Thursday, September 24, 2009

Leaving Paradise, Simone Elkeles

Continuing my theme of suffering through the back to school season I was in Barnes & Noble allowing myself to buy whatever I want (very liberating, what can I say). I loaded up on Georgette Heyer reissues with pretty covers, a bunch of young adult titles (including this one), and (because deep down I do care about my class-o-babies) some books to read for Johnny Appleseed Day.

The bottom cover is the version I have of Leaving Paradise and I can honestly say that is the reason I bought it. I would never have picked up the original cover. I read Simone Elkeles' Perfect Chemistry earlier this year and was mildly entertained even though I thought it was an unrealistic story (but it is the kind of fluff I like, a huge step above Mediterrean Holiday). So I saw the shiny cover with the troubled teens reaching out to each other and went with it.

Initially I felt like this book was a huge improvement from Perfect Chemistry. Its still a melodrama but I felt it was more realistic even with all the major coincidences (next door neighbors, twin sister's best friend, same old lady to work for, etc). I was happily enjoying the fluffy angst until the last 5 or 6 pages.

That is when I had the unfortunate realization that there was no way this book was going to have a complete ending with closure and happiness all around (a requirement for fluff in my opinion). I absolutely loathe books that have endings like this. I am a lover of happily ever after but I can handle it if the unhappy ending is at least a complete and well written. I will deal with it as long as it is done well.

This was like the book just dropped off after all these heavy emotional break throughs and tense moments. All of a sudden it was ok to wave goodbye and get pie at the diner with your girlfriends. No big deal.

I know there is a sequel coming and who am I kidding, of course I will read it, but it makes me mad. I feel like I shouldn't have to pay for another book just to read the ending that was left out of this one. That is why I now have a new blog category: grrr

I agree with both Reviewer X and The YA YA YA's, who are both way more articulate than I am, about this book.

Mediterrean Holiday

This is some intense fluff even for me. Which is saying something pretty big.

A few years ago I spent an ill-advised day watching a marathon of Footballers Wives on BBC America. It was so bad but I just couldn't look away (yay, cliches!). And that is an entire day of my life that I will never get back. And a memory of a hermaphrodite baby that has always stuck with me.This is the book that I imagine one of the wags would stuff into her bag on her way to a private island vacation and then get bored with and stop reading. But I am not a wag and I persisted in finishing it anyway.

I do love fluff but this one just went too far. I read stuff like this to relax and turn my brain off at the end of the day but that is impossible for me to do when the book is this silly.

Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins

I love this book. Now there is a part of me that wishes I hadn't read any the books in this series until they were all published because I cannot handle the suspense. In fact my complaining about this issue has convinced Nora not to read The Hunger Games or this one until she can read the whole thing straight through. Which was annoying because I was dying to talk about this book with someone.

School is back in all its full horror so I haven't been doing much other than surviving and trying to not get sick or go crazy (which apparently is more than a full time job for me) so I don't have many thoughts since I waited too long to write about this book. But I am so impressed with Suzanne Collins. My favorite part (well one of my favorites) is the image of Katniss in her wedding dress transformed into a mockinjay... but then I have to feel sad thinking about Cinna.... and then I'm back to trying to put this all from my mind so I don't get too stressed waiting for Book 3! Which doesn't seem to be coming out for another year.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

I have a tendency to get overly involved in books that I love. When I first started reading so much YA again this year I heard about this book everywhere. And the common thread was how intense & suspenseful it is and how everyone was dying to read the sequel. Knowing my obsessive tendencies I decided to save myself the anxiety and wait to read The Hunger Games until I could have Catching Fire ready to read the moment I turned the last page.

And I am so glad that I protected my neurotic little self this way. The Hunger Games is amazing! I am so blown away by Suzanne Collins' ability to freak me out. I had many moments where I put the book down and tried to take some calming breaths. I don't think I'll be able to write anything that expresses how much I love this book. I am off to read Catching Fire and remain firmly Team Peeta! I just hope I can handle it until the 3rd book comes out.

Rampant, Diana Peterfreund

Here is a book I had a figurative paper chain counting down the days until its release date that lived up to my expectations! I love Diana Peterfreund's Secret Society Girl series (to an unhealthy degree; just thinking about them makes me want to read them all over again) so I was really excited to read her killer unicorn book.

I can honestly say that if I didn't already know that I loved her writing I probably wouldn't have picked this book up what with the whole unicorn thing. Unicorns remind me of Lisa Frank school supplies and velvet posters. Which has absolutely nothing to do with the unicorns in this story.

I loved the connections to art & mythology and all of the descriptions of Italy. I really want to go to Europe... I also loved the romance between Astrid and Giovanni. I totally loved all the funky names for the girls- they were spot on in my opinion. I think one of my favorite elements was the whole warrior nun cloister- I've always had a spot soft for a nunnery :)
The only thing that I didn't like was that it took me a lot longer to get into this book than usual. Once I was sucked in I loved it and couldn't put it down but it took me a while to get there.

