Fall Reading (just a list, no reviews)

So here’s something I learned this past fall–it’s very difficult to keep up with your blog during the semester. I’m going to try to be better this spring, but honestly, it’ll probably be pretty spotty coverage until May. Also, last semester I took a class on picture books and this semester I’m in a middle grade lit class, so much of my reading has been the kind that doesn’t really fit within the scope of my blog. That being said, here’s what I read this fall…if it’s on the list, consider it a book I’d recommend.

Sex & Violence, Carrie Mesrobian (YA Realistic Fiction)

Two Boys Kissing, David Levithan (YA Realistic Fiction)

Rats Saw God, Rob Thomas (a reread, see my Top Ten YA Books post for a rundown of this one)

Fosse, Sam Wasson (Biography)

Finnikin of the Rock, Melina Marchetta (YA Fantasy)

Froi of the Exiles, Melina Marchetta (YA Fantasy)

Dead End in Norvelt, Jack Gantos (Middle Grade Historical Fiction)

And the Band Played On, Randy Shilts (Adult Non-Fiction)

Boxers & Saints, Gene Luen Yang (YA Graphic Novel)

Grave Mercy, Robin LaFevers (YA Historical Fantasy)

Dark Triumph, Robin LaFevers (YA Historical Fantasy)

Winger, Andrew Smith (YA Realistic Fiction)

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? Maria Semple (Adult Fiction)

Antigoddess, Kendare Blake (YA Mythological Fantasy)

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, Jennifer Smith (YA Realistic Fiction)

This is What Happy Looks Like, Jennifer Smith (YA Realistic Fiction)

Anna and the French Kiss, Stephanie Perkins (YA Realistic Fiction)

Lola and the Boy Next Door, Stephanie Perkins (YA Realistic Fiction)

While school is going on, I don’t finish books I don’t like…so all of these have my stamp of approval :)

 

Austin Teen Book Fest

One of the best things about living in Austin (except for the tacos) is that because BookPeople is such an amazing indie bookstore and we have such a vibrant YA librarian/teacher/general booklover community we get all kinds of AWESOME author visits.  The ultimate YA lit event is, of course, the Austin Teen Book Fest which took place yesterday. I’ve been lucky enough to go the past two years, and this year I got to volunteer as a door monitor and in the signing lines.  Every year they bring so many amazing authors to give keynotes, participate in panel discussions, sign LOADS of books, and spread the gospel of YA to the teens of Austin (and teens from other places…I met some girls from Shreveport yesterday.  Shreveport is a looooooong way from Austin, y’all).

High points of the day for me:

- Working the door for three different panels and getting to interact with the authors a little more than you get to in a signing line.  Plus, I just love to hear authors talk about their books, writing process, and ideas.  I always end up hearing someone speak and just HAVING to get his/her book.  Last year it was Leigh Bardugo…this year it was Bill Konigsberg.

- Seeing the librarian, Pat, from my old school and getting to chat with her about books, working with teens, my classes at the iSchool, and just life in general.  I’ve really missed her since leaving San Antonio.

- Thinking about books all day and getting to talk about books with my fun friends from library school.  We’re really going to have to figure out a way to keep up our discussions once we all move on to our jobs (which we are all going to get!).

- Getting to fangirl all over Rob Thomas (Rats Saw God is one of my favorite books EVER…I know he did “Veronica Mars” and it’s great, but RSG is a masterpiece of YA lit), Maggie Stiefvater (she’s HILARIOUS to hear speak and her Raven Boys books are some of my top reads in 2013), Trish Doller (go get yourself a copy of Where the Stars Still Shine!), Lauren Myracle (also hilarious and SO FREAKIN’ NICE), and Sarah Dessen (I saw her going into the bathroom and managed to control my author stalker tendencies and not follow her in there to talk about Dreamland).

- Seeing so many teenagers so excited about reading, authors, and books…and seeing all their amazing parents supporting them.  It makes me so happy to see the power books can have in a young person’s life–I know that power well :)

In general, I had an amazing time and got so much out of ATBF; also, I thought things (especially the signing lines) ran even more smoothly than they did last year.  There were a few things, however, that were problematic for me:

- The Austin Convention Center’s main area has terrible acoustics, at least they did on Saturday.  The exhibits, book sales, and signing lines made for a lot of background noise during the keynote at lunch and in the afternoon.

