Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

16068905I’ve mentioned more than once that I’m a former (okay, maybe former and current) fanfiction writer. So after I read Eleanor & Park last year and discovered Rainbow Rowell had written a book about a girl who writes fanfiction…well…consider my interest piqued.

Cath is a normal college freshman. She’s anxious to start her first year of college, bummed that her identical twin sister is trying to break away from their special built-in bond, and terrified of leaving her manic father alone. She still harbors a lot of hurt over her mother’s abandonment and her college roommate appears to hate her. Then there are boys. You can’t blame a girl for wanting to crawl inside her fandom and disappear. We’ve all felt like that a time or two.

What made me love Fangirl? All of the things. Literally…all of them. My first year of college was so similar to Cath’s that I just melted under all the nostalgia. Rowell is the master of creating real teenagers. Everything from Cath’s extreme social introversion to her oddly forceful awkwardness around boys can be found on college campuses around the world. The relationship she had with her roommate was great – perhaps the best relationship in the book. Their dialogue was quirky and age appropriate which I often find lacking in young adult literature.

Many readers have claimed Fangirl has too much going on – too many little plot bunnies running around and not enough time to give the proper attention to any of them. These are valid complaints. But this didn’t bother me even a little bit. I, too, had crazy family drama going on around me during college and often didn’t have the time to focus on my actual real life issues. So for me, this felt just like what I had actually gone through a decade ago. It’s like Rowell had channeled 20-year-old Brooke and written this novel just for me.

My own personal criticism lies only in the romance. I loved the slow build-up, but the after parts were too squishy. Every time Levi called Cath sweetheart I wanted to gag…sorry, not sorry. This pet peeve is also just a personal preference. Jimmy and I have never used pet names for each other because I think they’re gross. See why romantical stories are not my favorite? But, the rest of the book was the perfect bookend to my twenties and felt particularly poignant with the big 3-0 looming on the end-of-month horizon. And even though I wish I’d had Rainbow Rowell all those years ago, I can honestly say I’m just as happy I’ve got her now.

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

unnamedOMG, Brooke has a proper book post up on a Monday morning. Just like the good old days. Praise be to all things holy. Seriously. Merry effin’ Christmas, y’all.

The Litwits met yesterday and we had another kick ass meetup/discussion. Our Christmas selection this year was Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares which I absolutely dreaded reading. Not just on my own behalf, but on everyone in the group’s as well. I had nothing to worry about, however, as the read was mostly painless and even pleasurable for most ladies.

The book is really your typical YA fluffy contemporary. Dash and Lily are 16-year-old Manhattanites who meet through a moleskin journal they trade back and forth, completing tasks and dares they dictate to each other. It’s cute, cheesy, schmoopy, and filled with Christmas cheer and holiday cynicism.

Our group decided it’s not amazing writing or anything mind-blowing, but Levithan and Cohn have created a simple story that should be satisfying to most teenagers and way less than painful for adults to sit through. You might even find yourself smiling at bits along the way.

What’s not to like? Plenty if you’re reading with a fine-toothed comb, but there’s no need for that! Yes, Dash is pretentious and Lily is immature. Yes, many of the episodes are cliche, over-the-top, and just downright implausible. And yes, even the writing suffers due to the back and forth alternating perspectives. Cohn and Levithan are playing with the traditional writing format which sometimes works and sometimes ends in EPIC failure.

Even still, most of us liked it against our better judgment. Perhaps it’s just the Christmas magic?

Speaking of Christmas magic, how about some Norman Reedus while we suffer through the TWD midseason withdrawals?

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and A Litwits Anniversary!

IMG_20131026_030601Sunday the Litwits met to celebrate our three year anniversary and to discuss Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Without bragging and making y’all jealous of how fabulous my book club is, suffice it to say we had one badass afternoon.

This year’s festivities included two kinds of cake – pumpkin spice and blueberry pound cake. Both were excellent and not baked by me, lol. I had help from Piece of Cake and will definitely be a frequent customer. We also held a big giveaway of three book packages – 10 books a piece. We drew names and Holly, Emily, and Melanie all won. They seemed pretty happy with their loot! Our final celebration included a Chinese gift exchange! Everyone ended up going home with a new-ish book.

