Thursday, June 30, 2011

ALA New Orleans Adventures

So I've kind of mentioned my journey to New Orleans to the ALA (American Library Association) annual conference several times....It is mostly because of my love for books that I was so excited. I got to network. And I also got to meet some amazing librarians. There really is nothing like riding on a bus entirely filled with librarians. I'm also pretty sure that my entire flight from Chicago to New Orleans was librarians, and at least the majority of my flight back, too. I really loved talking with the librarian I met from the Library of Congress, on my shuttle to the airport. I also loved talking with all the Children’s/YA librarians I met in line at author signings.
But, to the books: I brought home over 40 new books. I got a lot of Advanced Reader’s Copies (ARC’s), and I got a lot of books signed. I really don’t want to list all the books I got, but here are several ARC’s that I am insanely excited about reading: Forever by Maggie Stiefvater (which I have signed, and am half way through at the moment), Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (a new series/ also signed), Legend by Marie Lu, The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler (signed), The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson (signed), The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Dark Parties by Sara Grant, After Obsession by Carrie Jones and Steven E. Wedel, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, and Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.
I went to a paid event called the Young Adult Author Coffee Klatch, which was amazing! I bought tickets to it at the same time I bought my ticket to the conference. The event involved a sort of speed-dating atmosphere, where a YA author would come to your table, and when a bell was rung, the author would leave and a new one would take his/her place. There were a ton of authors there, as you can see by this photo…Can you spot any ones you know?

The authors who came to my table were: Donna Jo Napoli, Medeia Sharif, Cheryl Rainfield, Jim Citvanni, Chris Grabenstein, Paul Volponi, Cynthia Liu, Jay Asher, and Carolyn Mackler. It was great meeting authors I knew, but also kind of awesome meeting new authors, and already being able to place faces to books. It was also nice just talking with them. There were no signings or photos taken, just chatting. I only wish I could meet more. That event could have been two hours, instead of one, and I would have not been anywhere close to bored.
I got books signed by Cassandra Clare, Alex Flinn, Maggie Stiefvater, Sara Dessen, David Levithan, Lucy Christopher, Colleen Houck, Maureen Johnson, Jay Asher, Carolyn Mackler, and probably more. Here are some signing pictures:
David Levithan and Me
Alex Flinn and me
Sara Dessen and me
Cassandra Clare and Me

This is what I'm calling Cassie shock
My last day at the conference (Monday morning), I remember walking around the stacks with my friend Jordan, and then just pausing midway between a conversation. She was like “What is it?” I realized, and then said at the same time, “I am about 2 feet away from Walter Dean Myers!”  I didn’t go to his signing –the line was too long and I had to leave for the airport soon, but still, it was cool just being by him. I also walked by Jack Gantos doing a signing and Paulo Bacigalupi. I didn’t get in line for them either because I didn’t want to buy books I already owned, just for an autograph. But I walked past them in awe. And during my first day there, I caught a bunch of authors I’ve already mentioned, hanging out together…They even noticed me taking their picture, and asked if they could take mine too. Here are those awesome photos!
In this picture: Carolyn Mackler, David Levithan, Sara Dessen, and Jay Asher
David Levithan, Carolyn Mackler, and Jay Asher taking my photo...
And while I can talk about the books, the authors, and my experiences forever, I am coming to an end here. Expect a lot of book reviews soon! And also, just so we are clear, all the pictures I have posted, I got permission for. I asked all of the authors if it was okay to post my pictures on my blog and they told me it was. I have a few more pictures I’m not posting because I did not get the chance to ask those authors if it was okay. 

