Wednesday, December 3, 2014

YA Wednesday: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-BanksThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 stars

I saw this book in a classroom library about 5 years ago, and I've wanted to read it ever since. I should have gotten to it sooner--this book rocks.

Some people have complained that this book wasn't feminist enough, but since I didn't go into it with any inklings of it being a feminist novel, that didn't bother me. It's about a 15-year-old girl who is just now beginning to realize that life isn't fair--because she's a girl. She's not a feminist. She's only beginning to be bothered by life's double standards, by the guy's-only exclusivity of her school. She has barely begun to think of these things, so how can she be a feminist?

Frankie is in love with a guy, although their relationship never feels very deep to me. Maybe it's because of all the secrecy that keeps them apart, as he's a member of the secret (male-only, of course) society on their elite boarding school campus. Frankie hates the secrecy, and the doors that are closed to her in all areas of her life, but most of all, that she can't become a member of this society and become even closer to her boyfriend, to share everything with him. Does this sound feminist?

I thought Frankie was clever and a fun protagonist to go along with. Sure, she's a bit nuts, and a bit of a stalker, but still, she was fun. I don't think this book should be some kind of guide for feminist thinking or anything, but I do think the author did a good job in showing the double standards of society, of pointing out that kind of exclusive thinking and how unfair it is. I think she does a good job of showing how it feels to be in this minority party, to show how it can drive a person nuts that they can't do anything about it.

I loved Frankie's antics, but I think if this was a feminist novel, she would have wanted to start her own club for girls, which I kept waiting for, but it never happened. Also, I think our protagonist would have had to have a better reason for wanting to join the boys than wanting to impress her boyfriend's friends and get closer to him. She would have had to be a better friend to her roommate, and the other female characters would have been better developed. Thinking of this book as some kind of intro to feminism is probably not a good idea. Thinking of it as an excellent read with a fun, engaging protagonist and a fast-paced plot, along with a bit of an examination of the unfairness women face every day in things as inconsequential as high-school bonding rituals makes for one of the most unputdownable books I've read this year. For a while, I've been running across big disappointments in the contemporary YA section. I've been waiting for a book that would suck me in and not let go, and this was the one.

Rating: 10+ No cursing, very mild sexual situations (think kissing), and no violence.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Review: Leverage, by Joshua Cohen

LeverageLeverage by Joshua C. Cohen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is as hard-hitting as the steroid-infused, foul-mouthed, warp-minded football players at its center. A very, very intense read that is not for the faint of heart. Although it is marketed as YA, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone under 16 due to the extremely graphic language and violence.

This is one of those books I think all parents should read, though. I was told it was a male version of Speak, but it's much more than that. It is an incredible, intense, heart-stopping book that will make your jaw hit the floor on more than one occasion.

There were a few times when I found a character's actions unbelievable, such as when Ronnie tries to get the boys to talk about his assault. I can't see a boy wanting to talk about such an extreme occurance of bullying, especially with the stigma and shame attached to victims of that sort of attack. However, most of the book was perfect, and although at times it was a bit predictible, it was the sort that made you HAVE to keep reading to see if you are right. You will think you know what's going to happen, but you won't be 100% sure and you won't be able to stop yourself from finding out for sure. Once you start this book, you won't be able to not finish it. And you'll be glad you did--the ending is so, so, so completely perfect that it leaves you smiling despite all the horrible things that happen to the characters throughout the book.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Book Review Wednesday: The Beckoners by Carrie Mac (Contemporary YA)

The BeckonersThe Beckoners by Carrie Mac

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of those books I've picked up several times at the library, but never opened it because I'd never heard of it. So even though it sounded good, I'd end up reading something else I got at the same time. Silly me.

Here is this undiscovered gem of a book. All I kept thinking as I listened to it was, HOW THE HELL IS THIS BOOK NOT A PRINTZ AWARD WINNER!!!???? It is so good, and exactly like what they always pick. Except way better. I know it doesn't have the best reviews, but THIS BOOK ROCKS!

