Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Audiobook Review: Sisterhood Everlasting, by Ann Brashares

Brashares, Ann. Sisterhood Everlasting. Random House Audio Publishing Group. 2011. Audiobook $40.00. ISBN 9780307912220.

Oh, Sisterhood Everlasting. I was hoping to love you! Alas, our love was not meant to be.

This conclusion to the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series picks up a decade after the last book left off, and the four best friends are all grown up... but lost without each other.

My issues: The characters are really, really immature. Traits that were acceptable in teenagers, I found intolerable in adults. Lena is still painfully passive and afraid to act in any capacity; Bridget is still a screw-up who does whatever she wants without thinking of others. Carmen- always my favorite character- is the only one who seems to have her life together, but she’s clearly got her priorities in the wrong order-- she’s putting her career first (tsk!) and has apparently lost her ability to think deep thoughts because she’s constantly glued to an iPhone.

Hey. I like my iPhone.

Also, the plot is kind of a downer, and while I’m okay with the fact that not everything in life is all sparkles and unicorns, I found the pacing through the sad parts of this book to be, well, somewhat excruciating.

To be fair to Brashares, a good deal of my irritation with this book may stem from the audiobook narrator. Angela Goethals has a truly lovely voice. She sounds youthful enough to believably portray all the characters, and does a commendable job creating distinct voices for each character-- which is a difficult task, as the main characters are all 29 year old females. But! My main problem with her reading is that it's very slowly paced and overly deliberate. Her delivery plays up the angsty melodrama… or maybe her melodramatic tone is caused by the inherent melodrama in the text. Either way, I found myself shouting at the audiobook frequently. Things like: “THIS AGAIN?” and “REALLY? YOU WENT THERE?” and “LENA, I WILL SMACK YOU.”

Which, on the bright side, means that at least the book elicited a strong reaction from me, right?

So, while I can’t say I exactly enjoyed the experience of this novel, I will say that I couldn’t put it aside. I absolutely had to keep listening; I had to find out how everything would end up for these characters I had so loved from the first four volumes of the series. Most fans of the Traveling Pants books will likely feel the same way, whether they end up loving this book or not-- for better or worse, it's a compelling read if you loved the first four.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

Have you noticed I'm only posting on Tuesdays this month? It's not on purpose, but between planning teen events at the library, trying to get my two-year-old to nap, being a wife, podcasting at Authors are ROCKSTARS!, occasionally doing some laundry (maybe), reviewing books and apps for School Library Journal, preparing a presentation for KidLitCon, chairing a YALSA committee, and planning the baby's first birthday party... well, I've got a few things going on! This blog is the one thing I can do at my own pace, and dear reader, that pace happens to be s-l-o-w right now. I'm okay with that, and I hope you are, too.

Since I'm only posting on Tuesdays, I thought I'd participate in the Top Ten Tuesday meme hosted at The Broke and the Bookish! This week's topic is: Books I Loved but Never Reviewed.

1. Huntress, by Malinda Lo
I've been wanting to review this one, but somehow just can't fully articulate my thoughts on this beautiful book. I loved the descriptions of the lush settings, and the fact that it's a story about two girls who fall in love, but it isn't an "issue" book.

2. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart
Smart, funny, thought-provoking, relatable... such a perfect book. I love to recommend this when students need something for a school report, because it's a truly fun read and it has enough substance for academic purposes.

3. Audrey, Wait!, by Robin Benway
The casual swearing in this book is so perfect. Just-- YES. This is how a lot of teens talk, whether adults like it or not.

4. Girl at Sea, by Maureen Johnson
Possibly my favorite Maureen Johnson title so far. I recommend this book all the time at my library, as it has a little something for everyone- mystery, adventure, and romance.

5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Powerful, hilarious, heartbreaking. An excellent choice to introduce an adult reader to the world of YA.

6. Good Enough, by Paula Yoo
Come for the spam recipes, stay for the funny and genuine narrator as she navigates her strict Korean-American parents' expectation and her own growing need for independence.

7. Robot Dreams, by Sara Varon
I read this four years ago, and still think about it. Deceptively cute illustrations tell a heartbreaking, relatable, and ultimately hopeful story about friendship, loss, and healing.

8. The China Garden, by Liz Berry
I believe it's out of print, and not even available in many libraries anymore, but if you can get your hands on it, this is an amazing read. A spine-tingling paranormal romance written years before the genre exploded.

Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin
A gorgeous afterlife story, kind of a Lovely Bones for teens.

Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
I had to read this one twice to fully absorb it, because it was so different from the first two books in the trilogy, but I feel it was ultimately a worthy and fitting conclusion to the story. And I loved the epilogue, no matter what anyone else says.

Now... off to do some laundry! Maybe.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Book Review: I'll Be There, by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Sloan, Holly Goldberg. I'll Be There. 392 p. Little, Brown. 2011. Hardcover $17.99. ISBN 9780316122795.

Everyone's been raving about this book all year, and let me tell you-- it lives up to the hype!

Two brothers, Sam and Riddle, have been dragged around the country by their abusive, mentally ill father for most of their lives. They finally get a taste of normal life after a chance encounter with a girl... but how long can normal last?