- I was disappointed that people asked so many questions about TV in the Truth and Consequences panel that Rob Thomas was on.  There were 5 other authors there AND an author moderator…and I was there to hear about books.

- It would be nice if there was a way to include taglines or blurbs from the authors’ books in the schedule so people didn’t ask for “sales pitches” at the panels.  There’s this thing called Google if you’re interested in an author and his/her book.  My friends and I thought that it was unnecessary and time-consuming when other more interesting questions could have been asked.

- I wish that the adults in the audience would let teens ask more questions at the panels and/or the moderators would choose predominantly teens.  The whole point of the fest is to connect kids with authors.  We (I’m speaking for librarians here) have TLA and ALA…teens just have this.

Overall, I think ATBF is one of the most amazing book events in Texas–that’s saying a lot since the Texas Book Festival is coming our way shortly…I can’t wait for next year’s fest!  (I’m really hoping the following authors who weren’t there this year make appearances sometime soon:  Libba Bray, John Corey Whaley, Leigh Bardugo, Megan McCafferty, Kendare Blake, and my two dream “gets” for the keynote–John Green and Meg Cabot.)  Off to work on my projects for school–the ones I neglected while I was at the Book Fest!

Summer Reading Recap (aka I got really busy, read a lot of books, and didn’t have time to write the reviews)

So…yeah.  I haven’t posted in a loooooooooong time; I sold a house, bought a house, took Cataloging, went to the beach, refinished a bunch of furniture, started a new semester, and potty-trained a 2 1/2 year old–all in the few months since my last post.  Despite all of this, I have actually been reading A LOT, and I’ve read some really great books.  I’m going to do a short review here and give letter grades; if I reread any of them (a definite possibility), I’ll do a full review then.

Without further ado, here’s what I’ve read since June:

 

The Infinite Moment of Us, Lauren Myracle (Amulet)–B+

I liked this story about the romance of two just-graduated high school seniors, Wren and Charlie, a lot but found the ending to be a little too perfect.  Myracle doesn’t shy away from the physical realities of two 18 year old in love (ie. there’s some pretty explicit sex scenes), but I thought it was done sensitively and was totally authentic.

 

Where the Stars Still Shine, Trish Doller (Bloomsbury)–A-

I found myself very emotionally attached to the characters in this book; one of whom, Callie, was kidnapped by her mother at the age of four and, at the beginning of the story, has been returned to her father at 17.  I think Doller does a great job of examining a lot of the issues Callie experiences upon her return to the “real” world, but again, the ending seems a little pat.  This is another book I’d say would be best for older YA due to its treatment of teen sex–it’s done well and feels very true to the characters, but it is present.

 

Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin’s)- A-

I was very conflicted about Rowell’s debut YA novel, Eleanor and Park, despite finding its sentence-level writing to be pretty amazing.  In her second book, Rowell proves she is still writing AMAZING prose, but I found the characters much, much less problematic.  Things it’s about:  fanfic, the first year of college, Nebraska, twins, abandonment, depression, and first love.

 

Rose Under Fire, Elizabeth Wein (Disney Hyperion)- A+

Holy crap, this book was INCREDIBLE.  It’s the companion to Code Name Verity, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s even better.  Rose is an American pilot working for the British during World War II.  Her plane crashes in Nazi territory, and she ends up at the Ravensbruck women’s concentration camp.  That’s all I’m going to say.  READ IT.

 

The Dream Thieves, Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic)- A

The sequel to last year’s The Raven Boys, this book was, in a word, a mindf**k.  Seriously.  Half the time I wasn’t really sure I understood what was happening, but it all worked.  It has very little to do with the ley line story from the first book and way more to do with Ronan’s mystical/magical abilities.  As usual, Stiefvater’s writing is lyrical and beautiful, and I can’t wait for the next one.

 

Reality Boy, AS King (Little, Brown)- A-

Although this book isn’t without its problems (like I’m not sure what’s going on with the whole circus thing), I found it SO powerful.  It examines the life of a teenage boy whose family was once the subject of a “Supernanny”-like TV show and the fallout the show produced.  Unlike some other readers, I liked the unreliable narrator technique King uses, but I will admit that this is not a sure-fire winner for all readers.

 

Sex and Violence, Carrie Mesrobian- A

I’m not a fan of this book’s title, but its content is pretty great.  Another male narrator, this time one was has, shall we say, a rather loose set of requirements for the girls he “gets down with.”  This risky behavior lands Evan first in the hospital and then living with his dad in a remote lakeside community.  The plot of this book wasn’t really what drew me in–it was the characterization.  Evan is such a nuanced, complicated character…and I just wanted to give him a hug the whole time.

