real-talk YA book reviews

Monthly Archives: June 2013


Enjoyability:       smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2

Pages: 260     Copyright: 2010

     When Dash finds a notebook in his favorite bookstore containing a series of challenges, he can’t help but be intrigued. After he completes the given tasks, the notebook prompts him, if he’s a teenage boy, to leave his e-mail address with the cashier. Instead, he leaves a challenge in return. Thus starts a scavenger-hunt-slash-pen-pal-ism between he and Lily, whose older brother planted the notebook on her behalf. As they dare each other via the notebook to do a variety of things throughout New York City, always arranging a pickup spot for the notebook (and never meeting in person), they slowly share pieces of themselves, and find themselves in an unconventional friendship. Told in alternating POVs.

     I’ve put this book on so many Top Ten Tuesday lists that I think it’s about time it gets a review. This is one of my most favorite books! It’s a totally precious gourmet romance, avoiding stereotypical pitfalls of the genre: it’s impeccably written, never cliché, and full of poignancy and thoughtfulness.

     Dash and Lily are a match made in heaven. They’re polar opposites in many ways; Dash is a chronically sarcastic cynic, generally disillusioned with life (largely because of his parents’ divorce), while Lily is all sincerity and sweetness, filled with faith and optimism. But Lily brings out the believer in Dash, while Dash pushes Lily out of the comfort zone that’s holding her back and gives her confidence and bravery for adventure. I just can’t even… they’re perfect. I’ll be officiating their wedding.

            And I love them individually just as much as I love them together. Dash and Lily’s voices really make the book. Dash was #3 on my list of top ten fictional loves. I adore his desert-dry sense of humor and his word-geekiness, not to mention his defensive rough exterior that isn’t really fooling anyone. He’s like a growling puppy. Lily is such a sweetheart and somebody most girls will feel a connection to; the sheltered baby of her family who dreams of excitement in the real world, and struggles to hold on to goodness in our sometimes bleak reality.

            Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares is just delightful and very original. Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (also authors of the more famous Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, by the way) can do no wrong by me, and this is my favorite of their work.

Special Awards:

sqee Obviously this gets a squee for romantic excellence.

music notes  Lyrical award, just because the writing itself is so snappy.


out of the easy

Enjoyability:        smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain2brain2brain outline transp 2

Pages:  346   Copyright: 2013

                 Josie Moraine can’t seem to stay out of the gutter. Her mother is a mercenary prostitute in a fancy brothel who resents her for “ruining her in her prime”; her father is unidentified and absent. All Josie wants is to escape the French Quarter low-lives of 1950’s New Orleans, but everyone says a girl like her will never belong anywhere else. When a recent customer of the book store where she works meets a sudden and maybe-not-natural death, Josie finds herself pulled even deeper into the muck. Still, she struggles to find a way to cut loose from her origins and become something better.

                Wow wow. I loved this book! The biggest thing I have to say about it is that the author had this effortless, subtle way of making me care really and deeply about all the characters, even the minor ones. There were no big, obvious moments where I thought “wow, I now care about this character”— it just crept up on me. They were all really realistic and deeply sympathetic in their own ways. Josie was so awesome: sensible, brave, and independent, but not invincible either. I would definitely be friends with her! There were quite a few supporting characters, but each was totally unique from the rest, and each brought something different to the story.

                The romance was a relatively small factor in the overall plot, but it was cutey cute cute. The story as a whole was complex and intelligent, and satisfyingly meaningful. And it flowed well, keeping me turning pages.

                There was so much complexity that I’m wondering if it wasn’t a little over-ambitious, squeezing it all into one book. Not everything was quite resolved or fully played out, and there are strings that I would have liked tied up a little better. I’d say that’s my primary criticism. But better to have too much than not enough, probably.

                Marvelous book. And so pretty! Not only is the cover beautiful, it has those uneven faux-hand-bound pages. Very nice effect! I have many feelings for this book! Recommend.

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 the prompt is the top ten books on my list to read this summer.

1.) I seriously need to reread the original Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. The whole thing. Because I’m a screaming, manic Percy Jackson fangirl, but I’ve forgotten so much of what happens in the older books that lately I’ve been feeling like a bit of a fraud. This must end here. I’ve already got the first two on reserve.

2.) The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen. I already have it, and signed!!

3.) A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams. I read about this book on Goodreads, and it sounds really interesting.

4.) Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos. I saw this at the bookstore and read the first few pages, and fell in love. It’s about a boy who’s obsessed with Walt Whitman, and it seems like it could have a slightly Perks of Being a Wallflower-esque appeal to it.

