June Reading Round Up: Young Adult Fiction

Sometimes, I confuse myself. I do. For the whole month of June, I was meh on reading. None of the books I read were so wonderful I couldn't put it down. But, six of the eight books I read this month received four or five stars. That is by far the best monthly rating average for the year. Maybe I graded the YA books on a curve, though that doesn't sound like me at all. I'm not nearly that nice.

An aside here: I'm sitting on my deck writing this post. It's 84 degrees in Texas at 5 pm on July 1. That makes me ridiculously happy.

Update: Here is is, July 3 and I haven't finished this post. That pretty much sums up my whole month of reading YA. Start and stop. Kinda dread going back to it but when I do, I enjoy it.

It's official: I'm a mess.

Top Pick of the Month

eleanor
eleanor

Eleanor and Park (★★★★★) by Rainbow Rowell - this was recommended by an agent I met at DFW Con and has been frequently included on Summer Reading lists.  It deserves the praise. I'm not sure what this would be categorized as - teen romance, maybe? But, it is a far cry from Sweet Valley High. The alternating POV and voices of the characters are well done and the setting (mid-80s) brought back teenage memories of my own. I don't even resent the author for that.

You Can't Go Wrong With...

Stargirl (★★★★★) by Jerry Spinelli

The Rules for Disappearing (★★★★) - a nice little thriller that probably shouldn't be a series, but whatever.

You want issues? I've got your issues.

Twisted (★★★★) by Laurie Halse Anderson - the ending, especially the resolution between the father and son, might be a little too pat, but overall a well-intentioned book with a good message.

Abandoned...

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel - I am a huge fan of Oppel's Airborn series (if you haven't heard of it or read it, you really should; action adventure with airships, a little teen romance, shipwrecks, a desert island and pirates!) and I thought the premise of this series (the teen years of Viktor Frankenstein) was a cool hook. It just didn't keep me interested.

Divergent by Veronica Roth - tries a little too hard to fill The Hunger Games void.

A list about failing and not having the will to try. Awesome!

Top Ten Tuesday is an online meme created by The Broke and the Bookish – check out their blog for some great book reviews and recommendations! Today’s list is Top Ten Most Intimidating Books (might be intimidated by size, content, that everyone else loves it but you are sure you won’t etc).

1. Moby Dick - I've tried to read Moby Dick and failed. I tried to listen to Moby Dick and failed. If I thought there was a decent screen adaptation of it I would watch it, but I'm afraid there isn't. The truth of the matter is, I only want to read it because I feel like I should.

2. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas - If I didn't know the ending, I might be more apt to pick it up.

3. Le Miserables by Victor Hugo - another book I started and stopped.

4. Blindness - Stream of conscious. Need I say more?

5. Cloud Atlas - Moves back and forth in time.

6. Love in the Time of Cholera - I'm not sure why this is intimidating, but it's been on my bookshelf for a few years and I keep passing it by.

6. Blood Meridian - I've heard how difficult McCarthy is to read too many times to not be intimidated.

7. Bleak House by Charles Dickens - long and about a legal case. I'm falling asleep typing that. Plus, the British mini-series from a few years back was awesome.

8. Vanity Fair - again, length.

9. Anything else by Faulkner - it was a struggle enough to get through The Sound and the Fury.

10. Civil War: A Narrative by Shelby Foote - I really, really want to read this but geez. It's almost 3000 pages long. I probably should have started it when the 150 year anniversary of the Civil War started back in 2011. Now I'm mad I didn't think of that sooner.

It's July! We are halfway to 2014 and it's National Ice Cream Month. Yea!

Actually, I'm not excited about 2014, but National Ice Cream month does excite me.  I wish it didn't because the pounds are creeping onto me again. They wouldn't if I would just Work Out like any sane forty something woman should do. But, I don't want to work out. Or run. Or eat better. I want to make ice cream and sit on my deck at 5 pm and drink a beer! Which is what I'm doing right now because it's 84 degrees at 5 pm on July 1 in Texas. That? Has never happened in my lifetime.

Hey, at least I'm drinking a Michelob Ultra.

