real-talk YA book reviews

Monthly Archives: May 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. This week is Pick Your Own Prompt. I’ve chosen to write about the top ten books (or book series) from my earlier childhood.

1.) The Ramona Quimby books by Beverley Cleary. When I was little, I liked to listen to books on cassette tapes while I was falling asleep. I had all of these books on tape, and I listened to them every day for years. I swear to God, I have those things memorized. And Stockard Channing’s voice on the tapes is burned deeper into my mind than my own voice.

2.) The Peter Hatcher books by Judy Blume. Ditto above.

3.) When I was really little, my favorite book in all the world was Private Lily by Sally Warner. It was about a little girl who decided she wanted her own bedroom, but there weren’t enough rooms in her house, so she went around trying out different spaces, like the bathtub, or underneath her dining room table. I’m not sure why I loved it so much, but I’m guessing it’s because I’ve always been drawn to cozy nooks and hidey-holes.

4.) The Alanna books and everything else by Tamora Pierce. I was obsessed. Fantasy was my favorite genre for a long time. Now I’ve transitioned more into realistic fiction and sci-fi/dystopia.

5.) Moving into my upper-elementary school years: The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo. I loved this book!! Awesome. Don’t think you know it if you’ve seen the movie. It’s a completely different experience.

6.) It was in Fourth grade that I read The Lightning Thief and started down the road of obsessive Rick Riordan fangirlhood. A blessed day indeed.

7.) The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. I think this book is maybe kind of obscure, but it was awesome. I think it would appeal to fans of Series of Unfortunate Events.

8.) Frindle by Andrew Clements. A kid convinces a massive group of people to call pens “frindles” using only the power of crowd psychology. What’s not to love about that?

9.) The View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg. I don’t remember this book all that well, but I think I really liked it.

10.) A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. Yes!!! The best!!

I’m 100% positive that I’m forgetting a lot of really important books. But this is a decent sampling from my childhood.  🙂


between the lines

Enjoyability:       smilesmilesmilehalf-smileblank spaceblank space

Deep Thoughts: medium brainmedium brainmedium blank spacemedium blank spacemedium blank space

Pages: 352      Copyright: 2012

15-year-old Delilah Mcphee, like so many of us, loves to lose herself in books, especially since her father left her and her mother and started a new family far away. She even sometimes feels that the characters in books are her friends. But that feeling is taken to an all-new level when an illustrated character in her favorite fairytale starts moving around and talking to her.

That character is Oliver, a teen who plays a heroic prince on-page, but is a completely different person when the book is closed– and who wants out. Finding understanding in each other that they haven’t found anywhere else, the two form a strange alliance as they struggle to find a way for Oliver to escape his story.

This wasn’t the most memorable or noteworthy book I’ve ever read. But I did definitely enjoy it. As a book lover (and the lover of many a fictional character), the premise alone was enough to captivate me pretty deeply; and though that premise probably could have been carried more mind-blowingly by the actual writing, it didn’t carry it poorly. I thought it was sweet.

Honestly, I’m having trouble with this review. Initially I started on this big speech: I was going to say that in the end, the story was more like a fairy tale than anything else. And that it might not have a certain complexity that we generally demand from a novel, but that maybe that’s okay, if we accept it as fairytale-format. There isn’t generally one accredited writing of a fairy tale, in terms of the specific words and such. It can be written and re-written and remain the same, because the essence of a fairy tale is the premise and the basic plot points. And that maybe that’s kind of how Between the Lines functions; the point is to imagine a girl and a book character being able to talk to each other and fall in love, and the character trying to leave the book, not to experience a great display of writing and structural prowess.

So that’s my big speech. But as I finished typing it, I became unsure that I agreed with myself. No, the characters didn’t evolve much, but they weren’t totally flat, and plot wasn’t that simplistic.  And the technique of the writing never bothered me, it seemed perfectly sound.

So now I’ve given my point and my counterpoint against my own self; and I guess you’ll have to go read it to decide what you think. And I do recommend reading it. It’s not especially short, but I whipped through it quite fast, and it made me happy. I just can’t decide quite how to judge it on a critical level. If you’ve read it (or even if you haven’t), please comment any opinions or thoughts you have, because clearly I need help.

P.S., props to Samantha Van Leer, Jodi Picoult’s teen daughter and co-writer of this book. Go teen writers!

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 Book Covers of Books I’ve Read. I love book covers; I’ve even considered designing them as a career. Some of these covers were more memorable than the books themselves, to be honest (although some of these I adore as books too.) Click on the photos if you want to see them bigger.

1.) Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. Note that the snow is hearts!


2.)  Gingerbread by Rachel Cohn. It’s so minimalistic and cool.


3.) The Crazy Things Girls Do for Love by Dyan Sheldon. It’s messy in a charming, attractive way.

crazy things

4.) Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling. It’s so lovely and feminine, with the color scheme and the floral background, and then you’ve got Mindy doing the McKayla is not impressed face. This cover has it all.

hanging out

5.) Out Of My Mind by Sharon Draper. So elegantly simple, and so powerful. Everything is just right, down to the bubbles trailing behind the fish.

out of my mind

6.) Nobody’s Prize by Esther Friesner. I think the main reason I read this series was this cover. I’m a Pisces, and I love water and the ocean. This cover just feels so cool and fresh, and that girl is downright fabulous. Love it.