All of the books above are either very recent releases or coming out in the next month or so…the ones below are a little older (some a lot older), and I’m just going to give grades to them.  If the title and genre sounds interesting to you, go look them up!

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline (sci-fi)–A+++++

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, Jennifer Smith (YA romance)- B

Difficult Men, Brett Martin (non-fiction)- B+

A ton of romance novels by Eloisa James–range from B- to A…I’d never read anything by her, but I was pleasantly surprised.  I especially liked the quartet whose titles are derived from Shakespeare.

A lot of reading, not a lot of time.  Hope you find something you like!

Far Far Away–Tom McNeal (June 2013)

16030663*I received this as an e-galley from Netgalley.com in return for my honest review.  WARNING–there are slight spoilers.*

Jeremy Johnson Johnson has been hearing voices since he was a small child; in fact, he hears one in particular every day.  The voice is that of the ghost of Jacob Grimm, one half of the famous Brothers Grimm and the narrator of Far Far Away.  Jacob watches over Jeremy, helps him with his schoolwork, provides advice that Jeremy’s indigent father cannot, and attempts to protect him from a menacing force called “the Finder of Occasions.”  Despite his best efforts to protect Jeremy, things spiral out of control once Ginger Boultinghouse enters the picture and sweeps Jeremy up into her unique brand of merry mayhem.  Whether or not these characters will find their “happily ever after” drives the narrative of this brief but moving modern fairytale.

Thoughts–Where do I start with this one?  This book was, in a word, queer.  Not queer in the LGBTQ sense, but queer as in odd.  Disquieting.  STRANGE…but in a good way.  It is full of magical realism, dark happenings, references to history and fairy tales, and reflective passages.  It doesn’t rush; rather, it ambles along and unfolds its unique story in its own winding way.  The style isn’t necessarily for every reader, but I thought it really worked to serve the story and found it quite charming.  It takes a while to adjust to the narrative voice of Jacob Grimm with his antiquated vocabulary and syntax, not to mention the whole breaking of the fourth wall thing that’s going on, but once you make the adjustment, you can’t help but love Jacob and hope that he is able to cease his ghostly wandering.

All of the other characters are equally charming–Jeremy Johnson Johnson with his double name and his soon-to-be foreclosed on Two-Book Bookstore (it only sells Volumes 1 and 2 of his grandfather’s autobiography), leggy Ginger Boultinghouse with her mischievous smile, Jenny Applegarth and her sun-kissed shoulders–McNeal really has a knack for creating whimsical characters and making his readers care about them.  For me, the quirky characterization, especially their awesomely weird names (Dauntless Crinklaw, anyone?), was one of the highlights of this book.  It helped to create a fairytale atmosphere without actually placing the story firmly in “once upon a time” land; the setting is definitely modern, although it took me a while to realize it was happening in the US, and with the exception of Jacob’s presence, decidedly non-magical.

That lack of magic is what took me the most by surprise.  I was expecting a “Once Upon A Time” (the TV show) kind of moment to happen where the characters were swept off to Far Far Away, and *SPOILER ALERT* it never happens.  Terrible and wondrous things take place, and the story is just as dark as many of the Brothers Grimm’s tales, but it all happens in the real world.  The combination of the magical realism, modern-day setting, and the fairytale elements is unsettling but somehow perfect.  I was very, very impressed at how well McNeal juggled all these elements and kept them all aloft the entire time.

I LOVED this book; however, I don’t necessarily think it will speak to every reader.  It has a very Gaiman-esque quality to me–if you like American Gods or Coraline, this might be the book for you.  Also, you need to give this story time and space.  It was not a book I read in one night or even in two nights; it took me a while to get a hang of the narrative style, and once I did, I wanted to savor it bit by bit.  Far Far Away made me wonder, wish, and dream…just like a great fairytale.

*A final note–I thought this book skewed kind of young for YA…Jeremy is 15 but seems younger, and it just felt young to me.  That being said, some very scary stuff goes down that might now be appropriate for all young readers.  Although, we call Coraline a kids’ book, and that book terrifies me as an adult, so just use your judgement with younger kids.

