five windows

Mary’s entire world is a tiny village surrounded by tall fences. Outside the fences is the Forest of Hands and Teeth, filled with the Unconsecrated. Zombies. Anyone they bite becomes one of them, and fear of the Unconsecrated has ruled the world since the Return. As far as the villagers know, they are the last living people in the world. The rules of their tiny society are strict, and above all, they are ruled by the Sisters, a religious order that controls every aspect of life, and hides what could be vital knowledge from the people. Their society is about order and commitment and rules, but Mary dreams of more. She dreams of the wider world, and of love, which comes second to duty and commitment in the village (if it is to be considered at all). She dreams of seeing the ocean, just like the picture her mother used to show her, a place without the Unconsecrated that reaches as far as the eye can see. 

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is a beautifully written book. From page one, I was simultaneously marveling at the gorgeous, eloquent words, wanting to slow down and savor them, and holding my breath, racing to find out what would happen, in the end, to Mary, the strong, determined heroine. My one complaint with this book is that Mary is so real, so believably conflicted and wonderful, that the other characters were eclipsed and felt largely like paper dolls characterized only by their interactions with Mary; however, this is an acceptable consequence of the consuming first-person narration. 

It is dark and captivating and ultimately hopeful (and devastating). It’s about a lot more than zombies; to me, this felt first and foremost like a survival story, but it wasn’t just about the actual survival of the characters, but also the survival of Mary’s soul. The events that set off the story have Mary deeply questioning her faith and her world and her dreams, and the struggle to hold on to her dreams is as evident and important as the struggle not to be lost to the Unconsecrated. This is very much a complex, multilayered story, and honestly, I think I’d need to read it at least once more (slowly) in order to fully soak it all in. 

There is a romance here, too, but as two corners of this love triangle are secondary characters, they are not entirely real, and while Mary’s perspective on the romance was interesting, I didn’t feel like this book really was much of a romance. The cover blurbs that say it is are a bit misleading.

The ending was open, and I hope there’s more to come. Whatever Carrie Ryan next writes will be wonderful, as the lyrical writing style that makes her debut shine would make even the most trite story into lovely reading. I still need to reread this book at some point in the future to take it all in, but I’ll say right now that it’s amazing. Also, I am going to have nightmares about the Unconsecrated. 

Five out of six windows:









Astrid has always thought her mother was crazy. Lillith believes in unicorns (though she says they’ve been extinct for over a century), and she believes that an ancestress of theirs killed the last one, because Lillith’s unicorns aren’t tame, fluffly creatures from storybooks, but rather, bloodthirsty, man-eating beasts.. She thinks that they come from a family of unicorn hunters–can you see why most people think she’s crazy? 

When Astrid’s boyfriend is attacked by a unicorn, however, she’s forced to admit that perhaps ber mother isn’t as crazy as everyone else thinks. And apparently, despite her desire to just be a normal sixteen-year-old girl and not kill things, it’s Astrid’s destiny, as a virgin descendent of Alexander the Great, to hunt them down. 

To fulfull this destiny, at her mother’s command, she joins the other unicorn hunters in Rome, at the falling-apart cloisters that were the training grounds for hunters hundreds of years ago. In Rome, she encounters a number of unforeseeable mysteries and problems, as if she doesn’t already have enough to deal with, being a reluctant unicorn hunter and all. 

Rampant is quite a departure from Diana Peterfreund‘s other books, and I love it. She’s a great writer, and, just as with her other books, I had a difficult time putting this one down! Astrid is a seriously awesome heroine, and the other characters are well-drawn and complex as well. Even though the book was obviously focused on Astrid, I think that we got a nice feel for the personalities of the other characters, too, which is great; I hate flat background characters.

The setting had enough of a presence to where it felt like they were in Rome rather than suburban Connecticut or something, which is definitely something I look for, loving settings as I do (would have enjoyed more of it, but this is not a travel book on Rome). I liked how the history of the city was woven into it as well.

This book also addressed what I was worried about: I am a huge animal lover, and even if they’re killing people, I have difficulty with the idea that we should wipe out a whole species. Luckily, some of the characters felt the same way, and it was discussed (though not resolved). There was also the moral conflict of killing the unicorns when a unicorn of a tamer breed was living at the cloisters, and was in fact quite cuddly; it was difficult to think about killing them all when the unicorn we saw all the time was like a puppy (around the hunters, not other humans), and I’m glad that this wasn’t taken too lightly in the novel.

