Friday, December 31, 2010

Book Review: Suite Scarlett

Suite Scarlett (2008) by Maureen Johnson

Back Jacket: Scarlett Martin has grown up in a most unusual way. Her family owns the Hopewell, a small Art Deco hotel in the heart of New York City. When each of the Martins turns fifteen, they are expected to take over the care of a suite. For Scarlett's fifteenth birthday, she gets both a room called the Empire Suite and a permanent guest named Mrs. Amberson. Scarlett doesn't quite know what to make of this C-list starlet and world traveler. And when she meets Eric, an astonishingly gorgeous actor who has just moved to the city, her summer takes a second unexpected turn. Before the summer is over, Scarlett will have to survive a whirlwhind of thievery and romantic missteps. But in a city where anything can happen, she just might be able to pull it off.

Review: I love the set up for Suite Scarlett, as any book that takes place in an Art Deco hotel promises to be a good one. Scarlett is one of those girls who isn't clued in to just how fierce and awesome she is, despite spending most of her time in red lipstick and an LBD. Mrs. Amberson proves to be frighteningly unpredictable but not unlikeable, and she certainly spices up Scarlett's summer. My favorite aspect of the book was the relationship between Scarlett and her brother, Spencer; their relationship felt real and complicated. Much of the plot revolves around Spencer struggling to find an acting job, Mrs. Amberson putting her nose in his business and dragging Scarlett into a wild scramble to produce a humorous retelling of Hamlet. The only real problem is finding a place to perform. These adventures are certainly entertaining, and Johnson does an overall nice job, but there was still part of me that wanted it to be just a little bit better.

Conclusion: 3/5.

Book Review: Real Live Boyfriends

Real Live Boyfriends (2010) by E. Lockhart

Inside Jacket:
Ruby Oliver is a senior in high school, and she's in love. Or it would be love, if Noel, her real live boyfriend, would call her back. But Noel has turned into a pod-robot lobotomy patient, and Ruby can't figure out why. Not only is her romantic life a shambles: Her dad is eating nothing but Cheetos, her mother's got a piglet head in the refrigerator, Hutch has gone to Paris to play baguette air guitar, Gideon shows up shirtless, and the pygmy goat Robespierre is no help whatsoever. Will Ruby ever control her panic attacks? Will she ever understand boys? Will she ever stop making lists? (No to that last one).

In the fourth hilarious episode of Ruby Oliver's high school career, the neurotic, hyperverbal heroine of The Boyfriend List and its companions interviews her friends for a documentary on love and popularity. While doing so, she turns up some uncomfortable truths--and searches for a way to get back what she had with Noel. Roo has lost most of her friends. She's lost her true love, more than once. She's lost her grandmother, her job, her reputation, and possibly her mind. But she's never lost her sense of humor. The Ruby Oliver books are the record of her survival.

Review: 3/5. Despite the giddy anticipation I felt while awaiting the release of this book, it did not live up to the standards the first three books set. Ruby's account is still enjoyable, but some of her fast, rambling snark has faded and the relationships did not exactly have me on tenterhooks. Here is a jumble of my general impressions, i.e. PROS and CONS. I leave you to sort them out: 1) Ruby has a brutal argument with her mother. I was shocked by the things that were said. Some of the things felt unforgivable to me. I wanted Ruby's mom to be a sympathetic character at least some of the time, but it's fair to say that she and Ruby don't ever really get along through the series. I think Elaine (Ruby's mum) has depths that the reader never sees, since Ruby's narrating everything, but Lockhart paints a pretty unforgiving picture. 2) Events seemed half-hearted and out of order. 3) Noel's absence is kind of what drives the novel, and yet the few scenes where he's present end up being some of the best. Particularly near the end. 4) It's fair to say I would read a book about Claude, Noel's brother.

Worth reading, but in keeping with the unspoken tradition of series, it is not as good as the three that came before.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Thoughts and Rants: On Finishing Bad Books

One of my friends once said that when they were younger, they would sit through a bad movie at the theatre. As they got older, they had no qualms about getting up and leaving if they weren't enjoying it. It was a waste of time to stay. I myself used to have a much stronger drive to see something through to its finish even if I didn't like it. But the truth is, I have left a theatre in the middle of a movie at least twice (and there have been many more that I've turned off at home), and this year there have been a handful of books I've left unfinished. My own desire to stick it out just to make sure I see how it ends has diminished over the years, and it had me wondering about the habits of other people in the blogosphere:

1. Do you stop reading a book if you're not enjoying it?

2. If so, how far do you read before deciding it's not for you?

3. If not, what keeps you going to the end?

4. (On a side note): If you're browsing the bookstore/library, how much of a book do you read before deciding whether you want it or not? Also, do you go to the bookstore/library with a book in mind or to browse?

