreasonable. I hardly felt any connection to the characters at all, and instead wanted to smack them on their heads for being so one-dimensional. The story, too, is predictable; you hardly need to read the book in order to know what the ending is.

All in all, A MAP OF THE KNOWN WORLD an admirable attempt at lyrically dealing with the difficult subject of death. However, the lack of connection I felt to the characters undermined the attempt. Read it once to savor the occasional delicious line of prose, but not to feel as if this is a world that you can believe in and empathize with.

64sydamy
Apr 6, 2009, 10:43am Top

Steph, I thought I would update you on my Olive Kitteridge reading. I am not LOVING it as the, will you like it? meter thought I would. I am only half way through because every time I go to sit down and read I look at it and then look for something else to read. I am finding it drags also, but also I find it just plain sad and more than depressing. I'll finish it, but...

65stephxsu
Apr 6, 2009, 9:53pm Top

sydamy, I totally understand what you mean, and don't feel bad about it! I feel like Olive Kitteridge is a tough book to get through and to like. Perhaps it is one of those rare books that sounds better on audiotape...? I've been stumbling upon some of those books lately, and I think I might actually try Olive Kitteridge in audiotape form, if that's available.

43. Ransom My Heart by Meg Cabot



Tags: historical romance
Recommended age: 16+
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

When her sister Mellana tearfully needs money for her dowry, the feisty and independent Finnula has no choice but to kidnap a rich man and hold him for ransom to get the money. She finds Sir Hugh Fitzwilliam, a knight just returning from the Holy Wars, and makes him her hostage. Perfect.

However, her hostage is hiding a few secrets. For one, his real name is Lord Hugo Fitzstephen, and he is the heir to Stephensgate Manor, the town where Finnula resides as the miller's sister. Hugo has had his fair share of women, but not capture his attention so much as the Fair Finn, whose acerbic manner and complete unawareness of her beauty make him practically unable to keep his hands off her.

There are more than a few reasons why Finnula wants nothing to do with the future Earl of Stephensgate, though, because of a disturbing past that may threaten to destroy everyone's present and future happiness if someone doesn't do something about it...

Review

If you want a light, frothy, and fun historical romance, look no further than Ransom My Heart. I'm not a big romance novel reader, but this book completely won me over with the strong of the attraction between Finnula and Hugo. They are arresting and appealing, if somewhat stereotypical, characters--Finnula is the willful free spirit, Hugo the dangerously sexy royalty guy. However, that didn't bother me much at all, simply because their story was so fun to read.

This novel is actually the senior project of Mia Thermopolis (from The Princess Diaries series), and so of course there are some aspects of it that are rather cliche: the romance-y terms, the faux-Olde English speech. Additionally, the second half of the novel drags a bit, and the ending felt a bit too well wrapped up. Overall, however, Ransom My Heart is a truly enjoyable and fun romantic romp, and it's going to stay on my bookshelf when I need a lighthearted and sexy escapism read.

66d_perlo
Apr 9, 2009, 12:15pm Top

Thank you for your review of Ransom My Heart. I saw it at the library a month or so ago and knew that I would definitely get around to reading it in the future. (First I have to get Princess Diaries: Volume X.)

67stephxsu
Apr 9, 2009, 4:28pm Top

44. All About Vee by C. Leigh Purtill



Tags: YA, body image, Hollywood, acting
Recommended age: 14+
Similar Authors: Maureen Johnson, Kate Brian, Meg Cabot
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

Veronica May, nicknamed Vee, is the best plus-size actress that the small town of Chester, Arizona has ever seen. Actually, she’s the best actress out of Chester, ever. The sense of uprootedness she feels from her father’s upcoming remarriage drives Veronica to follow in the footsteps of her dead mother, Diana, and, more recently, her good friend Vivian Reed out to L.A. to make it big-time!

Vee isn’t prepared for the cutthroat atmosphere of Hollywood, however. Nobody wants to cast a “fat” girl, and people can say one thing and mean another, as she begins to realize, even Vivian—who goes by Reed now. At least her job at a local cool coffeeshop is going well. She’s making friends with her coworkers, and there might even be a developing romantic interest with her manager, Philip. But in a city that’s famous for its backstabbing and disappointments, can Veronica do what her mother couldn’t: overcome all obstacles and stay true to herself?

Review

All About Vee is the quintessential feel-good read, with a great message and the perfect blend of romance and fun! Its greatest strength, of course, lies in its protagonist. Veronica keeps it real; her reactions, emotions, and actions are the genuine ones of that girl behind the counter who you just know will make a great friend. I was also appreciative of the fact that this book wasn’t completely about Vee trying to overcome her body image issues. Yes, it’s mentioned, as it rightfully should be—prejudiced judgments, unfortunately, still exists everywhere in all forms—but through it all Veronica remains true to herself. She is not easily broken by harsh words, and insteads picks herself up and looks forward to the future, where she’ll kick everyone else’s undeserving butts in auditions and make a name for herself out of her real talent. You’ll want to cheer for Veronica as she develops through this lovely little book!

45. Heart of Redness by Zakes Mda

Tags: transnational literature, colonization, magical realism, globalization, modernization
Rating: 5 out of 5

I had to read Heart of Redness for my English class, and I am more than glad I got to read it! This is the parallel story of colonized South Africa of 150 years ago and post-apartheid South Africa. 150 years ago, two brothers split over their different beliefs of a teenage prophetess' warning that only the slaughtering of all cattle will allow the new generation of people (the ancestors) to arrive and drive away the whites. The miracle never happened, of course, and many starved as a result.

Now in the present day, the learned man Camagu, born in South Africa but exiled and educated in America, comes to Qolorha-at-Sea, where he lands in the middle of an ongoing battle between the Believers and Unbelievers about whether the development of the lands by the whites' companies is good for their village. There is also a mysterious yet satisfying love story.

Heart of Redness is beautifully written, and Zakes Mda has been compared to the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Chinua Achebe. This is a book that you will devour because it's so well written, and yet it will stay with you as you ponder the pros and cons of the characters' situations.

68stephxsu
Edited: Apr 13, 2009, 3:37pm Top

46. Faery Rebels by R. J. Anderson (Publication date: April 28, 2009)



Tags: YA, fantasy, faeries
Recommended age: 12+
Similar Authors: Suzanne Collins, Herbie Brennan, Holly Black
Rating: 5 out of 5

Summary

After a horrifying yet mysterious event known as the Sundering, the faeries who live in the Oakenwyld possess very little magic, and something seems to be killing them off, even as their queen, Amaryllis, forbids them to go outside the Oak, for fear that predators—such as crows and the terrifying humans—will destroy them even faster.

However, the Queen’s Hunter, Knife, will not be satisfied with staying away from the humans. She ends up befriending Paul, a crippled human boy living in the nearby House. The more Knife learns about the humans, the more she thinks there is something fishy about her faery community’s mistrust of humans. With Paul and her faery friends’ help, Knife may be able to discover what is ailing Oakenwyld—but only at the cost of heavy sacrifices. What is Knife willing to do for love, even if the love is impossible?

Review

The world of Faery Rebels is instantly engaging, a space filled with danger, betrayal, creativity, and hope. Knife is a fantastic character, a young faery willing to follow her instincts and take risks; she reminds me a lot of Katniss from The Hunger Games, which was GREAT! I have no doubt that she will easily win the hearts of readers of all ages.

R. J. Anderson spins a convincing world with strong supporting characters and an elaborate plotline, filled with interesting backstories. At times I got frustrated when the characters felt the need to talk aloud every step of their thought process to reach revelations that I, as the reader, would’ve liked to figure out myself, instead of being smashed in the face with it. But I can see why younger readers—those in middle school—wouldn’t be bothered by that, so I suppose it was just a minor complaint on my part.

Overall, Faery Rebels is a must-read 2009 debut novel. You will reluctantly put the book down at the end, sad because you crave so much more of Knife and Paul’s world. Seriously, treat yourself to this marvelous fantasy novel, and then you, like me, will be eagerly awaiting what R. J. Anderson has for us next.

69whitewavedarling
Apr 13, 2009, 10:34am Top

I'm going to have to look up R.J. Anderson after that review, especially with your comparison to The Hunger Games :) Thanks!

70stephxsu
Edited: Apr 13, 2009, 11:50pm Top

47. The Season by Sarah MacLean



Tags: YA, historical, Regency, society, murder, mystery
Recommended age: 14+
Similar Authors: Anna Godbersen, Libba Bray
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

Seventeen-year-old Alexandra Stafford, along with her friends Vivi and Ella, are about to enter their first season amidst the “ton”—the most eligible of the eligible, the best and the brightest of London. Only Alex and her friends are not your average pretty-girl gigglies, however. They’d rather stay out of the whole flirting and courting business, away from men who prefer women with vacant minds…women unlike them.

With high-status parents, however, Alex is unable to stay completely out of society. Instead, her circle consists mostly of her three older brothers and their best friend, Gavin Sewell, the new Earl of Blackmoor, whose father died in a mysterious accident that’s beginning to not look like an accident at all. Alex expected many things out of the season—boring balls, an overabundance of boring and drooling suitors—but she never expected to feel for Gavin things that she has never felt before. Someone’s out for Gavin’s blood, however, to make sure that he doesn’t discover the truth about his father’s death, and it may be up to Alex to save the life of her beloved.

Review

I have mixed feelings about The Season. On the one hand, it’s gotten rave reviews from nearly everyone I know of. Parts of those praises I feel are justified: Alex’s world is rather addicting, and even during the moments when I wanted to sigh and put the book down in frustration, I felt compelled by unseen forces to continue, hoping, hoping, wanting more from the world…

…And that’s where I think my problem with the book lies. On one level, Alex’s world seems great: the glamour, the scintillating company, the witty banter between siblings and friends. But that’s just it; all of these things only occur on one level. I couldn’t help but feel like the characters were merely putting on a role, saying lines dictated to them without really meaning it. (And with the acting cues to go with it. There were only so many times I could read phrases like “she felt her voice with in defensive ire” and “he rolled his eyes at his mother’s brazen words,” or something like that. We readers can figure out how the characters are feeling at that moment—or at least we should be able to, through the language they use. No need to state the obvious over and over again.)

With so many characters packed into this book, it was hard for me to keep track of who is who, what their personalities were like. I was constantly mixing up Alex’s brothers, Nick, Will, and Kit, because they are virtually indistinguishable from one another. Similarly, I disliked how Vivi and Ella were shallowly portrayed mostly as Alex’s “ladies-in-waiting,” always just reacting to Alex’s crises and never, seemingly, having desires or even opinions of their own. I would’ve loved to see all the secondary characters change more through the book. THE SEASON centers around Alex and Gavin’s relationship, yes, but for a book that depends so much on the characters’ interactions with one another, shouldn’t equal care be put into developing the others’ personalities as well?

Another thing that led to me being unable to get into this book was the pacing. For some reason, I had thought that the mystery behind the earl’s death, and the impending danger on Gavin and Alex, would have been given more time and explanation. It was certainly something I wanted to know more about. However, the murder mystery ended up feeling like one great big plot device, like, oh, there’s this group of chatty girls in pretty dresses and their ho-ho-ho-hear-me-I’m-so-witty-and-yet-I-disdain-societal-expectations male friends/brothers and now we just HAVE to make something happen in the story so it doesn’t digress into a meaningless pile of dialogue.

Nothing really happened until more than halfway into the book, which was where the relationship between Gavin and Alex intensified, and things started to pick up with the murder mystery. But if it takes a book half its length to get the ball rolling, I’m not sure if I’d be willing to stick it out until then. Unless it gets really, really good at the end. Which it doesn’t. Anyone can spot the hasty, picture-perfect ending from a mile off. It’s sad if I feel like I don’t need to read most of the book in order to understand what’s going on.

I understand the appeal of a Regency-era girl who doesn’t conform to the social norms of her time of wanting the rich husband, the best status, etc. I have no doubt that those who enjoy Anna Godbersen’s Luxe series—frothy, light guilty pleasures—will enjoy The Season. While it lacked the substance for my taste, I will still read Sarah MacLean’s future works, because I do believe she has the talent to create three-dimensional characters that we’ll end up liking and caring about.

71stephxsu
Edited: Apr 14, 2009, 6:31pm Top

48. Bad Girls Don't Die by Katie Alender



Tags: YA, suspense, ghosts, mystery, evil
Recommended age: 12+
Similar Authors: Laurie Faria Stolarz, Megan McCafferty, Cassandra Clare
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

Photography-lover Alexis Warren lives in an enormous, rambling, slightly creepy house with her dysfunctional parents and younger sister, Kasey. Alexis may dye her hair pink and disdain most of the people at school, but her Kasey seems to be REALLY crazy: she has an unhealthy doll-collecting obsession, and has recently been acting weird, alternately crying tearfully and acting unlike herself. Almost as if she were…possessed.

Alex is further convinced that something’s not right with Kasey when strange things start occurring in the house: doors open and close on their own, appliances turn on all by themselves. With the help of unlikely new friends—Megan Wiley, the head cheerleader at Surrey High, and Carter Blume, the popular new kid whom Alexis might like more than she should—Alexis is going to find out what the evil spirit that seems to be haunting Kasey and inflicting harm wants.

If she can manage to do this without be killed.

Review

Be forewarned: don’t read Bad Girls Don't Die at night, or you will feel the goosebumps on the back of your neck long after you reluctantly put the book down! Katie Alender’s debut YA novel is deliciously creepy; imagine the movie The Sixth Sense in novel form, and you can get an idea of what this book was like.

Alexis kicked butt as a protagonist; if Jessica Darling had a young sister who turns the popular crowd upside-down and unfortunately finds herself in a ghost story, you’d get Alexis. The majority of the story centers around the evil ghost’s mystery, which occasionally leaves the characters slightly incomplete, at least in my opinion. I would have no problem reading a hundred extra pages in order to better understand important characters such as Carter, Megan, Kasey, Alexis’ parents, and the ghost’s history and motivation.

Despite the sometimes overwhelmingly fast pace of the novel, however, Bad Girls Don't Die is truly a remarkable read, destined to send shivers down your spine.

72Tammiejx
Apr 14, 2009, 6:41pm Top

#71: Bad Girls Don't Die sounds really great! Thanks for the review! :)

73billiejean
Apr 15, 2009, 12:25am Top

Yeah, nice review!
--BJ

74stephxsu
Apr 18, 2009, 11:00am Top

49. The Boys Next Door by Jennifer Echols



Tags: YA, summer, romantic comedy, romance
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Rachel Cohn, Kate Brian, Meg Cabot
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

Lori has always tried to be one of the guys with her older brother, McGillicuddy, and her next door neighbors Cameron, Sean, and Adam. Sweet and very ADD Adam has always been her best friend, but then again, Lori’s had a crush on the middle brother, Sean, the one that all the girls drool over. And this summer, the summer that she turns sixteen, she is determined to make Sean finally notice her. Begone, one-piece suits and cutoff boy shorts handed down from Adam—enter bikinis and revealing tank tops.

When Sean hooks up with Adam’s then-girlfriend, Rachel, Adam and Lori decide to put their plan in motion. They are going to pretend to be boyfriend and girlfriend in order to make their respective crushes jealous. But the longer they are “together,” the less it seems like just pretend. For the first time Lori is realizing how hot Adam really is, and how good his kisses are. But she’s just going along with this to win Sean…right?

Review

The more I read Jennifer Echols, the more I’m convinced she can do no wrong in terms of fun and fast romantic comedy reads. All of the characters in this book are realistic yet quirky, endearing and fun. Adam, in particular, is my favorite, because he is not simply the perfect crush, the perfect boyfriend. Instead, he is wonderfully three-dimensional, ADD and a little spastic and a daredevil to the point of physical harm. In short, he is a giant, sweet nerd inside a hot body. Who can resist that?

Lori’s narration brings everything together; she is not merely a tomboy trying desperately to win her crush, but also a witty and cool one, despite her absolute cluelessness when it comes to the romantic feelings of those around her. The last several dozen or so pages felt the tiniest bit rushed: a million things needed to be resolved, but they were resolved in ways that involved the introduction of more plot twists and events.

All in all, however, The Boys Next Door was a delightful book that never pretends to be more than it is: a quick but lighthearted read about romance in the summertime.

75stephxsu
Apr 20, 2009, 10:51pm Top

50. Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia by Cindy Pon



Tags: middle grade, fantasy, evil, demons, China
Recommended age: 12+
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

Ai Ling has always led a straightforward life, but that all changes when first her betrothal is broken off because she’s “unacceptable” and then her father does not return from a trip to the Palace of Fragrant Dreams. Determined not to stay at home and worry like a good female, Ai Ling sets off to the Palace to find out what happened to her father.

Along the way she meets Chen Yong, a half-foreign young man who is also on the way to the Palace. Not all the company Ai Ling happens upon are as good as him, though; in fact, Ai Ling and Chen Yong find themselves repeatedly engaged in battles with fierce demons that neither of them had ever believed existed. It seems as if Ai Ling is not the ordinary girl she thinks she is, and that something is definitely trying to prevent her from achieving her goal. Armed with her friends, the Immortals’ help, and the power of her legacy, however, Ai Ling just might be able to overthrow the dark forces at work and succeed.

Review

SILVER PHOENIX is first and foremost a nonstop tale of fantastical adventure. Demons and mythical places pop out of the pages nonstop, and so there is an almost constant stream of butt-kicking, done by an extremely appealing heroine. Ai Ling is an enviable protagonist, with her neverending arsenal of abilities. Even with all the unwanted problems that destiny has placed upon her shoulders, she forges on, not relying on others to do what she needs to get done.

The heavy reliance on evil creatures to move the plot along, however, is also what disappointed me about the story. The strength of the book lies in the imagined details, but not in the overarching story line. Characters fall flat in the face of such physical adversaries; almost all of the challenges that Ai Ling and Chen Yong face can be overcome with physical actions, leaving very little psychology and mental study in the story.

Despite the distance I felt from the characters, however, I know that SILVER PHOENIX will appeal to the tomboy who wants a different heroine and setting than the norm.

76stephxsu
Apr 29, 2009, 10:53pm Top

51. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Recommended age: 16+
Rating: 5 out of 5

Another book read for class, another one I absolutely adored. I am so thankful I got to read this book. Roy is a stunning author who plays wonderfully with her words, which she calls the "graphic design of language." All her descriptions and the words that she chooses to use are unique and memorable. Beyond that, the story is poignant, heartbreaking, and will incite you to tears of hopelessness and yells of fury, all the while sticking with you. Highly recommended.

52. Inferno by Robin Stevenson



Tags: YA, rebellion, arson, friendship, homosexuality
Recommended age: 14+
Rating: 2 out of 5

Summary

Ever since her only friend, Beth, moved away, Dante has hated her new high school, Glen Ridge Secondary School. Hours of sitting in pointless classes, being bullied by mean teachers, forced to follow the school rules without complaint…Her parents aren’t making it better for her either. Her mother doesn’t want Dante to become a social outcast, and yet insist on keeping her tightly reined, as if that will help her daughter.

Then one day, a strange girl thrusts a flyer that says “Woof, woof. You are not a dog. Why are you going to obedience school?” into Dante’s hands, and Dante thinks she has found a soulmate. The girl, Parker, introduces Dante to two other guys who have similar thoughts about established institutions such as schools and jails, and they do things to protest the mundanity of it all. For once, Dante is elated, and she continues to be inexplicably drawn to Parker and unable—or unwilling—to explain her feelings.

But when her friends plan something that can really be out of control, and Parker needs her help, what is Dante to do? How much is too much, and what done in the name of protest is actually useless, unhelpful, and dangerous?

Review

Inferno deals with an overwhelming number of issues in a way that leaves us unsatisfied. In the span of a little over 200 pages, Stevenson tries to deal with rebellion, parental misunderstanding, homosexuality, arson, unhealthy vs. healthy friendships…Whoa! There are probably more that I missed. Just one of these topics is something that deserves a book to itself. Cramming all of these into one book results in me feeling dissatisfied and cheated out of a better, more complete and fulfilling story.

Dante is a mediocre protagonist who makes bad decisions I often can’t relate to; as a result, she hardly garners my respect and empathy. Similarly, Parker, while a compelling IDEA of a character, falls flat in practice. Her personality ranges from enigmatic, strong, and intelligent to scared and indecisive, to flirtatious and manipulative. While it is totally possible that all of these traits exist in one character, in Parker they felt disjointed, as if she were three different characters trying—and failing—to masquerade as one. As a result, I was unable to sympathize with her character, even though I admit that her problems are plenty and definitely deserve attention and maybe even therapy.

Similarly, other supporting characters are either one-dimensional or else so caricature-esque that I couldn’t get into them. Jamie, Parker’s boyfriend, is unrelentingly the angry disenfranchised youth with the unexplained past. Leo, their other friend, has a backstory, but it seems totally separate from the person he is now. Dante’s mother was infuriating, but that was probably for personal reasons. I only wish that Dante’s parents were more complex characters, so I could actually believe their shifts in emotions and the mother-daughter bonding moments. Because right now I don’t believe them.

All hope is NOT lost, however. The plot, while predictable, still managed to capture my attention and keep me reading. This book is really a plot-driven one. Inferno is a beginners’ introduction to a variety of complex issues that need to be explored at a greater depth. I’m not sure who to recommend this to because there are much better books that discuss these topics out there.

53. The Innocent by Posie Graeme-Evans



Tags: historical romance, Medieval England
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Philippa Gregory
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

In politically uncertain 15th-century England, a baby girl is born, against all the forces that have tried to destroy her and her mother. The younger mother dies, but the girl, Anne, survives, and is taken in by a foster mother, Deborah, and taught ways with healing herbs and concoctions.

When Anne is fifteen, she arrives in London to work as a servant at the merchant Mathew Cuttifer’s house. London is full of not-so-nice characters, and Anne is made to feel ever more aware of her femininity and precarious position in society. Anne’s life quickly spirals into danger when, as the queen’s body servant, she catches the eye—and heart—of King Edward, a handsome, passionate, but dangerous young man. She also learns the terrifying truth about her lineage, a truth that could spell disaster for her and her friends. In the political upheavals of the time, how can Anne stay true to herself, she wants to be with her love the king even though she knows that’s impossible?

Review

First and foremost, don’t read this book expecting historical accuracy, for if you do, you’ll be sorely disappointed. That being said, The Innocent is a twisting, bosom-heaving, emotional, gasping historical fiction read! The author gorgeously places us into the heads of all the characters, however minor, so that we are able to get a sense of their thoughts and feelings, their conflicts and uncertainties. I don’t know much at all about Medieval England, but I am far from disappointed here: our closeness to the characters makes for an extremely believable court intrigue, a space full of secrets, hidden desires, backstabbing, and political unrest…delicious!

However, I was most bothered by some of the characters and their relationships with one another. The protagonist, Anne, was just too perfect, the perfectly helpless damsel in distress whose occasional bursts of confidence and assuredness seemed fake in light of her more consistent ability to not have a spine. I couldn’t believe that her breathtaking beauty could really sustain everyone’s interest in her for prolonged periods of time.

Similarly, I found the romance between Anne and King Edward unrealistic. Their eyes meet, they take in each other’s beauties…and then they’re forever obsessed with each other? I got no inkling of the chemistry between them, just an unfathomable draw of—what, hormones? Pheromones?—driving them together in spite of everything.

Despite those issues I have with the book, I’d still recommend The Innocent to a variety of readers. Even if you don’t know or often read books about Medieval England, Posie Graeme-Evans’ writing ability is still something to take note of. You will be sucked into the characters’ stories, and only unwillingly will you put the book down.

54. Prom Dates from Hell by Rosemary Clement-Moore



Tags: YA, paranormal, demons, prom
Recommended age: 14+
Similar Authors: Cassandra Clare, Meg Cabot, Kelley Armstrong, Megan McCafferty
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

High school senior and aspiring journalist Maggie Quinn just wants to survive the last few weeks of high school without getting sucked into the prom madness. However, there’s more on her plate to worry about when strange and horrible things begin to happen to her grade’s “elite crowd,” lovingly called the Jocks and the Jessicas by Maggie. These boys and girls suffer accidents or lose what is most important to them, and Maggie, with the help of her friends, reluctantly admits that something sinister and distinctly hellish might just be happening, and it might take a trip to the prom for her to come get to the bottom of it.

Review

Oh, Rosemary, how do I love thy writing? Let me count the ways. Maggie is my kind of protagonist: smart, snappy, and always ready with a quip, even at the most inappropriate moments. Here is a girl who’s not afraid to bust out SAT words in her narrative, even as she’s demeaning her admittedly stereotypical but never uninteresting lower-intelligence classmates, or trying to kick evil’s butt. She’s a no-nonsense, smart-alecky girl thrown into a situation that’s quickly turning unbelievable and distinctly UN-funny, and yet Maggie keeps her cool—and her snarky comments—consistently throughout.

Because of Clement-Moore’s fantastic writing style, even characters such as Maggie’s two possible love interests—Brian Baywatch, the rebel Jock with the lifeguard looks, and Justin, a student of the occult at the nearby university—don’t dissolve into stereotypical shining white knights (even if that is their character type). I would like to see more dimensions in Maggie’s parents and her grandmother in future books in this series, but that is a minor complaint. The strength of Maggie’s character is the thing that carries this book by far.

If you’re looking for a paranormal read that puts a smart twist on a familiar setting, look no further than Rosemary Clement-Moore’s Maggie Quinn: Girl vs Evil series. I can’t wait to read the next books!

77billiejean
Apr 30, 2009, 2:47am Top

Lots of good reviews here! :) I have God of Small Things in my tbr. That was a book that my girls read for English class in high school. So far, all of those books that I have read have been wonderful! Have a great day!
--BJ

78stephxsu
May 3, 2009, 11:19pm Top

billijean, you should definitely read The God of Small Things! I think you might like it a lot. :)

55. The Plague by Joanne Dahme



Tags: YA, middle grade, historical fiction, Medieval England, sorcery
Recommended age: 12+
Rating: 2 out of 5

Summary

Fourteenth-century Europe is ridden with the plague, monstrous black rats roaming everywhere. The English Plantagenet princess Joan is heading to Spain to marry Prince Pedro in an alliance that will give more power to the English king. However, the plague ravages the betrothal ship, leaving Princess Joan dead and her lookalike servant, Nell, and Nell’s little brother, George, alive.

Joan’s brother, the malevolent Black Prince, forces Nell to act the role of the princess and carry on with the marriage. It’s up to a ragtag group of people to help Nell and George escape from the Black Prince, but how can Nell know who to really trust? And with an army of rats and a crown to the Black Prince’s name, how can Nell survive the throes of his black-hearted ambitions?

Review

THE PLAGUE was a decisively odd and unsatisfying read. I had expected a grand and exciting adventure full of so much danger you couldn’t possibly flip a page without encountering it. However, this book was slow, disjointed, and inconclusive. I never got a sense for any of the characters, most of whom seemed to pop in and out of the story arbitrarily, their backstories and motivations unexplained. The Black Prince was a too perfect villain, with consistently evil actions and a predictable ending.

My favorite character was little George, a naively optimistic and trusting boy who helps heal the afflicted and has not yet realized how dangerous the world is. Other than that, however, I felt no connection to this book at all.

79stephxsu
May 4, 2009, 3:50pm Top

56. Daughter of the Flames by Zoe Marriott



Tags: YA, middle grade, fantasy
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Christopher Paolini, Shannon Hale, Robin McKinley
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

The kingdom of Ruan has been taken over by neighboring Sedra, and Rua and Sedorne folks live uneasily side-by-side. Fifteen-year-old orphan Zira lives in the namoa’s religious temple and trains to become a warrior. An ugly burn scar on her face is the only relic she has of her childhood, when the rest of her family was destroyed by fire.

Suddenly Zira learns that she is not who she thinks she is, but rather Zahira Elfenesh, the sole surviving member of the Ruan royal family. Her uncle, the Sedorne king Abheron, is determined to get Zahira under his control. The only way she can perhaps overthrow her powerful uncle and save her people is to unite with Sorin Mesgao, a sympathetic Sedorne lord who rules Ruan land. Will she be able to get along with this man who is supposedly her enemy in order to lead the way to a better future?

Review

Reading Daughter of the Flames is like watching a high-action, “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon”-like movie. In other words, it’s fantastic and utterly enthralling. Zoe Marriott has a wonderful way of vividly describing details, so that I could see every aspect of what was going on at any time in my mind.

The characters also were interesting and memorable. Zira/Zahira is an awesome female protagonist, kicking butt both literally—in suspenseful fight scenes reminiscent of Asian martial arts movies—and metaphorically—holding her own verbally in mental warfare. Zahira is a young girl who is mercilessly thrust into a position of high power and responsibility, and both her doubts and determination are highly believable.

King Abheron is a perfectly twisted antagonist with a surprisingly touching background, who occasionally does things that are so bizarre, so complex, and so inexplicable that I can definitely, without being able to explain it, see why he would want to do such things. Sorin is less well developed but still likable. I would have liked to see more of his loyalty and love for Zahira throughout the book, but I am still happy with what I got from him.

Upon finishing the book I let out a frustrated cry, so disappointed I was that the book had to end. Zoe Marriott is truly skilled at writing engrossing fantasies, and I definitely want to read more books by her in the future.

80stephxsu
May 5, 2009, 7:34pm Top

57. You Are Here by Jennifer E. Smith (Publication date: May 19, 2009)



Tags: YA, road trip, death, family
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Susane Colasanti, Catherine Ryan Hyde
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

Sixteen-year-old Emma Healy has never felt like she belonged in her family full of professors, geniuses, and success stories. While her much older siblings went on to college and careers, Emma kept to herself, dreaming of “normal” birthday parties and conversations that didn’t revolve around obscure literary figures.

Emma’s neighbor, Peter Finnigan, is a Civil War-obsessed nerd who wishes he had a family like the Healys. Instead, it’s just him and his cop father, forever separated and at odds by the taboo subject of Peter’s mother, who died giving birth to him.

When Emma discovers a birth and death certificate for a twin brother she never knew she once had, it’s as if she suddenly feels complete. This discovery leads Emma and Peter to take a road trip from New York State to North Carolina to visit Emma’s brother’s grave, but what they discover is not grief and loneliness, but rather togetherness in all senses of the word.

Review

Jennifer E. Smith certainly knows how to write. Her narrative reads like one of those twelve-page character description exercises that writers occasionally do in order to get to fully know their characters. At the end of the book, we know Emma and Peter inside out. Neither one is without flaws, but all of their complexities, worries, passions, and dialogue simply sing through the pages. Jennifer is in real command of the language here.

I think that the book’s weak point, the one thing that made me not like the book as much as I would’ve wanted to like it, was its plot. Road trips are a pretty common plot in YA lit, and so it’s hard to redo the age-old plot without falling into a rut. Emma and Peter’s road trip, while completely realistic, with things such as the New Jersey Turnpike and the Gettysburg battlefield described in a mesmerizing yet straightforward and thus believable way, was also unfortunately not very exciting or engaging.

They pick up a stray dog who never gets a name, they visit a bunch of random places and have conversations that sometimes run deep and sometimes turn into arguments…these are all nice things to think about, because they happen in everyone’s lives, but when these incidents and family flashbacks make up the majority of the novel, something gets lost. Never mind the fact that this book has a strong message: family is not just about similarities, but also about staying together despite the differences. It’s a great message…provided you don’t get lost along the way.

I also wasn’t much a fan of the Emma-and-Peter romantic coupling. I felt like I knew it was going to happen, and yet while reading the book I REALLY didn’t want it to, I wanted the book to break the stereotypes of boy-girl get-togethers at the end of the novel, but alas. Maybe I didn’t get a clear image of Emma and Peter as compatible human beings. They are great as individuals, yes, but together? I need more convincing.

Overall, however, You Are Here is far from being a bad and unenjoyable book. Jennifer E. Smith is definitely a strong writer whose talent deserves to get noticed. Readers who enjoy character-driven books will like You Are Here, and for those of us looking for a faster-paced read, well, you’re going to have to wait for another book.

81stephxsu
May 9, 2009, 12:22am Top

58. The Dust of 100 Dogs by A. S. King



Tags: YA, adventure, pirates, Ireland, Jamaica, reincarnation
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Lisa McMann
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

Emer Morrisey has not had an easy childhood. Growing up in poor rural Ireland during the Cromwell invasion, Emer loses her family at a young age and is forced to live with her cruel uncle’s family. Her only friend is Seanie, a neighborhood boy. When her uncle forces her to marry an old Parisian, Emer escapes to the Caribbean, where she eventually ends up a successful pirate.

A series of coincidences brings Emer and Seanie back together again. Just as they plan to retire from piracy and spend the rest of their lives together, a hated figure from Emer’s past tears their plans apart. Emer is cursed to live a hundred lives as a dog before finally becoming a human again.

Now, in the late twentieth century, Emer has been reborn as Saffron Adams, a girl from a run-down, messed-up family in Pennsylvania. And she’s really determined to get back to Jamaica and reclaim the treasure that only she knows is buried there…

Review

The Dust of 100 Dogs has a frightfully original concept that takes a while to get into, but once you do, look out! You will get caught up in Saffron and Emer’s story. I particularly liked reading about Emer’s life, the chapters of which are interspersed in between Saffron’s story and that of Fred Livingstone, a slightly crazy rich pervert who lives in a glass mansion in Jamaica. Sound a little random? Well, yes, but his story is tied in with Saffron’s, and I found it remarkable how A. S. King paralleled Emer and Saffron’s adventures, 300 years apart.

While the idea was great, I couldn’t really get into the way it was executed. Saffron fell flat for me, although this is sadly understandable, since she is more a vessel for Emer’s desires. Saffron’s family was depressingly run-down and unsympathetic, and the episodes that occurred during Emer’s childhood felt too prolonged for me. Issues such as homosexual urges and rape were brought up in an uncomfortable and incomplete manner that begged explanation…which we don’t get.

I’m ambivalent as to how I feel about The Dust of 100 Dogs, but nevertheless it is still a highly original and adventurous book that many will enjoy.

82stephxsu
Edited: May 10, 2009, 4:31pm Top

59. Undercover by Beth Kephart



Tags: YA, lyrical, family, nature, poetry
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Laurie Halse Anderson, Shannon Hale, Francesca Lia Block, Sonya Hartnett
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

Elisa Cantor has a way with words and a connection with nature. However, she uses her talent for creating metaphors to ghost-write love notes for the boys in her grade. Ordinary and plain-looking herself, Elisa knows that she will never get the attention of a boy like Theo, who asks Elisa to write metaphors for his love interest, the hellish but beautiful Lila. Meanwhile, Elisa’s father’s work prevents him from being home, causing the rest of the family to begin to fall apart.

Elisa spends most of her time skating on her frozen pond in the woods while trying to figure out her growing friendship with Theo. However, Lila is jealous of their friendship and threatens to make Elisa regret talking to Theo. Will Elisa find the courage within herself to stand up and believe in herself, her talents, and the strength of all kinds of love?

Review

Undercover is simply stunning. There are some books you read for the sake of the story, and there are some you read just to see the words fall perfectly together, to hear the way they sound in your mind. Beth Kephart’s words do not conjure up vivid scenes involving the characters and their predicaments; instead, they push the boundaries of language and remind us of the multidimensionality of words—that language is not simply a means to a message, but rather a form of art itself.

Elisa’s way of thinking puts us readers easily into her mind, understanding where she is coming from and why she is feeling what she feels. We see the world through her descriptions, which perhaps does not give us as clear a picture of the other characters as we would like—but they are understandably incomplete character sketches. Elisa’s mother, sister, and father are all compelling and possessing unique characteristics, while Theo is an appealing romantic interest. Lila, Theo’s evil girlfriend, seems a little underdeveloped to me, but I’m willing to overlook that in light of the numerous other positive qualities that this book has.

All in all, Undercover is a fantastic work of art that just might change the way you look at the world. I am now thoroughly a fan of Beth Kephart and look forward to reading more of her books in the future.

83whitewavedarling
May 10, 2009, 8:01pm Top

Wonderful review! I'll have to keep my eyes open for this one :)

84billiejean
May 12, 2009, 8:44am Top

That is a wonderful review and I added this one to my wishlist. :) Thanks so much and have a great day!
--BJ

85stephxsu
May 13, 2009, 5:46pm Top

To whitewavedarling and billijean, thank you so much, and I hope you will read Beth Kephart's books! :)

60. Genesis by Bernard Beckett



Tags: YA, adult, dystopian lit, artificial intelligence
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: George Orwell, M. T. Anderson
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

In Plato’s Republic, an island nation in the future where no one from the outside is allowed in, Anaximander begins her four-hour-long examination for entrance into The Academy. She has researched the life of Adam Forde, a well-known soldier who made history when he rescued an outsider girl from the sea and changed the course of the Republic forever.

As Anax tells the Examiners what she knows about Adam’s life and the subsequent events that followed, she begins to question the existence of humanity, the purpose of the Republic, and the safety of her own future, ultimately making a discovery that turns her life—and the readers—upside down for a shocking conclusion.

Review

How can I describe GENESIS in a way that will do it justice? It’s a chilling piece of dystopian literature, a psychological thriller that terrifies even though it takes place entirely in a four-hour-long conversation. It’s not light reading, for sure, and will force you to think long and hard about it days after you’ve finished the book.

On that note, though, I think that all the time you’ll have to put into thinking about this book and the issues it raises is completely worth it. There are long conversations that delve into questions of the worth of humanity and the dangers—and advantages—of artificial intelligence. The ending in particular was so unexpected, so original and yet so appropriate that once you’ve read it you can think of no other way to end the book. I would read this book again and again just to understand the circumstances that led up to the fascinating ending, an ending that will stay with you forever.

All in all, don’t miss GENESIS. It’s not a typical young adult read, that’s for sure, and will be difficult for many people to comprehend, but if you put the effort into it, trust me, it will be very worth it.

61. Summer Girls by Hailey Abbott



Tags: YA, summer, boys, drama, beach
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Melissa de la Cruz, Beth Mayall
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Summary

In Pebble Beach, Maine, summer is about to get hot and nasty. Jessica, the All-American athlete with the killer body, has set her eyes on Liam, the local playboy, and is willing to do anything to get to him—including getting information out of his younger brother, Connor.

Jessica’s cousin, the glam New York fashionista Greer, arrives in Pebble Beach reluctantly while her parents are in the midst of a divorce, but perks up when she’s challenged to win the heart of Brady, who sees past her airs and looks. However, Brady has an ex-girlfriend who is just a step short of Satan’s spawn…

And finally, Lara, whose mom has just recently married Jessica’s uncle, is surprised when she falls for a wonderful guy on the first day of summer. It could be the perfect romance…except for one tiny little fact: Drew is Jessica’s older brother, and thus her cousin. How will the summer turn out for the three girls?

Review

Let’s just say off the bat that I don’t like this type of book. I prefer to read literature that’s slightly more intellectual than describing the boys as “Abercrombie-hot” and throwing out a bunch of classy brand names to describe a girl’s wardrobe. Summer Girls has both of those and more. The characters are all “types”: the sporty-hot chick, the glam-hot chick, the offbeat-hot chick, the playboy-hot guy, the sporty-hot guy, the wholesome-boy-next-door-hot guy…have I been clear enough yet?

I don’t even mind character types as long as they are done well, as long as we can put ourselves in their shoes and see where they are coming from in their thoughts and actions. But you don’t really get to do that with Summer Girls. Individually I can believe each of these girls’ stories and maybe even enjoy them, but when you throw them together and insist that they go from practically strangers to BFFs in the course of several very turbulent weeks without adequately exploring the dynamics of their friendships and family, well, I have a problem. It’s as if the author decided that the three girls would have their separate plotlines, but they had to converge somehow, so—boom!—they live together. Uh, okay? And then what happens? There is so much more that happens when three almost-strangers live together than what is portrayed in this book.

Still, the summer is coming up, and Hailey Abbott’s series has done well in years past. Summer Girls will find its audience in the hordes of preteen girls who want to live vicariously—read: have random hookups, get their hearts broken by summer flings, and wrap everything up neatly at the end of the season—while in reality they’re stuck on an unexciting beach with their unexciting, same-old, same-old family.

62. Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers



Tags: YA, tragedy, rape
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors:Sara Zarr, Laurie Halse Anderson, Jay Asher
Rating: 5 out of 5

Summary

Parker Fadley used to be perfect: cheerleading captain, honor roll, most popular boyfriend. Now, however, in her senior year of high school, she has none of those, and it’s all by her choice. She’s constantly getting in trouble, and has to meet with her guidance counselor once a week to discuss her “issues.”

What happened to make Parker act this way? As Parker pushes away her old friends and struggles with her feelings for the new boy, Jake, she also grapples with her guilt over a terrible event that happened the year before.

Review

Cracked Up to Be is pretty much perfect. It’s a short but dense read that will keep you impatiently engrossed in Parker’s convoluted world, unable to tear yourself away until you find out what happened to make Parker deteriorate so much.

Of course, it is Parker who carries the novel, Parker who makes me love this book. One of the most difficult things for a writer to do is to create characters who are not necessarily likable but still make readers empathize with them. Parker and all her friends are such characters. They are the most popular people at their high school—something I, along with most of us, have never experienced—but even so they are bitchy, emotional, hurt, in love, in lust, manipulative—in short, relatable, complex, and one hundred percent real.

The novel is set up in a way that we don’t find out about what’s been eating at Parker until the very end, and the setup is wonderfully appropriate, for it allows us to focus on the character development while being intrigued by the backstory. I said that this book is pretty much perfect, and not just in the foundations, like the characters and the plot. Courtney Summers is also a writing master: she writes in an unassuming, straightforward prose that doesn’t beat around the bush. That’s the way Parker talks also; she gets straight to the point in wonderfully sarcastic lines.

All in all…does this review even need a conclusion? Are you confused about how I feel about this novel? Run out and buy it right now!

86billiejean
May 14, 2009, 12:48am Top

I thought Genesis sounded interesting. I am adding that to the wishlist, too. It is starting to get too long!
--BJ

87stephxsu
Edited: May 19, 2009, 5:28pm Top

63. Split by a Kiss by Luisa Plaja



Tags: middle grade, YA, popularity, friendship
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Rachel Cohn
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Summary

An average British girl moves to the United States and is instantly popular because of her cute accent and vocabulary. Sounds like every girl’s dream come true, right? And for Josephine Reilly, it happens…sort of. As she’s in a closet at a party, kissing Jake Matthews, the hottest boy at school, her Josie the Cool side decides to stay with Jake and the Cool Crowd. Meanwhile, her Jo the Nerd half realizes she’s not being true to herself and chooses not to fall in with Jake and the popular girls.

Before she knows it, Jo has truly split into two! Jo the Nerd navigates some confusing friendships and an intense crush, while Josie the Cool must reckon with the Cool Crowd’s backstabbing and secrets, as well as a misogynistic sort-of boyfriend. What will it take for the two parts of Josephine Reilly to reunite?

Review

Split by a Kiss means to be a fun, escapist sort of read, and it never tries to be more than that. Which is good, because it IS incredible fun. The two sides of Jo have believable and enjoyable storylines, and it’s always great when conversations or events from Jo’s two different “lives” parallel one another, when she has similar conversations at the same time with the same people in both of her lives. Jo is likable as either a cool girl or a nerd: she has a down-to-earth personality that shines through in any situation…except when she’s being annoyingly naïve for things that readers can clearly understand.

In fact, my one major complaint with this novel—the one that breaks it for me—is its utter predictability. Most of the supporting characters are rather one-dimensional, making it easy for readers to see who her true friends are and which romantic interest she is going to end up with. Therefore, it is frustrating to read more than 200 pages of Jo not seeing what exactly she should do when the reader clearly knows the outcome from the very beginning.

If you’re looking for a brain-numbingly fun book in between more serious reads, consider Split by a Kiss. Chock full of across-the-pond banter, Luisa Plaja’s novels will be sure to find their audience anywhere in the world.

64. Exclusively Chloe by J. A. Yang



Tags: YA, Hollywood, paparazzi, going undercover, adoption
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Jen Calonita, Zoey Dean
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Summary

Being the first celebrity adopted kid doesn’t make Chloe-Grace’s life easy. The Chinese American has had her fair share of the limelight, even before her superstar parents file for divorce and publicly party, to Chloe-Grace’s humiliation. Tired of a life that’s constantly in the tabloids, not to mention her best friend Rachelle’s love for all the attention, Chloe-Grace decides to go “undercover.” She learns that her biological parents and younger brother live in a less classier neighborhood nearby, and decides to attend her brother Henry’s “normal” high school in an attempt to be anonymous and maybe connect with her family.

Review

Exclusively Chloe depicts the harsh realities of Hollywood politics without being too trashy. Chloe-Grace is a relatable and likable protagonist, a young girl caught in between the glitz of celebrity life and a desire to know what it feels like to be normal. If you’ve ever wondered what Brad and Angelina’s lot might feel like as teenagers, there is an excellent possibility—one can hope!—that they will turn out like Chloe-Grace: a down-to-earth girl who doesn’t take her glamorous situation for granted, yet knows how to have fun with what she has.

The book falls short in quite a few aspects, however. I found the pacing of Exclusively Chloe to be rather odd, as Chloe-Grace and her friends party through half the novel before she even thinks about being normal. I had expected from the synopsis on the back of the book that more of the story would revolve around Chloe-Grace’s experience as a normal teenager at an average high school, and so Chloe-Grace doing basically nothing for a hundred pages took me off on an unhappy detour.

Besides for Chloe-Grace, most of the other characters are unexciting and unoriginal. You have your basic attention-obsessed best friend, flamboyant homosexual stylists, career-oriented parents, super-nice everyday classmates at the “normal” high school, the perfectly sweet romantic interest. The stereotypes and generalizations bogged the story down for me, leading to an unsatisfying conclusion that was too neat, too easily wrapped up.

The shortcomings can be cast aside, however, if you’re simply looking for a fun and new look into Hollywood life. Chloe-Grace’s story of the trials and tribulations of being a celebrity-adopted kid will be the one everyone can turn to for a glimpse at how they live—at least until Maddox and his brothers and sisters hit puberty.

65. Starfinder by John Marco



Tags: middle grade, YA, fantasy, aviation, dragons, adventure
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Philip Pullman, C. S. Lewis, Hayao Miyazaki, Diana Wynne Jones, Cindy Pon
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

Thirteen-year-old Moth is only a penniless orphan boy, but he has always dreamed of flying, which in the mountainous city of Calio is the dream to go for. Moth lives with Lady Esme, a bird, and Leroux, an old Eldrin Knight who tells stories of mysterious creatures beyond the Reach, the fog-covered land that stretches infinitely to Calio’s north.

No one ever took Leroux’s stories seriously, least of all Moth—until the day Leroux dies and Moth finds out that Lady Esme is not a bird at all, but rather an enslaved Skylord, one of the mysterious but powerful creatures that are rumored to rule the Reach. Along with his friend Fiona, Moth and Lady Esme escape into the Reach with the Starfinder, an instrument of terrible power that the Skylords once used to wield power over everyone in the Reach.

They intend to help Esme turn back into Skylord form, but things are not that easy. Fiona’s grandfather, Rendor, comes after them for the Starfinder, too. Moth, Fiona, and Lady Esme encounter a great number of startling creatures—both friends and enemies—as unusual alliances are forged and both sides prepare for a great war…a war over the Starfinder and the destiny of the humans’ claim to the sky.

Review

Starfinder is a book for anyone who craves an action-packed adventure with unique creatures coming out of the pages left and right. Most of the characters, though hastily introduced, come to win our sympathies, despite perhaps being an imperfect creature or even one of the bad guys. Moth’s determination to fly could lead to his downfall, and I found it interesting to see how Fiona’s stubborn temper changed over the course of the novel.

Like the characters, many of the plot twists seem to come out of nowhere, which made following the book difficult at times. Every once in a while I found it hard for me to suspend my disbelief as another fantastical object—a magical suit of armor, perhaps—was introduced to us. Additionally, Marco’s writing and his book hovers uncertainly between a middle-grade and an adult fantasy, almost as if it can’t make up its mind as to which it wants to be. Moth and Fiona certainly talk their age, but the rest of the narration hovers between plodding obtuseness, a slow pace that adults can stand more than kids, and a too-obvious telling-not-showing, which I presume is its unsuccessful attempt to be more age-appropriate.