The story itself has a fantastically unique premise (I challenge you to point me to another book about a girl who hunts killer unicorns, seriously), combined with engaging writing and wonderful characters, which all adds up to a book that you really should not miss. Even better? There are some unresolved threads to the story, enough to hint at a sequel (but not enough to make me angry and say this isn’t a complete story on its own), which I can’t wait for (even though this book isn’t out for several months!). 

Five out of six windows:






Also read my reviews of Diana’s other books: Secret Society Girl, Under the Rose, and Rites of Spring (Break).


Parker Fadley used to be perfect. Perfect looks, perfect boyfriend, perfect grades, perfect life. She was head cheerleader, she was popular, and she had it all. And then, something changed. Parker showed up to school drunk, failed her classes, broke up with her boyfriend, quit the cheerleading squad, neglected her appearance, alienated her friends–anything she could do to ruin her life, she did. She became self-destructive and hated and is now in danger of not graduating. 

People think it’s a plea for attention, but all Parker wants is to be left alone. With the way she’s acting, though, that’s impossible. People are demanding the truth, but Parker will never give it to them. Chris, her ex-boyfriend, won’t leave her alone, and neither will the new kid, Jake. She has weekly meetings with the guidance counselor. Her parents are afraid she’ll hurt herself irreversibly. She’s not the Parker anyone knew a year ago, and her deepest secret, the one everyone’s trying to pry out of her, is the why. But she can never, ever tell the truth about what happened. 

Cracked Up To Be is an excellent and intense debut novel. Courtney Summers mixes the present with mysterious flashbacks to the past, to the events leading up to Parker’s transformation, in order to keep the suspense, and it’s intriguing, but I wasn’t reading to find out what happened as much as I was reading for Parker. The author’s characterization of Parker is spot-on; her actions don’t always make sense, but that’s why she does make sense. It’s part of what makes her real. Real people don’t act like characters whose places in a story are neat and follow a consistent chain of events that makes logical sense. And characters who don’t make logical sense seem unrealistic. But in this novel, Courtney Summers is able to balance that perfectly with Parker, who makes sense even when she doesn’t. Parker’s voice, too, is fantastically well-done. It’s distinct and fits her personality well. You can see Parker’s downward spiral, her uncaring attitude and the way she lies to herself, and even as so many awful things happen, you’ll laugh at Parker’s wry, witty observations. You’ll laugh, and then you’ll want to cry, because this book is heartbreaking.  

Courtney Summers’ sharp, engaging prose combined with a dark, haunting story and excellent characterization makes this book one that you really shouldn’t miss. To me, it was character-driven but with a plot I couldn’t tear myself away from, too–the best kind of book. This is a captivating and powerful novel that is difficult to put down. 

Five out of six windows:






Anke is like furniture at home. She’s always there, but almost always ignored. Her father abuses her older siblings, but he doesn’t even notice Anke. She’s invisible, and her mother and brother and sister just stand by and let the violence and other kinds of abuse take over their lives. Anke knows she doesn’t want to be abused, but she also doesn’t want to be invisible, and in a twisted way, she feels like her father doesn’t love her as much as her brother and sister. It wasn’t always like this; Anke has happy memories of her family, too, from long ago. 

When Anke starts high school, she also joins the volleyball team and learns to come out of her shell. She learns to talk to people , to shout, and to take control of her life on and off the court. Finally, she doesn’t know if she can maintain her silence anymore–but she’s afraid. Confronting the situation in any way could tear her family apart, but what can she do? 

Because I Am Furniture is a gritty, lyrical, and thought-provoking verse novel about one girl’s struggle with abuse–or, rather, with not being abused. This is a quiet but intense book on a difficult subject, and though the issue is the focus of this book, it felt real enough not to be a complete issue book. It felt like a story about Anke as much as a story about her abusive father, and it wasn’t the in-your-face issue book I was afraid of. 

Anke is a realistic, sympathetic heroine who feels invisible, feels like it should be a blessing, but also feels unwanted; it’s complicated and sounds a little crazy, but Thalia Chaltas makes Anya’s feelings and her silence make sense. The author does very well at conveying a real feel for the personalities of all the characters, and the intense emotion of this heartbreaking (but ultimately hopeful) story, in a few well-chosen words. 