After all that fun, it probably won’t shock y’all that the discussion for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was a bit on the light side. I think everyone enjoyed it and really seemed to love the creepy pictures beyond anything else. Some general complaints included the cliffhanger ending and just wishing for a little bit more such as Miss Peregrine turning out evil. I mean, she did sort of brainwash all those kids to stay in that time loop and never age.

For me, Miss Peregrine’s had a strong start and a somewhat lackluster ending. I liked how genuinely creepy the first bits were, but then the novel morphed into something more on the science fiction spectrum with time travel that I wasn’t expecting. The time travel definitely has the ability to become something awesome in subsequent books, though. I also just felt a bit odd about the kids never growing older.

If you’re looking for something light and spirited this Halloween, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children really would be a perfect fit as long as you aren’t looking for a perfect book.

Rating: starstarstar

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

15745753Be still my heart. What a heck of a little YA contemporary romance.

Eleanor & Park has made its rounds on the blogosphere and booktube several times at this point. Rowell has captured the first love of two 15/16 year old kids in 1986 rather perfectly. But beyond that, she’s captured exactly what it’s like to be a misfit and to come from some pretty shitty circumstances. She’s created Eleanor, a girl growing up with a horrifically abusive stepfather, suffering from the severe constraints of poverty, and  buried under the self-consciousness of being an overweight teenage girl. With Park, she’s drawn a half-white, half-Korean boy with a love of black clothes, punk rock, comic books, and a freakin’ heart of gold. A boy who deals with the constant disappoint of his father, constant comparisons to his more perfect brother, and who sits quietly on the school bus just hoping to go unnoticed. I loved them both unconditionally.

Eleanor and Park are real characters ; they feel like real people. These kids existed in 1986 and they exist now.

Rowell is a master of dialogue. She’s witty and clever yet manages to make her characters still sound like the young adults they are. That’s always been my problem with John Green. I love him to death, but his characters always sound too much like himself.  Rowell might be MY John Green. (I still love you, John!!)

There are cheesy moments here, for sure. Moments that in other books and handled by other authors have often made me cringe. But I just smiled happily and kept right on going. Why? Because something was just so grounded in the realness of my memories of teenagedom that I couldn’t help reminisce on my own high school years – my own crushes and first loves – my own struggles with the world, internal and external. I saw myself written on the page.

HUGELY RECOMMENDED.

Rating: starstarstarstar

Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake

12507214Girl of Nightmares is Kendare Blake’s follow up to Anna Dressed in Blood. Anna was a decent YA read for me, but had some flaws I had a hard time over looking. I had heard mixed things about the sequel in this duology, but hoped for the best. When the BookTube-a-Thon came along I decided to meet one of the challenges (finish a series) with this book and it was a perfect addition to my reading list.

(There will be Anna spoilers ahead so beware.)

When we left Cass and his friends, Anna had just been swept away to God knows where. Her Victorian mansion had collapsed, but everyone else had survived to journey on into Girl of Nightmares. This time around, Cass is seriously missing his ghostly honey, hating that he doesn’t know what actually ended up happening to her. Things turn rather strange when he begins having visions of Anna that at first seem harmless and just slightly crazy, but then he begins to suspect that Anna is actually contacting him from the hell she’s been living in during the past few months. Cass and company now must figure out if helping Anna is the right thing to do and whether or not it’s even possible.

You guys, Girl of Nightmares was so much more enjoyable than Anna Dressed in Blood. I’ve been trying to nail down why that is since I finished reading. Partially, I was aware of some of the book’s previous pitfalls and so didn’t let those things bother me as much in the second book. When Cass’s mother just sort of benignly accepts his job of choice, death be damned, I let it go. Mostly, however, I was so pleasantly surprised at how genuinely creepy this book turned out to be. At moments, I actually shuddered at some of Anna’s ghostly visits. The spookiness of Blake’s second outing was a wonderful improvement. Horror novels should incite fear – duh.

The new characters and the new London setting for the book’s second half were also a huge win! I loved that Gideon wasn’t all he seemed and that Cass’s job was on the table now that a kickass new female protagonist has been introduced. I say protagonist because I would totally love a novel from Jestine’s perspective. Plus, the hell world Anna’s living in with the Obeahman was so perfectly rendered and imaginative. I finally feel like Kendare Blake has transcended the multitude of other YA novelists into an elite group of talented super writers.

Yes, I liked Girl of Nightmares just that much.