If you want to see the reverse side of the last picture, please check out Jay Asher's blog: 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Afterlife: An Evernight Novel by Claudia Gray

So, I am back from New Orleans with 40+ books/ARC’s (Advanced Readers Copies) in tow. Thank you ALA annual conference!
I will shortly be posting (within the next day or two) some photos, some author information, and some awesome experiences I had there. But for now, I need to write about the book I read on my way there (and back). It took two plane rides to read it, and I actually spent no time in New Orleans actually reading. I was conferencing it up with my wonderful friend and academic librarian, Jordan, who I haven’t seen since library school. I was also out experiencing the wonders of the magical city. Between the food, the drinks, the boat rides, the music, and the exploring, and the full day conference craziness, I am surprised I am even awake right now.
Considering how long my plane rides were, it took me less than four hours to read this whole book. In other words, I ate it up!
This is saying something too. Because I have not been that in love with the latest books in Gray’s Evernight series. Sometimes YA series can wind down. And I question not only whether continuing reading is worth it, but I question the author’s prerogative for continuing. Is it to make a little more money? I seriously felt that was the way this series was heading (in the direction of Noel’s The Immortal series –which I already wrote about being thankful for an end, and Kristin and P.C. Cast’s House of Night series, which does not seem to have an end in sight, or at least that I am currently aware of). But again, in comparing it to Noel’s book, I feel like this one of Gray’s brought me back like the last one of Noel’s finally giving me some closure.
The story takes place not too long after the last book leaves off. The one before sort of ended with the main character/vampire dying and actually becoming a ghost, and her love interest also dying in a battle that is in response to her death.  Bianca could not figure out her newfound ghostly powers in time to save her love, and the book ends with the question: will she let Lucas be changed into a vampire, a creature he has spent his whole life –up to Bianca– fighting to kill? Well, this book would not have been much of a book if Bianca did not let Lucas become a vampire.
What really stood out for me here was that the book was not all about the romance. It was about the characters coming to terms with themselves. It was about Lucas dealing with what he had become. It was about his rejection from his former family. It was Bianca working on telling her family about her new ghostly persona. And even though Lucas failed so badly at his mother’s acceptance, Bianca did eventually work up the nerve to tell her spirit-hating parents about her new existence. I also finally got to learn Mrs. Bethany’s backstory, the reason Bianca and her parents were ever at Evernight Academy to begin with, and all kinds of interesting ghost and vampire subplots. Between forgiving best friends, finding herself, learning to trust herself, and deciding to do the ultimate right thing –helping other spirits go where they need to go– Bianca experienced so much growth. She became a main character I could respect.
Yes, there’s the cheesy love-at-first-sight crazy/YA romance aspect to the book, but what I really liked most was that this part actually took a few steps back for all of the other stuff to happen. I’m finally getting to see Bianca take charge and become so much more than the blood hungry teen girl, always needing to be taken care of.  I am glad I have continued with this series and I have high hopes for the next installment. I give it a 8/10. And if you would like a very different perspective, please check out my friend Christina’s post about it here:

Thursday, June 23, 2011

sisterhood everlasting by Ann Brashares

Okay, so technically speaking, this book is for adults. Generally I have two rules (that are mostly my own making) for what qualifies something as YA. 1) the age of the main characters and 2) the age of the audience reading the book. And both qualifications are a little bit fuzzy. For instance sometimes I read younger YA books that tell the story of an 11 year-old. And sometimes the older YA books stretch into the college years. And then what do you do about books like Twilight and the Harry Potter books, which are read by everyone? This book is technically about four 29-year-old women –way beyond the college years. However, the girls started much younger. And I have a feeling libraries will placing this book (like the Twilight books) on different shelves in different sections of the library, maybe one in the teen section, and one in the adult?
Anyway, regardless of who Brashares’ audience is meant to be, her books are always YA to me. Her past “adult” books read much more like YA books, because that is what she does the best, and what people like best.
I’m going to New Orleans tomorrow for the annual ALA conference, and I know I will be bringing home a lot of new books/arc’s (advanced reader’s copies). So, I told myself that after finishing The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee that I would only be reading Kindle books because why bring a book to a place where I will be getting a lot more. And Kindles are so much lighter/easier for traveling. However, shortly after making this decision my pre-orders all came in the mail from Amazon, and I think I had sisterhood everlasting in my possession for all of 10 minutes before reading it.
This book is the fifth in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, and it takes place 10 years after the last one left off. It deals with a lot of things all of the books in this series dealt with: true love, friendship, keeping friendship alive across years and continents, family, loss, growing up, and just living. Warning: I am about to spoil something that happens in the very beginning of the book. But I can’t exactly talk about this book without talking about what the whole thing is about. What the side flap/back of book neglect to tell you is that Brashares kills off one of the sisters in the very beginning chapters! And the whole book is how the rest of the girls deal with this loss.
The book is heart-breaking and if you have made it this far in the series, you will most definitely need a Kleenex box for this one. But the book is also beautiful. I have re-read the books in this series so many times that it already felt like Carmen, Bee, Tibby, and Lena were my friends. Brashares is probably one of my favorite writers of character. She writes each girl in a way that you can almost expect what they will do next, not because they’re predictable or cliché, but because you know them and have grown up next to them.
The book involves more trips to Greece, marriage plans, selfdiscovery type train rides, a romantic letter correspondence, a nomadic lifestyle, tv show acting, Australia, motherhood, and  P.S. I Love you post death friendship letters. The girls all learn to deal with this death in their own ways and then finally together again.
The one thing I really did not like about it was that there is one very obvious thing I think all of the girls should have been able to figure out much quicker. I decided I wouldn’t say who dies, and I wouldn’t give too much away, so I can’t really explain this part either. But just know that the girls question if the death was really accidental or self inflicted, and I knew right away what it was and was almost mad enough to stop reading because I couldn’t believe these intelligent women could be that dumb over something so big. But of course, I didn’t stop reading. I read it (literally) in one very sad sitting.
I give this book a 9/10. Don’t turn away because of the sadness. It was still very pleasurable to read, and reading anything of Brashares is like going out for a cup of coffee with an old friend from high school.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

I found this book in one my favorite Chicago independent bookstores, in paperback, and practically smacked myself in the head for not ever knowing of its existence before. I love the Victorian time period, I love England, and I really love lady detectives. This book is all about these three things! It would have to be really terrible for me not to have enjoyed it.
It starts literally at death row, for the main character, Mary. She has been caught red-handed stealing from someone’s home, and is sentenced to death. On her way to her death, she is rescued by the Agency, a group of women who have setup a school for intelligent young ladies who want more in life than what is allowed them. Mary is given a second chance at life, and exceeds at it. She comes to teach at the school, but the story really begins when she meets with the head of the Agency to ask for more than a teaching job.
The agency inducts her into their mystery solving team, trains her in things like self defense, and then immediately places her in the household of a suspected smuggler of culturally significant artifacts. She is supposed to just pretend to be the hired lady’s companion of the daughter of the said smuggler. But, Mary is not exactly the type of character to just hang around and listen. She breaks into factories dressed as a boy, she hides in wardrobes and meets interesting men, she follows suspects around London, and she encourages women all around her to want more out of life than what they are allowed. And she does this all at age 17 (but pretending to be 20).
The general theme of the book seemed to be: do not underestimate women. And I ate it up! While, readers of YA historical fiction will be quick to notice commonalities between this book and other books with strong female leads, what this book has that others doesn’t, is some semblance of truth. Yes, something like the Agency, an organization placing intelligent women around London, acting as spies, is highly unbelievable (entertaining, but unbelievable); however, the London Lee writes about is harsh, cruel, and downright smelly. She writes about the smell of decay coming from the Thames, the unfortunate caste system of the time, the harshness of the lives of the servants, the pain wealthy employers are allowed to inflict upon their workers at no cost to themselves, and the cost of being different in a crowd of blonde hair, blue eyed expectations. We learn early on that Mary has a secret about her heritage. And even before that we learn that her father died when she was young, and her mother had to become a prostitute in order to provide for Mary.
So, yes, Lee writes about an optimistic, beautiful possibility (The Agency) that in no way probabilistically could have existed, but she does not neglect the severity of Victorian England. In a way, I feel she almost wrote it as homage to all the poor women who lived this life with no Agency to save them.
There was one thing that really bothered me (despite all of this). Lee had this habit of skipping over scenes that I really wanted to read about. For instance, the book goes right from Mary’s rescue at prison, to several years later when she asks her supervisors for something more than a teaching job. I would have loved to see something of the school. I wanted to see other girls being rescued. I wanted to know what Mary was like as a student and how long it took her to grow up. How long did it take her to really feel as though she deserved more? Though, I get that the book was not mainly about that; it was mainly about her solving a mystery, which was also good, but would not have been too long with a little more of Mary’s earlier years. Lee also skipped other transitions throughout the story, like what immediately happened after escaping the burning building? I wanted more immediate resolutions before more storyline.
I loved some of the endings of the other characters, especially that of Mary’s companion. But, clearly the ending could not be the end for Mary and her “romantic” interest. It can’t just end the way it did. The book I have has an excerpt from book 2, which is already out, and though there was no mention of the romance, I know it must come back, as will too the secret Mary keeps from everyone (including the Agency). I give this book an 8/10. It would have scored higher if not for the authors inability to transition scenes better; it really did take away from the awesomeness that was the plot and kept making me pause and mentally shake my fist. Did she think the school scenes would have been to Jane Eyre or even X-Men?  Regardless, it still was so much fun to read! And it reminded me a lot of Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