This is a powerful, observant, and harshly honest debut. It’s shocking in some ways, but it doesn’t feel like it was written at all for its shock value; it’s about truth and honesty (and I get the feeling it might have been based on the author’s own experience–the dedication is to her mother, sister, and brother, and says “I write/now/what I could not do/then.” But I could be wrong about this) and figuring out what to do in a very difficult situation. 

After such a dark and painfully real book, the ending was a little too neat and happy for my taste. Although something too far on the other end of the spectrum would have been unnecessarily depressing and melodramatic; I would have preferred something that was more of a balance between a happy-ever-after and an ending in which everyone dies (I hate those). 

Overall, my issues with this book were minor, and it was an intense and compelling read. Thalia Chaltas’s excellent use of verse and characterization were impressive, and I look forward to her next novel.

(I would also like to note that I am blaming Thalia Chaltas for my Statistics grade; I spent the entire class period this morning reading her book from cover to cover.)

Five out of six windows:






In this tenth and final installment in the Princess Diaries series, it’s been awhile since we last heard from Mia, and her life is drastically different from what it was in most of the series. Why has it been awhile? Mia’s been too busy to write in her journal because she’s written a historical romance novel! She’s now trying to get it published under a pen name. She hasn’t told anyone about it; they think she’s been writing a senior project on Genovian olive growing. A four hundred page project on Genovian olive growing. Anyway, she’s collecting quite a stack of rejections as Daphne Delacroix when Michael asks to read the project (still thinking it’s about Genovian olive growing), and Mia is less than thrilled with the idea of her ex-boyfriend reading her romance novel. With sex scenes.

Michael has been in Japan for two years. He and Mia tried to stay friends, but it’s really just been infrequent emails, and they’re far from close. In fact, he doesn’t even tell her when he comes back to Manhattan, but of course it’s all over the news, because the project he went to Japan to pursue is a major success. Awkward situations ensue. 

It’s even more complicated because, even though she’s been going out with JP for two years, Michael’s return makes her rethink their relationship and JP, and see everything in a new light. On top of all of that, Mia’s also about to turn eighteen, and Grandmere is planning her party–never a good idea. She’s also going to graduate high school, and she still has to figure out where she’s going to college next year. Oh, and if that’s not enough for Mia to deal with at once, her father’s run for Genovia’s first Prime Minister isn’t going as well as she had hoped. And she’s only got about three weeks to sort out all of this!

In Forever Princess, Mia’s life is as crazy and confused as ever. Mia is herself, but I love how she’s grown as the series has progressed, too. She’s definitely a different girl than she was in book one, or even book nine, and it’s wonderfully realistic. As always, I loved every minute spent in Mia’s head. There are books I’m reluctant to put down, and then there are books that I literally cannot put down and must read during dinner–this one was definitely the latter type! I laughed loudly, I cringed in embarassment, I wanted to beat some sense into Mia for being so stupid sometimes (but still completely understood why she thought and acted as she did). That’s one of the many things I love about Meg Cabot–her characters always make sense. They’re always just like real people. Even more so in Mia’s case, perhaps, because Mia’s voice is so much like the author’s natural one (read Meg’s blog and you’ll see what I mean–it’s no surprise that the inspiration for these stories came from her own journals!). These are people, though, not just characters, and I’ve loved getting to know them over the past ten books (plus the short side stories). I’m sad to see them go. I wish that this book was not the last in the Princess Diaries series, but at least I have Ransom My Heart, Mia’s romance novel, sitting next to me, too! 

Meg Cabot is at her best here; this book is funny and well-written and still manages to feel fresh and new despite its predictability. I seem to remember Meg saying once on her blog that she still thought she wrote romance novels (correct me if I’m wrong), and it’s true; I love the romances in her stories. However, there’s a lot more to these books than romance (not to sell romance novels short or anything, as most of them are more than the romance, too)–these are books about life. And, sure, Mia’s the princess of a small European country, but she’s also very much someone you could imagine meeting at school or in the library or at a protest march. She’s someone you could imagine hanging out with and talking to. She’s trying to figure out herself and her future, just like most high school seniors. She’s a very relatable and still very interesting character. I’m sorry to see her go, because even though there’s a nice ending to this story, Mia’s so real that it feels like her story is far from over. I feel like she and the rest of the people in her life are out there somewhere in the world, and it’s a rare author who can make their characters feel that real. 