Anyway. Three things are going to happen on the blog this month. One, I'm going to post every weekday. Two, I'm going to make ice cream and tell you all about it. Three, I'm going to read Historical Fiction and do a better job of writing reviews for each book. I'm going to have to if I want to post 23 times. I might even post about writing again since I haven't in a while. I've been a slacker for the entire month of June in the writing department but that stops tomorrow! I need to do a little revising of my MS then get back on the wagon with the sequel.

But, back to ice cream because, really. Ice Cream.

My first ice cream post will be about a fool proof, inexpensive chocolate ice cream recipe I found. Except nothing is fool proof when it comes to me and cooking. More on that later.

I want to find a banana pudding ice cream recipe because, really. Banana Pudding.

I also want to make Peach Ice Cream because, really. Peaches in the summer is nirvana.

What's  your favorite ice cream flavor? Do you make homemade ice cream? If not, why?

Also, unrelated to any of this: Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon was the stupidest movie I've ever seen, and I've seen my fair share of stupid movies.

Three YA Book Reviews - The Rules for Disappearing, Stargirl and Twisted

What I've discovered the last couple of weeks as these three reviews have sat on my hard drive is, while I like YA well enough, I just don't have much to say when it comes to reviews. Which is why I'm lumping three very different YA books together into one post: a thriller, a message book and a parable. First up, the thriller.

 

rules

 

Synopsis: She's been six different people in six different places: Madeline in Ohio, Isabelle in Missouri, Olivia in Kentucky . . . But now that she's been transplanted to rural Louisiana, she has decided that this fake identity will be her last.

Witness Protection has taken nearly everything from her. But for now, they've given her a new name, Megan Rose Jones, and a horrible hair color. For the past eight months, Meg has begged her father to answer one question: What on earth did he do-or see-that landed them in this god-awful mess? Meg has just about had it with all of the Suits' rules-and her dad's silence. If he won't help, it's time she got some answers for herself.

But Meg isn't counting on Ethan Landry, an adorable Louisiana farm boy who's too smart for his own good. He knows Meg is hiding something big. And it just might get both of them killed. As they embark on a perilous journey to free her family once and for all, Meg discovers that there's only one rule that really matters-survival.

I love the premise of The Rules for Disappearing (★★★★) and especially love it is set in eastern Louisiana. Southern literature, for the win! There were a couple of questions left unanswered at the end, which was irritating until I saw on Goodreads there is another book planned. I'm not entirely sure how this works as a series but I liked it well enough I will read the next book, as well as recommend The Rules for Disappearing to teens I know.

*~*

Next, the message book.

twisted

Synopsis: High school senior Tyler Miller used to be the kind of guy who faded into the background. But since he got busted for doing graffiti on the school, and spent the summer doing outdoor work to pay for it, he stands out like you wouldn't believe. His new physique attracts the attention of queen bee Bethany Milbury, who just so happens to be his father's boss's daughter, the sister of his biggest enemy, and Tyler's secret crush. And that sets off a string of events and changes that have Tyler questioning his place in school, in his family, and in the world.

A writer friend insisted I read Laurie Halse Anderson during my month of YA and this is what I picked up at the library. Twisted (★★★★) is clearly written with an interesting central character that is just on the right side of likable, if barely. But, what teens aren't barely likable? I didn't feel the author show the suicidal tendencies of the MC clearly enough to make me believe he would really kill himself when it came down to it. That the book was from the MC's point of view didn't help with the tension, either. But, I liked how the character found his agency at the end and took charge of his life.

*~*

Next up, the parable.

stargirl

Synopsis:Stargirl. From the day she arrives at quiet Mica High in a burst of color and sound, the hallways hum with the murmur of “Stargirl, Stargirl.” She captures Leo Borlock’s heart with just one smile. She sparks a school-spirit revolution with just one cheer. The students of Mica High are enchanted. At first.

Then they turn on her. Stargirl is suddenly shunned for everything that makes her different, and Leo, panicked and desperate with love, urges her to become the very thing that can destroy her: normal. In this celebration of nonconformity, Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli weaves a tense, emotional tale about the perils of popularity and the thrill and inspiration of first love.