The Summer I Became a Nerd–Leah Rae Miller (May 2013)

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Ever since a traumatic costume competition in middle school (cosplay turns out to not be the best idea), Maddie has hidden her love of comic books, superheroes, and sci-fi/fantasy and turned herself into the perfect stereotype of a “popular girl.”  When Maddie starts hanging out with Logan, a classmate whose parents own the local comic shop, she struggles to maintain her carefully constructed, stridently non-geeky façade and falls head over heels for not only the world of comic conventions, live-action role-playing games, and college radio but also for Logan himself.

Thoughts–This might be the fluffiest book I’ve read since last summer…not that it’s necessarily a bad thing.  The Summer I Became a Nerd follows a very predictable romance plot and traffics in some extraordinarily typical tropes, but I found it fun and VERY fast read.  Like, “I started this book at 9pm and finished it by midnight” fast.  And you know, sometimes you just want to read something that doesn’t take all your brain cells and isn’t too taxing on your emotions…kind of like when I watch Homeland and then have to watch reruns of Friends to cleanse my mental palate.  This book was a definite palate cleanser, and I liked the amount of detail and love for the geek subculture Miller wove into the story.

What I didn’t like so much was all the emphasis placed on how Maddie has been trying to hide her “nerdiness” from everyone in her small Louisiana town for basically her entire high school career, mostly because her primary method of hiding was to become a cheerleader.  This is one of my least favorite YA tropes ever–the nerd kids are secretly cooland the cheerleaders are not-so-secretly one-dimensional, superficial fluffheads–because it pits one group of kids against the other and totally ignores that *newsflash* EVERYONE is complex and EVERYONE has dimension.  Some cheerleaders think deep thoughts and some nerds are obsessed with appearances, and WHAT’S WRONG WITH BEING BOTH A NERD AND A CHEERLEADER AT THE SAME TIME??????  I do think Miller tries to address this issue somewhat, especially once Maddie decides to openly hang out with Logan and discovers that some of the “popular” people she’s been surrounding herself with do, in fact, like “nerdy” things as well.  I just wanted the author to stretch a little more.  Maybe that’s asking too much from a summer read, but I don’t think so.

I did love all the attention Miller paid to the nuances of geek culture and how descriptive she was when it came to things like the live-action role-playing and the comics store.  I also thought she did a good job of weaving in the “shop local” message of small town life; I would have liked to see the town more fully realized, more of a character in the story, but that’s probably just my personal affinity for “setting as character” coming out.

Overall, I’d recommend The Summer I Became a Nerd to readers looking for something light-hearted, fast-paced, and fun to read this summer.  The chemistry between Logan and Maddie is great, and it has some very funny parts (the antics at the role-playing games spring to mind).  If you like floofy, escapist romances, you’ll eat this one up.

The Raven Boys (Book 1 of The Raven Cycle)–Maggie Stiefvater (2012)

470_2512676Despite coming from a family of clairvoyants, Blue Sargent believes she herself has no psychic abilities; that is, until she sees the ghost of a teenage boy while aiding her mother in the annual St. Mark’s Eve “march of the soon to be dead” (for lack of a better term on my part…).  The boy appears to be from the local private school, Aglionby, and all he tells Blue before he disappears is his name–Gansey.  As a rule, Blue stays away from the “Raven Boys” of Aglionby,  but once she meets Gansey (alive this time), she is inexplicably drawn to him and his circle of mysterious friends Adam, Ronan, and Noah.  This attraction poses a bit of a problem for Blue as she has been told her entire life that she will kill her true love with a kiss, and now that she’s entangled in the mysteries of the Raven Boys, the reality of this predicament slowly becomes clearer and clearer.

Thoughts–  I adored this book, particularly the characterization, sentence-level writing, attention to detail, and the slow unwinding of the plot.  And damn, does it have a hell of a cliffhanger at the end!  Stiefvater’s greatest strength, in my opinion, lies in the depth of her characterization.  All of the characters seemed so fleshed out, so complex, so real, and I think that’s sometimes difficult to pull off in a book that deals with the paranormal.  Often the characters’ magical abilities or otherworldly characteristics are the only distinguishing features, but that is certainly not the case here.  I particularly loved her depiction of the Raven Boys (Ronan is my favorite and I know he’s a big part of Book 2–YAY!) and their complex relationship with each other.  They’re so fallible and their friendship is so decidedly imperfect, but they genuinely care for each other, and I think this depth of relationship is rarely seen in regards to boys in YA lit.