That being said, I believe that Starfinder's appeal can transcend age and genre boundaries. Ignoring the average writing and sometimes unbelievable plot points, John Marco has written a swashbuckling adventure novel that only gets better as the pages go along. (My favorite scene, in fact, was the last battle, a scene of such epic proportions and vivid imagery that I couldn’t put the book down then.) If you enjoy sci-fi/fantasy movies such as Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli films, pick up Starfinder. It’s the written equivalent of “Nausicaa and the Valley of the Winds.”

88stephxsu
May 23, 2009, 6:59pm Top

66. Hunger: a Gone Novel by Michael Grant (Publication date: May 26, 2009)



Tags: YA, thriller, dystopia, supernatural, horror
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: J. K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Eoin Colfer, William Golding
Rating: 5 out of 5

Summary

The FAYZ is a twenty-mile-diameter zone where all people over 15 years old have disappeared. It’s been three months since the infamous Thanksgiving Day battle in Perdido Beach that involved the townies, the prep kids at troubled Coates Academy, and some other terrifying creatures—such as talking coyotes—and superpowers—like levitation, firepower, and more. Food is running out in the FAYZ, and kids are losing their once steady resolve to stay humane.

There is a divide growing between the “freaks” (those with the superpowers) and the normals, but Sam, the town-declared mayor and overall hero/daddy type, has other worries on his overwhelmed hands as well. Caine and his Coates Academy cronies have something sinister planned…but worse than that is the developing certainty that an indescribable force of evil is behind everything, and will stop at nothing to gain a form.

Review

If you think Michael Grant couldn’t get better with Gone, the first novel in this six-part series, think again and again and again! Hunger: a Gone Novel completely blows the first book out of the water in terms of action, suspense, horror, and intrigue. It includes all the positives of Gone—the multicharacter points of view, the supernatural, the killer kids with superpowers—and adds more exciting components.

One of my favorite aspects of the Gone books is their ability to weave an engaging story from multiple characters’ points of view. This allows readers to understand everyone’s motivations and faults, passions and lapses in judgment, for an ultimately more believable and enjoyable reading experience. With the exception of purposely-made-evil villains, it’s easy to picture these characters as simply frightened teenagers thrown into a nightmarish life, every day trying to balance morality with survival.

Of course, the Gone series would not be such a success were it not for its elaborate and utterly fascinating plot. It is clear on from every chapter that a lot of thought and preparation has gone into this series. Fans of Harry Potter and TV shows like “Lost” will be able to enjoy Gone and Hunger: a Gone Novel’s complexity, subplots, supernatural elements, and budding romances. Basically, this series has everything, and each book’s 500+ pages will pass by in an all-too-fast flash that will leave your palms sweating, your heart racing, and your mind hungering for more from this talented author.

67. Sea Change by Aimee Friedman (Publication date: June 1, 2009)



Tags: YA, summer, mystery, mermaids, romance, South
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Judy Blume, Sarah Dessen, Donna Jo Napoli, Cameron Dokey
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

Miranda has spent her whole life among science experiments and cold hard facts. So an unexpected summer at the Selkie Island mansion that her mother inherited after the death of Grandmother Isadora throws Miranda for a huge loop. Selkie Island is engulfed with mists of mystery, legends of alluring sea creatures and mermaids that spend their lives half-in, half-out of the water. It is also an island of old-fashioned Southern manners and beliefs, things that Miranda, born and raised in Brooklyn, can hardly believe are part of her legacy.

Miranda’s newfound summer gentile friends urge her to become an item with T.J., a respectable and handsome young man from an equally privileged Southern family. However, Miranda finds herself more and more attracted to a mysterious island native, Leo, whom she can’t help but associate with Selkie Island’s legends of mermaids and mermen. The question, though, is not whether Leo is indeed one of the mystical creatures, but how much self-conscious Miranda is willing to risk for her happiness.

Review

In Sea Change, Aimee Friedman has written an uplifting and magical summer read. This book has all the elements that a summer book demands: an exotic setting, secrets, multiple love interests, stormy emotions, and magical mystique. Selkie Island, with its variety of characters—from the friendly fishermen in the natives’ village to the status-obsessed rich summer vacationers who are Miranda’s neighbors—is a locale that has captured my attention and desires.

However, Sea Change is a book that relies mostly on mystery and plot to move along, which explains but cannot be an excuse for the lack of depth in most of the characters. Most notable how abruptly and incompletely Miranda and Leo’s relationship develops. Physical attraction and “perfect” banter does not a believable relationship make, and I definitely felt like I was missing something that connected these two characters with each other.

Similarly, most of the supporting characters also rely on clichés and stereotypes to make their point. I never got a clear picture of Miranda’s island friends, and there were many times when I felt like Sea Change got dangerously close to the line between sweet, feel-good read and cliché-ridden summer-mystery love story.

Overall, however, I would recommend Sea Change and its intriguing mysteries as a light read, perfect for a beach or poolside day.

68. Destroy All Cars by Blake Nelson



Tags: YA, angst, environmentalism, activism
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: John Green
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

High school junior James Hoff hates Consumer America. He is against gas-guzzling, exhaust-emitting cars; malls; colleges; and pointless food-drive-running, fundraising do-gooders like his ex-girlfriend Sadie Kinnell, whom he still unfortunately has feelings for.

James exercises his feelings through his writing, but what happens when that’s not enough? When his life crosses paths with Sadie’s once more, and this time in a fight to save a local pond from development, James can no longer hang on to his pessimistic attitude if he intends of growing up and giving himself a purpose in life.

Review

Told in English essays, screenplay dialogue exchanges, and diary-like entries, Destroy All Cars is a unique approach to the development of a young and interesting pessimist. This book’s strengths lie in its writing and its protagonist. The variety of writing formats perfectly yet uniquely captures the confused, angsty, and passionate mind of a teenage boy and makes for great reading.

To avoid falling into the pit of believing that the supporting characters are underdeveloped in this novel, it’s important to keep in mind that Destroy All Cars closely follows the thoughts and beliefs of its protagonist, James. We see the world as James see it—see it in all of its screwed-up, apathetic, apocalyptic anti-glory. James cannot fully understand the motivations and actions of the people in his life, and thus, neither can we. And that is perfectly okay.

James is far from being the most attractive or likable protagonist ever. He doesn’t hesitate to criticize others’ charitable acts as useless, yet fails to do anything productive himself. It is his hypocrisy, however, that makes him appeal to me: the world is full of well-intentioned hypocrites, not perfect knights in shining armor. James’ flaws make him a realistic, believable, and, ultimately, enjoyable protagonist.

Destroy All Cars is not for the light-hearted; it challenges you to think about universal environmental issues and the sense of uncertainty and inadequacy one experiences in adolescence. Nevertheless, it is a great read, a far cry from other, often vapid or painfully awkward novels that try to give you glimpse into a teenage boy’s mind.

89kiwiflowa
May 27, 2009, 3:44pm Top

Thanks for the wonderful reviews. I read most of your reviews on Tuesday night then 2 hours later I found myself in Borders and right in front of me was If I Stay which rang a bell. So I picked it up started reading... bought it... finished reading it... and it was fantastic! I'm going to make a list of your other highly rated YA novels - Thanks again :)

90stephxsu
May 28, 2009, 9:50am Top

kiwiflowa, I'm SO glad my reviews have motivated you to pick up some books! If I Stay is utterly fantastic and I'm so glad you enjoyed it. :)

91dianestm
May 30, 2009, 1:03am Top

Just catching up on some threads. You have read some amazing books this year and boosted my TBR mountain by quite a few.

Will be keeping an eye on what else you read this year.

92stephxsu
May 30, 2009, 10:16am Top

dianestm, thank you! Always glad to help boost others' TBR piles--even when mine doesn't need any more help. :)

69. City of Glass by Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments, Book 3)



Tags: YA, paranormal, series, love triangle, war
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Stephenie Meyer, J. K. Rowling, Melissa Marr
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

In this long-awaited finale to the bestselling paranormal series, newly minted Shadowhunter Clary Fray needs to journey to the City of Glass—Alicante, the capital city of Shadowhunter country, Idris—in order to find the book that will wake her mother from her deep slumber. But trouble begins before she even enters Idris. Demons are attacking everywhere, even in Alicante, which they supposedly cannot penetrate to. Shadowhunters are dying, and Valentine—Clary and Jace’s evil father—has given the Shadowhunters an ultimatum: join him in his quest to “purify” the world of all Downworlders, or be killed.

Armed with only their Shadowhunter instincts and fighting skills, Clary, Jace, Simon, Isabelle, and Alec band together with new friends in order to try to stop Valentine. While Jace and Clary continue to struggle with their forbidden feelings for one another, it soon becomes clear that there may be a spy for Valentine in their midst. Ultimately, surprising secrets are revealed, friends are betrayed, bargains are struck, and enormous sacrifices must be made if the Shadowhunters want a chance to defeat Valentine, once and for all.

Review

Cassandra Clare delivers a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy that has both Twilight and Harry Potter fans alike on their feet and drooling. In City of Glass, pressing questions from the first two books are answered and loose ends are tied up, albeit a bit too neatly for my taste. (But more on that later.)

The Mortal Instruments trilogy has really relied more on appealing characters and their development rather than an outstanding plot or story idea. The characters are ones you simply WANT the narration to revolve around: they are quirky and smart-mouthed, yet vulnerable and, inexplicably, human. Clary, short and hot-tempered, is the kind of female protagonist we’d all like to be if we were in an action-fantasy novel—she is resourceful, fun, emotionally turbulent, and unknowingly appealing. Jace is the bad-boy hero of our dreams, whose sardonic comments balance his tough-guy mask to hide his boyish insecurities.

That being said, the story uses a plot that is sometimes slow, oftentimes predictable, and occasionally a bit ludicrous. More than once I felt like some elements were watered-down ones of Harry Potter—most notably being the villain with unfortunate blood ties to the protagonists. The ending in particular was so sudden, so ideal, that I have trouble wrapping my mind around its plausibility.

Overall, THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS is an enjoyable, action-packed, and sizzling paranormal trilogy. Fans of Twilight will adore the love triangles and unrequited/forbidden love angle, while Harry Potter acolytes may find a powerful competitor with their favorite series.

70. Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott



Tags: YA, abuse
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Laurie Halse Anderson, Sarah Dessen
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

Five years ago, when she was ten, the girl now known as Alice was kidnapped from a school trip to the aquarium and forced to be a sex object for a creepy pedophile named Ray. Now that “Alice” is fifteen, though, her body is getting too womanly for Ray’s liking.

Alice dreams of the day that Ray will tire of her and finally kill her, just like he did with the previous Alice. However, Ray has different plans. He wants Alice to find her a new little girl, and for the three of them to live as a family. Alice is no less complacent at this new task, eager to relinquish her terrifying duties to another innocent being. But the task—and her emotions and morals—are not as simple as she thought…

Review

Living Dead Girl is immediately gripping; even the synopsis draws you in. From there, the story just builds and builds on you, a combination of the horrifying predicament that Alice is in and the spare, unapologetic language that Elizabeth Scott uses to strike a chord in readers.

As far as protagonists go, Alice is not one whom I can especially sympathize with or understand, and thus I am not sure how I feel about this book. I hope to God that we all will never be in Alice’s situation, so it’s a bit of a paradoxical issue: you don’t want to know where Alice is coming from, and yet you want to empathize with her, to feel her pain, confusion, and the logic behind her occasional bad decisions. However, this is difficult to do because Alice distances herself from her own narration (much like any abuse victim would).

Supporting characters—the few that there are—are similarly hard to understand. They seem to pop conveniently in and out of Alice’s story. In particular, I had trouble believing Alice’s physical relationship with the boy at the park. While Alice understandably uses sex as a commodity, it is unclear to me what Jake’s motivation is in being involved with Alice.

I think the greatest lesson I can take out of Living Dead Girl is that any abuse victim’s psyche is fathomless. This book requires a patient and dedicated audience for its impact to be felt fully, but, when felt, will reverberate with you as strongly as Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak does.

93TaylorSwift101
Jun 1, 2009, 1:25pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

94TaylorSwift101
Jun 1, 2009, 1:31pm Top

Omg! i just read this book, and i loved it! a MUST read 4 the summer.....thanks 4 all the great reviews! :)

95luv2read97
Jun 3, 2009, 10:44am Top

Thanks so much for the awesome reviews! I am always looking for books for my 14 yr. old daughter to read and you have given me a loooong list for her!

96stephxsu
Jun 3, 2009, 11:48am Top

> TaylorSwift101, I agree! It's such a great book, and summer's the best time to read a lot of these... :)

> luv2read97, I hope your daughter will enjoy many of the books that I have!

71. Sprout by Dale Peck



Tags: YA, GLBT, homosexuality, humor, abuse, writing, conservatism
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: John Green, Blake Nelson
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

Sixteen-year-old Daniel “Sprout” Bradford is gay. It’s not a secret, not even in their conservative little Kansas town, although perhaps Sprout would like to think that it does not define him. Neither are the facts that Sprout’s father is an eccentric alcoholic, his mother is dead, and he is their English teacher’s shining hope for winning the annual statewide essay-writing competition.

Sprout’s sexual adventures have always been “closeted”—literally and no pun intended. Then he meets Ty, and his world explodes. Ty is odd, religious, a little scary, and a victim of abuse. When he and Sprout share, however, is something that Sprout had never dreamed of experiencing. But their relationship must remain a secret, otherwise Ty’s father will kill them both. Or so Sprout thinks.

Who is Sprout really hiding from? Has he truly come to terms with his sexuality?

Review

Sprout is a hilarious, heartbreaking, and important addition to the world of GLBT literature. Dale Peck’s writing style is fascinating: reading Sprout is like entering the mind of a highly intellectual and insightful teenage boy. Sprout frequently goes off on linguistic tangents that occasional distract, but more often add to the genuineness of the story.

While the plot moves slowly, I believe this was okay because the book is more like an elaborate character sketch of Sprout. It is not what actually occurs in Sprout’s life that is important, but rather his thought process that gets him to where he ends up at. By the end, you want to live in Sprout’s world, be his friend, have his friends. You want to have conversations with him, console him when he is distraught, advise him when he is being dumb.

Sprout is a 2009 must-read by a talented author whose insights and wonderful way with words will take him far in the near future. Sprout may say that his book will never be allowed in school libraries, but I hope that that doesn’t deter everyone from picking this book up and learning something from this precocious young man.

72. Swoon by Nina Malkin



Tags: YA, revenge, paranormal, lust
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: A. S. King, Lisa McMann
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

A tragedy relocates Candice “Dice” Moskow to the uber-preppy town of Swoon, Connecticut. Everyone hopes that she will be reformed after hanging out with her cousin, the perfect Pen Leonard, but when Pen falls out of a tree, thing start going horribly awry. It turns out that Pen has been possessed by the angry spirit of Sinclair Youngblood Powers, wrongly murdered over two centuries ago and now determined to exact vengeance on Swoon.

In an effort to exorcise him out of Pen’s body, Dice accidentally gives Sin his own flesh and blood. Suddenly people start acting on their hidden desires: affairs begin, erotic encounters ensue, passions are awakened, the whole town is in an uproar, and Dice knows that the too beautiful, too persuasive Sin is inexplicably behind him.

Feeling somewhat responsible for creating him, Dice attempts to stop him, but finds herself drawn more and more into Sin’s misery and history. How can she be falling in love with this soulless monster? What is Sin, and is he malevolent or just a hurt young man?

Review

This book is a great example of a story that starts out amazing but fizzles out the longer it drags out. At the beginning, I was completely enamored with Nina Malkin’s stream-of-conscious-like writing style. Dice’s casual colloquialism as the narration lends authenticity and interest to Swoon, and is one of the parts I like most about this book.

As the story went along, however, it became more and more bogged down by seemingly random events that were not only unbelievable, but also slightly disturbing—vague mentions of orgies, outlandish sexual promiscuity, etc. I also never got a clear picture of the characters, especially Sin, who is supposedly dark and soulless, and yet has the power to whip the whole town into a sexual frenzy.

In the end, Swoon read for me like a melodramatic Asian drama, with inadequate character development yet an overabundance of things happening and hidden motives. With a few hundred pages less and some more tightening of the plot, this book could’ve been incredible. As it is, however, it is only a pleasant, slightly uncomfortable diversion, a book that is, unfortunately, too easy to put down.

97stephxsu
Edited: Jun 5, 2009, 1:55pm Top

73. The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale



Tags: adult, family, humor, tragedy, movies
Recommended age: 14+
Similar movies: When Harry Met Sally, 10 Things I Hate About You
Rating: 5 out of 5

Summary

Mormon housewife of four Becky Jack cannot believe her luck when she manages to strike up a back-and-forth conversation with her celebrity crush, Felix Callahan, on a trip to L.A. It’s just the one time, and Becky marks it down as a great story to tell later. Her normally comfortable life of running the household and loving her husband, Mike, however, seems to slide into the land of fairy tales when, a few weeks later, Felix shows up in her small Utah town.

Becky is unable to understand why this handsome man, so happily married to his beautiful French model wife, keeps on insisting on being in her life. But they strike a friendship so deep, so all-encompassing, that everyone who knows them has no idea what to make of it. Being Felix’s best friend has its ups and downs, and the biggest down for Becky is wondering about how much of an effect Felix has on her when she is completely, utterly, 100 percent devoted to her family.

Can a housewife whose life is her family have a famous actor as a best friend? Or is everything too good to be true?

Review

I have long been an admirer of Shannon Hale’s work: The Goose Girl is still one of my favorite books of all time, and Shannon’s previous adult novel, Austenland, is a cute read. But The Actor and the Housewife is absolutely perfect. I was blown away completely. Not many books have left me both laughing so hysterically that I woke up my roommate and sobbing nonstop for a good hundred pages.

Imagine your favorite smart romantic comedy, novelized and plumped with three times as much goodness, and that’s what you get in Shannon Hale’s second adult book. Every single character in this novel is well-developed, interesting, and unique, though the witty and laugh-out-loud funny dialogue between Becky and Felix steals the show, of course. I swear Shannon must’ve been channeling some serious screenwriter vibes, because the dialogue belongs in a crowd-pleasing, box-office-record-breaking movie of the likes of “When Harry Met Sally.”

The emotions I experienced when reading The Actor and the Housewife were astounding. Shannon Hale certainly had me collapsing in laughter at all the right moments (i.e. a lot of them). However, her brilliant writing developed the characters in a way that left me in tears for the sad bits of the book. It’s not too hard for a book to make you laugh; for a book to move me to tears, though, that is a remarkable piece of work.

This book will appeal to a wide range of audiences. Romance lovers will love the dialogue, the heartbreaks, and the hope. Becky is a Mormon and Felix is an atheist, but the novel only gently touches issues of religion, which allows for a greater range of appreciative readers. Smart women tiring of regular chick lit should read this, as well as teenagers who want a perfectly respectable fictional relationship to dream about—there’s no smut or anything rated higher than PG in this book, which is another smart move.

There will be mixed reactions towards the ending, for sure, but I appreciated it precisely because it broke the mold of the standard fairy-tale-like happily-ever-afters, and instead offered an alternative, though no less exciting, future for the characters.

The Actor and the Housewife comes out at a great time—this summer, you’ll want laughter, love, and a bit of the unexplainable. This is a book that you’ll want to keep on your shelf forever, rereading it every summer to fall in love with Becky, Felix, Mike, and all the characters all over again.

74. Hell Week by Rosemary Clement-Moore (Maggie Quinn: Girl vs. Evil, Book 2)



Tags: YA, paranormal, demons, sororities
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Meg Cabot
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

After her mother becomes surprisingly pregnant, Maggie Quinn, college freshman, elects to stay home and attend nearby Bedivere University. Wanting to break into the difficult world of college journalism, Maggie goes along with the excitement of sorority rush, in order to write an anonymous column exposing the inanities of the tradition.

It’s not long, however, before Maggie gets into things that might be way over her head. Sigma Alpha Xi, the sorority that has selected her—actually selected snarky, disbelieving, disenchanted her!—to be a pledge, is comprised of a bunch of young women and alumni who seem to be uncommonly lucky in all aspects of their lives.

Is this just a natural byproduct of being part of a desired college group, or is there something more sinister working here…like a Faustian contract with the devil? With the help of Justin, her not-quite-just-a-friend yet not-a-boyfriend, and some new and old friends, Maggie races to discover the secrets behind SAXi…before it’s too late.

Review

With her trademark wit and humor, Rosemary Clement-Moore delivers another crowd-pleaser in her Maggie Quinn: Girl vs. Evil series, though I’m beginning to think the story may be falling into a rather predictable rut. The characters, especially Maggie and those closest to her, are lively, and don’t fall into stereotypical categories of “MC’s steadfast best friend, “MC’s perfect unrequited love,” “The Villain,” and so on. Maggie’s parents keep dry wit constantly on hand, and Justin, Maggie’s love interest, is realistically adorable as chivalrous to the point of chauvinistic.

What bothered me most about Hell Week, however, was its absolute similarity to the first book in the series, Prom Dates From Hell. If by the second book I am already sick of Maggie’s routine of Cluelessness, Sudden Realization, and Valiant Vanquishing of the Demon, how am I going to keep on reading her future books? I found it too easy for me to put this book down, which was probably why it took me several weeks to finish.

If you’re looking for a light, funny, and feel-good paranormal read, then Hell Week is for you. Otherwise we should all hope that Rosemary will start branching out from Maggie’s world: it gets old quite fast.

75. Beastly by Alex Flinn



Tags: YA, retelling, magic, NYC, love
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Robin McKinley, Shannon Hale
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

Kyle Kingsbury is the most popular, most beautiful, and most well-liked guy at Tuttle, his fancy private NYC high school, and he knows it. So why should he even bother to give that weird girl in his English class the time of day, when he can get the hottest girl in the school? However, his cruel treatment of others results in a witch casting a spell over him, making him ugly so that his anchorman father puts him away in a five-story Brooklyn brownstone, shut away from the world.

Kyle—who renames himself “Adrian”—has only one chance to break this spell: he must fall in love with a girl within two years, and have her love him back. But Adrian believes this is impossible. Who is going to love him when no one can even bear to look at him?

Review

The thing with retellings of famous stories isn’t the suspense: it’s how the author does to liven an oft-told tale. Alex Flinn does a respectable job of retelling the beloved “Beauty and the Beast.” I was most impressed by Kyle/Adrian’s transformation from spoiled rich brat to a caring and kind individual. The process and subtleties of his maturing were done well.

But it is not just Adrian’s growth that makes him so likable. Even at the beginning, when he irked me with his superior attitude and gag-inducing way of approaching life (“I am beautiful and thus I deserve everything I want and get”), he was still vulnerable and hurt, with that horrible father of his. I would’ve liked more insight into what made Kyle/Adrian the person he was—clearly his parents had something to do with it—but overall he was a great protagonist.

Unfortunately the book began to fall apart for me when Lindy, the “Belle” of the story, was introduced. While I loved hearing Adrian’s worried thoughts about the impression he makes on her, I was less than impressed with Lindy’s character. She is a bookworm with a difficult family life, and that was fine, but I got no sense of chemistry between Lindy and Adrian. In fact, the more I learned about Lindy, the more annoyed I was with her character: this nerdy girl who initially seemed so resourceful and strong-willed dissolved into a pathetic, hot-boy-crushing damsel-in-distress at the end.

Lindy aside, I really enjoyed Beastly, with its approachable writing style and likable “Beast” protagonist. It’s definitely refreshing to look at this old fairy tale from the Beast’s point of view. While I can think of a number of better “Beauty and the Beast” retellings that are out there, Beastly's simple writing and straightforward characters will appeal to middle schoolers and early high schoolers who enjoy fairy tale retellings with a dash of romance and a strong male protagonist.

98dianestm
Jun 5, 2009, 4:08pm Top

You are certainly reading some good books. Look forward to what you read next.

99kiwiflowa
Jun 6, 2009, 3:09am Top

Wonderful reviews. I'm going to look out for The Actor and the Housewife - it sounds really good :)

100spacepotatoes
Jun 7, 2009, 9:07am Top

It's going on my TBR too, I'm always up for some good quality chick lit in the summer months! Thanks for the great review!

101stephxsu
Edited: Jun 7, 2009, 8:09pm Top

I'm so glad to hear that people are going to take notice of The Actor and the Housewife; it's a book that deserves the attention. :)

76. The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong (Darkest Powers, Book 2)



Tags: YA, paranormal, supernatural, action, werewolves
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Stephenie Meyer, James Patterson, Cassandra Clare
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

At the end of the first book in this series, The Summoning, 15-year-old budding necromancer Chloe Saunders finds herself the prisoner of the well-meaning but dangerous Edison Group, a group of scientists and doctors who strive to make the lives of supernaturals like Chloe and her friends from Lyle House better via genetic modification. Unfortunately, if their experiments on the teens do not work out, then the supernatural is terminated.

Understanding that they are all in danger of being killed, Chloe and her Lyle House friends Tori, Simon, and Derek stage a great escape and head out to find the only man who might be able to help them. Alas, if only it were as easy as outrunning the heavily armed Edison Group! Several of the teens find their powers growing uncontrollably; Derek in particular must experience a painful transition as he grows into his werewolf identity.

Will the Lyle House kids find a way to take down the Edison Group before their own powers destroy them?

Review

If The Summoning was exposition, then The Awakening is one hundred percent nonstop action! In this book, anything seems able to happen—enemies, mysterious powers, and scary situations ram the readers from all sides and every page. Additionally, Armstrong’s writing is straightforwardly simple, which adds to the feeling of constant danger.

It’s incredibly difficult to write an action-mystery novel without falling into character clichés, but thankfully, Chloe, Tori, Simon, and Derek all have distinct voices and behaviors. Their conversations are perhaps my favorite part about the book, because I had some issues with other parts. For example, most of the adults seemed to blend into one another seamlessly, without definition or personalities that stuck with me.

I was also disappointed with the whole “Chloe as damsel-in-distress” plot, which is a little too reminiscent of Bella’s helplessness in Twilight. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of times that Chloe’s cuteness, innocence, or helplessness was mentioned, but it was way more than I cared for. Tori, while portrayed as spoiled and irritating, may be right with her assessment of Chloe: she simply stands there and looks innocent, and people leap to rescue her.

On the other hand, I’m excited to see the buildups of more relationships, particular Chloe and Derek’s. The uncertainty of their status, of their feelings for one another, will keep readers coming back for more. And while the plot lacks intricacy and complexity, the DARKEST POWERS series will certainly appeal to fans of Stephenie Meyer, Cassandra Clare, and James Patterson.

102stephxsu
Edited: Jun 13, 2009, 8:43pm Top

77. Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev (Publication date: July 2009)



Tags: middle grade, YA, theatre, magic
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Francesca Lia Block, Aimee Friedman
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

For all her life, Beatrice Shakespeare Smith—her friends call her Bertie—has lived in the Theatre, a magical and entrancing place filled with every character ever written in a play, who are all controlled by The Book. Bertie is content there, but her happiness is about to come to an end when the Theater Manager threatens to throw her out of the Theatre for being so destructive. She has only one chance to stay: she must make an invaluable contribution to the Theatre.

But kind of invaluable contribution can she, an ordinary girl, make to the majestic Theatre? More than she thinks. As Bertie begins to understand the extent of her writing powers, Ariel, a dazzlingly persuasive spirit from the play The Tempest, sets out to gain his freedom by wrecking the The Book and the Theatre. Bertie will have to set aside her self-doubts if she intends to save the Theatre and unravel the mystery of her past.

Review

At first I thought, wow, Bertie is really immature for a 17-year-old. Then I thought, her four constant fairy companions are annoying. And then, before I knew what had happened, I was sucked into Bertie’s romantic, enthralling, sexy, and fun world and never wanted to leave. Lisa Mantchev displays enormous range with her writing: she manages to capture the ridiculousness of some characters’ behaviors (such as the fairies’ bickering and childlike desires) as well as paint beautiful, romantic passages to give Ariel that dangerously desirable edge. As a result, readers of all age can engage with this story.

Bertie is no ordinary protagonist. She may get into heaps of trouble, but her heart is pure, and that’s why she has so many friends who willingly help her accomplish her goals. She’s not afraid to speak her mind or flash her fists if necessary, and yet she still manages to look at the world with wonder and a bit of vulnerability. If you don’t want to BE Bertie in a book, then I don’t know what’s wrong with you. Who doesn’t want to be a kick-butt female character?

As mentioned earlier, Lisa uses such descriptive language for Ariel that you can’t help but fall in love with him, despite his questionable ethics. It’s not difficult to understand the attraction between him and Bertie, even if the romance is the tiniest bit rushed at the end.

Outstanding characterization doesn’t just stop at the main characters, however. For such tiny creatures, each one of the fairies manages to have his or her own personality, a feat that has me smiling wide. Lisa Mantchev turns Shakespeare on his head and gives important heroic action to often overlooked characters.

Not just Shakespeare fans will appreciate the new theatrical world that sets the stage for Eyes Like Stars. And at the end of the book you’ll have no choice but to stand up and chant, “Sequel, sequel, sequel!”

103stephxsu
Jun 12, 2009, 8:11pm Top

78. Worst Nightmares by Shane Briant



Tags: horror, thriller, serial killer, murder
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Stephen King, James Patterson, Dan Brown
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

Dermot Nolan is living a writer’s nightmare. The Book Prize-winning author has not had an idea for a new novel in over a year, and his financial backers and even his loved ones are beginning to get on his case about it. Then what could possibly be his godsend arrives: a crudely handwritten manuscript stuffed in his mailbox. The author, an Arthur K. Arnold, claims that it is his diary, and that all of the murders, done by a man known as the “Dream Healer,” described in the manuscript have actually occurred.

At first, Dermot dismisses the graphic writing as a sick man’s fiction. But even when research causes him to doubt his original conviction—could these murders actually have taken place?—Dermot still goes ahead and publishes the manuscript under his name. The novel is a hit, and Dermot becomes a wealthy celebrity—but when new evidence hints that these murders had indeed taken place, suspicion closes upon Dermot as a possible serial killer. Can he find out who is behind this framing before his worst nightmares are lived out?

Review

I don’t read much horror-thriller, but I did enjoy Worst Nightmares—if “enjoy” is the word to describe a novel that’s so vivid, so gruesome, and so well thought-out that I found myself shuddering while reading. The chapters often alternate between Dermot’s third-person point of view and the point of view of the Dream Healer, so that you’re never settled: you’re either in the mind of a merciless, albeit creative, serial killer, or else you’re witness to Dermot’s mental breakdown and self-doubts.

There are not that many characters in Worst Nightmares, but those who are present are quite well-drawn for a thriller novel. Of course, its genre practically demands that more attention be paid to the plot than to the characters, but even so, Dermot and his wife Neela’s reactions to an unusual and volatile situation believable and justified. All of the decisions they make—both bad and good—are the result of a very real, very human thought process.

The one major thing I found lacking in this novel was its predictability. Maybe it was just me, but I had my hunch as to who the mastermind behind the killings was about a third of the way through, and, in some of the slower moments, the desire to verify the accuracy of my hunch (I was right) was what kept me going. I’m not a fan of predictability, but if that doesn’t bother you much, and if you allow your mind to shut off just enough to overlook a few other minor flaws—questionable relationship dynamics, occasionally slow pacing, and loose ends—then the issues I had with this book won’t bother you all that much.

All in all, Worst Nightmares is a good read in a genre that’s become increasingly tough to stand out in. It’s not a book I’d have picked up on my own, but fans of horror and thriller novels need to read this Shane Briant standout in order to truly understand it.

104stephxsu
Jun 13, 2009, 8:43pm Top

79. Lovestruck Summer by Melissa Walker



Tags: YA, summer, music, romance
Recommended age: 14+
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

Priscilla Quinn Parker—who prefers to go by “Quinn,” thank you very much—isn’t sure that her summer before her freshman year of college is going the way she imagined it. She’s living with her older cousin Penny in Austin, Texas, and has an internship at Amalgam Records, her favorite indie label—but her internship is only one day a week, and Penny is a complete sorority girl. Things start to look up, however, when Quinn finds her ideal indie boyfriend in Sebastian a local Austin DJ. He’s beautiful, musically knowledgeable, and just like her. Therefore he’s perfect. Right?

Then there’s Russ, Penny’s annoying frat-boy wannabe-cowboy friend and neighbor. For one, Russ is always calling Quinn “Priscilla,” which she hates. For another, he’s always trying to get her to listen to country music, then calling her a snob when she says she hates country. Russ is clearly not her ideal guy…but Quinn finds herself unable to get him or his favorite country songs out of her head, especially after he calls her out on her close-mindedness.

Maybe Quinn will learn to open up her ears, mind, and heart, in order to find a love and a life that’s real.

Review

It’s been so long since I’ve read a straightforward, fun, romantic, somewhat predictable, but ultimately heartfelt summer tale, and so Lovestruck Summer far exceeded my expectations. Instead of flat characters, you get interesting, three-dimensional people whom you want to be friends with. It was of course easy to predict how this book was going to end, but I was surprised by how endearing Russ was, and what great banter existed between him and Quinn.

Most poignant was Quinn’s development from a self-centered, naïve snob into a more open-minded individual. I’m still having trouble understanding how Melissa Walker managed to, in just a little over two hundred (small) pages, make Quinn—who was even likable in her initial state—actually mature into a young woman we love and respect. Such gorgeously smooth character development rarely exists in a book that intends to be a light beach read, and I was greatly appreciative of how much I was able to understand, accept, and love the flawed Quinn and her equally entertaining and realistic friends.

Lovestruck Summer is, first and foremost, a pleasure read, something that will make the bubbles rise in your stomach as the sun warms your face in the summertime. However, don’t miss out on the endearing characters and the complexity of Quinn’s maturation. I know that I will be reading this again whenever I need a book that makes me smile, swoon, and feel hopeful about the human nature.

80. Back Creek by Leslie Goetsch



Tags: coming-of-age, family
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Sarah Dessen
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

18-year-old Grace Barnett has led a quiet, unassuming, mediator life on the Virginian peninsula of Back Creek. That is, until she witnesses the suicide of Tommy White on the Creek, and her five-years-absent older sister Lillian shows up at Tommy’s funeral, pregnant—the same day that their mother leaves them with no promises to return. With a pregnant, self-centered sister and a withdrawn alcoholic father, Grace knows that she must stay strong and keep what’s left of their family together.

Her only respite is snatched moments drinking beer with Cal, the young man with Vietnam War ghosts who lives in a boat across the Creek. As Grace grows closer to Cal and their family slowly begins to heal, she realizes that she is stronger than she thinks, and that only she is able to piece together the long shattered bits of her family and possibly emerge victorious, a changed and better person.

Review

Back Creek is, in short, a pure slice of heaven. If Sarah Dessen were to write a languorous and luxurious coming-of-age novel set in unpredictable estuary waters, the result would be something like this. Leslie Goetsch’s language rings with an assuredness that belies the ten years she spent writing Back Creek. That, combined with a memorable cast of characters and a subtly right mixture of everything necessary to a good novel—family secrets, a splash of romance, terror, and self-triumph—makes Back Creek one of the most moving books I have read this year.

The protagonist, Grace, acts and thinks with a maturity far beyond her age; the deliberate, drama-less, yet innocent way in which she responds to her predicament draws us in and makes us empathize with her. I use the term “drama-less” because, while her family situation is certainly not good, Grace deals with the issues presented to her in a purposeful manner devoid of nauseating amounts of self-pity typical in many young adult coming-of-age novels. Grace’s mental and emotional strength, and her determination to remain optimistic and try to keep her family together, make me respect her highly.

The setting of Back Creek is one in which I would love to live in another life. Leslie Goetsch skillfully places us in the midst of the deliberate politeness and quirkiness of a backwaters town, and there we want to remain. No aspect is overdone: you’re at peace and yet you’re intrigued there.

All in all, Back Creek is an understated book that deserves to be more publicized, to be read more. Do consider checking out Leslie Goetsch’s fantastic novel when you want a comfortable yet heartwarming read.

105stephxsu
Edited: Jun 14, 2009, 1:08pm Top

81. Battle Royale by Koushun Takami



Tags: sci-fi, dystopia, violence, horror
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Suzanne Collins
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

In the Republic of Greater East Asia, a frightening event called the “Program” takes place once a year in order to keep the citizens compliant and distrustful of one another. Third-year junior high classes are randomly selected throughout the nation, relocated to an isolated area, and forced to kill one another until just one survivor—the victor—remains.

This year, it’s 15-year-old Shuya Nanahara’s class that gets chosen and relocated to a small island. Shuya is forced to watch his friends die and his classmates go crazy. But what if there were some way to beat the fascist government’s supposedly infallible system?

Review

Battle Royale is brutal, both physically and mentally. It tosses you into the middle of a corrupt world and forces you to be witness to an event that’s deadly and well established. Innocent and not-so-innocent teenagers die every few pages in unapologetic prose. No sooner do we come to know a student’s personality and past when he or she is killed, the abruptness of losing someone interesting you’ve just begun to know a definite stomach-turner, a definite shake-up.

If this kind of dystopian literature is your kind of thing, there’s plenty of it to be had. Even if you’ve got a weak stomach for violence, however, Battle Royale still gives you a lot to think about. Koushun Takami’s writing is nothing striking, and yet there’s something about the plainness of it, the bluntness of the translated version that I read, that gets inside your veins and messes up your organs. It’s the way he gives us a brief character sketch of each of the 42 students—and then takes them away from us in horrifying manners. It’s the way that this book’s world takes the existence of the “Program” as expected, unchangeable. And it’s the way that this book makes you doubt yourself and the characters, not sure whom you should trust, just as the government intends for you to react.

This book has inevitably been compared to The Hunger Games, so why not say what I think about the two? The Hunger Games is clearly YA: readers are spared the too-gruesome details and, through the eyes of Katniss, are spared the intensity of the horror that arises when a character whose history you know dies. Battle Royale is a stand-alone novel, which makes its shocker of an ending all the more satisfying; while I have yet to read the next two books in Suzanne Collins’ series, I can only hope that she will deliver an equally believable and satisfying answer for Katniss and her world.

If I had to make a choice between the two, I’d go with The Hunger Games, for its less stomach-churning material and the successful development of memorable characters. However, Battle Royale provides more questions to think over, more disturbing ideas and images that will keep you up later in the night. If you do not have a weak stomach and have the time to read an intense 600-page work, I suggest picking up Battle Royale in order to completely annihilate everything you’ve previously thought about the dark side of human nature and our curiosity in violence and death.

82. Fade by Lisa McMann (Wake, Book 2)



Tags: YA, paranormal, relationships, crime, sexual misconduct
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Melissa Marr, Courtney Summers
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

High school senior Janie Hannagan is a Dream Catcher: she falls into the dreams of those asleep around her and has the power to change them. Her newly understood ability makes her a valuable resource to the local police captain in solving difficult crimes. She’s also beginning to realize that she’s worth more than she thinks to her boyfriend, Cabel Strumheller, who also works under the Captain and worries about the assignments she receives as a result of her ability.

Then Janie is called to investigate a possible recurring case of sexual misconduct at her high school. In between following the leads that dream-catching give her, Janie must also wrestle with Cabe’s genuine worries that she might be in over her head. But neither of them really know how grim Janie’s future is going to be…

Review

Whereas I thought the first book in this series, Wake, was a ho-hum intro to a mediocre series, Fade completely blows those thoughts away. Lisa McMann keeps her minimalistic prose—dreamlike in its own way—and works it beautifully to expose tormented, three-dimensional, and appealing characters.

What I’m most sold about in Fade is the fantastic character development. Now that Janie and Cabel are officially together, their roles in life have clearly changed to include a loved one, a change that throws both of them off-kilter and causes interesting dynamics to appear. I loved reading about Janie and Cabel’s relationship, all of its ups and downs, wrong and right decisions. The gritty realness of the variety of clashing emotions involved in being in a relationship make this teenage couple stand out from the rest of YA literature.

The plot once again revolves around a unique “paranormal” spin, which leads to interesting scenes, some of which linger still in my mind. That is, when I can stop thinking about Janie and Cabel, whose relationship is what I believe really takes center stage in this book.

In addition to presenting a grim future for the beloved couple, Fade also successfully develops the characters into ones of such complexity that I can only wonder if they are not, in fact, real. I am now sold on this series and can’t wait for the third book, GONE, to come out.

106spacepotatoes
Jun 15, 2009, 9:55am Top

Back Creek and Battle Royale both sound interesting. Not sure I can stomach the latter, but it does sound interesting!

107luv2read97
Jun 15, 2009, 4:45pm Top

Going to start Fade, as I enjoyed Wake. Bummed that it won't be until next year for the third one!

108stephxsu
Jun 16, 2009, 11:05pm Top

83. Sweethearts by Sara Zarr



Tags: YA, family, abuse, friendship, acceptance
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Elizabeth Scott, Sarah Dessen
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

Jennifer Harris and Cameron Quick were one another’s only friends back at their cruel elementary school. They didn’t need anyone else, and their exceptionally tight bond transcended all forms of regular friendship. When Cameron and his troubled family suddenly disappear without a word, Jennifer is devastated. However, a move gives her the opportunity to change herself. So Jennifer Harris sheds a few pounds and becomes Jenna Vaughn, but constantly lives with her old self’s insecurities.

Now, as a high school senior, Jenna has everything that “Jennifer” couldn’t have: friends, a place at her school, and even a boyfriend. But then Cameron suddenly comes back, and brings with him all the emotions and events that Jenna has tried to suppress for years. Will inviting Cameron back into her life bring her back to where she started: an overweight, insecure, and friendless girl? Will Cameron even stay this time, or is he still keeping secrets?

Review

Sweethearts is a short but sweet read about a relationship, an emotion, that is not quite love, not quite just friendship. It’s always difficult to write about anything that straddles the border between two distinctive places, but Sara Zarr does an admirable job of pitching the unspoken past against the possibly false present.

Unfortunately, it is also this attempt to stay ambiguous that pulls this novel down for me. Maybe it was just the timing of when I read this novel; while I appreciated the non-fairy-tale-like ending—so much more realistic than happily-ever-afters—I wanted perhaps a more definitive resolution. An epilogue of sorts, per se. This book left me with the feeling like I missed something, like this was just two crazy weeks in a difficult-to-understand girl’s confusing life, two weeks that will fade from her memory over time.

If you want to read something that’s a little more challenging, a little more thought-provoking, and definitely well-written, Sweethearts is the book for you.

84. Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George



Tags: YA, retelling, fantasy, fairy tale, sorcery
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Shannon Hale, Kristin Cashore
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

Galen comes home from his country’s successful but draining war against a rival country, orphaned and now an undergardener at the king’s palace. However, something more suspicious than regular court intrigue is underfoot at the palace: every morning the king’s twelve motherless daughters wear their brand-new dance slippers out. No one knows where they go at night, and the scared princesses are muted.

The king declares that any prince who is able to solve the princesses’ mystery will marry one of them and be king. But as prince after unsuccessful prince arrive and leave, only to die in unfortunate accidents soon after, whispers spread throughout the land that the princesses are witches.

Galen is sure that the princesses are innocent, and rather are being controlled by someone—or something—powerful. And Galen is willing to put his life on the line in order to rescue the princesses. After all, you don’t need to be a prince to be worthy.

Review

I love fairy tale retellings, and I loooove Jessica Day George’s writing! Princess of the Midnight Ball swept me back to when I was young and rereading my Complete Grimm Brothers Fairy Tale book. It has everything I want in a fairy tale and everything I want in a fun YA book: handsome and gallant heroes; beautiful, troubled, yet courageous princesses; evil villains; well-developed supporting characters; mystery; magic; love. I was left satisfied with a successful retelling of a beloved story, yet renewed with the unique spins that George put in her telling.

I don’t read fairy tale retellings and expect to read about drastic anti-hero types. Princess of the Midnight Ball works for me, then, because of the clichés one comes to associate with beloved fairy tales. Think Disney for tweens and teens. Doesn’t everyone enjoy a good ole happily-ever-after tale every now and then?

And Jessica Day George adds even more magic to this old favorite with her sparkling characters and prose. Her straightforward yet colorful retelling keeps you glued to the pages, and I found myself sighing about Galen after I finished the book.

Every once in a while you should just reward yourself with a well-written, feel-good, happily-ever-after read. If you’re in that mood, pick up Princess of the Midnight Ball. You won’t be disappointed.

109stephxsu
Jun 17, 2009, 9:32pm Top

85. The Stolen One by Suzanne Crowley (Publication date: June 30, 2009)



Tags: middle grade, YA, historical fiction, Tudor England, mystery, magic, courtlife
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Libba Bray, Cindy Pon
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

It is sixteenth-century England. Henry and his tyrannical ways have been disposed of, and a new queen, Elizabeth, sits on the throne. Meanwhile, in the countryside, a redheaded teenage girl named Kat Bab dreams of life beyond her simple country lifestyle. When her adoptive mother, Grace, dies, Kat considers it her opportunity to go to London and discover the identities of her biological parents.

Along with her half-deaf sister, Anna, Kat enters the queen’s court and soon becomes Elizabeth’s favorite. Jealous rumors arise, whispers that say that Kat is actually Elizabeth’s daughter. Kat, on the other hand, thinks that she was born for life in the court. Surrounded by riches and attractive men vying for her attention, however, Kat can’t help but occasionally think of the young farmer boy at home who is perhaps still waiting for her.

Will Kat learn the truth about her history, and how will she define her own future?

Review

I haven’t read such a delightful historical fiction read since probably Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy. The sixteenth-century England that Suzanne Crowley writes is colorful, alluring (like how Kat is often described by others), and not at all stilted. It’s easy to get lost in either the rowdy, rudimentary backcountry or the deceptive yet attractive London court.

I enjoyed how the chapters with Kat’s first-person narration were divided by snippets of Grace’s old diary entries. This added even more mystery and urgency to Kat’s quest, as we readers begin to piece together what Kat herself does not yet know.

Above all, Kat’s character really made The Stolen One come alive for me. She works for me as the protagonist because of the subtle yet completely justified way she changes from countryside to courtside. She is not afraid to speak her mind, which makes for interesting conversations between headstrong or ambitious characters. I found her attractive yet normal, aspiring yet innocent.

I couldn’t get as much into the romance(s) of the story, however, partially because most of the tête-à-têtes occurred almost randomly and inexplicably. It’s okay when the main character attracts attention because of her allure; when the attraction seems ambitious and is left unexplained, however, I get worried. I also have mixed feelings about the ending of this book. Perhaps, after reading so much about Kat speaking her mind and not simply going along with what everyone expects of her, I was disappointed in her decision.

Even so, The Stolen One is a strong book with a marvelous protagonist. Anyone who enjoys historical fiction with a splash of magic and romance should read this book: it’s made for you.

110stephxsu
Edited: Jun 20, 2009, 3:59pm Top

86. Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehnert (Publication date: July 21, 2009)



Tags: YA, suburbs, drugs, sex, friendship, betrayal, death, family, divorce
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Blake Nelson
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

Kara goes to USC film school and loves ballads, those songs about one’s life and the events, decisions, and mistakes that make one who he or she is. However, she has never been able to write her own ballad, of her teenage years growing up in the Chicago suburbs amongst sex, drugs, music, and betrayal.

Her friends were all able to write their own ballads in their shared “Stories of Suburbia” notebook, but as Kara relives her teenage years, she realizes that her own ballad is a composition of all of her friends’, and a few others’ besides. Her story consists of a wrecked home life; a younger brother, Liam, whose heart she is always breaking; friends whose loyalties waver; and a boy who’s bad, but not all there is to her crashing-and-burning. And in the end, all the experiences help Kara realize who and what in her life are the most important of all.