A parable is a short tale that illustrates universal truth, one of the simplest of narratives. It sketches a setting, describes an action, and shows the results. It often involves a character facing a moraldilemma, or making a questionable decision and then suffering the consequences. Though the meaning of a parable is often not explicitly stated, the meaning is not usually intended to be hidden or secret but on the contrary quite straightforward and obvious. (source)

I may be the only person that thinks of Stargirl (★★★★★) as a parable, but it fits the above definition to a "t." The universal truth in Stargirl is to be true to yourself, to be kind above all, to put others first and to meet hatred with love. If those aren't messages Jesus would get behind, I don't know what are. This is the summer reading requirement for sixth grade in our district and I can't imagine a better message for kids going into middle school.

YA Book Review - Golden by Jessi Kirby

goldenWhy is it whenever there is a there is a  choice between stability and freedom, the traditional and the unexpected, it is always the arty, let's do the crazy option that is always chosen? How many romances have you read where the choice of future mate comes down to stable, buttoned down businessman/woman and the long-haired free spirit artist/carpenter/bartender? Who is chosen every time? The free-spirit. Why is it when the choice is between responsibility and irresponsibility, the latter always wins out and is, as a result, trumpeted as the way to true happiness? If I had to posit a theory, I'd guess the authors of these books are people who chose the responsible path and have regretted it. Who think their life is boring and OMG wouldn't it be so much better to be an struggling artist living above a shop with few possessions and even fewer expectations from others? Or, maybe they were pushed into a path they didn't really want to take and resented it. Whatever the case, contemporary fiction is littered with these stories and they all end the same. (If you know of one that ends with the main character choosing responsibility, please let me know.)

We can thank Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games for the current trend of adults devouring YA and New Adult novels. But, not all YA/NA crosses over well. Golden (★★) is firmly targeted to teens, with hardly a parent or adult being represented. The one parent that is given a few pages is overbearing and controlling. Of course. I can't imagine any adult, let alone a parent, even less a parent of a teenager who are constantly trying to teach our teens about responsibility and taking charge of their future would like Golden very much. But, teens will eat the message up with a spoon. The message being, as far as I can tell, that 1) a parent that wants the best for you is wrong and 2) making spur of the moment decisions that will negatively impact your future is okay as long as you have a hot snowboarder boyfriend you can fall back on.

Hey, I get it. I'm definitely not the target audience for this book. And, I don't think all YA, New Adult or whatever you want to call it, should have a message that is "parental approved." But, to have a "message" book that so clearly disregards both perspectives - the adult responsible one and the YA impulsive one - does a disservice to the target audience. In Golden, the author didn't do a good enough job of showing why the MC's decision was the right one. As a result, Golden will be one of those books that teens love but, when they revisit it as adults, they will wonder what the hell they were thinking.

 

YA Book Review - The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Theboyinthestripedpyjamas

TheboyinthestripedpyjamasThere is a major flaw at the center of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: the main character is not believable. Bruno, the 9-year old son of a Nazi SS officer whose promotion to commandant of Auschwitz starts the book, is completely ignorant of the world he lives in. He doesn't know what a Jew is, how to pronounce "Furher," what "Heil Hitler" means, what a Star of David or a swastika is, or what the thousands of people behind the barbed wire fence behind his house are doing there.  This from a boy born in 1934, two years after Hitler rose to power and the son of a high-ranking Nazi who is not a German who went along to get along but was dedicated to eradicating Jews and who "the Fury had great plans for." This from a boy who, in the real world, would have been a member of the Hitler youth. This from a boy who would have heard friends, neighbors and strangers deriding Jews. This from a boy who would have seen a Star of David in Berlin.  This from a boy whose father wore a red, white and black armband on his arm every day. If Bruno would have been five or six then I might have bought it. But, he was a ridiculously immature nine-year old who I kept thinking wasn't so much an innocent as an idiot. Does Boyne expect the reader to believe Bruno's family would have kept their beliefs about Jews, the purity of the Aryan race and Nazi ideology secret? It's patently ridiculous. Bruno's father would have been indoctrinating him, not protecting him from the ideas. To keep that information from your children implies you are uncomfortable with the beliefs and nothing in the book indicated that was the case. So. That was the biggest issue, but not the only one. Shmuel, the boy Bruno meets through the fence because of course there is a large section that is never guarded, is unbelievable in his own way as well. This little boy prisoner can sneak away every day for over a year. And, it is easy enough for a half-starving child to lift the bottom of the chain-link fence enough to scoot under, but he never does. Nor does he ever tell any of his fellow prisoners about the unguarded spot with the wonky fence.  He never calls Bruno out in his ignorance. His father disappears and this little boy, who has lived in a death camp for at least a year, doesn't know where he went. He also doesn't know what happens to the prisoners who "march," but he never sees them return. Gosh, what could be happening to them?

