Review: My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger

How did I get it? Powell’s (absolutely incredible and GARGANTUAN bookstore in Portland, Oregon)

Genre: YA, Coming-of-Age

Synopsis: Best friends and unofficial brothers since they were six, ninth-graders T.C. and Augie have got the world figured out. But that all changes when both friends fall in love for the first time. Enter Alé. She’s pretty, sassy, and on her way to Harvard. T.C. falls hard, but Alé is playing hard to get. Meanwhile, Augie realizes that he’s got a crush on a boy. It’s not so clear to him, but to his family and friends, it’s totally obvious! Told in alternating perspectives, this is the hilarious and touching story of their most excellent year, where these three friends discover love, themselves, and how a little magic and Mary Poppins can go a long way.

Review: I honestly don’t know how to explain how much I loved this book. It made me laugh (I actually have bruises from falling off my bed, I was laughing that hard), it made me cry, and it made me feel so many emotions that by the end of it I just sat there grinning like a fool.

The unique formatting of it was so refreshing, from the IMs to the parents’ ridiculously amusing emails to letters to newspaper clippings. Everything about it felt original and unique, and it really warmed my heart to read about the purple balloon and Wei’s immortal words and all the lovely little things that made up this story. Every single character was relatable, lovable, charming, and genuine, and I adored the way they interacted with each other. Hucky especially made me cry while smiling, which is just not okay, and I basically wanted to high-five Alé constantly. Everyone had a moment to shine, everyone was dynamic and interesting, and every last character made me feel something, which is a very rare thing in a novel.

My Most Excellent Year was not only a blast to read, it was sweet and meaningful and so, so true that I’m pretty much convinced that every adolescent needs to read this book.

There’s honestly not much more to say without being repetitive. I loved everything about this book, point blank. It’s probably one of my all-time favorites, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Rating:

Five Stars

Recommend it?

1000%. If you know how to read, you need to read this.

Purchase it:

Barnes & Noble | Amazon

Other books by the author:

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Review: Ash by Malindo Lo

How did I get it? Bought it

Genre: Young Adult, LGBT, Fantasy

Synopsis: In the wake of her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.
The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash’s capacity for love-and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.
Entrancing, empowering, and romantic, Ash is about the connection between life and love, and solitude and death, where transformation can come from even the deepest grief.

Review: If you’ve been around for the past few weeks, I have been obsessing over this book for some time now. When I got it two weeks ago, I had to finish some other things before I started reading it, and the damned thing sat there on my shelf looking seductive and alluring as nobody’s business until I caved and picked it up.

I’ll admit, I wanted to love this book so much that it sort of blinded me to a few of its faults, such as the ending, which was a little bit too anticlimactic and underwhelming. But I was so captivated by the author’s writing and the beauty of the world she crafted that I didn’t even really care. Ash was someone I could feel connected to, even if I wanted to roll my eyes at her once or twice for being so completely blind to how she feels. Kaisa, while a more static character than I would have preferred, is still lovely and had me making a few embarrassingly girly noises, and the fact that she’s such a friggin’ badass was just awesome. I mean, who wants a prince when you can have a huntress warrior goddess?

Ms. Lo’s use of folklore and mythology in this story was just gorgeous to read, and the way she incorporated it into Ash’s life and her personality was probably my favorite thing about this novel. It felt so authentic and I really loved the portrayal of a society caught between tradition and modern ideas. Ash’s struggle to define herself in a changing world and the value she places on the stories she grew up with really endeared her to me, and the way those stories touch everything in her life, from her mother’s death to her relationships with others, was just extremely thoughtful and well-done.

Overall, I adored this book. The writing was stunning, and with the bones of the traditional fairytale in place, reading Ash felt like visiting with an old friend. I’ll definitely be checking out Malinda Lo’s other novels; I think I’ve found a new love.

Rating:

Four Stars

Recommend it? Would I ever.

Other Books by the Author:

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Review: The Hazel Tree by Julia Debski

How did I get it? The author kindly lent me a copy

Genre: YA, fantasy

Synopsis: Ivy Lune has lived in isolation the majority of her life. Imprisoned by her aunt and cousins, she longs to escape the shackles of her prison-like life. Unknown to her, there are dangerous forces at work; old blood ties and murderous plots threaten her chance at happiness beyond her current life.

Review: I’ll admit, I was let down by The Hazel Tree. I love fairytale retellings, and I was very hopeful that this werewolf twist on Cinderella would live up to my expectations. Unfortunately, that didn’t really happen.