So, Rachel Cohn and David Levithan are both fairly well known YA authors on their own. I have read both of their stuff. I have enjoyed their books, but I never really loved either of them, until their wonderful collaborations began. Their first book together was Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. I pretty much walked around for days in a post book haze, clutching that book to me to re-read certain parts. If you have seen the movie, please know the book is much, much better. Though, I just loved the movie too. I must admit that I still have yet to read their second collaboration: Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List; however, it is definitely on my To-Read list as of now.
Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares is primarily about Dash and Lily.  And like with Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, this book is very much focused on character. The story begins with Lily’s brother talking Lily into leaving a red notebook on a shelf she likes in her favorite bookstore. The book has some challenges in it to possibly test a possible teen boy. Mostly, Lily’s brother comes up with this idea so he can have more time with his boyfriend (while the parents are on an anniversary trip to Fiji) and less time with his younger sister.
Dash picks up the notebook in his favorite bookstore, even on a shelf where some of his favorite books are (Salinger’s). And from there comes a story of challenges and dares that lead these two teens all around NYC, from crazy Christmas lights in Brooklyn to Indie/Jewish rock concerts at 2 in the morning, to FAO Schwartz the day before Christmas, to Madame Tussaud’s. There’s a crazy dog chase scene, parties, famous tv network kitchens, and plenty of play with words. Lilly and Dash get to write to each other between the dares, and while a lot of this writing helped them individually deal with their own problems with family and growing up, it also allowed them to find each other.
There are ex-girlfriends, best friends, crazy cousins and wonderful wealthy aunts, snowball attacks, arrests, and even some slight online fame. The book is jam-packed with literary references, and I guess this book is to literature what Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist was to music. Dash is sort of obsessed with words and language, and there’s a very interesting scene with the many volumes of the OED (Oxford English Dictionary).
Readers get to follow these characters around New York, and with each dare and each journal entry, it’s impossible not to hope for the two main characters’ eventual meet-up. The story was very well put together. The characters were all people I want to be friends with. I just wish it was bigger. It's the kind of book, as the publisher points out on the back, that will have you searching your favorite book shelves, looking for a red notebook, and hoping for something real that is so hard to find (especially as a teenager). I give it a 10/10. And I really do hope that these two writers don’t stop their YA writing partnership.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Everlasting by Alyson Noel