It was so grungy and grimy and sad and brutal and depressing and just all around...amazing. One of those books that, as I read, I kept thinking, "Man, I wish I'd written this book." Not in the way of, "I could have done it better," but in the way of, "I wish I was Carrie Mac."

I will never understand why this book isn't rated higher. I loved it. I loved the characters, I loved the evilness of children portrayed here. It's like a modern Lord of the Flies, about bullying and bad parenting and reality. And girls. And cruelty. And conformity. People have complained that it's written strangely, but I had the audio and couldn't tell (and sometimes, you can...ahem *sarahdessen*). It sounded great to me. I liked the reader, and the prose flows well. People have also complained that it dealt with too many issues, but I didn't even notice. I was too busy going squee squee squee all the way home.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Veteran's Day Review: The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien

The Things They CarriedThe Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It took me a while to read this book, and I'm not sure why. It's not very long, but it seemed really dense. I'm not sure I could have told you if I liked the book as I was hearing it, but somewhere towards the end, I just fell in love. I think it was when he told about the girl who went to Vietnam and became addicted to it. That part rang so true that the whole thing, all the talk about war stories and how they didn't have to be true, it all fell into place. I understood what he meant. Just as there is truth in fiction, truth to the stories, truth to the characters, so could a war story be true even if it wasn't, in the strictest sense, factual in all parts.
After the story of Maryanne (pardon if I'm a little off on names, I listened to this one so my spelling might not be correct), I wanted to hear all about the rest of the characters. And it was the characters who really made this story. It's not so much a story, in the linear-progression, plot-arc kind of way. But all the stories together made something beautiful. I wanted to hear all about Jimmy and Henry, about the suicides and the 'accidents,' about the medics and Tim and the shit-fields and, yes, the things they carried. It didn't matter a bit which parts actually happened.
Really the book wasn't so much about what happened or didn't happen, it was about the characters and about humanity, about maintaining humanity in the face of the most horrid circumstances, about finding joy in the sickest places imaginable, about the horror and pettiness and cowardice and beauty not of war, but of the human spirit and of life.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Book Review Wednesday: Torn by Stephanie Guerra (contemporary YA)

TornTorn by Stephanie Guerra

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This year I've been reading contemporary YA like it's the only thing ever published. Which is different for me, because that's what I write, and when I was writing fantasy, I avoided reading it at all cost. However, I cannot get enough of this genre.

This book made me happy that I went on a library binge and grabbed pretty much every book in this genre that I could carry (about 10 at once, no exaggeration). This book made me want to wallow in it. It made me want to go into it and never come out. For a book that is so focused on character, and really not a lot happens, it was compulsively readable. So much so that I actually wanted to do stretches so I could listen to it. So much so that I found excused to do laundry so I could listen to it while folding clothes. In short, I found every excuse I could to hang around the CD player.

If there was anything bad about this book, it's that some parts of it were a little cheesy. I liked the character, but she could be pretty saccharine at times. Still, it was nice to read a strong female lead who isn't 'hard'. Stella was sweet and caring, but she also didn't let people walk all over her--and when she did, she recognized it. She admits at times that Ruby was using her, but she was letting it happen. Sometimes that did bother me, esp. when she was doing something really stupid for Ruby, who was kind of evil to her for most of the book.

Audio note: Great reader on the audio--just a trace of an Hispanic accent, perfect for the character (half Mexican but raised by her white mother since early childhood). Highly recommend the audio.

Overall, this was a great read, if you're into reading about friendship (I'm taking a romance break), and if you don't need a ton of action in your books. It was one of those that sneaked up on me and suddenly I'd well up (esp. the parts with her sister, who I adored beyond words--I wish I'd written that character).

