three windows


Wondrous Strange is about Kelley, an aspiring actress in New York City, who, like most people, doesn’t really believe in faeries offstage. She’s an understudy in an off-Broadway (way off Broadway) production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and that’s as close to the supernatural as she comes, until a horse (that isn’t really a horse) who eats frosted cereal (and nothing else) takes up residence in her bathtub, and she has one too many encounters with a weird stranger.

The weird stranger, Sonny, is really just trying to protect Kelley, but she doesn’t know that. He notices that something about her is different–that she is not exactly human. He guards the Samhain gate in Central Park. That gate connects the dangerous, enchanted faerie realm with the human one, and the consequences if certain faeries were to get through could be disastrous. 

Faeries, as you may have noticed, are huge right now. And, while this was an enjoyable read, honestly, there are a lot of better faerie stories; this one is largely unremarkable. It’s readable, sure, and enjoyable enough, but…meh. The characters weren’t particularly well-drawn, and their relationships seemed unrealistic and weirdly paced. I didn’t really believe a lot of their interactions, and the romance seemed forced and weird. The plot and faerie mythology (including the Shakespeare) used here were interesting, but not particularly original. I loved the New York aspect, though! Overall, this book can best be described as fine. Mediocre. It was a good read, though noticeably flawed, but it probably won’t stick with you and you won’t feel compelled to read it again or anything. If there’s a sequel, I’ll read it if it comes my way, but probably won’t go out of my way to get a copy. Three out of six windows. 

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Beautiful Americans, Lucy Silag’s debut novel, follows four American exchange students through their first semester in Paris, alternating chapters from each of their points of view. Alex is a spoiled, self-centered, and shallow New Yorker who wants to be sophisticated and French and get a boyfriend in Paris, too. She’s also a complete bitch to most people most of the time. PJ is a quiet girl from Vermont who is in Paris to run from problems at home. She’s having a little trouble enjoying Paris because she’s still tied up with all the problems at home, and her host family has ulterior motives and are not exactly stellar people. Zack is a nice guy who’s relieved to be away from his conservative hometown in Tennessee, because he’s not particularly Christian and also not particularly straight (but not out to the world yet). He’d also like to find romance in Paris! Olivia is a dancer from San Diego who has come to Paris to improve her chances at a ballet scholarship from UCLA, where her boyfriend, Vince, goes to school. 

That’s each of them in a nutshell. They are fairly well-developed and interesting characters, and I enjoyed reading about their time in Paris, but their voices were indistinct. I kept having to flip back to the beginning of the chapter to see who was narrating, and that’s not something that I like to do. I was also excited to read a book set in an amazing city, but Paris is most often a  barely-noticeable backdrop to this story, something else that disappointed me. I was hoping to see Paris come alive; but, no. Or, at least, very rarely. This book also wasn’t as complete as I’d have preferred; it uses a bit of a cliffhanger to make the reader want more, and I prefer books that don’t have to use cliffhangers to keep the reader interested in the next book in the series.

From all I’ve said, you’d think I didn’t like the book, but that wasn’t the case; I really enjoyed it. I was caught up in the engaging stories and I can’t wait to read the second book in the series, and I’m hoping that the writing will improve (particularly, as I said, the characters’ voices). I liked that all the characters seemed to get equal time; sometimes, books focusing on multiple characters make me feel like some characters didn’t need to be main characters or like I’m not getting enough from certain characters, but I didn’t feel that way here (though I, like everyone else will, have my favorites of the four). I enjoyed all four of them, though. But maybe I would have liked it better if there were different books focusing on the different characters rather than different chapters; some things in all sections felt glossed-over or rushed. 

This is an entertaining (if not particularly memorable) novel, and I’ll be looking forward to the next book in the series. 

Three out of five windows:

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Something, Maybe is about Hannah, a pretty ordinary girl, and her less-than-ordinary family that prevents her from having an ordinary life. Her father, Jackson James, is an infamous Hugh Heffner type, and her mother, Candy Madison, is a washed-out semi-celebrity whose “job” consists of sitting in front of a webcam in her underwear talking to strangers. Her father’s not around unless it serves his own interests, and her mother, while she loves Hannah, is not exactly a typical mom.

Like any teenage girl, Hannah’s got her eye on a guy, too. Josh is a sensitive, poetry-reading, coffee-drinking, activist-type guy who works with her at the call center for the drive-thrus at a chain of burger restaurants. Her other coworker, Finn, is lound and obnoxious, and Hannah can’t stand him…right? Hannah’s also got a best friend (only friend) who advises her on her guy troubles, and another girl at school who might be a friend but is instead only an acquaintance because Hannah doesn’t really open up to people.

Something, Maybe is a pretty typical contemporary girl story, with the requisite storylines that are major parts of any teen girl’s life–family, friends, and guys. The romance is sweet and predictable. The friendship storyline is underdeveloped, and the friend and acquaintance both felt like placeholders sometimes rather than characters, although the friend did have an intriguing backstory I would have liked to read more about. The family story was interesting, but not particularly compelling. Most of the secondary characters could have been better fleshed out.

