August 2008


Apparently it’s Book Blogger Appreciation Week. Who knew? Not me; I’ve been kind of out of the loop. Anyway, with this fantastic week, there are awards, and today is the last day to nominate! Go here for details. I’ll be sending in my favorites; you should, too!

YABB is a fantastic site where lots of young adult book bloggers will be posting, myself included! I’ll be posting on Wednesdays, and my introductory post is now up. Check it out here, and don’t forget to browse the rest of the entries as well.

This is a combined review of Lisa Lutz‘s two novels about the Spellman clan, The Spellman Files (now available in paperback!) and Curse of the Spellmans. Though these are adult books, both I and my awesome school librarian are confident that teens will love them.

Both books are narrated by Izzy Spellman, age twenty-eight in the first book and thirty in the second, and she makes a rather brilliant narrator. Somewhat recovered from her rebellious youth, Izzy is still not what most would call grown up. She works as a private investigator for the family business, Spellman Investigations, as she has for the better part of her life, and she has a knack for trickery and espionage that surprises no one who knows her.

Other members of the Spellman clan are David, Izzy’s far-too-perfect brother who is two years her senior, Rae, fourteen in the first book, her younger sister with a similar inclination for detective work, though she is on quite the straight and narrow path compared to Izzy at that age, and Olivia and Albert, their wacky PI parents. Oh, and Uncle Ray, who disappears for days at a time on “Lost Weekends,” and who has something of a conflict with Rae. The usual activities of this family are far from normal, and include recreational surveillance and garbology (the science of hunting through garbage). David no longer works for the family business, but Rae and Izzy do.

In The Spellman Files, Izzy decides that she wants a life that is a bit more normal than that of a PI, but first she takes a missing persons case that’s years old–and then finds a missing persons case much closer to home when Rae disappears. This event is central to a character who is a major part of book two, Inspector Henry Stone.

Curse of the Spellmans has a lot to do with Rae’s relationship with Henry (she runs him over accidentally within the first few pages, and gets Child Protective Services called because of her unorthodox relationship with this man nearly thirty years older than she is). Henry becomes far more involved than is sane with the entire Spellman family, and his interactions with them are hilarious. Various family members and neighbors are acting strange and Isabel is arrested four times over the course of this book, often for investigating such strange behavior.

Yes, there are mysteries involved in these books, but I wouldn’t call them mystery novels. I’d say their fantastic cleverness and hilarity pretty much defies classification. Isabel Spellman is one of my favorite narrators ever–she’s hilarious! All of the characters have their quirks (I couldn’t tell you about each one specifically here, but all of the characters are so great, and so unique, I can’t begin to pick a favorite!), and they’re all delightful to read about. I wouldn’t say that plotting is Lisa Lutz’s strength, but with the overall awesomeness of these books, it doesn’t need to be. Someone described them to me as “choppy,” and I suppose that’s true. The stories are told in an unorthodox way, with transcripts and scenes with lots of dialogue and footnotes. But I didn’t find it to be a flaw–it’s all captivating and hilarious, and the format really just works for the story, though there are plenty of stories where it would be a flaw. It’s witty dialogue, interesting interactions between characters–and if it’s done well, any weird way of writing can turn out wonderfully.

Both Spellman books are smart, funny, and almost completely insane, in a way that is also just plain amazing. I seriously could not put either one down. The personal stories and interactions ring true, and the laughter is almost constant. Luckily, I believe there is a third crazy and chaotic adventure on the way!

North of Beautiful is Justina Chen Headley’s third book, and she just keeps getting more and more awesome. The protagonist of this novel, Terra Rose Cooper, is a girl who works hard to keep her body perfect, but that’s not what makes strangers stop and stare. Terra has a port wine stain covering the left side of her face. This blemish is all that many people notice, and it’s taken a toll on her life.

Another less-than-perfect aspect of Terra’s life is her overly controlling father. Terra can’t wait to escape to college three thousand miles away from him, but this is more complicated than it seems. Everything is always more complicated than it seems. Oh, and there’s also a romance aspect to this book–Terra meets Jacob and is falling for him, even though she’s already got a boyfriend who everyone thinks is perfect.