I had a decent time reading this novel, and the rather unconventional formatting of the paperback copy actually grew on me as time went on, but I didn’t feel connected to the story or the characters. The plot was ever-so-slightly dull, and the only character I had any sort of emotion for was Rob, Ivy’s not-very-involved cousin who only makes an appearance in three or four chapters. In addition, the romance was very…odd. As in, there was no build-up. The two meet, go “omg you’re my soulmate”, and suddenly they’re thick as thieves and sleeping in the same bed. It was a bit bizarre to me, considering 90% of the plot is hinged on their deep, profound love for each other, yet it’s sort of glossed over. I felt a bit cheated.

With that being said, I did like the glimpse of the world Ms. Debski crafted, and the book certainly wasn’t torture to read. Minus the ending (cliffhangers are for chapter endings, not the actual ending of the book itself, that was just cruel) the novel had a good pace and nice writing and a few bits of humor tucked in. Overall, the story has a lot of potential, but it wasn’t what it could have been.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Recommend it? Meh. Maybe.

ARC Review: Damselfly by Jennie Bates Bozic

How did I get it? Netgalley

Genre: Science fiction, dystopian, YA

Synopsis: In 2065, the Lilliput Project created Lina – the first six-inch-tall winged girl – as the solution to a worldwide energy and food crisis. Isolated in a compound amidst the forests of Denmark, Lina has grown up aware of only one purpose: learn how to survive in a world filled with hawks, bumblebees, and loneliness. However, on the eve of her sixteenth birthday, she discovers that she’s not the only teenager her size. Six ‘Toms’ were created shortly after Lina, and now her creators need to prove to the world that tiny people are the next logical step in human evolution. In other words, they need to prove that reproduction is possible.
Um. No thanks. Lina’s already fallen in love with a boy she met online named Jack. Only he has no idea that thumbelina1847 could literally fit inside his heart.
When her creators threaten to hurt Jack unless she chooses a husband from among the ‘Toms’, Lina agrees to star in a reality TV series. Once the episodes begin to air, the secret of her size is out. Cut off from any contact with the outside world, Lina assumes Jack is no longer interested. After all, what guy would want to date a girl he can’t even kiss?
Slowly, very slowly, she befriends the six young men who see her as their only ticket to happiness. Perhaps she can make just one guy’s dream of love and companionship come true. But her creators have a few more twists in store for her that she never thought possible.
She’s not the only one playing to the cameras.

Review: This was one of those books I just had to have. I have a love of fairy tales and I couldn’t wait to see what the author did with her world and her characters. The combination of fairies, Bachelorette-style reality TV, and a dystopian setting where starvation is looming, had me intrigued and I was curious to know how it all fit together.

I read Damselfly in one sitting, and although it wasn’t addictive at first, by the time I’d gotten halfway through, I was hooked. The author has a way of writing in a way that’s very simple and straightforward while still managing to confront difficult topics with maturity. Her main character, Lina, is likeable but still with some serious flaws and personal obstacles that she has to learn to overcome as the story progresses. Her love interest, Jack, is absolutely wonderful and I love how unique he is as a person; he’s certainly not perfect, but he’s a lovely, rounded character with a good deal of depth to him. I liked him almost instantly, and he actually made me tear up at one point, which I was really not expecting.

I will admit that the reality TV plotline didn’t grab me. Bozic introduced these six “Toms”—little male fairies engineered to reproduce with Lina—and I was really looking forward to getting to know them, but in the end only three or four were actually near memorable. Most of them were given potential room to grow and develop as characters, but that potential was sort of left hanging. I felt a bit cheated because I would have loved to have more attention given to the five other Toms, especially Blue and Shrike, but they were just left waiting in the wings instead.

That being said, there were a lot of great things going on in this book. I adored the characters and my friends can tell you how much I was fangirling because I had to stop after every chapter to share my emotions and do a little dance-jig thing that made my dog run away in terror. The glimpses of the dystopian world Bozic built were fascinating and I loved the way she threaded hints of the state of society into conversations and plotlines. It felt very authentic and unique.

I’m just really hoping that the author isn’t planning on leaving us with that ending. I’m not sure what her companion novelette is going to contribute, but I will track her down and demand a sequel if I have to, because I’m not ready to let this story or these characters go just yet.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Other Books By the Author: Ms. Bozic has also written a companion novelette for Damselfly called Sugar Plum which has not yet been released, but I am definitely going to be waiting in line to get it. And bonus: it’s free! To keep up with the release, you can check out her website here.

Review of Pizza, Love, and Other Stuff That Made Me Famous by Kathryn Williams

How did I get it? It was a present from my girlfriend for my birthday or Christmas, if I remember correctly.

Genre: YA fiction

Synopsis: Can a spot on a teen reality show really lead to a scholarship at an elite cooking school AND a summer romance?

Sixteen-year-old Sophie Nicolaides was practically raised in the kitchen of her family’s Italian-Greek restaurant, Taverna Ristorante. When her best friend, Alex, tries to convince her to audition for a new reality show, Teen Test Kitchen, Sophie is reluctant. But the prize includes a full scholarship to one of America’s finest culinary schools and a summer in Napa, California, not to mention fame.

