real-talk YA book reviews

Monthly Archives: February 2014

Untitled-1Enjoyability:      smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp graysmile transp gray

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2

Pages: 352   Copyright: 2014

                The synopsis: “Meet Sloane Emily Jacobs: a seriously stressed-out figure-skater from Washington, D.C., who choked during junior nationals and isn’t sure she’s ready for a comeback. What she does know is that she’d give anything to escape the mass of misery that is her life.

              Now meet Sloane Devon Jacobs, a spunky ice hockey player from Philly who’s been suspended from her team for too many aggressive hip checks. Her punishment? Hockey camp, now, when she’s playing the worst she’s ever played. If she messes up? Her life will be over.

             When the two Sloanes meet by chance in Montreal and decide to trade places for the summer, each girl thinks she’s the lucky one: no strangers to judge or laugh at Sloane Emily, no scouts expecting Sloane Devon to be a hero. But it didn’t occur to Sloane E. that while avoiding sequins and axels she might meet a hockey hottie—and Sloane D. never expected to run into a familiar (and very good-looking) face from home. It’s not long before the Sloanes discover that convincing people you’re someone else might be more difficult than being yourself.” Note: Being Sloane Jacobs is told in alternating POV between the two Sloanes.

                This book had a polished finish and a sense of a strong, professional command over the writing and the story. However, I was prevented from giving it my all-out affection by some nagging issues in the plot.

                Sloane Emily and Sloane Devon were well-developed as clearly distinct from each other, and unlike a certain dystopian trilogy-finale that I will not be speaking of, I never had to flip back to the start of the chapter to check whose perspective I was reading from. The girls’ backstories were nicely woven in at choice moments to the adventure. I also really enjoyed reading the details of life at both camps, and the author seemed well informed about both hockey and figure skating—at the very least, enough to satisfy a reader who knows nothing about either.

                Here’s the hitch: like I said, I know nothing about either skating or hockey, but I have the impression they are very different from each other. They don’t even use the same kind of ice skate. So do I really buy that a girl who’s never worn figure skates before, hasn’t even had a dance lesson, could show up to a figure skating camp with nothing but a late-night, Youtube-fueled hotel room crash course under her belt, and not only pass as a skater, but actually be a competitive threat to kids who have been skating since before they could read? Kids who are probably aiming for the Olympics? I’m sorry, but no. No, I really don’t. Sloane Emily at least had a childhood as the sibling of a hockey star, so I’m a little more willing to buy her transformation, but I doubt it was entirely plausible either. These sports take time! No matter how much effort you gush out, there’s only so much you can speed up the process. I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief quite that far.

                The other thing that bugged me is the fact that both Sloanes had boy drama. We all know I love a good romance, but it felt forced or gratuitous, like the author believed you can’t have a female protagonist without a love interest. These were short camps, and the girls had enough going on without juggling guys. If it had been me, I would have kept Sloane Devon’s relationship and cut Sloane Emily’s. Hers seemed rushed and unbelievable to me—they formed an awfully strong attachment based on only one or two menial interactions. I mean, Matt (the “hockey hottie”) kind of gave up his whole player lifestyle for Sloane. Why? Was she really that bewitching? And if it wasn’t Sloane Emily that made him change, what was it? I feel like we learned nothing about what makes Matt tick or what he wants from life. Sloane Devon’s romance was a lot more organic.

                I guess I tend to like Wicked-esque stories of two opposites meeting and changing each other for the better, and that’s what the Sloanes had. When all is said and done, this was a fun and engaging story about leaving your comfort zone and finding new facets of yourself because of it. I give this book the green light, but with a grain of salt. The details of the plot could have used another edit.


       A while ago on Tumblr, I read a popular post requesting the existence of a central, glamorous, overblown awards show for books, to parallel the Oscars and Grammys. That post has stuck with me more than I realized. It would be amazing, wouldn’t it? Why isn’t there?

      The awards show thing got me thinking: there are a lot of aspects enjoyed by other media forms that are not present to the same extent in book culture. There are conventions for authors or industry officials to mingle, but where are the book cons, where ordinary readers can geek out? Harry Potter robe owners aside, book cosplay is a pretty tiny voice in the cosplay world– I for one has seen almost none. I’m sure there are high-faluting critical publications available for literature, but where are the trashy grocery store fiction magazines, to go with ones that dish about hot new movies or TV shows?

     The obvious cynical answer would be that books don’t get these things because not enough people read, and there’s no big money in books. And maybe that’s part of it.