5.) My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick. Somebody told me this was my kind of book, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.

6.) Sam Cruz’s Infallible Guide to Getting Girls by Tellulah Darling. Saw this on a top ten list a few weeks ago, and it sounds really good.

7.) The Selection by Kiera Cass. I’ve been resisting reading this for a while, but the more I’ve heard about it from other bloggers, the more it’s started to sound potentially good. I might read it.

8.) Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. It’s made so many top ten lists over the months that I have to find out what the fuss is about.

9.) I kind of want to re-read Gingerbread and its two sequels by Rachel Cohn. I generally prioritize rereads below new reads, but we’ll see what happens.

10.) I debated including this, but I’ve just barely stuck my toe into Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. I’m such a fan of the musical that I feel like I should do this… but for anyone who doesn’t know, there isn’t language strong enough to describe how massive the book is. So I wouldn’t count on my whipping through it before September. 


Enjoyability:       smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp gray

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain2brain2brain outline transp 2

Pages: 256 Copyright:1989

Disclaimer: I read this book in the original Spanish for a class, and I thought it would be fun to review; so keep in mind that technically, this is a review of the Spanish version of the book, and I can’t necessarily vouch for your experience if you read it in English. But I imagine it’s still good. Technically it isn’t YA, but as I say on the About page, I’m the YA here. And I do what I want. Muahaha.

Like Water for Chocolate, set in Mexico during the revolutionary war of the early 1900’s, is like a Mexican soap opera with a splash of magic realism. Tita de la Garza has grown up in the kitchen with her family’s cook, Nacha; it’s her only escape from her mother, the dominating matriarch of their family ranch. Mama Elena has always been heartless to Tita, but she goes a step further when she offers her sister’s hand in marriage to Pedro, the man she ardently loves, as a family tradition dictates that the youngest daughter must serve her mother all her life. Pedro accepts for the sole purpose of an excuse to keep seeing Tita. The drama continues. Meanwhile, Tita grows more and more masterful as a cook, and at every turn her food reflects and affects her life and the lives around her in strange and magical ways.

I thought this was a really beautiful book. It had a kind of simplicity to it, very sincere. But at the same time, it was very poetic. The plot was very gripping and full of twists. And the romance! It was passionate, brooding, and mega-dramatic, but not so overblown that it was outright silly. If you’re a hopeless starry-eyed romantic, which I am, it will be just right.

One of the main themes of Like Water for Chocolate is described by a metaphor a character relates to Tita: everybody is born with a box of matches inside them, and they have to find the things in life that light those matches, or else the matches will get damp and useless and the soul will starve. In other words, passion is vital to life. This is something I very much agree with. Other major themes are power struggles between women, and varying forms of femininity. Mama Elena and Tita represent two sides of the same coin: both are strong, obstinate, and self-sufficient, but Mama Elena is cold to the bone, while Tita is chock-full of heat and emotion. Comparisons between Tita, Tita’s prim, traditional oldest sister, Rosaura, and her free-wheeling middle sister, Gertrudis, are yet another possible basis for discussion.

All of the characters had really lovely depth to them. Tita, being the main character and all, was especially well done. In many ways, such as her cooking, she is a natural-born nurturer, and in others, she is very survival-minded and good at recognizing and championing her own needs. An important thread of the book is Tita’s evolution in terms of slowly building her conviction that she deserves to have the life she wants for herself, and finding the strength to stand up to people and get it.

Every chapter starts with a recipe. The way that food is woven into the story was unique and very memorable, and I thought it was really well integrated.

Did I mention that the romance was downright smoldering? I’m mentioning it again.

Special Awards:

music notes Lyrical Award for pretty writing. Though isn’t Spanish always pretty?

sqee Squee! Tita and Pedro, climb aboard the hot tamale train! WOO WOOO! (That’s a So You Think You Can Dance reference, but I think the sentiment is universal)

lightbulb Illuminator Award– there are just so many layers of interesting themes.

This book is kind of a classic. Go read it. And if you know Spanish, I recommend reading it in Spanish!

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 the prompt is Top Ten Beach Reads. There are few things on this earth more perfect and idyllic to me than reading on a beach. Here are some low-stress books I think would be perfect for the occasion. Ahhh. Someone get me a beach!

1.) Paisley Hanover Acts Out by Cameron Tuttle. A popular girl is forced to join the low-status drama class. This wasn’t my favorite book all-around, but I think it would be great for the beach.

2.) When it Happens by Susane Colasanti. A cute overachiever girl/slacker guy romance in alternating POV.

3.) Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty.

