Sunday, September 30, 2012


Author: Jessica Khoury

Author's Website:
Author's Blog:
Publisher: Razorbill (Penguin)
Editor: Laura Arnold
Agent: Lucy Carson at Friedrich Agency
Released: September 4, 2012
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Source: Library
Challenge: 2012 YA Debut Author Challenge
Pia is unique, the product of a century's worth of work to create the perfect, immortal human. She's just anxiously waiting until she can take her place on the scientists' team and become a part of the process, creating another immortal who can keep her company. But then she discovers a hole in the fence around the compound she's never left, and she ventures out into the rainforest where she meets Eio, a native boy who shows her the wonders of the world that has been hidden from her all her life. And then, as she gets closer to her goals, she discovers the truth of her origin - and she must make choices, difficult choices, about who she is and who she wants to be.

I was captivated by this book from the very first pages. The first thing that struck me was the richness of description. Here's a passage from the first page:

Outside the compound, the jungle is more restless than usual. The wind, slightly scented with orchids, prowls through the kapoks and palms as if searching for something it lost. The air is so damp that drops of water appear, almost magically, on my skin and on Uncle Paolo's pepper-gray hair. When we pass through the garden, the heavy-hanging passionflowers and spiky heliconias brush against my legs, depositing dew onto the tops if my boots. Water is everywhere, just like every other day in the rainforest. But today it feels colder - less refreshing and more invasive.

Just listen to the music in that! Besides for using sensory images to bring the scene to life, the way each detail is described brings such life to the picture - "depositing dew" - with a sense of movement and vivacity. And that continues throughout the whole book. Everything Pia experiences has this quality of descriptive aliveness. Part of it is that she gets to see so many things for the first time when she finally leaves Little Cam and ventures out into the rainforest, so her descriptions are full and fresh. Which makes for great heartthrob scenes between her and Eio!

The premise of Origin is really unique, and amazingly thoroughly followed through. Every step of the explanation makes sense, and it's unfolded throughout the story so that it feels organic to the tale but still gives all the necessary detail. I love how there's a bit of native folklore mixed into the science. The scientific process seems like a really good explanation for the phenomenon, but when the magic gets introduced, it lends a sense of the supernatural, just the right amount, the perfect touch to sort of humanize Pia instead of having her be completely a scientific specimen.

The whole story is a gripping mystery as Pia starts to realize that Little Cam is not the perfect place she always thought it was. The suspense and tension builds thrillingly as the evil minds are slowly revealed, little by tiny detail. And then, once it all explodes and the action starts, it's a nail-biting ride! Every half a page, the tide turns and the other side has the upper hand. And then there are all the unexpected things each character does in the thick of battle.

Especially what Pia does. The ending of the book is one shocking turn of events after another, and I never would have guessed how it would turn out. I'm not going to give anything away here, but I'll just say that whether the ending is a typically happy ending or not, it definitely is satisfying. Especially the last line! (Excluding the epilogue. I don't quite get the point of the epilogue.)

The issues that Origin raises are pretty interesting ones, too. There's the obvious question about whether immortality is even a good thing, and the even more obvious but not really a question about morality and how far scientists should go "for the greater good." But the more subtle issues deal with self-identity, with wrenching choices about the future, with independence, and with trust and faith. Pia has to face all of these at one point or another in the novel, and through dealing with each situation, she grows and develops as a character.

I was just blown away by the intense emotion in Origin, from all the characters - Pia and her struggle with herself and her choices, but also Eio and his father, and Dr. Fields, and even Pia's mother, to some extent. Add to that a top-notch thriller and an extremely well-crafted plot, and you've got a winner!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

All Finished and Favorable?

I closed a book in the middle for good today. I stopped at about Chapter 5 with no intention of ever finishing the book.

Which led me to introspection. A while ago, I read a blogger (I wish I remember who) writing that she never posts negative reviews, because she just doesn't read books she doesn't like. I thought - huh? How do you know before you read it if you're going to like it? Isn't that kind of the point of blogging - to let readers know which books you liked and which you didn't? Then I read on, and she said she just won't finish a book if she sees she's not liking it. So I reflected: Is that a good policy?