      But I started thinking about it from a different angle: reading, in some ways, is a necessarily solitary experience. Don’t get me wrong– half the reading experience for me is screaming about books or communally picking them apart with friends or fellow internet users. But that’s all after, before, or around the fact. When you’re actually absorbing the content, you’re on your own. Books are small, and it seems like no two people read at the same pace, so gathering around a paperback and pouring over each sentence together just isn’t very doable. Compare this to dozens of strangers piling into a theater together for a movie, or having a viewing party on the couch for the season premiere of Pretty Little Liars, and you’re walking a lonely road. I think maybe that’s part of the joy of seeing a favorite book adapted to the screen– not only do you get to see the world you love come to life, but you get to have your friends and fellow fans at your side when you enter it.

      But just because we’re starting out a step behind other groups doesn’t mean we should give up.

      I’ve loved Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and The Olympians, and subsequently, Heroes of Olympus, series since the fourth grade. And somewhere in the time in between, I aged out of the theoretical marketing range for his work. That doesn’t mean I considered for a second no longer reading them, because who needs societal limits? But I wasn’t exactly surrounded by other readers, and I didn’t really have anyone to fangirl with when a new book came out. I started to have twinges of concern. Was I the bad kind of a weird for still loving these stories? Was I literally Riordan’s oldest fan?

      Then one day, I forget why, I logged into the Tumblr account I had made and never used and searched “Percy Jackson”.

      I think my mind actually blew up. There were enough pages of results that they were for all intents and purposes endless. People were creating beautiful drawings of all the characters. People were debating theories and opinions and romantic pairings. People were uploading pictures of their favorite quotes and chapter titles. “Normal” people! People above the age of twelve! Some of them had handmade Camp Half-Blood t-shirts! Some of them even knew more about the series than I did! As I scrolled through it all, I felt my love for Percy Jackson rekindled tenfold, and any doubts I had had were completely erased. I would give a speech on the steps of the Capitol Building about Percy Jackson. I would be the national poster child of Percy Jackson fanhood. And more to the point, reading the books is at least 50% more fun now that I have a massive, noisy community to share it with.

     So what am I saying? I’m saying I love Tumblr. I’m saying there should be book conventions, and more book cosplay– I know it’s harder without explicit reference images, but written character descriptions can give a lot to work with. I’m saying I want Book Oscars. I’m saying I’m glad I’m a book blogger. I’m saying we should all read louder and prouder and with more partying. Somebody get on this, please!

a hundred summersEnjoyability:      smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp gray

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain2half brain outlinebrain outline transp 2

Pages: 368   Copyright: 2013

                In 1931, Lily Dane first saw Nick Greenwald at a college football game.

                In 1932, he proposed.

                Now, in 1938, Lily is at Seaview, the wealthy Rhode Island beach community where she’s spent every summer of her life, and she’s seeing Nick for the first time in six years. He is accompanied by Budgie, Lily’s stylish, seductive childhood friend. Budgie is his wife.

               And everything in between? Well, that’s the question.

               A Hundred Summers is written in alternating timelines, one the story of Nick and Lily’s collegiate love affair, and the other in her present. As the two run in parallel, we slowly discover what went wrong, why she still can’t stop loving him, and what sinister circumstances and miscommunications built the web of missteps that split up two people who always had eyes only for each other. But as the knots of the past are finally untangled, the important question becomes, is it too late?

                 I originally heard about this book from the Goodreads monthly release newsletter, a source which once again has not led me astray. It’s adult, not YA, by the way. And it showed the added complexity I would hope from that distinction. A Hundred Summers was really the best of everything: it was intelligent, well-written, engrossing, and romantic.

                Williams captured the perfect page-turner formula. Just as you make a shocking discovery in the present storyline, you hop into the past; just as you make one in the past, you’re whisked back to the present. Far from making things stilted or fragmented, the storylines fed off of each other’s energy and gained momentum together. Each page added depth and shades to all of the characters and coaxed out a little more investment in the story and its outcome.

                I think the dialogue is what really made this book. It was so elegant and smooth, in that way that isn’t quite realistic (real people are never that eloquent or witty), but that doesn’t bother you because it’s done so well. It made me feel surrounded by a sense of romance and casual opulence.

                One small issue that irritated me in A Hundred Summers was phrase repetition. For example, Lily used the phrase “the soft vee of my dress” at least twice—although maybe I was just rubbed the wrong way by the prissy spelling out of ‘vee’ when I felt ‘V’ would have sufficed–, and it seemed like she was always talking about her head buzzing with gin. I wished she would find new ways to say she was drunk.

