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.

There’s been lots of interesting discussion on Breaking Dawn around the internet since it came out. I was particularly intrigued by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez’s claims of racism in the series. I don’t really agree, but it’s interesting to consider. Still kind of a reach, though. Reviewer X has a rebuttal to this claim that is also interesting.

Gail Gauthier’s thoughts on Breaking Dawn are also worth reading. Make sure to read the comments.

Make sure to check out Maggie Stiefvater’s theory on the fan outrage at the last installment in the Twilight Saga.

I haven’t read this book yet, though it’s on my pile. This review at Oops…Wrong Cookie really made me want to read Ten Cents A Dance even more than I did already! It’s a really intriguing and well-done review.

Remember Six-Word Memoirs? Well, SmithTeens is now accepting submissions for a book of six-word memoirs just by teens! Go check it out, read some submissions, and submit your own story.

Here’s a call for a different kind of heroine from Sarah Miller! I have to say, to have it done right would be wonderfully refreshing (as was said in the comments).

I want to read these books. Very interesting. (Purge by Sarah Darer Littman and Nothing by Robin Friedman).

That’s all for now. Enjoy!

I’m starting a new blog! It’s called Teen Television Review, and it’s sort of a companion to this one. Together they could be Teen Story Reviews or Teen Entertainment Reviews, or something. All very generic names, I know, but why mess with a good thing?

As you might guess from the name, this is a site devoted to reviews of television (and movies). It’s still a work in progress, and also kind of an experiment–I want to know if I’m capable of writing decent reviews of stories on a screen, and if people really want to read them. So, feedback, please?

Nina Beck’s novel and I had a rocky start to our relationship. Riley, the main character, is described on the back of the book as “plus-sized.” And the main plot point is, she goes to fat camp. However, she is also a size 10-12. That is in no way fat. This upset me, but as the book went on, I came to see that it didn’t look like anyone actually thought of Riley as fat except maybe her stepmother. I don’t like where the word plus-sized was used, but Riley, her friends, her family, and the guys she hooked up with all seemed to think she was pretty attractive. So I’m pretty glad I continued past that point.

Note: this post is slightly spoiler-y, so if you’re really uptight about spoilers, don’t read any further. But I don’t think it’s spoiler-y in a bad way. It just shows that this book is made of awesome.

This Book Isn’t Fat, It’s Fabulous is about a rather shallow girl in Manhattan who is sent away to a fat camp called New Horizons in upstate New York. She leaves all sorts of unresolved issues with her friends (including her best friend, a guy who she thinks she’s in love with and kissed before she left) and family, goes away to fat camp, finds a great guy and some great friends, and some new perspective (ie she becomes less shallow). This is all pretty predictable. But you know what the curve ball is? She never loses weight, and she has remarkably few body issues for a teenage girl of any size! That is why this book is so absolutely fantastic. That is the best message ever! I love that message! But it’s not preachy, and this book isn’t really about fat. This book is about a pretty typical girl (though she spends way too much of daddy’s money) who has relatively normal issues and confused feelings about her guy best friend.

This is a happy book that totally made me smile. I loved the romance, I loved her friends at fat camp (I totally want to know more about Samantha), I was intrigued by her confused feelings about her best friend, and I liked the (admittedly predictable) way her thinking changed while she was at New Horizons. Okay, so the book itself isn’t exactly remarkably deep, but you know what, I’m on vacation and I don’t care. There’s bunches of shallower things in the world, countless terrible books out there that I’m glad I wasn’t reading instead. Nina Beck’s writing style is unremarkable, but in a good way–it doesn’t interfere with the totally fabulous story being told. I love Riley’s attitude. This book has serious attitude. It’s fabulous and empowering and fun and entertaining and an easy summer read. You probably know that I like good body image message books, and this is one of the best I’ve read. Riley’s attitude about her body is wonderful, and by the end she had really grown on me as a character. I only wish this book was longer! My biggest complaint here is that all of this remarkable character development and awesome romance happened in a very short period of time. It would have been a tad bit more realistic, I think, to stretch out the timeline a bit. In conclusion: this book is fabulous, Riley is fabulous, everything is just fabulous. Go, read it!