Content: mature language (including F-bombs), adult situations (including statutory rape and hard drugs), included but not explicit.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Coffin Hopping: How to Scare the Neighborhood Children

It's that time of year again...Yeah, baby! Zombies are coming, as well as vampires and werewolves, witches, ghosts, ghouls, demons and devils (and some pretty things, too, but those aren't nearly so much fun, are they?) In honor of the upcoming holiday, I've joined the Coffin Hop Web Tour again this year. In case you hadn't noticed by all the badges and to atrtink for those, obvs I couldn't do something that cool...this is a huge event with artists and authors giving away hundreds of prizes on their sights. So hop on over to the list of horror authors and join us for some scartitivites.
As my family debated Halloween costumes this year, I got to thinking about the trendiness that Halloween has taken on. And more generally, the fall season. As soon as October begins, everyone is clamoring to post the first colored leaf photo, Tweeting about their pumpkin spice lattes (#PSL, of course) and instagramming pics of their newly dusted off Ugg boots and flannels. (Don't be offended, I'm poking fun at myself here, too). Fall is the hot new season, and it has been for several years now. Poor summer. So neglected.

When I was a kid, I don't remember adults dressing for Halloween. Perhaps my mom would find an old black skirt and a turtleneck, top it off with a straw hat, and call herself a witch, but the adult costumes were always kept to a minimum, made up of things they already had in the closet. Nowadays, Halloween is an all-ages event, with adult participation and enthusiasm (at least) as high as the kids'.

If you're not going to a party but stuck handing out candy, and you still want to dress up, consider scaring the neighborhood children. Oh yes. It might take a little more work than grabbing something off the shelf, but with the right makeup, face paint, and even items out of your closet, you can piece together a grim and gruesome costume.

You can go above and beyond and spend lots of money, but if you're like me, finances are tight this time of year with the holidays coming up. Zombies are still hot this year, as they have been for the past five or so years, and talk about a cheap and easy costume. Got an old t-shirt, a pair of ripped jeans and some dirt outside your house? All you need is some fake blood and maybe a makeup kit if you want to smear some white and black on your face. Smear the blood around your mouth, grime up your clothes a bit, dribble fake blood down the front of your shirt. Smudge some makeup (Halloween makeup or just regular old eyeliner) around your eyes, then go wait on your lawn. It's even better if you have a whole family or some friends willing to join you in this endeavor. When the kiddos start coming along your walk, begin lurching towards them (someone should also fall and army crawl, that's always a good one) growling and expressing your general desire for brains. If you want to go above and beyond, you could even make a few quick "coffins" out of scrap wood or pallets and have a couple people pop up out of those for effect. Then, watch the neighborhood kids scream in terror...just don't expect to be popular with the neighborhood parents!

 In case you were wondering, I still haven't decided on a costume, but I will definitely be in costume come Halloween night. Until then, I'll be hopping around reading scary stories on some of the author blogs over at the Coffin Hop, as well as giving away free copies of my own books. For the five days before Halloween, The Superiors will be free on Amazon, so pick it up if you like dark vampire stories (no explicit sex). And if you want to read the second book or third, I'll be giving away copies to Coffin Hoppers exclusively. The first person to comment each day this week will receive a free ecopy of any of my books. Just leave your name and contact info (email, twitter handle, fb, etc) and I'll get you a free copy.

Thanks for hopping in my coffin with me.

Edit: for length and relevance to topic.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

YA Wednesday: Graphic Novel Review: Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Last week I posted about the Printz Award Nominatee Boxers. This week, I'm posting about the second book in the series, Saints. I believe they were nominated together as one volume. To see last week's review, click here.

Saints (Boxers & Saints, #2)Saints by Gene Luen Yang

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've been on a graphic novel kick lately, so I grabbed this in an armload of them from the library. I saw it was nominated for a Printz award, which made me take it out of the stack and read it first.

It was pretty good, but nothing exceptional. For one, the graphics aren't as lovely as many of the graphics I've read. If I'm going to read a graphic novel, I want to be as captivated by the illustrations as the story. Otherwise, why not just read a novel? I didn't feel this was enhanced in any way by being a graphic novel. In fact, I'd rather read a novella about this supposedly based-in-history girl.

I did like the story quite well. Four-Girl was such a sad, confused child. I felt for her and was glad she finally got a name and found a place where she was welcome. It was so sad and amusing when she thinks she's a devil and goes around making ugly faces so everyone will know. It was at once tragic and ridiculous. I'm going to read the companion novel, but I can't say I'm holding my breath waiting for it.

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