When I started blogging, I was committed to reviewing every book I read, and so I pushed through a couple of books that I knew I didn't like early on. But I was trapped in the part of my personality that wants everyone to like me and hates having anyone upset at me. So when I posted my first negative review, and the author commented on it, I sort of backpedaled and qualified the negativity. And after I read that blogger's comment, I felt doubly guilty for posting that review. But no, I meant it! I thought the book was not well written! But since then, I've posted several lukewarm or negative reviews, and I feel comfortable with that.

What I'm thinking is this: As a blogger, my job is to provide my readers with the means to make decisions about which books to pick up. If I dislike a book and therefore don't review it - well, how will my readers know that I didn't like it? (This is all assuming that my readers are discerning consumers who know how to tell when my opinion matches theirs, and when my opinion is based on factors that wouldn't affect their reading of the book.) With this particular book that I didn't even finish, no, I'm not going to mention it, because there really is no point in that much of a negative review. With that first negative review - I should have stopped reading the book when the language first started irking me  - which, oddly enough, was exactly the same problem with today's book that I didn't finish!

Basically, I feel that as a blogger, I have a responsibility to my readers. And in fact, as I started reading reviews from reputable places like Kirkus Reviews and Publisher's Weekly, I see that reviewers don't shy away from letting their readers know when they think a book is drivel - and they use that strong language sometimes! I try to be somewhat more polite than that.

The thing is, I think I respect authors too much - I feel crappy about giving bad reviews because I know how hard the authors must have worked. But when it comes down to it, bloggers serve a purpose, and if I don't fulfill that purpose, I may as well stop blogging.

What say you?

Monday, September 24, 2012


Author: Lissa Price
Author's Website:
Publisher: Delacorte (Random House)
Released: March 13, 2012
Genre: YA Dystopian
Series: Yes
Source: Library
Challenge: 2012 Debut Author Challenge, Dystopia Challenge
Callie has been living on the streets with her brother and friend for the past year, ever since the spores during the war killed her parents, the same way they killed every adult between 20 and 60, who didn't qualify for the vaccination. She's desperate to provide decent food and a home for her brother, so she joins Prime Destinations as a body renter - she'll lend her body for Enders, people as old as 100 or 150, to inhabit for a while. But she learns horrifying things about the body bank, and what starts as desperation to help her brother turns into an effort to save the entire country from the clutches of these murderous scheming people.
This book has got it all!! From gripping emotion, to thrilling action and suspense, complete with lush details and technical brilliance, it's a masterpiece!

First, I'm going to gush about the emotional connection. I completely connected with Callie right from the start, and stayed emotionally attached to her throughout the whole book. And her own emotions are so life-size, so real and overwhelming, that I felt them right along with her - the confusion, the betrayal, the moral dilemmas, the determination, the courage. Added to that, the cast of characters is utterly amazing. Every single one is a full character - down to Trax, the body bank technician, who appears only briefly for two scenes. The good guys, the bad guys - they're all completely fleshed out, no stock characters here! I whole-heartedly loved all Callie's friends and allies, and whole-heartedly hated her enemies and adversaries - except for when I was confused, along with her, as to which they were. Then the ambiguity consumed me.

The other thing that kept me enthralled, aside from the emotional rollercoaster, was the edge-of-your-seat pacing of the action and suspense. Lissa unfolds the details and information slowly, teasingly, and then the action creeps up on you and you're in a full-on car chase scene! When the "plot thickens" and things start heating up at the end, I had to remind myself to keep breathing - and then when I read the last few paragraphs, I found myself staring blankly at the page and willing it to offer up more information so I wouldn't have to wait until December to find out what that all means.

And then on the other side of the brain, while I was just enjoying the ride of the novel, I was appreciating the technical mastery that Lissa pulls off. Unwisely, before I read the book, I read Lissa's FAQs (I'm not sure why I'm linking to it here when I don't advise reading it until after you've read the book), in which she addresses fan questions about details of the story. So I went into this thinking about how sometimes stories don't hold together and details don't seem to match up. Well, that is so not the case here. Everything makes sense, every little setup detail has payout further on in the story. The craft of the novel is subtle, so that unless you're paying attention to it, it just reads like a really good book. But if you're looking for it, you can see that Lissa knows what she's doing.