The Goose Girl is a charming fairy tale retelling. Princess Anidori, crown princess of Kildenree, has her own talents, but they are not talents that her mother believes will make Ani a proper ruler someday. Because of this, in a treaty with a neighboring nation, Ani is promised in marriage to a prince she has never met, and sent off on a long trek into the forest with her closest lady-in-waiting and numerous guards.

Before they reach the end of their journey, however, Ani’s lady-in-waiting proves treacherous, and she is overthrown. Her beloved horse is lost to her, and she finds herself alone in the forest as the girl she once considered a friend takes on Ani’s identity so as to marry the prince herself.

While trying to regain her rightful role in this new country, Ani becomes a servant tending to geese. She also meets many wonderful people, and, as you probably know since this is a fairy tale (and so I do not consider this a spoiler), gets her happily-ever-after.

The Goose Girl is sweet and enchanting, with characters who will steal your heart. Shannon Hale’s prose sparkles, and the world of this book, vividly imagined by its talented creator, is easy to get lost in. This novel is beautiful and magical and poetic, captivating enough that I can’t wait to read its two sequels. I thought it was a lovely book, as you can tell, but I have to say that I expected to think it was the best book ever, based on the devotion of some fans, and, well, I didn’t. I thought it was wonderful, but perhaps not as remarkable or unique as I hoped to find it, so that was a bit of a disappointment, perhaps caused by my unnaturally high expectations. Although perhaps I need to read it again, as Miss Erin, whose opinion I trust (she’s one of the reasons I read this book) counts it as a book that she fell “head-over-heels in love with upon rereading,” but “merely liked…the first time around.” I still enjoyed every minute of it, and believe that Shannon Hale is a master of the genre she writes. So, particularly if you enjoy fairy tale retellings, pick this one up–you won’t regret it.

I’ve been asked about the stats of this blog, so I’m posting some trends & numbers here for anyone who is interested. I doubt there’s much interest, but, whatever, here you go if you want to know:

Since this blog was started, on WordPress & Blogger combined I have gotten about 145,000 hits. But I used to post all of my posts on myspace & livejournal as well, so I’m sure that number is missing some.

In January 2008, the number of hits per month I get started rising drastically and has now leveled off to 10-12 thousand per month. Although this month I’ve already had over 4,000 so it might be more for August. It was slightly less for July (about 9000) as I hardly posted so people had no reason to come here.

My best day ever was Monday, where I got 1329 hits. Previously the record had been somewhere around 700. Most of these were due to my Breaking Dawn review, which for some reason has become one of my all-time most popular posts.

I have 110 authority on Technorati. I have no idea what this means. If you can interpret this mysterious statistic, please fill me in. Also, how do they come up with Technorati and Alexa ratings? I’m sure I could find this information somewhere, I’m just too lazy.

Most of the search terms people use to find this blog are relative normal, something to do with teen books or a specific book or author or something, unsurprisingly. The most common is “teen book reviews.”  “Breaking dawn reviews” is very common as of this week, so much that it jumped to being one of the most popular search terms ever used to find this blog.

I can’t really generalize about “most days” because that depends on a lot of things. Well, I can say that “most days” I get 200-600 hits, but that’s not particularly helpful.

So hopefully that answers questions if you had them, and you weren’t too bored by it if you didn’t care.

Salaam, Paris is the story of Tanaya Shah, a gorgeous Indian Muslim girl who has dreamed of a life in Paris ever since seeing Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina. When her grandfather decides to arrange her marriage to a man who lives in Paris, Tanaya seizes her chance to see the city of her dreams and insists on going to Paris to meet him. Once there, she disobeys her grandfather and decides to stay in Paris but not to marry Tariq.

Soon enough, she’s on her way to being an international supermodel, which horrifies her traditional family to no end. When her beloved grandfather disowns her, she is heartbroken, but she doesn’t know how to fix it, and so she continues to model, though she never gives up the core of her values. Tanaya’s task is then to figure out her place in the world, and a balance between the traditional way in which she was raised and the new life she’s created for herself.