Also, Stiefvater is just a hell of a writer.  The sentence-level writing is so good, I almost broke out my English major pencil and started underlining.  I did tweet Maggie Stiefvater with some quotes about the descriptions she puts together because I could not contain my enthusiasm.  (Luckily she sent back an equally enthusiastic response!)  Here’s just a few examples:  “And everywhere, everywhere, there were books.  Not the tidy stacks of an intellectual attempting to impress, but the slumping piles of a scholar obsessed.”  “April-bright trees” “Below them, the surface of the world was deeply green, and cutting through the green was a narrow, shining river, a mirror to the sky.”  SERIOUSLY?  All I did was flip to random pages–there’s badass descriptions on almost every single one.  And the attention to detail is incredible.  Some might think it weighs the prose down unnecessarily, but for me, it really added a lot to the world-building and characterization, both things I think are incredibly important in the first book of a series.

My last little bit of adulation has to do with the plotting of The Raven Boys.  Generally speaking, I am not hugely concerned with plot; I frequently like books and movies that meander around and don’t really go anywhere (Dazed and Confused, for instance), and the unusual pacing of this novel didn’t really bother me.  I have talked with some friends that felt like it was a slow read and that there was too much set-up for the rest of the series, but I didn’t find it to be that way at all.  I liked how the plot slowly unwound and how Stiefvater kept dropping more and more background clues and hints at further mysteries for her readers to find.  Plus, the big reveal about one of the Raven Boys and the cliffhanger at the end were spectacular and worth the wait, in my opinion.  I can see where others might find some of the writing a little dense or hard to follow, but I never really felt that way.  I pretty much loved it all…especially Ronan.

Read-alikes: Beautiful Creatures by Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia, Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

A Really Awesome Mess–Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin (Egmont, July 2013)

(Note:  I received an ARC of this book at TLA Annual Conference in exchange for my honest review.)

Justin and Emmy have both arrived at Heartland Academy at rock bottom–Justin is recovering from having a stomach full of Tylenol pumped out as well as being found in a seriously compromising situation with a girl he didn’t really know and Emmy has just been kicked out of school for threatening a boy who was bullying her on Facebook–but neither one seems to think he/she belongs here.  Despite their initial discomfort about being forced to “deal with their issues,” both Emmy and Justin reluctantly become a part of a support group filled with teens as equally broken, flawed, and struggling as them.  Although the group coalesces around the idea of breaking out of Heartland for just one night, it eventually morphs into a ragtag family that enables all its members to achieve some self-discovery and to make some true friends.

Thoughts– I picked up this book at TLA based on the recommendation of the Egmont rep at the YA publisher’s presentation, and I was definitely not disappointed.  Cook and Halpin follow a format familiar to readers of dual author YA books–alternating chapters between Emmy’s narration and Justin’s–and I thought they did an excellent job finding the distinct voice of each character and maintaining the continuity of that voice even as the characters grew and began to come to terms with their issues.  Both Emmy and Justin are engaging narrators with sharp wits and seriously sarcastic voices, and I was particularly struck by the nuanced way Cook and Halpin dealt with Emmy’s disordered eating and Justin’s attitude towards sex.  It would have been easy to slip into stereotypes about those issues, but this story doesn’t do that at all.  The discussion of these admittedly heavy issues never feels message-y or didactic; it just feels real.

In addition to Emmy and Justin, the authors have crafted the most wonderful motley crew of fellow “inmates” at Heartland.  From the selectively mute Jenny to pathological liar Mohammed to damaged Diana, all the supporting characters in A Really Fine Mess really add something to the narrative and don’t just function as placeholders or blank faces in the support group.  In fact, the only characterization that felt a little thin to me was that of the adults (a common complaint in YA fiction); some of them felt just a little too pat or perfect for me.  The only really memorable adults for me were Tina, the group’s facilitator, and Justin’s negligent dad.

I think the best thing about A Really Fine Mess is how emotionally resonant and evocative it is.  Cook and Halpin really take the time to examine Emmy, Justin, and some of the supporting characters’ motivations and the source of their behavior in a way that seems authentic.  Additionally, I felt very invested in the fate of each teen–by the end, I really wanted to see all of them succeed and move forward with their lives.  My only complaint would be that the novel ends on a slightly false note…it’s maybe just a little too tidy of a package.  Not that it’s a completely happy ending, but that it all works out slightly too well.  After wrestling with the complexities of mental health, eating disorders, adoption, and child abuse, the upbeat ending just rang kind of false for me.  It wasn’t too off, however, to keep me from really enjoying the book and heartily recommending it to other readers.