I am so waiting on pins and needles for Enders, December 11, 2012!

EDIT: ENDERS will be released in 2013.

Meanwhile, enjoy Portrait of a Starter and Portrait of a Marshal.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

In My Mailbox 33

In My Mailbox is a meme created by Kristi of The Story Siren, where bloggers share the contents of their mailbox that week - books bought, borrowed, received... It's a great way to see lots of new books all at once, and leads to great coveting and more buying!

OK, so today I went to the Brooklyn Book Festival. And I'm weak, so weak. I bought some books, even though I certainly can't afford them. I also have some new books from the library. So here they are:

From the Library:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
False Memory, Dan Krokos
Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron, Jonathan Strahan
Delusion in Death, JD Robb

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
Two Medieval Outlaws, Glyn Burgess
Insular Romance, Susan Crane

From the Book Festival:

Look at Flower, Robert Dunn
Meet the Annas, Robert Dunn
A Brief History of Authoterrorism
This last one is from a new independent press that has only published three books so far, all on the same theme. The press is called Antibookclub. I fell in love with the concept right on the spot! I'm bookmarking their website:, and I'm going to be following their new releases!

Journals from Ploughshares. Couldn't resist this one. It was $5 for four volumes of literary fiction!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Delusion in Death

Author: J.D. Robb
Author's Website:
Publisher: Putnam (Penguin)
Released: September 11, 2012
Genre: Futuristic Romantic Suspense
Series: In Death / Eve Dallas and Roarke
Source: Library
Challenge: Mystery and Suspense

In a bar during happy hour, dozens of patrons suddenly turn on one another and viciously murder each other. Lieutenant Eve Dallas and her crack team of detectives, profilers, and "civilian consultants," aka her husband Roarke, work frantically to catch the perpetrator before mass murder and madness break loose in New York again.

What I love about this series is the ebb and flow of the continuity. Just looking at the last three books - New York to Dallas was intense, both in the case and in the emotional trauma Eve had to deal with. Then Celebrity in Death was more low-key, the case not having a lot of violence, Eve's personal life taking a back burner for once, not too many nightmares, no fights with Roarke. And then - bam! The opening scene of Delusion in Death is utter chaos, and Eve has to slog through that madness throughout the whole book. She also has to deal with her own residual trauma from her trip to Dallas, and I love the way that plays out. It shows how much she's grown, how she can rely on others to help her, but she still is the strong, independent Eve we love for her pigheadedness. There's a great scene between Eve and Mira, and between Eve and Peabody. And we get to see a soft side of Eve that I really didn't expect when she talks to Mavis at one point! That was a delight. But she's still snarky enough. Still love that.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Where It Began

Author: Ann Redisch Stampler
Author's Website:
Publisher: Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster)
Released: March 6, 2012
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: No
Source: Library
Challenge: 2012 Debut Author Challenge

Gabby wakes up with no memory of how she got into a hospital bed with alien doctors and nurses hovering over her. She clearly remembers her transformation junior year from invisible Gabby of Winston School to flawless, gorgeous Gabby, Billy Nash's not-unpopular girlfriend. But she's desperate to get that flawless life back - Billy isn't calling and her new life seems to have disappeared. And everything is just falling to pieces around her. So Gabby has to figure out what went wrong, and where it all began.
When I posted this book as part of an In My Mailbox, someone commented on the gorgeous cover. I think it's a real ironic twist that the girl on the cover has a gorgeous, flawless face, when for the entire length of the book, Gabby is dealing with covering up the scars and discoloration from the crash. But it speaks to the whole theme of the story, and in this case, the cover speaks volumes about the book itself.

As for the inside - it's amazing!! Gabby's voice is just confused enough to draw you in to feel sorry for her, but just strong enough to have you cheering for her when she finally takes control. It's interesting that for most of the book, she's actually behaving quite despicably, especially to the few people she can count as real friends, but as a reader, you still ache for her and want things to work out for her. Even though she makes plenty of mistakes of her own, she's mostly a victim, a clueless victim, first of her mother's ridiculous ideas of acceptance and then of everyone else.