This book definitely fits in with the weird need I had to buy Fitzpatrick’s sequel to Hush Hush. In other words, I really don’t know why I felt the need to read this one, when the past few in the series had failed to impress me.
If you couldn’t tell from that vague explanation, this book is part of a series. It’s the last in a series, actually. Thank God. So maybe that “Thank God,” was a little harsh. I did enjoy reading the first book: Evermore, and I also kind of liked the sequel: Blue Moon. However, I feel this author could have maintained a lot more of my respect if she had never written Shadowland, Dark Flame, and Night Star. This last book should have been book 3, and it really should have been a trilogy.
I think the reason I was so bent on reading this one was because I liked that it was the ending, and I wanted to see it’s end. Because, if it wasn’t known to me that it was the last in the series, I would like to think I would have given up on them after three painful mistakes.
Book 1 started with the main character, Ever, “surviving” a car crash that kills her whole family. She goes to live with her wealthy, single aunt in Laguna, CA. And while starting over at a new school, discovers she has some amazing, yet hard to control abilities. She can see her sister’s ghost. She can predict things. She can read minds. And later she learns from her soul mate, Damen, that she is immortal and can manifest anything she wants (except people). There’s a really interesting historical storyline that involves Damen living for 600 years, and a hilarious moment where Ever is certain that Damen is a vampire. It has all the soul mates-at-16-romance that appeals to a lot of YA readers, and definitely readers of Twilight.
However, early in the series, it is discovered that Damen has been poisoned with something that will forever prevent Ever and Damen from being able to physically touch…So yeah, they’re forced to live together forever, without really being together…And for this to go on for some many books of sexual tension and side plots about mean best friends and abandoned orphans, was just a little too much for me. Yet, I kept reading. Finally this poison/antidote dilemma is dealt with in the final book, but I really feel like it could have been dealt with books ago, so I didn’t have to read through all the other stuff, which involves a lot of weird spiritual people, some strange notions of the soul, and traveling different virtual planes.
The books are weird (not exactly motivating) in their spirtual aspect, but I at least give Noel some credit for attempting some kind of spiritual faith at all in YA lit. I just wish it came off as less physic-reading-in-a-tourist-gift shop (literally) and more as something personalized and real.
Any way, stuff I loved in these books: the immortality idea, getting to read about all the awesome things teens living for centuries manifested out of thin air, the magic, the history, the past love stories, the stuff that dealt with death in a completely new way, and the other side characters like her friend Miles and her aunt. Would I recommend reading all these books to get all these things? Maybe if you really loved Twilight and don’t mind some spiritual mumbo jumbo. 
And the last book? I did not hate the last book. There were arguments between Damen and Ever in this book that were also in the past four books. And I did something I almost never do; I did a lot of skimming. I rushed over a lot of repetition. And it still took me a week to get through the whole book. Also, I still don’t think Damen’s reasons for being against almost all of Ever’s decisions through this book were adequately explained. I did enjoy the very end. It just took way too long to get there.
Also, some of the closure Ever got on her journey to the end, was too good (aka: too unbelievable). Too much worked exactly right. I like that it took 6 months for her to finally attain what she needed, but I don’t like the ending a lot of the bad guys from previous books were allowed to achieve. It felt too much like a Disney ending, and not enough like a YA ending. Which is weird because Ever, a lot of the time, I felt seemed like an adult. I liked this about her. It gaver her character something. So it’s weird that the adult/mature Ever should have such a juvenile ending. I give it a 4/10. But, note that my experience with the other books is also influencing my opinion of this one. I can’t help it. Though, I do need to also say that Noel’s side story about Ever’s sister, Riley, is a lot more interesting and it’s definitely worth looking into Radiance by Alyson Noel to if anything, read about her interpretation of what happens when you die.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Zombies VS. Unicorns by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