This book was on an end cap at Barnes and Noble titled, "What Every Teen Should Read." Really? It read more like it was written for a child. Boyne never said "Auschwitz," instead dumbing down his protagonist even more by having him mispronounce it "Out With." Boyne doesn't describe an act of violence against a Jew that Bruno witnesses and he, unbelievably, let Shmuel live after being caught by an SS officer stealing food from Bruno's kitchen. By skimming over the details, the climax of the book didn't have the visceral emotion it should have, or easily could have.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (★★) is a dumbed down version of the Holocaust, masquerading as a YA book. While there aren't any gross inaccuracies that I could see (I am, admittedly, not an expert), the mistakes are in what isn't said, what is glossed over and ignored in the guise of being from an unbelievable naive 9-year old boy's perspective.  The best you can hope for is your child or teen will ask questions because Lord knows, Boyne leaves lots of gaps. When they do, you can help educate them about one of the darkest eras in World History because the only thing that will keep us from repeating the mistakes of those before is not forgetting.

June Reading Goals - Rec me a YA

divergentThis month, I'm reading Young Adult. Today, I start Divergent. Other than that I have no plans; I'm open to suggestions. However, I refuse to read anything with vampires in it, including Twilight. I tried reading a ridiculously popular, poorly written book last month and that didn't turn out so well. Also, vampires hold no interest for me. Neither do zombies. FYI, I've read Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and The Hunger Games.

Bring on the suggestions.

 

May Reading Review - Romance

cheesyMy month of reading romances turned out better than I thought. The quality of the writing was surprisingly good and I didn't end the month wishing my husband was an Irish bar owner in the middle of nowhere. If I have a complaint about romances is they are formulaic to a fault. But, the formula is part of the Romance Writers of America definition of the genre:

Novels in this genre place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and must have an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.

Which means a good romance depends on a unique setting, characters and story. There are plenty of average romances that will leave you happy and satisfied. Finding an exceptional one is much more difficult. But, so is finding a horrible romance. They seem to hum along around three to four stars and, you know what? Sometimes the book you're reading doesn't need to change the world or make you ponder deep themes. It just needs to make you feel better when you finish than when you started. Most of the books I read in May did.

Top Pick of the Month

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand () by Helen Simondson - Major Pettigrew is the best kind of romance; great characters, believable conflict, sweet love story and uniqueness. I've wanted to read this novel for years and I'm so glad I did. Would recommend to anyone and will most likely re-read it in years to come.

You Can't Go Wrong With...

Jewels of the Sun () by Nora Roberts - Roberts is the quintessential romance author that will always deliver a reliably enjoyable read. Some complained on Goodreads about the ridiculous Irish stereotypes. To that I have this to say:  you don't read romance for veracity; you read it for fantasy. So what if the Ireland Roberts depicts is more Brigadoon and blarney stone than reality? It's fun, well written escapism. Also, don't talk to a Texan about stereotypes. In college I was able to convince two New Yorkers we all rode horses to school and had oil wells in our back yards. If a reader is stupid enough to believe the over the top stereotype, what do you care?  I stay away from Texas-based romances. I suggest easily offended Irish do the same for Ireland.

Georgette Heyer - I read two Heyer books this month (The Devil's Cub ; Lady of Quality ) because she is, far and away, my historical romance comfort read. The plots of her novels unfortunately share too many similarities, but I don't care.

This was shelved in Romance?

