bookish posts monthly book list reviews

November 2013 reading list

Books I’ve already talked about
Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood by Abby McDonald
A suggested Diana Wynne Jones reading list
Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff
Cherry Money Baby by John Cusick
Dr.Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos
The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding
A Spark Unseen by Sharon Cameron
Thornyhold by Mary Stewart

Other books
Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud: This is a lovely, spooky read. I really enjoyed the interaction between the three main characters, although I occasionally wished that the descriptions of George had not fallen into problematic tropes. Aside from that, this is pure enjoyment. Stroud is sometimes hit or miss with me, but this is a keeper. Can’t wait for the sequels!

Yellowcake by Margo Lanagan: Short stories from Lanagan. I think I like her short stories, since her writing is often like dark chocolate: intense, bitter, and great in small doses. “The Point of Roses” and “Ferrymen” were, I think, my favorites.

Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett: I started to warm up to the Watch books with this one. Sam started to be more competent and I liked the way Pratchett used the golem tradition.

The Chocolate Heart by Laura Florand: I like the way Florand plays with the themes she uses. Here, her heroine hates Paris, for good reasons, and hates desserts, also for good reason. As usual, there’s a subtle weaving in of fairy tale/mythological themes, and some lovely writing.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys: A Cybils book. I liked this one, but not as much as others have. I never quite managed to engage with the characters or the story, and I felt a bit lost as to the setting. I didn’t dislike it, but it never quite clicked either.

Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller: A Cybils book. I liked this one a lot, even though the plot summary sounds a bit ridiculous. The glimpse into Greek sponge-diving culture in Florida was nice, and Callie is a gutsy, wonderful main character.

OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu: A Cybils book. I wasn’t super wild about this one. I appreciated some aspects of the depiction, but the relationship between Beck and Bea never quite worked for me, somehow. And I felt overall that the characters were so completely defined by their diagnosis, which bothered me.

Mrs. Pollifax at the Hong Kong Station by Dorothy Gilman: More Mrs. Pollifax. Dated, and more than a little ridiculous, but lots of fun.

Jingo by Terry Pratchett: I loved this one. Nobby and Fred Colon, Sam Vimes really coming into his own (wild cheers!), 71 Hour Ali. The way Pratchett sets up expectations and then deftly turns them on their heads.

The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett: Loved this one, loved the way we get more of a sense of who Sybil is. My only complaint is that this means I’m getting close to the end of the Watch books. Nooooo.

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina: A Cybils book. The best book about bullying I’ve ever read. In fact, it’s not even fair to call it that, really. There are no easy answers, no adult judgment making it clear that if only you did this, the problem would be solved. Medina captures the helplessness and insensibility of bullying, while also creating some great characters.

The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr: A Cybils book. I loved Lucy and her relationship to music, her search to find the thing to fill that gap in herself. I hated Will. I loved the way Lucy’s perceptions of her family and of herself began to change, becoming more complex and faceted. It’s one I’m still thinking about a few days after I read it.

The Lampfish of Twill by Janet Taylor Lisle: A middle grade title. I liked a lot of it–the worldbuilding, the descriptions of fishing and the sea. Ultimately it felt a little too precious for me to love it completely, but it’s a nice quiet fantasy for kids who like that sort of thing.

This is How I Find Her by Sara Polsky: A Cybils book. I wasn’t sure what I would think of this one, but I ended up loving it. Sophie and her vulnerability, her fears about what her mother’s life means for her, her realization that she can’t do it alone–it was lovely stuff and I actually got choked up at the end.