The backdrop of the book, so to speak, is Terra’s father’s profession. He is a cartographer, and location is a big part of this book. There’s maps (both actual place maps, and maps of a more artistic sort), geocaching (which I’d never heard of, but it sounds pretty awesome), travel, and Terra’s desire to get far away from her father. This is present throughout the book, and I really liked that aspect of it–it’s part of what made North of Beautiful stand out so much. It’s an original way of looking at a story that is really fairly common, in its most basic aspects. Terra’s port wine stain was part of what she had to overcome in this story, and that was also unique to this story.

There are many themes to this book. It’s a book about finding yourself, finding your way, finding your voice, finding real beauty, finding love…It’s about searching and finding and journeying, in a figurative and literal sense. And I loved it. I loved the wonderfully human characters. I loved the originality of this story that is, yes, in some ways predictable, but still amazingly unique. I loved Justina Chen Headley’s gorgeous prose, the way she makes Terra’s voice really come alive on the page. In case you couldn’t tell, I found North of Beautiful to be absolutely brilliant. It’ll be out in February 2009.

Yes, I do have a huge stack of books I need to read, and yes, I’m still coveting books. It’s an addiction. But without further ado, books I am currently coveting:

Persistence of Memory by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes: The premise sounds a little strange, but I love Amelia Awater-Rhodes and trust her to write a totally awesome book.

Sovay by Celia Rees: This sounds like a fantastically adventurous piece of historical fiction, and I love Celia Rees. She made me love pirates with her awesome skills.

Blue Bloods 3: Revelations by Melissa de la Cruz: I devoured the first two books in this series, so I absolutely can’t wait to read this one!

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan: Looks very interesting. I don’t know much about it, but it looks like a good book.

The Dust of 100 Dogs by AS King: One word: Pirates!

Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingtson: I love faeries.

Lament by Maggie Stiefvater: More faeries!

Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner: Even more faeries!

Fate by Jennifer Lynn Barnes: This is the sequel to Tattoo, which I loved.

Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger: I don’t actually know anything about this book. But it looks really cool.

Fairy Lust by Cyn Balog: I couldn’t find this one on Amazon, but the cover is cool and there’s fairies!

Thanks to various bloggers for giving me ideas and making me want books. And check out the list of the 2009 Debutantes’ books! Some of them aren’t out for over a year and I already want them.

Perfect Chemistry is not a book I loved from the first page. For quite a good number of pages, I wanted to strangle both of the main characters for being such walking stereotypes. But by the time I finished reading this book my opinion of it totally changed. I loved it! Although I might have left the epilogue off. I don’t like epilogues. The epilogue of the last Harry Potter book, well, I just like to pretend that one didn’t exist. Anyway, forget my personal issues with epilogues.

Alex Fuentes and Brittany Ellis are, as I said, entirely stereotypical. Alex Fuentes is a Latino gang member from the bad side of town (town being a Chicago suburb). Unsurprisingly, he’s secretly really smart, also trouble, and wants to protect his family. You know, a good guy in a bad situation. Brittany spends way too much time cultivating her perfect image. She’s rich and beautiful and blonde and captain of the “pom squad.” Which as far as I know is the cheerleading team so I’m not sure why they called it that. Perhaps some people really do call it that though I’ve never heard the expression, or maybe it’s something different, not that it matters. But secretly, her life is less than perfect. Her mother is kind of a bitch, and her older sister is disabled. This is also unsurprising. You know, perfect girl whose home life is secretly not perfect. I think the point with these characters was to transcend the stereotypes, to get behind the images they both project, but the way it was done was a little stereotypical as well. However, as the novel progresses, both Alex and Brittany become real people, and by the end I really loved their characters, as frustrating as they were at first.

Anyway, Alex and Brittany are unwillingly partnered in chemistry class, and they fall for each other. Alex tries to get Brittany to let herself be more genuine and less perfect, and Brittany tries to convince Alex that a different life is possible for him. They come from totally different worlds and both have lots to learn about each other. It’s predictable, yes, but as the book went on I became so totally drawn into the story. Simone Elkeles’s writing has a way of doing that! I loved the story, loved the romance, and grew to love the characters (especially two of the secondary characters, Isabel and Paco), and loved every minute I spent reading this book (and I really could not put it down). It kind of reminded me of one of my favorite movies, Crazy/Beautiful. Which is also something of a stereotype. Anyway, great book, it’ll be out in December, and I hope you all love it, because I sure did.

I have been reading my reviews translated into Spanish. It’s highly entertaining and often makes no sense unless you also speak English and know what it is supposed to mean. If you speak another language and are bored, try reading Google translations.

This was my lame excuse for not having much to say today. But it is fun.

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