4.) Notes from the Blender by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin. I totally forgot I read this until just now, but I really liked it. It’s alternating POV’s of a loner goth boy and a “perfect” popular girl who discover their parents are getting married, and who end up becoming friends and helping each other with their hidden troubles in really sweet ways.

5.) My Unfair Godmother by Janette Rallison. A girl gets a second-rate fairy godmother who grants her wishes by sending her into a variety of fairy tales that are distinctly less fun to live than to read. At least she has the help of a gorgeous guy along the way. 😉

6.) Bossypants by Tina Fey. Because yes.

7.) Withering Tights by Louise Rennison. Hilarious romps in Northern Britain, plus a liberal sprinkling of glorious love interests.

8.) Anything Jane Austen. Jane Austen by the sea? Sign me up immediately.

9.) The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot.

10.) This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen. Anything by Sarah Dessen would be perfect, but for some reason This Lullaby popped out to me as an especially good choice for the beach.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to pop over to the library, get all ten of these books, and find an airplane to cling to. See you at the beach.

Hello! This isn’t a feature I’d planned on doing, but I’m just so excited about the books I have lined up to read at the moment that I couldn’t help sharing, because I’m a compulsive sharer.

There are three of them (I never read just one book at once– I like variety) :

out of the easy  everything is illuminated   homeward bound

-I’ve read a few positive reviews of Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys, as well as praise of its gorgeous cover, and I’ve been eager to read it. I’ve just started it, but it’s already interesting and promises much more to come.

-Every time I’ve seen Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, I’ve been mesmerized by its title and its cover (sadly, the library’s copy has the black-and-white cover shown above, and not the super-saturated blue-and-yellow one, but this one is almost as cool). I could never remember what it was actually about, but I’ve decided to find out. I’ve just barely begun, but it seems like it has a  sense of sarcasm and absurdity that’s probably going to be just fine by me.

-I’m not much of a reader of non-fiction, but I do adore social-psychology journalism books like Homeward Bound by Emily Matchar, which is about the new wave of trendy domesticity. The chapter titles alone on this one seem to guarantee a good read.

The best thing about these three books is that they compliment each other so well. They’re all so different from each other, which will be perfect whenever I get temporarily tired of one of them. Plus, I’ve been feeling a whim to read some “intelligent”, mind-expanding books, and I think these will fit the bill nicely. Stay tuned to see if they live up to their potentials. Fingers crossed.


Enjoyability:      smilesmilesmilehalf-smileblank spaceblank space

Deep Thoughts: medium brainmedium brainmedium brainmedium blank spacemedium blank space

Pages: 310   Copyright: 2013

               Mallory and Jeremy are the perfect couple. That is, until Mallory accidentally logs into his online “Authentic Life” profile and finds his heartfelt correspondence with his cyber-wife, “BubbleYum”. This disaster and the following social media ugliness make Mallory weary of her decade. So when she finds a box of her grandma’s high-school memorabilia from 1962, she is struck with nostalgia for the days before the technology boom. Mallory then sets out to give up her gadgets and complete her grandmother’s list of five junior year goals: Run for pep club secretary, host a fancy dinner party/soiree, sew a dress for Homecoming, find a steady, and do something dangerous.

                I think the best thing about Going Vintage was its surprisingly strong girl-power messages. There is romance in the book, but it takes a back seat to Mallory’s search for her interests, her strengths, and her place in the world. Other focuses are her sweet relationship with her two-years-younger sister Ginnie, her bond with her influential grandmother, and her struggles with her somewhat-misguided mother. It was truly a book about Mallory, In a very healthy and well-rounded way.

                Another enjoyable aspect of the story was that Mallory’s father is an antiques/vintage dealer, and Mallory works for him, sorting through big assortments of junk for valuables. I liked reading about that process, and it was unique.

                Two other bonuses: Jeremy, despite being the “bad guy”, was very humanized and real; and Mallory’s banter with the love interest, Oliver, was funny, cute, and well-done.

                Negatives? Someone pointed out to me that Oliver might have been a little too perfect, although I’m not sure it really bothered me. And I have a nagging feeling that there wasn’t quite enough meat to the actual plot. I think the problem is the pep club. A big part of the story is that Mallory starts a pep club at her school, but we don’t get many real pep club scenes. I’d have liked more of that storyline, both scenes involving it and conflicts to its success, to really pull everything together.

                Overall, I think the best word for Going Vintage is surprising. I thought I had it typed and pegged, but the story detoured my ideas in a lot of ways; which I liked. My expectations going in were only moderate, just because it seemed potentially airheaded (I’m not sure why, I just felt that way), but Going Vintage exceeded them.