Lord of Emperors by Guy Gavirel Kay: Sequel to Sailing to Sarantium. I loved the way Kay structured the book, and the world, and the characters. I was a little dubious about the very very end, which needed a bit more set-up to work for me. But overall, LOVE these two.

bookish posts reviews

Cybils Round-up November edition

dr birds advice for sad poetsDr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos: I really loved this one! I enjoyed the way Whitman was incorporated into the book, despite not being a huge fan of his poetry, and the way James thought about and interacted with the poetry worked for me. I liked the style, which came close to over-done but never quite was. And I thought Roskos did a fabulous job of capturing the family dynamics and lack of easy answers, of showing a teen who engages with his own issues in a way that made me care about him. This is a book I wish had been published when I was in high school and I think for a certain group of teens it could be hugely important.

reece malcolm listThe Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding: I will admit that I’m a sucker for books that show interesting family dynamics. This definitely one of them, as Devan goes to live with the mother she’s never really known. I liked the way it took on issues of family and identity and belonging, while also being compulsively readable. Devan’s relationship to music was well done, and bonus points for the cute romance.

spark unseenA Spark Unseen by Sharon Cameron: Sequel to The Dark Unwinding. I really enjoy this series, which is a mix of historical fiction and before-its-time invention that just pushes the envelope towards alternate history. Katharine is an engaging main character and I like the way Cameron includes period details without letting them overwhelm the story. This is one to pitch to readers who normally like SFF.

bookish posts reviews

Cherry Money Baby by John Cusick

cherry money baby

Cherry Kerrigan loves her simple life, her family’s tiny trailer, even working at Burrito Barn. Forget college — she’s marrying her sweetheart from next door. But here comes Ardelia Deen, a glamorous starlet who sweeps Cherry into a world of fast cars and penthouse parties. Now Cherry’s small-town life just seems so . . . small. When Ardelia drops a bomb of an offer — one involving a baby — Cherry knows her life will change forever, no matter what she decides. John M. Cusick focuses his signature wit on Hollywood royalty and the wide-eyed dreams of Small Town, U.S.A. in a novel about discovering who you are . . . and changing your mind.

(Terrible summary via Goodreads because I am lazy this morning)

Did I mention feeling lazy? Here, have bullet points.

Things I liked
– Cherry, who was a very engaging main character, prickly and selfish, yet incredibly sympathetic.
– Lucas, who was a nice contrast to Cherry’s high-strung personality, but who at the same time never came across as boring.

Things I had a problem with
– The plot, which relies really heavily on coincidence and improbable events. The initial event is one thing, but there are several other key plot points which are also coincidental.
– The secondary characters, who all read to me as a little too broadly painted, a little too close to stock.
– That point about secondary characters is especially important with Ardelia, who quite a bit of the book hinges on; because she doesn’t come across as a real person, the effect of the story is lessened.

For all of that, it was an interesting story. One I was immediately sucked into–and perhaps more importantly–remained sucked into. This is largely because of Cherry and her mix of toughness and vulnerability.

Book source: public library
Book information: Candlewick, 2013; YA

I read this book for the 2013 Cybils. You’ll be able to see all of my Cybils reviews by clicking here.

bookish posts reviews

Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff

picture me gone
Mila is twelve years old, the only and beloved child of two intellectual and loving parents. She and her father, Gil, are about to go on a visit to America, to see Gil’s friend Matthew, when word comes that Matthew has disappeared. They go anyway, but instead of catching up, they are searching for clues to what happened. Mila, with her gift for seeing things that other people miss, is especially suited to this. But what happens will change Mila and her world.

Picture Me Gone is only the second book I’ve read by Meg Rosoff. I liked it from the beginning, probably because Mila is both older and younger than her years. She notices things–patterns, details–but she doesn’t always see what they mean. She doesn’t always understand adults or why they act in the ways they do, although she lives in a very adult world. Rosoff excels at voice, and Mila’s is pitch-perfect.

It might be wise to note that, although the plot of the novel is centered around Matthew’s disappearance and finding out what happened to him, Picture Me Gone is not a mystery, at least not in the traditional sense. And further, mystery fans could easily feel frustrated at the way the book doesn’t fit into that category. But for me this wasn’t a problem, because it’s so clearly a book about Mila, and her growing-up.

The book is full of secrets that people are keeping. The slightly opaque style suits this very well; we are not told directly where Owen is. Rosoff does the opposite of info-dumping. And in some places the connections between events and Mila’s thoughts are not necessarily clear. There are connections, but it is work to find them, and to parse out what happens. This is not an easy book, but it rewards careful attention with layers of richness.

