August 20, 2014

Isla and the Happily Ever After

by Stephanie Perkins
First sentence: "It's midnight, it's sweltering, and I might be high on Vicodin, but that guy -- that guy right over there -- that's him."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series (you don't have to read first, but you might want to): Anna and the French Kiss, Lola and the Boy Next Door
Review copy snagged out of the ARC box our Penguin rep sent the store.
Content: There's a half-dozen (or more) f-bombs, and several instances of tasteful (and protected!) sex. Plus, it felt more mature than your usual romance. It's in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Isla has had a crush on Josh ever since their freshman year at the School of America in Paris. A super major crush, one of those ones that makes her go all gooey when he's around. But he's unattainable, with his super-cool friends (St. Clair!) and his gorgeous girlfriend. Isla (pronounced EYE-la) just figures her crush will stay just that: a crush.

But then, their senior year starts, and Josh is unmoored, and it turns out that he's kind of had a crush on her all these years. After an awkward start, they fall into a full-blown romance, escaping one weekend to Barcelona to be alone. Which, unfortunately, sets off a chain of events that threatens their relationship.

It's a charming book, a sweet and tender look at first real love. Perkins captures that sense of falling for someone, that first blush of new love. I think I like Anna and Lola better than Isla as characters; Islais so insecure and somewhat needy, but that's something that adds to the whole plot arc, so even though it bothered me on and off, I ended up touched by Isla's growth. I also loved the art that ran through the book; one of the sexier moments (it was a really sexy book!) was when Josh drew all over Isla's body.

It's a worthy addition to a wonderful little collection of books.

August 18, 2014

The Vacationers

by Emma Straub
First sentence: "Leaving always came as a surprise, no matter how long the dates had been looming on the calendar."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are a dozen (or so) f-bombs, some graphic talk about sex and some actual sex (which isn't graphic). It's in the adult fiction section of the library.

The Posts are falling apart. Their marriage is suffering because of Jim's affair (with a woman younger than his son). Their 28-year-old son, Bobby, is a loser. And their daughter, Sylvia, who has just graduated and is off to college, hates living with her parents. So Frannie does the only thing she knows how: rents a house in Mallorca (an island off of Spain) and forces everyone -- including her best friend Charles and his husband, as well as her son's girlfriend -- on vacation for two weeks.

It's such an adorable fantasy. You know? Life is falling apart, so let's rent a beach house and miraculously everything will get better. Not real life. Or at least my real life.

It was very voyeuristic, this book. I really didn't care much about Jim's inner life, or his lust for the editorial assistant he had an affair with. Or Bobby's relationship with Carmen (who I liked, in spite of the book's efforts to make me despise her). Or even Sylvia's inner angst and obsession with losing her virginity. (Which she does, on the beach, to a beautiful Mallorcan boy.) No: the people I was most interested in were Charles and Lawrence because they were the most stable, the most reasonable, the most... well, likable. They were trying to adopt a baby, and there were some struggles with belonging. But if the whole book had been from their perspective, it would have seemed much less snobby. Annoying.

The thing that really kept me reading, however, was that Straub did a wonderful job capturing place and food. Maybe not perfectly, but enough that I was interested in knowing more about Mallorca and I could almost imagine the food.

It's too bad that I had to experience such a lovely place and read about such lovely food with such crass characters.

August 17, 2014

10 Books By Women (About Girls) That Boys Should Read

Shannon Hale (love her!) went on a rant a week or so ago that got me thinking. There was a long chain, but the culmination of it was this tweet:

So, I'm offering some good books by women, featuring girls, that I think boys should read (and might even like!). I'm splitting the list: five middle grade books and five YA ones.

1. Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage: A girl named mo, some fantastic quirky characters, and a murder mystery to solve. "In addition to murder, this book has everything: drama, car racing, suspense, plucky kids, arch-enemies, robbery, unrequited love, and karate.  It's everything Southern, but the pecan pie. (And I'm sure that would have shown up, had the book been set at Thanksgiving instead of during the summer.) There's a little something for everyone here, which makes any book appealing."

2. The Penderwicks, by Jeanne Birdsall: Yes, it's about four sisters and their summer at a cottage in Maine. HOWEVER, they are some pretty interesting and hilarious girls who get into some pretty interesting and hilarious situations (Batty and the bull will forever be one of my favorite book scenes.) AND there are two (almost three!) more books to read.

3. Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper: I put this on here not only because it's an excellent book (and because author of color PLUS disabled), but because C's 6th grade language arts teacher read it aloud, and the class loved it. So I'm not guessing at this one. "It's a treatise on the determination of one girl (and her family) and what that can do. It is, in many ways, a "message" book: disabled people are NOT different than the rest of us, and just because they look or act different doesn't mean they are not worth getting to know and understand. But Draper presents this in such a way so that the book doesn't feel like a heavy-handed message book. It's heartfelt, and you end up both cheering for and crying with Melody as she recounts her experience."
4. Tuesdays at the Castle, Jessica Day George: A castle that's probably alive on some level, a spunky heroine, and a creepy prince who's trying to take over the kingdom: how can you not thoroughly enjoy this book?

5. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L'Engle: I thought I needed a classic on here. Meg is a tentative heroine, but she's a strong one, in the end. And the world L'Engle built is a fascinating one. Plus an adventure to rescue Mr. Murray from the evil planet? (There's also Charles Walace and Calvin.)

6. Dangerous, by Shannon Hale: I wanted to make sure a Shannon Hale book goto on here, and I struggled to think of which one. Then I remembered (duh) her newest. Although my first reaction was less than stellar, this book has grown on me over the months: "In many ways, this was a breath of fresh air. One gets bogged down in the current trends in young adult/teen literature (read: paranormal or dystopian/post-apocalyptic) and to have something that is honestly science fiction with high tech gadgets, spaceships, and alien lifeforms. With honest-to-goodness average people doing techy, fun, science-based things." I call it Hunger Games meets the Avengers.

7. Fire, by Kristin Cashore: It's really the whole Graceling series. But I thought that while Graceling has more action, this one has more drama. And it gets into the head of women better. One of the reasons I think boys should be reading books about girls is so they can understand them. And this one goes a long way to getting into the psyche of a woman and how men treat her. But, if that's not what you want, try Graceling instead. Either way, Cashore is a fantastic write.

8. Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson: Much like 13 Reasons Why, which C is required to read this year, this one should be required reading for everyone. It's about date rape and depression and it's harsh and difficult to read, but it's one of those books that helps you understand that actions have consequences. A definite must-read.

9. Flygirl, by Sheri L. Smith: World War II, pilots, and a girl overcoming the obstacles of race and gender. " I liked the challenges posed by the program, the obstacles she had to surmount in order to succeed in a man's world. It was not only historically interesting, but had a universal appeal: what woman hasn't faced the "you can't do it because you're a girl" and fought her way to success in whatever that is?"

10. I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister, by Amélie Sarn. This one seems odd to throw on the list. But the conflict between siblings is universal, and this one has stayed with me since I read it. Partially for the sibling conflict, but mostly for the religious elements. I've been thinking about hate and acceptance and conformity and how we act when we disagree with each other. It's thought-provoking.

What other books should be on this list?

August 15, 2014

Parenting Teens with Love & Logic

by Foster Cline and Jim Fay
First sentence: "Parents whose children are now turning twelve and thirteen know their kids face far greater challenges than they did just a few short years ago."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It's geared toward parents, and it talks frankly (but not graphically) about a lot of things. It'd be either in the Parenting section (most likely) or the Self-Help section.

I don't usually read self-help books. I prefer to talk to other people, find out what works for them, and then see if it fits with my kids. But after a couple of fights (which may have been my fault), I pulled this book off the wayback TBR pile (the ones I should read, but have never gotten to). I think my parents sent it to me when M turned 12 or 13, but I just threw it on the shelf.

The edition I read was pretty out of date -- 1992 -- but even so, there was a lot of good advice in it. Simple little changes that I've started making, and (surprise!) this past week has gone so much more smoothly. The basic principle is this: give your teens the freedom to 1) make decisions and 2) own them. Use real-world consequences. Ask questions, offer sympathy, but don't solve their problems. Don't make orders, ask for things (but give them choices: "Would you rather x or x?"). And demand respect; it's YOUR house after all. (I'm pretty lousy at that last one. Something I need to change.)

I'm sure there will be bumps along the way, especially as I (and Hubby) try to internalize a slightly different way of parenting (we were happy to find that some of the things -- like respecting the girls' ideas, and not criticizing their friends/hair/pop culture likes -- we do already). But, I'm hopeful that maybe the next 10 years (as the rest of the girls head through teenagerhood) won't be too rough.

August 13, 2014

Ruin and Rising

by Leigh Bardugo
First sentence: "The monster's name was Izmrud, the great worm, and there were those who claimed had had made the tunnels that ran beneath Ravka."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm
Content: There's some violence and lots of kissing and some off-screen sex (implied). It's in the YA (grades 6-8) section off the bookstore.

Alina is in a bit of a predicament. She has two of the amplifiers and that enabled her to temporarily set back the Darkling. However, it cost her most of her power, turned her hair white, and has forced her underground and into the protection of the Apparate, whom she despises.

Her goal: fend of the zealots who consider her a saint, get out of the White Cathedral, hope that Nikolai is still alive (and in some sort of condition to be king), find the firebird and the third amplifier, and defeat the Darkling, once and for all.

And manage to come out of all of it alive.

My only complaint is that I didn't reread the other two books beforehand; I really do think that this series is best read one right after another. Even so, it didn't take me long to remind myself of the big, broad points. There's a lot of action, and Alina is a major player in all of the decisions, including the final, heart-rendering one. There were a lot of small moments I loved, but I adored the big ones: the battles with the Darkling, the confrontation with the former king. Nikolai was fantastic, and even Mal (and the True Love between Mal and Alina) grew on me over the pages.

A fantastic way to end a series.