I'm inclined to say that it's important to stick it out until the end because the book might get a lot better, or the end might be what makes it all meaningful, but I actually haven't found this to be the case very often. Usually, if I dislike a book I dislike it to the end. I usually read 1/3 or 1/2 of the book before stopping, though. When I was reading The Time Traveler's Wife, I got 3/4 of the way through and just couldn't pick it up again. So close! If I do keep reading to the end, it's usually for the sense of accomplishment (*notches bedpost*). As for 4, I read the back and inside jacket, skim the first couple pages, and skip to a place in the middle and read a couple pages.

I'm really interested to hear your answers!


P.S. I don't know where this conversation has already taken place (because I'm sure it has) so forgive me if this is a repetitive topic.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Book Review: Anna and the French Kiss

Anna and the French Kiss (2010) by Stephanie Perkins

Inside Jacket: Anna was looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. So she's less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris--until she meets Etienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, Etienne has it all...including a serious girlfriend. But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss? Stephanie Perkins keeps the romantic tension crackling and the attraction high in a debut guaranteed to make toes tingle and hearts melt.

Review: Perkins has debuted a fantastic story with two interesting, dynamic leads. Etienne is an American with a French name and an English accent. He's a history buff, has great hair, hates his father, and knows Paris like the back of his hand; Anna wants to be the next renowned female film critic, and her favorite kinds of movies are the old ones where people wear hats and have Big Misunderstandings. Adorably, Anna and Etienne's story is also one where people wear hats and have Big Misunderstandings. If there is one major theme in the book, it is Misunderstanding. Perkins comes at it from (at least) three angles: The characters' misunderstandings with one another, the misunderstandings in Anna's favorite films, and a teacher's lectures about translation and whether anything is ever "lost in translation" when a writer is Chinese but writes in French and his work is translated into English. In the end, the cover doesn't do this book credit! (Although I see that there are several variations). Perkins asks larger, thematic questions but never once loses sight of the delightful romantic entanglements of her characters.

Conclusion: 4/5. Perkins writes with humor and intelligence. The story is compelling, sweet, and satisfying. I read it in one sitting and I highly recommend it.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Books Review: Uglies

Uglies (2005) by Scott Westerfeld

Back Jacket: Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can't wait. In just a few weeks she'll have the operation that will turn her from a repellent ugly into the stunning pretty. And as a pretty, she'll be catapulted into a high-tech paradise where her only job is to have fun. But Tally's new friend Shay isn't sure she wants to become a pretty. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world--and it isn't very pretty. The authorities offer Tally a choice: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all . Tally's choice will change her world forever.

Review: Uglies starts with a very interesting premise. In Tally's world, being pretty is extremely important. Everyone who's an "ugly" is basically just killing time until they can have the "pretty" operation. Westerfeld does a great job with plotting (even though the events are very simple and straightforward), but I don't feel like he explored the issues of beauty that he introduced very well. I wasn't particularly drawn in by the characters or his writing style, but I did really end up enjoying the second half of the book--enough that I was curious about what happens next! I appreciate an author who can resolve one major issue--so that readers have a sense of completion--and then introduce a new complication--so readers will want to see what happens next. Westerfeld definitely does this, but I still feel that I didn't enjoy the book as much as I wanted to.

Conclusion: I give this book a 3/5. Uglies is fast-moving and tightly-plotted, but doesn't explore issues of beauty/images with the depth that I would expect from a book whose tagline is "In a world of extreme beauty, anyone normal is ugly." I was hoping to see the why behind the prioritization Tally's society put on beauty and the implications that might arise from that. Maybe this aspect only fell short because it is the first in a series: Can anyone tell me how the others compare to the first installment?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Book Review: Let It Snow

Let it Snow (2008) by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle

Back Jacket: Sparkling white snowdrifts...Beautiful presents wrapped in ribbons, and multicolored lights glittering in the night through the falling snow. A Christmas Eve snowstorm transforms one small town into a romantic haven, the kind you only see in movies. Well, kinda. After all, a cold and wet hike from a stranded train through the middle of nowhere would not normally end with a delicious kiss with a charming stranger. And no one would think that a trip to the Waffle House through four feet of snow would lead to love with an old friend. Or that the way back to true love begins with a painfully early morning shift at Starbucks. Thanks to three of today's best-selling teen authors--John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle--the magic of the holidays shines on these hilarious and charming interconnected tales of love, romance, and breathtaking kisses.