This very well may be my favorite book I have reviewed on this blog so far. You all know of my love for all things supernatural. I also have a deep-rooted affection for short story collections. Some of my favorite adult books are books of short stories or anthologies. Every so often a YA anthology comes out where there is a bunch of authors who all write on various topics (like prom or half humans or summer vacation) and they are all put together in one big book without too much thought about how they link together except for the main focus. And normally, there are only a few authors I love and recognize. And I guess that is okay, because it introduces me to new people.  Zombies VS. Unicorns is so well put together. And maybe except for two authors, I have read the works of everyone in it.
The anthology is divided up into two teams: Team Unicorn and Team Zombie. If the story is on Team Zombie, there is a black and white picture of a zombie at the top, and if it’s for Team Unicorn, there’s a black and white picture of a unicorn on top. Pretty much that means the authors are either writing stories about zombies or unicorns. And in the introduction and in brief sections before each new story, Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier argue the merits for each supernatural character. And it’s really this bickering about fictional creatures that makes the book what it is. The bickering part also introduces the story in a comedic way, and it’s kind of like reading two teenage sisters simultaneously arguing about who’s wearing who’s clothes and also trying to MC an open mic. Add the supernatural quarrel to the beautiful layout, and even without the fantastic jobs of all the authors, you get one fantastic book.
The layout includes a beautiful mural of a zombie/unicorn war. The Table of Contents page is beautiful because of distinct (almost spray paint type) font for each author. And in case you ever forget, there’s a black unicorn or zombie on each page corner, reminding you what the story is about. 
Team Zombie (led by Holly Black) includes: Kathleen Duey, Meg Cabot, Garth Nix, Margo Lanagan, Naomi Novik, and Diana Peterfreund. Team Zombie (led by Justine Larbalestier) includes: Libba Bray, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Cassandra Clare, Maureen Johnson, Scott Westerfeld, and Carrie Ryan. Which team am I on? I’m definitely more of a zombie person than a unicorn person. I have always had a soft spot for zombie movies. And I love all the post-apocalyptic/ dystopian type drama they bring.
However, contradictory to my team standing, my favorite story in the anthology was Meg Cabot’s “Princess Prettypants,” a unicorn story. It was so absurdly funny, I was laughing out loud reading it. It’s about a girl who’s family doesn’t understand her at all. For her 17th birthday they throw her a High School Musical themed surprise party. And her aunt sends her a real life unicorn named Princess Prettypants.  I don’t want to say too much more about this story because it’s short, and I don’t want to ruin how awesome it is, but it is Cabot at her finest.
There were serious stories too. There’s one story about kids who had to kick all of the adults out of their town because in the zombie apocalypse, adults are always the first to get infected. There’s another about a serial killer unicorn. My favorite zombie one (written by Carrie Ryan) involved a teen girl trapped on an island during the zombie takeover. There’s pirates, sabotage, revenge, and all sorts of goodies in this story, including my favorite story ending/twist! There’s a story about hiding a unicorn in the garage and training it not to be a killer.  And there’s another very creative story (Clare’s) that involves a town of cohabitating zombies and humans. Westerfeld’s zombie tale involes hope in the form of a human/zombie half breed type immunity. There’s even a creepy story about a girl who mates with a unicorn…And there’s plenty more.
Because of the supernatural creatures being written about, the topics of the stories are vast and interesting, ranging from purity to survival, to love to understanding, to just living. There is some wonderful writing in here.
I liked certain stories more than others, but that tends to happen in anthologies. A lot of stories, in my opinion, ended too soon. Most of the stories could be books, if they kept going, books I would love to read! And it’s hard knowing that there won’t be more of them because I know what these writers are capable of. And I kind of wish Black and Larbalestier had their own stories in the anthology, but I get why they didn’t do that. I loved all the in-between bickering. I really enjoyed the majority of the stories. And it’s such a beautiful book to pick up and look at. I give it a 10/10. So, go pick it up, look at it, and enjoy the stories!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