The first thing that struck me about this novel is the strong voice. The writing is tight, like every sentence, every word has been carefully considered for maximum impact. I was completely in awe while reading. Author Holly Goldberg Sloan comes from an extensive screenwriting background, and it shows: this novel has a cinematic quality that will draw readers right into the pages. In fact, I would love to see a movie of it-- but only if Sloan herself writes the screenplay.

I'll Be There is a wholly engaging story with a large cast of fully realized characters. The genre is realistic contemporary with elements of romance, suspense, survival, mystery, and there's a little something for everyone here. It will appeal equally to a male and female audiences, and with the strong presence of adult characters in the cast and the minimum of teen angst, this is one of those YA novels you can recommend to adults who don't usually read YA.

This book puts me in mind of John Irving's style, with the way Sloan tells her story through a third-person omniscient point of view that allows for multiple perspectives, as well as the way she puts her characters through the most incredible situations-- some absurd, some heartbreaking, some inspiring.

And the cover? I can't stop staring at it. Utterly gorgeous.

I'll Be There is one of the most amazing debut novels I've read this year, and I eagerly await whatever Sloan has in store for us next.

Be sure to check out the Authors are ROCKSTARS! interview with an amazing group of writers that includes Holly Goldberg Sloan.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Book Review: Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins

Perkins, Stephanie. Anna and the French Kiss. 372 p. Dutton. 2010. Hardcover $16.99. ISBN 9780525423270.

I'd heard so much about this book and deliberately held off reading it for a while. Why would one do that to a perfectly good book? See, I KNEW I would love it. So I was saving it for a time when I was in a reading slump and needed an absolutely wonderful read to perk me back up. I was waiting, ready to savor the reading experience when I would need it the most. As it happens, I ended up reading it just before our Authors Are ROCKSTARS! interview with Stephanie Perkins, Andrea Cremer, and Kiersten White, so I wasn't actually in a slump. But just as I had predicted, I loved, loved, loved this book.

It's the story of an American girl reluctantly transplanted in Paris. And of course, in a city known for its romance, she meets a boy. A shame he has a girlfriend, but they can just be friends, right...?

This book took me right back to the month I spent studying in Paris at the Sorbonne in 1998. In fact, I'm itching to book a plane ticket there RIGHT NOW! (Alas, my husband, toddler, and baby might have something to say about that.)

Fondation Deutsch de la Meurthe, par l'extérieur
Photo by Flickr member okisayaka

I lived at the Cité Universitaire, international student housing, so Anna's dorm experience was nostalgic for me. The dining hall where I lived made the fluffiest, most delicious omelettes imaginable to which I will forevermore compare all other omelettes... and they will never, ever measure up-- they were made to order, and each one was like a work of art-- but I digress. Sorry, I got caught up in French food nostalgia!

I love the details of Paris in this book. Despite the fact that Perkins had never been to Paris before she wrote Anna, she got it all amazingly, wonderfully right through the power of research. The Latin quarter! Shakespeare & Company bookstore! Standing on point zero in front of Notre Dame! Francophiles will love this.

Point Zero
Photo by flickr member mojavesin

Much has been said in other reviews about Perkins' ability to write Anna as an authentic teen, and I agree. Anna is an appealing, well-rounded character with relatable flaws and quirks, and her realistic, sometimes sarcastic, voice makes the book such a pleasure to read as she gains confidence in her new surroundings and in herself. And of course, her love interest, St. Clair... what can I say? A charming, self-deprecating guy with a British accent? Well. I think most of us would be happy to read entire volumes about him.

Anna's story of self-discovery and romance stands alone, but there are two more companion novels to look forward to. Lola and the Boy Next Door will hit bookstores in late September, and I can't wait to read it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Book Review: Paranormalcy, by Kiersten White

White, Kiersten. Paranormalcy. 335 p. HarperTeen. 2010. Hardcover $16.99. ISBN 9780061985843.

I can't believe I missed this book when it first came out! Well, actually, I guess I can believe it... I mean-- the cover, guys. It's striking, but it's so super serious, and does not reflect the hilarious tongue-in-cheek tone of the book. I was not expecting to be amused by this book at all, but trust me, this is one of those times when you do not want to judge a book by its cover. This one is TOTALLY funny-- a refreshing change from the typical paranormal fiction.

Evie just wants to be a normal high schooler (with a locker!) but due to her unique talent for seeing underneath the glamour of any paranormal creature, she's been drafted by the International Paranormal Containment Agency. She leads a lonely but mostly content life saving the world from paranormal dangers, until she discovers a startling relevation about herself...

Brisk pacing, tight plotting, and a likable main character (okay, let's face it: I completely relate to Evie's pink-sparkly-loving ways and want to know where I can get a hot-pink taser!) make for a highly engaging read.

White includes just about every paranormal creature there is, and gently mocks the stereotypes: My favorite: "Why on earth would a vampire go to high school?" (p. 239) Why indeed? I lol'd.

There is depth and weight balanced with the humor, though, as White puts an inventive spin on the themes of self-discovery and claiming one's power that are so prevalent in YA lit. With a fantastic blend of action, romance, suspense, and humor, there's a little something for everyone here. I can't stop recommending it at my library-- I think I'm going to have to buy a few more copies for the shelves!

The sequel, Supernaturally, just came out at the end of July, so now's the time to get started on this series. And be sure to catch our awesome interview with Kiersten White, along with Andrea Cremer and Stephanie Perkins, at Authors are ROCKSTARS!
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