Five out of six windows and a heart:








When Laurel, who has never been quite a typical teenage girl, moves to a new town and starts public school (she’d previously been homeschooled by her hippie parents), one would think that meant her life was becoming pretty ordinary. While she misses being outdoors all the time, she’s getting along pretty well at her new school, and she’s made a couple of friends. All seems to be going okay, but that’s not exactly the truth; when Laurel’s family moved, her life was unknowingly taking a turn for the not-so-normal.

This becomes apparent when Laurel sprouts a giant wing-like flower on her back. When Laurel was three, she was left on her parents’ doorstep in a basket, with no knowledge of where she came from–but no one could have predicted this. It turns out she’s not even human; she’s a faerie. 

She was sent to her parents to guard the land that they lived on, land that holds something very important to the faeries, but when they got an offer to buy the land and her family moved to a new town, things suddenly became dangerous for the faeries. The gate to Avalon that they have protected for ages is now threatened, and Laurel must help save the faeries’ secret, protect her family, sort out her confused feelings for a classmate, David, and a faerie, Tamani, and figure out her own identity and place in both worlds. 

Wings is a lovely debut novel. Aprilynne Pike is a wonderful writer, world builder, and storyteller; it grabbed me immediately, and I was completely absorbed in this story and unable to do much of anything else until I finished it. 

The characters seemed so real, particularly Laurel’s friend Chelsea; I probably would have been quite annoyed with her if I’d had to hang out with her in real life (though I suspect I’m similarly tactless sometimes; it’s something I’m working on), I loved Aprilynne Pike’s ability to write a character who was so believable. David, however, was a little inconsistent sometimes, and while I liked him, he was sometimes elusive; I still don’t feel like I got a real feel for who he was. I can use some adjectives that describe him, but I still don’t have a full grasp of his personality. That’s the best way I can put it. As for Laurel, I liked her, too, but I also felt like she made some weird decisions and missed the obvious sometimes! For example, SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER STOP READING SPOILER AVERT EYES when her father was sick, and she had found out that her faerie power was making potions, it never ocurred to her to try to make a potion to cure him. Even if it probably wouldn’t have worked, I can’t believe she never thought of it. END SPOILER END SPOILER END SPOILER. I also thought it was a little surprising that, despite her close relationship with her parents, she didn’t tell them about the growth on her back, especially when it was just a big lump and she thought it might be cancer or something. However, regardless of how I felt about Laurel’s stupidity sometimes, it did not significantly detract from the excellency of the novel. 

I really enjoyed this book. I loved the characters and the story and the writing (and the cover!), and I was thrilled to read on Aprilynne Pike’s website that this is one of four books about Laurel, because even though this story felt complete on its own, I still didn’t feel like Laurel’s story was over. 

Five out of six windows:






In this promising debut novel, Deirdre is a gifted musician who throws up before every performance. When Luke Dillon steps out of her dreams and into a girls’ bathroom to hold back her hair, she has no way of knowing the danger she’s in, or the tangled, mysterious faerie world that she’s now a part of, willing or not. 

Deirdre is gifted at more than music, though. For one thing, she’s a cloverhand, someone who can see faeries (though that is not a gift anyone would want to have if they knew what it meant). That has brought Luke into her life, though, and she’s falling for him–and then she finds out that he’s the cruel faerie Queen’s captive assasain, bound to her for the past thousand years by his soul that she keeps in a cage. 

This revelation comes with many others as she tries to discover the truth about herself, and save the people that she cares about–not just Luke, because she has a human life, too; she cares about her family and her best friend, James, and the faeries’ interest in her puts them in danger. Deirdre is racing to save herself and the people she loves, and, in a race against homicidal maniac evil faeries, the odds don’t seem to be stacked in her favor. 

Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception is a book that, once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down. It fueled my bad habit of reading during class. I loved it. It was lovely and complex and complete, and you know I’m a sucker for a story with a sequel that doesn’t feel like it needs to be a story with a sequel. Sequel-feeling-sequels are my pet peeve, and I was glad to see that Maggie Stiefvater didn’t fall into that trap. I’m thrilled that there’s going to be a sequel, too; it’ll be called Ballad, and while the story felt complete, there were also things that I would have liked to see explored more thoroughly–I’m hoping these things (it would be a  little spoilery to go into detail) will be addressed. 

I loved the characters here; Deirdre was a sympathetic and realistic heroine. She also grew as a person, becoming a little more aware of other people and the rest of the world, which was good. I loved her best friend, James, and her Granna, in particular; they were awesome. I was also highly entertained by Sara, Deirdre’s coworker at Dave’s Ice. The characterization was wonderful for the most part, though Deirdre’s other family members (parents and aunt) could have been better developed. 