This book is fun and light, but not much more. There’s a potential for depth and further exploration here in several areas that is never really reached. I enjoyed Tanaya’s character, though. Kavita Daswani’s writing is not remarkable, but nor is it cringe-worthy, making this a readable but rather forgettable piece of chick-lit. I would have liked to see more of the exotic locales where the story is set, more fleshing-out of the secondary characters, more exploration of Tanaya’s background and faith, more analysis of the fashion industry, just…more. Kavita Daswani came up with a story that could have been great, but just turned out to be rather shallow and mildly entertaining. Even so, I enjoyed reading this book well enough, and it was a fun, easy vacation read. Just don’t expect anything more of it.

So, some interesting links from around the internet….

I can’t remember where I found this one, but credit is due to someone. It’s a hilarious commentary on the Twilight Saga. I did enjoy all of the books, on an admittedly superficial level, but for anyone willing to admit they are flawed (ie almost everyone now that Breaking Dawn is out in the world–by the way, I wish people would stop linking to me as the reviewer who liked this book. I didn’t like it that much. I just had low expectations), this is hilarious.

I’ve read lots and lots of responses to Margo Rabb’s essay about writing YA, but my favorite, and the only one I’m choosing to point out here, is Bennett Madison’s. Plus Bennett Madison is just plain awesome, and you should read his books.

New awesome blog out in the world–Kidliterate! Okay, so it’s not that new, but I just discovered it and it rocks. Plus I am allowed to consider six months old new because, by the way, my two year blogging birthday passed this summer!

Guess what book I really really want and don’t have? Okay, that’s a lot, but I’m thinking of Play Me by Laura Ruby. If you’ve read it, tell me about it and if it’s worth my money.

Also, while I’m coveting books, I want to read the new Artemis Fowl book! Also The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Geez, this is getting to the point where I think an entire post devoted to book coveting is due soon. But here, no more book coveting. On to other things.

Oh my god. I am reading a book where the “fat,” “plus-sized” main character is a size 10-12. This is ridiculous. I have just read the first couple of pages, so hopefully it gets better from here. Anyway, back to links.

I love this interview with Melissa Walker on Beyond Books. Also you all should know how fabulous I think Melissa Walker is, and that you should read her books.

New discussion post at Reviewer X! How Does the Author/Reviewer Matchmaking Process Work?

That’s all for tonight. Enjoy!

This book is hilarious, brilliant, all sorts of positive adjectives. I only wish I’d read it sooner! Basically, it is an unfolding chain of events set off by Dennis Cooverman’s valedictorian speech. Even that first part is hilarious, in Larry Doyle‘s description of the hotter-than-hell gym and its occupants who mostly just can’t wait to get out of there. Most of the book is just as hysterical and witty and clever (though there are some times when its genius falters as we get more towards the end) and, well, I just can’t sing comic genius and master writer Larry Doyle’s praises enough, so let’s get on with the story.

In his speech, Dennis declares his love for gorgeous, popular Beth Cooper. Dennis is such a geek that he’s not even on Beth’s radar, let alone in her league, so just let the ridiculousness of this sink in. Dennis continues to make pointed comments about the rest of the student body until the principal stops him. After graduation, Beth actually speaks to Dennis, shockingly enough, and her beefy boyfriend threatens him. In a strange twist of events, Beth and her two friends actually make an appearance at Dennis’s graduation “party,” whose only other guest is his best friend. From there, the night just gets crazier and crazier and more and more hilarious.

Dennis’s escapades are laugh-out-loud hilarious, and this book is just pure fun. None of the plot is particularly original, but this is a smart, very readable comedy, something that’s hard to come by. A lot of “comedy,” be it on a television or movie screen or in a book, is just stupid, honestly, and I Love You, Beth Cooper is so much better than that. Well, okay, it does have its stupid moments, but on the whole I found it rather clever. It’s not necessarily great literature, and I think you do have to be in the right mood for this one, but Larry Doyle is a very sharp writer. This is a book not to be read in public, unless you like having people stare at you as you break out in hysterical laughter.

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