Review

Ballads of Suburbia left me reeling, thinking hard for hours afterwards. I share zero experience with Kara, and yet Stephanie Kuehnert masterfully pulls us into this dangerous, deceptive, yet enticing world of drugs. Only a talented writer can pull you into a world you know nothing about and make you feel as if you simultaneously understand and yet can never understand that world.

I know that I won’t be able to find the words significant to describe this novel, because what it covers is beyond my words. From family and sibling relationships to the ebb and flow of friendships and loves being made and broken, this book follows Kara through her high school years in the untalked about part of the suburbs. All of the characters seem to jump out of the page and walk around you like they are real, problems and all. Nothing is black-and-white: the characters have different and sometimes troubling attitudes, but it’s their (or, rather, Stephanie’s) ability to convince us of their justification for their beliefs that is truly great.

Overall, Ballads of Suburbia is a remarkable achievement that hits you right where it counts (your heart) and lingers where it matters (the brain). I’m truly looking forward to seeing what Stephanie Kuehnert will do next.

87. Darkwood by M. E. Breen



Tags: middle grade, YA, dark fantasy, animals
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Christine Rose, Ethan Rose, Holly Black, R. J. Anderson
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Summary

In 12-year-old Annie’s world, it goes from daylight to pitch-black night in a matter of seconds, and everyone is wary of the kinderstalk, creatures who steal children in the darkness. But when Annie’s uncle tries to sell her to the Dropmen, who need small children to mine ringstone, the event sets Annie off on a journey across the country, where she will meet with the king and try to convince everyone that something sinister is happening in her little corner of the nation. Along the way, Annie will meet a few new friends, find out some astonishing secrets, and learn the truth about herself, her heritage, and her destiny.

Review

If you’re a middle schooler with a penchant for the dark side, or a parent of a fantasy-loving middle schooler, you might be able to enjoy this book. Otherwise, you might just think it’s a veritable mess of secrets and plot points.

The novel’s concept admittedly hooked me; I was curious to see what the author would do with a world where day and night were sharply defined. And for the first couple of chapters, I was definitely intrigued: Annie was a resilient protagonist (even if she doesn’t act like a regular 12-year-old at all), and I was just beginning to explore this different world with Annie.

However, then Annie begins her quest, and things just seemed to simultaneously speed up and drag. Things are introduced to us in a blinding flash, popping up and then disappearing before they are ever fully explained. At the same time, nothing seems to happen; Annie doesn’t learn about herself and her past until the very end, which meant that for the rest of the book, she was simply caught up in a lot of confusing and sudden events.

Fans of darker fairy tales (such as the movie The Brothers Grimm) might enjoy Darkwood and its animalistic element. The ending does promise more books where Annie’s story and purpose will hopefully be better explained. In the meantime, however, Darkwood was difficult for me to get through, which led to a marked lack of enjoyment on my part.

88. Bloom by Elizabeth Scott



Tags: YA, family, love, social expectations
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Stephenie Meyer, Sarah Dessen
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

Lauren Smith has always been the average girl, and so she can hardly believe it when Dave, the most popular and genuinely nice guy in her grade, asks her out, and then continues to stay with her after a year. With Dave, Lauren has everything a girl could ever wish for—perfect boyfriend, friends, social standing—and Lauren is happy.

Or is she? When Evan Kirkland, an almost-ghost from her past, shows up in school, Lauren finds herself inexplicably attracted to him. Evan has a history and secrets, and is completely different from sweet Dave. But with Evan, Lauren experiences emotions she never believed she was capable of.

Which boy and life should Lauren choose—safe, sweet Dave, or the unknown with Evan?

Review

Bloom is a short and sweet read about a problem that most teenagers can relate to. Lauren may say that her life is not like those in the movies, but she certainly has a common story: having to choose between two boys, one of whom can give her everything she’s conditioned to want, and one who can maybe give her what she doesn’t know she really wants.

From this simple premise arises a simple, straightforward high school love story, with a dash of family angst thrown in. Admittedly Lauren and Evan’s budding relationship is not much different from most other teen fiction relationships, and most of the importance of the situation is lost in its blandness. Readers are told by Lauren by her predicament is and may be life-changing, but from the novel we don’t really feel it. Reactions are damped; emotions, cramped.

Very few of the characters and their interactions with one another are actually likable. Lauren was a weak protagonist who had a tough time learning to follow her heart. Dave, he of the religious bent and family-obligated persuasion, is lackluster as well; I never really understood why he was so well liked.

This all would’ve been fine, because I highly suspect that Elizabeth Scott intended to portray them in such a way, had it not been for Evan. Evan is supposed to be Lauren’s savior, the one who pops her bubble, cracks her shell, makes her understand what she wants. However, in Bloom Evan seems nothing more than a mirror for Lauren’s unconscious desires, instead of being a full human being himself. All of their interactions seem to consist of Lauren feeling butterflies in her stomach, Evan shooting her loaded looks, Lauren wanting to kiss him, Lauren catching herself thinking about him when she shouldn’t be…and on and on and on. It makes me want to shout, and where’s Evan in all of this? Why do we never get a clearer picture of HIM—his quirks, his history, what HE lacks and desires? Why does he only seem like a figment of Lauren’s desperate imagination?

In the end, this book can’t hold a candle to any of Sarah Dessen’s, but it’s good for a quick, predictable, feel-good-because-love-triumphs-all read. Next, please.

111stephxsu
Edited: Jun 23, 2009, 3:34am Top

89. Project Sweet Life by Brent Hartinger



Tags: middle grade, YA, boys, friendship, summer
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Don Calame
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

Dave and his friends Curtis and Victor are fifteen, which is the last age when having a summer job is optional. However, when all their dads insist that they get summer jobs, they know that their last summer of freedom is now officially over.

Enter Project Sweet Life, the three friends’ attempt to make their dads THINK they have jobs while they are actually simply going to raise enough money to not have to take real summer jobs! Raising seven thousand dollars can’t be that hard, right? But as their end-of-summer deadline looms and they’re forced to lie even more to their parents, it seems as if even more and more of their schemes fail.

Will they be able to raise the money they need to have one last work-free summer, or will they punished by never being allowed to see one another ever again?

Review

Project Sweet Life is fast-paced, funny, and a bit over-the-top ridiculous. But what can you expect, when the novel stars three hyperactive, slightly ADD, and overdramatic adolescent boys? Their frenetic scheming and failing occurs at a rapid-fire case that occasionally gave me headaches, but despite the too-fast-for-my-liking plot, I found myself cheering for Dave and his friends at the end.

Not everyone may share my problem with the plot and pacing, but I found myself too suddenly thrown into the story, into these crazy boys’ minds and actions. In the course of about 40 pages in the beginning, the boys have already gone through about three tried-and-failed moneymaking schemes. The speed of their plotting made me dizzy at first, but it got better once the story settled down into the exploration of their city of Tacoma, Washington. And by the end, I was definitely caught up with what was happening to the boys. Project Sweet Life has a fantastic finale, the kind that is not too predictable and yet sweet enough to make readers smile and nod and say, “Yes, that is what you deserve.”

Dave, Curtis, and Victor are like the Three Musketeers, each with their separate personality. Curtis is the outgoing and talkative one, while Victor is the quieter, more geeky friend, and Dave is somewhere in between. Their different personalities don’t show themselves as well as other, similar group-of-male-friends-as-protagonists novels, but since the focus of this book is on its plot, it worked out alright in the end.

So I didn’t really like Project Sweet Life, as too-fast pace and ridiculous schemes concocted by teenage boys are not really my thing. However, this book would make a great present for a middle school boy, one who can relate to the hyperactivity and drama of three male friends scheming to make money and thwart their parents.

90. Breathing by Cheryl Renee Herbsman



Tags: YA, summer, true love, asthma, family
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Sarah Dessen, Jennifer Echols
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

Savannah Georgia Brown’s fifteenth summer in her sleepy North Carolina beach town proves to be a different, life-changing one when she meets Jackson. Jackson is older, with a whole lot of family problems, but what he and Savannah feel when they’re together is no joke; it just may be the real thing.

When Jackson’s family problems drag him back to his far-off hometown, Savannah thinks that she just might die. Her heavy asthma, which was always under control when Jackson was around, now comes back in full force. Everyone she knows says that she shouldn’t waste so much thought and energy on a mere summer fling, and as the weeks wear on, and Jackson’s continued existence in her life becomes more and more tentative, Savannah can’t help but wonder if everyone is right, and if she needs to learn how to breathe on her own, instead of having others do it for her.

Review

If you want a heartening, fun tale of true love set outside of the usual fairy tale setting, Breathing is for you. From start to finish Cheryl Renee Herbsman engages us fully with Savannah’s Southern life, most obviously with Savannah’s charming Southern dialect. I don’t believe I’ve ever read a book whose protagonist’s out-of-the-ordinary voice was so convincing as Savannah’s. It didn’t take long before I really felt like Savannah was talking to me, and that, if I really wanted to, I could easily step into her world and get along with her and her friends and family, just like that.

Since she is only 15, Savannah may act a bit childish sometimes. Her absolute devotion to Jackson sometimes makes me cringe, but in the end I’m impressed with how Cheryl handles Savannah’s maturation. You can see it in the way she interacts with her family, and in the new way in which she looks at herself as part of the blooming world.

I would have liked a little more gradual development with Savannah and Jackson’s relationship. It seriously just felt like the two got together after Savannah stalked him on the beach for a couple of days. However, the ups and downs of their long-distance relationship, plus the ever-changing fluctuations of their plans for the future, were all so realistic and endearing that I can forgive the too-hasty relationship development.

Overall, Breathing is a charming love story with a quirky, accented, yet totally relatable protagonist. It will leave you cheering for Savannah as well as for the often understated power of love.

91. The Midnight Twins by Jacquelyn Mitchard



Tags: middle grade, YA, supernatural, twins, visions
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Kelley Armstrong, Lisa McMann
Rating: 2 out of 5

Summary

Mallory and Meredith Brynn have always been unusually closer than other identical twins. Although clearly opposites, they seem to have an unspoken bond—a bond that is nearly broken when a mysterious fire the night of their birthday nearly kills them.

After that moment, nothing is the same. Meredith sees visions of the past, and Mallory sees visions of the future. Worst of all, they can’t seem to communicate with one another anymore, which is all the more unfortunate because, at such a vulnerable stage of self-discovery, they just might need each other more than ever before.

Review

I have a hunch that this will be one of those series that people pick up because the cover looks pretty and there’s a pretty famous author’s name on it. Otherwise, The Midnight Twins is a jumbled, jumpy, and gnarled mess of characters, ooooo-spooky events, and rushed conclusions.

I understand that the twins at 13 years old, and that tweens on the brink of puberty make for melodramatic and often confusing times, but really, now. The mindset of an eighth grade girl does not have to manifest itself in the poor, choppy writing. Mitchard frequently jumps from one moment to another half an hour later, leaving us bewildered readers to fill in the gap and try to keep up at the same time.

Most of the time, the book dragged so much and included a bunch of pointless information that didn’t help me understand the twins or their situation any better. The ending is appropriate for a novel written by—you guessed it—an eighth grade girl: chock full of moments where you’re pretty sure you’re supposed to gasp in shock and moan in despair. When the climactic moment occurred, I didn’t feel anything, possibly because by that point I was so sick of the characters and the book’s nonsense writing.

I’m sorely disappointed that poor writing killed what could have been interesting characters with interesting abilities. Still, I’ve heard that the second book, Look Both Ways, is better, and I must say that I sincerely hope so, for Jacquelyn Mitchard has made me disheartened with this failure of a series starter.

112dianestm
Jun 23, 2009, 4:28am Top

More great books for the TBR mountain. How do you manage to read so quick?

113stephxsu
Jun 28, 2009, 9:25pm Top

> dianestm, It's summer! Besides for my library internship, I'm basically free! Plus, I have a combined total of two hours' in commute time that I have to do *something* on... :)

92. Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler



Tags: YA, grief, death, sex, virginity, summer, friendship
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Jodi Picoult, Sarah Dessen, Julia Hoban
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

Picture this: Frankie, Anna, and Matt are best friends. Then, on Anna’s fifteenth birthday, she and Matt, Frankie’s older brother, finally kiss and share a magical month together, in secret. Matt intends to let Frankie know on their upcoming annual family vacation, but dies suddenly before he can.

Before, Anna was Matt’s love. After, she needs to be the strong one, the best friend supporting Frankie through incalculable grief. A year after the tragedy, Frankie has become outgoing, flirtatious, and boy- and appearance-crazy. She invites Anna along to their family vacation at Zanzibar Bay for a “Twenty Boy Summer”—three weeks of meeting twenty different boys.

But for Anna there has always been only one boy, and now Anna can never tell Frankie—or anyone else—about him. How can she ever adopt Frankie’s blithe view on boys, and will she ever be able to move on? Anna’s Zanzibar Bay summer just might be the thing to help her understand her feelings and what the tragedy with Matt truly means for her and her loved ones.

Review

The last book I read that dealt so realistically, so eloquently, with loss and grief was one by Jodi Picoult, and Sarah Ockler’s debut novel is just as good, and more accessible by teens. After a shocking first page and interesting first chapter, the real action takes a couple more chapters to pick up, but then it cruises right along, throwing out insightful observations and quotable quotes about grief, healing, romance, and friendship. Once I got to Zanzibar Bay, I, like Anna, didn’t want to leave it, so well-written and magical the place was.

Grief is never an easy subject to write satisfyingly about, and yet Sarah Ockler has managed to pull it off. She explores Anna’s complex position of being the dead boy’s sister’s best friend while simultaneously being his secret love. This puts Anna in a position of never being able to fully express her grief, as everyone thinks it must be secondary to Frankie’s.

How does one express the thoughts of a girl with guilty, repressed grief without falling into the deep end and becoming too melodramatic? I don’t know, but Anna’s grief, while raw, is also mature. I think that the juxtaposition of a difficult subject like grief with the magical summer land of Zanzibar Bay, combined with Frankie’s determinedly happy-go-lucky mask of anti-grief, makes all aspects of this novel stand out more. All of the emotions and relationships are clearer without being too overbearing; Twenty Boy Summer is simultaneously a study in post-tragedy healing and a fun summer love story.

That is not to say that the book is perfect. There were several aspects that I wanted to see more. I wanted to better understand Frankie’s parents, how they handle(d) their grief, and how they deal with Frankie and Anna, but for most of the book they just let the girls do whatever they want, which I found slightly suspicious and a little disappointing. Where’s the closure with the parental relationship?

Twenty Boy Summer is the best blend of light and heavy, fun and learning. It is a great read for when you’re craving comfort and resonance. I know that I’ll be picking this book up again whenever I need a dose of healing.

93. Willow by Julia Hoban



Tags: YA, grief, death, cutting, self-mutilation, love
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Sarah Dessen, Sarah Ockler, Gayle Forman, Justina Chen Headley
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

Seven months ago, 17-year-old Willow’s parents were killed when Willow was driving the car. Now, she lives with her older brother whom she thinks hates her for what she’s done, goes to a different school, and cuts herself almost hourly, all over her body, to feel only physical pain, to keep away the emotional pain that could very likely overwhelm her.

Then Willow meets Guy. When Guy finds out about Willow’s cutting, Willow is sure that it is going to be the end of her secret. Much to her surprise, however, Guy doesn’t tell, and he even sticks around. Slowly but surely Willow starts to come out of her numbness and loneliness, but the emotions she must now face may be an even bigger challenge than denying them.

Review

Willow is an impressive novel about a difficult subject. The main character, Willow, is extremely well developed, and this book approaches her path to healing in a careful, subtle, yet realistic way. It balances the time spent on Willow’s personal healing, her growing relationship with Guy, and her healing relationship with her brother in a matter that’s satisfying in the end.

Julia Hoban writes in the third-person limited present tense, which may be a bit jarring at first, but you will quickly lose yourself in the emotional ups and downs of this book. Willow’s path to recovery is not easy, and sometimes you’ll want to cry the tears that she cannot, as she continues to hurt herself even though there are people caring about her. The ending, however, is hopeful, and ties up all of the major relationship issues satisfactorily.

All in all, Willow is a rare accomplishment of poignancy, grief, and the healing power of love. Read it if you want a Sarah Dessen-like story about emotional numbness and the difficult road to healing and feeling again.

94. Fire by Kristin Cashore (Publication date: October 5, 2009)



Tags: YA, fantasy, politics, feminism, beauty
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Robin McKinley, Suzanne Collins, Shannon Hale, Herbie Brennan, Philip Pullman
Rating: 5 out of 5

Summary

In the country of the Dells, monsters—brilliantly colored creatures with irresistible allure—roam, seduce, and terrify. 17-year-old Fire is the last human monster, born at a time when politics are deceptive and mistrust abounds. Her incredible beauty and her ability to manipulate others’ thoughts earns her admirers and enemies alike, but her life truly changes when she’s drawn out of her secluded rural home and into the capitol city to help the king discover information about the lords who are plotting an uprising. It was one thing to hide in seclusion from her father’s terrible legacy, but it’s another to use her ability in a whole other manner…

Review

When an author whose second novel far surpasses her already critically acclaimed debut novel, you know there’s something special going on. Kristin Cashore is such an author, and Fire is such a book. Not since Robin McKinley has an author written so convincingly of a politically charged fantasy world.

The protagonist, Fire, has the cursed gift of absolute beauty and attractiveness, and many times during the course of the book, she brings up the question, “How does gender factor into the reaction to beauty?” For Fire constantly encounters men who want to do unspeakable things to her at the very sight of her, while her equally attractive father had people falling at his feet, eager to do his bidding. Call it fantasy for sure, but Fire contains a lot of gender politics that could make for interesting discussions, even in the classroom.

Kristin Cashore deftly unfolds Fire’s past into her present story, which helps readers slowly understand and appreciate her judgments. Even so, Fire is an intensely emotional read, especially at the end. Its ability to affect me so strongly is one of the things I like best about it, though. The romance between Fire and Brigan is less developed than the one between Katsa and Po in Graceling, but Kristin gives depth to all the characters, not simply the protagonist and her love interest, and I’d much rather have three-dimensionality in all my characters than in just the two main ones.

It’s difficult to say this for sure right now, but if you had to read only one hard fantasy YA book this year, Fire just might be the one. It’s blend of fantasy, romance, political intrigue, and feminism will appeal to all fantasy lovers, and then some.

95. The Treasure Map of Boys by E. Lockhart (Ruby Oliver, Book 3)
(Publication date: July 28, 2009)



Tags: YA, high school, drama, friendship, angst
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: John Green, Megan McCafferty, Michele Jaffe
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

Now in the second half of her junior year, Ruby Oliver seems to have reached a sort of satisfying plateau in her social standing. No longer a social standing after the incident with the boyfriend list in sophomore year, Ruby now has several friends, of both genders—but, alas, she still does not have a boyfriend!

This is not to say that she doesn’t have any prospects. A school bake sale she runs prompts several guys to participate, and to maybe show an interest in her. Roo also can’t decide how she feels about her ex, Jackson, newly single after breaking up with Roo’s ex-best friend, sending her more gifts and always hanging around her. And finally, she has trouble interpreting the actions of Noel, her friend and someone she may like.

But then things get worse—much worse. And suddenly Roo is back in a position of trying to figure out who her true friends are, and whether or not she is a good person after all.

Review

E. Lockhart’s Ruby Oliver books are, quite simply, some of the best studies of high school platonic and romantic interaction that ever exist. What I love about Roo and the books about her are how thoroughly and realistically complex the characters are. Teens do a lot of crazy things in high school, and there are never easy explanations for their motivations. Similarly, Roo is constantly trying to analyze her behavior and decide whether she is being a normal teenage girl or a horrible person.

This kind of three-dimensional psych study isn’t just limited to Roo, however. All of the other people in Roo’s life—with the exception of the adults—are prime candidates for loads of discussion. What makes them do what they do? Are they right to put so much blame on Roo for things going badly, or are they themselves also partially at fault? All the questions that teens subconsciously must answer in high school, and yet rarely have the ability to voice as clearly as Roo does.

The excellence doesn’t stop there, either! E. Lockhart not only creates wonderful characters, she also writes humorously. Roo has a habit of using footnotes liberally to either go off on tangents that usually involve cinema knowledge or to make a funny and/or informative note. The result is a book that is easy yet fun to read.

Due to E. Lockhart’s insightful observation about the behaviors of teenagers in a small school, as well as Roo’s admittedly dramatic life, the Ruby Oliver books would make great presents for teen girls who read a lot of manga but not many actual novels. The situations involving friends and love interests will be familiar to them, and the language will be accessible and enticing. And at the same time, there are plenty of smarts in this book to win anyone’s heart. If you want to relive those painful high school years of confusing and crazy emotions, this is a great series to pick up.

114spacepotatoes
Jun 30, 2009, 1:25pm Top

You're going to hit your 99 book goal in no time! Lots of good titles here, I just added Ballads of Suburbia to my TBR after reading your review. I also love all of the covers of these books. So vibrant and nicely designed...I could kill a few hours just staring at book covers!

115stephxsu
Jun 30, 2009, 10:45pm Top

> spacepotatoes: Thanks! Yeah, 99 is really coming up fast... I didn't realize I would be able to read so much this year.. :) And BALLADS is an EXCELLENT choice! I commend you. :)

96. Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen



Tags:YA, divorce, summer, insomnia, beach town, family, friendship, maturity
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Who are you kidding? This is THE Sarah Dessen. She's the one to whom everyone else is compared.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

Ever since her parents’ divorce, Auden, mentally old for her age, has been unable to sleep. In an uncharacteristic move, she decides to spend her summer before college away from her demanding mother and at the home of her selfish father, her girly stepmother, and her new baby half-sister.

What happens to Auden at the sleepy beach town of Colby is not what she expects. For once in her life, she just might be making friends, and there’s this guy, Eli, who has a troubled past and is unable to sleep too. Together they make it a quest to rediscover Auden’s unclaimed childhood, so that maybe, after knowing how it is to be a child, Auden can ready herself to take on the world and the future.

Review

Once again, Sarah Dessen doesn’t disappoint. Along for the Ride is another nearly perfect example of Sarah’s unique ability to perfectly blend backstory, stellar characterization, and lessons in family, romance, and self-esteem to create the quintessential coming-of-age story.

Sarah’s greatest strength is probably in characterization. Every single character in this book is genuine, unique, and sympathetic. Auden’s parents are despicable to the point where you want to scream at them whenever they appear in the book, and yet at the same time you’re able to totally understand why they act the way they do. Auden’s maturation from too-serious young adult to someone who is able to say her mind and let herself feel what she wants to feel is the kind of change that makes for a great feel-good story.

My one complaint—or suggestion, however you want to call it—is that I’d like to see Sarah write something different soon. Most of her books revolve around the growth of a high school girl, and often include a nearly perfect guy and a dysfunctional family, and now, more than ever, characters from her various books are beginning to blend together.

That is not to say that Along for the Ride won’t please a Dessen fan or someone new to her books. It has everything we have come to expect from this amazing author. You won’t be able to put it down, preferring instead to, like Auden, lose sleep in order to find out how Auden and her friends and family change for the better.

97. And Then Everything Unraveled by Jennifer Sturman (Publication date: July 1, 2009)



Tags: middle grade, YA, mystery, conspiracy, disappearance
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Meg Cabot, Kelley Armstrong, Rachel Cohn, Judy Blume
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

Delia knows that her mother, the unflappable, always together, perfectly organized T.K. Truesdale, would not disappear off the face of the earth without previous notice. Which is why she’s suspicious when news comes of her mother’s death on an Antarctic environmental protection expedition and Delia is shipped off to NYC to live with her two aunts.

In between making friends, dealing with a newfound crush, and trying to fit in at her prestigious private high school, Delia investigates her mother’s supposed death on the side and discovers what she already believed: her mother is not dead. There is a reason she is hiding out, but the more Delia finds out, the more sinister everything sounds, and the more danger that she and everyone she cares about might be in.

Review

Wow! How do I even begin to describe And Then Everything Unraveled, which defies categorization? It’s a mystery-suspense story wrapped around a typical girl-coming-of-age tale, and as a result it is so much more.

Delia is a darling, an unassuming high school girl with a lot of bad luck but an equal amount of smarts on her hand. In straightforward, attention-grabbing prose she tells us how the transition from California to NYC is, how living with her crazy aunts after her by-the-book mom is, and how important it is to her that she get to the bottom of this mystery with her mom. The plot is definitely the best thing about this book, for the hint of a mysterious and dangerous conspiracy in an otherwise normal YA novel is unusual, and thus delightful.

Besides for Delia, most of the other characters are interesting as well. Her aunts Charley and Patty are complete opposites of one another, and yet neither of them feel clichéd or unrealistic in their differences. Jennifer Sturman has the crazy-awesome ability to make even the most minor of characters have personality. The only character that falls slightly short in my opinion would be Quinn, Delia’s love interest, who’s gallant and noble and infuriating but still a little fuzzy in my head.

However, since the ending of this book clearly promises a sequel or two, I am confident that I will only fall more and more in love with Delia’s world. And Then Everything Unraveled is a stellar start to what promises to be an exciting, heartwarming, AND nail-biting series. Can it really get better than that?

116stephxsu
Jul 5, 2009, 8:58pm Top

98. Wings by Aprilynne Pike



Tags: middle grade, YA, fantasy, fairies, love triangle, trolls
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Stephenie Meyer, Melissa Marr, Maggie Stiefvater
Rating: 1.5 out of 5

Summary

15-year-old Laurel has just entered public school for the first time after always being homeschooled. Besides for normal teenage issues such as trying to make friends and getting close to a boy named David, Laurel also has to worry about a mysterious growth on her back, which suddenly blossoms into an actual flower!

With the help of a familiar-looking fairy named Tamani, Laurel learns that she is, in fact, a fairy with the very important job of protecting her adoptive family’s land from possession by the trolls. The trouble is, her parents seem intent on selling the land, and even more so when tragedy strikes. Now, Laurel must face this set of seemingly unbelievable facts about herself and the world in order to protect the ones she loves, as well as the ones she may love.

Review

What a disappointment. Wings garners attention as being similar to Twilight, but let’s just say that the over-hyped vampire series is still a lot more interesting than anything this book has to offer.

Where do I even begin? The characters lack personality or appeal. Laurel has not a stitch of mental or physical strength on her. Her choice of actions have no validity or sense. The love triangle between Laurel, David, and Tamani is extremely contrived: I sensed no attraction at all between any of the three, no real reason why the boys would like Laurel the bland “heroine,” and no appeal in the caricatures of the boys, David the goody-two-shoes good friend, and Tamani the “dangerously attractive and mysterious” fairy (adjectives placed in quotes because, uh, he’s not. At all). If you’re trying to copy off the popularity of the Twilight love triangle, at least develop the males well enough that readers are encouraged to take sides. There will be no Team David or Team Tamani here: there will be a Team Run-Away-As-Fast-As-You-Can!

The concept of fairies being similar to plants was fairly interesting; my favorite parts of the book are when David geeks out and begins doing all sorts of scientific experiments on Laurel to prove to her that she is a plant. It was quite fascinating, all of the ways that Aprilynne came up with to link fairies to plants! Unfortunately, the story lacked everything else: engaging dialogue, plot, movement. The word that sprang to mind most when I read this book was “contrived;” it felt like we readers were told how we were supposed to feel about the characters and their predicaments instead of actually letting us feel anything. Anything that readers needed to know about the plot was explained in endless pages of stationary dialogue, which I wouldn’t even mind if not for the fact that the dialogue feels forced and the characters are not explaining anything of worth or interest to me anyway.

Alas, it seems like I and other reviewers can blither and blather all we want; the audience (and publishers) clearly know what they want, and that’s some more horrible Twilight spin-offs. Seriously, though, if you’re looking for some more fantasy love triangles and fairy wars etc., don’t check here. In fact, don’t read this book at all if you can. It won’t be long before you’ll be wondering about how you can get a refund on your time.

99. So Punk Rock by Micol Ostow



Tags: YA, music, bands, popularity, friendship, crushes, religion, Judaism
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Rachel Cohn, Blake Nelson
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Summary

Ari Abramson starts a Jewish indie-rock band so that he can gain more standing with the girls at his all-Jewish high school. The other members of The Tribe include Jonas, Ari’s pimptastic best friend; Yossi, who’s hardcore religious; and Reena, Yossi’s freshman sister. It turns out that starting up the band, while difficult, may just be the easiest part: now they have to deal with things such as deceit, drama, and inflated egos. Will Ari ever understand the real reason why he wanted to start a band?

Review

So Punk Rock is an intriguing blend of novel and graphic novel. It’s light on the music and heavy on the intricacies of interactions among high school students. The comic-strip panels are not necessarily essential to the plot, but they do provide a visual of the characters’ personalities, which is pretty interesting.

Ari is a likable protagonist, neither too full of himself nor too unconfident. His journey towards self-realization, though perhaps slightly unusual as he is a Jewish boy with strict parents who starts a rock band, is genuine and relatable, with a great lesson at the end. Furthermore, Ari’s interactions with his friends and crush are realistic: the problems that he encounters can definitely happen.

If this book had merely been about a teenage boy coming to terms with his own insecurity, I would’ve been sold. However, add in the music and religious aspect, and the story quickly turns unbelievable. The music and religion—more so the music than the religion—seem more like props to get everyone to a level of semi-self-actualization at the end than real events that happen in their lives. Little is mentioned of the actual musical part; instead, readers are left to interpret that four ragtag high schoolers who don’t even like each other half the time can pull together an original song from scratch in a week, to a quality good enough to garner many fans and gain a level of local fame. That’s just not realistic, and it left me disappointed.

Still, however, So Punk Rock is a nice choice if you want a fast and fun read that celebrates the growth of teenagers. It will leave you in a good mood, racing to the teenager nearest to you and hoping that he or she will turn out like Ari does.

100. Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink (Publication date: August 1, 2009)



Tags: young adult, paranormal, supernatural, occult, devil
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Libba Bray, Holly Black
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

After the deaths of their parents, twins Alice and Lia discover that an ancient prophecy will put them against one another. The prophecy states that one sister is the guardian of peace between this world and the Otherworld, while the other is the conduit through which the monsters of the Otherworld can travel into our world.

But which sister is which? As Lia struggles to come to terms with her own destiny, she is forced to realize that the sister she knew all her life may have always been a dangerous mystery. With newfound allies, Lia plunges further into the story of the prophecy in order to save the world from ruin at the hands of the Lost Souls.

Review

Prophecy of the Sisters begins a trilogy that speaks of olden times, musty secrets, and shadowy danger everywhere you turn. Michelle Zink sets the mood extremely well: the threat of darkness lurks on every page, and I kept on picturing the story running through my head in black and white and sepia. This insistence on a lurking danger makes the story all the more suspenseful and will keep you reading, frantically flipping the pages as if that will release some of the tension.

This book is mostly exposition for the promise of more action, more peril in future books. Because of that, readers who crave nonstop action will have difficulty getting into this book. The reading is worth it, however, as the prophecy is intricately created and fascinatingly complex. I have no idea how Michelle made the ominous prophecy so captivating, but she does.

I would like to see more character development in the future novels. Because the story is told from Lia’s first-person point of view, I sometimes had trouble understanding how all the characters came to be who they are, and how their stories and personalities are interconnected. In particular, I’m curious to see Alice develop into more than just a suggestion of the “wicked sister;” she seems like such a fascinatingly evil character that I would’ve loved to see how she thinks, how she became that way!

Perhaps the most striking part of Prophecy of the Sisters, though, is its unpredictability. Michelle defies conventional storytelling and adds surprising twists and events that, in retrospect, seem as if they belonged there all along. This book is no happily-ever-after tale; Lia’s losses are truly tragic and thus poignant. Michelle understands that triumph hardly ever occurs without losses, some of which are heartbreaking.

All in all, Prophecy of the Sisters is a promising start to a trilogy that will appeal to fans of gothic literature or dark historical fiction with a hint of the occult. I look forward to reading more about where the prophecy takes Lia and the rest of the characters.

117stephxsu
Jul 8, 2009, 11:04pm Top

101. Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception by Maggie Stiefvater



Tags: young adult, fantasy, faeries, deception, love, music
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Holly Black, Melissa Marr, Stephenie Meyer
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

Deirdre Monaghan is just your average super-talented harpist. Then a boy walks out of her dreams and straight into her life. Deirdre knows that the attractive and slightly dangerous Luke Dillon is no human, but she is hardly prepared for what he is: the faerie queen’s soulless assassin, a human who rejected her and is now forced to kill all she believes is a threat to her.

Luke was sent to kill Deirdre, but neither of them anticipated falling in love with each other. Now, Luke is risking his life to save hers, but Deirdre is not going to let the evil faerie queen walk all over her and destroy her and her family, friends, and loves. Maybe Deirdre is more of a threat to the queen than she herself thought…

Review

Maggie Stiefvater is going to be the rising voice of YA faerie fiction, I can tell. She writes brilliantly, the story is intricate yet satisfying, and, most of all, her characters are the kind you’ll want to fall in love with or be.

We are thrown right into the story from the very beginning, which is confusing for about the first half of the book, as we do not know Luke’s unspeakable history or his connection to Deirdre and the amount of danger she is in. Fortunately, Maggie Stiefvater’s writing totally makes up for that: Deirdre’s narrative tone can be described as “irreverent:” she’s a witty and self-deprecating observer who still manages to pull kick-butt abilities out of thin air as if she’d been born to do it all along.

The characters are truly what make this book. Deirdre is your ideal female protagonist, and Luke her heartbreakingly dazzling male counterpart. Even secondary characters—such as James, Deirdre’s wisecracking best friend, and Una, a bold faerie—take on full shape and importance. It didn’t matter how confusing the beginning was, because once I really got into the book, it was impossible to put down, that’s how deep my connection to the characters was.

Lament leaves off on a bittersweet note, and I can’t tell you how eager I am for the release of BALLAD, a companion book. If I could devour Maggie’s writing as food all day, I would. Instead, I will be content to reread Lament over and over again, desperately waiting for what she has to show us next.

102. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead



Tags: young adult, paranormal, vampires, sex, fighting
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Melissa de la Cruz, Stephenie Meyer
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

This is no ordinary vampire world you’re stepping into. Rose Hathaway is a dhampir, a half-vampire half-human being who is sworn to protect the lives of the Moroi, mortal vampires whose blood is especially desirable by the Strigoi, the evil immortal vampires. Rose has a unique bond with her best friend Lissa, a Moroi princess. The bond was what told her that being at Vampire Academy among the guardians and the other Moroi and dhampirs wasn’t safe, and so two years ago they escaped and have been on the run ever since.

At the start of their senior year, however, Rose and Lissa get caught and it’s back to the pointless social politics they go. In between classes, house arrest (as punishment for escaping), and grueling training sessions with the extremely hot Russian guardian Dimitri, however, Rose begans to sense that danger is surrounding Lissa, that she is not who she thinks she is. Lissa has a rare power that could destroy her, and only Rose can protect Lissa from herself…and others who might want to use her for their own benefits.

Review

Now this is the kind of YA paranormal series that I like. Butt-kicking, whip-smart female protagonists; dangerously sexy and complicated love interests; cutthroat high school drama; and an elaborately imagined alternative world…what more could you ask for?

All of the characters, not just the main ones, are great. They have personality, they make biting remarks, they sharpen their claws, spread rumors, manipulate. The Academy is, in a way, like Gossip Girl for vampires: the class politics underlining this series makes it more than a just-for-paranormal-entertainment read. Dhampirs whose life mission is to protect the royal Moroi? An exchange of blood between dhampires and Moroi being dirty and disgusting? The Moroi’s conscious decision to hide from, not fight, the bloodthirsty Strigoi? Come on. There’s plenty to be discussed in this book, as well as plenty to be entertained about.

And speaking of entertainment. The Gossip Girl reference is accurate, more so because of the sexuality that runs through the book. Vampires themselves are already attractive creatures; throw in a couple of hot guys, smart girls, and impossible romances, and you’ve got drama and heartbreak enough to satisfy your cravings. Most books get their strength through either character development or plot: Vampire Academy does both.

This book is class drama for the paranormal set, Twilight done right (in a sexually realistic kind of way). Pick this up and you’ll be sucked immediately into its enchantment. I doubt you will be disappointed.

118stephxsu
Jul 9, 2009, 10:05pm Top

103. Coffeehouse Angel by Suzanne Selfors (Publication date: July 21, 2009)



Tags: middle grade, young adult, angels, magic, coffeehouse
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Judy Blume, Elizabeth Scott, Maureen Johnson, Jenny O'Connell, Jeannine Garsee
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

Katrina has no talent, no drive for anything. She’s not passionate for art, like her best girl friend Elizabeth, or swimming, like her best guy friend Vincent. All she does is help run her grandmother’s dying coffeehouse, go to school, and work at the empty coffeehouse until she goes to sleep at night.

Then, Katrina gives coffee and pastries to the young homeless guy in her alley, and her world changes. The guy, who calls himself Malcolm, says that he is an angel, and he must grant Katrina’s deepest desire before he can move on. The trouble is, Katrina doesn’t seem to know what she wants, and her first two wishes for fortune and fame only seem to get her into more trouble. The coffeehouse is in jeopardy from competition next door, and Katrina has no idea how to save it.

Malcolm can’t move on until Katrina knows what she most desires, but as they spend more time together, Katrina can’t help but think that she might want HIM almost as much as she wants to save the coffeehouse and find what she’s good at.

Review

Reading Coffeehouse Angel is like reading a Disney movie: clueless and spineless girl gets into trouble, the bit of magic she gets involved in gets her into more trouble, she realizes her potential after the troubles, she gets with the guy and they all live happily ever after. It’s a fairy tale-like story that can’t fail to be cute, and that’s how you’ll feel when reading Coffeehouse Angel.

Katrina is simultaneously a sweetheart, with her genuine concern for the coffeehouse’s well-being, and annoying with her inaction and naivety. However, the greatest part is probably the valid ambiguity of Katrina’s positions: for example, she gets legitimately mad at Vincent for not helping her save the coffeehouse, but is also at fault herself for always waiting for someone to come to her rescue. It’s difficult to balance ambiguity in a novel, but Suzanne Selfors succeeds in this story, which is amazing.

I’m a little less impressed with the supposed romance between Katrina and Malcolm. It seemed like Katrina was a little too eager to fall in love with Malcolm simply because he was good-looking and available. Of course, this fits in quite nicely with the whole story’s overall fairy-tale-like feel, so it may not bother you all that much if you keep that in mind.

Coffeehouse Angel is a sweet read for reluctant tween and teen readers looking for a story with a healthy dash of love, magic, and character growth. Read for the feel-good smile it will leave on your face as you turn the last page.

104. The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry



Tags: middle grade, young adult, fantasy, fairy tale, witches, princes, magic, thievery
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Jessica Day George, Gail Carson Levine, Alex Flinn
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

15-year-old Lucinda Chapdelaine used to be the daughter of well-to-do merchants, intimate with the royal family themselves. Then, her parents die in an accident, the family’s wealth mysteriously disappears, and Lucinda is forced to live with her uncle and her horrible aunt. Lucinda lives and works like a servant, never even daring to dwell on the past or dream of a better life.

Then, a beautiful stone sets off a chain of events that changes Lucinda’s life. She befriends Beryl, a mysterious lady with witch-like powers, who gives Lucinda a difficult task. If she succeeds, she may end up with all her former glory restored, and perhaps even more in the way of friendships and love. If she fails, however, it may cost Lucinda and her friends their lives.

Review

Julie Berry does an admirable job of modernizing the feel of a classic fairy tale. The tone of the story is lilting and reminiscent of old stories, full of peril and triumph, and then more peril and more triumph. I really enjoyed all the fantastical elements of The Amaranth Enchantment: this is a mixture of beloved fairy tales like Cinderella and more.

The characters, however, were not very easy to connect with. Berry’s storyteller writing contributes to the fairy tale feel of the novel, but also distances us from the characters at the same time. It took most of the book to convince me to care for Lucinda, her ragamuffin friend Peter, and Prince Gregor—although the hint of a love triangle between the three really helped keep my feelings of apathy at a minimum.

Overall, The Amaranth Enchantment will satisfy readers looking for a tale full of magic, heroic actions, wonder, and victory.

119stephxsu
Jul 13, 2009, 10:53pm Top

105. Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman



Tags: YA, fantasy, dragons, politics
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Garth Nix, Robin McKinley, Zoe Marriott,
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

Eon has trained four years for a chance to be picked as the new Rat Dragoneye apprentice, one of eleven whose powerful spiritual connection with the dragons is used to keep the nation prospering. Eon believes he has a chance, despite being a cripple: he has the rare ability to enter the energy world and “see” all the dragons.

However, Eon is actually Eona, a teenage girl. Females are forbidden to be Dragoneyes, and so Eon desperately tries to hide his true gender when he is miraculously chosen to be the next Mirror Dragoneye, when the Mirror Dragon has not been seen for over 500 years. It is a dangerous world that Eon must maneuver in, what with the old emperor seriously ill and political mutiny tainting the air. Does Eon—Eona—have what it takes to survive, or does the secret that Eona hides threaten to destroy everyone’s lives?

Review

If you want a hardcore fantasy set in a deliciously elaborate and complex world, pick up Eon: Dragoneye Reborn. Goodman’s majestic tale brings to mind the works of fantasy masters like Garth Nix, Robin McKinley, Diane Wynne Jones, and more. Eon’s world is well wrought, engaging, and one hundred percent fascinating.

The world of Eon: Dragoneye Reborn is reminiscent of ancient Asian cultures, and is a careful and studied mixture of the spiritual and the physical. I loved the idea of dragons being a part of the energy world, of Dragoneyes connecting with the dragons to share a mutual power. At the same time, the physical setting is incredible: a place full of beauty and treachery, awe and horror. Alison Goodman weaves for readers a multisensory setting that’s a treat to experience.

The characters are far from lacking either. Eon is a brilliant, three-dimensional protagonist: his internal conflict of adhering to the tradition of male Dragoneyes versus breaking protocol and acknowledging Eona is heartbreaking and enthralling. Readers may be able to guess things that the often-obstinate Eon misses, but all in all Eon is a fascinating character to follow in this highly charged story.

At a little over 500 pages, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn may seem like a daunting read, but every chapter is worth it, even the few that you wish would speed up to Eon’s long-awaited revelations. I absolutely cannot wait for the sequel, Eona: The Last Dragoneye, to come out, so that I can read more about Eon/Eona and his/her adventures in this magnificently complex world.

106. Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick (Publication date: October 13, 2009)



Tags: YA, paranormal, angels, danger, romance
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Stephenie Meyer, Cassandra Clare, Melissa Marr
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

The last thing high school sophomore Nora Grey wanted was to be partnered with a total stranger in biology, especially when the segment is on human anatomy and sexuality. But Patch, her biology partner, is fascinatingly intriguing, very attractive…and has a way of unnerving Nora in all the ways she never wanted to be unnerved. Nora knows that Patch is dangerous, and that she should probably stay away from him—especially after she suspects him of being the masked stalker who seems to be trying to kill her—but their paths keep on crossing, and she can’t deny the connection that she feels with him.

However, Nora doesn’t know that she’s about to become a pawn in a dangerous game that may end her life. For Patch is a fallen angel, one whose wings were ripped off for disobedience. He wants to become human, and that requires a particular female sacrifice. But that’s not all. Others are also out for Nora’s blood, and against her will Nora feels that Patch might be the only one who can save her, as dangerous as he himself is for her…

Review

Look out, Edward—dark, dangerous, and sexy has a new name, and that name is Patch. Becca Fitzpatrick writes a forbidden romance that’s so delicious, so intoxicating, it should be illegal. Thankfully it’s not, and we can all be treated to the alluring and dangerous world that Nora and Patch live together in.

Hush, Hush focuses mostly on developing Nora, Patch, and their dance of a relationship. Thus, what it sometimes lacks in vigorous pace, it more than makes up for in Patch and Nora’s fantastic dynamics. Every time they meet, you can practically see the sparks flying out of the page. All the other characters fade in comparison, but it’s okay, as Nora and Patch are exceptionally well drawn, three-dimensional. Nora, while seemingly helpless in a Bella-like way under the dark shadow of Patch’s sinister behavior, is actually quite determined and innovative, given the terrifying circumstances she has been thrust into.

Readers will either fall over themselves to get more of Patch, or be creeped out by him. He certainly exhibits a lot of the stalkerish tendencies that some readers dislike about Edward from Twilight. In addition, he is rude, condescending, cocky, sexually aggressive, and pretty darn selfish (did I mention the part where he wants to kill Nora for his own purposes?). However, I am firmly in the first camp: I adore Patch. He is the incarnation of every girl’s secret bad boy daydream: your very own otherworldly, dangerous, drop-dead sexy, very masculine fantasy come true. Whenever Patch shows up in Hush, Hush, you’ll want to sweat—partly from attraction, partly from fear. It’s easy to understand why Nora feels the way she does about him, even if the romance between the two feels the tiniest bit rushed and uneven to me.

Nora and Patch aside, the rest of Hush, Hush was a decent exploration of a different world, one where fallen angels roam among us. The story doesn’t really pick up the pace until the last third or so of the novel, where we learn about Patch’s past as well as the story of the fallen angels, Nora and Patch’s building attraction finally comes to a head, and mortal danger awaits. Indeed, the final part of the book was so delicious and action-packed that I had to reread it again and again, never getting enough each time. This fallen angel world that Becca Fitzpatrick has created is one that I will gladly step into again, even if it’s not for the continuation of Patch and Nora’s story.

All in all, Hush, Hush is an edgier read that will appeal to more mature fans of Twilight and the Mortal Instruments series. Becca Fitzpatrick is an absolute star at creating fantastic main characters: the attraction between Nora and Patch is sure to break thermometers. This one’s a keeper on my shelf for sure, so that I can reread it whenever I need a rush of danger and impossible desire. Can’t wait to see what Becca has to show us next!

120stephxsu
Edited: Jul 17, 2009, 2:50am Top

107. Evernight by Claudia Gray



Tags: YA, paranormal, vampires, boarding school, vampire hunters
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Alyson Noel, P. C. Cast
Rating: 2 out of 5

Summary

Bianca Olivier’s parents are new teachers at the boarding school Evernight Academy, and Bianca just knows that she has to get out of Evernight. The students are distant, sophisticated, and creepy; Bianca feels like she doesn’t belong.

Then she meets Luke. He makes her feel complete, and it’s not long before they are inseparable. But Luke acts mysterious sometimes, and Bianca can’t figure him out…until disaster strikes. Suddenly, old family secrets are revealed, and the two young lovers’ lives may be in grave danger.

Review

The first reaction I had when I finished this book was, wow, I’m glad it’s over. That doesn’t bode well for the first sentence of a review, but I’m going to try to explain why Evernight gave me a headache and had me rolling my eyes through every page.

Don’t get me wrong: there are some good parts to this book. I really liked the concept of a boarding school for vampires; the gothic towers and rooms of Evernight reminded me vaguely of Hogwarts, which was cool. The idea that Gray presents readers of a world where immortal vampires are constantly struggling to fit in, and need to be taught technology, was intriguing, although not as well developed as it could’ve been.

I really liked the tension between vampires and the human vampire hunters, even though the motivations for the vampire hunters’ actions were not well explained. And finally, I was a fan of the huge twist halfway through the book that everyone likes to talk about. Books with unreliable narrators are difficult to pull off, and Bianca’s revelation to us was shocking, yet satisfying at the same time.

However, Evernight fell flat in all other aspects. Bianca was difficult to like: she constantly feels the need to tell readers things about herself and the world around her, things that we didn’t need to know—like the fact that she’s supposedly shy, even though there’s no indication of shyness beyond the general awkwardness of adolescence among a new crowd—or could have inferred in the hands of a more skilled writer. Similarly, none of the other characters were interesting, least of all Luke. I rolled my eyes at the stilted dialogue and forced attraction between the two, felt my eyelids start to slide shut at the unbearably slow pace of the novel.

I read Evernight for the express purpose of finding out what that plot twist was, but it wasn’t worth it. Lovers of vampire lit might be interested in the world that Gray has tried to spin, but newcomers to the genre would be better off with other vampire series, such as Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy.

108. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater (Publication date: August 1, 2009 / Scholastic)



Tags: YA, paranormal, werewolves, romance
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Aimee Friedman
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

Grace’s life could have ended as a young girl in the teeth of the wolf pack that lives in the woods behind her home, but a yellow-eyed wolf saves her. Every winter, Grace watches her beloved wolf look back at her from the woods, and wonders why she feels such a strong connection with this animal.

What Grace doesn’t know is that the wolves in her woods are actually werewolves, and her yellow-eyed wolf is actually a teenage boy named Sam. One fall, a frightening chain of events lands Sam in Grace’s backyard as a human. Now, they begin to form the vocal, emotional, and physical connection they couldn’t as two different forms. Now, neither one of them wants to live without the other, even though as the days grow colder, both know that their time together is limited.

Circumstances threaten to tear the two of them apart forever. When it gets cold enough, Sam will involuntarily change back into a wolf. Every day is a fight to stay warm, a fight to continue to stay together, a journey to discover and understand one another.

Review

Shiver is one of the most unique takes on the werewolf-human love story that I’ve read. (Granted, I haven’t read many of them.) The cold world that the werewolves exist in is multifaceted, fascinating, and slightly frightening too. Maggie’s writing is lyrical yet accessible, making Grace and Sam’s world and romance all the more poignant.

However, there was just something about Shiver that wasn’t my thing, that I couldn’t get completely into. Was it how I never connected with Sam and Grace, never felt the intensity and veracity of their feelings for one another? Was it the way that all the secondary characters were drawn two-dimensionally? I don’t know. I don’t see anyone else having this problem. Maybe it is just me.

It’s a fascinating concept and some great writing, but together, it wasn’t quite working for me. I didn’t feel a desperate desire to find out what happens to the characters, even though I did shed a tear or two near the end (what can I say? Great writing does that to you). I encourage you to go out and pick this one up, and then make of it what you will.

109. The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han



Tags: YA, middle grade, summer, beach, love triangle, boys
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Aimee Friedman, Gayle Forman, Sarah Ockler, Sarah Dessen
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

For 15-year-old Belly, summer has always meant the beach house with her mother, her older brother, Steven, and family friends Susannah and her sons Conrad and Jeremiah. Although Belly is only younger by a couple of years, the boys have always made her feel left out in a way. This summer, though, Belly’s suddenly grown into her body, and she’s eager to believe that she might finally be accepted as an equal. Perhaps Conrad, the brooding brother whom she’s loved for almost half her life, will finally see her as more than a younger sister type.

What Belly doesn’t realize is that the summer just might be more than about the boys. It could be about family, friendship, growing up… and love.

Review

The synopsis may make Belly seem shallow and the story flighty, but it is not. At all. With her sophomore novel, Jenny Han has done it again, writing a character-driven story that’s so poignant, you’ll wonder if she got her inspiration from real events or a Lifetime movie.

Jenny Han makes writing seem effortless. She has a natural yet phenomenal way of making characters come to life through subtle but effective exchanges, musings, and flashbacks. Her talent for writing three-dimensional characters makes sure that the story does not fall into a predictable rut. Belly is a darling protagonist: full of spunk, bite, and an appropriate level of girliness and immaturity. All of the guys in Belly’s life are legitimately likeable, and the ending is both bittersweet and doubly touching as a result. There are no character clichés here.

Belly’s narration switches constantly from flashbacks to present-day, which at times can get confusing, but is more useful in helping us understand the characters. With this format, we are given a slow-paced and thoughtful story—which could get boring, but is fortunately saved by the wonderful characters. I even found myself tearing up at the end, so deeply I had been unknowingly drawn into Belly’s enchanting summer world.

The Summer I Turned Pretty is an underrated book, and Jenny Han is an author who is all too often overlooked. But she has me convinced in her second book; I am now in awe of her character-writing abilities, and cannot wait to read more of her writing.

121stephxsu
Jul 20, 2009, 10:40pm Top

110. Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr (Publication date: Oct. 1, 2009 / Little, Brown)



Tags: YA, faith, kidnapping, family
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Sarah Dessen, Melina Marchetta
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

15-year-old Samara’s father is one of the town’s pastors, and her mother is a closet alcoholic who’s recently been admitted into rehab. However, Sam’s father won’t act like something’s wrong: he just continues to be the poster pastor for his church, and Sam is left with an ugly feeling of misunderstanding and loneliness.

Then, a young girl from their church goes missing, and the whole town is in an uproar. Surely the girl’s family has it much worse than Sam’s personal misery, but when Sam tries to be the good daughter in this difficult time, she finds that it’s difficult for her to have faith the way she used to.

Review

Sara Zarr’s third novel is a triumph, a novel whose gentle pacing and complicated protagonist stole my heart. Once Was Lost is the definition of YA realistic fiction: the characters are flawed, the ending’s not exactly perfect, and the course of the novel has its ups and downs—but together, they create a tale that resonates with you.

Sara Zarr is not afraid to leave you with more questions than you have answers. The protagonist, Sam, goes through problems that seem both unique and yet completely relatable at the same time. The story is about the impact of a kidnapping on a church, but Once Was Lost is more about Sam’s adolescent turmoil of not fitting in and feeling misunderstood and alone than it is about religion. Sam questions her faith, but in the end it’s about her faith in herself and her ability to come out alright in the end—a journey that everyone takes.

Subtly complex supporting characters and stellar writing combine to make Once Was Lost a success. Read it for a thought-provoking time—this one’s going to snatch up the awards.

111. Under the Rose by Diana Peterfreund (Ivy League, Book 2



Tags: YA, college, secret societies, mystery, friendship, hookups, misogyny, patriarchy
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Megan McCafferty, E. Lockhart
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

In the first book, Secret Society Girl, Amy Haskel is a college junior and part of the first female group tapped into the ultrasecret, patriarch-run Rose & Grave secret society. In Under the Rose, Amy is a senior, with the horrors of initiation and the previous semester behind her. She intends to enjoy herself as much as possible: hookups with her super hot (and womanizing) society brother George Harrison Prescott, hanging out with her roommate Lydia, and spending time with fellow Diggirls.

Of course, being part of the first coed Rose & Grave group is bound to create trouble. Someone within the group has been publicizing society secrets. Suspicions abound, patriarchs are more than unhappy, and it seems like Amy is going to be part of the last Rose & Grave class, two centuries of tradition and camaraderie down the drain…

…Unless she and her society brothers can rediscover the meaning of what it means to be a Digger.

Review

It’s just so hard to find an intelligent, funny, and suspenseful series, which is why I adore Diana Peterfreund’s IVY LEAGUE novels. They contain everything I want in a series about college students: secrets, romantic entanglements, and pages and pages of side-splitting collegiate conversation.

Amy is engaging, wry, and endearingly stumbling through life as a secret society member at an elite university. She is dynamic and can hold her own in any situation. But the brilliant characterization doesn’t stop there. Every character, no matter how much or how little time he/she gets on the page, has his or her own personality. It’s not so hard for us to keep track of all dozen or so of the members of Rose & Grave, which is a remarkable accomplishment, and a sign of a high-caliber author.

Likewise, the plot is intricate and clearly shows the amount of time that went into planning and writing Amy’s world. The story weaves around the society comings and goings, delves deliciously into Amy’s “relationship” with George, takes readers on far flung adventures…and that’s in between helping us remember who’s who! The story is a complex, satisfying, and delightful concept that only an author with more than enough brains to spare can concoct.

Under the Rose is a thriller/mystery story for the estrogen-prone, chick lit for the brainy. And that’s why I love it. This book doesn’t dumb itself down for readers; instead, we’re left feeling impressed at Diana Peterfreund’s writing ability, even if the scenarios and dialogue only exist in a world where the perfect quip comes out of your mouth instantly, every time. I’d like to live there.

122dianestm
Jul 21, 2009, 2:45am Top

Another 2 books for the TBR mountain. Thanks for the great reviews.

123stephxsu
Jul 26, 2009, 3:49pm Top

112. My Soul to Take by Rachel Vincent (Harlequin Teen / Aug. 1, 2009)



Tags: YA, paranormal, banshees, romance, evil, death
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Amber Kizer, Maggie Stiefvater, Gillian Shields, Richelle Mead, P. C. Cast
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

When the best looking guy in school, Nash Hudson, starts paying attention to Kaylee Cavanaugh, all she wants to do is to live a normal life. But Kaylee is far from normal. She can sense when someone near her is about to die—and when she does, she starts screaming incontrollably. Inhumanly.

Then, Kaylee learns the shocking truth from some unexpected sources: she is actually not human, but rather a bean sidhe, a mythical creature who scream when death is near. Before Kaylee can have time to digest the truth, however, her abilities are needed to help find out why girls are mysteriously and suddenly dying every day.

Review

Rachel Vincent blends mystery, romance, and magic into a series starter that will definitely find an audience with teen readers. With so many paranormal novels out there, the idea of My Soul to Take is refreshingly unique: I haven’t read many books concerning bean sidhes (banshees), those who announce death, and Rachel Vincent’s take on the mythical creatures is satisfying and intriguing. The explanation behind the existence of bean sidhes is well spun; I always appreciate a well-wrought backstory.

The characters and writing, while not too noteworthy, were still interesting enough to capture the attention of a less discerning reader than me. Kaylee reacts like most teen girls in her situation would probably react: with horror and lots of hand-wringing, but not much action. The romance was tame, the attraction between Kaylee and Nash a little too sudden and forced for my taste, but it was okay because of the high interest levels of the world this book describes. It’s not the romance that’s the focus here, but the paranormal world.

Even though the plot is slow in the beginning and not much in terms of action really happens throughout (frustratingly enough, a lot of things seem to occur in conversations), my attention was still captured. My Soul to Take is a good beginning to a series that will attract who are new to YA paranormal fiction. A decent introduction to a diverse genre.

113. Marked by P. C. Cast and Kristin Cast (House of Night, Book 1)



Tags: YA, paranormal, vampires
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Richelle Mead, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, Vivian Vande Velde
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Summary

Zoey Redbird doesn’t know just what she’s in for when a Tracker marks her as a fledgling vampyre. But she’s whisked off to a vampyre school, where she learns that she is unusual, even for a vampyre. Zoey has a strange affinity with Nyx, the goddess of the night and whom vampyres revere.

The House of Night contains your usual high school problems: an irresistibly hot guy, mysterious secrets, and a girl whose selfish attitude makes her unworthy of her high status as leader of the Daughters of Darkness. Zoey, with the help of her newfound friends, is determined to put Aphrodite in her place. However, Zoey doesn’t realize that she’s destined for much more than simply usurping Aphrodite…

Review

Marked begins a series that is uncomfortable mix of compelling action and appalling writing. On the one hand, the idea is superb and well executed: P. C. Cast shows her experience as she deftly weaves a web of vampyre history and conflict, a web that you can easily became ensnared in. The pacing, while a little dull in the beginning, gets more solid and more exciting as the book hurries to a satisfying conclusion that leaves room for lots more in future books.

On the other hand, a great story idea cannot completely excuse the cringe-inducing writing. It is the voice of someone trying too hard to be “hip” and “in,” with complete disregard for how modern-day teenagers actually think, act, and speak. One should not overlook the fact that all the characters seem like they are amateur actors on in a bad horror movie, overdramatizing situations and playing at their trying-too-hard lines.

Still, though, many teens will be able to get a kick out of the intriguing vampire power-play world that the Casts have created. I might return to it when I’m in the mood to deal with fake-sounding characters in a cool alternate world, but this one’s winning no awards from me in the foreseeable future.

124stephxsu
Jul 26, 2009, 4:05pm Top

114. The Rapture by Liz Jensen (Doubleday / Aug. 11, 2009)



Tags: adult, apocalyptic, psychiatry, paralysis
Recommended age: 16+
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

30-something-year-old Gabrielle Fox, wheelchair-bound after an emotionally and physically scarring car accident, works as an art therapist for some of Great Britain’s most mentally disturbed juveniles. One of her patients is Bethany Krall, charged with murdering her mother with a screwdriver. Bethany likes to talk about forthcoming geological disasters with scientific accuracy.

At first Gabrielle professionally ignores Bethany’s babble. But when Bethany’s predictions match up with real-life events and seem to point to a disaster of apocalyptic proportions, Gabrielle can no longer ignore her paranoia. Together with a few believing scientists, Gabrielle struggles to convince the rest of the world that a psychotic girl with murderous tendencies actually holds the key to preventing the annihilation of the human race.

Review

THE RAPTURE is an unusual though frighteningly scientifically plausible take on the apocalypse. It is not an easy read: Gabrielle’s colloquial narrative takes you right into her head, which may or may not be effective, depending on the reader. The first half of the book builds slowly, as it focuses more on developing Gabrielle and her relationship with the physicist. Bethany is supremely dislikable all throughout, but more so at the beginning.

Even with these minor complaints, however, Liz Jensen writes a story that’s full of scientific accuracy in a way that sucks you in. Apocalyptic tales only work when they’re done intelligently, and both The Rapture and its author are well aware of and accomplish that. While I found the pacing of this novel a little odd—too slow in the beginning, too quickly building to its climax towards the end—it is still a masterfully suspenseful read in the end.

The Rapture is not for the faint of heart, and it focuses more on Gabrielle’s emotional damage and the apocalyptic possibility of Bethany’s predictions than the actual psychological aspects of their relationship. However, for those who love speculative fiction and similar geological horror/thriller movies, this will be a good read.

115. Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer



Tags: YA, apocalyptic, family, diary
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Mary Pearson, Jane Yolen, Gabrielle Zevin, Meg Rosoff
Rating: 5 out of 5

This was a reread for me, and I'm happy to say that it's just as good the second time as it was the first. In it, a teenage girl chronicles in her diary how her life changes drastically when an asteroid crashes into the moon and knocks it closer to the earth. A fascinatingly engaging apocalyptic tale, one of the best I've ever read. I'm glad it's still one of my favorites.

116. Initiation by Susan Fine



Tags: YA, prep school, boys
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Curtis Sittenfeld
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

Mauricio Londono, son of a middle-class college professor, thinks that the prestigious St. Stephen’s School for Boys is his dream school. Then he enters as a new freshmen, and quickly realizes that in this world of the rich and privileged, there are a whole different set of rules. Now, Mauricio must navigate his life with little to no knowledge of how things work.

Review

INITIATION reminds me very much of Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep: middle-class outsider attends a prestigious high school, witnesses with shock the lawless doings of the rich, and emerges from his/her school years relatively unchanged. Even with this proliferation of inaction and non-growth, however, I still definitely enjoyed INITIATION for its convincing portrayal of privileged teen apathy.

Since Mauricio is mostly a non-participating narrator, it’s all the other characters that are fascinating and draw my attention. Mauricio talks about the classmates he comes in contact with—all their ups and downs, convoluted morals, and shocking actions. It is often difficult for us to imagine that students at good high schools will actually act this way, and Mauricio’s narration adds to the prevailing shock and horrifying truth in a way that sticks with you.

INTIATION is not at all plot-based, and even the little plot it contains is overshadowed by the supporting characters. This turns out to be not a bad thing at all: I really think that this book should be read as a look into the lives of students at a private high school rather than one in which the plot was underdeveloped and unexciting.

Overall, I was very impressed with INITIATION and Susan Fine’s writing. She was able to fully convince me that schools such as St. Stephen’s do exist, much as we are loathe to admit it. I look forward to seeing how she continues to write telling studies of adolescent behavior in the future!

125dianestm
Jul 26, 2009, 4:55pm Top

Great reviews as always, I have The Rapture sitting beside the bed already and added Life as We Knew It to the TBR mountain.

126spacepotatoes
Jul 27, 2009, 12:45pm Top

Hi steph! Just wanted to let you know that I saw The Actor and the Housewife on the "Beach Reads" display at my library over the weekend, remembered your review and snapped it right up! I'm looking forward to it.

By the way, I noticed you'd asked about Reading Lolita in Tehran in another thread and just wanted to second the recommendation for it. Even if you haven't read most of the books that are discussed, they really are secondary to Nafisi's (and her students') struggles in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Very interesting reading.

127stephxsu
Jul 30, 2009, 6:02pm Top

dianestm: I hope you enjoy both! I'm curious to know what others think of The Rapture and Life As We Knew It...

spacepotatoes: Great, I hope you enjoy it! It should be a great summer/beach read. And I definitely intend to pick up Reading Lolita in Tehran (I think I'll read Lolita first though, just because I have it and I've been intending to read it!). Thanks for the nudge!

117. Meridian by Amber Kizer Publication date: Aug. 11, 2009 (Random House)



Tags: middle grade, YA, fantasy, paranormal, death, evil
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Joanne Dahme, Julie Berry, Aimee Friedman
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

Meridian Sozu has always been surrounded by death. Insects and animals tend to die around her, and she has few friends as a result. On her sixteenth birthday, Meridian witnesses a car accident, and her body explodes in pain. Immediately she is rushed away from her family and placed in her great-aunt’s home, where she learns the truth about herself. Meridian, like her Auntie and countless other female ancestors in their family, is a Fenestra, a half-human with the ability to guide dying souls to a restful afterlife.

In between learning to use her newfound powers, however, Meridian, Auntie, and a boy named Tens are anxiously awaiting the descent of the Aternocti, a group of malevolent beings intent on killing Fenestras. Meanwhile, the religious townspeople, led by the deceptively innocent Reverend Perimo, are making threats toward the three.

When all hell breaks lose, can love and belief save the day?

Review

Meridian is puts an interesting paranormal spin on a tried-and-true storytelling style. I enjoyed learning about the Fenestras and the way they helped souls reach eternal peace, but unfortunately poor execution and choppy writing hampered the story for me.

Meridian is a character with whom she can sympathize. She has been wrenched suddenly from the only life she has known (even though it has been a terribly lonely one), only to find herself with the burden of ancient responsibilities, with hundreds of people bent on intending her harm. The way she reacts to her situation is consistent and plausible, and yet she is able to work that female power in a very heroine-saves-the-day way.

Unfortunately, I felt for the most part disconnected from the story, due to its choppy narration. The concept of Fenestras was a big one to tackle in a couple hundred pages, and I would’ve liked more flow and time spent on clearer explanations, instead of forced, mysterious, and confusing conversations. In the end, I felt like I didn’t connect to any of the characters, and was unimpressed with the development of Meridian and Tens’ romance.

Overall, Meridian is a unique story that will appeal to readers who are not too concerned with the quality of writing.

118. The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan



Tags: YA, fantasy, magic, demons, family, male narrator
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Cassandra Clare
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

16-year-old Nick Ryves’ life has always consisted of running away from the magicians, who want an amulet that Nick’s mother stole from them—an amulet that’s keeping her alive. Nick spends all his time protecting his crippled older brother, Alan, and trying to avoid his mother, who hates him. For the longest time, those two were the only constants in his life…until a brother and sister walk into their house one day, the brother bearing a demon’s mark on his body.

Demon’s marks allow magicians to track them and eventually a demon to possess the body, and when one appears on Alan, Nick will do anything to save his brother’s life. Their journey takes them through England, in and out of magic circles, but secrets abound, and there’s the greatest family secret of all that threatens to be even more dangerous and deadly than the demon’s mark.

Review

The Demon's Lexicon starts off with a bang, and the action and excitement—and my love for the characters—just keeps building from there. It is a unique and exceptionally well-written fantasy/action story that kept my eyes glued to the pages, never wanting it to end.

Nick is without a doubt the best part of the book. If you like bad boys, Nick is your guy: he’s apathetic and prone to anger, sword-happy and never remorseful. And in spite of all that, we love him. He is dedicated to his brother, and his thoughts are wonderfully portrayed, so that we can understand completely how his brain works. Often in YA fantasy/paranormal novels the “bad boy” is the main character’s forbidden love interest; here, he is the medium through which we absorb the story, and we grow to adore him and his peculiar, rough ways.

Sarah Rees Brennan is a master at writing and storytelling, two very different skills that do not always intersect. She weaves fascinating prose in and out of a compelling plotline, all carried along by the strength of Nick’s character. Whenever the plot slowed into possible dull moments, or secondary characters felt unclear to me, Nick was always there, keeping me enjoying the story.

The Demon's Lexicon is a wonderful novel that will appeal to both genders. I have now proudly joined the crowd of Nick adorers, and can’t wait for what Sarah Rees Brennan has to show us next.

128whitewavedarling
Jul 30, 2009, 9:27pm Top

Very nice reviews :) I'll definately be keeping my eye out for the second one...

129stephxsu
Aug 3, 2009, 10:43pm Top

119. Ash by Malinda Lo (Little, Brown / Sept. 1, 2009)



Tags: YA, fantasy, retelling, Cinderella
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Shannon Hale
Rating: 5 out of 5

Summary

Aisling was just a young girl when she lost first her mother, then her father, to death. Now she lives with her cruel stepmother and irritating stepsisters, forced to tend to their every whim and demand. The only times Ash feels remotely happy is when she can escape into the magical wood and be with her fairy friend Sidhean.

But Ash’s world changes yet again when she befriends Kaisa, the King’s Huntress. Kaisa doesn’t see Ash’s servant clothes, and instead keeps her company and teaches her how to hunt. Torn between an cold eternity with Sidhean and a life with Kaisa, Ash must find the strength to be true to herself.

Review

ASH is one of those books that I read slowly, savoring each beautifully crafted line, running the words and imagery through my head until they became poetry in action. Malinda’s sensuous writing brings Ash’s world and the characters within to blazing, ethereal life: you can fully tell that you are immersed in a fairy tale world, one that doesn’t just satisfy, but leaves you wanting more.

I’ve often heard ASH described as a lesbian retelling of Cinderella; in fact, I think that I have used that comparison myself. However, this book is so much more than that. As the story went along, and Ash suffered under her stepmother’s rule, then triumphed in her own little ways of grasping happiness, I came to see the novel as a moving tribute to the triumph of human spirit and desire to live in the face of adversity. ASH is a story that anyone can relate to, a story that can get to anyone.

The closer I got to the ending, the slower I read, so badly did I not want the story to end. When the end inevitably came, I was devastated, so moved was I by Ash’s development from scared and petulant girl to a young woman capable of living and loving again. What else can I say that would do this novel justice? It has a bit of everything for everyone: a magical world for fantasy lovers, incredible writing for aspiring authors, a moving love story for romantics, and a je ne sais pas that makes it stand out from other books. Enough of this now; read it and experience the magic of ASH and Malinda Lo for yourself.

120. Two-Way Street by Lauren Barnholdt



Tags: YA, road trip, secrets, relationships
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Jenny O'Connell, Simone Elkeles
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

The last thing Courtney McSweeney wants to do is take a road trip to college with her ex-boyfriend Jordan, who had dumped her two weeks before for a girl he met on MySpace. She needs to spend this road trip pretending that she’s not at all bothered that Jordan broke up with her.

However, Jordan is actually still in love with Courtney. He’s the first girl he’s ever loved, but extenuating circumstances forced him to break up with her for her own sake. What is this secret that Jordan is keeping, and can this imperfect twosome work their way back into romance?

Review

Told in he-said/she-said format, TWO-WAY STREET is a delightful romp that explores the dynamics between two people before, during, and after a relationship. Half of the book occurs on Jordan and Courtney’s road trip, while the other half delves back into how they came to be an item. It’s a story device that doesn’t always work, but fortunately here it does, as it allows us to understand the two protagonists and how their relationship changed both of them.

Courtney and Jordan are by far the best part about this novel. Both are three-dimensional—although one can clear tell that a female was writing Jordan’s POV—and lovable because of both their vulnerabilities and the way they interact with one another. The secondary characters, on the other hand, are another story. Courtney and Jordan’s couple friend, Jocelyn and B.J., overflow with supporting-character clichés and dialogue so fake it belongs on a reality TV show. My enjoyment of the book was seriously hampered by Jocelyn and B.J.’s obvious utility roles.

The plot is simple and unimpressive, with the device of Jordan’s secret easily figured out within the first several dozen pages. Even so, its predictability does not bog the story down all that much, supported as it is by two strong main characters.

Nevertheless, TWO-WAY STREET is a vast improvement from Barnholdt’s first novel, Reality Chick. At the center of it is a heartwarming couple that makes us secretly wish for more of that imperfectly perfect high-school-sweetheart relationship.

130stephxsu
Edited: Aug 3, 2009, 11:01pm Top

121. Girl Stays in the Picture by Melissa de la Cruz



Tags: YA, scandal, deception, guilty pleasure, fame, acting
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Zoey Dean, Cecily von Ziegesar
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

Devon is the biggest teen star around, but ever since her stint in rehab, she needs the success of her starring role in a promising movie to make sure her career doesn’t tank. Devon’s friend and the producer’s daughter Livia underwent surgery to lose almost 200 pounds, and she’s finally beautiful and desired by boys. And fresh-faced Alabama beauty Casey follows her friend and star, Summer, to Saint Tropez, where she’s co-starring in what just happens to be the same movie that Devon’s in and Livia’s father is producing.

But no sooner has everyone gathered in the beautiful south of France than do things begin to deteriorate. Devon finds that her role in the movie has been made less and less important, while more lines and screen time are given to Summer, whose acting is mediocre but whose nastiness is sure not. And she’s having trouble staying out of, well, trouble, especially when her ex and a Greek shipping heir enter the picture. Meanwhile, Livia’s dealing with a bland boyfriend she’s supposed to want to die for, while juggling emotions with a local male friend. And Casey, in between realizing that she has feelings for the movie’s sensitive male lead, sees her role become more “slave” rather than “personal assistant/friend.”

Summer in St. Tropez—will anyone make it out unscathed?

Review

Melissa de la Cruz sure knows how to delight readers looking for a guilty-pleasure read, despite the predictable plot and formulaic characters. Girl Stays in the Picture has everything we could want out of this type of book: sympathetic yet glamorous characters, hot boys, scandals and deception, romance, and exotic locale and costumes.

The changing POV allows readers to embrace Devon, Livia, and Casey as our own friends—friends to which glam and dramatic things happen, of course. We’re meant to cheer for and cry with our beautiful, yet vulnerable, protagonists as they maneuver the dangerous waters of fame and fortune.

However, Melissa’s novels are beginning to blend together in my head. “Tried and true” does not necessarily work best in the book world. Devon’s insecurities clashing with her reputation, Livia’s body image issues, and Casey’s innocent beauty—are things reminding you of The Au Pairs yet? The climax of the story involves lots of broken hearts, breakdowns, and revelations of secrets…only to all be resolved in an ending that would’ve been completely saccharine had it not been for the cliffhanger ending (which works kind of well in this case).

Similarly, the boys in Girl Stays in the Picture are not as well developed as they can be; they seem to be vague incarnations of every girl’s dream boy, with no true personalities of their own. I would’ve loved more backstory and development of the romantic relationships. I was also rather put off that everything came together so neatly in the end for everyone. Much as we know that these three girls’ stories are not even close to reality, except the pretend one that’s in our head, would it hurt to leave just a little bittersweetness in the story?

That being said, I enjoyed Girl Stays in the Picture for its fast and furious peak into the lives of the rich and famous. Melissa de la Cruz remains my go-to author for guilty-pleasure reads, and this series starter will not disappoint those looking for exactly that.

122. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly



Tags: middle grade, YA, historical fictino, Darwinism, family, science
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Laura Ingalls Wilder
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

It is the year 1899. In sun-roasted rural Texas, 11-year-old Calpurnia Virginia Tate—better known as Callie Vee—attempts to navigate life with six brothers, a gentile mother, and an enigmatic grandfather who encourages her interest in science, even though the turn of the nineteenth century is no time for a young girl to be thinking about a “man’s occupation.”

While her mother tries valiantly to domesticate her, Calpurnia wants nothing more than to be outside, making naturalistic observations in her journal, catching plant and insect specimens, and helping her grandfather in his experiments. As she watches her older brothers grow up and fall in love, and helps her grandfather discover what could possibly be a new plant species, Callie tries to carve out a place for herself in the heavily masculine world.

Review

Ever reread your beloved Laura Ingalls Wilder boxed set, then wonder where to go from there? Look no further than Jacqueline Kelly’s stunning debut novel, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, which will be sure to win the hearts of any reader, whatever their age may be. In turn rip-roaringly funny and poignant, Callie Vee’s story of her struggles and triumph over her oppressors will be sure to stay with you for many weeks.

Calpurnia narrates from an almost distant time, as if she were an older woman reflecting on her preteen days. While I’m not sure if this is intentional or not, the effect is that Calpurnia’s story will more easily attract older readers—if they aren’t already charmed by Callie Vee’s refreshingly innocent yet determined demeanor. She is the kind of middle-grade protagonist that can charm the pants off of everyone, an ahead-of-her-times young girl without the preaching or drama.

Not to be outdone, Jacqueline Kelly’s writing is just as impressive and genuine. She unwinds the characters’ stories with all the skill, ingenuity, and humor of a far more established character writer. We readers are left chuckling at the Tate family’s escapades and sighing with happiness when things go right.

The Evolution of Jacqueline Kelly is definitely a 2009 debut that should not be missed. This is a book that will go far; I can only hope that my review will be just one more tiny little paddle pushing it in your, and the award givers’, direction.

131spacepotatoes
Aug 5, 2009, 12:02pm Top

More great reviews Steph! Ash and the Calpurnia Tate book are headed straight for the TBR.

132stephxsu
Aug 5, 2009, 8:25pm Top

spacepotatoes: Oh, GOOD. Those are two books that definitely deserve a wider readership. :)

123. Rites of Spring (Break) by Diana Peterfreund (Ivy League, Book 3)



Tags: YA, adult, college, secret societies, cloak and dagger, romance, mystery
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Melissa Walker, Michele Jaffe
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

The second half of Amy Haskel’s senior year at Eli University isn’t going so well. For one thing, she was recognized as a Rose & Grave member by a rival secret society they were performing a prank on, and thus bears the brunt of much hazing—hazing that even tangles with her romantic past. So it’s with some relief that Amy joins some fellow Diggers on a private island for spring break.

However, it’s not just the water that holds danger for the swimming-handicapped Amy. It appears that someone has infiltrated the island and is trying to sabotage Digger traditions. Amy just wants to forget about the outside world as she enjoys a new possible romance with an old foe, but when the attacks turn personal, she knows she can’t look the other way anymore.

Review

Even a thousand miles away from the cold and hallowed grounds of Eli University, Diana Peterfreund’s IVY LEAGUE novels are still just as good. There’s still romance, mystery, danger, and intelligent bantering to satisfy readers.

I very much enjoyed the romance that was developed in Rites of Spring (Break), especially as I thought from the first book that it was coming sooner or later. Indeed, Diana Peterfreund skillfully drops hints about future events throughout this book. While occasionally it gets to the point where I think it’s overkill, the hints will not bother a less discerning reader, nor does it take away from my overall enjoyment of this novel.

I haven’t said much that I haven’t already said about previous books in the IVY LEAGUE series, but the third book in this series is still as strong as ever. This series is one that I wish will never end.

124. Candor by Pam Bachorz (EgmontUSA / Sept. 22, 2009)



Tags: YA, dystopian, brainwashing, rebellion
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Lois Lowry, Lisa McMann
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

After the death of his oldest soon, Oscar Banks’ father creates the “perfect” community, one where teens are brainwashed with subliminal messages into perfect complaisance, model citizens. But his father doesn’t know that Oscar’s been running his own business of helping endowed teenagers escape Candor before it’s too late.

But when Oscar meets Nia, she has him feeling things he never knew existed before. Oscar will do anything to keep Nia the way she is, safe from the Messages… even if it’s at a great price.

Review

Pam Bachorz takes a great concept and spins it into a suspenseful and engrossing story. Candor is brutal, frightening, and altogether unique.

Oscar is a male narrator whom many can relate to. He’s resourceful, independent and at odds with his father’s beliefs, but still looking for acceptance and respect. His reactions to Nia’s appearance in his life are true to his gender, which endears him all the more to readers. While I wouldn’t say that any of the characters exude likability, Oscar is far more well-rounded than secondary characters, who tend to dive too close to annoying and unnecessary for me.

Bachorz writes in a sparse style that is reminiscent of Lisa McMann’s WAKE trilogy. While this makes me feel detached from the characters at times, it also effectively contributes to Candor's urgency and danger. There are no unnecessary details here: in Candor, it’s all about the pacing, the in-the-moment, in-your-face events. I was floored by the ending, which was perfect in its imperfection. The ending had me thinking about this book for a while after I had finished it; whether or not this book has a sequel, it’s bound to make you reconsider the dynamics of parent-child relationships.

Candor is a great book to introduce teens to after they’ve grown out of Lois Lowry’s novel The Giver. In an exploding dystopian lit genre, this one will stand out because of its creativity and the power that it will wield over readers.

125. As You Wish by Jackson Pearce (HarperTeen / Aug. 25, 2009)



Tags: YA, genies, magic, love
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Meg Cabot, E. Lockhart
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

After her best friend and boyfriend, Lawrence, breaks out with her by coming out, Viola has desperately wished to feel as if she belonged to something meaningful and passionate again. Her strong desire summons Jinn out of his genie world to grant her three wishes.

Jinn just wants to get the wishes over with so that he can return home to the safe and predictable loveliness of Caliban. Viola holds off on wishing, however, unsure of what it is she wants, exactly, and Jinn is forced to remain in the mortal world with her. As the days pass, Jinn comes to care for her more than he has ever cared about anyone before, and Viola finds that she can’t live without him.

But when Viola makes her third and final wish, Jinn will be forced to leave her life forever.

Review

Sounds like the synopsis for the next Disney movie, right? Maybe—but it’s one that would appeal to both the children AND the parents. As You Wish took me by surprise with its sincere charm, lighthearted humor, and the best kind of romance.

The development of Viola and Jinn’s from master-genie to romantic love was extraordinarily well done. It was subtle and likable, like a romantic comedy movie unfolding before your eyes, except in words. It seemed completely natural for them to start off wary of one another and then to develop into friends, and finally something more. It is rare nowadays to find a romance that doesn’t start off from insta-connection and physical attraction, so Viola and Jinn’s relationship stands out to me in the best way.

Likewise, supporting characters are also realistic. With the exception of maybe Aaron, I could believe in the genuineness of the characters’ interactions with one another. Lawrence in particular is a standout secondary character, one whose fate post-story we can actually feel ourselves caring about.

Perhaps the greatest thing about As You Wish, however, is Jackson Pearce’s effortless narration. How many authors can truly tell a charming story out of a concept that rides the fence on being sweet and too saccharine? As You Wish didn’t read like a forced novel to me, but more like me experiencing a good friend’s story, or living out my favorite romantic comedy. I found myself crying through the ending, so involved was I in Jinn, Viola, and Lawrence’s story.

Don’t be fooled by its childlike cover and fairy tale premise. As You Wish makes you believe in wish-granters and the fact that love can triumph all. This is magical realism at its best, completely worth the list price, and one of the best love stories I’ve read all year.

133d_perlo
Aug 7, 2009, 5:15pm Top

Your review of Rapture made me shiver. I guess it is a "must read" for me.

134stephxsu
Aug 10, 2009, 6:40pm Top

126. Rampant by Diana Peterfreund (HarperTeen / Aug. 25, 2009)



Tags: YA, fantasy, unicorns, hunters, conspiracy
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

Unicorns have been extinct for 150 years, but 16-year-old Astrid’s lineage-obsessed mother doesn’t seem to know that. She keeps on insisting that their family is descended from Alexander the Great, and that only his virgin female descendants have the ability to slay the man-eating unicorns. Astrid doesn’t want to believe her mother, but a resurgence in the existence of unicorns forces her to a convent in Italy, where, along with other girls, she is to be trained in the art of unicorn hunting and killing.

Reluctantly learning a whole new set of skills is just the beginning of Astrid’s troubles, however. Her “classmates” vary in their attitudes towards their history, destiny, and each other, and someone seems to be planning something sinister to do with the unicorns. Like it or not, Astrid must embrace her natural hunting abilities and work towards a new future in which humans and unicorns both exist.

Review

Never have I read such an interesting story about unicorns as Diana Peterfreund’s Rampant. This book is jam-packed with lore and fighting without taking away from Peterfreund’s signature writing style.

Diana’s greatest ability is in making each and every character stand out without resorting to clichés. There are easily a dozen characters to keep track of, and yet no real effort is required to do so. Each character has a distinctive voice and his or her own motivations and vulnerabilities, and no one falls into character stereotypes. I admired this most about Diana’s writing from her IVY LEAGUE series, and am happy that her characters continue to be just as complex and interesting in her YA novel.

Rampant begins with a running start, which may be disorienting as Astrid discovers the reappearance of unicorns and gets sent off to Italy very quickly after the story begins. However, once within the cloister walls, details are fleshed out, characters introduced and shaped into whole beings, and the multifaceted story emerges. In Rampant, old clashes with new, both literally, as modern-day teenagers get dumped within the aging convent’s walls, and figuratively: it’s not just about killing unicorns, but rather the ethical implications of using ancient techniques in modern times.

While I found myself unable to connect with the characters as well as I did with those in the IVY LEAGUE series, Diana Peterfreund has still written a tale that is a force to be reckoned with. The allure of unicorns (an as-yet-unmined idea) and expert characterization will make Rampant an easy winner in the YA fantasy genre.

127. Poison Study by Maria Snyder (Study, Book 1)



Tags: fantasy, magic, assassination, romance, political intrigue
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Suzanne Collins, Garth Nix, Tamora Pierce
Rating: 5 out of 5

Summary

Slated for execution because of murder, Yelena is offered a choice: train to become the Commander’s next food taster, or face the noose. Yelena chooses the former, even though both are unappealing prospects. She is trained in the subtle arts of poison identification by the renowned assassin Valek, the Commander’s most loyal and talented spymaster.

However, danger does not lurk only in the Commander’s food for Yelena. Many do not trust her because of the blood she has shed, although her painful history gave her reason to do so. Political troubles are stirring as power-hungry Generals plot to overthrow the Commander. Yelena spends most of her free time training in self-defense and trying to ignore her growing feelings for Valek.

But try as she might, Yelena cannot deny the fact that she has more influence and power than she could’ve imagined, and that the fate of her country might rest in her food-tasting hands.

Review

“This book is absolutely fantastic” may seem like a plebeian statement to make about a book you love—but when that book is perfect from beginning to end, sometimes the ability to express how I feel about it is beyond my abilities. In short, Poison Study is every reader’s dream book, with an intricate plot, lush fantasy world, plucky heroine, and unforgettable romance.

Yelena is ranked among my all-time favorite protagonists, right up there with Katniss of The Hunger Games. She is resourceful, intelligent, and unafraid of action. A weaker person would’ve cracked under all the pressure that Yelena faces—from her always imminent death to the ghosts of her past to the perils of her interactions with others—but Yelena is no ordinary heroine. Even in her weakest, most vulnerable moments, she is strong, and in a good mood she brightens up the story with her humor.

Poison Study contains only the best elements of an unputdownable fantasy read. Snyder’s creation of Yelena’s world is complete: it is engaging and has its own set of unfaltering rules, sturdiness that makes the story appealing. The romance is poignant (indeed, Valek is now one of my favorite love interests), yet does not suffocate the rest of the story. All elements of Poison Study complement one another perfectly, unforgettably.

If you’re one of the 12098563224 people in the world who read and loved The Hunger Games, then Poison Study is the book for you. This story of Yelena’s mental and physical struggles to overcome her obstacles, perfectly balanced with the greater political intrigue, makes Poison Study literally one of the best books ever written. You’d be loathe to miss your chance to jump into Yelena’s world.

135luv2read97
Aug 11, 2009, 8:47am Top

Wow!! I loved the Hunger Games and am running to the library to get Poison Study!!!

136sydamy
Aug 11, 2009, 5:33pm Top

Yet another one is added to my list. I have not been steered wrong yet with any recommendation of yours I've tried.

137stephxsu
Aug 11, 2009, 8:25pm Top

Yay, luv2read97 and sydamy!!! :) If--scratch that, WHEN--you read Poison Study do message me if you have the same mindset about it as me. I don't think I can talk about this book enough. *grins*

128. Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff (EgmontUSA / Sept. 8, 2009)



Tags: YA, football, self-esteem, obesity
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Carolyn Mackler, Maureen Johnson, Don Calame
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

High school sophomore Andrew Zansky is 307 pounds of fat, and as a result he doesn’t fit in anywhere. He’s awkward around his perfection-seeking family and ignored in school by his more beautiful classmates. When Andrew falls for the beautiful new girl, April, he decides, much to his geeky best friend’s chagrin, to join the football team—partially to impress her and partially because he wants so badly to fit in somewhere.

To his surprise, Andrew is halfway decent at football, and as he begins to grow close with his teammates, he finds that his “stock” has risen. However, Andrew doesn’t really want to play football, however, and he begins to uncover things about his teammates and April that unsettle him and make him question all his actions. What will he do to make sure he stays true to himself?

Review

It’s been so long since I’ve been impressed by and enjoyed a book about an obese kid’s attempt to fit in at his/her high school, but Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have had me grinning, cringing, and unable to put it down. Allen Zadoff writes convincingly of Andrew’s misadventures and eventual self-discovery.

As the protagonist, Andrew is charming without trying too hard, a perfectly proportioned teenager (emotionally, if not physically). Likewise, every other teenager in this book has his or her ups and downs, good sides and bad sides. O., the quarterback who befriends Andrew, is smooth at the top of the social pyramid and yet has real worries and doubts; April, Andrew’s love interest, has legitimate reasons for acting two-faced. Zadoff achieves what many other writers cannot: an effortless three-dimensional characterization that defies black-and-white and stays true to the complexities of adolescent nature.

Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have brings together the best of YA realistic fiction—empathetic protagonist, complex characters, and a relatable conflict—to be a lingering read. This is a book that cannot get too much attention, as it will be worth all the talk and badgering to just read this book already.

129. Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder (Study, Book 2)



Tags: YA, adult, fantasy, magic, political intrigue
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Suzanne Collins, Garth Nix, Tamora Pierce, Kristin Cashore
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

(WARNING: SPOILERS if you haven’t yet read Book 1, Poison Study!) 20-year-old budding magician Yelena has been banished to the southern country of Sitia. With her magician mentor, Irys, Yelena attempts to reconnect with the family whom she was stolen from 14 years ago, as well as to work on controlling her magical abilities.

The journey to self-discovery and self-control rarely runs smoothly, however, and not at all for Yelena. Against her desires, she gets entangled in national politics, tries to avoids the hostility of those around her—including her brother, Leif—and gets involved in the hunt to bring down a rogue magician who’s been stealing and killing young women. Yelena just wants time to relax and dream of (or be with) Valek, but the life of a young magician in Sitia just cannot stand still.

Review

Magic Study is a worthy, though incomparable, successor to Maria Snyder’s smashing success, Poison Study. In this second book, Snyder continues to effortlessly tell a good story while creating memorable and three-dimensional characters.

All of our favorite characters make an appearance, and new ones are introduced, to varying degrees of success. Yelena’s clan, the Yaltanas, are a rather odd tree-dwelling group, and her parents do not have enough time in the book to be fully fleshed out as characters. Similarly, Yelena’s tense relationship with her brother, Leif, is inconsistent: puzzling in the first half, nearly nonexistent in the second, and too cleanly wrapped up. Fortunately, the people she meets at the Magician’s Keep hold their own against the reappearance of old favorites like Ari, Janco, and, of course, Valek.

While character development may be a little sloppier and more inconsistent in Magic Study, that is because so much effort is devoted to setting up a complex magical world. We are shown the subtle interactive dynamics between various groups of Southerners, and their motivations for acting the way they do. Each chapter ends on a cliffhanger, which just begs you to read one more chapter, just one more, in a viciously delicious cycle, until you’ve finished the entire book in a blink of an eye. There is never a lack of action and intrigue for hardcore fantasy lovers.

While not as strong as the first book, Magic Study is still an impressive novel in its own rights. Maria Snyder is a master storyteller, and fans of the first book should not be too disappointed. I know that I am still eagerly looking forward to reading the third book in this spellbinding series.

130. Intertwined by Gena Showalter (Harlequin TEEN / Sept. 1, 2009)



Tags: YA, paranormal, romance, danger, evil
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: P. C. Cast, Cara Lockwood, Stephenie Meyer
Rating: 2 out of 5

Summary

Aden Stone has four souls living within him. One time travels, one predicts the future, one raises the dead, and one can possess other bodies. These four voices clamor nonstop in Aden’s head, giving him no peace…until one day, when he stumbles across an unassuming girl, and the souls are suddenly, startlingly, and wonderfully silent.

Mary Ann Gray has no idea that she is about to become entangled in a world filled with mythical creatures. When Aden enrolls at her high school, she feels an insistent platonic attraction to him, despite his scary reputation and gorgeous looks. Meanwhile, Mary Ann befriends a werewolf with dark intentions, and Aden cannot resist the attraction of a vampire princess who comes into his life.

In this world of darkness, however, love and friendship come at a price…

Review

It’s unfortunate that the premise is so appealing, because, for me, Intertwined was an overwritten, confusing, and crowded paranormal mess. Too much was implied and told directly to readers, the characters were unappealing, and the whole thing was just way too long to hold my attention.

Showalter has the unfortunate penchant of telling, not showing, and making her characters take agonizingly slow paragraphs to undergo a simple thinking process. Any story that relies heavily on the main characters’ romantic appeal must work on showing us readers the attraction and potential, instead of telling us over and over again, “X couldn’t resist Y. Z was scared to show her feelings” etc.

As a staunch fan of Showalter’s adult Harlequin romances, I was disappointed that she seemed to feel the need to “dumb down” her writing for the young adult crowd. Please. It’s the R-rated sexual thoughts and scenes that need to go, not intelligent character development. Teenagers can tell the difference between an author who knows the teen voice and an author who typically writes for adults and is just trying to make his or her way into the YA genre.

It goes without saying, then, that I couldn’t make myself care for the characters. They were self-absorbed, overbearingly introverted when it came to pondering, and didn’t do anything really worth mentioning. So Aden attacks a werewolf, gets bullied, and wants to lavish the vampire princess. So Mary Ann has a few conversations with her friend and boyfriend, and continues to hang out with the werewolf even though his monstrous presence supposedly frightens her because she never knows what’s going on.

By this point, a discerning reader will simply ask the important question: so what? Where are all of these disconnected and emotionally distant events leading up to? In the end it didn’t matter, because I was already tired of being narrated to like I have an IQ of 50 by a bunch of unlikable characters. I put the book down.

I have to give Gena and Harlequin TEEN this, though: they certainly have the right idea of what story elements will appeal to today’s Twilight audience. Readers looking for equally emotionally tortured paranormal romances will no doubt find their way to this new line. I have not read Showalter’s other YA books, but unfortunately I just cannot tolerate stories that insult my intelligence—and nor should I have to. Next time, Gena. Next time, Harlequin TEEN.

138luv2read97
Aug 15, 2009, 12:26pm Top

Thanks for recommending Poison Study! Yelena did indeed remind me of Katniss. I really enjoyed it and can't wait to read Magic Study. (The Hunger Games is still my favorite though!!!)

139stephxsu
Aug 18, 2009, 4:12pm Top

Haha, luv2read97, The Hunger Games really is one of a kind. :) Only a few more days until Catching Fire comes out!

131. David Inside Out by Lee Bantle



Tags: YA, homosexuality, acceptance, coming out
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: David Levithan, Brent Hartinger, Nick Burd
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

Growing up in the Midwest, David is frightened when he suspects he might have feelings for Sean, a fellow runner on the cross country team. He devises many different ways to force himself to stop thinking about Sean: self-punishment, overexertion at meets, going out with his close female friend.

But nothing seems to work, and encounter after encounter with Sean seem to push David very nearly over the edge of losing control of his emotions. Can David be true to himself when he is afraid of what the world will think of his real feelings?

Review

David Inside Out is a quiet but powerful read about the complexities of coming out in a wary society. Details are sparse, and while the simplistic narration and underdeveloped characters may turn off some readers, others may appreciate those techniques as a subtle yet effective way of bringing a difficult issue to light. David’s uneven summarization of the events in his life is indicative of a confused individual attempt to sort out his emotions.