7.) What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen. Sarah’s books all have at least three covers, and I love them all. This one is from my favorite round of covers, and it’s probably my favorite of them. It has such a gorgeous airy quality.

what happened to goodbye

8.) Back When You Were Easier to Love by Emily Wing Smith. It’s just so cute.

back when

9.) Graceling by Kristin Cashore. I may have given this book a slightly lukewarm review, but I’m passionate about its covers. The one on the left is the one I read, which I think is beautiful; the one on the right is one I just found, which I adore even more. Goosebumps!

200px-Graceling_cover     graceling

10.) Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson. Just stunning. The little British and American birds (it’s set during the Revolutionary War) put it over the edge of perfection.



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Pages: 272    Copyright: 2009

Thanks to Blue Sky Bookshelf for making me aware of this book!

                They say that no good deed goes unpunished, and Mena, a freshman in high school, would certainly agree. All Mena wanted was to undo the wrongs her friends had done against a gay student at their school, but now her church, a large part of the school, and maybe even her own parents hate her. The best she can hope for this year is to lay low and keep things as uneventful as possible. Instead, a war breaks out between her ex-church friends and her cool new biology teacher, and somehow she finds herself right where she doesn’t want to be— in the middle of things. And then there’s her new lab partner Casey, a brilliant geek guy who is no less willing to pull her into the chaos than fate seems to be— and complicates life in more ways than one. Everything just keeps escalating; but will it be for the better, or the worse?

                This was a light and enjoyable read. The primary characters were very rich and loveable. Basically, I felt like reading it when I saw it on my shelf, which is really the biggest test for a book. The story was interesting and fresh, and just fun. I loved Casey (he’s adorable! Nerdily, chivalrously adorable), and I loved their dynamic together (adorable). I wanted to see what they would say to each other next. I could never really predict it. I almost felt like Casey was a real person that I was trying to get to know. He, and the other main characters, had a realistic quality to them that brought the story to life.

                Mena is a vastly admirable character, because she’s not loud and self-righteous or a natural activist type. She doesn’t fight injustice for the sake of hearing her own voice; she would much rather hide in the shadows. She does the things she does because the voice of rightness inside of her is so forceful that she’s incapable of not doing something about it. No matter how much she would like to, she’s unable to stand by when she sees something she knows is wrong. And she acts even when she’s scared to death, and even when her entire community and even her own family is against her. What could be more laudable than that?

                I maybe felt like there could have been a more to the story. I was a little surprised when it ended, and would have liked a bit more resolution. And there are other ways it could have been expanded, like more development of the minor characters, and/or more information about Mena’s past and the events leading up to the start of the story. But I understand that it was what it was. The author clearly intended to make the past a little cryptic, and the future a little open-ended, and just focus in on a small period of Mena’s life, a period of transformation for her. And I can live with that.

                Reading this made me happy. And I’m happy I read it.

Special Awards:

sqee Squee, because it was really sweet how Casey was there for Mena when nobody else was. 🙂

eagleSoaring Eagle for inspiration because Mena is a really cool person, who stands up for what’s right while still respecting people of all different opinions and not just bashing her opponents and making ad-hominem attacks. And she’s only a freshman! Way to go.

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 Dealing With Tough Subjects. Here are my top 7.

1.)  Dreamland by Sarah Dessen. It’s about a girl in an abusive relationship. And it’s lovely.

2.) Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self by Lori Gottlieb. This book is based on the author’s real journal from when she was a preteen girl with anorexia. It’s so powerful.

3.) Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin. Elsewhere is about a girl who dies and goes to an afterlife-type place, where everyone ages backwards until they’re babies again, and get reborn on earth. Again, very powerful and very great.

4.) Going Bovine by Libba Bray. Apparently I’m determined to put this book on every list. But it fits so many of them, and is just so good! It’s about a teenage guy who develops mad cow disease, and doesn’t have long to live; but he goes on a semi-magical quest to try and find someone who might be able to help him. Wow wow wow.

5.) It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, which is about a teen guy with depression and anxiety who spends time in a mental hospital and meets a lot of odd people who help him recover. Any teen who struggles with depression or just general stress should read this book.

6.)The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. What issue doesn’t this book deal with? And what’s not to love about it?

7.) The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh– about a girl who’s just turned eighteen after spending her life in foster care. She’s very closed off from the world, but knows the significance different flowers have in old-timey lore, and uses them to communicate. This was a really poignant and memorable book.

Oh no!! I got my TTT list all ready, and then  I totally forgot to post it this week! Oh well, better late than never. We’ll have Top Ten Friday this week.

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 for When You Need Something Light and Fun. This is perfect for me, because I read a lot of fun, light books. Here are some of my favorites.

1.)    Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison, and the rest of the Georgia Nicholson series. Oh how I love these. They are 100% stress free because Georgia is an absolute airhead. But very very entertaining. Some of my happiest hours have been spent following her silly problems and misadventures.