I love the time element of the storytelling, the way Gabby goes back and forth between narrating what is happening now and what happened in the past. And I love that it's all in the present tense, which heightens the effect that it's all mixed up for Gabby, that she's experiencing it all at once as she tries to make sense of what's going on. Ann Stampler's writing style is so understated but so sharp, so incisive. Every word counts and packs a punch.

And speaking of packing a punch - I abso-tota-lutely love the last sentence! No, don't flip ahead and read it, it has to come after reading the entire book. It's just the perfect wrap-up to Gabby's story. It shows Gabby's growth, what she learned from this whole experience - and it says it in one line. The last chapter is a nice resolution, showing where she ended up, after she figured out where it began, but that last line is really all that's necessary to tie up the story and finish it off.

I loved this book so much that as soon as I finished it, I went back and flipped through it, rereading bits and pieces of it. It's definitely, as Jenny Han is quoted on the cover as saying, "unputdownable!"

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Keep Holding On

Author: Susane Colasanti
Author's Website:
Publisher: Viking (Penguin)
Released: May 31, 2012
Genre: Contemporary YA
Series: No
Source: Library

Noelle has a terrible home life - her mother is basically defunct, there's no money and never any decent food, she has to do her own laundry and pick up toiletries on the downlow. And on top of that, she's bullied mercilessly at school. But she keeps her head down, sticking close to Sherae, her one friend, and waiting for all of this to be over, when she can move out of this small town and into the city, and start a new life. But when the bullying goes too far with another girl in school, Noelle realizes that she can't just sit back and wait - she has to do something.
Don't let the cover fool you - this is not really a romance. Yes, Noelle has a romance with Julian, and that's a pretty important part of the story, but the main part of the story is about self-confidence and standing up to bullies. I teared up a couple of times - it's that type of book. Interestingly enough, this was an eye-opener for me as to the extent of bullying that goes on in high schools. I went to a religious school, where we had our fair share of cliques, but not outright nastiness and deep suffering like this. When I read Susane's note at the end, I realized that everything she wrote is true, without exaggeration. And then I watched the X Factor, where Jillian Jensen shared her story about being bullied, and it's just mind-boggling to me that this actually goes on. That kids actually live with this, day in and day out. That school, where everything is supposed to be safe before you go out into the big wide world, can be a hell on earth.

Noelle is such a strong character. Even when she's doing nothing to stop the bullying, she has such strength, just to keep going, to "keep holding on," in the face of such terrible trials. But her self-doubt creeps in as a result of all of it, and she almost destroys her chance at actual happiness because she feels she isn't worthy, when Julian asks her out. To complicate things, she has such low self-esteem that she doesn't even realize it when her "boyfriend" is using her and is so undeserving of her.

The thing is, I loved the book up until the last few pages. I wasn't so happy with what happens when Noelle stands up to the bully face to face. Someone else steps in to defend her, but that person ends up bullying the bully. To me, that just reinforces the cycle and doesn't teach the lesson that bullying is wrong. For a book that's meant to teach a lesson, it fell short for me in that respect.

If I starred books, I'd give this one three and a half, because I really loved the storytelling, but the resolution fell flat.

Life Eternal

Author: Yvonne Woon
Author's Website:
Publisher: Hyperion (Disney)
Released: January 24, 2012
Genre: YA Paranormal
Series: Dead Beautiful #2
Source: Kindle

After Renee has had her soul handed back to her by her boyfriend Dante, she spends a summer trying to figure out what happens next. But what happens next comes as a complete surprise. Renee's dreams seem eerily connected to reality, and when she begins to discover the secret of the Nine Sisters - the secret of Life Eternal, the only way she and Dante can cheat his looming death and be together forever - she is determined to find out exactly what is going on. But the answers may not all be to her liking...
To start at the end - Yvonne is the master of cliffhanger endings! She did it at the end of Dead Beautiful, and it's even more cliffhanger-y in Life Eternal! The last chapter is a buildup of action upon action, suspense and mystery, with terror and danger climbing and magnifying, until you're holding your breath and waiting to see what happens, and then something happens - and then it's the last sentence. And you turn the page. And that's it. And now wait for the third book! But who died? And who's the good guy? And did they get it? And what does it mean? We'll have to wait and see.