Hannah was not a particularly fascinating character, either. She did not appear to have any interests outside of boys. She was not particularly intelligent or deep. She was pretty ordinary, honestly, and while there’s nothing wrong with ordinary, it does not make for a particularly compelling novel. I didn’t hate spending time in Hannah’s head, but I could definitely stop reading with no trouble. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this book, but it’s not particularly original and nor is it one of Elizabeth Scott’s best. It’s a kind of shallow, light read, nothing memorable. It was a fun way to pass an afternoon. I love Elizabeth Scott generally, and while I enjoyed this book, it was not up to what I was expecting. It was cute and fun and generic and forgettable.  I’m still eagerly awaiting the author’s next book, though!

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One Hundred Young Americans is a book of photography and interviews with, you guessed it, one hundred young Americans. These people come from all 50 states, and represent every facet of youth culture imaginable, from the usual ones like jock or redneck or skater, to the more out-there like vampire and white supremacist. The author traveled acros the country to meet these people and collect their stories, and it is certainly an interesting premise.

My take? If this book is as accurate as it claims to be, people are fucking CRAZY. I’m afraid of the state of the world, sad for the future, if this is accurate. Most of the people in this book are shallow or ignorant or bigoted or stupid or crazy or superficial or intolerant or some combination of those characteristics. 

That’s not to say there aren’t a few people I’d like to know, but most of these people are crazy. However, I doubt its accuracy as a portrait of America’s youth. I feel like certain groups (skaters/racers/bikers of all kinds, for example) are overrepresented, while others (sane, rational, intelligent people) are underrepresented. Everyone has a story, even the bland-looking honors student. It’s not just the people who look the most interesting in the mall or at Burger King that have stories to tell, and I’m not sure the people doing the recruiting for this book got that. A lot of the choices seem more about shock value than representing the young people of this country in any way close to accurate.

However, that said, I loved the pictures. Portrait photography (not interviewing or writing) is this author’s calling. Still, unless you’re an aspiring portrait photographer, I’m not sure this is worth the almost $30 that is the sticker price (I got it off a clearance shelf at the local indie bookstore). It’s poorly written, poorly bound, poorly edited, and not what it makes itself out to be. Also, some of the facts have not been thoroughly checked. But it’s most definitely interesting, and I’d say it was worth the $12 I paid, even though there are major flaws. These people are fascinating characters.

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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.

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.

I’m sure you all know what Breaking Dawn is (if not, what rock have you been living under?), so I’ll skip that. The midnight release party was a surprising non-event considering the fan base these books have, but many of the people there were incredibly into it all, dressing up for a book in which people dress normally (hmm…), and there were tasty special drinks at the Books-a-Million coffee shop.

Anyway, the book itself. Well, this was exactly what I expected the end of the Twilight Saga to be, in some ways. It was a wonderful brain-candy type of book–something I couldn’t put down, something I loved the experience of reading, but, well, nothing about it is dazzlingly brilliant. It’s something I absolutely loved reading, but now that I’ve finished I don’t feel like I’ve gained anything. Stephenie Meyer‘s writing is not too impressive, honestly. I love her characters, though, and when what I want is something that I will absolutely devour and something that won’t take anything out of me, that’s perfect.

I hope I explained that well enough. Anyway, this book what exactly what I expected and wanted out of the end (I think) of the Twilight Saga. I loved finding out the fates of my favorite characters. My thoughts on Bella’s fate are below and spoilerific.

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* Note: I’ve edited the end of my review a bit because my prediction that fans would enjoy it was completely mistaken. I have seen book-burning campaigns, and book-returning campaigns. Anyway, yeah, I don’t usually edit reviews after they’re posted but I felt the need for a bit of clarification here.

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* Another note: Please don’t take this review the wrong way if you link to it. Do not take it to mean that I loved this book. I did not love this book. I enjoyed myself while reading it. No, this review is not intensely negative, but I didn’t have very high expectations.

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* HERE COME THE SPOILERS:

Bella’s transformation is what I expected and hoped for, knowing the characters, but I was afraid that the author would find some way of avoiding it, some crap reason for Bella to hold on to her humanity or her soul or whatever. Luckily, she didn’t. What happens between her wedding to Edward and her transformation into a vampire is unexpected, though, and I appreciate Stephenie Meyer’s ability to throw such a curveball, because I usually have an idea of where everything is headed in her books. Predictability and formulaic stories are nice, though, to an extent. Stephenie Meyer’s books are exciting, but not particularly thought-provoking. They’re fun to read, even addictive sometimes, but not something I feel a need to revisit often. I enjoyed finding out the fates of my favorite characters, though I’ve always wanted to hear more from Alice, and she was absent during much of this book. I was a bit disappointed at not delving deeper into my favorite characters, except Jacob–I loved his part of the book. It was by far my favorite. Jacob is fantastic.

*SLIGHTLY SPOILERY PARAGRAPH OVER.

Overall, reading Breaking Dawn was a pleasure. Stephenie Meyer is great at what she does, great at writing for her audience, and if you can recognize that, can see that this book is exactly what it is meant to be and not expect more from it, you’ll love it.

Edited to say: Spoilery comments, more so than this review, so beware! Also, I thought the nicknames were stupid, too.

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