It took me a really long time to read this book. I read the beginning of it maybe a few months ago, and never picked it up again. But, like the repetition that happens within the story, this book kept popping up everywhere for me: book lists, blogs I read, friends telling me to read it, etc. Eventually, a good friend of mine told me she needed to get rid of some of her books because of space issues/spring cleaning. And I told her I would be more than willing to give her a hand (aka: take some of her books and give them a good home).
I already own Oliver’s newest novel, which sounds like it is a lot more up my alley (an amazing sounding dystopia), and I figured I would give her first book another shot eventually. I’m glad I went back to Before I Fall. It was definitely worth the read.
The book is about a girl (Sam) who dies (in the very beginning) as a result of a somewhat drunken car crash. And the author seriously gets things. She understands how teen girl friendships work and how ridiculous certain traditions are. She understands how important the small stuff is to a teenager and she even gets how rumors get started. But, getting back to the plot, the book repeats in a very Groundhog’s Day fashion the day of Sam’s death. What I’m trying to say is, Sam keeps repeating the day she dies. And the book is about the small stuff versus the big stuff. And it makes you ask these questions: What would you do if you knew you were dead anyway? How would you live your last day? What changes would you make about yourself? What’s really important about life? And how can I fix things?
Eventually Sam’s final lived days kind of link together, and she learns dark secrets about her friends. She understands why the car crashes that ends her life (a bit of a twist). She falls in love with the right guy. She becomes brave and actively works to change how things are. And the very last page was so powerful, I was in tears.
So, why did it take me so long to read? Well, for starters, the book is massive. Granted, the book I got from my friend is an Advanced Rader’s Copy, but still it can’t be that far off from the real thing, and it’s 470 pages long. Add that to the fact that the same day repeats over and over, and it’s not ever really clear until the second half of the book, why this is worth reading. Oh, and it’s so easy to hate Sam. She is mean and cares more about popularity and looking a certain way than she seems to really care about her family or anything really important. She even mentions giving up her love of horses, so as not to look like a dork…And yes, I got from the beginning that this was necessary. It’s a book about change. And Oliver didn’t want this to be about Harry Potter or Peter Parker; she wanted it be about a real girl, a real slightly awful girl who needed to learn a few things. But, even knowing that Sam would grow and learn, it was hard to read. The way Sam talked to her mother, her teachers, and even to a lower-classman was just downright, obnoxious.
And I’m not saying I have to love the main character of a book to enjoy reading it. Some of the best characters out there are ones I don’t love (like Jane Austen’s Emma or Salinger’s Holden Caulfield). But there was something about Holden and Emma that prevented me from thinking of them as pure evil. Sam was awful, and no matter what I conclude about the book overall, it was really hard to read about such an awful, yet strikingly realistic girl, repeat her rude behaviors.
However, as the book continued, pieces from Sam’s last day linked together and were sort of woven into this intricate web of different outcomes. And Sam eventually does get better. As Sam becomes more tolerable and more empathetic toward others, the story improves too. I really needed to know how it would end. Would she move on at the end? Would she be able to live again? How long would she need to repeat this day? What lesson is she really supposed to learn? By the end of the book Sam truly regrets the direction her life was heading in. She helps others. And she lets people really see her for who she is. And all of my questions were answered.
As a whole, this book was remarkable. It summed up teen life, senior year of high school, friendship, love, regret, and growth in a way I have never seen done before. It is worth getting beyond the meanness of Sam and the repetition of rudeness to get at the web of links and to witness Sam’s maturity. I give this a 9/10.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins

I actually wasn’t sure if I wanted to blog about this one because I just reviewed book 1; however, I have to say something about it because I just loved it. And I just won’t give too much away if you’re planning on reading book 1 still.
The book takes place a little after the first one finishes. Remember me saying that I hoped Sophie continued to be as strong in the sequel as she was in the first one? Well, she was. She was a little whinier at the beginning of the sequel (alas some whining probably needs to happen?), but that went away once she realized all the things she had going for her and all the people she needed to help. And I loved Sophie even more when she changed her mind about something. She’s so strong in her convictions, yet also willing to hear people out and change her mind if she has to, and I love that about her.
Any way, this book mostly takes place in the countryside of England. There are demons, transportation portals, a growing relationship between Sophie and her dad (which I loved), secret meetings with the enemy/ex-love, a betrothed to deal with (apparently most witches at 13 become betrothed to someone they are allowed to turn down later, but usually don’t), prodigum dance clubs in London, trusted allies who betray Sophie, lots of prodigum versus human action scenes, and an actual reason why Sophie’s family is split. Really, I think England just makes all stories better! That and this book again is just loaded with a smorgasbord of YA creatures, themes, and just all things excellent.
Again, the story is not entirely new; it does still remind me a lot of Clauida Gray’s Evernight. Though this sequel is way better than any of Gray’s I’ve read so far. And it also kind of reminded me of the beginning of P.C. and Kristin Cast’s House of Night series, before it became bad.
Any way, don’t just read the first one. Both books in this series are great. I give this one a 9/10.  The book ends with a bang and a much more intense cliffhanger than the last one, but it is my experience with YA series that the further along they are, the more crazy the ending.
I have a feeling a lot of good books are coming my way. I’m going to Chicago’s Printer’s Row book fair today! Toward the end of June, I’m going to the annual ALA conference in New Orleans. And there’s nothing more exciting for me than new YA books!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