2.)    The Alphas series by Lisi Harrison. I’ve never read/seen Gossip Girl or Pretty Little Liars, but from what I understand, these fall from the same tree. A Tyra-Banks-esque billionare opens a super high-tech school for the top girls around the country in acting, writing, dancing, singing, or inventing; they live on an island together, and incredible amounts of drama ensue. Incredible amounts of drama. These are probably the most honestly trashy books I’ve ever read but they are so enjoyable and addictive. My favorite vice (along with pastries and baked goods).

3.)    The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot. Now these are not trashy, but they are pretty relaxing and light-hearted and great for any occasion.

4.)    All-American Girl by Meg Cabot is another of my Meg Cabot favorites. It’s about a girl who inadvertently saves the president of the United States, and becomes a national hero.

5.)    Girl, 15, Charming but Insane by Sue Limb (and the whole Jess Jordan series). These are great to fill the void when Louise Rennison is between books. They’re about a comedy-loving girl named Jess. And it’s British! All the better.

6.) Sloppy Firsts and the other Jessica Darling books by Meghan McCafferty. Good stuff. Jessica is a great main character.

7.) How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier. One of my favorite books. Just good all around. Go read it.

8.)    Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. Because it’s the cutest thing ever! Everything these two have written together is great. This one’s my favorite. It’s about a boy and girl who have never met, but pass around a notebook which they leave for each other around New York, giving each other dares and slowly telling each other about themselves along the way.

9.)    Gingerbread and its two sequels by Rachel Cohn. She’s great on her own too! Gingerbread is so unique and has a sort of dreamy quality to it. It’s about a really cool, eccentric, coffee loving girl, Cyd Charisse, who lives in San Francisco, and has a lot of conflict with her step-mom and is sort of a troublemaker (if I remember right– it’s been a while), so she goes to New York to spend some time with her biological dad. The settings both of San Fransisco and New York are really well-integrated and fun. Love.

10.) I don’t know if everybody would consider Jane Austen light reading, but I guess I do. I think I’d have to say my current favorite is Emma, although the ever-popular Pride and Prejudice is exceedingly dear to me as well.

I love light books. 🙂


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Lady Katsa of the Middluns leads a double life of sorts. She is a Graceling, which means she was born with a Grace, an incredible natural talent– in her case, the ability to kill before her victim even knows what’s happening. By day, King Randa, her uncle, uses her to force the people of his kingdom to do his bidding; by night she leads the Council, a secret organization that works to undo the deeds of Randa and the other corrupt kings of her world. When an inexplicable plot comes to the Council’s attention, and brings with it Prince Po, an enigmatic fellow Graceling with a personal stake in the matter, Katsa is forced to choose who she really is as she attempts to right a bigger wrong than she’s ever faced before.

My biggest complaint about the book is that Katsa hit an awfully lot of the cliché action-heroine checkmarks. She hates dresses and formal events, she’s annoyed by her hair and wants to chop it all off, she tends to dislike men, she’s excessively tough and very emotionally closed-off, and she cringes away from romantic commitment and the thought of being a wife/mother. There’s nothing at all wrong with any of these things or even all of them put together (except maybe the emotional hyper-guardedness), except that I’ve heard it too many times before, and it’s awfully extreme. I want to hear more stories about girls like Cammie from Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls books— incredibly strong, brave, and purposeful, and yet also occasionally aware of and even concerned about the appearance of her hair, and susceptible now and then to attractive or charming qualities in a human of the male gender.

So as I first started reading Graceling, I was afraid it was going to be a total re-run. And I was also a teeny bit bothered every now and then by the voice of the writing, when it risked being affected in its old-fashionedness.

But things started improving as soon as Po showed up. Po is a lot more Katsa’s equal than anyone she’s ever known, and so he softens her me-against-the-world attitude and makes her more rounded and relatable. And their romance was adorable. It carried the whole thing for me. I’ve read some reviews that say Po is too perfect, and I see where they’re coming from. But I still enjoyed them together.

And furthermore, it was very successful as an action story. It’s full of plot twists, suspense, and dramatic action sequences. I was always gasping or exclaiming or biting my nails. So romance and grippingness are both thumbs-ups.

I also really liked the evolution of how Katsa saw herself; from believing herself in the beginning to be a mindless monster, to realizing that she can choose what she does with her powers and her life, that dangerous forces don’t have to be inherently evil, it all depends on who controls them. I think it’s a message that can be applied to a lot of different things. And the villains of the story fit into the same idea. They and Katsa and her friends show the two faces of power, power used for good and power used for evil.

Something happened at the end that really freaked me out, because I have the emotional stability of one of those Jane Austen-style society ladies who swoons if somebody walks toward her too quickly and has to be revived with smelling salts and gentle fanning with a hand-fan. But it turned out okay enough in the end that I was okay with it.

So in summary, now that I’ve finished Graceling, I’d say I liked it, but didn’t love it.

Special Awards:

sqee Squee. Cute romance.

moon This book had me on the edge of my seat enough that I think it deserves an All-Nighter (for grippingness).