Just as in real life, faeries were not the only issue in Deirdre’s life. She also dealt with her relationships with her mother and best friend, and her struggles as a performer.  On the faerie side of her life, she also handled her confusion about her budding romance with Luke. It added a nice touch of realism to the story, because in real life people’s entire lives are not generally consumed by one thing the way they sometimes are in fiction, but I would also have liked to see a little more depth to some of the other storylines (besides the faeries and the romance). I actually think this book could have used 50-100 more pages to tell this story, but it was fine as is, too. 

I also wanted to mention the illustrations and quotes that began the different sections of the novel. They were lovely, and fit well into the book. I enjoyed them; the artist did a wonderful job. 

Maggie Stiefvater told a gorgeous, multilayered story in her first novel. About fifty pages from the end, I realized that I really didn’t know what was going to happen, or how the story was going to sort itself out, and that was awesome; unpredictable seems so rare sometimes! This is a wonderfully told story, and I love the way the words flow (lyrical might also be an appropriate adjective). The incorporation of music into this story is a nice touch; it helps to add an extra dimension to this faerie story, which is always nice as faerie stories become increasingly common in YA literature. I thoroughly enjoyed and definitely recommend this well-written, compulsively readable story. And I can’t wait for the sequel! 


Before I get into a review, I must tell you a story about my reading of this book.

Last week, I ordered Let It Snow from Barnes and Noble. On Tuesday, I was thrilled to find it in my mailbox. Later that day, I sat down to begin reading. The characters had just entered Waffle House in the first story when a friend called, with an invitation to, you guessed it, Waffle House.

I threw deodorant, a toothbrush, and a change of clothes into my large purse, along with the book, because I planned to spend the night at her house, too. And then she picked me up, and we went to Waffle House, with me still thinking about the book.

The events of the next thirty or so hours, beginning with Waffle House and ending with a New Year’s party, allowed no time for reading. However, when I left the party, I also left my bag. Only two people were there before anyone noticed, one a good friend of mine. They opened the bag to see whose it was, pulled out a book, and my friend said, “That’s Jocelyn’s.”

Meanwhile, I was distraught. My mind was still in Let It Snow, but the book was nowhere near! I went to bed anxious.

Thursday morning, I left to meet my grandmother. We went to Target. I ran to the back, where the books are, and joy! Let It Snow was there. I grabbed the book and retreated to a shoe-trying-on bench to read.

After I read about a hundred pages, my grandmother was finally done shopping, and, since I already own the book, it would have been crazy to buy it. Sadly, I had to leave the book behind yet again, but it didn’t leave my mind.

Today (Friday), I convinced said grandmother to take me to the mall, where, yes, there is a bookstore! I convinced her to leave me in said bookstore for an hour until I finished the book, and I loved every second of it.

So you can see, my reading of this book was eventful, first interrupted by a visit to a Waffle House in Western North Carolina (and the book, incidentally, involves a Waffle House in Western North Carolina). I went to great lengths to finish this, my first completed book of 2009. And now, the review.

Let It Snow is three CHEER-filled holiday romances (to channel Maureen Johnson for a moment) by three talented authors. They all focus on different characters, but the setting is the same, and main characters in each story make appearances in the other two. The set up for all three is a blizzard on Christmas Eve that stops a train and traps people, and I believe Waffle House is also involved in all three stories (one more than the others) as well.

In the first story, by Maureen Johnson, Jubilee’s parents are crazy for the Flobie village, a collection of ceramic buildings with a holiday theme (you know what I mean). So crazy, in fact, that they get into a riot over an Elf Hotel and are arrested. As they don’t want Jubilee to spend Christmas alone, she’s put on a train to Florida, where her grandparents live…a train that stops in Western North Carolina due to the blizzard and isn’t expected to move anytime soon. Jubilee gets off and walks to a Waffle House, as do fifteen cheerleaders who are soon driving her crazy enough to leave Waffle House with a strange boy wearing plastic bags. He makes some insightful comments about her relationship with her perfectionist, always-busy boyfriend, Noah, and, well, you know what happens. Predictable, but absolutely hilarious, and I loved the characters. Maureen Johnson can always be counted on for hilarity and cheer! I loved it. I laughed out loud. In Target.