Bonus:

I love that the girl on the cover doesn’t appear to be white – but rather looks Asian. At least to me. You can’t really tell in the above picture. She looks a lot like Kendare Blake, actually.

Audiobook reviews: Shadow and Bone & Stardust

10194157Just a couple of short audiobook reviews for y’all on this marvelous Friday morning. First up, I finished Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo a couple of weeks ago. It’s a YA fantasty novel about a world similar to Imperial Russia where the Shadow Fold and the Black Heretic have incited major fear in the population. The Shadow Fold is this black oceanic void of darkness that separates most of the population from the ability to receive trade goods from the coast. In order to cross the Fold, you have to travel with an army and Grisha to fight the crazy human-hungry birdlike creatures. Grisha are humans who have special powers of sorts – they are able to manipulate matter in various ways. Our heroine, Alina, is a normal girl who turns out to be the most powerful Grisha of all – of course.

The standard YA tropes are all here. Nothing new to write about really. I will say that I enjoyed the Russian setting and thought this book did a decent job being a bit darker and sexier (that’s right, sexier) than other YA. Alina is also not a terrible protagonist, but there’s nothing here to compel me forward. The middle lacked decent pacing and the ending was entirely predictable. Worked fined as an audiobook with a decent narrator – nothing spectacular or terrible, just ‘meh’.

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I also recently finished Stardust by Neil Gaiman which was a superb audio because he narrated it himself. His voice is gorgeous, and I think the listener really gets something extra special from the narration when the author reads his/her own work. Stardust is an adult fairytale about a boy searching for a fallen star to give to the girl he loves. It’s filled with fun, fantastical creatures, haggard witches, and lots of magic. I saw the movie first and enjoy both formats. What impressed me most about the audio was the interview with Gaiman at the end where he described how Stardust came to be – loved hearing how his mind works! I’d definitely recommend Stardust on audio and any other book that Gaiman narrates. A pleasant way to spend any commute. Very tempted to listen to The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

3167229The amazing YA streak continues! I can’t believe how many wonderful young adult books I’ve read recently. TKoNLG had been on my shelf for close to a year so it was high time I picked it up. But all the HYPE had me mucho worried. Then Andi read it, loved it, and so I decided to jump on in.

Todd is a boy living in Prentisstown on New World. Not Earth. Future place of habitation after Earth has had all of the terrible problems. In Prentisstown, men can hear each other’s thoughts which is called ‘Noise’. Also, no women. Not a single one. Apparently, a disease carried by the local alien population killed them off. One day Todd and his trusty sidekick canine companion, Manchee, hear a void in all the ‘Noise’ and that gets them into a bunch of trouble with the townsmen. Que running for your life adventure quest.

So much action. I’m sort of amazed at Ness’s imagination and ability to keep writing near misses and heart-pumping emotional craziness. My word of warning to you is that once you start Knife you can’t stop. I suppose you might be able to take short potty breaks, but I don’t recommend. Todd and his travel companions are always one page away from total disaster which can sort of resemble whiplash after awhile. I’ll also admit this can make a reader rather weary. I wanted Todd to catch a break every so often. But no.

The characters are awesome. Todd, in particular, is well-written. Finally, a teenage male protagonist in YA that sounds exactly like he should. Which means that Todd can be a total ass and hard to like. Perfect. But Manchee (yes, a dog) really steals the show. Because did I mention animals can talk on New World? That little guy was so full of spunk and loyalty that I defy you dog-haters to hate.

The end equals major cliffhanger. I can’t believe I haven’t bought the second book and inhaled it yet. But I think a break between the emotional chaos Ness creates is a must. My heart could barely stand this book at times. Also, no real love story – WINNING.

My biggest issue was the predictability. But  not a deal breaker by any means. Recommended!

 

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

13206760Scarlet is the second book in Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles and loosely follows the Little Red Riding Hood story. Much like Cinder, what’s old is new again and Meyer successfully manages to imbue new life into the familiar tales. I love how she manages to interweave the fairy tales together creating interesting connections between Scarlet and Cinder that are believable and so much fun.

We pick up right where Cinder left off, switching back and forth between the two girls’ perspectives. I enjoyed each voice equally and wasn’t bothered by the back and forth one bit. The story still manages to keep up Cinder’s non-stop, breakneck pacing with one adventure following the next. I adore Meyer’s female leads immensely. Strong, independent teenagers growing up in a crazy dystopian world where cyborgs, humans, and aliens aren’t managing to get along very well.