About a Boy () by Nick Hornby - There is nothing romancy about it, though I suppose Romance might have the widest definition of any literary genre. About a Boy could be considered romance, if you squint and turn your head a little, as if trying to catch sight of a shy fairy.

Good, not Great

Fall into You () by Roni Loren - My first full length erotica. Eh. Well-written but I'm not overly interested in reading about BDSM. I would read another if someone gave it to me but I wouldn't go out of my way to buy one.

With Just One Kiss () by Francis Ray - Thoroughly enjoyable. Will read another. Not as well written as Roberts but still lighthearted and fun. I liked it enough to seek out the next book in this series.

Bend in the Road () by Nicholas Sparks - I'm fairly certain this is the first Sparks novel I've read, and it will probably be the last. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great. The sex scenes were sweet instead of sexy or erotic. I'm not going to complain about the lack of drama with the pair getting together - this is romance after all - though waiting for weeks of dating to kiss is totally unbelievable. The conflict after is good, but knocked down a star because the final scene was a fade to black. I wanted to see Miles grovel a bit and I wanted to see Sarah call him out for his behavior. Sarah turned out to be way too weak and Miles was too big of an ass. Overall good, not great; I won't waste my time with another Sparks.

Let's Get a Classic in Here...

Lady Chatterley's Lover () by DH Lawrence - For a book that is known more for being banned for thirty years, I expected something much more obscene. Though, of course, for 1928, all the talk about penises and orgasms would be quite shocking. It was pretty funny when Lawrence continued to call a woman's orgasm "coming to a crisis." I've only ever thought not coming to one is the crisis, but maybe that's just me. My reaction to Lady Chatterley is contradictory - I liked it overall but hated the characters. DH Lawrence is an excellent writer but he is repetitive, especially with his social commentary. I think all romance writers, especially ones that write erotica, should read Lady Chatterley, if only to honor the author that had the courage to take on the establishment in 1928 and pave the way for them.

Skimmed or Abandoned

The Man Who Loved Jane Austen () - writing wasn't good enough to carry a convoluted plot. Really, one of the worst books I've read this year.

The Typewriter Girl - besides having a horrible title, there were occasionally strangely structured sentences, not to mention an unlikable main character.

Fifty Shades of Grey - I tried.

"A best seller was a book which somehow sold well simply because it was selling well." - S. Boorstein

headdesk

I tried.

I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror. Damn my hair - it just won't behave, and damn Katherine Kavanagh for being ill and subjecting me to this ordeal. I should be studying for my final exams, which are next week, yet here I am trying to brush my hair into submission. I must not sleep with it wet. I must not sleep with it wet. Reciting this mantra several times, I attempt, once more, to bring it under control with the brush. I roll my eyes in frustration and gaze at the pale, brown-haired girl with blue eyes too big for her face staring back at me...

That's where I stopped.

I didn't even make it to the end of the first paragraph.

That's all I needed to prove to me that Fifty Shades of Gray is as poorly written as many said.

I could forgive that horrible, no good, very bad first sentence. But, what I cannot forgive is looking in the mirror and describing yourself. Avoiding that is in the top ten rules of writing. Maybe the top five. It's lazy, trite and amateur. I would be impossible for me to read this book and the writing not get in the way of my enjoyment.

 

Book Review - Fall into You by Roni Loren

fall

At the DFW Wfallriter's Conference last weekend, I attended a class titled "How to Write a Love Scene" taught by BDSM romance writer Roni Loren. It was an interesting class, though I'm not sure I learned anything I didn't know already, which was a common reaction to the craft centric classes I attended. I admit, that sounds a little arrogant coming from an unpublished writer. But, by this point, much of the information I heard is information I've heard before. But, it doesn't hurt to be reminded, or to hear it in a different way. Before I get into this review, you need to know two things. One, I didn't read Fifty Shades of Gray. I wasn't interested in reading a poorly written novel about a subject I had no interest in (BDSM). Two, I know nothing whatsoever about BDSM. So, why did I decide to read Fall into You? Curiosity about how Loren wrote the sex scenes, pure and simple. I've written my fair share of sex scenes (though no BDSM because, see above) though none make it into my novels, at least not the detailed ones. I'm more of a pan to the fluttering curtain or crashing waves kind of love scene writer. There are only so many ways you can describe the emotional and physical reactions of desire. Most of the time, it comes across as either cheesy or stilted. Plus, the reader's imagination is usually much better. Writing a good sex scene takes a great amount of skill which thankfully, Loren has. The scenes in Fall into You were well written and, besides a few repetitive descriptions of darkening eyes and Charli's private parts,  unique. They were equal parts titillating and cringe inducing.