As for the rest of the book - it's amazing as well. The one thing that bothered me was that Renee trusted her new friends too quickly and shared sensitive information with them too readily, but that was pretty much necessary to get the plot moving. Her new friends are quirky and fun, even with all the darkness going on, and I love the way each one helps her with different parts of her investigation. It definitely doesn't get boring!

The mystery is woven really intricately, and unfolds slowly as the story progresses. Both mysteries, I should say - the mystery of the Nine Sisters and the mystery of Dante. Renee's confusion about Dante feels raw and real, and her sense of betrayal screams out from the page. And she follows the clues that the ninth sister left, and finally figures out what it all means, the way a girl who is confused but determined would. But the mystery itself - there are layers upon layers that Yvonne reveals through little snippets, like teacher's asides in the classroom, chance meetings, Renee's making connection between things... Things that were set up in Dead Beautiful come back in Life Eternal as part of the mystery - including Eleanor, Renee's parents, and Miss LaBarge. It all ties together, slowly, steadily.

I love Renee's relationships with her friends. Her relationship with Dante is not as beautiful as it was in Dead Beautiful, it's more painful and confusing, but her friends give her that lighthearted side instead. Anya and Noah are both very different from each other, which gives Renee different views of the situation, as I mentioned. It also brings out different parts of her personality that we didn't see in Dead Beautiful either. As a potential romantic interest, Noah is great. He's a little suspect at first, and I didn't like him right away, but I warmed up to him eventually and even though I'm still rooting for Dante, I felt glad that Renee had comfort from Noah.

I really really want to know what happens with Renee and Dante! I can't find a title or release date for the third book. Anyone have any info on that, let me know in the comments!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Pushing the Limits

Author: Katie McGarry
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Released: July 31, 2012
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: No
Source: Library
Challenge: DAC 2012

Echo used to be part of the most popular group in school, but now she pulls her sleeves over her wrists to cover the scars on her arms and keeps to herself with the few friends she has left after the day she can't even remember. Noah Hutchins is the bad boy, and the two of them couldn't be more different, but now that they have to spend time together, Noah is surprisingly understanding of Echo, and together, both Noah and Echo begin to learn to love again.

Pushing the Limits is a sweet story, a romance that carries through with heart and emotion. Noah and Echo's love story is nicely developed and Echo's friendships are also layered and real. The relationship aspect of the story is fully rounded and enjoyable.

But the plot is a bit weak on a few points. Noah's transformation from model brother to bad boy either happens too fast or isn't complete enough, one or the other. If he really went to that extreme of doing drugs and hanging around with the tough guys, it is possible, but he retains his good heart and his close friends are so non-violent except for one incident that I find his transformation pat and not fully there.

The other thing that felt dragging was Echo's quest to find out what happened that day she can't remember. She knows essentially what happened, it's just the details she can't remember. So when the main part of the plot focuses on her finding out those details, I expected them to be a major revelation - but they weren't. They didn't add anything to her understanding of her family or anything, so it fell flat for me.

A decent book, but nothing spectacular.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

In My Mailbox 32

In My Mailbox is a meme created by Kristi of The Story Siren, where bloggers share the contents of their mailbox that week - books bought, borrowed, received... It's a great way to see lots of new books all at once, and leads to great coveting and more buying!

The great part of living in a place like New York is having an amazing library system that (usually) has every book you want, especially since I live in Brooklyn and can use both the Brooklyn and New York Public Libraries. But the downside is that when I put all these books on hold and they start rolling in, I have to start reading fast or they'll all come due and I won't be able to renew them because someone else will have put a hold on them already.... Oh, well. Forced reading time. Sounds good! 

Here's my haul this week:
(Blurbs are a mix of cover/flap copy and my own impressions. I include them because I found myself wishing others would include some sort of short description, at least what category the book falls in, so here's doing my part!)


The Thing that Happened, Libby Broadbent
I found this book through the author's blog, whose posts are hysterically funny, and where she has a video of herself reading an excerpt from the book - hilarious! The book is about a small-town teacher and a tragedy that takes place in the town. But although it's about tragedy, it promises to be a really funny book. It placed third in the WFNS Atlantic Writing Competition in 2011.