Review: Let it Snow is the perfect holiday book: All three authors serve up sweet romances that capture the imagination and warm even the cockles of my black heart.* I haven't read Maureen Johnson's work before, so this was a nice introduction to her work; her writing is both laugh-out-loud funny and tender, and I appreciated her believable approach to the romance. The always talented John Green set his characters off on one of his characteristic road trips, and it was lovely and clever because when is Green's writing not lovely and clever? Lauren Myracle (another author whose work I've never read before) tied everything together with a big holiday bow and an adorable teacup pig. You will just have to read the book to find out more about that.

Conclusion: 3/5. Maureen Johnson sets the tone perfectly with her story, John Green does his thing impeccably, and Lauren Myracle manages to resolve everything (and get all the characters in the same place at the same time). I only give this a 3/5 because in the end, these feel more like holiday "novelty" stories that I probably wouldn't re-read and didn't leave me with particularly striking or profound things to ponder. Ultimately, this is an excellent, lighthearted book (with happy endings all around) that puts you right in the holiday mood.


*Actually, my heart is totally normal, and the cockles warm just as fast as anybody's.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Book Review(s): The Ruby Oliver Novels

Book Review of the Ruby Oliver Novels by E. Lockhart

The Boyfriend List (2005)

The Boy Book (2006)

The Treasure Map of Boys (2009)

Summary: These books detail the awesome and confusing life of Ruby Oliver during her high school years at Tate Preparatory. The books start when Ruby has just been dumped by her boyfriend of six months, Jackson, in favor of her best friend Kim. From there on, Ruby (or Roo, as she is more commonly called) lets us in on all the quippy, neurotic soundbites of her thought processes as she struggles with losing her friends, losing a boyfriend, and trying to understand people (mainly boys). Since Jackson dumped her to be with her best friend instead, Roo has been suffering from anxiety attacks that creep up on her at inopportune moments. But that's not all she's dealing with; she's getting a lot of attention from other boys, too, like the smart, older Gideon who put his leg against hers and the hilarious, enigmatic Noel. Ruby has to figure out what it all means, who she really wants to be, and who she really wants to be with.

Review: E. Lockhart secured a place for herself in my heart when she wrote The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and the Ruby Oliver novels have only made that space bigger and more homey. Far from being trite high school dramedy, Lockhart uses the Ruby Oliver series to tackle issues of friendship, love, and high school in hilarious and meaningful ways. The series is populated with a uniquely excellent cast (with fantastic names! Can we take a moment to give props to Lockhart for Noel, Jackson, Hutch, Finn, and Gideon? Not to mention Ruby.) One of the things I like so well about Lockhart is that her books are blatantly feminist, but it's incorporated naturally into the relationships and plot, often as something the main character herself is just coming in to, either by way of older siblings or a specific teacher. In Ruby's case, it's Mr. Wallace (who is totally crush-worthy, and has a tasty South African accent). I highly recommend this series! Lockhart always finds unique ways to explore issues, empower her characters, and entertain her readers. The fourth, Real Live Boyfriends, comes out December 28th, and I am definitely looking forward to it!

Conclusion: 5/5! No doubt about it, this a very important addition to YA fiction.

Book Blogger Hop 12/17-12/20

Book Blogger Hop

The Book Blogger Hop is an awesome weekly meme hosted by Crazy for Books. Click here to check it out! This week's question:

What do you consider most important in a story: the plot or the characters?

Characters! Hands down. Every time. There doesn't even have to be a plot at all, other than what's developed from the characters. I've seen other bloggers say that they'll keep reading about an annoying character so long as the plot is good (which makes sense) but I don't think I could do that. I also tend to like plots that are kind of slow and internal, like The Dive from Clausen's Pier, Catcher in the Rye, and Someday This Pain Will be Useful to You. These kind of plots require good characters to work. Although, I do also like dystopian books a lot and plot and character are probably equally important in that case.