                A Hundred Summers was very smart and well-written, and I enjoyed every page. It had the added bonus of being historical fiction, and I loved feeling like I was painlessly learning something or building my knowledge (for instance, Nick is Jewish, and I got a perspective of the subtly antisemitic climate in the US leading up to WWII that I had never really been aware of). All while enjoying a pretty delicious love story. Sign up for the Goodreads newsletter, folks; it has yet to steer me wrong.   

Special Awards:

sqee Squee for romance. Very elegant and, well, romantic.

music notes Lyrical award for the dialogue. Very smooth flow.

Wow! I am so sorry. I missed two weeks in a row, didn’t I? It’s amazing how fast Saturday whips around, no matter how far away it seems sometimes during the week. Two weekends ago I was occupied with my Winter Formal dance, and this past weekend, I spent basically every waking hour being a humongous geek at Ohayocon, an anime-and-other-geekdom convention where I bonded with other obsessives fans of Homestuck, a fantasy web comic and the best thing on the internet.

Pictured above: humongous geek.
Pictured above: humongous geek.

                But now I’m back!

                This week, I want to talk about standalone books. The YA world has become incredibly series-centric, especially now that so many trilogies have blown the roof off of sales (and given birth to the sickeningly capitalistic trend of splitting third books into two movies, which really makes my blood boil, but that’s a chat for another day). And of course, when we love a story, we can never be sorry to get more of it.

                But I know that I’m not the only reader right now who’s feeling ready to do some one-hit-wonder reading, too. There’s a certain elegance and power to weaving a rich cast of characters and a beautifully-sculpted story and wrapping the whole thing up into one complete package between two covers. So today, I have a list of three great standalone books that left a big impression on me, and that I wouldn’t have wanted stretched or expanded upon.

elsewhere mysteriousfairest-by-gail-carson-levine

     1.   Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin. This is the book I had in mind when I started this post, honestly. I haven’t read it since elementary school. I tried to reread it in middle school, actually, but for some reason, I got so emotional that I had to stop. Elsewhere is like a potent inoculation: one dose of it is incredibly healing, but one is all you need.

        Elsewhere is about a 15-year-old girl who is hit by a car and killed before the story starts; she wakes up on a ship that is taking her to a place called Elsewhere, where the deceased live out normal lives while aging backward, until they become babies again and are sent down a river to be reborn. Elsewhere follows Liz’s process of grief, anger, and eventual acceptance. It explores themes of life and death, our own mortality, and dealing with the mortality of the people we love; all in a way that is incredibly poignant, but in the end, very hopeful. It’s been so long since I read it, and yet I still feel it staying with me. I recommend it to everyone.

        2.   The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart—okay, technically this is not a standalone, but it should be could be. It does stand on its own. I haven’t read any of the sequels, but I recall being weirdly enthralled by the original. It’s definitely one for the Lemony Snicket fans out there; it has a very loud Unfortunate Events flavor to it. The Mysterious Benedict Society is about a genius orphan boy who receives the opportunity to attend a special school for exceptional children, where he befriends three other children, all with wildly different personalities and each with a very specific set of skills, and finds himself facing a mysterious conspiracy of a sinister variety. I don’t remember all the details, but I remember never wanting to put it down.

          3.    Fairest by Gail Carson Levine. I thought about doing Ella Enchanted, Levine’s most famous work, but I decided Fairest should get its share of the spotlight; plus, I’ve read it more recently. Gail Carson Levine’s writing is so great for lovers of fairy tales and well-crafted fantasy worlds, and I love Fairest’s unique storyline and important message. The story follows Aza, a girl whose beautiful singing voice would make her a treasure in her highly music-centric kingdom—if it weren’t for the fact that she is considered irresolvably ugly, leaving her shamed into isolation. But there is a royal wedding being arranged, and circumstances surrounding this event pull Aza to the capital, where she ends up more in the spotlight than she ever could have imagined, and is wound into a web of secrets and schemes. The things Aza most wants are closer than she ever imagined they could be, but she soon learns that danger and calamity is just as nearby. This is a great, classic fantasy story with nods to the story of Snow White.

             I’m currently reading, and loving, A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams. Hopefully I’ll have that finished and reviewed for you guys by next week. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go find new heights of geekdom to conquer. Godspeed to you all.