From the Libraries:
Spookygirl: Paranormal Investigator, Jill Baguchinsky
Violet has always been able to see and talk to ghosts. Now she deals with a ghost lurking in the girls' locker room and tries to finish the investigation that led to her mother's sudden death. The book has a quirky tone, sounding a bit like a YA version of Grave Witch, which I loved, so I'm looking forward to it!

Firelight, Sophie Jordan
Jacinda's rebelliousness forces her family to flee the draki - dragon shapeshifters - community into the human world, and her draki spirit fades. The one thing that revives it is Will, whose family hunts her kind...

Fated, Alyson Noel
The Soul Seekers #1
Strange things are happening to Daire. Only her grandmother recognizes them as her destiny as a Soul Seeker, one who can navigate between the world of the living and the dead. Daire sets out to harness her mystical powers and meets Dace, the boy from her dreams, who could be the guy she's meant to be with... or allied with the enemy she's meant to destroy.

Abandon, Meg Cabot
"The myth of Persephone... darkly reimagined." With Meg Cabot's wit and flare, I can't wait to see how she pulls this one off!

Where It Began, Ann Redisch Stampler
Gabby has been unnoticed up until her senior year, when she shows up a blonder, better-dressed version of ehrself, and Billy Nash believes she's the flawless girl she's pretending to be. Until she wakes up on the ground next to the remains of his BMW with no idea how she got there. Gabby wants everything to be perfect again, but she has to face the truth...

Someone Else's Life, Katie Dale
When Rosie's mother dies of Huntington's, Rosie decides to get tested, but her mother's friend tells her that she was actually switched at birth with a sick baby. Rosie joins her boyfriend on his gap year travels to leave England and find her birth mother in America. But as Rosie discovers more of her family's deeply buried secrets and lies, she is left with an agonizing decision, one with heartbreaking and far-reaching consequences.

Waking Storms, Sarah Porter
Book #2 of the Lost Voices Trilogy
Lost Voices was a heartbreaking story, and I've been waiting and waiting to read the next installment! Here it is!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

French Lessons

Author: Ellen Sussman
Publisher: Ballantine (Random House)
Author's Website:
Released: July 5, 2011
Genre: Contemporary (ADULT)
Series: No
Source: Library eBook
Challenge: None
Since this is primarily a YA blog, I feel I must make it very clear, especially because I didn't know going into this that I should expect it - French Lessons is very much an adult book! And don't let the pretty feminine cover fool you - it's a gritty story.

French Lessons follows the day of three people and their respective French tutors, completely separate stories connected by the characters' epiphanies about love. The stories are bookended by the tutors meeting at the beginning and end of the day, bringing the tutors into the love stories. But really, the book is not about love stories, about finding love. It's about finding the meaning of love. And every character finds a different meaning of love.

Each student is struggling with something - Josie just lost her boyfriend of a complicated relationship, Riley is dealing with a distant husband in a strange new country, and Jeremy grapples with his relationship with his wife. They all lean to their French tutors for a bit of romance, but their tutors are dealing with their own messes and react in sometimes unexpected ways. In the end, both students and tutors (most tutors!) learn what love means to them and gain the strength and confidence to make decisions about their own love lives.

French Lessons is ultimately a hopeful book with a positive message about love, but for the majority of the book, hopelessness and despair drenches the pages. And I love how that's achieved - short, terse sentences, dialogue with very few taglines, quick repartee among the characters. It draws you in, especially Josie and Riley's stories, until their grief and wild desperation seep right into you and fill you up.

I love how time is used in the book, how the characters move back and forth between the day that is the present and their memories of what's happened up until then to bring them to the state they're in at this point. The seamless interweaving works beautifully to transcend time and make their experiences timeless. Josie's story also works really well because her grief is portrayed through that cutting back and forth, in the way a grieving person would really remember things in fits and spurts throughout the day.

Bedroom scenes are an important part of the story, since it drives some of the characters' stories so strongly, and what's great is that each character's description has a different tone, a different quality to it. It's this difference that defines the characters' perceptions of love, and the ability to convey those subtle shades of attitudes is a sign of a master!