Many of the characters, unfortunately, are unlikable or feel incomplete, even though they are partially that way due to their hinted-at complexities. Their motivations are muddled or unbelievable: David’s relationship with his accepting mother seems uncomplicated to the point of childishness. I actually found that the character whose actions I understood the most was Sean, caught in between homosexual feelings and the paralyzing fear that he will lose status and acceptance if he does not continue to lead the “normal” life.

David Inside Out is not for the faint-hearted or innocent-minded: there are quite a number of descriptions of sexual acts. That being said, it is a fascinating look into the struggles to come out in high school, and can very well be a must-read for anyone interested in GLBTQ studies.

132. The Nymph King by Gena Showalter (Atlantis, Book 3)



Tags: paranormal, romance
Recommended age: 18+
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

Valerian is the king of the nymphs, a race of creatures who live underwater and require sex to stay energized for war. Human women have only to take one look at a nymph to succumb to his every touch and desire, and as king, Valerian has never been in want of a female body—until a mission to the surface of the earth puts him in contact with Shaye. For Shaye is destined to be Valerian’s one and only mate, and he will no longer be satisfied by sex with just anyone anymore.

However, the cynical Shaye resists Valerian’s allure, no matter how much just being around him makes her crave his touch. She refuses to be another one of Valerian’s mindless sex slaves. Unbeknownst to her, her denial of him makes Valerian weaker and more susceptible to others’ attacks.

Will the two ever find themselves in one another’s arms?

Review

This is pretty much the second strictly romance novel I’ve read in my life, but it’s probably one that’s going to set the standard for all other paranormal romances. I couldn’t put it down, so enthralled was I with Valerian and Shaye’s relationship, which was sexy, funny, and completely memorable. The ending felt perhaps a bit rushed due to its neatness and tie-in with earlier books in the series, but all in all, I was satisfied, and will most definitely be picking up Gena Showalter’s books for future romance reads.

133. Cycler by Lauren McLaughlin



Tags: YA, gender politics, identity, quirky
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Laura Ruby, Robin Benway
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

Jill McTeague has a terrifying secret: once a month for four days, she changes—physically and mentally—into a boy named Jack. If anyone finds out she’d just die, and so Jill works hard at repressing her memories during Jack’s days, and continues to live her normal life with her outlandish but beautiful best friend, Ramie, coming up with ways to get her crush, the enigmatic Tommy Knutson, to ask her to the prom.

Unbeknownst to her, however, Jack has been developing desires of his own…for Ramie. Desperate to explore the confines of Jill’s room, he attempts to break out and get to know Ramie for himself, instead of just through Jill’s memories. Unfortunately, the results could be catastrophic.

Review

Cycler is without doubt one of the most unique, thought-provoking, hilarious, and crazy stories that I have read so far this year. It’s an unforgettable mishmash of awkward teen love combined with the deeper implications of gender politics and identity.

A quirky story like Cycler wouldn’t be successful if it weren’t for the incredibly real characters. Jill, Jack, and Ramie are delightfully well developed and memorable; their conversations crack me up, while some of their actions make me cringe with all-too-familiar empathy. With the sure-mouthed, quick-paced, and acidic wit preferred by authors such as Laura Ruby and Robin Benway, Cycler's characters will also stick with you for a long time.

The plot is a little shaky at some points,
particularly when important romantic connections occur. In fact, a lot of reality must be suspended to appreciate this character-driven story. Jack and Ramie’s relationship developed too quickly, while Jill and Tommy’s also had a note of incredulity to it. All that is forgivable, however, in light of the characters.

If you’re looking for a smart and odd read that’s worth the reread, pick Cycler up. Mature teens and open-minded adults will fall in love with this quirky “love triangle”/identity crisis story.

140stephxsu
Aug 20, 2009, 2:41am Top

134. Rough Magic by Caryl Mullin (Second Story Press / Sept. 1, 2009)



Tags: YA, fantasy, Shakespeare, magic
Recommended age: 14+
Rating: 1.5 out of 5

Summary

Characters of Shakespeare’s The Tempest get revisited and retold in Rough Magic. Sycorax is a sorceress whose unfortunate lot in life banishes her to live on a magical island with her ugly son, Caliban. A man named Prospero and his daughter Miranda shipwreck on the island, and Prospero makes Caliban his magical slave. Caliban returns with Prospero and Miranda to the mainland, where he befriends Miranda’s plain daughter, the princess Chiara.

To protect Chiara from being a pawn in her father’s political plans, Caliban brings her back to his island, where they must undergo a series of difficult tasks in order to restore the island’s magic. Along the way they meet Calypso, a mysterious and magical woman with connections to them that they don’t know…

Review

Rough Magic will appeal to lovers of ambitious fantasy chronicles, but not those looking for Shakespeare-related literature or well-written characters. Indeed, I was more than disappointed especially as the premise sounded interesting and promised the discussion of issues such as feminism. Unfortunately, it is a poorly written and narratively overdone tale.

Rough Magic was difficult to swallow because it tried to tell four characters’ stories in the course of about 200 pages. The story moves over several decades and lifetimes; as a result, important, character-defining events are merely glimpses that poke in and out within one chapter, never to be mentioned again. Additionally, nearly every chapter tends to awkwardly explain in flashbacks the life-altering events that occurred since the last chapter. This skipping-stone method of narration ensures that we readers never feel as if there is any action going on, since everything important seems to have happened invisibly between the chapters!

All of the characters are weak because they did not have the time and room within the book to develop. I had immense difficulties connecting with and understanding the motivations of any character, so either vaguely or lumberingly were they when they took up space on the pages. Rough Magic reads more like an extensive character study of four very different characters rather than an actual story.

That being said, the world that Rough Magic creates for us is a rough-and-tumble, fantastical one. I enjoyed the idea of the island’s wildness being almost a character in itself. While the enormous task of developing four characters over a period of several dozen years was ultimately unsuccessful, the storyline did bring up a number of interesting “mini-stories” that I would’ve perhaps liked to see in short story format—in particular, Sycorax’s development from reckless sorceress to repressed courtwoman under her husband’s hand.

Unfortunately, Rough Magic was not very successful in telling a clear and intelligible story, but that doesn’t mean it’s without its attractions. Readers and writers may do well in considering this book as an example of what not to do with one’s own writing: overly ambitious and directionless saga-stories will drag a perfectly intriguing idea down to its death.

135. Confessions of a Serial Kisser by Wendelin Van Draanen



Tags: middle grade, YA, family, loyalty
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Wendy Mass, Stephanie Tolan, Rachel Cohn, Judy Blume
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

After discovering her mother’s secret stash of romance novels while cleaning one day, 16-year-old Evangeline wants a “crimson kiss,” a perfect kiss of passion and intensity and meaning. She begins to scout out potential bearers of the crimson kiss in her high school—with unpredictably disastrous results. Before long Evangeline is gaining a sour reputation and engaging in misinterpreted encounters with various boys…all while ignoring her cheating father.

As she gets more and more tangled in the web of wrong kisses that she has spun, Evangeline wonders why she hasn’t found the crimson kiss. Soon, however, that becomes the least of her worries, as her actions begin to hurt those she cares for most. How will Evangeline ever straighten her life out without losing her best friend or her family, and remaining true to herself?

Review

Confessions of a Serial Kisser is just the kind of light and sweet read that I want: plenty of straightforward cuteness without the melodrama and inanity. It’s a great combination of confectionary-like escapism with relatable realism.

Evangeline’s character, while seemingly simple (she wants that feeling of belonging and safety that characters in her romance novels have), is actually delightful well-rounded. Despite her rather successful attempts to be a gutsy and attention-grabbing girl, readers know at all times that deep down she is an optimistic sweetie with a love of music and absolute loyalty to those she cares about. As a result, we are able to understand her actions and her outlandish desire that lands her in such ridiculous situations.

But Confessions of a Serial Kisser is more than just a girl searching for passion: it’s also a story of loyalty and family. Evangeline’s conflict with her father was extremely well done, and never threatened to overpower or quench the delightful wackiness of her boy problems. Instead, it added depth to what could’ve otherwise been a silly and shallow story. In fact, all of the interactions between characters in this book were totally believable; none of the characters and their motivations are forced upon us.

Overall, Confessions of a Serial Kisser was a gem of a find. Younger teen readers will appreciate another strong novel from middle-grade favorite Wendelin Van Draanen, and older readers who perhaps read and enjoyed Flipped back in the day will also be delighted with this different, but fun and touching, read.

141stephxsu
Aug 20, 2009, 8:13pm Top

136. Fire Study by Maria V. Snyder (Study, Book 3)



Tags: fantasy, magic, evil, paranoia
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Robin McKinley, Suzanne Collins
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

Yelena Zaltana is a Soulfinder, a rare magician who can control others’ souls. She takes her new label with some trepidation, as previous Soulfinders in Sitian history were hated and wreaked havoc on the country, and she finds that there are those who are wary of her as a result. Nevertheless, Yelena is unable to spend much time developing her magical powers, as there are more pressing concerns: a group of rogue citizens and magicians—among which are Yelena’s old nemeses—are using ancient and horrible blood magic to strengthen their powers.

These rogue magicians, called Warpers, seem to have enormous influence, for they’ve convinced the Sitian Council that Yelena is a danger to Sitia. Yelena and her friends are forced to temporarily find refuge in Ixia, where Yelena exists in a state of paranoia about the trustworthiness of those she loves. Ever doubtful of her magical capabilities and intentions, Yelena must still use what she knows to stop the rogue magicians from starting a war that could devastate both Sitia and Ixia.

Review

While neither Magic Study (Book 2) nor Fire Study (Book 3) live up to the extraordinariness that was her debut, Poison Study, I still have to say that Maria Snyder’s ability to tell a unique story is unparalleled, and that I remain a staunch fan. Yelena’s world remains engaging and unforgettable, whether as a standalone with the first novel or as a whole series.

Fire Study is slightly shaky where characterization is concerned. Yelena undergoes a period of self-doubt and paranoia, shutting out those beloved to her and us readers in an attempt to protect herself from what she believes to be her inevitable end. Normally I wouldn’t complaining about characters undergoing such identity crises, but it was difficult to pull off in the Study series since we are so attached to all the characters.

The adventure and plot in Fire Study is straightforward hardcore fantasy, unrelenting swift—you’ll lose your footing if you aren’t familiar with the previous book in the series, Magic Study, and if you don’t pay attention. That being said, this book provides a solid conclusion to what has been a satisfying trilogy, even if the ending may be a little too swift and easy for those who are well-read in fantasy.

Overall, I have no regrets about picking up the Study series. Maria Snyder is solidly one of my favorite authors now, able to provide us with a fully exciting fantasy featuring likable characters. I will not hesitate to pick up any of her future books, and you shouldn’t either!

137. Ghost Huntress: The Awakening by Marley Gibson (Ghost Huntress, Book 1)



Tags: middle grade, YA, paranormal, ghosts, South
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: P. C. Cast, Kristin Cast, Richelle Mead, Gillian Shields
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Summary

When Kendall Moorehead’s family moves from Chicago to the sleepy town of Radisson, Georgia, she experiences more than just cultural shock. The quietness of the historical Southern town awakens Kendall’s psychic abilities, and soon she’s seeing, hearing, and feeling ghosts all around her.

With the help of some odd friends, Kendall begins to understand her newfound abilities. She forms a ghost-hunting team to deal with the many spirits of Radisson…especially the ones that intend to cause her and her family some harm…

Review

Ghost Huntress: The Awakening begins a YA paranormal series that promises to be pure entertainment, with plenty of research and borderline irritating characters that will appeal to younger lovers of paranormal lit.

While no great work of literature, Ghost Huntress: The Awakening is wonderfully well researched; Marley Gibson displays an impressive range of knowledge about the history and technology of ghost-hunting that lends much-needed authenticity to this highly speculative genre. The details with which Kendall and her friend’s adventures are described are fantastic and thorough. You could almost use this book as a guide to ghost-hunting, if you are so inclined.

On the other hand, the characters are often over-hyper and a bit ridiculous, with vocabulary and diction that would probably appeal to middle school readers and no one else. Kendall and her friends Celia and Taylor often react to situations in an unappealingly over-the-top way. That being said, once you get over their silliness, Gibson still manages to shape them into believable, and ultimately likable, characters.

Ghost Huntress: The Awakening is nothing to call home about, but it’s perfectly fitting for its genre and intentions: a fun paranormal romp for younger teens and/or readers looking for easy escapism. This is a good series to recommend to that younger sibling or babysitting charge who expresses interest in but is certainly not quite old enough for books like Twilight.

142stephxsu
Aug 25, 2009, 11:55pm Top

138. The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill Alexander (Feiwel & Friends / Sept. 1, 2009)



Tags: MG, YA, small town, South
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Jenny Han, Louisa May Alcott, Meg Cabot
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

15-year-old Austin Gray is tired of being a nobody, of always being made fun of by her classmate, Dean Ottmer. She decides that the only way for her to be elevated above the taunts is to become a “sweetheart” in their Texas town’s annual Christmas parade, actually taking part and being looked up to.

With the help of some new and old friends, Austin sets about obtaining the qualities she needs to be sweetheart material: she raises a rooster named Charles Dickens, tries her hand at hunting, and befriends junior members of the Future Farmers of America, who include the former FFA sweetheart and a sweet, cute budding cowboy. Part of Austin’s journey to become sweetheart, however, means convincing her overprotective mother, who is still mourning the death of Austin’s dad many years ago, to let her grow a little.

Review

I’m always on the lookout for books featuring farm, rural, small-town, or Southern fresh-faced girls, but The Sweetheart of Prosper County blows the competition right out of the water. The people of this quirky small town in Prosper County are funny, charming, and absolutely unforgettable.

The characters steal the show for this super sweet book. Austin is a relatable protagonist, with her desires to not be made fun of, to step out of the crowd and be a winner for once. Her actions may cause us to cringe, remembering the bad decisions we made as an uncertain teen, but ultimately Austin pulls through and becomes a character to fall in love with.

The plot is equal parts gut-achingly funny and poignant, the plot of The Sweetheart of Prosper County is sure to satisfy. Along with a group of interesting and well-developed friends, Austin navigates the slightly absurd process of achieving a sweetheart nomination. The result is a fun, fast-paced story that loses none of its sweetness or credibility.

All in all, I adored The Sweetheart of Prosper County. Austin makes a fantastically believable and lovable protagonist, and the plot and supporting characters live up to the main character’s strength as well. This is a fantastic pick if you love funny, small-town Southern charm reminiscent of Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s Dairy Queen series. Check it out!

139. Bedeviled: Daddy's Little Angel by Shani Petroff



Tags: MG, paranormal, devil, popularity
Recommended age: 10+
Similar authors: Meg Cabot, Ally Carter, Judy Blume
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

Angel Garrett has just several wishes on her thirteenth birthday: for Cole Daniels to notice her, and to go to the Mara’s Daughters concert. Imagine her surprise at the arrival of her father—whom her mother said was dead—and the greater shock that her father is the Devil himself!

Angel wants nothing to do with the Devil, but her father, desperate for some father-daughter bonding, shows Angel what he can provide for her: the concert, the popular friends, the boy, and much more. As Angel navigates the treacherous waters of middle school popularity, she struggles to keep her old best friend as well as reduce the influences of devilish magic in her life.

Review

If you want a classic middle school popularity story with a funky paranormal twist, consider Shani Petroff’s debut book. It’s got the social angst that will appeal to middle school girls, with just enough crossover appeal that will sing for older readers.

I enjoyed Shani Petroff’s take on the Devil, making him into a—dare I say it?—likable, sympathetic character. (I mean, the guy wants to be called Lou. Is that non-Satanic enough for you?) Daddy's Little Angel convincingly shows the limitations of external influences on one’s social standing in school without sounding preachy. While older readers might sigh in exasperation at Angel’s retrospectively painful desire for popularity, younger readers will easily sympathize with Angel’s emotions and behavior in a Judy Blume-like way.

The one aspect of this book that consistently disconcerted me, however, was how I thought that Daddy's Little Angel was written in a way more similar to YA than MG books, when the characters and circumstances of the book clearly lean towards the MG crowd. Angel’s desires and actions are definitely those of a 13-year-old’s, but the way she narrated her story made her more reminiscent of an older teen. While this discrepancy jarred my belief of her as a genuine middle schooler, the more mature tone in narration might be the key to drawing in older readers.

Overall, Daddy's Little Angel is a cute paranormal read. MG readers can read it alongside Judy Blume, while older readers looking for a light paranormal read won’t do wrong in picking this one up. I’m definitely curious as to what happens next in the sequel, Bedeviled: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly Dress!

143stephxsu
Aug 31, 2009, 12:05pm Top

140. Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick (HarperCollins / Sept. 1, 2009)



Tags: YA, war, guilt, death
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Nancy Werlin, E. R. Frank, David Levithan
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

18-year-old Matt Duffy wakes up in an American-run hospital in Iraq with a bad headache, a limp, a Purple Heart, and no recollection of how he had gotten there. As he struggles to recover, both physically and mentally, Matt begins to see flashes of what happened the night before his hospitalization, images that don’t seem to match up with the accounts his friend Justin gives him.

When Matt returns to his friends, he must deal with his confusing feelings of guilt, and the realization that nothing is ever black and white in tragedy…

Review

No one is better at tackling tough topics than perhaps Patricia McCormick, and Purple Heart joins the ranks of Sold and Cut as strikingly sad, impossible to put down. If it doesn’t leave you crying, Purple Heart will at least make you ache for the difficult positions these soldiers are placed in.

Young soldiers have rarely played a major role in modern YA lit, and so Matt Duffy is a refreshing character who lives up to his groundbreaking role in literature remarkably well. Matt and his comrades display all the vulnerabilities that we never even realized soldiers will have: gun-shyness after a traumatic event, the inability to make quick and easy decisions, and bravado that masks the very real fear of dying.

McCormick’s language is alternately simple and lyrical, causing us to feel as if we are floating in another, fantastical world while simultaneously grounding us in harsh reality. Through Matt’s eyes we can notice the smallest details and see how they would affect a young soldier. In the end, what stands out to me about this novel are the little things: the warbling singing voice of a woman on the radio, the rhythmic up-and-down of a yo-yo, Halo video games. The beauty of McCormick’s writing is that, now, these simple images, these sensory details, will forever remind me of the horrors of war.

Purple Heart is a short read—barely 200 pages—but it is by no means an easy read for anyone. And yet hardly has a book been needed to be read more. With war still such a big part of our society, we have needed a book like this for a long time. Purple Heart should be a must-read to open one’s eyes towards the complexities of war.

141. Lipstick Apology by Jennifer Jabaley



Tags: YA, grief, love, mystery
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Cheryl Renee Herbsman, Sarah Dessen, Sarah Ockler
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Summary

One minute, Emily your average suburban Pennsylvanian girl: crushing on unobtainable guys, and taking advantage of her parents’ absence to throw a party. The next, she’s the object of national news: the plane her parents were on crashed, and Emily’s mother wrote a goodbye message on her airplane tray with lipstick: “EMILY PLEASE FORGIVE ME.”

Several months later, Emily is living with her aunt and starting school in New York City, where she’s busy making friends and figuring out her feelings for two very different guys. Owen is the school’s most eligible bachelor, and he’s actually interested in her; while Anthony, Emily’s lab partner, is friendly and easy to talk to but doesn’t seem to have any friends. In the meantime, Emily struggles to figure out what her mother meant by her cryptic apology—but as Emily comes closer to the truth, she wonders if she even wants to find out at all.

Review

The premise of Lipstick Apology promises mystery, love, and acceptance—but it is in fact just a typical story of a girl torn between two guys, with a sprinkling of grief mixed in, and I unfortunately could not get into this book.

Emily is, to put it succinctly, an annoying and unlikable main character. Fortunately I have no first-hand experience with being in Emily’s situation and mindset; however, I am hardly a fan of Emily’s near-constant freakouts, which I found childish and, in terms of the writing, unprofessional. Jabaley uses an overabundance of capital letters when Emily is breaking down, something that causes me to be unsympathetic to the characters, and which I always try to avoid in literature that wants to be taken seriously.

I have a suspicion that this book would lose very little of its main point had the whole family tragedy aspect been taken out, which is sad, as the mystery surrounding Emily’s mother is really the only thing that distinguishes this from an otherwise too-often-told tale of confusing crushes. The supporting characters are typical ones you’d find in a book about love in high school, and, as a result, are nothing to take particular note of.

If that’s what you’re looking for in a book, however, then you will do no wrong in picking Lipstick Apology up. It will surely satisfy those looking for a story about a new girl with a tragic history having to choose between two hot guys. If you are okay with a slightly annoying protagonist and stereotypical love interests, then this one will charm you with its easy romance and readability.

142. This Is What I Want to Tell You by Heather Duffy Stone



Tags: YA, friendship, sex, betrayal, secrets
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Laurie Halse Anderson, Courtney Summers
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Summary

Twins Noelle and Nadio and Noelle’s best friend Keeley have been inseparable ever since they were children. But the summer before their junior year of high school, Keeley goes off to England, Noelle starts working at the ice cream parlor with new friend Jessica, and Nadio starts running at night. When Keeley returns, nothing is the same. Class issues arise, and Noelle withdraws from their trio and throws herself into her relationship with the older, more intense, and more experienced Parker.

Unbeknownst to Noelle, Nadio and Keeley form a deep, romantic bond—but something’s still off. Keeley is holding something back. All these secrets that the three former friends are keeping from one another build and build until it all threatens to explode and ruin them forever.

Review

This Is What I Want to Tell You was a so-so attempt at expressing the significance of a particular period in life for three friends. What it fails to do in terms of catching one’s attention, it makes up for in the blunt and often brutal writing style.

The most striking part of this book is the style in which it was written. It’s rather simple and blunt, and therefore evokes pain, secrets, and other appropriately dark qualities. The way it was written reminded me of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, with both of their abilities to convey difficult, gut-wrenching yet quietly overpowering feelings of adolescent loneliness.

That being said, the writing style was also what I liked least. It just seemed like too much at too many points in the story. From the very beginning of Nadio and Noelle’s narrations we get the sense that something monumental, something life-changing, has occurred to the three main characters—and yet the book never follows through on this potential. Instead, it wallows in the same feelings of teen-angst direness for most of the novel. These characters never get a break from their misery, and thus we readers don’t either, which can be immensely overwhelming and unsatisfying.

This Is What I Want to Tell You is a difficult but potentially rewarding read. If you like your teen angst novels dark and mired in shoals of hopelessness, this could be for you.

143. Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani (HarperTeen / Sept. 1, 2009)



Tags: middle grade, YA, boarding school, friendship, filmmaking
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Ann Brashares, Jill Alexander
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

Aspiring filmmaker 14-year-old Viola has been the only child of devoted documentary filmmakers her whole life, but her parents’ overseas assignment brings her to Prefect Academy, a boarding school for girls. Viola is sure that she’ll hate PA, but surprisingly she befriends her three roommates Marisol, Romy and Suzanne, and begins to learn that, with the help of loving friends and family, she, too, can flourish in a new environment.

Review

Viola in Reel Life is a straightforwardly charming book about learning to survive on your own. Adriana Trigiani’s YA debut is irresistible and chaste, perfect for readers of all ages.

Viola has a certain amount of spark and wit that I admire. She is always ready with a snarky comment—courtesy of her New York upbringing, says she—but she remains an adorably vulnerable girl, on her own for the first time in her life.

There are some aspects of this book that require some suspension of disbelief. For example, it’s pretty remarkable that a 14-year-old already knows what she wants to do with her life. Furthermore, her dealings with boys, particularly the easy way that Jared comes so smoothly into her life, are aspects that take away from the believability of this book. Through awkward plot points—or lack thereof—however, Viola’s dealings with her roommates, family, old friends, and potential love interests are realistic, and thus endearing.

I really enjoyed being with Viola for her freshman year at Prefect Academy. Despite the lack of interesting plot, Viola herself is appealing, and readers will enjoy following her through this period of growth. The ending suggests the possibility of a sequel, which I wouldn’t mind at all. Viola in Reel Life is an agreeable addition to the world of MG and YA realistic fiction.

144stephxsu
Sep 4, 2009, 2:25am Top

144. The Devouring by Simon Holt



Tags: MG, YA, horror, fear
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: R. L. Stine, Laurie Faria Stolarz, Kelley Armstrong
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

15-year-old Reggie Halloway and her best friend Aaron Cole love horror stories. So when they find an old diary hidden among the inventory at the eclectic bookshop where Reggie works, they decide to try and summon the Vours—evil spirits that take their strength from and attack our fears, and that take over humans at their most frightened.

Their experiment fails, but Reggie’s 8-year-old brother Henry hasn’t been acting like himself lately. His skin is cold and he begins to do uncharacteristically disturbing things. Reggie is sure that something demonic is possessing him, and vows to get her Henry back. Her journey plunges the two friends into a terrifying adventure as they learn the horrifying truth about the Vours.

Review

I don’t think I’ve read something as straightforwardly horrific as The Devouring in YA fiction before. Simon Holt’s new series is perfect for Goosebumps lovers who are ready to move on to a higher level.

The concept of the Vours is fascinating. It is clear to anyone how much thought the author put into creating his fictional monsters, monsters that feed off of fear and use it to conquer others. It is easy to read this as an important look into how humans interact with their own fears—yet at the same time, it can be read for pure entertainment. Reggie and Aaron are solid characters who do well with carrying the bulk of the book’s excitement on their backs.

It’s no Stephen King, of course. There are many moments when something disturbing is happening in the story, and yet the fear doesn’t translate to the readers. (I think this is the main reason why I can stomach horror books but not movies—it’s not as frightening!) The disgust and horror of The Devouring mostly comes from the gross-out factor: the Vours’ ways of intimidation are highly physical. This physical-over-psychological type of horror makes it appropriate for younger readers, who will probably find it easier to be creeped out.

The Devouring is geared towards more impressionable younger readers, but veterans of YA lit will still be able to find entertainment from this decent series starter. I am intrigued to learn more about Reggie, Aaron, Henry, and the Vours in the next book of the series, Soulstice.

145. Emma by Jane Austen

Tags: romance, courtship, match-making, British lit
Recommended age: 14+
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

This was a reread, but this time for class! Austen is a rather tell-over-show author, except when it comes to dialogue. This is justifiably a classic because of its rereadability: I find something new to laugh about, to think about, every time.

146. The Sky Always Hears Me, and the Hills Don't Mind by Kirstin Cronn-Mills (Flux / Sept. 1, 2009)



Tags: YA, small town, love, sexual orientation & identity, family
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Megan McCafferty, Courtney Summers, Cecil Castellucci
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

Morgan is dying to get out of her small hometown of Central Nowhere, Nebraska. Things with her boyfriend of two years, Derek, have long since hit a rut. She has a hopeless crush on Rob, her co-worker at the local grocery store. Her father and stepmother are always fighting, and on top of all that, her neighbor and classmate, Tessa, kissed her one night over the summer…and Morgan kissed her back.

To escape from her romantic problems, Morgan likes to borrow her grandmother’s car and drive to the empty hills to scream. For a long time, her grandmother has been the only person in the family Morgan can talk to. But when tragedy strikes, and a devastating secret is revealed, Morgan must learn that forgiveness is the first step to acceptance and happiness in all aspects of her life.

Review

The Sky Always Hears Me is utterly incredible. It’s saucy and hilarious, twisted and touching. I can’t get enough of Morgan’s story and Kirstin’s writing.

Never before have I come across a protagonist like Morgan. Her snark and wit reminds me of Jessica Darling from Megan McCafferty’s hit series (which I love), but her conciseness of speech and thought reflects more of Courtney Summers’ characters (another author whose writing I love). Her voice had me constantly cracking up on the inside, a healthy relief from her borderline melodramatic life, which kept my countenance, if not my inner mental state, somber.

Kirstin Cronn-Mills skillfully develops her characters so that all of them are three-dimensional. All too often the choice that the protagonist should make is too easy for readers to spot early on, but that doesn’t happen in this book. Yes, Morgan is bombarded with dozens of issues, but readers can clearly see why a resolution is not at all simple. There are many different ways—all equally legitimate—that Morgan could have played out her life, and also satisfying is the realistic ending: one that speaks of hope, but also does not play off of unrealistic dreams of eternal love or easy paths to happiness.

This book is not without a bit of melodrama, of course. Any one of those issues mentioned about in my summary is enough to provide several hundred pages of fodder for a good YA novel. To have them all in the span of 250 or so pages is perhaps overkill. However, things start straightening themselves out in the second half, and by the end of the book I was satisfied with how everything was resolved. Throwing a bunch of issues into the main character’s life is a rather amateurish move, but Kirstin navigates Morgan’s way out of the overwhelming problems with the ease of a much more established writer. Overall, it’s an admirable narration and plotting job.

The Sky Always Hears Me is one of those books that a lot of people will like, but a few will really get. I think I am one of those people who get it and absolutely love it. Morgan’s irreverence and Kirstin’s writing style made a long-lasting impression on me. Even if the book doesn’t end up speaking to you the way it did to me, you’ll still be satisfied with this intelligent, snarky, and deeply satisfying book. Well done, Kirstin. Well done.

147. Frostbite by Richelle Mead (Vampire Academy, Book 2)



Tags: YA, paranormal, vampires, death, love triangle
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Kelley Armstrong, Stephenie Meyer, Suzanne Collins
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

Rose Hathaway’s life is hardly easy. She’s a dhampir, a human guardian for the Moroi, benevolent vampires, of which her best friend Lissa is one. The Moroi must be protected from the Strigoi, truly evil creatures who like to kill the Moroi for the strength their blood provides. Which is why the recent murders of prominent royal Moroi families, carefully guarded by dhampirs, are especially disconcerting. It implies organization among the traditionally independent Strigoi, and cooperation with humans.

The students at Vampire Academy thus go to a luxurious Moroi ski resort for winter break, but the trip hardly cools people’s tempers and emotions. Rose loves her trainer Dimitri, even though it’s forbidden and he probably loves another, and so she tries to turn to her friend Mason, who has a crush on her. Dhampir novices are hardly prepared for what Rose must deal with, though, and that’s bloodshed, secrecy, unrest…and loss.

Review

The second installation in the wildly popular Vampire Academy series will hardly disappoint. It contains the usual amounts of good writing, enthralling world-building, and tortured love triangles that I have come to love about Richelle’s books.

What struck me most was Richelle Mead’s absolute confidence with Rose’s voice. For all her faults, doubts, and mistakes, Rose is an impeccable narrator, able to give us all the information we need and engage our full attention at the same time. Never in a thousand years would we want anyone else to narrate this story about dhampirs, Moroi, and Strigoi, simply because Rose is so fascinating (recklessness and all), her voice flawless. Richelle mixes an ideal blend of backstory and current action so that readers are never at a loss for what’s going on and why certain events are so dire.

Frostbite delivers in terms of romantic passion as well. You really can’t have a bestselling series without some unforgettable romances, which is why the tensions between Rose, Dimitri, and Mason are so exciting to read about. Lissa and Christian are another interesting couple, despite their relationship not being as important or angst-filled. The introduction and/or further development of other characters suggest possibilities of other match-ups in future installations, so I’m really looking forward to that.

The Vampire Academy series is probably the best that I can recommend out of all the latest books in YA paranormal fiction. If you enjoy engrossing writing, intrigue, and romances that make you sigh for their hopelessness, you need to read this series!

145spacepotatoes
Sep 4, 2009, 9:23am Top

The Sky Always Hears Me sounds great, I'll be checking that one out! And I'm glad you enjoyed Emma, it's always been my favourite Jane Austen novel. Austen does have a knack for the witty dialogue, doesn't she? I think getting to that is the payoff for slogging through the early chapters where it's all tell, tell, tell.

146stephxsu
Sep 10, 2009, 9:35pm Top

spacepotatoes: Yes, Emma does have quite a bit of tell-tell at the beginning, which is actually why, when I tried rereading it a few years ago, I couldn't get through it again. Pride and Prejudice is still my favorite!

147stephxsu
Sep 16, 2009, 12:20pm Top

148. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games, Book 2)



Tags: YA, dystopian, violence, rebellion
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Kristin Cashore
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

WARNING: Spoilers if you have not read the first book! Katniss and Peeta are the unprecedented TWO victors of the 74th Hunger Games. Such a feat has never happened before—is not supposed to ever happen—and the Capitol is looking upon Katniss with suspicion. Faced with death threats for those she loves, Katniss must do everything she can to quell the murmurs of rebellion amongst the nation by acting more in love with Peeta than ever.

However, Katniss is still desperately trying to figure out her feelings for Gale, her longtime best friend, and Peeta, who confessed his love for her during the Games. This year is the 7th Hunger Games, though, which is cause for a greater, grander event, and the Capitol will do everything they can to kill the rebellion.

Review

Fans of The Hunger Games—and come on, who isn’t a fan?—will not be disappointed by this stellar sequel. Suzanne Collins once again writes a novel that’s full of action, suspense, political intrigue, and innovation. Such a highly hyped book does indeed suffer a bit from overly high expectations, but on the whole I was very satisfied with Catching Fire.

One of my favorite things from The Hunger Games was Katniss—specifically, her incredible resourcefulness, inventiveness, and anti-heroine vibe. In Catching Fire, Katniss (or, should I say, Suzanne Collins, since she’s the one who comes up with these ideas) continues to display brilliance at coming up with schemes to get out of snafus. I love female protagonists who are cleverer than me, and Katniss certainly doesn’t disappoint.

I did find Katniss’ consistently low self-esteem to be frustrating, though. Katniss is an inherently selfish person, and she recognizes it. While most citizens of Panem and even most readers of Catching Fire are on her side, it’s not really because she’s the most delightful character ever. Katniss makes it a point to constantly remind us that she is unworthy of her position as a symbol of rebellion, unworthy of Peeta, unworthy of life. For a character to have a modest outlook on him- or herself is one thing; for him or her to constantly put him/herself down to the point where we readers have no choice but to agree that yes, you are an unlikely protagonist and should really be dead, is another.

As I mentioned earlier, Suzanne Collins is a plotting genius. It’s nothing as complex as J. K. Rowling’s world, of course, but you can definitely tell that a lot of time was spent on it, and important clues built in that neither Katniss nor we may immediately understand, but we definitely take note of. Ending each chapter on a cliffhanger may seem like a bestselling writer’s tool, but there is plenty in between the beginning and end of each chapter to draw our attention away from the slightly amateurish tricks. I also found the pacing to be rather uneven, the beginning a little slow and the ending rushed.

Since this is far from an actual review—more like a rant/rave in the form of a discussion—I’m not going to come up with fanciful phrases to promote this book. You’ve either read The Hunger Games, or you have not. If you have, you’ll most likely love Catching Fire. If you haven’t, then you are sorely missing out, and should pick up a copy immediately.

149. Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough



Tags: YA, paranormal, magic, witches, family secrets
Recommended age: 14+
Similar Authors: Amber Kizer, Kelley Armstrong
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

Tamsin Greene has lived under suffocating familial expectations her whole life. Upon her birth, her grandmother prophetized that she would be the most powerful witch their family has ever known. Instead, Tamsin’s Talent never revealed itself, and she’s forced to be the embarrassment of her family, forever watching her perfect older sister Rowena get all the attention.

When a stranger, a professor at NYU, comes into her family’s bookstore and mistakes her for Rowena, Tamsin realizes this is her opportunity to prove to the world that she she can live up to her family name. The stranger asks her to locate a long-lost prized family heirloom, but the deeper Tamsin goes to find the object, the more she discovers that the stranger’s intentions may not be all that benevolent, and that he is somehow tied to her family’s past…

Review

Once a Witch is a fast-paced and engaging story filled with magic, danger, and family secrets. It’s easy to get caught up in this extremely readable novel.

Tamsin is a charming protagonist, simultaneously determined yet vulnerable. She narrates her family’s story with an ease that draws us into her world. Similarly, all of the other characters are subtly introduced and developed, so that we never feel as if the Greene family’s world is contrived, but rather as if they could be living among us.

The plot is a little unsteady but still ultimately satisfactory. It was horrifying to see how some characters changed as a result of contact with the villain—but, like I said earlier, I appreciated its naturalness. Most events in the novel flowed like they had to happen under those circumstances.

That’s not to say, of course, that there aren’t some aspects of Once a Witch that felt overdone or cliché. These include Tamsin’s sidekick and love interest, Gabriel, the time travel scenes, and the way various characters occasionally prophetized to explain backstory. These minor slip-ups are easy to overlook in light of my larger enjoyment of the whole book, though. Those who like a little magic and mystery in their books will love Once a Witch, and even those who don’t normally delve into urban fantasy/paranormal fiction will find Tamsin’s story an easy and delightful read. It seems like there is a good chance of there being a sequel, which I will definitely be looking forward to!

150. One Child by Torey Hayden

Tags: memoir, education, special education, child abuse, teaching, inspirational
Recommended age: 14+
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I was lucky enough to read this for class. It's an easy read, and yet so powerful that it made me cry multiple times, and stayed on my mind for days afterward. Readers will find themselves immediately pulled into Torey's situation with Sheila, and laugh and cry with them at their triumphs and setbacks. I know I will most certainly be picking up Torey Hayden's other books now.

151. After by Amy Efaw



Tags: YA, teen pregnancy, jail, court, attempted murder, psychology
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Jodi Picoult, Sarah Dessen
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

Devon Davenport is a straight-A student, a soccer star on both her high school and club teams, with aspirations for college and the Olympics. So why is she being held in jail on charge of attempted first-degree murder…of the baby she supposedly didn’t even know she was carrying inside herself?

As Devon goes about her routine in the detention center, she continuously talks with other adults—as well as herself—in order to try and figure out what was running through her mind for those past nine months, up until that fateful morning when she had given birth and tossed the baby in the dumpster behind her apartment building. What unfolds is a shocking exploration into one teenager’s mind—a mind that is perhaps not much different from any one of ours.

Review

Writing a story featuring a protagonist that readers might find hard to sympathize with maybe be rewarding eventually, but it is certainly difficult. Attempting to unravel the complicated minds of a teen girl who has committed an atrocious act is even more challenging. I’m not sure how successful I thought Efaw’s attempt at this goal was, but I appreciated her effort nonetheless.

As I mentioned above, Devon is hard to like. Not just because of the deep denial she’d immersed herself in—a denial so thorough that she nearly killed a helpless baby. She also has a personality that does not easily appeal to people. For instance, in much of the beginning Devon is often listless and unresponsive to others talking to her, to the point where I wanted to reach into the story and shake her, hard, by the shoulders. Even as we continue to see different aspects of her, we find that she is intense, driven, and quiet, leaning towards the loner side. Devon is exactly the kind of person I’d always wanted to get to know in high school but found it impossible to.

After moves through lengthy and ever-present conversations, encounters, and periods of thoughtfulness. Because so much of the book occurs inside Devon’s head, it’s best for those who are patient enough to reap the rewards of dealing with a difficult, unlikable protagonist. I would almost consider it more an intense character study than a novel. In fact, After often blurs the line between fiction and reality. Naming a great number of her supporting characters after real people who helped her in her research, the disarming accuracy of details such as locations and statistics… these and more contribute to the uncomfortable feeling you might get while working your way through this book. After is not afraid to shake you up and make you wonder about the effects of fiction on reality, and vice versa.

After is a difficult but moving read, and a great choice for adult readers—especially fans of writers like Jodi Picoult—looking for something they can love in YA fiction.

148stephxsu
Sep 16, 2009, 12:40pm Top

152. Hate List by Jennifer Brown



Tags: YA, school shooting, trauma, healing, bullying
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Amy Efaw, Sarah Dessen, Sara Zarr
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

During the spring of their junior year, Valerie Leftman’s boyfriend Nick Levil brought a gun to school and opened fire on their classmates and teachers. Many were killed or wounded, both physically and emotionally. Valerie stopped Nick from killing a fellow classmate and was wounded in the process, but because of her involvement in writing the “Hate List,” a notebook filled with names of students who were targeted in the shooting, many have implicated her in the terrible tragedy as well.

Now, at the start of her senior year, Valerie’s leg is mostly healed, but her heart has most certainly not. She still misses Nick, who killed himself after that terrible morning, and those surrounding her still make her feel guilty about her supposed involvement with that day. What will it take for Valerie to heal and be free of her guilt—if that is even possible?

Review

Hate List has to be breaking new grounds in YA fiction: has there ever been a book about such a difficult subject? It is uncomfortable, heartbreaking…and yet ultimately hopeful.

The book jumps between that fateful spring morning and days following immediately, to the start of Valerie’s senior year, to various Valerie-and-Nick moments across high school. While the consistent changes in chronology may be unsettling at times, it does more to draw readers into Valerie’s past and mindset, helping us understand what, exactly, happened on May 2nd, her long-lasting connection to Nick even after the tragedy, and what she’s thinking now. Valerie herself may not be the most sympathetic protagonist around, even in her situation, but inevitably we accept her and all of her twisted thinking.

However, I wouldn’t say that this is one of my favorite books dealing with school shootings—Columbine by Dave Cullen does that better, I think—nor is it an easily believable portrayal of high school and adolescence in general. I guess I was expecting something that would delve more deeply into the psychological aftereffects of a school shooting on someone who was falsely implicated; however, Hate List deals with Valerie’s family and social issues much more than her psychological healing. That’s why I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Valerie’s psychologist, Dr. Hieler—one of the most interesting characters in the novel—because it allows us to access Valerie’s mind more than any other point in the novel.

It’s not a particularly mind-blowing novel—especially with underdeveloped supporting characters and a scatterbrained, free-spirited art teacher that just screams “amateur character cliché mistake!”—but Hate List will still be an interesting read for most people. It will be a great way to introduce the horrifying traumas of school shootings to younger readers who are not yet ready to read heavily researched true accounts of events such as Columbine.

153. Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Seeing is Believing!

Tags: facts
Recommended age: all
Rating: 4 out of 5

Behold, probably one of the finest collections of strange, interesting, colorfully presented, and jaw-dropping facts around today. I spent a weekend looking through this book with my boyfriend (both of us are self-proclaimed nerds for collections of fun facts) and we couldn’t get enough of the short, weird blurbs and pretty pictures.

SEEING IS BELIEVING! is organized into sections of particular interests. There are chapters for facts relating to people, natural phenomena, technology, the animal kingdom, and more. If you’re an equal-opportunity science lover like me, no page is more or less interesting than the other: all are colorful, well-designed, and frightfully interesting. When I took breaks from reading it with my boyfriend to do some schoolwork, every his frequent cries of fascination or horror would inexorably draw me back to read whatever cool page he was on.

This book is not one you can read in one sitting, and indeed you would not want to. Instead, it’s perfect for the occasional browse, for when you have five minutes to open to a random page and devour it. My boyfriend loved that it was a perfect read for those with a short attention span, as you’re never pressured to read the facts in a particular order or amount to understand what it’s about.

My one complaint regards the construction of the book. While I was reading, the white “binding strip” that’s supposed to be located in the spine kept on sliding out, to my frustration. Whether or not this is an anomaly, I do not know, and I think that the book’s intended audience—fact-loving kids or science nerds—will not mind.

Overall, SEEING IS BELIEVING! is an ideal thirty-dollar Christmas or birthday present for the kid who begs for a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records each year it’s printed. (And, uh, yeah, while I didn’t beg, I certainly didn’t mind getting it for a present!) Its color, layout, and carefully selected thousands of crazy facts will be sure to shock and impress anyone who dares to look beyond the cool holographic blinking eye on the cover.

154. Drown by Junot Diaz

Tags: short story collection, Dominican Republic, immigration
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Julia Alvarez
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

What struck me most about Drown was the book's coherence and sustained interest levels over its entire length. I admit to not liking collections of short fiction very much--but what Drown did was recapture my attention just as it was about to drift away, using unique and unexpected new techniques in the stories. By "Edison, New Jersey" I was tired, even though it was probably my favorite story out of them all. I was tired of the consistency of the narrator's voice, always describing similarly hopeless scenes from his life. Then, "How to Date a Browngirl..." shocked me back into paying attention with its remarkable shift from first-person past-tense POV to second-person instructional POV. "No Face" continued to demand my attention with its present tense and different narrator. What I learned can also be applied within an individual short story: it is the ability to recapture the audience's attention, to continue to surprise them when they think they've got it all figured out, that I appreciated the most out of this collection.

155. Hollywood Is Like High School With Money by Zoey Dean



Tags: YA, Hollywood, manipulation, movies
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Cecily von Ziegesar, Lauren Weisberger, Jennifer Weiner
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

Twenty-four-year “good girl” Taylor Henning starts an amazing job as the assistant to a creative producer at a major movie studio. Once she gets there, however, she realizes she is in way over her head. It’s not the job that’s mundane or difficult, but rather the way her coworkers look down on her unpolished ways, and how her fellow assistant Kylie tries to make Taylor’s life miserable and unsuccessful.

Desperate, Taylor asks her boss’ queen bee teenage daughter, Quinn, for help in surviving Hollywood. With Quinn’s shrewd guidance, Taylor is soon on the way to recognition and acceptance, to Kylie’s anger. Then, when a much-desired creative position opens up in the studio, Taylor will do anything to beat Kylie…including doing what Quinn demands and stealing Kylie’s perfect boyfriend, Luke. Will Taylor lose herself in the harsh and demanding glitter of Hollywood, or will she find a way to be successful and stay true to herself?

Review

Coming from an author known for her scandalous and dramatic descriptions of Hollywood life, Hollywood Is Like High School With Money is surprisingly fun and not over-the-top. It is the ideal book for beach or weekend reading, great because the book does all the thinking for you so that you only have to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

Taylor is a great protagonist to follow around, and yet her gradual transition from nice girl to mean girl is so well done that you’re gasping in shock at her transformation before you know it. Everything that Taylor does and everything that happens to her seems completely probable, even for us outsiders with no real access to life in Hollywood. The main cast of characters has their own set of problems, making them believable and three-dimensional.

Likewise, the plot is perfectly orchestrated, a tight ship run by an observant captain. I can hardly help trying to stay one step of the author and the protagonist, but I am happy to say that, with this book, I didn’t feel the need suspect their next moves. The plot was not predictable (although not unpredictable—there’s a subtle difference), which led to my true enjoyment of this book.

Unfortunately, there were a few characters whose motivations were vague and undeveloped. It is unclear as to why Quinn, the seemingly put-together and shrewdly bitchy teen who gives Taylor’s lots of great advice via text messages (advice that even we readers can use in our socializing), agreed to this plan in the first place, and what motivated her actions. Luke, Taylor’s eventual love interest, is irritatingly perfect: he never does anything wrong, and loves quickly and with his whole heart. As a result, his character disappointed me with its lack of realism. In trying hard to sustain the plausibility of this story, I’m afraid some of the finer points of characterization were lost, a loss that is magnified by this book’s precarious position in between genuinely fun reading and guilty-pleasure trash.

Faults aside, I honestly enjoyed Hollywood Is Like High School With Money. This is a great book to pick up if you’re a smart, fun-loving reader for whom bestselling series like Gossip Girl and The A-List are just a teeny bit too unbelievable. It’s perfect for teens who want a story of a hard-earned and well deserved happily ever after.

149stephxsu
Sep 20, 2009, 5:51pm Top

156. Psych Major Syndrome by Alicia Thompson



Tags: YA, college, relationships, love
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Meg Cabot, Megan McCafferty, Robin Benway
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

College freshman Leigh Nolan has happily escaped her psychic-loving parents for a psychology degree at a small liberal arts school. However, college life is not going the way she wants it to. Her boyfriend Andrew, whom Leigh’s been with since high school, does not seem to want to fit Leigh into his hectic academic schedule. Andrew and Leigh’s roommate, the artistic Ami, dislike one another. And Nathan, Andrew’s roommate, acts like he can’t stand even the sight of Leigh.

What’s a girl to do when her life’s a mess? As Leigh slowly navigates her various relationships, she begins to figure out who is worth it and who isn’t…and her realizations may surprise even her.

