real-talk YA book reviews

Monthly Archives: April 2013

Every Tuesday, the site The Broke and the Bookish posts a prompt for a top-ten-style list, and book bloggers around the web respond to it on their blogs. The prompt this week is Top Ten Words/Topics That Instantly Make Me Buy/Pick Up A Book. Here they are in no particular order.

1.) Backwards tropes—I’m always interested in stories that take clichés and mess with them. As an extreme in the same vein, Megan McCafferty (author of the Jessica Darling series) has a really cool book called Bumped, in which adults can no longer have children, so young people have to be surrogate parents; and this whole culture has formed where being a teen mom is cool and attractive and desirable, and there’s all this pressure for teen girls to get pregnant. It’s weird. And really interesting.

2.) Romances that stem from rivalries. It’s always fun to watch how two people go from hating each other to adorably not-so-hating each other. You know it’s going to happen; you can just sit back and watch while smirking knowingly.

3.) Motley crew quests. Take an assemblage of ridiculous characters and give them a common goal that they must team up to achieve, and you’ve got something I’m most likely going to read.

4.) Weird alternate societies. See my comment in number one. I’m fascinated by societies with drastically different norms than ours, which seem perfectly normal to the characters. I read a lot of dystopians, and I especially prefer the ones where everyone still thinks things are fine.

5.) Forbidden love. Always a good place to look for juicy romance.

6.) Between Louise Rennison and Sue Limb, I’ve had a lot of success with sassy British teen girl books, so if I see such a book, I’ll be interested.

7.) Books where the love interest is mysterious and/or misunderstood. Because yay.

8.) Books by Sarah Dessen. I’ve read every one of her books and they’ve all been amazing, so if it has her name on it, I will not only pick it up, but cling to it and dance with it. It could be an assembly manual or a textbook for all I care.

9.) I’m generally intrigued by books about boarding schools, since I’ve never been to one and they seem very exotic and unreal to me.

10.)It’s getting a little overrepresented, but YA books set in New York City tend to be fun. There’s a certain kind of lifestyle possible there that a teen—or an adult, really—can’t have in many other cities, and it makes for good stories.


back when

Enjoyability:       smilesmilesmilesmileblank space

Deep Thoughts: medium brainmedium brainmedium brainmedium blank spacemedium blank space

Pages: 296  Copyright: 2011

              “I never got it, those magazine articles I read when I was thirteen and anticipating romance. Never understood why they went on and on about finding a guy you could be yourself around. I could be me all by myself. I was already me. I wanted a boyfriend to make me more than me.

                Zan was that guy. Zan was that guy, and more. I wasn’t myself with him, I was better than myself—Joy 2.0.”

                It’s Joy’s second year since she moved from her beloved home, Claremont, California, to Haven, Utah, an almost exclusively Mormon town where everything and everyone is perfect, 24/7. But there was only one thing that Joy ever found perfect about the place: Zan. And now he’s gone.

                Joy’s boyfriend Zan was everything the town of Haven wasn’t— worldly, clever, an individual. He and Joy were inseparable. But at the end of their junior year, he left to go to college in Joy’s hometown. Everyone tells Joy that she’s included in the things Zan wants to leave behind, but she refuses to believe it. Together with Noah, Zan’s best friend and the golden-boy embodiment of Haven, she sets out on a trip to California to find Zan and make things right.

                I actually think Back When You Were Easier to Love is very deep, more so than it appears. This isn’t just a book about love. It’s about trying to find all the answers in one place, trying to simplify the world. It could be a job aspiration, an award, a body weight— there are times in all of our lives when we believe that if we can just get one thing, everything will be right, perfect. Sometimes we want to believe it’s that simple. I included the quote at the top because it basically sums up the entire book. It isn’t Zan Joy is obsessed with, it’s the way she can see herself when she’s The Girlfriend of Zan.

                And it executes all those deep thoughts quite well, because I think it’s a beautifully written book. It succeeds at being poetic without sounding like it’s trying to be poetic, which is an issue a lot of authors have. It has an effortless quality to it.

                The characters are very good and well-rounded, and distinct from each other. So that’s good.

                I spent a lot of time as a child in writing summer camp hearing about show-don’t-tell (imply things when possible through concrete details rather than just saying everything outright, i.e. “he was very angry”), so you may notice I’m kind of overzealous about policing that, and I guess there are some instances of telling-not-showing in this book. But it wasn’t so bad, because the whole story is very inside of Joy’s head, with her analyzing things. With the overall tone, it fit okay.