P.S. The links take you to Amazon, but I'm not affiliated with them in any way.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

2010 Book Survey

2010 Book Survey

I really love memes/surveys because it's like interviewing myself, and I get to talk as much as I like and the interviewer never gets bored. And also asks all the right questions. Because it is me. These reasons are basically why I started this blog. (Insert sheepish, charming grin):

Anyway, I heard about the 2010 Book Survey from Ava at Book Infinity and thought I would celebrate the night before my last final by staying up until 1:00 am.

1. Best book of 2010? This doesn't actually count, because I actually read this book back in 2009, but E. Lockhart's Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks always deserves some air-time.

2. Worst book of 2010? The Sleeping Beauty Proposal. You guys, it was so bad.

3. Most disappointing book of 2010? Linger by Maggie Stiefvater. I really enjoyed Shiver, but for some reason was unable to even finish the sequel.

4. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2010? Chalice, by Robin McKinley. Usually I can't handle her sentence structure (/guilt), but this book was awesome!

5. Book you recommended to people most in 2010? The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I mean, seriously: who wasn't forcing this series on people for the better part of the year? I sold it to a girl in a book store and I didn't even work there. No joke.

6. Best series you discovered in 2010? I'm currently fed up with series (and they turn me into a raging gorilla, along with slow internet connections and stupid people) but E. Lockhart's Ruby Oliver series has me hooked.

7. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2010? Brenna Yovanoff, which I think counts because she only just got published in 2010, despite authoring lots of free fiction over at Merry Sisters of Fate. Sherman Alexi (Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian) is excellent as well.

8. Most hilarious read of 2010? Half-Moon Investigations by Eoin Colfer.

9. Most thrilling, unputdownable book of 2010? Well, I did really enjoy Ally Condie's Matched. But it wasn't ever heart-hammering, the way The Hunger Games was. Which was good, because my nerves can't always take it.

10. Book you most anticipated in 2010? Matched, even though I only found out about it a couple of weeks before it was officially released.

11. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2010? I'm judgy and critical, so I only pay attention to covers I don't like. That's not true. But I'm not particularly fond of all the YA covers featuring mysterious and dramatic teens who seem somehow more than human. So basically, anything that's not that. This is hard! It's like pr0n, I guess: I know it when I see it.

12. Most memorable character in 2010? Eric, from Shaun Tan's Tales from Outer Suburbia.

13. Most beautifully written book in 2010? Tales from Outer Suburbia.

14. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2010? Shaun Tan's sweeping the floor with all the other books, apparently!

15. Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2010 to read? Well, let's just say I tried to get my hands on a copy of The Great Gatsby and couldn't. The things that could've been. *Wistful, winsome sigh* Actually, I tend to not bother with classics (ptew!) but I've been feeling like a slacker lately or something.

I see now that there is a lack of variety in my taste. Scroll back up for a second look at the sheepish grin. It's appropriate here, as well. But maybe not so charming the second time.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Book Review: Matched

Matched (2010) by Ally Condie

Inside Jacket: In the Society, Officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die. Cassia has always trusted their choices. It's hardly any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on her Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one...until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path no one else has ever dared follow--between perfection and passion.

Review: All the hype around this book certainly worked on me: I made a special trip to the local 'Noble just a few days after it officially released. I'm pleased to report that all the positive reviews are spot on. Cassia is certainly likeable, and the themes Condie explores are ones that always interest me. She addresses issues of power, equality, the prisoner's dilemma, poetry, love, family, and more. Xander and Ky are excellent characters as well. I've heard other people describe Ky as a sensitive, poetic, emo-outsider type and I have to disagree. He is a sensitive, thoughtful person, but to reduce him to a "type" does him a disservice, because there are depths Condie hasn't even touched on yet (for him as well as Xander). Condie's writing is spare and powerful, and the story flew by.

Conclusion: 5/5. This is an excellent addition to the Dystopian genre. I like that it is internal and character driven, and Cassia's world feels both complete and entirely unexplored. Aspects of the story are infused with a sterile eeriness while other parts are lush and open, which lends that nice balance to the world Cassia knows and the world she does not. I would reread this book, and I'm looking forward to the sequels. I have to admit, though, that I'm tired of books that come in a series. Longer isn't always better, and it's been too long since I've seen stand-alone books that get a lot of attention. Does anyone know why it's more popular to publish a 3 or 4 book set as opposed to just one?