Review

Psych Major Syndrome is an absolutely winsome novel, easily one of the sweetest reads this year. It’s the literary equivalent of pictures of cute kittens and puppies, and will leave you sighing happily and “aww-ing” at the end.

The book crackles with humor, mostly the result of the stellar protagonist. Leigh has just the right balance of “intelligent college student” and “blind, drama-attracting girl” to win over both lovers of intelligent AND just-for-fun fiction. Leigh’s snarky and self-deprecating narration is charmingly funny, and there are enough hints of cultural references that will make even the most well-read reader smile indulgently. Psych Major Syndrome takes the classic narrative formula—well-put-together main character realizes her non-debilitating blindness and overcomes that critical flaw to become a better and happier person—and rebuilds it again as something that will ring true for us. It’s tried-and-true, without making us sick of the “tried.”

Psych Major Syndrome has more to do with a love story than psychology, and far from being disappointed that the title and synopsis were a bit misleading, I was absolutely delighted. Without giving anything away, I just want to say that if the love interest doesn’t make your list of Top 10 Swoon-Worthy YA Boys, then you either have a hard-to-win heart, or else you recognize the few flaws in this novel that make it not nearly as enjoyable as it could be: a rushed ending, not enough character development in the one character we’d like to see developed more, and a happy ending that’s so perfect as to be a little cringe-inducing.

Ultimately, your enjoyment of Psych Major Syndrome may depend on how much the conventions bother you. However, I absolutely loved this novel and would pick it up again at a moment’s notice to have more than my fair share of funny, sweet, and sigh-worthy romance. Readers who adored but have for the most part outgrown Meg Cabot’s books will find a fantastic alternative in Alicia Thompson’s debut novel.

157. Leaving the Bellweathers by Kristin Clark Venuti (EgmontUSA / Sept. 22, 2009)



Tags: MG, quirky, humorous
Recommended age: 10+
Similar authors: Eva Ibbotson, Stephanie Tolan, Eoin Colfer
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

Tristan Benway is the unfortunate butler whose ancestor swore a 200-year-long fealty to the eccentric Bellweather family. Dr. Bellweather claims to be an inventor and erupts when interrupted; his wife paints walls of their lighthouse home incessantly; 14-year-old Spider has an unhealthy penchant for dangerous endangered animals; 13-year-old Ninda tries to make the world better by helping the downtrodden and exploited; and the 9-year-old triplets are incapable of being quiet except when they are plotting their next big plan of mischief. Benway counts down until the nearing day when his oath is over and he can leave his crazy employers forever.

But as the summer passes and the Bellweathers continue to do erratic things and get into heaps of trouble, Benway finds that leaving the Bellweathers is harder than he’d thought.

Review

Leaving the Bellweathers advertises itself as a middle-grade novel, but it’s great because of its ageless appeal. Young readers will not tire of the Bellweathers’ endless antics, while older readers will chuckle in appreciation of the more cultivated “potty humor” abundant throughout the pages.

Venuti creates caricatures of eccentric people, but we’re still able to care for them and not simply write them off as ridiculous. I love all of the Bellweather children, with their destructive habits, misplaced good intentions, and all. Each chapter ends with one of the long-suffering Benway’s snarky journal entries, which, besides for being a great place to find humor, is a way to track the development of the characters as they come to realize Benway as part of the family.

The humor will work with some readers, and not with others. It’s not the most intelligent of humor: think of every bad pun you wanted to make in middle and high school, and you’ll get an idea of what it’s like. Frankly, the humor made me cringe more than a few times, but I can see its appeal. The physical “gag” humor will keep young readers rolling on the ground, while older readers will laugh—or roll their eyes—at the subtler jabs and pop culture references.

Overall, however, Leaving the Bellweathers is a charming read that I will recommend shamelessly to hyperactive kids and their worn-out, in-need-of-some-dumb-humor-to-unwind parents. In the ways of the movie Shrek, Leaving the Bellweathers will be a hit with readers of all ages.

158. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead



Tags: MG, YA, science fiction, time travel, coming-of-age, NYC, mystery
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Madeleine L'Engle, E. L. Konigsburg, Sharon Creech
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

By the sixth grade, Miranda has learned how to get by in New York City. She and her only friend Sal walk to school together, avoiding the big loud boys in front of the garage and the laughing man on the corner. But then one of the boys punches Sal, and everything starts to change. Sal refuses to hang out with Miranda anymore, and she is forced to make new friends and explore different things in school.

Miranda also starts receiving mysterious letters from a person who knows eerily too much about her life and the future. Who is this person who wants Miranda to write an explanatory letter, claiming that she knows who he is? He claims to know how to save her friend’s life…but who is in danger, and what will become of them all if Miranda either ignores or acknowledges the letter-writer?

Review

Every once in a while there comes along a book that is so unique, so awe-inspiring, that you have to immediately rave about it to everyone around who reads books. When You Reach Me is such a book. Rebecca Stead’s second novel is a middle-grade treasure that people will hopefully stumble upon and love all their lives.

My favorite part about this book was, of course, the sci-fi time-travel aspect, which was seamlessly woven into a coming-of-age story set in post-Vietnam War New York City. When You Reach Me references Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time heavily, a joy for hardcore fans of Meg and Charles Wallace. It also means that it will appeal to about 95% of readers, though Stead’s appeal is less fantasy and more about how seemingly impossible concepts can fit smoothly into our conceptions of our world. It’s not often that you get to read a science-y book that blows away all your expectations and predictions.

Besides for the sci-fi aspect, When You Reach Me is also a charming coming-of-age novel with memorable characters. Miranda deals wonderfully with her family and classmates: she’s at that stage where she struggles to figure out who she thought she was in new situations. Perhaps the characters could’ve been developed slightly more, but readers come out of the experience very much impressed, and will have difficulty finding anything lacking.

In short, When You Reach Me is 2009’s not-to-be-missed middle-grade novel. Its lovely blend of reality and sci-fi makes it truly stand out, and Stead’s impeccable writing draws us right into Miranda’s world. Be sure to get your hands on a copy of this book in any way possible!

159. Birds of America by Lorrie Moore

Tags: short story collection
Recommended age: 18+
Rating: 2 out of 5

My writing professor says that Moore is one of today's best short story writers, but I don't see it. Nearly all of her characters are interchangeable between stories, nothing ever happens, and the characters are unlikable. I admit, of course, to occasional brilliant descriptive writing and the intrigue of reading about characters you desperately hope you don't end up like, but overall it's a very frustrating and uninspiring read.

160. Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris (Southern Vampire Mysteries, Book 1)



Tags: paranormal, vampires, mystery, South, waitressing, murder, sex
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Kim Harrison, Carrie Vaughn, Karen Marie Moning
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Summary

25-year-old bar waitress Sookie Stackhouse doesn’t date. It’s not because she isn’t pretty, or doesn’t have any prospects in their small Southern town. Sookie has what she affectionately calls a “disability”: she can read minds. Her whole life she has been unable to relax her guard around others—until the night the vampire Bill Compton walks into the bar.

Bill is one of the vampires trying their hands at integrating back into society, now that vampires have been legally accepted into society. But old prejudices and new fears always abound. As Sookie and Bill grow closer, young women begin showing up dead in their town, and Bill’s near the top of the suspects list. Will Sookie be able to figure out who’s murdering these women, before either she or anyone she loves becomes the next victim?

Review

There’s honestly nothing exceptionally literary about Dead Until Dark: it reads like many other poorly written pulp fiction mystery series. What makes it so popular, however, is its appeal to the secret dark sides of ourselves—the part of our minds that longs to read about vampires, stalker-like brooding male love interests, and heaps of lust and romance.

The characters are rather unbelievable in their predicaments, static until they are suddenly declared in a particular state of mind for the sake of plot and entertainment. There is an uneven development of romantic interest between Sookie and Bill, and much is left unexplained in Sookie’s relationships with various people in her life. Sookie herself is only as appealing as the next bland, flat heroine.

However, I enjoyed Dead Until Dark much the same way I enjoy stupid, brain-numbing movies about characters I’ll never be able to empathize with: because I can’t relate to them, and instead am able to sit back and observe them through a microscope without their being able to object. I didn’t feel close to any of the characters, and so I was able to secretly enjoy their dramas and love triangles and whirlwind emotions. And when you think about it that way, it’s actually quite an enjoyable story. Despite the lackluster writing, I was unable to put it down, and had to read it straight through.

I’d recommend jumping into this series with low expectations—especially those of you who watch and like True Blood—so that you will be able to enjoy Sookie’s story as guilty-pleasure fantasy with no connection to anything except the story idea. Definitely not quality vampire literature—turn to authors like Richelle Mead for that—but as pleasurable as watching MTV with a bowl of the most fattening ice cream in your lap.

150spacepotatoes
Edited: Sep 21, 2009, 11:56am Top

It's too bad that you didn't like the Lorrie Moore collection. I've only read one of her collections so far, Like Life, but I loved it. I found each of the stories and characters in it to be distinct and memorable and I thought the writing was good. I've also heard very good things about Anagrams, though I haven't gotten to that one yet. If you ever feel like giving her another shot, I'd recommend trying Like Life.

151Kittybee
Sep 22, 2009, 8:25am Top

I've just recently rediscovered your thread and have added almost all the books you've read to my wish list :) Keep up the great reading!

152luv2read97
Sep 24, 2009, 8:50pm Top

steph, thanks so much for the recommendation of When You Reach Me! What a delightful novel.
FYI saw in Family Circle Magazine today their book pick - Catching Fire!!!!

153stephxsu
Sep 28, 2009, 11:29am Top

spacepotatoes - I don't think I will be reading any more Lorrie Moore, but I understand why people like her. She actually spoke at a college near mine last week; several of my classmates went to see her read, and said that she was brilliant.

Kittybee - I hope you keep on finding more good books to read! :)

luv2read97 - I absolutely LOVED When You Reach Me and I'm so glad you've read it as well! And hooray for YA getting more recognition in widespread publications; it's about time!

161. The Waking: Dreams of the Dead by Thomas Randall (Bloomsbury / Sept. 29, 2009)



Tags: YA, horror, paranormal, deaths, murder, Japan
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: R. L. Stine
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

Kara and her father are spending her junior year of high school at a prestigious private high school in Japan. Moving to Japan had been something they’d worked for since even before Kara’s mom died in a car accident, but Japan is not all that she expected. The Japanese customs are difficult to remember, even when Kara constantly reminds herself of them, and some of her classmates are not at all friendly to the gaijin—the foreign girl. Even scarier is the fact that just several months ago a girl was murdered on the slopes behind the school, and no one has found the killers yet.

One of Kara’s only friends at school, Sakura, happens to be the dead girl’s sister, and when strange things begin to happen—Kara and others begin to have frightening nightmares, students begin dying in eerie ways—Kara suspects that Sakura may have something to do with the deaths. Is Sakura taking revenge for her sister on her sister’s killers, or has the dead girl actually come back to finish the deeds herself?

Review

Dreams of the Dead is a well-written novel that combines the fascinating ways of Japanese life with your typical horror story. It may satisfy young horror fans’ appetite for creepiness, but others may find it difficult to stay engaged with the slow-moving plot.

Perhaps most brilliant about this book are its endless depictions of Japanese customs. Either the author has done his research well, or he has actually lived in Japan before, because we truly get to experience Kara’s discomforts, difficulties, and simultaneous fascination with Japan. The author makes us always aware of the language his characters are speaking even though everything is written in English, and reading Dreams of the Dead was like effortlessly taking a semester abroad in Japan.

The slow plot often hinders the horror component of this book. Much remains a mystery as Kara experiences her nightmares and is forced to observe her classmates’ deaths, and while this was suspenseful at first, it quickly grew too prolonged to hold my attention. Honestly, not enough interesting and horrifying things happen to justify the number of pages it takes to get to the sadly rushed ending.

That being said, there aren’t that many straightforward, classic horror stories anymore, and so Dreams of the Dead fills a welcome deficient spot in the YA genre. Pick this up to experience a slightly creepy story in a fascinating foreign world; it’ll make you want to move to Japan yourself—though not for the horror part.

162. How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford (Scholastic / Oct. 1, 2009)



Tags: YA, quirky, friendship, love, outcasts
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Laura Ruby, E. Lockhart
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

High school senior Beatric Szabo has never really been normal. Her family has moved around so often that she’s never had actual friends, and her own mother often calls her a “Robot Girl.” Then, in Baltimore, she strikes up an odd friendship with Jonah Tate, a quiet, friendless guy in her class who has the unfortunate nickname of “Ghost Boy.” Bea and Jonah strike up an intense friendship, to everyone’s shock. Bea learns about learns about Jonah’s past, and certain events that made him who he is today, but even she cannot comprehend him sometimes, or predict what he had been planning to do for a long time…

Review

This first standalone book by the author of the Dating Game series is odd, but definitely heart-wrenching. With a cast of unusual and quirky characters, it’ll bring out the subconscious desire in all of us to explore all of our eccentricities.

Bea is a wonderful narrator, caught in between troubles at home, the cookie-cutter Barbie girls at school who try to draw her into their folds, and Jonah. She considers herself inhuman, lacking in human emotions—that’s why she calls herself “Robot Girl”—and yet we’re able to empathize with her and still root for her. Jonah may seem like your average high school misfit, the one no one wants to talk to because he’s that antisocial, but somehow we still care about him and want to help him be happier. Standiford creates characters that are flawed but still sympathetic, which never ceases to be an incredible accomplishment.

However, I had some difficulty believing in Bea and Jonah’s relationship. It seemed to me to start really quickly and suddenly transform into an inexplicably intense and life-transforming friendship. Pray, where was the development of the relationship? Why are Bea’s feelings for Jonah so strong when he constantly treats her cruelly? I liked Bea and Jonah at separate characters, but I was never able to figure out how they were supposed to work as a platonic “couple.”

Nevertheless, How to Say Goodbye in Robot is a read that will stay with you because of its defiance of conventions in YA lit. It’s not your typical romance, it doesn’t have your usual kinds of characters, and it certainly does not have an ideal ending. And yet it all works. How to Say Goodbye in Robot will leave you with your heart clenched and fists pressed against your eyes to prevent the tears from coming out. It is truly original and poignant in all its weirdness.

154stephxsu
Oct 3, 2009, 12:16am Top

163. Love Is the Higher Law by David Levithan



Tags: YA, tragedy, friendship, love, NYC
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Kristin Cashore, Gayle Forman, Ellen Hopkins, Catherine Ryan Hyde
Rating: 5 out of 5

Summary

Before that fateful Tuesday in September, Claire, Peter, and Jasper were all only vaguely connected. Claire and Peter go to school together, and Peter and Jasper are looking forward to their first date after meeting at a party over the weekend.

After September 11, however, their lives will never again be the same. As the three teens struggle to live in a world full of mistrust, inexplicable tragedy, and uncertainty, they grow closer and learn that love, indeed, trumps all.

Review

It’s about time that someone wrote a YA novel about possibly the most important event of our generation, and who better to write it than the multitalented David Levithan? Love Is the Higher Law is beautiful without being cloying, and wrings at the heart without resorting to theatrics. The subtle power of it is something that only a master writer can accomplish.

What struck me most about the book is its language. Each character has a distinct voice and different ways of approaching the same event and its consequences. All three, however, are capable of tremendous insight, and you’ll find it hard to resist writing down the quotable slivers of wisdom that can be found on nearly every page.

Claire, Peter, and Jasper work well as individuals, but their interactions are slightly shaky and sudden. I prefer the characters when they’re in their own heads, and am slightly skeptical of some moments such as when Claire immediately launches into a night-long philosophical talk with Jasper, whom she had never spoken to before then. Wherefore did all that dialogue come from, Claire dearest? However, I’m willing to overlook specific moments of reader’s discomfort like that because of the beautiful writing, and because of the book’s message that love and connection is what keeps the world turning, even after you believe it can’t anymore.

Love Is the Higher Law is the kind of book you’ll want to keep forever, to go back to for reaffirmations of the kind of goodness that humanity is capable of. I’m sure that Levithan’s writing career is far from over, but I’m willing to say that this book may be his best one so far. It’s a great way for teens to approach the conflicting emotions surrounding this unforgettable date.

164. The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor



Tags: short story collection, South, irony, racism
Recommended age: 16+
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

After reading The Complete Stories, I am now thoroughly convinced that Flannery O'Connor is indeed one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. I loved every single story I read mostly for the hypocrisy, ridiculousness, and self-delusion of the characters. It gives me a sort of guilty pleasure to hear the characters say something that we know is completely untrue.

O'Connor uses the impressive technique of what I like to call "distant narration": the narrator holds the characters at a distance through syntax, resulting in a schism between what the character knows and what the reader knows, and the reader ends up knowing more about the characters and their situations than the characters do themselves. It's because of this technique that I believe we are able to so easily read about such blatant situations of racial and class prejudice: we know the characters are insipid and thus don't take them and their backwards beliefs too seriously.

165. Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix (The Missing, Book 1)



Tags: juvenile fiction, middle grade, time travel, adoption, thriller, sci-fi
Recommended age: 10+
Similar authors: Lois Lowry, Madeleine L'Engle
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

13-year-old Jonah and his new friend Chip are adopted. Jonah has had no problem with being an adopted kid, but then he and Chip begin receiving mysterious letters warning them of their past and their future. As Jonah, Chip, and Jonah’s sister Katherine delve into their pasts to investigate the circumstances of Jonah’s adoption, they stumble upon the seeds of a frightening possibility that involves a baby smuggling program, disappearing planes and people, time travel, and two different groups who want different things for a certain group of adopted kids…and neither option the groups offer is particularly appealing.

Review

Found is a promising start to another Haddix sci-fi/speculative/dystopian series that will be sure to attract fans both old and new. The suspense is almost unbearable; the plot twists unpredictable, yet reasonable. The characters are less well developed than those in her previous books, and Jonah is occasionally a frustratingly cynical and denial-happy protagonist. But young readers may be able to overlook character deficiencies in light of the excitement. Classic Haddix goodness.

166. My Invented Life by Lauren Bjorkman



Tags: YA, GLBTQ lit, theatre, sisters
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Dale Peck, Kirstin Cronn-Mills
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

Sisters Roz and Eva used to be close, until cheerleading, competition over school theater roles, and boys drove them apart. Now, however, Roz believes she has a chance to win Eva back: some evidence supports Roz’s hypothesis that Eva is a lesbian who has trouble admitting it, even to herself. In an attempt to make Eva more comfortable with coming out, Roz declares herself a lesbian, right as the drama club begins rehearsing for a Shakespearean play.

Little does Roz realize the consequences that would result from her announcement. As she and her friends/fellow drama geeks exchange insults and pranks, Roz realizes that the application of “labels” is more complicated than she thought, and she may be quite blind to the workings of the human heart.

Review

My Invented Life is a spunky and witty GLBTQ book that deals with the fluidity of sexual identity, and the complexities of placing labels on people. The fantastic narrative voice and the unique premise will make this a delightful read for nearly anyone.

This book’s strongest point is its protagonist. Roz is a feisty girl with a good blend of sass, passion, and self-delusions. Her witty, laugh-out-loud narration—always direct, never dully over-eloquent—will draw you into the story even if you may cringe at some of her behavior and want to shake some insight into her. For the most part, the secondary characters are also well-drawn: they’re people with endearing quirks, people who you’d like to hang out with. They’re complicated and funny, occasionally bitchy and selfish. In other words, they could’ve been our high school friends.

Because My Invented Life is so energetic and fast-paced, it occasionally runs the risk of getting annoying. Every once in a while I felt like I had gotten too much of Roz’s snarky mentality, and her secret desires—her invented life—sometimes gets repetitive, in an “okay we get it already” way. Similarly, I had trouble understand the sisterly dynamic between Roz and Eva. Sibling relationships are especially difficult to write about, since they contain the requisite family love as well as voluntary platonic devotion, and I felt that Roz and Eva’s relationship—particularly Roz’s almost grovel-like approach to her sister—pinged around in all directions in a way that jarred me and made me the slightest bit skeptical of the believability of their relationship.

That being said, My Invented Life is a fresh approach to homosexuality. In this story, the characters’ sexual orientations are rather fluid, defying categorization. You can never completely say that this one’s a lesbian, that one’s totally gay, and so on and so forth. This is admirable because labels regarding sexual orientation are hardly ever direct in real life: there is a huge amount of gray area between heterosexuality and homosexuality, an area that many people unknowingly dwell in. I thought that My Invented Life did an exceptional job of capturing the complexities of labels; readers will think twice about when it means to assign people to strict categories.

All in all, readers can take My Invented Life at two levels. It can be read as a witty romp through the intertwined lives of theater geeks, or one can consider the usage and flexibility of homosexuality in the story. Either way, it makes for a satisfying read without being offensive to any kind of readers.

155stephxsu
Oct 6, 2009, 1:59am Top

167. Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix



Tags: juvenile fiction, thriller, adventure, conspiracy
Recommended age: 10+
Similar authors: Lois Lowry
Rating: 5 out of 5

Summary

When a diphtheria epidemic breaks out in Jessie’s 1840 village, Jessie’s mother reveals the shocking truth—they’re actually living in a historical tourist site, and the year is actually 1996. Normally the people who run Clifton Village would not let the children die, but for some reason luxuries like modern medicine have been withheld. Jessie must escape Clifton Village, brave the terrifying modern world, and get help for the village children before it’s too late.

Review

Haddix’s first novel, and still one of my favorites of hers. Everything is just perfect in this book. The pitch-perfect narrator, on the fence between naïve childhood security and scary adolescence. The suspense that will keep you reading breathlessly until you find out what happens at the end. The world-building that makes you wonder if this couldn’t be happening right next door. Running Out of Time is a beautiful blend of the speculative and the probable, and earns its title as one of the best speculative juvenile fiction novels out there today.

168. Palace of Mirrors by Margaret Peterson Haddix



Tags: middle grade, fantasy, conspiracy, princesses
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Gail Carson Levine
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

Cecilia is the actual princess of Suala, living out her life in hiding in a peasant village far from the capitol, away from menacing foreign enemies who might want to end her life the same way they killed her parents. Every night she studies princess lessons with her knight/tutor Sir Stephen, and wonders about Desmia, the decoy princess on the throne, living the life that Cecilia should have.

Urged on by her good friend Archer, Cecilia and Archer set off to the capitol to reclaim her rightful place on the throne. But it turns out that Desmia has grown up hearing a different story, and they may all be in danger from an enemy that’s much closer to them than they expected.

Review

Palace of Mirrors is a charming companion novel to Haddix’s endearing Just Ella. Of course, this book is not Ella’s story, though the feisty heroine of the previous book plays a fairly important role in this novel. Readers will connect to Cecilia’s uncertainty about her identity and destiny, as well as her confusing feelings for and relationship with Archer. Palace of Mirrors is full of spunky, appealing characters, and even if the plot seems a little uneven—too slow at the beginning, too quickly wrapped up, too anticlimactic—it is still a decent read for late elementary and middle school girls who want a lighthearted romance set in an exciting world.

169. Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli



Tags: juvenile fiction, race, racial tensions
Recommended age: 8+
Similar authors: Wendelin van Draanen, Christopher Paul Curtis, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

Jerry Lionel “Maniac” Magee might’ve had an average childhood, but nothing else about his life would be normal again after he runs away from home at age eleven and ends up in Two Mills, Pennsylvania at twelve. Residents of Two Mills don’t know what to make of the new boy. He’s impossibly athletic. Loves to learn even though he doesn’t go to school. And, above all, he doesn’t seem to notice the way the town is divided in two, with whites living on one side of town, and blacks on another. As far as Maniac is concerned, he can talk to, befriend, and live with anyone he chooses to.

This is the story of the unassuming boy who singlehandedly changed the way a town felt about racial divide.

Review

Maniac Magee is one of those unassuming, yet quietly powerful novels, despite its Newbery Award win and near canonization in modern children’s literature. It’s a seriously ageless novel, in that readers can always get something new out of it, no matter what age you are. When I read this book for the first time in elementary school, I enjoyed the realistic banter between the children, between the blacks and the whites. Now, as I reread it for my children’s literature class, I am in awe of the way that Spinelli effortlessly weaves a moral tale into something entertaining and unique. His language is brilliance, stars and moon itself, and his characters are memorable and relatable. Even though I’m still not a fan of Maniac, with his improbable feats and passivity, this book is a must-read if you’re looking for the best of the best in children’s lit.

156dianestm
Oct 6, 2009, 2:26am Top

Running out of time and Maniac Magee both look really good. Thanks

157stephxsu
Oct 10, 2009, 12:32pm Top

170. Liar by Justine Larbalestier



Tags: YA, lying, murder, werewolves, NYC
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: E. Lockhart, Gabrielle Zevin, Pam Bachorz
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

Micah is a pathological liar, but she’s through with lies—it’s the truth from now on. Honestly. After all, with all the suspicion surrounding around her with the terrible death of her boyfriend, Zach, the last thing she wants is to lie and continue to have people think she’s a horrible person. After all, she loved Zach: why would she have been involved in his death? Besides, Micah has plenty of other secrets she has to worry about… But which ones are real and which ones are false?

Review

Readers will be swept away from Micah’s narration from page one. Liar is as compulsively readable as its protagonist is a compulsive liar. You will jump into this book, aware of Micah’s lying tendencies, and then struggle desperately to try—and fail—at staying one step ahead of this girl, this story.

Having a story told by a pathological liar brings to light the all-too-easily-dismissed problems of first-person narrator: that this POV is, in fact, completely at the mercy of the narrator, and thus can be a total fabrication without you knowing it. Justine Larbalestier explores just this paradox in Liar: how much of Micah’s story can believe when we know she is a liar and her side of the story is the only one we get?

Interesting premise and paradox aside, however, Micah is an intriguingly complex character. She’s flawed, and has viewpoints that make you want to shake her until she sees things clearly, and yet Micah is so fully convinced of her unchangeable situation that you can’t help but go along with her, no matter how much you want to disagree with her. Micah’s narration jumps rapidly from past to present and back again, which is a surprisingly effective way of slowly doling out the story to readers, as well as consistent with Micah’s personality.

Liar is a remarkable book where the story and its form complement one another for maximal success. It’s a story that will probably leave you with more questions and answers, but it absolutely proves the old edict right that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

171. The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z by Kate Messner



Tags: middle grade, science project, memory loss, family, running
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Sharon Creech, Cynthea Liu
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

Gianna Zales is a seventh-grade cross-country star, but her running career and glory is jeopardized by the upcoming science project deadline. Gianna must collect and identify 25 leaves, but that’s a hard thing to do when your grandmother’s memory is failing, the mean girls at school are out to get you, your father drives you to school in a hearse, and you’ve never been one for deadlines. Still, perhaps with the help of some fantastic people in her life, Gianna will be able to learn from all her hardships, while still completing her leaf project.

Review

Can you really go wrong with a 2009 middle-grade novel? The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z seems to say that no, you can’t. Kate Messner is a shining voice in middle-grade fiction, and her characters will rank right up there with Sharon Creech’s for best-friend potential.

Messner effortlessly introduces us to the totally normal yet exceptionally charming Zales family within just a few pages. Characterization leaps off the page: Gianna’s mother, father, little brother, and grandmother all sound like they could be your next-door neighbors, the smoothness with which their characters are developed an unfortunately rare accomplishment in fiction. There are hardly any stereotypes, and those that are a bit flat (like Gianna’s mean classmates) are completely excusable and perfect in their two-dimensionality.

The story is a beautiful weave of school troubles, family troubles, dealing with memory loss, and exploring new romantic feelings for your close friend. That’s a lot to pack into a book, but it never feels overwhelming in The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. Messner proves that it’s not about the number of issues you are or aren’t allowed to include in a book, but rather the way the author integrates the problems. And she does it beautifully.

It may be a little early to say this for sure, but Kate Messner just might become one of my favorite middle-grade authors. Her prose is effortless and her characters rich, and readers of all ages will be able to fall in love with the characters and find a bit of themselves in the book. The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z transcends its genre boundaries and becomes a classic tale of growing up that will reach anyone’s heart.

172. The Maze Runner by James Dashner



Tags: middle grade, YA, sci-fi, dystopian, mystery, suspense, thriller
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: J. K. Rowling, Michael Grant, William Golding, Suzanne Collins, Herbie Brennan
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

When Thomas wakes up in a dark elevator, he has no memories of the past, no idea how he got there. The elevator takes him into the Glade, a little self-sustaining world filled with 50 or 60 other adolescent boys, all of which also came through the elevator, one a month for the past two years. The Glade is surrounded by a massive maze, though not without persistent trying on the Gladers’ part.

Then everything changes. The very next day after Thomas’ arrival, an unconscious girl shows up, bearing a message that says that the end is beginning. All of a sudden it becomes more important that they solve the Maze and get out of there…but new developments seem to indicate that the maze is unsolvable.

Review

J. K. Rowling meets Michael Grant meets William Golding meets Suzanne Collins in this thrilling new series starter that is destined to rock the bestselling charts and find its way into many people’s hands. To put it even more straightforwardly The Maze Runner is brilliant, exciting, and utterly unputdownable. My heart is still pounding even days after reading it!

The two most impressive things that Dashner achieves in The Maze Runner are suspense and the suspension of disbelief. The Glade is a truly creepy world, with half-animal half-machine killers roaming the Maze after night, new arbitrary “Variables” changing the stakes and odds of survival for the kids, and ever more crazy things thrown into the story that, at the hands of a less skilled author, would make readers incredulous. But what Dashner accomplishes is the total separation of the Glade from reality, so that when he does throw a whole bunch of random crazy scary things in, you won’t even blink an eye, except from terror. You won’t question the arbitrary rules in this new world, because you won’t have to, and you’ll be too busy biting your nails and flipping the pages to worry!

A story cannot stand on its plot and suspense alone, but The Maze Runner also has well-developed characters as well. At first, Thomas may seem a little irritating, so frightened and questioning of authority is he. However, when he begins to take control of his emotions and emerges into a confident potential leader, we are firmly on his side and cheer him on in our own ineffectual little ways, outside of the story. Similarly, the other teenagers in the Glade become people who, even if you don’t necessarily like, you can still identify and empathize with. The depth and breadth of characters makes The Maze Runner not simply a plot-driven novel, but a book that can compete with other suspenseful and complex bestsellers.

Overall, The Maze Runner is a novel you shouldn’t miss. It won’t appeal to everyone—some might find the premise too staged, while others may complain of unsympathetic characters—but few can deny the palpable excitement that runs through these pages. Pick this book up and see for yourself which camp you fall in: either way, I don’t think it will be a waste of your time.

158stephxsu
Oct 12, 2009, 12:11am Top

173. The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp



Tags: YA, drinking, sex, maturity, relationships
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Ron Koertge, John Green, Terry Pratchett
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

High school senior Sutter Keely lives a life of fun, partying, and no thinking about the future. He has no sense of consequences, and instead lives in the moment to be the center of attention and the life of the party. However, things are starting to change for him. His girlfriend, Cassidy, leaves him because he can’t give her what she wants: a more serious commitment. His best friend gets serious with a girl and doesn’t want to live their old life of booze and smoking anymore.

Then Sutter meets Aimee one early morning, when he’s passed out on a stranger’s front lawn and she’s on her paper route. Unlike Sutter, Aimee is socially clueless, trapped by her demanding and disgusting family, and seems to really need his help. Sutter figures he’ll just help Aimee get some self-confidence and assertiveness back, but before he knows it, he’s in it deep, and now he has the power to make or ruin this girl’s life. And it’s a responsibility he’d rather live without.

Review

Flawed but endearing characters take center stage in this incredible novel by Tim Tharp. Sutter’s voice will live in your head and heart, infiltrating your life with his unforgettableness.

Sutter, of course, is the shining star of this novel, the sole reason why this book succeeds so well for me. He is probably a parent’s worst nightmare, the kind of kid you wouldn’t want as your own…and yet Tharp creates Sutter in such a way that you can’t help but feel for him, even when he’s off doing stupid, immature things. I am in awe of how we readers are able to understand Sutter more than he seems to understand himself, a schism between character and reader’s knowledge that’s difficult to achieve. Sutter doesn’t think much of himself, but his actions and implied thoughts speak for him otherwise, and we readers can see what he doesn’t about him.

If you’re looking for a marvelous, memorable voice in YA fiction and are not too easily disturbed by liberal mentions of drinking, cursing, and sex, pick up The Spectacular Now and prepare to be amazed.

174. Varieties of Disturbance by Lydia Davis

Tags: short story collection, eclectic, writing
Recommended age: 16+
Rating: 3 out of 5

As far as irony goes, Lydia Davis really stretches the boundaries and makes us question what is a short story and what is...not. I really enjoyed the insights into human nature that she writes about in all her stories, even the shortest ones, but I'm particularly astounded at the way she bends genre conventions. Does a one-line short story really count as a short story ("Collaboration with Fly")? What about a story that's full of nonsense words, that doesn't have a story except in the footnotes ("Southward Bound, Reads Worstward Ho")?

"Southward Bound, Reads Worstward Ho" is particularly baffling to me because both the object in the contents of both stories in that story--the short story itself and the book the character reads--are utter nonsense, and it's actually the sub-story told within the footnotes that's actually a story. Similarly, "We Miss You: A Study of Get-Well Letters from a Class of Fourth Graders" is absolutely hilarious because of the coldly clinical and academic approach it takes to kids. They're just a bunch of kids! It's moments like these in Davis' stories--when she brings to light a common human absurdity--that make me enjoy her stories. Davis is actively aware of the components of a short story and seems to approach stories with the awareness that she's writing a story in mind, instead of trying to blend character with narration so that its verisimilitude shines through.

175. Little Black Lies by Tish Cohen
(EgmontUSA / Oct. 13, 2009)



Tags: YA, lying, OCD, moving
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Cecily von Ziegesar, Sarah Dessen, Rosalind Wiseman
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

Sara Black is the new girl at the nation’s most intensely academic public high school, where her father is the new janitor. With super competitive classmates who won’t give her the time of day, a mother in France with her new lover, and a father in OCD, it’s little surprise that Sara begins telling lies to maintain her sanity and reputation.

As she falls in deeper with a group of the school’s most intimidating girls, however, Sara’s lies grow and grow until she has trouble keeping them straight. She’s running the risk of breaking her father’s heart and having her reputation permanently ruined as one of the most popular girls in the school decides to look into Sara’s stories…

Review

Little Black Lies is a high school drama-filled novel, similar to Gossip Girl except without the same high level of sexual escapades, and set in the most unusual of locations: a nerdy public school. Don’t let the academia fool you, though: the girls are still as bitchy, the drama still as intense.

The characters in Little Black Lies, while not immediately endearing, still grow on you after about halfway through the book. We can feel for Sara as she navigates life without her mother, in a new school full of classmates who would do nearly anything to beat their friends. The stresses of her new life make Sara’s lies and actions justifiable, though not necessarily admirable. I particularly admired Cohen’s treatment of OCD in this novel, as a disorder that breaks hearts, strains relationships, and pushes teens to lie for the sake of preserving their social status.

I mentioned earlier that I thought it was a watered-down version of Gossip Girl. There are definitely still bitchy girls who manipulate, blackmail, and hurt one another. While the antics of the Anton High “in” crowd of are amateurs compared to other mean girls in media, they’re still believable enough, and you will still feel for Carling, the head mean girl with the bad family life, despite her manipulations. Cohen generally succeeds at balancing readers’ hatred of and caring for these characters.

Little Black Lies will appeal to a wide range of teenagers who can identify with Sara’s difficulty in balancing her family life and school life. It’s a good story, and even if it took a while to get to its feet, my nervousness for what will happen to Sara in her huge, tentative house of lies kept me reading into the night.

159stephxsu
Oct 22, 2009, 10:02pm Top

176. Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers (St. Martin's Griffin / Jan. 5, 2010)



Tags: YA, bullying, lies, manipulation, hazing
Recommended age: 16+
Similar Authors: Laurie Halse Anderson
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

Regina Afton used to be part of the most popular, most feared group of girls in the school. That is, until a supposed friend spreads a rumor about something happening between Regina and her best friend Anna’s boyfriend. In the span of a weekend, Regina goes from top-tier to most hated girl in school, the brunt of pranks and bullying that gets worse by the day. Regina ends up sitting at lunch with Michael, a quiet boy in her class whose reputation she helped ruin.

Building friendships with people who hated her isn’t easy, but eventually Regina and Michael seem to be connecting in a way that neither one of them could have imagined. With revenge planned out and a promising future, Regina’s life is looking up. However, her old friends—her tormentors—are not through with her yet, now that she has things to lose.

Review

Some Girls Are is another powerful tale that establishes Courtney Summers as one of the most talented YA authors writing today. With her trademark simple but powerful writing, Summers explores the deepest, darkest sides of humanity that most of us are unwilling to admit actually exist.

Summers’ writing skips past the B.S. and overly excessive descriptions that often plague literature and get right to the heart of the story: nearly inexpressible raw emotions. Her words are the opposite of rich, and yet she expresses in one short sentence what other writers might take two pages doing. The writing draws you into Regina’s story and refuses to let you go, even through the most horrifying scenes, the ones you want to look away from, but can’t. Summers proves that simplicity is likely the best way to go in packing a punch.

The mean girls in Some Girls Are are a cross between the eighties John Hughes high school flicks and the nineties horror movies: you have trouble believing such horrid people can exist, and yet you hardly question their terrifying bullying. The combination of Summers’ writing style and the enthralling plot keeps your eyes glued to the pages even as worse forms of bullying than you can imagine keep unfolding. The way things build, it’s almost impossible to imagine how anyone could construct a happy ending to this story, but the ending that Summers gives us is ultimately satisfying, a well-earned bittersweetness that was difficult to achieve, and thus perfect.

It’s interesting and surprising how well we connect and empathize with Regina, who is, after all, one of the mean girls. Even in her fall she continues to plot and think like her old self, and readers can never be certain whether she has learned from what has happened to her or not. Similarly, Regina’s budding friendship and—later—relationship with Michael is unusual for a YA romance, but hardly unsatisfying. There is something delightful to be said about the subtle and unexpected way their relationship develops, and push-and-pull of old, simmering resentment and hatred versus new empathy and love.

Courtney Summers’ second novel removes all traces of doubt one might have about her writing power after her phenomenal debut novel, Cracked Up to Be. Some Girls Are is every bit as good as her first, and perhaps even better in terms of moral complexity. Courtney Summers is now firmly one of my favorite authors, and I will be a zealous devotee to any and every book she writes from now on.

177. Dani Noir by Nova Ren Suma



Tags: middle grade, mystery, divorce, noir film, selfishness, small town
Recommended age: 10+
Similar authors: Kate Messner, Rebecca Stead, Kate DiCamillo
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

The last thing 13-year-old Dani wants is to have anything to do with her no-good cheating father, who left the family to move in with another woman and her daughter. Luckily, there are plenty of things in her sleepy upstate New York town to keep her busy. Dani’s best friend has moved away and does not return her phone calls. Her old best friend, Taylor, is hanging around, and her mother wants Dani to work at the newspaper office with her. Luckily there’s always the Little Art theatre to escape to, where Dani can watch her beloved Rita Hayworth in old black-and-white noir films.

But then even the Little Art theatre goes sour. Her classmate Austin’s family owns the theatre, and Henry is always getting on her nerves. The projectionist Jackson is Henry’s cousin and is dating Dani’s former babysitter…until the day Dani spots another girl leaving the projection room. Determined to get to the bottom of two-faced Jackson’s mystery, Dani doesn’t realize the extent of her selfishness and the pain of her father leaving her until it’s almost too late to salvage the relationships around her.

Review

DANI NOIR is a powerfully entertaining and heartfelt middle-grade novel by a talented debut author to keep an eye out for. Dani is pitch-perfect and has ageless appeal, and it’s easy to connect with the issues she faces in this story.

The star of the novel is without a doubt Dani, who’s precocious with her interest in noir films, yet just self-centered enough in that way of preteens to be infuriating and endearing. She may remind you of your best and worst self in middle school—and if she doesn’t, then she is that girl in your math class, or the kind of girl you wish you had been back in the day. Dani is far from perfect: other characters rightfully call her “selfish,” but you can’t help but feel close to her, because not only is she terribly real, she’s also incredibly funny and entertaining.

Dani’s quest to expose Jackson’s lies is lighthearted enough, but, unbeknownst to her, carries a strong connection to her feelings of paternal abandonment. Separation and divorce is a common enough subject in middle grade fiction, but Nova Ren Suma deals with it delicately here, not allowing it to consume Dani’s life and thus make Dani Noir just another serious issues book.

Dani Noir has a great protagonist and would make for a good read for middle schoolers, their older siblings, and their parents and grandparents. Don’t miss out on this wonderfully sweet debut novel!

178. Front and Center by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (D.J. Schwenk, Book 3)

Tags: YA, rural, small town, basketball, love, self-confidence, college decisions
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Sarah Dessen, E. Lockhart, Libba Bray
Rating: 5 out of 5



Summary

Note: Some spoilers if you haven't read the first two books! After the football fiasco and taking care of her older brother Win after his paralyzing accident, D.J. Schwenk is happy to settle back into a comfortable routine of playing basketball for her high school team in rural Red Bend, Wisconsin. But try as she might, she can’t entirely escape the limelight. D.J. has college decisions to make if she wants to get an athletic scholarship—and she really needs one to go to college. Problem is, colleges want leaders on the court, and D.J.’s never been one for speaking out.

D.J. also has troubles in matters of the heart. Her good friend Beaner asks her out, and she isn’t sure how to respond to this new treatment. Then, Brian Nelson comes back into her life, after breaking her heart and letting her down more times than she wants to count. Will D.J. learn to take some risks and step outside her comfort zone for a chance to attain happiness and self-achievement?

Review

After a lengthy detour into Win’s physical recovery, I very happily return to a D.J.-centered novel…and am far from disappointed. Indeed, I am utterly in love with Front and Center. It is a perfectly written and sweet conclusion that won’t leave D.J. devotees disappointed.

It is a sign of great talent that an author can write a protagonist who is rather severely flawed in her thinking and self-concept, and yet is utterly lovable. D.J. has such low confidence in herself that you just want to beat her over the head with a stick and then give her a great big hug and a pep talk. D.J. is often infuriating, but she approaches everything with such a freshness that you cannot be angry at her. Instead, you will laugh with her, cry with her, and all throughout, cheer her on.

The power of the characters return in full force. The way D.J. narrates her story, there are no weak characters: everyone has a purpose and their own identity. All of the complex character development guarantees that you will fall in love with some, if not all, of them. Brian Nelson in particular is a sweetheart, and fans of him from the earlier books will appreciate his growth and maturation alongside D.J.’s.

The D.J. books contain remarkably authentic, yet relatable, details about situations involving rural living and sports. Even if you have no experience with either, D.J.’s candid and unassuming narration will make you fall right into her world and never want to come out. The particulars of both lifestyles are extraordinarily well researched, the in-school student dynamics realistic and relatable.

If you’re looking for a book containing a strong female protagonist, a contemporary story with equal parts excellent plotting and characterization, a sweet but not overbearing romance, tomboys, and lots of laughs, don’t hesitate to check out Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s books about D.J. Schwenk, starting with Dairy Queen. I’m sad that the series has to end, but beyond satisfied at how Murdock elegantly ties everything together for a hopeful future. This is a series that should not be missed!

160stephxsu
Oct 22, 2009, 10:13pm Top

179. Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson



Tags: juvenile fiction, historical fiction, illness, death
Recommended age: 8+
Similar authors: Ann Rinaldi, Jenny Han, Katherine Cushman
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

The summer of 1793 in Philadelphia is humid and stifling, and Mattie’s about had it up to here with being worked like a horse by her mother in their coffeehouse. However, tragedy strikes Philadelphia in the form of yellow fever. Soon, thousands in the city are dead, and important resources like food are running low. Then, fever strikes their own coffeehouse, and it’s up to Mattie to brave the unfamiliar terrors and pull their family and their business through.

Review

Fever 1793 satisfies the desire for strong female protagonists in historical fiction, and establishes Laurie Halse Anderson as a supremely multitalented author. Mattie experiences problems that modern girls can relate to: the desire to escape the drudgery of being worked by her mom in the coffeehouse, financial independence. Many people swear by this book, but I think I might have read it a bit too late, for I felt the plot was a little choppy—what I believed would’ve been the climax happened early on in the book, and I spent the last two-thirds floundering and trying to get back on track. Nevertheless, the characters are well-developed, and there is enough excitement that this should appeal to young girls.

180. Luv Ya Bunches by Lauren Myracle



Tags: juvenile fiction, middle grade, friendship, IMing
Recommended age: 8+
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

Katie-Rose, Violet, Yasaman, and Camilla have hardly anything in common, except that they’re all going into fifth grade at the same elementary school. Katie-Rose is a little spastic and spends most of her time behind a film camera, but still desires some female friends. Violet is the new girl with a sad family secret. Yasaman gets made fun of for her head-scarf, but she’s brilliant with computers. And Milla’s having trouble trying to remain friends with the popular Modessa and her crony, Quin.

Then, on the first day of school, Violet asks Katie-Rose for directions, Katie-Rose flings her directional arm into Yasaman, who trips and falls into Camilla, making her spill the contents of her backpack. In the process, Milla’s lucky bobblehead turtle is lost, and the drama that ensues might set the whole fifth grade in an uproar…or bring four different girls together in friendship.

Review

Lauren Myracle’s writerly charm and humor persist even as she delves into a sort of chick lit for the elementary school lot. Her characters are fun and real, and the issues they face and the lessons they learn—what it means to be a friend—will touch the hearts of readers of any age.

There are pretty much no weak points in Luv Ya Bunches. The four girls, who each get to tell their stories via different mediums, are as different yet ultimately as compatible as you and your group of friends. Each girl genuinely has heart, an important character quality that all too often goes missing in the course of writing a story. As a result, readers will want these girls for their best friends—or sisters, or daughters, depending on your age!

Perhaps most remarkable about Lauren’s writing, though, is her ability to incidentally include details that can be big issues on their own. For example, Camilla has two mothers, Yasaman is Muslim, Violet’s mother has issues we don’t usually see in children’s literature, and Katie-Rose is half-Asian. It’s remarkable how effortlessly these details fold into the story, becoming simply an important but not overbearing part of their identity. We need more of those kinds of literature nowadays.

Overall, Luv Ya Bunches is an absolutely perfect read for elementary-age girls and their mothers. With a heartwarming cast of characters, endless entertaining situations, and an important message of friendship bringing out the best in you, it’s a winner for everyone. Pick it up, and you won’t be able to stop giggling and smiling, reliving the best—and worst—of fifth grade!

161stephxsu
Oct 26, 2009, 11:20am Top

181. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld



Tags: YA, steampunk, World War I, action, war
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: James Dashner, Suzanne Collins
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

It is the eve of World War I, and the archduke of Austria and his wife have just been assassinated. The archduke’s only son, Alek, flees his home with a gang of loyal subjects in a battle-ready Stormwalker machine, traveling across difficult terrain in an attempt to stay one step ahead of their enemies.

Meanwhile, in England, a 16-year-old boy named Dylan enters the British Air Service. Dylan is at home in the air, skillful with handling their fabricated animal carriers…and he’s also a girl named Deryn in disguise. If anyone found out her true identity, her life and ambitions would be finished.

Alek and Deryn seem to have nothing in common…but everything is unusual in Europe on the brink of World War I, and the two lives cross aboard Britain’s greatest fabrication, the whale-like airship Leviathan. And so begins a fantastic journey across countries, land, and air that will change their lives forever.

Review

Scott Westerfeld is not new to groundbreaking works in YA fiction, and I won’t be surprised if Leviathan marks the beginning of a new YA fiction trend: steampunk. Leviathan has nonstop action in a world that will take your breath away.

Steampunk is a genre that occurs in an alternate historical world where most technology runs on steam, and electricity usage is sparse. The combination of Keith Thompson’s beautiful illustrations and Scott’s exciting prose makes the world come alive for me. From battle machines that actually have legs to animal conglomerations, the world of Leviathan is a fantastical one that you won’t be able to look away from.