 IBTJ Special Awards

lightbulb I’m giving it an Illuminator because I’ve been personally very struck with the overall meaning and depth. It just spoke to me.

sqee Squee! I really like the romance in this book. It’s very sweet and gentle, and perfect for the story. A certain person in this book is very adorable and chivalrous.

music notes Lyrical award because like I said, I love the writing style. It really sets a thoughtful atmosphere that works perfectly with the themes, the characters, etc.


Wow. This turned into a really positive review. I guess I like this book more than I quite realized… I hope I didn’t over-hype it. But it’s a very nice book.     

Every Tuesday, the site The Broke and the Bookish posts a prompt for a top-ten-style list, and book bloggers around the web respond to it on their blogs. The prompt this week is top ten books I thought I’d like more or less than I did.

1.) Going Bovine by Libba Bray—I was initially hesitant to read this book because it dealt with fatal illness and I thought it was going to depress me, but it ended up being SO WONDERFUL.

2.)The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan—I love David Levithan, so I was expecting to be more wowed than I was. His other books are better.

3.) Abandon by Meg Cabot—I am also a massive Meg Cabot fan, but the Underworld series hasn’t turned out to be my favorite by her. The love interest is a little clingy and grumpy, and the main character lets him be that way.

4.) Graceling by Kristin Cashore—I think I expected to like this more than I did, because I thought Katsa’s killing abilities were going to be more interesting. I thought there would be more magic and mysticism involved in her power, rather than basically just that she can hit people really hard really fast.

5.) Twilight by Stephenie Meyer—I don’t want to take a stance in this debate at this point, but I will say that when I was younger and Twilight first came out, I wasn’t especially interested in reading it. But then a friend of mine was raving about it so I gave it a chance, and at that time in my life, at least, I really enjoyed it.

6.) Pilgrims Don’t Wear Pink by Stephanie Kate Strohm—I wasn’t expecting much from this book—I literally took it to the beach with me—but I think I found it even more iffy and laughable than I expected. Still, it was quite entertaining in its own way. But I wouldn’t nominate it for any awards, I’ll say that much.

7.) Dreamland by Sarah Dessen– I had heard so much about this being Sarah’s darkest, most haunting book that I put off reading this one for a long time because I was afraid I’d be scarred forever. But it really wasn’t so bad. It was intense, but not overwhelmingly so. And it was a great book! (I CANNOT WAIT FOR THE MOON AND MORE.)

8.) The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman—this book had a lot of good dystopian potential, but it just wasn’t very memorable. There’s very little actual action or much of a climax. Just kind of eh.

9.) Claim to Fame by Margaret Peterson Haddix—This one makes the climax of The Other Side of the Island look like a heart-pounding thriller. I adore her Among the Hidden series, but nothing happens in this book! Like, actually nothing. Maybe it would have been better off as a short story.

10.) The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak—Everybody loves this book, but I never really got into it… I actually didn’t finish it… maybe I was too young for it. I don’t know. Sorry.


Enjoyability:      smilesmilesmileblank spaceblank space

Deep thoughts: medium brainmedium brainmedium blank spacemedium blank spacemedium blank space

Pages: 365      Copyright: 2007

In this story loosely based on Jane Austen’s Emma (which is weirdly never really acknowledged, by the way), Laurie Holbrook, a 23-year-old photographer, is out to get everyone married, except herself. Although she’s resolved never to marry and leave her beloved but needy father, Laurie is far from having anything against marriage as a concept. Now that she’s got her older sister happily wed, her confidence in her own skills is higher than ever, and she’s eager for new victims. She sets her sights on pairing up her diligent but uptight coworker Ruby and her friendly, laid-back pastor Nick. There to help are her lifelong best friend Brandon, Hannah, a Barbie-perfect new coworker who might not be as irritating as she first appeared, and Ryan, Ruby’s younger brother, among others. But things don’t go as smoothly as Laurie imagines.

Miss Match is published by Navpress, which is a Christian-affiliated publishing company, and Christianity has a pretty large presence in the story. I happen to be a mix of Jewish and agnostic, and although I did my best to be open-minded, I wasn’t always completely comfortable. It’s just something to be aware of when you start the book. Anyhow, you can take my review with a grain of salt, but I tried to write a totally judicious and objective review.

This is Mangum’s first novel, and it shows natural skill for entertaining. I think what she needs to work on now (or may have already worked on— it’s been six years since she wrote Miss Match) is mastering editing skills so that she doesn’t sabotage her own good material.