And it’s fascinating to me, the way Rosoff takes the common YA theme of growing up and changing your relationship with family and heightens it, compresses it. Mila is so cocooned in London, swaddled in comfortable world of family and school. It’s perhaps a bit different than most kids’, but it’s familiar and safe. Going to America means literally leaving all of that behind, being forced into a different life. That journey, both physical and personal, gives the book a bittersweet feeling; Mila is not who she was when she left London. She can never be that girl again.

I liked all of this quite a bit, and I think that Rosoff, if not Mila, is quite aware of the privilege of her upbringing. At the same time, the story occasionally runs into the limits of its form. Because it is so firmly centered on Mila and her voice and her experience, the motivations of other characters can only be hinted at. This means that virtually everyone is somewhat of a cipher. Philosophically, this fits into the story quite well, but it makes for a slightly frustrating reading experience. Similarly, the fact that there are no dialogue marks creates occasional confusion–is someone speaking? is this Mila’s thought? Usually it’s possible to parse out which is which, but not always. I get that it’s a stylistic choice, but when style means lack of clarity, I have problems.

Overall, I think this is quite a rich little book, although I love it intellectually more than emotionally. This isn’t a bad thing, but it does mean that when I list favorite books, it’s less likely to make my list.

Book source: public library
Book information: Putnam Juvenile, 2013; upper mg/YA

I read this book for the 2013 Cybils. You’ll be able to see all of my Cybils reviews by clicking here.

My review of How I Live Now

Other reviews of Picture Me Gone: Ana at Things Mean A Lot; Liz B

bookish posts reviews

Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood by Abby McDonald

jane austen goes to hollywoodBased on the title, my first reaction to this book was to groan. I suspect I’m probably not alone; most Janeites are pretty over blatant attempts to cash in on Austen’s perpetual popularity, and that’s definitely what this book looks like. But I’m happy to say that in fact this is a very nice modern day retelling of Sense and Sensibility. As I said on Twitter, I read a Jane Austen retelling and I did not hate it! On the contrary, I liked it quite a bit. For one thing, it’s not Pride and Prejudice. As much as I do love P&P, Austen did write other books and it’s nice to see one of them being adapted.

There are a few slight spoilers here, but nothing that will be surprising if you’ve already read Sense & Sensibility.

Grace Weston is the only one holding her family together. After her father dies and his entire estate, including the house she and her mother and sister live in, is passed on to his second wife, Grace has to find a way to keep her family from falling apart completely. Hallie Weston doesn’t understand how Grace can be so cold. When they move to Hollywood, Hallie falls in love with a rock star and doesn’t look back. But Grace’s heart is still in San Francisco, with the boy she shouldn’t like.

I very much appreciated the way McDonald preserved a lot of the relationships between characters, while at the same time completely updating them. There’s the girls’ stepmother, Portia, just as ridiculously self-obsessed as Fanny Dashwood. There’s Grace’s rock star boyfriend, who’s definitely a Willoughby. McDonald does a very nice job of taking the situations and people from Sense and Sensibility and changing them, while retaining the flavor of the originals.

The story is divided into alternating sections from Hallie and Grace’s perspectives. It made for an interesting change from S&S, where the focus is so centered on Elinor. While this didn’t bother me, exactly, it did make me wonder why McDonald chose to write her book this way. For me, Grace’s sections were by far more interesting (but then, Marianne has never been my favorite character). The relationship between the two sisters is fairly central to the story, and of course it is about the two gradually coming to appreciate each other. I liked that, despite the romances, McDonald kept the importance of the sisters at the forefront of the story.

I did occasionally feel that McDonald was a bit constrained by her choice to retell Sense & Sensibility so closely. For instance, I didn’t personally buy Dakota’s reasons for leaving Hallie; the record label was for me not an adequate stand-in for Willoughby’s aunt. For the most part, the moments where the original had to be translated into modern motives and situations were handled quite deftly, but the occasional moments when this didn’t work so well stood out.