I also liked that this story had a satisfying stand alone ending. I would love to read more of Astrid's adventures but this book solidly stands on its own two feet.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Crazy Beautiful, Lauren Baratz-Logsted

I am about to be snotty and pretentious:

Reading so much YA this year has given me some opinions on quality. Not all YA is created equal (duh it's the same with books for grownups, I know that). But some YA titles I have read are amazing, unforgettable, beautifully written, with not enough superlatives to describe them (like Speak, The Chosen One, If I Stay, Goldengrove, How I Live Now, etc) and some YA titles have these amazing premises that make me want to make paper chains to count down until their release dates and then I finally get them and go "meh". It's a huge let down. Especially when I start imagining that if Laurie Halse Anderson or Francine Prose had been writing the same premise things would be incredibly different. The "meh" I'm talking about is different than the "meh" for fluffy, light, relaxing titles that fulfill my need for bath tub reading material and help me relax, unwind, and forget my stresses. I'm talking about books that are serious and that have intriguing plot elements and characters but still manage to fall flat. They remind me that I am actually an adult and make me wonder if I should stop haunting the Teen section of Barnes and Noble because I'm just too old for it....

Which I know isn't fair to say. I know that I'm wrong in insinuating that a YA book I feel is not up to snuff should be fine for the actual teens to read but just not me. I fully subscribe to Walter de la Mare's thought, “Only the rarest kind of best in anything can be good enough for the young."

So I liked the premise for Crazy Beautiful and there really wasn't anything bad about it. I just had much higher expectations for the story. To me the characters often sounded like they were reading lines directly from episodes of Dr. Phil's show. They were preachy, hollow, and fake. It made me sad because I was so excited to read this book and I was thrilled to find it in the store before its release date. I do love the cover art, the hot pinkness of the actual book under the cover, and the initial idea. I also liked this line: "That is, I think, what it must mean to be human: to want something good for someone else." (p.126).

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Hate List, Jennifer Brown

Having read Dave Cullen's creepily gripping, Columbine, earlier this summer I was interested in picking up The Hate List when I realized it was about the aftermath of a school shooting. I have mixed feelings about this book.

On one side I couldn't stop reading and I stayed up late to finish it in one sitting. I was completely hooked on the story and believed in Valerie, the main character and girlfriend of the shooter. But on the other side (and I really wish there was a less pretentious way to say this...) it just seemed to lack the gravitas due to the subject matter. I didn't even come close to tearing up which is very unusual for me. It really doesn't take much to get me bawling my eyes out and even though I really wanted to keep reading this book I wasn't emotionally invested at all.

Some of the conversations felt forced and after-school specialish to me. But I do think that Jennifer Brown did an excellent job convincing the reader that Valerie could be completely wrapped up in her relationship with Nick and not see any of the warning signs of what was to come. Why would she ever have believed he was serious because clearly she wasn't serious about the things she said. The moments in the story with Valerie reflecting back on their emails and conversations, looking at them with the benefit of hindsight, were chilling. It was spot on: a mixture of "duh, how could I have missed this" and "but that can't be true; that's not the person he was, we were joking".

I think my more sedate reaction to this book comes in large part from being immersed in Dave Cullen's book. That reading experience had me crying, awake at night thinking about it, having to stop reading for a few days because I was getting too disturbed, then unable to stop reading.... it was consuming and in comparison anything dealing with school shootings would somehow seem less than.

One thing I did find myself thinking a lot about was Valerie's excellent therapist in the book, Dr. Hieler. I'm always fascinated by depictions of therapy in books and movies. So much of it is so sensationalistic and clearly a contrived plot device. Jennifer Brown does a great job with Dr. Hieler. He is caring and realistic. I loved how Valerie imagined he must have a perfect, 1950's style home life and then got to see reality at the graduation. It reminded me of the therapy scences in Francine Prose's Touch and the gold medal winner of books with therapists, Ordinary People.

Ordinary People had me down memory lane, remembering Mr. Peters, my independent study advisor back when I was 16. He was such a sweet old man and I think I probably learned more about literature from him in those few months than I did in my entire public school career (not so much with math but that wasn't so much of a change since I learned no math in public school either). He introduced me to Ordinary People and told me that he thought it had the most realistic depiction of a therapist that he had ever read. Looking back eleven years later, I realize why he picked that book for me at the time. I think I was pretty oblivious to seeing the comparisons to what was going on my own life. So now I think it's time to give it a rereading. Thanks Mr. Peters and thank you to Jennifer Brown for triggering the memory.

Evermore & Blue Moon, Alyson Noel

Maybe someday I'll be done reading fluff and feel the need for something deeper but that day has not arrived. In fact being back at school with a whole new batch of babies has made me even more frazzled in turn leading to more fluff.

I've seen these books around for a long time but never felt much of a draw. But then on the first day of school I was out running errands completely exhausted and saw these. I read them that night and enjoyed them. They are very light and I kind of tuned out for a big chunk of the supernatural explanations but I enjoyed the story. I wish there had been more about the whole reincarnating to find each other over and over romance story line- that was way more interesting to me than all of the complications over staying immortal, powers, etc. I'll definitely read the next one when it comes out. I always have to know how things like this end even when I think they are silly.

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