My favorite thing about this book was the energy. The mood of Miss Match is very light and vibrant. The characters have good moods and bad moods, but the story is never heavy or lethargic. It’s a feel-good book, relaxing and uplifting. It’s fun. And it doesn’t take itself too seriously; nor do the characters. There’s a good sense of humor here. The witty banter is right on target, and Laurie is loveable and funny. I enjoyed her quirks and idiosyncrasies.

But like I said, sometimes editing issues hurt the good things. Some character reactions to funny or strange behavior seemed melodramatic and excessive. It seemed like a lot of times a character said or did something moderately funny, and everyone around them started rolling on the floor howling with laughter like they’d just seen Bridesmaids for the first time. Or when Laurie said or did something only moderately weird, people stared at her like she belonged in the deepest corner of a mental institution. Things like that. And there were sentences that I just wanted to take a red pen and cross out. Less is more.

Regarding the Christianity elements, one thing another person who read this book said to me is that they could have been incorporated more smoothly, and I think I do have to agree. A lot of references were made to religious concepts, but it could have gone farther to make them relevant to the story– at times references seemed dropped in as tokens, rather than being fully woven in. I could figure out how they could be relevant, but it needed just a little more.

Back to positives, another plus of Miss Match was the romance element between Laurie and a character whose name I shall not divulge. They’re pretty cute. Good together. And the evolution of their relationship was fresh and well-done. I could almost give it a Squee. I don’t know if I want to go quite that far, but I’m definitely giving it a smile and an approving nod.

If you have a tight schedule with preciously-rationed reading time, there are more sock-knocking options. If you’re getting ready for a long, leisurely vacation, then sure, go ahead and add it to your beach-read arsenal.

Every Tuesday, the site The Broke and the Bookish posts a prompt for a top-ten-style list, and book bloggers around the web respond to it on their blogs. The prompt this week is “rewind”: pick a past topic that you missed or want to revisit. I spend the majority of my time obsessing over fictional guys, so it was obvious choice for me to go with Top Ten Fictional Crushes. Here they are from #10 counting down to #1. I’m probably leaving out a lot of people, since I fall in love with virtually every male character I read. But think of this as a sampling.

10.) Anubis from the Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan. He’s dark, brooding, vague, and a god. Good combination.

9.) Marcus Flutie from Sloppy Firsts and its sequels by Megan McCafferty.  It’s not a fictional crush list without Marcus Flutie. Clever, dangerous, infuriating. He’s a classic.

8.) Noah from Back When You Were Easier to Love by Emily Wing Smith. Such a good guy.

7.) Cain Hinchcliff from Withering Tights by Louise Rennison. He’s such a womanizing bad boy! Which I know should be a bad thing! But, but… he gave her a poem! Auuughh

6.) Craig from It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini. I have a thing for sad, troubled guys.

5.) Peeta from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I also have a thing for kind, gentle, deeply devoted guys. He’s just so unfailingly sweet and loving to Katniss, even when she’s not the nicest to him. I mean, that stuff when he would hold her while she slept because otherwise she would have nightmares? Gotta love him.

4.) Po from Graceling by Kristin Kashore. His whole attitude! Mysterious, a little sarcastic, and yet really nice and, like, wise. And the way he treats Katsa is so cute. And his powers are super cool. And he’s just really nice and his eyes are awesome and aaah I don’t know stop asking me to explain my emotions!

3.) Dash from Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn. Another sad, troubled guy– and he hides it with sarcasm! Which makes me want to hug him 5 times more. Plus, he goes along with Lily’s note-passing dare game, which shows he has an excellent sense of adventure and awesomeness. He’s adorbs.

2.)Ky Markham from Matched by Ally Condie. AUUUGHHH I can’t, I can’t even talk about this, he’s so amazing. He’s got a dark, tragic past, he’s hiding a bunch of secret pain, he’s an ARTIST and a poet, and he’s just so gentle and sad and artistic and he loves Cassia SO MUCH and I can’t deal with this.

1.) Percy Jackson from various books by Rick Riordan. If I could marry any human being, fictional or real, past, present, or future, it would be Percy Jackson. I don’t care if you judge me. He has literally every quality I look for in a guy. Funny, sarcastic (I have trouble with guys that aren’t sarcastic), brave, loyal, noble, fricking sea-green eyes. And he kills monsters. I’m seriously not sure what more you could ask for.