A final note: Hallie and Grace are described as mixed race. Their mother is black and their father was white. However, beyond a few mentions of other peoples’ reactions to their family, this aspect was largely absent from the story. I could see one side of an argument, which is that their race should be treated simply as normal, and in one sense I do buy that. But on the other hand, the fact that we don’t live in a world where this is the case made me wonder if there shouldn’t have been a more explicit discussion of what this meant for Hallie and Grace. I’d welcome thoughts from other readers.

All in all, this was a very solid retelling of a lesser-known Austen work. I’m glad it’s out there, and I would definitely encourage any Janeites to give it a try.

Book source: public library
Book information: Candlewick Press, 2013; YA

I read this book for the 2013 Cybils. You’ll be able to see all of my Cybils reviews by clicking here.

Other reviews:
YA Lit Wit; The Infinite Curio; Good Reading Guide

bookish posts monthly book list reviews

October 2013 book list

Books I’ve already talked about
The Caged Graves by Dianne Salerni
Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross
Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn
Prep School Confidential by Anne Dowling
The Distance Between Us by Kasie West
Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt
The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle
September Girls by Bennett Madison
Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo
Victoria Rebels by Carolyn Meyer
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
The Summer I Became a Nerd by Leah Rae Miller
Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan
The Boy on the Bridge by Natalie Standisford

Shadows by Robin McKinley: A new McKinley book is always a joyful event! And yet, slightly nerve-wracking, because what if it’s not good? I’m happy to say that I thoroughly enjoyed Shadows. The resolution is perhaps a bit hand-wavey, but I’m quite willing to live with that, because the rest of the book is so strong, and also that does tend to be the type of resolution McKinley writes. I very much appreciated the subtle-but-present diversity of the world, and I loved the shadows. However, I wish SO MUCH that the book had a different cover, and I even know exactly what it should be: one of the origami creatures that Maggie folds, with its shadow projected behind it, except that the shadow is real. Why don’t they hire me?

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick: A Cybils contender, as well as one that was featured on the Printz Blog. The central conceit of this one was interesting, but I thought there were way too many things going on technically–the framing narrative of the four gifts and the four goodbyes, the letters from the future, the footnotes, the semi-poetic shifting of text during key moments. One or two of those, well developed, would have served the story a lot better. I’m still not sure whether my visceral personal reaction was due to being in Leonard’s head and not liking what I saw there (i.e., effective writing) or reliance on sloppy characterizations. Perhaps it’s some complicated combination of both. I still don’t know. In the end, I think it’s a gutsy book, but a flawed one.

Nobody’s Secret by Michael MacColl: I really liked the historical mystery aspect of this book–a young girl has a brief encounter with a stranger, whose body then turns up in her family’s pond. The adults seem to not care whether his murder is solved, so she takes it on herself. The problem is, the young girl is supposed to be Emily Dickinson. This creates two issues for me. First, I simply didn’t buy that the Emily of the book was Emily Dickinson, even a younger version. Second, the process of writing poetry that was shown in the book did not ring true to me; poems which are dated years later apparently are springing fully-formed from a much younger girl’s mind.

Lulu and the Dog From the Sea by Hilary McKay: I love Hilary McKay, and I’ve been really enjoying this younger chapter book series. In this one, Lulu and family go to the sea, where Lulu encounters a wild dog and, naturally, wants to save him. I liked this one a lot, although I was personally less wild about the sections from the dog’s point of view.

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff: This is a wonderfully fun graphic novel, full of hijinks and adventures. I loved the story and the art. And huge bonus points for the historical setting, Delilah’s awesomeness, and the humor. Anyone who thinks mad-cap adventures with a sword-wielding lady sounds fun should check it out.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black: This is a case of wanting to like a book more than I actually did. I loved the world and the set-up, and I really liked Tana. But…something about it just left me cold–I was never fully engrossed in the story. The closest I can come is to say that the romance really didn’t work for me because I did not understand what Tana saw in Gabriel. I did like the relationship between Tana and Adrian, which seemed complex and complicated and interesting. This is one I suspect will work for a lot of people, and I’m glad that it does. It just didn’t work for me, and again, I’m still struggling to say why.