In the second story, by John Green, Keun is the cashier at the Waffle House full of cheerleaders, and when they arrive, he calls three of his friends to come oogle. Only problem is, one of these friends is a girl, and when the three of them make the eventful trek to Waffle House, two of the friends discover that their relationship is a little more complicated than they’d been previously willing to admit. I absolutely adored this story; it featured my favorite kind of absolutely crazy and hilarious adventure! Hilarious is a theme, huh?

In the third and final story, Lauren Myracle’s, Addie is in tears over her breakup with Jeb. She invited him to Starbucks (where she works) to talk things over, but he didn’t show…because, unknown to Addie, Jeb was also on the train that got stuck in the snow, and his phone broke, and he was also stranded at Waffle House. Also involved in this story is an early-morning shift at Starbucks, a teacup pig, and an epiphany of sorts for Addie. I loved this story, too (especially the teacup pig), but it was a tad less hilarious and CHEERtastic than the other two. It was awesome, just…slightly less awesome.

Between the first two stories, I can’t pick a favorite, but all three stories rock and are compulsively readable. As evidenced by my story, I had great difficulty putting this book down.  These three stories are full of CHEER and adventure and romance and hilariousness. They features characters that rock. Maureen Johnson and John Green are at their best here, which is certainly saying a lot, and Lauren Myracle’s story is nothing to scoff at, either. I highly recommend this book, at Christmastime or any other time of year.


Losers is a short, funny novel about a quirky Russian kid who can’t fit in with the rest of his high school. His best friend, Vadim, is a genius who should be even more of a social outcast than he is, but even he finds his niche before Jupiter does. Jupiter Glazer is lost, out of orbit.

He lives with his parents in a warehouse in Philadelphia, and it is not, he thinks, the most interesting place in the world. Then he discovers downtown. He discovers a whole new world outside of the warehouse and high school, a sophisticated world of coffee shops and those who frequen them. At school, too, he begins to be less invisible, at first as the school bully’s target, but then, suddenly, things aren’t the way they used to be. 

It’s not really about the plot, though. Matthue Roth’s novel is about the character and the voice, and it rocks. It’s hilarious. It’s more than a little crazy, yet manages to ring true. There are universal life truths in here among Jupiter’s escapades, and you’ll find yourself rooting for Jupiter wholeheartedly. And the writing! Even funnier. Descriptive and gritty and captivating. Matthue Roth can write. I already loved his book Never Mind The Goldbergs, so I expected this to be awesome, and it was. It’s a coming of age story that also falls into the madcap adventure category occasionally, and the result is a lot of amusement minus brain rotting. This is a short novel that packs a lot of punch and will provoke a lot of muffled laughter. Highly recommended.


Katsa is a Graceling, someone given a particular supernatural gift, distinguished by her different-colored eyes. Katsa’s Grace is a rare one; she is Graced with killing. Since she was a child, she has been deadly, and this has left her isolated from much of society. She is used as a crude weapon by her uncle, the king, sent to twist the arms of those who cross him (and often more).

She is, however, less than happy with this arrangement. She’d rather not hurt everyone, and she’d rather not be her uncle’s lapdog. She forms a Council to do good work, but that is insufficient. When she meets Prince Po, her thoughts turn in new directions, and she has some choices to make.

I’ve heard nothing but raves about Graceling, so I was unsurprised when I found it to be a wonderful book. It’s remniscient of Tamora Pierce’s books, the same type of setting, strong heroine, adventure, romance, fantasy–in other words, fantastic! I love Tamora Pierce. This book is just so much fun to read. It’s fast-paced, set in an interesting world, with great characters, and, lucky for us, I heard that there’s going to be a second book continuing this story. But there’s no cliffhanger here, which is great. Cliffhangers are cheap ways of making people want more, but really good authors (like Kristin Cashore!) can do that without relying on someone falling off a cliff or seeing someone who isn’t identified, etc. Books do not have to be formatted like the last episode in a TV season. Anyway, I absolutely adored Graceling, and can think of few books I’d rather spend my time reading and rereading. In six words: fantastic fantasy with a strong heroine.

When she is kidnapped from a school field trip at age ten and renamed “Alice,” she starts her transformation into a living dead girl, instead of the real, alive girl she used to be, living at 623 Daisy Lane with her family. Now fifteen, Alice has been abused by Ray for five years and it has understandably taken its toll. It has been drummed into her head that escape is impossible; if she runs away, Ray, her kidnapper, will kill her and her family. All Alice can hope for is death.