I suppose complaining about lack of plot in a BDSM novel is like complaining about the lack of plot in a porn movie. You aren't reading for deep characterization or complex plot. What plot there is in Fall into You is there to service the sex scenes. At least 2/3 of the book is sex, and 1/3 is plot. And, the plot is lame. Okay, it's beyond lame. Loren's characterization of Charli was good, but she left a pretty gaping hole in Grant's back story, namely how did he get into BDSM and where did he get all of his money? This is the third book in the series, but I gather from other reviews Grant has been a secondary character in the previous two. This is his spotlight, how he got into the lifestyle should have been mentioned.

I do have to knock Loren for some of her dialogue. Most of it was good, then there would be a clunker of a line dropped in. No, I don't mean the dialogue during the sex scenes. I don't think there is any way for those lines to not be cheesy and cringe inducing. Is it even possible to be eloquent during sex? I don't think so. The best example that comes to mind is when Charli says Grant was 'scrambling her gray matter' or something of the sort, meaning her mind. No one says that in dialogue. "Blowing my mind," yes.  The worst was when Charli called Grant 'cowboy.' I mean, just no. Every time Grant called Charli 'freckles' I thought of Lost. Unnatural dialogue like that jolts the reader out of the scene.

Will I read another of Loren's novels? If someone hands me one I will, but I won't seek it out. Will I read another BDSM novel? Sure, if it had more story outside of the sex and deeper characterization.  I have decided to read Fifty Shades of Gray to compare the two, but not for a couple of weeks. It's time to see if exposure to this genre has ruined me for fluffy, vanilla romance.

Side Note: This is the first novel I've ever read that had a "Mature Audience" warning on the back. Is this common for the BDSM genre?

April Reading Round-Up - "There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact." - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

 

The month of mysteries is behind me and I do not regret it. I can't remember why I thought I would.  My one regret is I only read two books from my To Read list (The Cater Street Hangman, Leaving Everything Most Loved). I blame that on the library. I got sidetracked by the "New Mystery" section by the front door and didn't make it upstairs.

I read ten books in April, nine mysteries, on graphic novel. The best of the bunch is probably Say Nice Things About Detroit, though I gave The Cater Street Hangman a higher rating. Confusing, yes. But, I have a theory. Since I am reading so much, the books that are unique in some way will stand out in my memory. My initial reaction for Say Nice Things About Detroit was four stars, a rating I still believe in. With The Cater Street Hangman, my initial reaction was five stars, but I can't remember why. The reason most likely lies in the fact that Perry's book is so similar to other books I have enjoyed that I am inclined to give those types of books (historical mysteries) better ratings. I am also influenced by my appreciation of Perry's body of work. But, because I have read so many books like The Cater Street Hangman, the specifics of the book don't immediately leap to mind later on. Whereas Say Nice Things About Detroit does because of it's uniqueness in relation to what I usually read.

Anyway. Enough of that. In May, I am reading romances! Woo-hoo! I gave romances up years ago, when I was newly married and I realized my husband was never going to be a shirtless shipbuilder on Nantucket Island and to keep comparing him to these types of men was doing my marriage a disservice. Now, seventeen years on, my husband is a sexy sports business consultant and can stand toe-to-toe with any romance novel hero. At least I hope he can.

I'm not going to make a list of books since history says I will ignore the list. I'm thinking of going to Half Priced Books and seeing if they have a bundle of romances to buy. Just roll the dice. What I will read: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (currently reading and loving it, for book club) and probably a Georgette Heyer or two.  Feel free to recommend romance novels/authors in the comments.