Between the Forest and the Hills by Ann Lawrence: Charlotte mentioned this one at some point and I got it from inter-library loan. I’m really glad I did! It’s a lovely, quiet, old-fashioned middle grade book, about a small Roman-British town in the days after Rome has left. I loved the characters, and the setting, and the humor, and just the flavor of it. If you’re looking for something a little slower and quieter, I highly recommend this historical fiction.

Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett: I still missed the competent and resourceful Captain Vimes. But I did like the developing relationships between the different Watchmen (and Watchwomen).

Kingdom of Summer by Gillian Bradshaw: The second in Bradshaw’s Arthurian trilogy. It’s told from the point of view of Rhys, Gwalchmai’s servant. I thought the point of view shift was interesting; in some ways I missed the immediacy of Gwalchmai’s narration, but I liked seeing the point of view of someone different, and of a different class. The fact that the names are the same as in Elizabeth Wein’s Arthurian books continues to mess with my head. (I keep expecting Medraut to be, you know, Medraut. And he’s really really not.)

Rogue by Lyn Miller-Lachmann: Another Cybils book. I appreciated the intent of this one, but it really didn’t work for me. Too many Issues, and not enough complexity. On the most simple level, a picture of a young girl on the autistic spectrum, it does work, but the other characters weren’t convincing. I’m sure there are readers who will really connect with this book, but for me it isn’t one I could whole-heartedly love.

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman: A very cute story from Gaiman, with a wild, building on itself plot. Lots of fun, and one I expect will be enjoyed by many a child (it seems like the most child-friendly of any of Gaiman’s kids books to date).

Her Mother’s Secret by Barbara Polikoff: A Cybils book. Historical fiction, based on the life of one of the author’s relatives. The details of 1890s life in Chicago were interesting, as were the details of the Jewish immigrant experience. But it never completely gripped me, and the writing was occasionally shaky enough to be a problem. I would say that if you’re interested in the time or setting, or Jane Addams and Hull House, it would be worth reading.

Saints and Boxers by Gene Luen Yang: I read these two-volume set because it’s on the Printz Blog’s longlist. Gene Luen Yang does a wonderful job of setting up the story, telling it from two points of view and valuing them both. We can understand and sympathize with the motives of both main characters. I do think that, from the Printz perspective, it suffers from being split into two separate books, even though I actually love the format simply as a reader.

Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian: A Cybils book. In some ways, I wish that this book had a different title, because I suspect it has turned off some readers who would otherwise try it. And it’s well worth a try. Evan’s narration is fantastic–the layers of it, the way he is struggling to rebuild his life, the fact that he is both open and closed off, both hurtful and hurting. He’s a wonderfully complex character, as are most of the other characters in the book. It’s a very strong title, and I’d encourage those of you who like contemporary books that take on hard things to give this one a try.

Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil: Another Cybils book. I very much enjoyed this contemporary Australian title. (Are they just exporting the good ones to the US, or are Australian writers all excellent?) The story was fresh and funny, and I did buy the nerdiness of the characters (sometimes I am a little more dubious when this kind of plotline comes up). It wasn’t a hugely deep book, but I do think it’s one a lot of readers will enjoy.

bookish posts reviews

Cybils round-up: October 2013

love and other perishable itemsLove and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo: I finished this one last night and really liked it. I don’t think it’s a perfect book, but I do think it’s a very good one. The alternating narrative worked well, and the voices were clear and distinct. I especially liked the way the two narratives pointed to the difference between the characters’ external interactions and internal world. I also liked the way it engaged with bigger topics, although occasionally it seemed a little didactic (and in those moments Chris sometimes came across as mansplainy). But it’s a very engaging book, and well written.