While neither Deryn nor Alek are among the most unforgettable characters I have ever read, readers will stay engaged with them because of their perilous positions. Alek may come off as whiney sometimes, while Deryn kicks major butt as a girl disguised as a boy who does the job better than most boys can. Over half of the novel occurs before they meet each other, so I am intrigued as to how their relationship and separate characters will continue to develop in the next books in the series. Likewise, supporting characters are often an uncomfortable mix of intriguing and underdeveloped. We shall see what happens to them in the later books.

My reservations about the characters aside, Leviathan is a worthy forefather of YA steampunk fiction. With Scott’s trademark action scenes and two fairly strong protagonists, readers will not be disappointed, and will instead want much more from this new and interesting world.

182. Hold Still by Nina LaCour



Tags: YA, suicide, grief, friendship, love, healing, photography
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Gayle Forman, Sarah Dessen, Elizabeth Scott, Laurie Halse Anderson
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

Caitlin doesn’t know what she’s going to do after her best friend Ingrid commits suicide. Anger mixes with guilt and grief within her, and she struggles through life at school and at home, with people treating her differently as a result.

The discovery of Ingrid’s prized journal under her bed, however, helps Caitlin begin to heal and accept the tragedy. As she makes new friends, reconciles with people she’s drifted away from, and falls in love, Caitlin begins to better understand the depth of Ingrid’s sadness and how she will be able to move on.

Review

Hold Still is a beautifully written debut novel about a difficult subject. It will tear at your heart and leave you feel wiser, more fulfilled than you started out.

Nina LaCour’s novel is perhaps more effective than other books about suicide I’ve read because we are able to step out of Caitlin’s head and instead also watch her interact with others. There is a great balance of internal and external dialogue. “Issues” books run the risk of being too “in the main character’s head,” and I appreciated that Hold Still shows us how friendship and love are an integral part of healing as well, alongside emotional acceptance and forgiveness.

The characters are a gentle and enjoyable lot, even if they are somewhat lacking in development. How do different people react differently to the loss of a loved one? One person’s existence—and eventual death—means different things for different people, and I felt that Hold Still really impressed that satisfactorily. Everyone’s reactions to Ingrid’s death, and their way of dealing with their personal grief as well as the grief of their friends, were touching and believable.

If you’re looking for a challenging but ultimately inspiring read, consider Hold Still. The book will linger with you long after you put it down. It is an exceptionally well done book about the aftermaths of suicide, and I look forward to what Nina LaCour has to offer us next.

183. Nick of Time by Ted Bell



Tags: middle grade, historical fantasy, World War II, time travel, Nazis, spying, pirates
Recommended age: 10+
Similar authors: James Patterson, Scott Westerfeld
Rating: 2 out of 5

Summary

12-year-old Nick McIver lives with his 6-year-old sister, Kate, and their parents on an island on the north shore of Greybeard Island, an English island in the English Channel. It is the summer of 1939, there have been rumored sightings of German U-boats in the Channel, and Nick’s family is under suspicion of going against the British government’s decree and spying on the Nazis.

Then, Nick and Kate stumble across a mysterious sea chest that turns out to be a time machine highly sought after by the time traveling, kidnapping pirate Billy Blood. Blood will do anything to get his hands on the time machine, and so Nick enlists the help of Lord Hawke, the eccentric and reclusive proprietor of Hawke Castle, who’s lost his two young children to Blood for ransom. They travel back to 1805 to help Nick’s naval ancestor do battle with Blood, but the situation is also exceedingly dire back in the present world, as the Nazis close in on Greybeard Island.

Review

This book is a good example of what NOT to do when writing a historical fantasy for young readers. It’s been quite a while since I’ve read something that contained so much amateuristic and unnecessary blither and blather that perhaps that only way to describe why this book should NOT be lauded as a noteworthy piece of juvenile historical fantasy is in a list:

1. It feels like a mediocre adult thriller writer’s attempt to write for children, i.e. it fails. Excessive description, lack of character development, confusing and unappealing plot.
2. The protagonist, Nick, undergoes no growth throughout the novel.
3. Dialogue is overly dramatic and artificial. Great for a puppet show performed for a crowd of pre-schoolers. As a middle-grade novel? Not so much.
4. The plot is uneven, with things dropped into the story and never to be seen again, and too-long tangents that readers will not care about. The time machine element is not even introduced until halfway through the 400+ page novel, and by then readers won’t cry anymore.
5. Having Kate be the only semi-appealing character in the book does not justify the other 99% of awfulness. Six-year-old main characters are just not relatable, and more often than not become extremely annoying, even as they are supposedly charming.
6. The characters are inauthentic. The villains are overly villainified, and the “joker” characters bumble around and speak geeky nonsense.

Nick of Time may only appeal to those who can deal with a lot of nautical terminology, who are willing to sacrifice character and plot development for the sake of a vaguely interesting concept, and who think that one okay child protagonist makes up for all the other unappealing ones. Otherwise, I’d say don’t waste your time. There are millions of other better historical fantasy books for readers of all ages out there.

162spacepotatoes
Edited: Oct 26, 2009, 1:43pm Top

I've been hearing a lot about steampunk lately and I've been meaning to try it one of these days. Leviathan sounds like a good one to start with!

163sydamy
Edited: Oct 27, 2009, 10:51am Top

Leviathan is already on my/my daughters wish list. How many hard cover books can I buy for her!! Glad to hear it is good, as Pretties is probably her favourite book series. She is well into Maze Runner and loving it. Thanks for the great recommendations.

164Kittybee
Oct 29, 2009, 8:50am Top

You aren't helping me keep to my resolution to buy no more new books until I read half of what I own. Yesterday I bought Dairy Queen and The Maze Runner :)

165luv2read97
Nov 2, 2009, 10:38pm Top

I think I have a suggestion for you!! Just about every YA book I've read this year has been one from your list (thank you so much),so I thought I'd try and return the favor!!! It is Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar. Unless I missed it somewhere on your list!! Laugh out loud funny about a boy's first year of high school.

166stephxsu
Nov 7, 2009, 11:41pm Top

Hey lovely friends! How nice to read all your comments; they made me smile. :) spacepotatoes, it is! Plus, you can never go wrong with a Scott Westerfeld book; he's so ground-breaking. sydamy and Kittybee, sorry for being a bad influence on your wallets *hides* However, you guys picked good ones out of the ones I read to buy. Will you be reading The Maze Runner after your daughter is finished, sydamy?

luv2read97: THANK YOU!! I've seen that book floating around often, and have heard it's funny, but your recommendation is going to push me over the edge and encourage me to actually go out, get the book, and read it. So thanks! I will check it out. I might not be able to get to it by the end of this year (sooo many books to read for review and for school) but perhaps it will make an appearance on my 2010 list. ;)

167stephxsu
Nov 7, 2009, 11:59pm Top

184. Tap & Gown by Diana Peterfreund (Ivy League, Book 4)



Tags: college, secret societies, cloak-and-dagger, stalking, graduation, relationships
Recommended age: 16+
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

Eli University senior Amy Haskel is busy with writing her thesis, finding a job…and selecting a tap to take her place in the infamous Rose & Grave secret society when she graduates. Finding a good tap is hardly easy, though. There are patriots to please and complexities to work around. On top of all her responsibilities, Amy is also trying to make her relationship with her new boyfriend, a former Rose & Grave member, work.

When Amy discovers Michelle, she believes she’s found the perfect person to replace her in Rose & Grave. But Michelle has secrets and problems of her own, some of which could affect Rose & Grave…

Review

Tap & Gown is a satisfying conclusion to this addicting series about college-level secret societies, though it is not without its unsatisfying moments. Diana Peterfreund’s strength in writing interesting and well-rounded characters still shines through, although the introduction of new characters with their own problems is rather jarring and rushed, especially when they ultimately play such a large role in the book.

I have mixed feelings about the fact that this series about the inner workings and dramas of a secret society did not give more attention to the natural stresses of college. It seemed like the society members were constantly getting into one screwup after another and having their traditional “secrecy” compromised, without striking a good balance between normal academia and their society life. It’s for the sake of fiction, yes, I know, so I can’t really say more than that I hope future books set in college will actually deal with, you know, actual college life.

The pacing of Tap & Gown felt rushed to me because a whole drama involving the possible end of Rose & Grave was thrown into the last 50 pages with hardly a hint of warning beforehand, making it so that the climax of the story and its subsequent resolution felt unnatural. As far as story arc goes, this one’s is rather helter-skelter, but fans of Amy Haskel will still not be disappointed. There is still enough wit, drama, and romance to go around.

185. The Cinderella Society by Kay Cassidy (EgmontUSA / Apr. 13, 2010)



Tags: YA, secret societies, feminism, cheerleading
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: It's the first of its kind!
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

Jess Parker is used to being the new girl at school. However, she always has her love of cheerleading to fall back on, even when her new teammates at Mt. Sterling High shun her because of a rumor that her archnemesis, Lexy Steele, spreads. Jess has always skirted the outskirts of popularity and inclusion…until she receives a mysterious invitation at the end of her sophomore year, initiating her into a secret society.

The Cindys consist of girls and women around the world who band together to fight the Wickeds and their negative influences. Recent Wickeds activity has been spiking, and in between her regular Cindy training, trying to work past her feelings of self-doubt, and boy intrigue, Jess is selected to undertake a journey that she doesn’t know if she’s capable of doing. Her overwhelming number of responsibilities make Jess wonder, is she really destined to be a Cindy, or has there been a horrible mistake?

Review

Wow. Move over, Barbie, Bratz, and other unrealistic portrayals of females. The Cinderella Society is an unself-conscious call for girl power, shamelessly girlie and endlessly original.

The message of female empowerment prevails throughout the entire novel, and you don’t need to simply read this as a fun story. As Jess and her Big Sis work their way through the Cindy training, readers will be happy to pick up the empowering tips as well—for example, it’s finding the best style for you that’s important, or that self-confidence and attitude can make or break even the best-looking girl. By pitching this important but often overlooked concept in a secret society novel, The Cinderella Society will bring together all types of female readers, from the seemingly perfect Queens of high school to the lonely misfit. Feminism ties all the excessively girlie components of this story together to make it enjoyable for everyone.

The protagonist, Jess, can be infuriatingly and unjustifiably lacking in self-confidence (because in the grand scheme of things, she is SO much better off than most high school girls), but in the end still becomes a character whose story we’re interested in, and who we can cheer for. Her worries about being the new kid at the beginning of the story are relatable even to those who have not moved nine times in 16 years. However, her reactions of unworthiness once she enters the Society and her sickening preoccupation with her physical makeover were a little disturbing and left a bad taste in my mouth.

Similarly, I found the romance between Jess and her object of interest, the—you guessed it!—star quarterback and Your Royal Sexiness, Ryan Steele, to be saccharinely clichéd. I’ve never fully understood why characters must more often than not be obsessed with their school’s physically perfect quarterback. Ryan’s character does delve into a bit of depth and family tragedy as the story goes along, but not enough to justify the predictability of their interactions, and Jess’ feelings for him.

The plot started out great, but digressed into lessons and chapters of explanation towards the second half of the novel, which was disconcerting for me. The uneven distribution of exciting scenes tempted me to put down the novel in various places, and it was only my intrigue with the way rival, fairy tale-like factions of good vs. evil were portrayed as Cindys vs. Wickeds that kept me going.

Despite rather serious flaws in character and story construction, I still give a thumbs-up to The Cinderella Society for addressing female empowerment in a way that is easily accessible to those who need it most: teen girls. This story just might become your best friend, regardless of what kind of girl you are, and for teen girls who usually flock to Gossip Girl and Twilight, this series will be a different but great addition your shelves. Look out as Kay Cassidy takes the female readership world by storm!

168stephxsu
Nov 8, 2009, 12:16am Top

186. The Everafter by Amy Huntley



Tags: YA, death, afterlife, love
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Gabrielle Zevin, Alice Sebold
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

When 17-year-old Madison wakes up, she knows she’s dead. She’s in an unfamiliar world of nothingness that’s punctuated by the ghostly appearance of objects that appear to be things she lost back when she was alive. Madison realizes that the objects can take her back to when she lost the objects, when she can relive those scenes or even change the way things turned out. The more Madison revisits her past and figures out what she’s capable of here in the Afterlife, the closer she gets to the truth of her death, which she is sure involves her beloved boyfriend, Gabe.

Review

The Everafter is a truly original take on life after death, but it doesn’t quite live up to its high potential, with underdeveloped characters, a complex but slow-moving plot, and an anticlimactic ending.

In one sense, a work of fiction is only as good as the sum of its parts, and readers only know of the characters what is essential. The Everafter takes this literally, as the character of Madison is shown to us readers via a series of seemingly random scenes from her life, some of which have more significance than others. It’s a different way of approaching telling a story, and it may or may not work for you. For me, it didn’t really help me better understand Maddy, which was disappointing.

The concept presented in The Everafter is very unique, but I’m always cautious about exciting-sounding ideas with mediocre execution, which is what this book turned out to be for me. Gabe and Maddy’s romance, which is supposed to be an important part of the story, felt underdeveloped and unfamiliar to me, and I never really connected with any of the characters, nor believed in the ending, which was shocking, but not necessarily in a good way.

Still, fans of Gabrielle Zevin’s Elsewhere and Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones may find this book interesting and hard to put down.

187. Soulstice by Simon Holt (The Devouring, Book 2)



Tags: middle grade, YA, horror, evil, fear
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: R. L. Stine, James Dashner
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

It’s been six months since Reggie and her best friend Aaron fought to save Reggie’s younger brother, Henry, from the hands of the evil Vours, scary beings who prey on fear to enter and take over humans. The approach of summer should indicate better times ahead for them—but alas, that’s not to be. For some reason, the Vours, who used to only be able to enter our world during the Winter Solstice, have figured out how to enter humans at other times in the year, too, including the upcoming Summer Solstice.

With help and information from some unlikely allies, Reggie is certain that the Vours are plotting something sinister for Summer Solstice, and only she, with her mysterious ability to enter a person’s fearscape and rescue him or her from the their Vour, has a chance to stop the Vours. But Reggie’s attempt to do so may be more dangerous than anyone has anticipated…

Review

The initial world-building and setup is behind us in the first book of the series, The Devouring, and thus in Soulstice we are able to concentrate on much more important things: the development of plot and fear. Soulstice is a far scarier read than the first book, and that’s a good thing.

Soulstice is mostly action, which I appreciated. Through tense and terrifying scenes, we are actually better able to understand the characters than any long-winded explanatory conversations they might’ve had in The Devouring. The story also becomes more intricate, delightfully complicating the characters and raising the stakes. I flew through this book, hardly able to put it down, unable to breathe out of my desire to simultaneously know what’s going on and to hide from the increasing suspense and horror.

Soulstice ends with a bang that will keep readers of the series still immersed and waiting anxiously for the third book. It is a marked improvement from the first book and will definitely expand the readership to more than just younger readers looking for a Goosebumps-like scare.

188. EGGS by Jerry Spinelli



Tags: juvenile fiction, friendship, fortune telling, quirky, grief
Recommended age: 8+
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

David—motherless, living with his grandmother, angry, and scared of breaking rules—meets Primrose, a flighty and explosive 13-year-old girl whose mother is an inept fortune teller, in this unique tale on the healing power of friendship. David and Primrose seem to have almost nothing in common, and indeed, their friendship often consists of taunts and arguments more than laughter and comfort. But the two friends bond in inexplicable ways and discover that friends may be just the thing you need when you think you don’t need anything.

Review

Like other Jerry Spinelli books, EGGS gently explores an important theme in a way that’s approachable yet different for readers of all ages. However, EGGS is more on the silly and weird side, rather than the heartwrenching and memorable. It’s a quick read that will most likely get the attention of well-read kids looking for something odd. Make of EGGS what you will, as it will most likely mean different things for everyone.

169sydamy
Nov 9, 2009, 11:27am Top

Yes, I will read Maze Runner. I just finally read Catching Fire after her nagging me since its release, as we bought it then and she read it right away. It was nice to see a book 2 as exciting as the first. Now we must wait for the last installment :( She is reading Hunger:A Gone Novel right now (thanks to you), read the first book over the summer and just picked up this one from the library, she could not wait until the paperback came out. yes, she loves it.

170stephxsu
Nov 9, 2009, 11:54am Top

sydamy, I'm really glad! Your daughter has good taste in books. I think she and I would get along really well. :)

189. After the Moment by Garret Freymann-Weyr



Tags: YA, relationships, heartbreak, rape, self-injury
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Nicholas Sparks, Nora Roberts, Jeannine Garsee, C. K. Kelly Martin
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Summary

When circumstances compel him to move in with his father, stepmother, and younger stepsister, high school senior Leigh Hunter never imagined that he would fall in love for the first time in his life. Her name is Maia Morland, and she is beautiful but tragic, inspirational yet self-destructive. Leigh begins to believe that he can create a life around Maia, but when something horrifying happens to her, he realizes that his love for her may not be enough to save her.

Review

After the Moment is a subtle exploration of the power of different kinds of relationships in one young man’s adolescence, a dramatically poignant love story that will perhaps appeal best to adult fans of doomed romance novelists like Nicholas Sparks. Personally, however, I had trouble connecting with the characters as well as believing the story arc.

A love story told from the guy’s point of view is rare and certainly no easy feat, but Leigh Hunter is a genially complex protagonist. It’s obvious that he cares very much for his family members (particularly his stepsister, the ineffable and incredibly mature middle schooler Millie), although he may not agree with them most of the time and hardly aspires to be like his emotionally autistic father. Leigh is forced to make incredibly difficult decisions; it is easy to see why the events of his senior year have had an impact on the rest of his life.

However, I found it hard to become emotionally invested in the characters and their stories. The story is told from the point of view of an older Leigh, which I think contributes to the distance I felt from the characters. They were living out their tragedies and dramas in a snowglobe, to which I was only a polite audience. The supporting characters, while well-meaning, never felt quite fully developed for me: the adults were either dispensers of inexplicable wisdom or else emotionally unavailable, and the preteens and teens often did not act their age.

Perhaps all of this would have been fine for me had the main storyline—Leigh and Maia’s romance—been believable and likable. As it is, however, it’s hard to see why Maia is the source of so many guys’ interests. I felt like there was a disconnect between her tragic side—a truly heartwrenching and relatable mix of maternal neglect, self-destruction, anxiety, and self-blame—and the part of her that attracts nearly everyone around her to her. As an interesting and complex character, Maia was fascinating; as the love interest, not so much.

I found the plot and pacing to be quite slow and often unengaging. Since the narrator is an older-and-wiser Leigh, the story often reads like a clinical examination of Leigh’s first love, with plenty of time devoted to Leigh’s characterization and his interactions with other people, and not enough to the readers’ engagement in the story. The ending—the horrifying event that befalls Maia, Leigh’s reaction and the consequences that result—felt like it was so rushed and unexpected, which I suspect had more to do with my emotionally detachment from the story and less with the actual proceedings, a detachment that unfortunately contributed to my disbelief of the events in the last part of the book.

It is obvious to me, though, that Freymann-Weyr cares very much about the psychological workings of adolescents, and I think that After the Moment is not a flop of a story, but rather a poignant tale that was marketed to the wrong audience. Certainly Nicholas Sparks and Nora Roberts fans will appreciate the gentle and affecting romance between Leigh and Maia. If you’re an adult reader looking for a slow but sweet read, or a teen with lots of patience and a penchant for intense romances and enigmatic heroines, consider After the Moment for a stirring and relaxing weekend read.

190. The Rebel of the Family by Eliza Lynn Linton



Tags: British lit, classics, feminism, domesticity, classism
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Jane Austen
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

An overlooked, entertaining, and scathing look at the hypocrisies and classism of mid-Victorian upper-class society. Like Jane Austen, Linton does a fantastic job of creating ridiculous characters that often border on being caricatures, which in this case is not a flaw but rather a strength that contributes to the one's enjoyment and understanding of the novel. It is unclear what Linton, a professed anti-feminist, intends for her message to be, but I actually found the ambiguity of the novel's message to be one of its neatest parts. You can read this and cheer for Perdita, the protagonist, as she struggles against traditional views of instilled idleness for upper-class females, or you can read The Rebel of the Family as an amusing study of society. Either way, you are sure to be entertained.

191. Ice by Sarah Beth Durst



Tags: YA, magic, love, adventure, retelling, Arctic
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Shannon Hale, Malinda Lo, Robin McKinley, Donna Jo Napoli, Tamora Pierce
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

Cassie is the daughter of an Arctic researcher and has grown up on an Arctic research station with the knowledge that her mother is dead. However, on her eighteenth birthday, Cassie learns the shocking truth: her mother is imprisoned by trolls beyond the end of the world, and she herself is promised to the Polar Bear King in marriage. Cassie agrees to marry the gentle but powerful Bear if he will rescue her mother.

The wedding, which sprang out of necessity, soon blossoms into true companionship and romance. But Cassie makes a terrible mistake that costs her her love. Now, she must draw on all of her Arctic knowledge and courage to make a nearly impossible journey if she wants to save Bear.

Review

I ABSOLUTELY LOVED THIS BOOK. It had everything I wanted from a book of its kind: a feisty female protagonist, epic adventures, luscious writing, and the kind of romance that stops hearts and makes you remember why romance exists in the world. It was love at first sight for me and this book, and our love will continue to evolve and endure as long as my memory does not fail me.

From the first page, I was ensnared by Sarah Beth’s writing, which I must describe as “clean and fresh”: it’s like wiping away a dirty window and gazing in wonder out at a beautiful, crystalline winter scene. Sarah Beth wastes no words, and yet manages to describe for readers an unbelievably beautiful and mesmerizing world with simple prose. Her writing style will appeal to fans of fairy tale writing, for its gorgeous, ethereal descriptions, as well as those of realistic fiction, so well grounded in our world it is.

Indeed, the way Ice inhabits a perfect space in between fantasy and reality is one of its unique and strong points. I love that this old Nordic legend is grounded in science: a research station with modern characters and real-time technology. We weave easily in and out of the magic and the real, making this an interesting reading experience. Cassie is feisty and snarky enough to make her a great 21st-century protagonist, and yet she is also courageous and incredibly determined, qualities that connect her with other epic fantasy heroines.

Of all the great parts about Ice, I think I like Cassie the best. You don’t find girls like her very often in literature or real life anymore, girls who will do anything for love, girls who tire of domesticity and want to be useful, girls who don’t want romance to consume their identities, girls who are scared of growing up too fast and making decisions that will affect them permanently. I related to Cassie so well and admired her so much, I think I cried. I loved how she faced problems of things like love vs. self-identity with—let’s admit it—mistakes and awkwardness. For a character of a fantasy novel, Cassie is remarkably relatable and can instantly be your best friend and role model for realistic issues.

And of course, I cannot end this review without talking about the romance between Cassie and Bear. Fans of Beauty and the Beast (especially Robin McKinley’s Beauty) will see strong echoes of that kind of gradual love in Ice. Bear easily won over my heart with just a few lines of dialogue; if you want a nice-guy love interest, well, here he is. Gradual development of attraction and love are hard to come by nowadays, which is one of the reasons why I’m so happy the romance in Ice was done so well. Theirs is a love that grows subtly out of undramatic scenes, and is proven to be eternal by a literal “epic journey.” It is, once again, the result of the perfect blend between fantasy and realism.

Ice is certainly not without some weaknesses, of course. Supporting characters, especially Cassie’s parents, are rather underdeveloped, and super-picky readers may have trouble following the occasionally choppy plot. However, readers looking for an old-fashioned fairy tale would do well to check Sarah Beth Durst’s Ice out. Maybe I read it at the right time for me to fall head-over-heels in love with it—but I think that you’ll be able to appreciate the gorgeous world-building and story, no matter what kind of genre you enjoy best.

171spacepotatoes
Nov 9, 2009, 1:25pm Top

Wow, after a review like that, how can Ice NOT go on my TBR? I will admit that I sometimes fall into that category of "super-picky reader" but this sounds like it's definitely worth a shot!

172stephxsu
Edited: Nov 17, 2009, 10:51pm Top

spacepotatoes: I'm glad I'm sharing the Ice love! Hehehe. :)

192. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde



Tags: British lit, Victorian lit, Faustian bargain, vanity, homosocial encounters
Recommended age: 16+
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Oscar Wilde is the man. Besides for being chock-full of good quotes, The Picture of Dorian Gray is also simply an interesting idea, a quick but great read, and a must-read in every literate person's lifetime.

193. When the Whistle Blows by Fran Cannon Slayton



Tags: middle grade, YA, historical fiction, railroads, fathers, West Virginia, trains
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Rebecca Stead, Jacqueline Kelly
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

Around the end of World War II, the tiny town of Rowlesburg, West Virginia, is undergoing some great and affecting changes. For years and years, steam engines have been a way of life for those living in Rowlesburg, but now there are rumors of diesel engines, and being out of a job, and the town turning into a ghost.

In the midst of this all is Jimmy Cannon, a typical boy who wants to have fun with his friends and have his father get off his back. Jimmy’s father wants him to escape the dying Rowlesburg, but Jimmy has his heart set on working on the railroads, just like every Cannon before him. As a result, he feels like his father is always working against him. As the years pass, however, and Jimmy gets into scrapes or learns lessons, he realizes that his impenetrable father may be one of the best men he’ll ever know.

Review

If you like historical fiction coming-of-age vignettes, you can’t do any better than Fran Cannon Slayton’s debut, When the Whistle Blows. While it’s not the kind of fiction I usually enjoy, the voice, characters, setting, and stories are really all delightful.

The synopsis heavily emphasizes Jimmy’s relationship with his father, but really, that theme is rather a gentle undercurrent throughout that builds into a touching ending. I enjoyed every vignette, one for every Halloween between 1943 and 1949. Each story stands strong alone and shows us what life is like for the teenaged Jimmy growing up in rural West Virginia. They’re entertaining, such as Jimmy’s friends’ Halloween mischief; they’re heartwarming, with the high school football championship game.

Death, laughter, adolescent naivety, and growth weave in and out of the prose, which is age, gender, and regionally appropriate. Indeed, Jimmy’s voice feels remarkably genuine: you will not mistake him as anyone other than a boy growing up in mid-twentieth century America, and at the same time he is completely relatable.

The development of Jimmy’s relationship with his father may have been a bit too subtle for me, given the importance the book seems to place on this pivotal relationship. It can occasionally make the vignettes feel disjointed. Overall, however, I am satisfied with the subtlety; we’re not hit over the head with news of their relationship, which allows us to understand and appreciate Jimmy and his father individually.

Like I said earlier, historical fiction is not my forte, but even so I can see Jimmy’s stories resonated with me long after I closed this book. When the Whistle Blows has a magical and timeless appeal, and is probably one of the most understated debut books of the year, so I encourage you to pick this up if your interest is the slightest bit piqued. You will be rewarded for doing so.

194. TTYL by Lauren Myracle



Tags: middle grade, YA, instant messaging, epistolary, friendship, popularity, teacher-student affairs
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: E. Lockhart, Jaclyn Moriarty, Maureen Johnson
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

Angela (SnowAngel), Maddie (mad maddie), and Zoe (zoegirl) are best friends just entering their sophomore year of high school. Everyone tells them that high school friendships don’t last, but these three friends are determined to prove the nay-sayers wrong. Through instant messages, they exchange heartache and laughter, personality quizzes and rants about their rude classmates. Angela falls too hard for the wrong guy, Maddie tries to fit in with the “in” crowd (with disastrous results), and Zoe gets in over her head with a young English teacher. Through their individual ups and downs, however, they learn that they always have each other, and that friendship transcends all the obstacles that might try to come between them.

Review

Lauren Myracle’s TTYL is especially fun to read because of its sheer creativity. I’ve never read anything told entirely in instant messages, and once you get past the “Internet speak” (srsly, wat happened 2 the days wen spelling mattered?) you find a charming story in a unique format. I’m very impressed at the way Myracle develops her characters through just IMs. The originality and engagement of the plot fell short—the issues were slow to develop and not discussed as deeply as they could’ve been—but on the whole, TTYL is a satisfying novel for the new teenage girl. This is a great way to get tweens into reading.

173stephxsu
Nov 18, 2009, 9:20am Top

195. Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie



Tags: short story collection, American Indians, humor
Recommended age: 14+
Rating: 4 out of 5

Wow. Wow wow wow. Sherman Alexie is a brilliant writer. His humor comes effortlessly, his characters are vivid and three-dimensional, and all of his stories are relatable, yet infused with all the uniqueness that the Spokane Indian culture delivers to its characters--the good and the bad. I found that some of the stories, jokes, and themes got a bit repetitive as the collection went along, but overall I am deeply satisfied with my first Alexie read, and will definitely be checking out this author's other works!

196. Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (Little, Brown / Dec. 2009)



Tags: YA, South, romance, magic, mystery, curse
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Stephenie Meyer, Maggie Stiefvater
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

Ethan Wate can’t wait to get out of Gatlin, South Carolina, where his family has lived for many generations. Nothing new ever happens in Gatlin, and everyone knows everyone else’s business…until the mysterious and beautiful Lena Duchannes arrives in town. Immediately, people dislike Lena, and rumors fly: she’s the niece of the town recluse, Macon Ravenwood, and strange things seem to happen wherever she goes.

However, Ethan feels a powerful connection to Lena, for she has appeared in his dreams for months, as a girl he never manages to save. No matter how much the town shuns him for trying to get to know her, and no matter how much she resists him, Ethan is determined to get to know Lena and to find out what his dream means…secrets, dangers, and all.

Review

Beautiful Creatures seems poised to be the next big thing in YA literature. It’s got all the right elements: eclectic characters, villains, magic, and true love. It’s almost 600 pages long, but you’ll be unable to put it down, even during the slower and more confusing moments.

The story of Ethan and Lena is primarily a romance, one that will appeal to YA romance buffs who appreciate Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight and Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver. This means that at times their romance can feel a little unbelievable in its intensity and all-encompassing-ness. However, that the story is told from Ethan’s point of view makes it wonderfully sweet, a romance to swoon over. Ethan is an accessible protagonist whose complex feelings of alienation, desire for hometown escape, and doomed love for an unaccepted girl makes him heartachingly real and desirable in readers’ eyes. Ethan Wate will make all bad YA boys ashamed of their rebelliousness, and that’s saying something.

I very much enjoyed the way in which the paranormal element was treated in Beautiful Creatures. I had no idea that that was what BC was going to be about, and so in the interest of not spoiling your reading experience, I’m just going to say that. I loved its slow but satisfying buildup.

One might mistakenly expect that a 600-page YA book would be tedious and slow-moving, but Beautiful Creatures just might prove that long YA books are the best kind. The story moves along at a delicious and deliberate pace, slowly building atmosphere and making you beg to have your growing list of questions answered. Occasionally some scenes and conversations between characters may seem a bit too drawn out or unnecessary, but overall the book is as easy to devour as a cool glass of iced tea on a hot summer day.

Overall, you won’t regret reading Beautiful Creatures, no matter what kind of reader you are. From the paranormal aspect, to the romance, to the rich Southern atmosphere, this book will be sure to draw you in. Don’t miss out on the book that is worthy of all the hype it’s getting!

197. The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove by Lauren Kate



Tags: YA, popularity, murder
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Courtney Summers, Kate Brian, Cecily von Ziegesar
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

High school senior Natalie Hargrove has worked hard to get from trailer trash to a ruling member of Palmetto High School. The culmination of her work should be the much coveted Palmetto Princess crown, alongside her longtime boyfriend, Mike, who should be a shoo-in for Prince. However, one person may stand in her way of couples glory and domination: her least favorite person, Justin Balmer, who is a reminder of all that Natalie has tried to get away from.

After a wild party, Natalie and Mike devise a prank to give Justin a little of what he deserves…except that the prank turns out horribly wrong. Now, Natalie must scramble to cover up their tracks and lay the blame on someone else as everyone she trusts begins slipping away from her. Can Natalie use her considerable scheming prowess to save her reputation and future, or has she crossed the line this time?

Review

The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove is an unapologetically guilty-pleasure read that will make your insides squirm with half-pleasure, half-horror. With a wonderful voice, tantalizing characters, and a steady plot, this book seems tailor-made for teen girls looking for a fast and furious read.

Natalie reminds me of many unapologetically bitchy and manipulative queens of high school society. Her voice is spot-on and full of judgment against those who cross her path as well as the constant fear that she will be exposed as a fraud. She is the girl you love to hate, and yet can’t read enough about. Though definitely callous at times, Natalie is also simultaneously the desperate, lost girl struggling to gain footing on a suspicious land. Her actions may be despicable, but she is also wonderfully justified in doing what she did, which is a remarkable achievement on Lauren Kate’s part.

Indeed, I found almost all of the characters fascinating with their complicatedly bad sides. Here, there are no perfect characters, and it’s almost like watching a CW drama, the way you can’t look away from these train wrecks of characters. (On a side note, I believe I also have a bit of a bad-boy crush on Justin.) Nobody really changes much throughout the story, but they are interesting enough that you just might overlook that and focus on the drama itself.

The story slowly unfurls Natalie’s past, as well as what happened between her and Justin. It can be an infuriating process, the way hints are dropped sporadically, unhelpfully. However—and it may be my slightly masochistic side saying this—I found the ending satisfying, in all its shock and, yes, even unexpected sweetness.

The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove may not be for everyone, but if you’re willing to overlook the fact that all of these characters and the entire situation itself are far from admirable, you’re in for an enjoyable ride.

174stephxsu
Dec 3, 2009, 10:17pm Top

198. Stitches by David Small



Tags: graphic novel, memoir, child abuse, cancer
Recommended age: 16+
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Stitches is David Small’s memoir of his horrific childhood with parents who believed that silence was the best way of raising a child. When David was younger, his father treated his sinus infections with heavy doses of radiation. As a result, he developed cancer, and without telling him the reasons for their actions, doctors removed half his vocal chords and rendered him silent at the age of fourteen. Stitches is drawn in a sparse, black-and-white style that’s reminiscent of noir and horror films, as we the readers perceive David’s world through his child’s eyes. The result is a stomach-twisting but compelling graphic novel memoir.

199. Fallen by Lauren Kate (Random House / Dec. 8, 2009)



Tags: YA, romance, paranormal, fallen angels, reform school
Recommended age: 14+
Similar Authors: P. C. Cast, Kristin Cast, Stephenie Meyer, Claudia Gray
Rating: 2 out of 5

Summary

When 17-year-old Luce Price enters Sword & Cross reform boarding school in Savannah, Georgia, she is immediately attracted to the aloof, gorgeous, and strangely achingly familiar Daniel Grigori. Luce could swear she feels a connection with him, but Daniel rebuffs all her attempts to get to know him better, and even though another hot guy named Cam is paying her a lot of attention, Luce still can’t Daniel out of her mind.

Little does Luce know that Daniel is trying to stay away from her for both of their sakes. For they are irrevocably connected by a cruel curse—one that will kill Luce if she gets too close to Daniel…

Review

If Fallen is the future of YA supernatural fiction, then I fear for this genre. Fallen is painfully dull and slow, with very little besides the concept of fallen angels and the suggestion of an impossible romance to recommend it to readers.

If the plot of Fallen were to race a glacier, the glacier would win. From the moment Luce arrives at Sword & Cross, the plot feels like it’s always tripping over its own feet in order to explain itself, and to no avail. I don’t mind a gradually building plot if it contains atmosphere and sets up the exposition well, but the setting of Sword & Cross was never fully realized for me, and the events in Luce’s past that landed her at reform school never attained credibility. Luce floats through boarding school life in a series of disconnected and awkwardly written encounters with her schoolmates, none of which helped me understand Luce or any of the other characters. All of the action and scenes required to get the gist of the story occurred within the last 60 pages, and what happened was not worth plodding through 400 pages of irrelevance to get to that point.

All of the characters in Fallen were static and artificial, something that less discerning Twilight-fangirling tweens won’t mind but that more well-read readers will definitely take issue with. Luce is about as passive as a bowl of rice pudding. You think Bella didn’t do anything for three-and-a-half 400-plus-page-long books? Luce just might make Bella look like head of the school spirit squad. She flits from scene to scene, never being fully integrated into the immediacy of the story and never coalescing into a comprehensive character. The thing I most remember about her was that she had short hair from when it got burnt off in a fire. If the way I describe a character is by the length of her hair and not any, I dunno, actual personality traits, you better believe that is a serious problem.

Along those same lines, Cam and Daniel were similarly bland male love interests whose only identifiable characteristic was their inexplicable—and inevitable, in this sort of book—attraction to Luce. I constantly got the two mixed up and couldn’t pick them out from a handful of YA male love interests if I had to. I am hardly questioning the appeal of stalker-y, unequal-power-dynamics love—there is a reason why so many of us love bad boys so much—but to have Cam and Daniel be so one-dimensional and predictable, while the story practically insists that we’re supposed to find them heart-stoppingly attractive…sorry, but I really don’t need that.

We’ve all heard the quiet rumblings that fallen angels might be the Next Big Thing in YA lit, but only if they’re done right. Fallen read like a boarding school story with smatterings of the supernatural dashed throughout, the angels-and-demons element only manifesting itself in the final few chapters. It was a discomforting read because it was so detached from those elements of humanity that make even the most fantastical novel relatable: the Southern setting was never fully realized, and the characters were difficult to empathize with.

That being said, Fallen gets two stars from me because I can totally see its appeal to middle school girls who have devoured the entire Twilight series and now desperately need something to read in between the next House of Night book and the Eclipse movie coming out in Summer 2010. It contains all the elements of a trendy YA bestseller: a paranormal element, a love triangle, two powerful love interests who compete for the same girl. Unfortunately, the great idea was poorly executed, and I won’t be following the rest of this series. However, consider asking your thirteen-year-old sister or cousin for her opinion on Fallen, and you might get a totally different point of view, one that justifies why Random House believes that Fallen will be huge in YA.

200. Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves (Simon & Schuster / Jan. 5, 2010)



Tags: YA, paranormal, magic, mental illness, manic depression, family
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Holly Black, Sarah Rees Brennan
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

Hanna Jarvinen is an unusual teenager. She is biracial, sees and hears hallucinations, wears only purple to remember her dead father (with whose ghost she still communicates)—and is hardly extraordinary when she arrives on her mother’s doorstep in Portero, Texas, after her aunt kicked her out.

That’s because Portero is far weirder than Hanna could’ve imagined. It contains dangerous monsters and many doors between worlds. Portero is hardly the place for Hanna to fall in love and get to know her mother better, but Hanna is nothing if not determined to get what she wants, in spite of both human and inhuman obstacles.

Review

Not since I read Holly Black’s Tithe five years ago have I encountered a story as unique and fascinatingly compelling as Dia Reeve’s debut novel, Bleeding Violet. Indeed, Bleeding Violet defies adequate description and categorization, blending snark, relationship issues, and the supernatural into a sexy paranormal read that will be hard to forget.

From page one, Dia unapologetically yanks readers into a dark and twisted world where monsters and mental illness are simply Hanna and Portero’s way of life, confused people be damned. While this total immersion in the world of Portero may be initially jarring, once I began figuring things out, I felt like I had been let in on a terrific secret, and I LOVED being in Hanna’s world. It’s brutal and shocking, and not for one second can you look away.

Hanna is a protagonist like no other, with her crazy thoughts and her way of looking at the world. She’s slightly disturbing yet inexplicably alluring, the kind of girl you know you should stay away from but who part of you almost wants to be. Hanna is fearlessly original in her interactions with the Porterenes: the awkwardness of her developing relationship with her mother is well drawn, and I found Hanna’s budding romance with Wyatt, a local boy with an important job in monster-policing, to be one of the most well-developed romances I’ve read in recent YA literature. From beginning to end it’s no fairy-tale relationship: there’s no immediate rush of physical and soul-mate attraction, but rather the blossoming of it through witty repartees.

Bleeding Violet is not for those who like their reading fluffy. It’s dark, unapologetic in its occasional gory and weird scenes. Some may disapprove of Hanna and Wyatt’s physical relationship (though personally I found it sexy and well done). Others may be too hopelessly confused by the first couple of chapters or the occasional vagueness of the plot to connect with it. But if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind dark read, I will find it hard to resist thrusting this book into your hands. Read it, and maybe you will savor it like I did!

175stephxsu
Edited: Dec 3, 2009, 10:40pm Top

201. The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale

This is totally a guilty-pleasure reread for me. (For reference, my review of it is in Message #97.) Don't you just love when you reread a book that you originally loved, and it's just as good as you remembered it? I still laughed until I thought my stomach would burst, still cried endlessly in the last third. Maybe I'm a sap. Or maybe I've just found my book soulmate. Yay!

202. Dracula by Bram Stoker



Tags: paranormal, vampires, epistolary
Recommended age: 16+
Rating: 3 out of 5

Dracula is pretty much known as the grandfather of vampire literature, and I was really excited to read it for my Victorian lit class. Sadly, however, it failed to appeal to me. Stoker badly needed an editor: there were distracting narrative inconsistencies all over the place. The characters seemed archetypal, but not in a good way. The women in the story were either highly sexualized or disturbingly victimized, an anti-New Woman novel if there ever was one. Overall, this book was a disappointment for me.

203. Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondeley

Tags: British lit, Victorian lit, feminism, writing, religion, friendship
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

In Red Pottage, childhood friends Rachel West and Hester Gresley exist in entirely different realms within late 19th century British society, with Rachel facing a sudden transition from an impoverished but independent typist to the heiress of an industrial fortune and Hester struggling to write her second novel in the oppressive conditions of her provincial clergyman brother's home. The novel follows the story of their friendship through Rachel's romantic entanglements with Hugh Scarlett, "an inferior man, ...without moral backbone, ... the stuff out of which liars and cowards are made," and Hester's attempts to abide by conventional social expectations while writing an unconventional novel. Red Pottage transgresses genre boundaries; it incorporates aspects of popular sensation novels by using a provocative plot addressing predominant Victorian obsessions, the New Woman novels depicting women transgressing traditional gender roles, and social problem novels pondering the rampant poverty and harsh social barriers.

In its eclectic thematics, Red Pottage attempts to synthesize various facets of the late Victorian era, providing its readers with a more comprehensive view of Victorian life rather than directing the reader to a predetermined ending. The novel unobtrusively integrates issues of labor, theology, gender roles, church politics, slumming, literary culture and the economics of publication, and the impact of literary genre on modern life. Its narrative style similarly synthesizes earlier Victorian realism with later Jamesian innovations, in its use of multiple narrative subjectivities. Despite its use of a dual plotline, a common feature of Victorian novels, Red Pottage diverges from the norm by never fully integrating the two stories, except through subverting the marriage trope.

...And yes, I totally copied that from the prospectus intro that my 19th-century lit class wrote together. :) As a personal note, I WILL add, though, that I really enjoyed it. It read easily, was entertaining and witty, and still gave a great amount to think about. This long-lost gem should be reintroduced to the 21st century, where I think it will find a respectable and appreciative audience.

204. The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein by Libby Schmais (Random House / Dec. 8, 2009)



Tags: MG, YA, diary, French culture, friendship, existentialism
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Helen Fielding, Louise Rennison
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

Lotus is obsessed with French culture. She swears by French dieting, idolizes French existentialists, and drops French words into her conversation and writing as much as possible. Lotus’ dream is to move to Paris, immerse herself in the culture, and hopefully find a hot Parisian boyfriend. The only problem is, she’s stuck in Brooklyn, New York, with stressed-out parents and a chess-master little brother who make light of her dedication to the French culture.

When Lotus and her best friend, Joni, start a French club at school, they figure they’ll be the only members…until Sean walks in the room. New to school, Sean is cute and an existentialist, thus making him the perfect boy for both Lotus and Joni’s affections. Sean doesn’t seem to have a problem being with both of them at the same time, but the stress wears on Joni and Lotus’ friendship. Will an upcoming French club trip to Montreal repair the girls’ friendship, or has Sean destroyed it forever?

Review

Chatty, cute, and touching, Libby Schmais’ YA debut, The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein, will satisfy fans of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones' Diary and Louise Rennison’s Georgia Nicholson series.

Lotus is a relatable protagonist whose obsession with French culture brings a flair of uniqueness to novels-in-diary-format. Lotus may be occasionally shallow, dumb, and obsessed, which will turn her off to readers who don’t enjoy those kinds of characters, but she is loyal to her friends and family through and through. The most remarkable part of this book is Lotus’ growth from self-obsessed, whiny teenager to a mature young woman, capable of making sacrifices for others, but still not above being good and true to herself. Often she doesn’t quite know how she can help, but whether it’s hanging around rehearsals while her father attempts to make his playwriting debut, or helping her teacher make over her life, she tries her utmost hardest and approaches everything she does with the complete goodness of her heart.

The supporting characters are well drawn for a story told entirely in the protagonist’s diary entries. There are underlying conflicts and subplots involving Lotus’ parents, younger brother, teacher, grandmother…Lotus’ world is rich with interpersonal relationships, and the other people enhance Lotus’ appeal as well, as she is an extrovert and shows her best side when she interacts with others. Sean is, admittedly, a bit weak as the supposed love interest, but his lack of character didn’t disturb me as much because there was so many better and more important things going on.

Overall, The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein is a great read if you enjoy novels written in diary entries, chatty main characters, and have ever thought of escaping your boring hometown for someplace more exotic. I hope that fans of Bridget Jones and Georgia Nicholson will give Lotus and her story a try, because this is a worthy addition to the subgenre. Vive la one and only Lotus!

176stephxsu
Dec 14, 2009, 10:14am Top

205. The Type-Writer Girl by Grant Allen alias Olive Pratt Rayner




Tags: Victorian lit, New Woman novel
Recommended age: 16+
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

This was a read for my 19th-century Victorian lit class, and I wouldn't have picked it up otherwise, and for good reason. The voice of the first-person main character feels too forced, and the pacing is really choppy: lots of random things happen in the first half, and what feels like an entirely different story occurs in the second. Nevertheless, I can still sympathize with Juliet Appleton and even find her adventures romantic, in a way.

206. Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor




Tags: YA, paranormal, magic, romance
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Francesca Lia Block, Holly Black
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

Lips Touch: Three Times consists of three short stories involving the supernatural and—what else?—a kiss that starts or ends it all. In “Goblin Fruit,” Kizzy’s excruciating desire to fit in makes her the perfect prey for a mysterious and gorgeous boy, who seems to be able to give her everything she wants. In “Spicy Little Curses,” a demon’s deadly curse forces a girl to remain mute, until the love of her life shows up and she must decide what she’s willing to risk for him. And in “Hatchling,” readers are introduced to a world of the Druj, soulless demonic creatures that keep humans as pets as the only way of experiencing life as they cannot.

Review

It is my experience that there are far more novels in YA literature than short stories, but Laini Taylor makes you wish there were more stories as exotic, rich, and romantic as hers. Lips Touch: Three Times is an astonishing blend of the magical and the universal, told in elegant prose and accentuated by breathtaking illustrations.

In a genre that one may argue is overpopulated by the supernatural and paranormal, Laini’s worlds stand out because of their complexity. On the surface, things are romantically lush: exotic locales, unique predicaments, beautiful dress and decorations. All described in prose that may not be as jaw-dropping and powerful as Francesca Lia Block’s, but is still beautiful nonetheless, and perhaps more approachably so. Laini’s stories, however, are also deep: they are full of ambiguous gray areas that may cause you to think beyond the stories just being nice to read.

Jim DiBartolo's full-page illustrations are a jaw-dropping addition to this already beautiful, dual-colored book. His drawings precede each each story and tell a story all on their own, and add a sort of mysticism to these already whimsical stories.

Pick up this collection of Laini Taylor’s stories if you want to forget about the real world for a few hours and be swept away to enchanted lands full of mystery and magic.