So there’s my list of the reasons I will be forever alone. I’m ruined for real people. Thanks for that, books. sqee


Enjoyability:      smilesmilesmilehalf-smileblank space

Deep thoughts: medium brainmedium brainmedium brainmedium brainmedium blank space

Pages: 210 Copyright: 2004

This book, written all in poetry, is made up of insights into the lives of twenty students from the same high school. Each narrator reflects on some aspect of their life– a relationship, an insecurity, an event or habit. The stories sometimes interlock clearly, and sometimes mostly stand on their own. One chapter was about a girl feeling strangely compelled to write cryptic messages on the walls, desks, etc. of her school (my personal favorite: “YOU ARE NOT ABLE TO COMMISERATE.”) A chaotic section is filled with the laments of a boy who’s just been dumped. A boy complains that his girlfriend is so in love with Holden Caulfield that it’s putting a strain on their relationship. A girl hits her bully over the head with a plastic lunch tray, and said bully meditates on the fact that everybody who witnessed this attack was happy about it. Many of the characters talk about love, but the topics go far beyond common high-school amour. Each poet has a different struggle and a different outlook on life.

I’m familiar with David Levithan’s style: poetic, even when he’s writing in prose. So writing all in poetry was a natural transition. He has a lovely way of describing simple things in a way that makes them feel enchanted and important. All the voices in Realm of Possibility were believable; and they had a very honest quality to them. I felt that each character was confessing to me the entirety of their truths, leaving nothing held back, nothing that they were afraid to admit. This made it very easy to care about each character and to empathize with them, and because of the empathy that I felt for them as they walked me through situations I’ve never personally experienced, I feel that reading the book left me with an ever-so-slightly expanded understanding of the world and other people, which is a phenomenal thing for a book to do. The heart is all there in this one, and it’s very authentic, and powerful.

So the content was great, but there were times when I wished for the language of the poetry to go just a little bit further. I feel like there were times that the zing of the words didn’t quite live up to the zing of the meaning behind the words. It wasn’t bad, but it could have done more to pop and stick with me; I might have liked more really strong figurative language, I guess, or more musicality. It tended on the prosey side. And like I said, David Levithan’s prose style is already poetic, but since this book is officially written in poetry, maybe he could have taken that even further.

But hey, it’s better to have stellar content and only good language than stellar language but only good content.

If it comes down to “would recommend to read” or would not, I do recommend. That said, I might recommend one of his other books first, such as Boy Meets Boy, which is a beautiful novel about a teenage gay couple, or The Lover’s Dictionary, the story of a relationship told as a set of A-Z poetry-style dictionary entries.

Special Awards:

lightbulb This one gets an Illuminator award for thought-provokingness. Some chapters were take-or-leave, but the chapters were really something. They’ll stick with me.

One of my very favorite chapters was called “Unlonely”. It was made up of micro-poems that were only 3 lines long. I’ll leave you with this one.

How to be alone

Remember that at any given moment

There are a thousand things

You can love

Every Tuesday, the site The Broke and the Bookish posts a prompt for a top-ten-style list, and book bloggers around the web respond to it on their blogs. The prompt this week is “Top Ten Favorite Books I Read Before I Was A Blogger”.

Well. I’ve been a blogger for about two weeks, so that gives me a pretty big selection to choose from! Oh man. I’m notoriously indecisive, and picking favorite books is like chopping off a limb for me. But I’ll do my best. In no particular order:

How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbelestier. This book was so great. It just makes me happy.

Going Bovine by Libba Bray. OH MY GOD. This was the most beautiful, wonderful book ever. I was laughing and crying and feeling my whole life just illuminated. Gorgeous. Perfect. Love.

-Everything Percy Jackson (by Rick Riordan). Just… PERCY JACKSON.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, and the whole Uglies series. This is some of my favorite science fiction. Really well written and gripping, and thought-provoking.

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn. I love everything these two have written together, but this is my favorite. Just a really, really sweet romance. Adorable.

Matched by Allie Condie, and the rest of the trilogy. The writing style is so poetic and lovely, and the romance exploded my heart (I love romance).

Emma by Jane Austen. This is my favorite Jane Austen book. I just love Emma, and how she’s imperfect, but that’s what makes her so endearing (at least to me).

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Awesome.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini. This book is so inspirational without being at all preachy. I really relate to Craig and kind of loved him and wanted to protect him. It was very well-done.

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot. I’m a big fan of Meg Cabot in general, but the Princess Diaries series will always be close to my heart. Mia is best friend material!