I read all kinds of YA books (realistic fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, dystopia, horror, romance, supernatural, short stories, adventure, spy books, books for the younger set of YA readers, books for the older/teen set of YA readers, award winners, classics, books more appealing for girls, books more appealing for guys, and even a little nonfiction every now and then). However, if you like my blog, you will most definitely notice a large collection of supernatural books. I love vampires, werewolves, wizards, witches, fallen angels, zombies, fairies, super powers and or heroes, dragons, monsters, and most of all: magic.
I know I am not a kid any more. I no longer wait at my mailbox, hoping for an acceptance letter to Hogwarts. I am way past puberty, the point at which most YA main characters develop their special skills and magical powers. And believe it or not, I still also find time to read some adult books as well (they’re just not as fun). But, I don’t think there will ever be a time when I won’t want to read a book that deals with magic. 
So, when I am lucky enough to come across a book that has all of the supernatural creatures/people I love (witches, vampires, fairies, ghosts, and demons), a Hogwarts style school for such people, plenty of magical themed action sequences, and the horror/supernatural style mystery of teen girls being murdered, I just about had a moment of YA reading bliss. Also, the blurb from Kirkus Reviews on the back describes it as, "Veronica Mars meets Percy Jackson and the Olympians." Can anything be wrong with that combo?
Hex Hall follows Sophie and her exile to Hex Hall, a reform school for prodigum (witches, fairies, and shapeshifters) who have drawn too much attention to themselves from normal humans. Sophie helped a crying girl in her old high school’s bathroom by casting a spell to bring the poor thing’s dream date to the dance. Unfortunately, the dream date crashed the dance (literally) in his silver Land Rover, and the crying girl kept telling everyone it was Sophie’s fault because she used some magical witch powers…When Sophie is sent to her new reform school, she learns a lot about magic, friendship, and herself. There is a little romance too. Sophie also learns that her life-long absent father is the head of the Council (practically witch royalty) and that one of the reasons she was sent to Hex Hall was for her protection.
There are several groups of humans that exist whose sole purpose is to destroy all prodigum, and during Sophie’s “induction ceremony” to her new school, she gets to learn first hand about all of the murders of her kind that humans have done over the centuries. Between escaping covens of mean girls, running for her life from humans, discovering who her family is, learning about magic, befriending the school outcast/vampire, falling in love with someone else’s boyfriend, and arguing with her mother, Sophie really learns a lot about herself and learns to come to terms with her soon to be discovered differences she has from everyone else, including all other prodigum.
So, the story has been done before…several times actually. The book can be grouped together with Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty, Caroline Stevermer’s A College of Magic, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and most of all Claudia Gray’s Evernight. Hawkins must have really like Claudia Gray’s book because a lot of the plot in this book is almost exactly the same, though Evernight dealt mainly with vampires and then ghosts.  And while I enjoyed Evernight, it would probably be at the end of the list I just gave if I were to rate them all by how much I loved them.
However, Hex Hall was so much better. And what really made this book such a pleasure to read for me (above it’s involvement in all things supernatural that I just love) is Sophie. She is so much fun to read! She’s sarcastic and smart. She has just enough self-doubt to be a believable teen girl, but not too much, and she (despite various temptations, and a rather large mishap with a dress spell) makes the right decisions. When she realized something she did not like about herself, she dealt with it (Aka: I didn’t have to suffer 50 pages of her whining about her one problem that doesn’t seem too bad). And hopefully, the sequel will skip the YA whine fest too. Because I think I need to go get the sequel now. I give it a 9/10.  It’s super fast to read, a lot of fun, and there’s a good (not too crazy) cliffhanger ending.