Readalikes: Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas, Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews, Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach

Lauren’s Rules for Reading

This morning I read a blog post on BookRiot all about people’s idiosyncratic rules for reading and what those rules revealed about personality, and of course, I started ruminating about my own personal rules, how they differ from the other book lovers I know, and what, if anything, they say about me.  I’m still not sure about that last one, but I did come up with a list…’cause there’s nothing I love more than a good list.  So, in no particular order, here are my rules for reading:

1. I always, always, ALWAYS take the book jacket off of hardback books before I start reading.  I used to just recycle them (and still do with children’s picture books because they reprint the jacket on the cover), but I’ve started putting them back on all other hardbacks when I’m finished.  I started this simply because all my friends at the iSchool gasped in horror every time I mentioned throwing away the jackets; it turns out I actually am susceptible to some forms of peer pressure.

2. I crack the spines on paperbacks.  Every. Single. Time.  I like to be able to hold the book open with one hand, and it just doesn’t happen unless you break the spine.  I know many of you are cringing right now.  Don’t worry–I don’t do it to borrowed books, only ones I own.

3. I am a reformed dog-earer, but I cannot stop myself from setting a book face down and open to the page I’m reading.  I try to use book marks, and I particularly like those stupid subscription thingies that fall out of magazines, but I’m not very good at it.  Again–not something I do to borrowed books…

4.  At night, I have to finish the chapter I’m on before I can stop reading.  During the day, I just stop wherever.

5. Related to rule #4–I HAVE to read at least a chapter every night before I go to bed, or I can’t get to sleep.  I blame my parents, although if you hear them tell the story of my favorite childhood book (Three Friends Find Spring) and the reason I loved it so much (because it’s super long and I could stay up later if I picked it), you might be persuaded otherwise.

6. The only marking I ever put in books is underlining.  I’m lucky to have a good visual memory, so I can usually find my way to favorite passages without much aid, and I find writing in the margins distracting when I reread.  My obsession with a clean page means that I always buy new or totally clean copies of books assigned for class, and I’m super picky about what I’ll buy from Half-Price.

7. I used to read 2 or 3 books at a time, but since I’ve had kids, I try to stick to just one.  I do, however, read A TON of magazines because I’m obsessed with long-form journalism, and I kind of think those have taken the place of the multiple books.

8. I solely read e-galleys now on my Nook, and then only if I can’t get a hold of a physical ARC.  Sometimes when I travel, I’ll take it with me so I don’t have to cart a bunch of books around, but let’s be honest, it’s not like I travel all that much.  It’s just not the same for me as reading a book…and what do you do if there’s a map at the beginning???????

9. My TBR (“to be read”) pile is so big that it takes up an entire Billy bookshelf from Ikea. I know, I know.  I’ve placed a book-buying moratorium on myself for the summer.

10. I hide my romance novels and YA books with bad covers on the bookshelves in my guest bedroom…

11. I put my name in the front and the date I finished the book in the back of all my books.

There they are…and of course, it goes to eleven.  Some of these I think are pretty universal, at least for the library crowd, but everyone’s got their quirks, right?  What are your rules for reading?  Leave them in the comments below!

Gorgeous–Paul Rudnick (May 2013)

*NOTE–I read this book as an Advance Reader’s Copy…it was just recently released to booksellers*

When Becky 9780545464260_p0_v4_s260x420Randle’s mother dies, Becky discovers a small ring box with just a New York City phone number inside.  Thinking this might be her ticket out of East Trawley, Missouri, Becky calls the number and finds herself on her way to New York to meet with the mysterious designer Tom Kelly.  Kelly offers Becky a proposition–if she allows him to make her three dresses, he will turn her into the most beautiful woman in the world.  What follows is a hilarious romp through high fashion, royalty, and the power of beauty–both outer and inner.

Thoughts– I picked this ARC up from the Scholastic rep at TLA, and given the two blurbs on the cover (Dave Sedaris and Meg Cabot), I was STOKED to read it.  After its early May release date, I began seeing all the raves about it on Twitter from authors, bloggers, and friends whose opinions I definitely value.  I started reading it with very high expectations…and was kind of disappointed at first, to be completely honest.  I didn’t really think Becky was all that great of a narrator, I had absolutely no clue what was going on with Tom Kelly, and it took me a good 50 pages to get used to the hyper-realistic, satirical tone of Rudnick’s writing.  I just didn’t get it.