And then comes a different kind of request. Alice is getting too old for Ray, and he wants a new girl to be what she is. He wants Alice to find her for him. And then, she hopes, she’ll be free. But can she do it? And what will this new exposure to the world outside of Ray do to what is left of her humanity?

Living Dead Girl is very different from Elizabeth Scott‘s previous books, but she has done a wonderful job with this disturbing story. It’s dark and intense, chilling to think that while Alice’s story is fiction, terrible things like this do happen in the real world. It’s a short book, but one that strongly affects the reader. It’s not something that’s a joy to read. It’s not supposed to be, though. It’s thought provoking, and, well, as I said before, disturbing. Elizabeth Scott is an amazing writer, and she makes this story into exactly what it is supposed to be.

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!

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.

I love Melissa Walker’s series about a rather ordinary teenage girl from North Carolina who becomes a high fashion model. The concept is fun, the characters are amazing, and the writing is sharp. That’s remained a constant in all three books. I didn’t love this latest one quite as much as the other two, but I still loved it, as will other Violet fans. In this latest installment, Violet has decided to quit the modeling world and go to college like a normal nineteen-year-old. She’s going to Vassar, where she hopes for anonymity, despite her loose ends in the fashion world.

Of course, that doesn’t quite work out. If everything was great, where would the story be? Violet is trying to stay true to herself despite pressures from the modeling world, and also try to figure out who she is on her own. She doesn’t want to be the wallflower she was in high school, but she also doesn’t want to be a model whose every move could make it into the tabloids, and who, despite an ad campaign to promote loving your body, is pressured to be unhealthily thin. Anyway, besides those issues, Violet has to deal with her feelings for her best friend, Roger–and his bubbly older girlfriend, Teen Fashionista reporter Chloe.

I really like the way Melissa Walker handles issues like body image with relation to fashion. It’s a great message, but not one that is in any way pushed on the reader–it’s totally part of the story. Of course, I love catching up with my favorite characters here, and meeting a new favorite character in Kurt! Melissa Walker creates such awesome characters. She’s just great in general, a brilliant writer. These books (VIP being no exception–great acronym, huh?) just draw me in an completely capture my attention for an afternoon…And then the whole next day as I wonder what happens to the characters after the last page. I would hate for this to be the last book about Violet Greenfield. Here’s to hoping for number four!

Check out my reviews of the first two books in the series, Violet on the Runway and Violet by Design. Also, don’t miss my interview with Melissa Walker, her guest blog here, and her fantastic blog.

I’d not read one of Brian James’s novels before Thief, somehow. I remember seeing them and thinking they looked interesting, but I’ve never read his other books. And after reading this one, I will have to quickly change that!

Thief is about Elizabeth, known mostly as Kid, a foster child living in New York City with a woman called Sandra, who makes her foster children earn their keep–by stealing. Elizabeth has been trained by her older foster sister, Alexi, as a pickpocket, and that’s how she spends her days. She doesn’t mind too much, because what better option is there? And this way, she’s with Alexi, and the girls have come to care a lot for each other. This way, she’s not alone. So even when she doesn’t like the way she has to live, she doesn’t question it, either.

That begins to change, however, when Sandra takes in a third foster child, this time a boy, named Dune. Dune is new to the system, and doesn’t understand the way Elizabeth’s life works. He wants to go back to a normal life, not be a pickpocket. Elizabeth takes him under her wing, training him so that Sandra will be happy and let him stay, and helping him out. She starts to care for him–but Alexi doesn’t like that. Alexi, though in her own way she does love her, is manipulative and controlling of Elizabeth. She tries to make sure that Dune and Elizabeth don’t get too close, because Elizabeth is hers, in her mind. It becomes clear to Elizabeth that she will have to make some tough choices to find her way out of a difficult situation, but can she do it, and will she do it right?

That might not be the best summary, but this is a really fantastic book. Brian James is a brilliant writer. I loved the premise of this book, and the almost-at-the-edge-of-reality writing style, if that makes any sense. It’s not really surreal like, say, Francesca Lia Block, by any means, but it’s not quite as immediate and, well, normal, as a lot of other books. It’s a lot more interesting than that. Thief is an amazing story, gritty and real and honest and, in its own way, beautiful. Thief is a bold, smart, engaging, and fascinating novel that I can’t recommend highly enough.

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