As much as I liked Scarlet, Cinder still stands as the better novel. Scarlet abounds in insta-love which is a young adult trope I cannot get on board with. That sucks since Cinder and Kai’s flirting and quietly burgeoning relationship was perfection – one of the book’s most attractive qualities. I guess having two unrequited love stories happening simultaneously might have been too much. However, I’d have preferred no additional love plot line to the insta-love far too often found in YA novels.

I recommend this collection of novels if you’re looking for mostly well-done YA with female leads not afraid to get their hands dirty and kick some ass. Summer brain candy at its finest and earns a deserving spot in anyone’s beach bag!

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

12394100Spoiler alert! I loved every single freakin’ word.

Seraphina is YA fantasy at its best. There’s a whole new world (Aladdin!), dragons, humans, and dragon-human hybrids. The dragons and humans coexist under a tentative peace treaty that is threatening to fall apart. Seraphina looks like just an ordinary, mild-mannered 16 year old music tutor, but she’s harboring a dangerous secret. And…DRAGONS!

Hartman has built a world that was an absolute pleasure to visit. I wanted souvenirs! The two societies have just enough in common to really make their tenuous dealings thrilling and the reasons they are on the brink of war believable. Seraphina herself is the single most delightful teenage protagonist I’ve read this year and might have saved my wavering feelings towards YA. Sometimes I even forgot she was a teenager. That’s not to say she’s really written as an adult masquerading as a kid – not at all. She’s still learning and growing in all the ways teenage girls do, just with additional complexities that allow her some perspective. Loved that.

I’m fairly certain Hartman’s writing doesn’t need any additional gushing from me. She’s won a ton of awards, and I can hardly believe this is her first novel. I read an interview where she stated it took nine years for her to pen Seraphina, and she’s fully admitted to being a writer who can’t write one book a year. Thank goodness. I hate when authors feel so pressured to manufacture subpar works just to satisfy publishers and an audience. I understand that capitalizing on the feedback of the prior book is essential to sales…but it still sucks.

What also pleased me was how the initial main conflicts in Seraphina were mostly resolved by the book’s end leaving me satisfied. I imagine you could read this book as a standalone and be fine. However, her world and Seraphina herself are so engaging that I can’t wait for book two and to see where the dragon/human conflict leads. For once, I’m dying for the sequel. And I’m thrilled to report that Seraphina’s love interest didn’t bother me in the slightest. The love story was a secondary plot line that happened organically and at the slower pace I adore. Kudos!

If you’ve become a bit skeptical of all the formulaic YA out there, pick up Seraphina immediately. It reminded me how amazing literature for youth can be – how inventive, creative, and freeing stories can be. Believe the hype on this one, guys. Don’t be the only one missing out!

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

9464733The premise to Beauty Queens sounded right up my alley. A bunch of teenage beauty queens crash land on a deserted island (or is it?) and have to use their wits to survive. Snarkiness, mayhem, and catfights promised to reign supreme. I could not wait to dive in.

And at first I wanted to throw the book out the window similar to Pat’s episode with Hemingway in Silver Linings Playbook. The girls were one beauty queen stereotype after the next and so incredibly over-the-top with their girly campy-ness. I couldn’t find a single character worth my while and rolled my eyes so many times I got a headache. The only thing that truly kept me reading was Bray’s narrative creativity. The story is told via traditional narrative, commercial breaks, contestant questionnaires, and other random interludes that were a complete pleasure in this satire.

Somewhere around page 100 or so, something magical happened and I started to adore Bray’s every word. The girls began showing honest character development, they were managing to survive and prosper brilliantly, and all of my judgement was thrown back in my face. I realized guiltily how complicit I had been in my own prejudice and preconceived notions about pageant contestants and teenage girls in general. I see what you did there, Ms. Bray, and I loved it!

All of the girls were amazing and I loved each of them individually by the novel’s end. They represented and dealt with an entire range of complex issues such as body image, sexuality, and self-identity. Miss Texas was particularly amazing. I loathed her at the beginning more than any other and she ended up my absolute favorite character. The girls were fierce, strong, capable, and the fact that they loved nail polish and shiny dresses couldn’t (and shouldn’t) lessen their courage and poise.

The best YA I’ve read all year.

Bonus:

There are pirates…ARRRGG!!