And then all of a sudden–it clicked.  The story kicked into high gear, every other page had a legitimate LOL, “OMG, I can’t believe he wrote that!” moment (or two or three), and I began to really care about what happened to Becky, Rocher (named after the candy, natch), Prince Gregory, and even smarmy old Tom Kelly.  I very rarely literally laugh out loud at books–it’s usually more of a sardonic smirk–but this book had me cracking up with its banter and over-the-top antics.  Rudnick is really at his best when he’s crafting scenes solely for comedic relief, like many of those between Becky and Rocher, and you can definitely see his roots as a satire writer in Gorgeous.*

Two little caveats for me about this one:  One, the story is pretty pat and predictable, but when it’s this much fun, I pretty much don’t care about that.  Two, there is an exorbitant amount of use of the F-word and other swear words in this book.  And listen–I worked at an inner-city high school for 5 years, and The Departed and Dazed and Confused are two of my favorite movies.  I’ve also been known to use “colorful language” myself a time or two…or perhaps more than that.  It takes A LOT for me to say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa…that’s maybe too much cussing,” and this book did.  I mean, I don’t ever need to see the C-word in print.  Ever.  That being said, I did see how Rudnick was kind of using that language as a characterization device (it’s mostly Rocher saying those things), and so I get it.  I just think it was maybe a bit too much…and would probably offend those with more delicate sensibilities.

Overall, I found Gorgeous hilarious and a fun summer read; it’s a perfect pool- or beach-side book to make you laugh and maybe think a little, too.

*He writes a column for Entertainment Weekly (my favorite magazine OF ALL TIME) under the pen name Libby Gelman-Waxner, and it’s HYSTERICAL.

Out of the Easy–Ruta Sepetys (2013)

Grow11178225ing up as the daughter of a New Orleans prostitute hasn’t been easy, and Josie Moraine longs to leave the Crescent City and attend college on the East Coast.  Unfortunately, her careful plans begin to unravel when she becomes caught up in a murder investigation that threatens her tenuous relationship with her mother, the bond she has with the madam Willi Woodley, and ultimately, her life.  Set in the New Orleans of 1950, Sepetys’ second historical novel sumptuously brings to life the contradictions, beauty, seediness, and conflicts of the Big Easy.

ThoughtsI bought this book a while ago after hearing rave reviews from my friends who got an ARC of it at TLA, but I’d been unable to read it because of the Printz Award project I worked on during the second half of the spring semester (Note–when you decide to read all of the Printz winners, be prepared to read until your eyes cross).  It was definitely worth the wait.  There were many things I loved about Out of the Easy, particularly the setting, characterization, and optimism of Sepetys’ story.  For me, everything came together into a great package with an ending that seemed satisfying (unlike so many of the series novels in YA right now) and yet left a tiny door open for a sequel (we can only hope!).  Of course, Josie would be in college in a sequel, so that would make it “New Adult,” right?  Whatever that is…but I digress.

The specificity of the setting held me from page one; obviously, Sepetys did her research, and she does an amazing job evoking 1950 New Orleans with her careful attention to detail (LOVED all the descriptions of clothing!) and the references to particular places.  If you weren’t familiar with New Orleans before reading this book, you would be afterward…or at least with the city in 1950.  The intricate feel of the book also extends to the characterization–each character introduced seems authentic and intriguing; I’d love to read more about the other women working for Willi, Willi herself, Josie’s romantic interest Jesse, her close friend and fellow bookstore employee Patrick, even the gangsters Josie’s mother runs with.  Sepetys gives all of these characters distinct features, personalities, and desires, and I felt like she was committed to honoring even the small subplots built into her story with grace and a deft hand.

I think (especially because I’ve been trying to read palate-cleansers after the darkness of the Printz winners) that the thing I appreciated the most about this book was its optimism.  Josie is in a difficult situation –her life has been filled with ugly things than many children do not have to experience–but she remains hopeful that she can be more than what people expect of her.  She forges ahead with her plans for college, sometimes using just her sheer force of will, and in the end, she gets what she’s striving for, a chance to change her circumstances and her life.  I really liked the hopeful note the book ended on, even with some of the disappointments Josie faces.  It felt honest and true to me, AND it left  a smile on my face.  I look forward to catching up with Ruta Sepetys’ other book, Between Shades of Gray, and to seeing what else she has in store for her readers as the years go on.