Personal note - I read this book from start to finish without stopping once! It does that to you - pulls you in and doesn't let you go until you know exactly what happens. And I like the open-endedness of the finish, too, the way some things are wrapped up but some things are left to the imagination. A really satisfying read!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Lock and Key

Author: Sarah Dessen
Author's Website:
Publisher: Speak (Penguin)
Released: 2008
Genre: Contemporary YA
Series: No
Source: Library
Challenge: None
Ruby is fine. Really, she is. Or at least that's what she tells everyone, including herself. But when her mother takes off and she has to fend for herself, and things don't go so smoothly, Ruby is sent to her sister, Cora, who left Ruby and her mother years ago to make her own life. Now Ruby is ripped away from everything she knows and is planted in a world of mansions and backyard ponds, private schools, and - worst of all - nice, polite relationships.

The beginning of the book, when Ruby narrates her previous life and how it's horrible and terrible that she has to give it up and move in with her sister and brother-in-law, is so matter-of-fact about the conditions she considered normal, and even preferable, that it's heartbreaking. It definitely sets things up for the way she behaves as the story progresses - why she reacts to certain events in the ways she does, why she has such difficulty trusting others and letting others in.

This story, contrary to what the flap copy says, is not about a girl living a perfect life, or about Ruby finding out about a neighbor's problems. It's about the true meaning of friendship and family. And that is so beautifully woven throughout the story - in more obvious ways via the English assignment Ruby has to do, in more subtle ways via the various interaction between all the characters.

And the way Ruby comes to realize what true family and friendship is about, what real relationships mean, is a realistic portrayal of how a real person grows and matures. She faces uncomfortable and painful truths, she makes impossible choices, sometimes split-second choices that have huge ramifications, she goes astray and messes up more than once. But through it all, she slowly cracks and allows others in, reluctantly at first, screaming and kicking, but eventually learning that perhaps this is the better way, and then welcoming and even pursuing real relationships.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Shooting Stars

Author: Allison Rushby
Author's Website:
Publisher: Walker Books (Bloomsbury)
Released: February 28, 2012
Genre: Contemporary YA
Series: No
Source: Library eBook
Challenge: None
Jo - or Zo Jo, as she's known in the paparazzi world - just landed the job of a lifetime. It's a job that will get her out of the papping world and into real photography school to learn portrait photography, her real dream. But it's also a low-down, dirty, dishonest, sleazy, and downright wrong job. She's going to pose as a client in an exclusive retreat in order to get shots of a star who's in there, a star who has become extremely elusive in the past years. To make matters worse, Ned Hartnett is the one star who has ever been nice to her, so taking pictures of him when he obviously just wants to get away from it all is even worse. She takes the job. But nothing could prepare her for what happens "on the inside" - not her feelings for Ned, not what she finds out about him, or about the job, or about herself. 
This was one of those rare times that I finished a book in only a couple of sittings. The pages just turned themselves! The surprises and twists kept coming, tension is constant, Jo's struggles so raw and immediate, that I was pulled into the story and went with the current.

Jo herself is a very likable character. Her choices are real and difficult, and they play out very realistically too. I like how most of the story takes place over only a few days, but every moment is hard for Jo as she has to deal with moment-by-moment decisions, so time feels stretched out - the way it would feel interminable while she waits for contact from the outside world to help her make decisions about what to do.

Besides that, though, her attitude is so great! I love when she has her outbursts in group sessions and in workshops - when she loses control of herself and lets loose, especially when Brad, the counselor, finally gets to her and we find out something shocking about her. She has this tough facade, but underneath it, she's really this confused little girl. And her relationship with Ned helps fix that, her whole journey throughout this mess forces her to grow up and make difficult choices, to face herself and decide who she really is. I love how that's portrayed - so subtly that it's hard to pinpoint when exactly this change happens, because it's realistic that it happens gradually. It's really an art to show that gradual transformation, and Allison does that beautifully.

I love the secondary characters also. They all have such distinctive personalities, and each one interacts with Jo in a different way and brings out a different aspect of her. That's amazing - the way Jo's character is teased out through these interactions, the way each of these characters adds to the story by serving as a counterpoint for what Jo is experiencing.

This whole book is very character-driven, and to be honest, that's my favorite kind of book. Yes, there are surprising twists, and the plot is very important, but it's how each character deals with those surprises that really makes the story. A real winner!