victoria rebelsVictoria Rebels by Carolyn Meyer: In my opinion, there’s a fascinating YA novel about the teenage Queen Victoria waiting to be written. But this isn’t it. It’s a well-researched biography, and I think Meyer has captured some of the flavor of Victoria’s diaries (lots of CAPITALS and underlined words). The problem is really with appeal–for the reader who’s not interested in Victorian history/Victoria already, there’s not a lot to engage them. And for the reader who is already interested, there’s no new information. It’s fairly standard, and fairly biographical, without a real sense of plot. I also had problems with the form, which seemed awkwardly stuck between an older Victoria looking over the past and a younger Victoria writing in the present. This is one of the few times I wish the story had been written in present tense. It’s a solid biography but nothing more than that.

fangirlFangirl by Rainbow Rowell: I know there are varying opinions on this one. I loved it. Perhaps more for the college experience, which read to me as authentic and enchanting and lovely, than for the fanfic part. And yet, although I’m not a fanfic writer or reader (not on principle, just doesn’t work for me most of the time), I appreciated the fandom aspect as well. All in all, I found a lovely, engrossing read which I genuinely enjoyed. I did wonder about the appeal for teen readers, though; it read to me like a book that would work best for the reader who is attending/has attended college.

The Summer I Became a NerdThe Summer I Became a Nerd by Leah Rae Miller: This was a light, enjoyable book about a girl who feels the need to keep her nerdyness undercover while passing as one of the cool kids. I found it very fun while reading it, and quite forgettable after finishing (i.e., I had to think about it for several minutes before I could remember even that plot summary). Definitely recommended for those who want a nice, quick read, though.

golden boyGolden Boy by Tara Sullivan: It’s a well-written book, about a fascinating topic I knew nothing about. It doesn’t read as an issues book, although it takes one some heavy topics, and I thought the characters were really well done. I’m not sure about teen appeal, although I thought there was something fascinating about Habo’s journey and relationship with art. It does read fairly young, one of those books that fit awkwardly into the YA/mg system.

boy on the bridge
The Boy on the Bridge by Natalie Standiford: Well, I was worried about my reaction to the Russian part of this, because I’m super duper picky about depictions of Russian culture. That part was actually fine. But the plot and characterization was so meandering! I’m still not sure how Laura changed (aside from becoming totally irresponsible). I don’t want a moral or anything, but I do generally expect something to happen character-wise.

I read these books for the 2013 Cybils. You’ll be able to see all of my Cybils reviews by clicking here.

bookish posts reviews

The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle

lightning dreamerMy reaction to this book is a bit complicated. First, we have my bias against a lot of modern blank verse which usually (in my oh so humble opinion) fails to justify its existence as poetry. Second, we have the fact that I’ve never felt that Engle’s poetry has done a lot for me personally. The Lightning Dreamer had that working against it from the beginning.

In The Lighting Dreamer, we meet a young Cuban girl, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, who through most of the book is referred to by her nickname, Tula. She is a dreamer and a poet, usually in conflict with her mother who wishes for a docile and respectable daughter. When she begins to read the work of a banned abolitionist, her soul catches fire and she begins to write about slavery and injustice.

This is obviously a really important story about a place and people who are often overlooked. I knew nothing about Cuba’s abolitionist movement, let alone Tula. Obviously, this is a failing, and The Lightning Dreamer addresses an important lack of books on this subject for younger readers. I would like to read a good biography of Avellaneda, because she sounds like a fascinating person in her own right.

So that is all to the good. However, as I hinted above, I had real problems with most of the poems. The only one I really loved was an early poem about her father’s death. Partly, I really didn’t see that the form was justified by the writing. Although poetry is sometimes described as lines-that-don’t-go-all-the-way-across, few poets would (I think) actually argue that’s the case. Poetry, whether it’s written for children or not, does have a different quality to it than prose. The poems here failed to deliver on that promise.

Moreover, the poems are in the voices of different characters, from Tula to her family and her family’s cook. And yet, all of the separate voices–people of varying backgrounds and ages–read as exactly the same. Is Tula speaking, or is it her brother? The only distinction is the name at the top and what the person is concerned with.