207. Shadow Kiss by Richelle Mead (Vampire Academy, Book 3)




Tags: YA, paranormal, vampires, boarding school
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Melissa de la Cruz, J. K. Rowling, Charlaine Harris, Rachel Caine
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

Several months after the horrifying events of winter break, dhampir guardian-in-training Rose Hathaway is still not recovered. She even thinks she’s seeing her old friend Macon’s ghost, even though there’s no such thing as ghosts…is there? But before long there are bigger things for her to worry about. Field experience is beginning, and she’s unfortunately assigned to guard Christian, her Moroi best friend Lissa’s boyfriend. Christian can be rather off-putting, and Rose hates it when she gets sucked into Lissa’s head for their romantic interludes due to her and Lissa’s mysterious “shadow-kissed” mental connection. Then, Lissa’s uncle, Victor Dashkov, is put on trial for trying to harm Lissa, and there’s a scary chance that he might get off.

In between all this, Rose still has to worry about her feelings for Dimitri, her guardian teacher, as well as prepare to graduate. With all of these things going on, is it any surprise when the worst thing that can happens catches them all off guard—with heart-shattering consequences?

Review

Richelle Mead is the J. K. Rowling of YA paranormal literature. The Vampire Academy books are rich, layered, sexy, and yet as addictive as a box of high-quality chocolates.

One of the things I like most about the Vampire Academy series, and which I found to be much more prominent in Shadow Kiss, is Mead’s development of the interesting class dynamics between the dhampir, half-human half-vampires, and the Moroi, the full vampires whom the dhampir train their whole lives to protect. As a top-notch dhampir guardian-to-be, Rose has unquestioningly accepted the way her society works, but the tremendously well executed unfolding of these societal complexities promises an explosion in later books in this series that delves beyond straightforward paranormal romances or good vs. evil plots. And that kind of layered goodness rarely occurs in YA lit!

Moral and sociopolitical richness aside, Shadow Kiss has plenty to offer in terms of interpersonal development. Rose and Dimitri’s impossible romance is written deliciously, with a good balance of suspense and satisfaction. While the plot may run slowly at some points, paused to attend to various subplots, Mead’s strength of writing engrossing characters runs all throughout the book.

Upon finishing the book, you will scream in delightful anguish and immediately want to rush out to read the next Vampire Academy book, Blood Promise. This is one vampire series that I will not be giving up on anytime soon, and one that I will recommend to many, many readers for years to come!

177stephxsu
Edited: Dec 15, 2009, 10:09pm Top

208. Also Known as Harper by Ann Haywood Leal




Tags: jfic, middle grade, homelessness, family, writing, poetry
Recommended age: 8+
Similar authors: Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Patricia Reilly Giff
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

Fifth grader Harper Lee Morgan is named after her mother’s favorite author, and Harper knows that the poems that she writes are good. However, circumstances beyond her control must take precedence. When they suddenly lose their home, it is up to Harper to watch her younger brother, Hemingway, while their mother tries to find extra jobs to make some money and be able to find a real home. Harper is devastated that her family situation will prevent her from being able to read her poems at her school’s poetry competition, but with help from unexpected places—new friends and old enemies—Harper realizes that poetry can be performed in any environment.

Review

Also Known As Harper is an easy and gentle read that introduces young readers to the delicate issue of homelessness through the eyes of a thoroughly appealing protagonist.

The occasionally whimsical and melodramatic plot is anchored by Harper Lee, whose passions, vulnerabilities, and narration contain ageless appeal. She is a very well realized character, and approaches the events in her life with objectivity and fluidity: she is healthily skeptical of some scenarios, but is willing to admit that she was wrong and has a lot to learn. Her interactions with her younger brother are adorable; in fact, the sense of familial strength in Also Known as Harper will make you want to give your siblings, parents, or children a big hug for just existing.

Some of the supporting characters, however, are not believable as Harper Lee, and their characterization can seem repetitive and excessive, such as the wheelchair lady’s oft-noted ability to understand Harper better than she understands herself. The resolution is hasty and therefore not as satisfying as it could be, and as I noted earlier, there is a strain of fantastical unbelievability that runs throughout the story. A lot of the situations that Harper, her brother, and her friends stumble upon feel contrived, which is unfortunate, as it detracts from the poignancy of Harper and her family’s predicament.

Also Known as Harper has its amateuristic flaws, but its intentions are clear and good: it illustrates the power of essential relationships to sustain one through the worst situations. As a result, it may be a good book for adults and children to read separately and discuss together.

209. The Red Umbrella by Christina Gonzalez (Knopf / May 11, 2010)




Tags: middle grade, YA, Cuba, Castro regime, forced immigration
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Anne Frank
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

14-year-old Lucia Alvarez’s life is turned upside down when Fidel Castro takes power in Cuba in 1960. Suddenly her best friend is a propaganda-spewing stranger, soldiers brutally kill her father’s business acquaintances, and her parents are being closely watched. Lucia just wants to be an average teenage girl, hanging out with her friends, keeping up with the latest American fashions, and maybe even getting closer to her crush, but that can no longer be.

Then Lucia and her younger brother, Frankie, receive visas to go live with a temporary foster family in Nebraska. The culture shock is great and frightening; can Lucia manage a new language and culture, growing into a young lady in the meantime, when the fate of her parents and her beloved Cuba are so uncertain?

Review

I have never read a novel like Christina Gonzalez’s debut, The Red Umbrella. This is a necessary story about an aspect of Cuban American history that has not received enough attention in YA literature—and best of all, it’s extremely well written and engaging!

Gonzalez writes convincingly of all her characters. Lucia is partly your average teenager, desiring friendship, love, acceptance, and pretty things. Her parents are a believable blend of loving, strict, and worried, and Frankie is a cute and appropriately occasionally annoying younger brother. The way the story follows Lucia through this difficult time in her life, however, is a miraculous achievement: my heart ached as I read about the difficulties she faced, and I saw a distinct, yet subtle, growth in her as she realizes the extent to which Castro’s takeover would affect her life.

The pacing and plot were a little uneven, though, and thus not as fulfilling as it could’ve been. The first two-thirds of the book takes place within a few fast and furious months in Cuba, as the revolution starts taking over Cubans’ lives. This part of the book is great, as we see Lucia and her family struggling to remain true to themselves in the face of so much propaganda and pressure. However, when Lucia and Frankie spend time with the elderly white couple in Nebraska while they await news of their parents, time sees to stop and go in choppy bits, covering more than half a year in just a few dozen pages. As a result, I felt that Lucia’s adjustment to American life and subsequent maturation were rushed, and that the characters in this section of the book were underdeveloped.

Pacing aside, this was a fantastic read, great for everyone. The Alvarezes are a family to cheer for throughout the whole story. Never before have I seen this aspect of Cuban American history discussed in such an approachable and sympathetic manner. I am thankful for this book, hope others will strongly consider reading it when it comes out, and definitely look forward to anything Christina has next for us!

210. Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore (Bloomsbury / Dec. 22, 2009)




Tags: YA, historical fantasy, fairies, politics
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Libba Bray
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

Nimira’s family used to be respected and admired courtesans in their home country; Nimira’s mother was an accomplished and beautiful dancer. Now, however, Nimira is reduced to singing and dancing for a pittance in front of jeering, unappreciative crowds in an unfriendly country. Then, a sorcerer named Hollin Parry offers Nimira an unusual position and a chance for a better life. Nimira is to sing along with an automaton that Hollin has acquired, an exquisitely wrought piece of craftsmanship that Hollin says was made by fairy magic.

It turns out there’s more to the automaton than everyone thinks, for Nimira begins to suspect that there is an actual man trapped inside the clockwork body. As Nimira digs deeper into the automaton’s past, she uncovers secrets all around her, and a threatening act of political conspiracy that may lead to war between humans and fairies.

Review

With a premise like that, one can have only high expectations for Jaclyn Dolamore’s debut novel, Magic Under Glass, and indeed, most of them are met in this sensuously written historical fantasy set in a magical and dangerous world.

The writing in this book is exquisite. Jaclyn Dolamore effortlessly captures readers’ attention with her unassuming descriptions of this fantastically different world. Nimira’s voice is appealingly innocent in this politically corrupt sphere, and yet we can also feel that she’s not going to passively accept her lot in life. The love triangle between Nimira, Hollis, and Erris (the automaton), while slightly strained at times, is also gentle and leaves a lot for your own interpretation and enjoyment. Its hushed and restrained nature is appropriate for the untrustworthy world in which they move, a world where their every movement is watched, and someone’s always ready to blackmail or threaten you.

However, I felt like the story never lived up to its full potential. An impending fairy war, political corruption, an impossible romance…how wonderful does it sound? Unfortunately, Magic Under Glass concerned itself with only a small corner of this world—namely, the development of Nimira and Erris’ relationship, with what felt like only occasional intrusions from the larger world. This disjuncture between the story’s world and the actual tale that was told us felt jarring to me and fell a little short of what I desired from reading the first few chapters. The ending, also, felt too tame, and seemed to be a setup for a sequel, which meant that it ended rather abruptly and a little disappointingly.

Still, Magic Under Glass was an intriguing read, and fans of Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy should definitely check this out. With a great blend of magic, political intrigue, and an “Old World” feel, this might be an unusual and appealing read for you!

178stephxsu
Edited: Dec 24, 2009, 2:20am Top

Falling a bit behind on writing reviews due to my finals, so I'm just going to place these here for myself to remember and I'll get to them as soon as I can!

211. Bound to Shadows by Keri Arthur (Riley Jensen Guardian, Book 8)




Tags: paranormal, romance, vampires, werewolves, crime, murder, mystery
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Gena Showalter, Richelle Mead, Charlaine Harris
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Summary

Half-werewolf, half-vampire Riley Jensen’s job as guardian in keeping the peace between humans and supernaturals is never easy. Her latest job involves the mysterious beheadings of vampires near a sleazy bar run by a sex-appeal-oozing vampire. Riley feels that the case is tied to the seemingly inexplicable deaths of several women throughout Melbourne. As she struggles to find the connection and the killers, however, Riley’s love life is shaken by the reappearance of her werewolf soul mate, the hit man Kye. Riley’s wolf side can’t help but be attracted to this heartless man, but her heart really belongs to Quinn, an old vampire.

Review

Bound to Shadows will satisfy fans of this series, be enjoyable for fans of paranormal lit published in mass market paperback format, and most likely be frustrating for those with a wider range of literary interests. This ambitious novel had a lot of flaws that bothered me but would probably go unnoticed by steady readers of this genre.

Riley’s world is complex, with supernatural creatures of all kind running together, getting in one another’s way, adding multiple dimensions to the story. Personally I am a vampire girl, but I thought the werewolf aspect of Riley’s nature was well done: it has its own share of unavoidable instincts and desires (most of which involve lust and sex, I’ll tell you up front). You can’t go a chapter without running into something new and exciting, and I appreciated the way that Arthur was able to introduce all these complexities to us without getting us hopelessly tangled.

The characters in this book were well drawn, appealing and believable. I particularly liked Kye—but then again, I’ve always had a soft spot for the seemingly hopeless bad ones. If you prefer your lovers to be gentlemanly, you’ll root for Quinn. Riley is, unfortunately, not as likable as her love interests, for I often found her narration, dialogue, and thought process to be a bit stilted.

In fact, the writing was what held back my opinion of this book and series. Much of the story seemed a little too staged to be believable: the author was clearly following a set route around the story’s world, with a completely different scene and subplot abruptly following the development of another. In addition, the romance scenes were blunt, and thus unromantic. There is a lot of buildup to the act, and then the actual sex was treated very brusquely, leaving readers detached from Riley at those moments.

That being said, Keri Arthur’s ambitious ideas make sure that she doesn’t shy away from the tragedy. Bound to Shadows ends sadly: I was practically screaming in tears at the book at the end. But I can’t help but being impressed at Arthur’s decisions. Like I said earlier, Bound to Shadows will definitely make Riley Jensen fans happy. I don’t think I will read this series, but those who love their paranormal worlds complex and sexy will get a kick out of these books.

212. Fat Cat by Robin Brande




Tags: YA, obesity, science
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Megan McCafferty, Carolyn Mackler, E. Lockhart
Rating: 5 out of 5

Summary

Cat has the best plan for her science class research and experimentation project. It’s practically guaranteed that she’ll beat Matt McKinney, her intellectual rival and ex-best friend who betrayed her in middle school on account of her weight. Using herself as a test subject, Cat plans to return to the days of the early Homo erectus and live a similar lifestyle: no processed foods, no modern utilities, no transportation except on foot.

Her plan needs a bit of tweaking, but the thing that really needs to change is Cat’s attitude towards herself. She’s doing this for the grade and to beat Matt…or does she also want to not be fat anymore? And as more and more mediocre guys begin to pay attention to her, will Cat realize that the lack of spark may not be because she’s not interested in love…but rather that her heart was stolen already years before?

Review

Brilliance like this unfortunately still rarely exists in YA lit, and it’s a real shame, because YA lit needs more authors like Robin Brande. Fat Cat is funny, wise, super-intelligent, and heart-stoppingly romantic. It’s the kind of book that makes you smile weeks after reading it as you remember why you still enjoy and read YA contemporary realistic fiction.

Readers of all shapes and sizes (body and brain) will be able to connect with Cat. Hers is the voice of a levelheaded, smart, yet insecure teenager. Brande does not dumb down her fictional teenagers, with the surprising yet joyful result that they will end up appealing to everyone. How often do we get to read about smart girls who are good at and into math and science? Not often enough; my inner physicist is jumping with happiness even as I write this and reflect on Fat Cat.

Cat—and thus, us readers—learns an important lesson without sounding aggressively moralistic. The theme of Fat Cat is a powerful one, hinting at the harmful effects of our modern-day materialistic, processed consumerist culture. Cat’s development from bitter girl with a low body image to a happier, healthier, more energetic, and more creative young woman may just about turn smart readers off of junk food. I honestly laid off the Oreos for several weeks after reading this book, so unappealing the thought of sweets were to me. Rarely does a book have so strong a hold on me in the rest of my life!

The first half of the story focuses on Cat’s science project, while the second half discusses more her relationships with other people. The change of scope is a little bizarre and disconcerting, most likely because the science part is so wonderful to read, but I appreciated the character development of this book. The main “cast” of characters is great, particularly Cat’s best friend, as well as Cat’s romance.

Fat Cat is a story you catch yourself thinking about randomly even weeks after reading it. It’s also the book you’ll want to talk about to your friends, your mother, your teacher, that random middle-aged lady sitting next to you at the bus stop….It’s the book that you’ll hold up and say, “See? This is what quality YA literature is like. Now excuse me while I reread it; you may get your own copy elsewhere, if you’d like.”

213. Airhead by Meg Cabot (Airhead, Book 1)




Tags: middle grade, YA, body image, celebrities, conspiracy
Recommended age: 12+
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

16-year-old Emerson Watts’ biggest concerns are playing video games and trying to get her best friend, Christopher, to realize that she’s a girl. But then a freak accident transplants her permanently inside the hot body of Nikki Howard, the entertainment industry’s biggest teen star.

As Em struggles to realize what happened to her, she also must adjust to Nikki’s body’s cravings and fend off advances from an onslaught of male Nikki admirers. She also realizes, however, that being a star may have some unsavory sides to it…

Review

When I read Airhead, I remembered in full force the strength of Meg Cabot’s writing. She is able to take even the most ludicrous or most overused scenarios and make them fun and interesting. Airhead has Meg’s usual charm and humor, though it is not really a standout novel of hers.

Emerson is a great protagonist, earnestly devoted to her video games without overdoing her “outsider status” among her classmates. Nikki is a surprisingly deep and conflicted character—not just your average bitchily perfect “queen.” The plethora of supporting characters are just the slightest bit two-dimensional, but they all have distinct personalities, and all have their good and bad parts, which makes me content to look forward to what else they will do in the sequels.

The plot stalls for most of the book as Em slowly pieces together what happened to her. Indeed, the pace is so slow as to be very nearly infuriating. Airhead seemed like a huge introduction for the rest of the series: nothing in terms of conflict and resolution occurs. It’s difficult to appreciate this as a stand-alone novel. Luckily, the second book in the series, Being Nikki, is out already, and the third, Runaway, is coming out in Spring 2010. I am admittedly still curious to find out what happens to Em inside Nikki’s body, so I will probably continue reading the series to find out. After all, it’s Meg Cabot, and her books are like candy: some are better than others, but you just can’t stop eating any of them!

179stephxsu
Edited: Dec 27, 2009, 10:58pm Top

214. Secrets of Truth and Beauty by Megan Frazer




Tags: YA, obesity, body image, family, secrets, farming, pageants
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Carolyn Mackler, Sarah Dessen
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

Back when she was young and cute, Dara was a talent pageant star. Now, however, she’s in high school and fat. When her interpretation of an English class autobiography project causes the adults—especially her controlling parents—to freak, Dara decides to spend the summer with her estranged older sister, a family secret that her mother never talks about. Summer on a goat farm is like nothing Dara has ever known, but with the help of some new friends and a long-lost sister, Dara just might learn a few things about the importance of love, family, and self-acceptance.

Review

Secrets of Truth and Beauty is a surprisingly sweet read with strong undertones of Sarah Dessen’s work. At times a little choppy, the novel is overall a nice and quick read, perfect for those days when you want a little slice of optimism in the face of hardship.

Characters are strong in this book, but Dara is by far the most well-drawn and most likable. Unlike many other protagonists in books that deal with weight, Dara is not constantly apologetic of it, and undergoes a very real struggle to not let her weight define who she is. Dara’s infuriatingly controlling mother is the perfect foil to her growth in self-esteem; you’ll want to step right into the story and give Mrs. Cohen a good hard slap in the face. We can relate all too well to Dara’s struggle to love herself, when other important people in her life cannot seem to love her as she is.

When the plot moves to the goat farm, the story loses a bit of its footing and credibility as we are introduced to a number of characters that are never quite fully fleshed out. In the second half of the book there is a bit of wavering as to the story’s main conflict. Is it still about Dara’s learning to work with the body she has? But wait! What about that slightly weird arc regarding homosexuality? And what is UP with the romance that comes out of nowhere? The numerous elements introduced to us in the back half of the story conflicted with one another and made for some confusion.

Still, I definitely enjoyed Secrets of Truth and Beauty. Dara is a darling protagonist, and you will not be able to resist cheering for her as she learns how to believe in herself and not let others’ words affect her so deeply.

215. Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande




Tags: YA, science, ostracism, religion, evolution, church
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Sarah Dessen, Carolyn Mackler
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

Freshman year begins as hell for Mena. Her old church group has ostracized her for something she did that got many of them in legal trouble, and she is the object of their ridicule. Even her parents want as little to do with her as possible. Mena’s only goal is to get through each day as quickly and quietly as possible, but that all changes when she befriends her lab partner, the incredibly smart and outspoken Casey Connor. Casey’s scientific expertise impresses and intimidates Mena, and she feels like she can never be worthy of his attention.

Mena wants nothing more to do with her old crowd, but she can’t help being involved again when they begin to protest the school’s teaching of evolution in science class. Mena spoke up last time because she felt responsible for someone getting hurt. Will she find the courage within herself to stand up for what she believes in again?

Review

Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature is a startling, controversial, humorous, and question-riddled read that is unlike anything out there. It makes science appealing, yet doesn’t blast religion like most books of its ilk are prone to do.

While Mena is a rather infuriatingly passive protagonist, most of the characters are, indeed, well drawn—including Mena’s passivity. The so-called “Back Turners”—Mena’s old and horrendously close-minded church friends—are for the most part evil villain types, but the heroes and heroines are all extremely quirky, intelligent, and lovable. I wanted more action on Mena’s part, but I understand her position of fear, trying to hide from her old friends who now bully her. Mena’s relationship with her disappointed parents could have been more developed, but I appreciated how Brande is not claiming that science is superior to religion, or that the two cannot coexist. Overall, I really enjoyed this well-written and hopeful debut novel.

180sydamy
Dec 22, 2009, 3:19pm Top

Steph, I have to thank you for a wonderful year of reading. I discovered many new and fantastic books that I would never have come across otherwise. My daughter also thanks you and her wishlist loves you!

Hey, post a link to your next years challenge so we don't miss it.
Happy reading a have a great vacation in PR, I'm so jealous! Outlander and The Help are very different books, but each very good and easy enough reads for vacation books. You know, the kind that don't take intense concentration to follow.

181stephxsu
Dec 24, 2009, 2:39am Top

sydamy, thank YOU for all of your lovely comments over the year! Your comments always make me smile: it's nice to know that someone out there is reading this, lol. I will definitely "find" you in 2010. :)

216. The Dark Divine by Bree Despain
(EgmontUSA / Dec. 22, 2009)




Tags: YA, paranormal romance, werewolves, religion, love
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Stephenie Meyer, Maggie Stiefvater, Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

Pastor’s daughter Grace Divine knows that something is not right with the reappearance of Daniel Kalbi, her older brother Jude’s old best friend and almost-brother, who disappeared one night several years ago—the same night Jude came home covered in his own blood. But she doesn’t expect how embroiled in the affairs she ends up being when she falls in love with Daniel, who possesses a powerful and dark secret.

As Grace struggles to live up to her name and help Daniel love himself, she also deals with Jude’s increasingly disturbing behavior towards her and Daniel, and she must decide where she stands after learning Daniel’s devastating secret. Grace may hold the power to save or destroy Daniel’s soul in her hands—now she must decide how much she is willing to sacrifice for him.

Review

The Dark Divine is an interesting but ultimately underwhelming read that will still be eagerly embraced by paranormal romance fans of Twilight, Shiver, and other similar books.

The best thing about The Dark Divine was the way it rewrote the typical werewolf story and infused it with history, magic, religion, and the balance of good and evil. It gave depth to Daniel’s werewolf character. I’m not a big werewolf girl, nor am I religious, but I enjoyed the way the two unexpectedly intertwined and enhanced one another in this book.

Unfortunately, the characters were for me rather difficult to connect with, as most of them felt like types I’ve read many times before. Grace was an extremely passive protagonist who elicited little sympathy from me. The tension between Grace’s parents often felt forced and unexplained. Daniel started out as stereotypical, but as the plot finally built and his background was finally revealed, he turned into a much more believable character.

As for the romance, it felt like one that I’ve read many times before: good girls feels undeniable attraction with bad boy, who acts like a jerk initially but actually reciprocates the feelings, and True Love Ends Happily Ever After. The familiarity of the course of the romance was unimpressive and rather disappointing to me.

The plot was rather infuriatingly slow, which may put off more impatient readers, but it does eventually build into an exciting paranormal world with an action-packed, heart-stopping ending. It does take an inventive writer to pull off what Bree Despain has as the ending, and I found it believable, heart-stopping, and satisfying. Overall, The Dark Divine was perhaps not the book for me, but fans of Twilight-esque true love paranormal romances will find it a great addition to the genre.

217. Secrets of a Christmas Box by Steven Hornby




Tags: juvenile fiction, holiday, Christmas, adventure
Recommended age: 2+ (for read-aloud)
Rating: 1.5 out of 5

Summary

Deep in the recesses of one family’s Christmas tree, many ornaments are waking up from their year-long nap. When Larry the Snowman discovers that his brother is missing from the tree, he sets off with his friends—his girlfriend, Debbie the Reindeer Woman, the devoted Tinsel, and newcomer Splint—on a never-before-done adventure: they are going to leave the tree to find out what happened to Larry’s brother. What they discover is much more sinister than they could ever imagine, and it’s up to the brave ornaments to save the day for them all…or die trying.

Review

Secrets of a Christmas Box is another of those books that is difficult to market. At around 200 pages full of mostly text, it’s too advanced for a toddler or early elementary school kid which is probably the ideal audience for this story. The occasional small illustration will not satisfy the young audience’s desire for literary participation. And the infantilizing tone of the book will turn away older readers.

Perhaps the best thing one can do with this book is to have it as a holiday read-aloud, or a bedtime story for really young children. The author is a pretty successful writer for the silver screen, but his tendencies to “write young” show in the clichéd dialogue: the human parents of the house in which the tree is located, for example, only address one another as “love” and talk of mundane subjects that come straight out of a fifties TV sitcom like Leave It to Beaver. Indeed, Hornby’s original idea had been to write this story as a screenplay for an animated film, and I believe it would’ve worked a lot better that way. Little kids would be much more entertained if the cheesy story and writing were accompanied by cool animated effects.

It was a cute idea, but it’s extremely difficult to get past the writing to grasp the themes of this book. Parents and guardians of young children can consider this as a cute little story to read by the fireplace (you can really ham up the voices with this dialogue), but those who don’t have small children may want to pass on this one.

182stephxsu
Dec 27, 2009, 11:21pm Top

218. Stolen by Lucy Christopher




Tags: YA, kidnapping, Australia, Stockholm syndrome
Recommended age: 16+
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

Gemma is sixteen when she is taken from a Bangkok airport and brought to no-man’s land in the wild and dusty Australian desert. Her kidnapper, Ty, says he stole her from the life she knew back in London in order to save her from the soulless lifestyle of zombie-like commercial conventionality and acquiescence. But Gemma wants nothing to do with Ty and his independent existence: she just wants to get back to her old life.

As time passes with just the two of them, however, Gemma learns of Ty’s past, his reasoning, and even begins to see the desert in a new light.

Review

Written in letter format addressed to Ty, Stolen is a startlingly unique and utterly haunting UK debut that is sure to take the world by storm. It is a detailed exploration of the human psyche under extreme conditions, a vivid portrayal of Australian wilderness, and a rare literary accomplishment.

Gemma’s emotions, thoughts, and behavior perfectly befit those of who have been taken, and are now being held, against their will. Of course I don’t have any personal experience to back my claim up, but I found myself nodding along to her thoughts and actions, knowing that, if I were ever in her situation, I would react the same way. Gemma is not universally likable: she is at many times petty, reckless, and frightened to senselessness. However, that makes her more appropriately human for this book than the “perfect” protagonist: she is the worst side of ourselves that would come out in similar conditions.

I found Ty sympathetic, and understood his logic much more quickly than Gemma did, even though his methods of carrying out his dreams were downright dangerous and psychotic. Lucy Christopher gradually reveals his troubled past to readers, and the beauty of it is that at the end we are not sure where we should stand. Should we agree with Gemma’s desire to return to her old life, even with knowing how stale, monotonous, and “unreal” it would be? Or does Ty’s version of removing oneself from the corrupt society in order to find a more fulfilling lifestyle among nature make more sense?

There is something remarkably intimate about the way in which Stolen is written. Because it is written in first-person letter format to Ty, we connect, remarkably, with Gemma (first-person narration) AND Ty, the “you” whom the letter is addressing, since we are placed in a position of essentially being both Gemma and Ty at the same time. Stolen makes it clear that there are no easy answers to this scenario, and readers can feel free to make of it what they will.

Stolen is not without its flaws. We are not given enough information about Gemma’s old life to decide whether or not Ty was justified in taking Gemma away or to reach a decision about which “life” Gemma should choose. The desert experiences can become a bit tedious as they blend into one another, and despite the excellent characterization, some of the scenes were a tad too dramatic for me to despite. However, it all comes down to the fact that Stolen is a remarkable achievement and an alluring, nearly unputdownable read. Pick this book up and see if you don’t get sucked into Gemma and Ty’s story yourself.

219. The Ever Breath by Juliana Baggott




Tags: juvenile fiction, middle grade, fantasy, adventure, magic, danger
Recommended age: 8+
Similar authors: Eva Ibbotson, Roald Dahl, Mary Pope Osborne
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

Twins Truman and Camille are sent to live with their paternal grandmother when their father disappears. They discover that their grandmother is actually one guardian of the passageway between the human world that they’re used to, and the magical Breath World that consists of all the creatures and phenomena they never believed possible. The two worlds require one another to survive, and the mystical Ever Breath ball keeps the worlds balanced.

However, the Ever Breath has disappeared, and if Camille and Truman don’t embrace their lineage and help out, the passageway could be sealed off and the two worlds could self-destruct. It’s up to the twins to fend off malicious creatures, thwart the iron-fisted Breath World’s government, and locate their dad in a race against time to save the two worlds.

Review

The Ever Breath surprisingly and happily brought me back to memories of days when I devoured books by Eva Ibbotson, Roald Dahl, and the like. Young readers about to move past too-easy chapter books will eagerly swallow up this old-fashioned kid-versus-evil adventure tale.

Truman, Camille, and almost all of the characters are remarkably well developed. Truman, with his countless allergies and medical problems, manages to find his place in the Breath World, while his tough-exterior sister learns that she can be vulnerable and still be okay. They read like they could be your friends, or your classmates.

The world-building is fantastic, drawing us in quickly yet beautifully, with interesting but not overwhelming descriptions and happily paced narration. It is clear from her prose that Baggott knows how to write for late-elementary school kids. However, the ending seemed disproportionately swift and too easily wrapped up compared to the amount of detail and attention paid to introducing the characters, setting, and conflict.

In spite of that, The Ever Breath is still a worthwhile book to steer kids toward. It brings back all the magic of juvenile fantasy that I often reminisce about. I have a feeling that Baggott’s books will go alongside Eva Ibbotson’s as great reads for 8- to 12-year-olds.

220. Tangled by Carolyn Mackler
HarperTeen / Dec. 29, 2009




Tags: YA, short stories, love, suicide, acting, death
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Sarah Dessen, Jaclyn Moriarty
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

A one-week spring break vacation at the Caribbean resort Paradise affects the lives of four very different teenagers. Self-conscious Jena learns which guys are and are not worth it; playboy Dakota begins to realize how much of a misogynistic jerk he’s been; teen actress Skye must come to terms with her past and the fact that it may all be an act for her; and reclusive Owen may at least be ready to come out from behind his computer and meet the girl who’s changed his life.

Review

Veteran talent reigns supreme in this intriguing blend of four short stories. Carolyn Mackler shows that she can make any story idea win over her old and new fans with Tangled.

The four teens’ stories interlap only slightly, but remarkably each one is well defined and strong reads in and of themselves. Jena, Dakota, Skye, and Owen are all flawed, yet their flaws are endearing and human instead of the consequences of shoddy writing. As a result, we are easily able to delve into the minds of these four.

I was surprised at, but not put off by, how little the four stories were actually interconnected. The first three stories end rather abruptly and incompletely, and it’s not until reading the final story (Owen’s) that we realize how these four characters are supposed to have been affected by one another. The “tangles” are tentative at best, but overall Tangled is still appealing due to its masterful writing.

Longtime Carolyn Mackler fans like me should not hesitate to pick this one up, while those new to Mackler’s works will be able to appreciate her talent. Tangled is good for a sweet and lighthearted read.

183d_perlo
Dec 30, 2009, 9:43pm Top

Wow! What a year of reading you have had. I always look forward to reading your reviews. I just got around to reading Food, Girls and Other Things I Can't Have. Thank you for the recommendation. I really enjoyed it.

184stephxsu
Dec 31, 2009, 1:30pm Top

Thank you, d_perlo, for your kind words! I'm glad you enjoyed Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have. When I figure out what groups I'm joining for 2010 (lol), I'll post the links to them here, so hopefully I may see you and others around those threads in the future!

221. Beautiful by Amy Reed




Tags: YA, drugs, sex, apathy
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Ellen Hopkins, Patricia McCormick, Beatrice Sparks, Elizabeth Scott
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

13-year-old Cassie moves to Seattle from a small town and decides to embrace a darker, more grown-up lifestyle. However, falling into sex and drugs and being called beautiful by older boys doesn’t seem to ease the pain that Cassie carries inside of insecurities and a dislike for her dysfunctional family. As she becomes more and more wrapped up by her manipulative “best friend,” others’ ideas of her, and her own helplessness, there seems to be no way out for Cassie.

Review

There is something disturbingly haunting about Beautiful. Debut novelist Amy Reed writes Cassie’s dark story in a prose that stuns and lingers.
Beautiful is similar to edgy movies like Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen in terms of content, but it is nearly poetic in its descriptions. Reed’s writing allows Cassie to distance herself from all situations she doesn’t want to be in, while simultaneously letting readers into Cassie’s mindset. The result both characterizes Cassie and effectively draws us into her frightening world.

My main issue with this book was the lack of information we were given on Cassie’s past, which would’ve acted as a comparison to and justification of Cassie’s current behavior. Throughout the book Cassie hints at an unhappy life in her old town—but is she a former good girl rebelling against her past? What is her motivation for falling in with the crowd she does? It is unclear to me what drove her to engage in the lifestyle she does, which made connecting with the story a little difficult.

Even so, Beautiful is a great read if you can stomach the material. It’s eye-opening, gut-churning, and exquisitely written.

222. The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg
(Point / Dec. 29, 2009)




Tags: middle grade, YA, feminism, romance, friendship, music
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Kate Brian, Maureen Johnson
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

After her childhood love takes her heart and stomps on it, junior Penny Lane Bloom is finally done with those brainless, inconsiderate, selfish jerks known as boys. She starts the Lonely Hearts Club that she will no longer put boys over herself or her friends. News of her club spreads, and suddenly Penny seems to have started a revolution, with over 40 girls from all grades at her school wanting to join.

The girls of the Lonely Hearts Club become good friends and hearty supporters of one another as many of them venture to do things they’ve always wanted to do but we’re afraid to due to peer pressure and societal conventions. Penny should be proud of the “us first!” movement, but there are some romantic snaggles she still needs to work out. Like, what if not ALL high school guys are worthless? Will Penny sacrifice a chance at love just to stay true to the club’s original creeds?

Review

Elizabeth Eulberg’s debut novel The Lonely Hearts Club is undeniably fluff—but it’s the best kind of fluff, with a likable and realistic protagonist, a predictable yet sweet romance, and an avoidance of typical fluff gender stereotypes.

Penny’s character was deep, no-nonsense, and thus extremely enjoyable. Unlike the typical protagonist in this genre of YA, Penny is happily free of the tendency to obsess over boys or freak out over every little mishap. In fact, the very concept of this novel made sure that it was fluff without the usual “I am nothing without a guy” feel of this genre. Freed of this trope, Penny becomes a remarkably astute, clever, and strong girl, and we like her so much as a result.

The secondary female characters were mostly flat stereotypes and rather annoying. They fail to act as nice counterparts to Penny’s well-developed character. (For the record, “what to the ev” is NOT spoken in real life. And if it is, please stop.) On the other hand, I thought that most of the male characters were interesting to read about, even if their negative qualities tended to be slightly exaggerated in order to justify the formation of the Lonely Hearts Club.

Readers can probably almost instantly pick out Penny’s eventual love interest, but thankfully Penny is not the “love/lust at first swoon” kind of protagonist, and instead we can see the cute, gradual development of their romance and her realization that the original rules of the Lonely Hearts Club can be modified. Most of the plot points contributing to Penny’s eventual eye-opening are cheesy and clichéd, but the strength of the main characters makes sure that this book does not disintegrate into another tries-too-hard-to-be-hip-and-YA chick lit feel-good novel.

Despite the fact that the characters and the plot are rather forgettable, the feeling that this book elicits will stay with you. The core of it is, after all, a story of staying true to yourself and not giving up your identity for the sake of a boy. If anyone wants a quick and easy lighthearted read, I will not hesitate to recommend The Lonely Hearts Club. A great “fluff” debut!

223. Forest Born by Shannon Hale (Books of Bayern, Book 4)




Tags: YA, fantasy, magic, nature, self-esteem
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Kristin Cashore
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

All her life, Rin has unquestioningly helped her Ma out with the many chores required of her to take care of her large family in the Forest. Rin has always found comfort within the trees, but when the trees seem to turn against her, Rin goes with her older brother, Razo, into the city, hoping to put an end to the unsettled feeling within her.

However, Rin soon finds herself in the midst of a mysterious political situation as she accompanies the “Fire Sisters”—Isi, Enna, and Dasha—to a neighboring country following the reports of strange magical occurrences. Little does Rin know that it may be up to her and her as-yet-unrealized abilities to save the day for them all…

Review

Forest Born is a welcome return to the beloved world of Bayern as Shannon Hale shows again why she is one of the decade’s top YA fantasy writers. Featuring ever-lush writing, wonderful characters, and heartwarming character development, be prepared to step into Bayern once again!

With her timidity and extreme lack of self-esteem, Rin is a far cry from the other Bayern characters. However, Rin is never overshadowed by the other, more talkative, and more assertive characters, mostly because we are so invested in Rin’s well-being and watch with happiness as she grows into understanding herself. Rin’s quietness—not to mention her ability—makes her a careful and meticulous observer of people, and even when previous Bayern characters like Enna seem one-dimensional to the point of being caricatures of their former selves, Rin is reliably steady in her thought process and contemplation.

The Bayern fan within me really appreciated how Forest Born discusses an aspect of the world that has appeared in her previous books but has not been fully addressed until now. With the believable and shivers-inducing return of an old nemesis, the Bayern books seem to return full circle, and it delights me that Rin—gentle, unassuming Rin—is the one who wraps up the mystery surrounding this very curious recurring issue. To be more specific would be to spoil the goods for you, so fans of the Bayern books should definitely read this to better understand what I’m talking about.

Perhaps the best part of Hale’s novel is, of course, the writing. It’s gorgeous without losing sight of the plot and themes; poetic without letting the language direct the story. Hale’s language makes the world of Bayern a romantically mysterious place despite the truly malevolent terrors within, and it’s a world we want to sink into for a whole day’s worth of reading.

Forest Born may be the highly satisfying fourth book in Hale’s Books of Bayern series, but I think I am not alone when I say that I would not be loath to more books in the series. Shannon Hale proves once again that her writing abilities make sure that previously done worlds never get stale, and that you can always write a beautiful and memorable story out of old ideas.

185stephxsu
Edited: Jan 24, 2010, 9:49pm Top

Oh my goodness, it's Dec. 31 already? That means I need to get a move on, deciding which new groups to join in 2010! I think I will do the 1010 Challenge, as well as probably move over to the 75 Books Challenge group, because clearly I have far surpassed what I expected of myself this year. For now I will list the remaining books I read in 2010 that I have not yet reviewed, and will come back to them when I finish writing the reviews next year (eek!).

224. Being Nikki by Meg Cabot (Airhead, Book 2)




Tags: middle grade, YA, speculative, conspiracies, celebrities
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Ally Carter, Rosemary Clement-Moore
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Summary

Being a celebrity is no easy feat—especially not if you’re Emerson Watts, who used to be a happily fame-free, video game-obsessed teen girl until a freak accident took her life. Thanks to the megacorporation Stark Enterprises, however, Em was given a second chance at life: her brain was transplanted into the brain-dead body of Nikki Howard, the young “face of Stark.” Em must juggle Nikki’s modeling duties, as well as pacify her (Em’s) family while making sure her (Nikki’s) friends don’t suspect what’s going on.

But all Em wants to do is make her longtime crush, Christopher, notice her. Too bad Christopher doesn’t seem to notice Nikki’s hot body, and seems to love and miss the old Em. Is it possible to be jealous of yourself? In addition to that, however, there is something distinctly sinister about Stark Enterprises going on when Nikki stumbles across some suspicious clues…

Review

Meg Cabot gets really ambitious with Being Nikki, the second book in the Airhead series, which features corporate conspiracies, advanced technology, and hidden motives. However, the pacing was clumsy, which made for a less-than-satisfying reading experience.

Being Nikki introduces a whole array of new complicating elements. While these eventually move the plot along to its ambitious point of corporate conspiracy, the first two-thirds of the book did very little for that point. I constantly found myself shaking my head in disbelief at the number of confusing layers wrapped up in one another that did not contribute to the point of the book. The characters were, for the most part, annoying and no different than they were in the first book.

The ending I admit is pretty cool, but it places high expectations on the third book in the series to wrap all the different threads up. I will probably finish reading this series, as Being Nikki ends on such a horrifying note that I can’t help but demand to know how it ends, but I highly doubt this will go on any list of books I’d recommend to people. The series lacks something…maybe heart?

225. Soulless by Gail Carriger (The Parasol Protectorate, Book 1)




Tags: steampunk, historical fantasy, paranormal, romance, vampires, werewolves, murders, mystery, Victorian
Recommended age: 16+
Similar authors: Jane Austen, Seth Grahame-Smith
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary

Alexia Tarabotti is not your average Victorian spinster. That’s because she’s a preternatural: a soulless being with the ability to negate the supernatural aspects of creatures such as vampires and werewolves. When Alexia accidentally kills a rogue vampire, she becomes embroiled in a supernatural mystery overseen by Lord Maccon, the dangerous and dashing alpha werewolf in charge of policing supernatural activity.

Maccon and Alexia’s headstrong personalities clash—letting off hot sparks—as the mystery deepens. Something big and sinister is threatening the well-being of supernaturals and preternaturals, and, armed with her trusty brass-tipped parasol, Alexia helps Lord Maccon get down to the bottom of this mess before both of their lives are in extreme danger.

Review

I am a HUGE fan of well-executed Austenian wit and satisfying paranormal romances—in fact, I go almost positively fangirl over those aspects—but I’ve always been wary of a blend of the two. Luckily, first-time novelist Gail Carriger has completely succeeded in this ambitious endeavor. Soulless is a brilliant and witty steampunk paranormal romance mystery, and one that I’ll be raving about for weeks to come—indeed, if I can ever stop raving about it.

The wry tone of narration in Soulless, combined with its engaging characters, makes for an utterly delightful read. For sure, it is most likely not the first time in the history of the English language that an ornery and independent spinster is a main character, but Alexia Tarabotti goes above and beyond the type. Her preternatural “abilities” seem to perfectly complement her personality, unusual for the Victorian age.

Supporting characters, too, are a blast to read about. It doesn’t hurt that Lord Maccon is sexy and adorably gruff. Alexia and Lord Maccon’s chemistry is undeniably good, but it also doesn’t direct the course of the novel, which I appreciated. The paranormal/mystery element of the plot is a little rough sometimes, but it certainly does not detract from one’s enjoyment of reading this book.

Overall, Soulless is a cross-genre delight that will be adored by all different kinds of readers. Gail Carriger, you have a solid fan in me, and I will be looking forward impatiently to future books about Alexia and Lord Maccon!

226. The Mark by Jen Nadol
(Bloomsbury / Jan. 19, 2010)




Tags: YA, death, premonitions, family secrets
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Gabrielle Zevin, Alice Sebold, Amy Huntley
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

16-year-old Cassie Renfield has always been able to see the Mark—a glow around a person that indicates that he or she will die that very day. Cassie doesn’t understand what good there is in seeing the Mark when she can’t do anything to prevent their deaths, including her grandmother’s. When her grandmother’s will sends her off to a summer living with a long-lost relative in Cassie’s parents’ hometown, Cassie learns more about herself, her family history, and the Mark when she expects.

Review

The Mark is an unusual and interesting debut that discusses questions of loss, philosophy, and destiny. It falls short of reaching its potential, however, due mostly to plotting issues.

When reading this book, it was unclear to me what the main conflict was, and when the exposition ended and the meaty middle section began. The first third or so of the novel deals with Cassie’s life in Asheville, PA, but the story only seems to begin to fully manifest itself once Cassie goes to live with her long-lost aunt. I also thought that the book’s overarching goal was a bit confusing and multidirectional. The synopsis and the first half of the book made it feel as if the point of the book was to unravel the potential of the Mark—but then suddenly we begin to delve into Cassie’s mysterious family history, and toss in a bit of seemingly random, albeit interesting, Greek mythology (and I won’t say more than that to avoid spoilers). The result was rather disoriented reader.

However, the strength of The Mark really lies in the writing and characterization. Jen Nadol avoids melodrama in what could have easily been a very melodramatic story idea (people dying! Nothing you can do to stop it! Ahhh!). All of the characters are strong despite the inconsistency of their presence in the novel (and let me give you an example of what I mean by “inconsistency”: Cassie’s grandmother, who dies early on—and it is no spoiler to tell you that—is much stronger and has a far greater influence than Drea, Cassie’s appointed guardian, whose strategic workaholism give off a distinct air of “plot device”). Nadol also successfully weaves in impressive philosophical arguments that will make anyone think hard, and then nod and grin in agreement.

The Mark is certainly not without its flaws, but overall it is still an interesting read, perfect for the budding philosopher. For anyone who’s ever wondered about fate, destiny, and determinism, The Mark is a good book to make you think even more.

186stephxsu
Edited: Jan 24, 2010, 9:53pm Top

227. Dream Girl by Lauren Mechling




Tags: middle grade, YA, mystery, visions, NYC
Recommended age: 14+
Similar authors: Rosemary Clement-Moore, Jaclyn Moriarty
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary

15-year-old Claire Voyante has always been a little abnormal. Her mother is a wannabe Frenchwomen with ADD; her father—who is actually French—is a professor with eclectic friends; her younger brother Henry takes walks in the middle of the night. Claire herself has had visions on and off her whole life, but it is only when her grandmother Kiki gives her a black-and-white pendant that Claire’s dreams seem to suddenly sharpen and become prophetic.

When Claire befriends Becca, whose family is American condiment royalty, at their new and intense high school, Claire’s dreams suggest that someone may be trying to sabotage Becca’s family. It’s up to Claire to channel her love for Agatha Christie and find out who’s plotting against them before it’s too late.

Review

Dream Girl is an utterly delightful, entertaining, and real book, featuring sharp writing and amazing characters. I couldn’t put it down, and, considering how this is not my usual genre fare for reading, that’s saying something.

Lauren Mechling’s writing is pitch-perfect for the likable Claire. Claire has a tongue-in-cheek way of approaching and viewing the world, going along with all the eccentricities around her while simultaneously making her genuine mark on others. She sounds like a real 15-year-old, not a grown up trying to hard to capture a 15-year-old’s voice or a 15-year-old whom you want to whack in the head for being insufferably annoying.

But Claire is not the only strong character in this book. With the possible exception of the mean-girl posse at school (and Lauren even hints at the possibility of their redemption), there is not one character in Dream Girl that feels like a stereotype. They are, incredibly, all charming and interesting. The dialogue is excellent; in fact, if you’re an appreciator of all-too-rare good writing in chick lit, as I am, you won’t be able to stop smiling through this book, chuckling at all the subtle witticisms and nodding your head at the realistic portrayal of people.

The psychic mystery element of Dream Girl works if you suspend your disbelief that a girl’s dreams can help her solve a sinister international crime. I liked how this novel is character-driven, not plot-dependent. Claire’s prophetic dreams do not overshadow her daytime life; instead, the mystical element of the story adds just a touch of the fantastical to this otherwise contemporary novel.

Overall, those looking for good writing and light reads will enjoy Dream Girl. Hardcore mystery fans may find Claire’s sleuthing abilities a bit too lighthearted for their tastes, but for those of us less well-versed in the genre, Dream Girl is a promising read. I can’t wait to see what Claire will do next in future books!

228. Shrinking Violet by Danielle Joseph




Tags: young adult, radio, music, shyness, prom
Recommended age: 12+
Similar authors: Jennifer Echols, Aimee Friedman, Sarah Dessen
Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary

The only time high school senior Tere is not painfully, paralyzingly shy is when she is in her room, pretending to be a radio DJ on her stepfather’s radio station. Being shy has always been extremely inconvenient for Tere, especially with her social butterfly mother always on her case.

To Tere’s surprise and joy, she lands a spot interning on her favorite radio station, and even gets to go on the air a bit. Then, for publicity, the station announces a love song-writing contest, with the winner having the prize of escorting Tere to her own prom! Tere is, understandably, terrified—especially because the guy she actually likes doesn’t seem to think of her in that way. Will Tere be able to step out of her shell enough to go for a shot at happiness?

Review

Shrinking Violet is gentle but ultimately underwhelming read that will perhaps be best received by shy girls who can relate to Tere’s position and revel in her predictably happy ending. While the majority of the characters are three-dimensional and interesting, the slow pace of the plot makes it hard to get into Tere’s story, especially as the description on the back cover is rather misleading in terms of the book’s objective. Ultimately Tere spends very little time actually developing into a more outgoing personality over the air, a development that I believe would’ve contributed greatly to our understanding of and empathy for Tere. In the end, the mild character development is not enough to make Shrinking Violet an emotional read in any sense—which is a shame, as the premise held so much potential.

187stephxsu
Jan 24, 2010, 9:54pm Top

Phew! Better late than never--I've FINALLY finished writing my reviews for my 2009 book list, and now I can give the link to my 2010 book list, which is over here at the 75 Books Challenge group. Hope to see some of you guys there!

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