Also, the characters seemed oddly flat and one-note. Tula wants to be free, she wants to write, she burns against injustice. Her brother loves his sister but worries about her activities. Her mother can’t understand how she produced such a willful daughter and worries that she will never be respectable and therefore never happy. In poem after poem, we only see the most simplistic version of the speaker. There’s a chance for real depth in what I understood of the family background, but it’s passed over in favor of a heavy-handed message.

In the end, I worry that I am missing something and not being fair to this book. And I am glad that it exists. I hope it sparks some interest in the subject. For me, however, it did not work, except as a gateway into history I previously didn’t know about. That’s something, but considering what could have been, it’s not enough.

Book source: public library
Book information: HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013; YA/upper middle grade

I read this book for the 2013 Cybils. You’ll be able to see all of my Cybils reviews by clicking here.

bookish posts reviews

Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

uses for boysWhen I started Uses for Boys, I had it pegged. “This,” I thought, “is a book a I will appreciate, but not like very much.” It’s apparent from very early on that Scheidt is an excellent writer, and the understated style of the book was well done. But–it also felt Literary and Important and I’m biased against those things. I don’t always like books that are heavy on sexual content, and I was worried that it would be too much for me. I didn’t really connect with Anna’s situation.

And then something changed, and I ended up totally loving it. Even more than that, resonating with the story, with Anna. Partly, this is because the title and the exterior shell of the plot hide the truth: the story is not about Anna’s relationship with boys. It’s about her relationship with other women, with her mother, with Toy, with Sam’s mother, and with herself. I loved the way Anna feels about her apartment, the care she takes with it. And the resolution is beautifully written, with hope that didn’t read as false. Even now, remembering it, I find myself filled with satisfaction and contentment. Anna’s been through some hard times, and she’ll probably go through some more. But fundamentally, she’s okay.

Which isn’t to say that as a reader or a person I always agreed with her choices. I often didn’t. But I was never pushed away by this. Even her mistakes or false starts weren’t alienating. I cared about her; I experienced her in a certain way as a real person.

This book probably isn’t for everybody, but it’s one that I hope ends up in the right hands. For someone, I think, it could be a book that changes everything. It’s superbly written, and I will remember Anna and her story for a long time to come.

Book source: public library
Book information: St. Martin’s Press, 2013; YA

I read this book for the 2013 Cybils. You’ll be able to see all of my Cybils reviews by clicking here.

bookish posts reviews

The Distance Between Us by Kasie West

the distance between us This is a quick read, which I very much enjoyed. Caymen has always lived with her mother above the doll store her mother owns and runs. They struggle to make ends meet, which makes their rich clientele seem like people from another planet to Caymen. Xander is rich and arrogant, but Caymen finds (much to her surprise) that she enjoys being around him.

I really appreciated the fact that the book takes on the economic difference between the main characters and makes it part of the story. Rather than skirting around the issue, it’s central to the characters and their development from the very beginning. Caymen fundamentally does not trust wealthy people, and Xander’s family is a major roadblock in their relationship–not because they are awful people, but because they have money.

So, that part of the story worked well for me, and I was definitely cheering for the romance. Both Caymen and Xander came across as flawed-but-awesome characters. Yay for that! I could very easily have found them annoying, and instead I really bought into both characters and was pretty darn invested in their relationship.

However, I found that, I didn’t really believe the payoffs. All of the resolutions seemed too easy and oddly unexplored–like there was the potential for a really wonderful, gut-wrenching book, and instead it was pretty light. I think this is mostly because the part of the plot that relied on Caymen’s mom and her secrets and history did not really reach the level it could have. Also, it’s partly because the pacing was off at the end–too much happening all at once, and everything pretty much instantly resolved.

Would I recommend this one? Absolutely! It’s a great, fun read, and in terms of the difference in the title, quite well done. It’s perfect for a light romantic book with some entertaining and sweet characters.

Book source: public library
Book information: Harper Teen, 2013; YA

I read this book for the 2013 Cybils. You’ll be able to see all of my Cybils reviews by clicking here.