Once on-set, Sophie immediately finds herself in the thick of the drama—including a secret burn book, cutthroat celebrity judges, and a very cute French chef. Sophie must figure out a way to survive all the heat and still stay true to herself. A terrific YA offering–fresh, fun, and sprinkled with romance.

Review: I read this book in one sitting on a lovely Sunday morning (it took maybe 3 hours or so, I think). I wasn’t particularly enthralled at first; it seemed, for the first 10 pages or so, like the author tossed in backstory every chance she got, and I’ll admit it annoyed me a bit because to me, knowing every last detail about the protagonist’s life in the first 20 minutes is never a good thing. However, after I got over that little pet peeve, this little novel proved to be a charming read. I can’t say there was anything terribly original about it other than the droolworthy recipes included, but it was fun nevertheless. Sophie was a nice, likable character, and the rest of the cast, especially Stan and Shelby, were delightful to meet. There wasn’t too much drama or romance involved, and while there weren’t any shocking plot twists, my interest didn’t wane and I was pleasantly surprised that the author didn’t fall into some of the typical boxes that I would have put her in at the beginning. This novel turned out as a fun, fluffy, satisfying read that, with the culinary twist, was very refreshing.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Recommend it? 100%

Other Books By the Author: Kathryn Williams has also written several other YA novels including The Debutante and The Lost Summer. Take a look!

ARC Review: The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

How did I get it? Netgalley

Genre: Science fiction, dystopian

Synopsis: “Cat, this is Finn. He’s going to be your tutor.”

Finn looks and acts human, though he has no desire to be. He was programmed to assist his owners, and performs his duties to perfection. A billion-dollar construct, his primary task is now to tutor Cat. As she grows into a beautiful young woman, Finn is her guardian, her constant companion…and more. But when the government grants rights to the ever-increasing robot population, however, Finn struggles to find his place in the world, and in Cat’s heart.

Review: Okay, so first things first. This? This was beautifully written. Like, crack-your-heart-open-and-make-you-bleed kind of beautiful. Every word had thought behind it, every character was real and complex and emotive. This is a book that you have to take a break from every once in a while to just lay there while your brain takes it all in. It’s powerful and poignant and deep, and it’s like reading something vast and tiny at the same time, a small story that feels big.

The main character, Cat, is someone with a plethora of faults, which in my case made her more relatable, although I can see how she might grate on some people’s nerves. Her journey through life is very tumultuous and she makes a ton of mistakes, but I liked that about her, and she certainly isn’t the only one with issues in this book. Her parents, her friends, and the other people around her have their own flaws, and I really enjoyed how much thought Ms. Clarke put into every single character. I grew especially fond of Finn, which is probably due in part to my love of the awkward-male-turtle role, but Finn really did make my heart ache. Reading about Finn’s struggle to understand his surroundings and his own capacity to feel made me think about human nature and emotions, and how powerful they really are. How ironic that a robot should be the one to teach readers about humanity.

***SPOILER***

One thing that I didn’t care for was the plotline concerning Cat’s marriage. For one, a lot of Cat’s interactions with Richard made her seem, well, catty. And also, while I understand this part of the story is crucial, I didn’t like the way it was done. Richard’s character was horrid, yes, but it didn’t feel authentic. His violence and mistreatment of Cat were done in a way that made me feel like the author was just saying her lines, and there was nothing raw or cutting in their final interactions. Cat’s behavior toward Richard seemed like a shallow effort by the author to show her strength of character, as though by publicly embarrassing him or saying “You hit me, so I’m divorcing you” automatically makes her a woman of steel when in reality, it felt like there was very little thought behind Cat’s actions, like the author was shoving words in her mouth and situating her just how she liked.

***END SPOILER***

I don’t read books like this very often simply because I end up walking around for the next week with a hangover. It’s a lot to take in, and it’s very draining, especially in my case since I read it in a day. But at the same time, this book was completely and totally worth the energy. The author put such care into it, and it’s so stunning both stylistically and thematically that even if I didn’t like the story, I would love the book anyway for the writing.

Rating: 5 stars

Recommend it? Yes

Other Books By the Author: Cassandra Rose Clarke has also written a YA series called The Assassin’s Curse, which from what I can tell looks pretty awesome.

Review of “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” by Chris Hedges

Genre: Nonfiction, philosophy, war

Synopsis: As a veteran war correspondent, Chris Hedges has survived ambushes in Central America, imprisonment in Sudan, and a beating by Saudi military police. He has seen children murdered for sport in Gaza and petty thugs elevated into war heroes in the Balkans. Hedges, who is also a former divinity student, has seen war at its worst and knows too well that to those who pass through it, war can be exhilarating and even addictive: “It gives us purpose, meaning, a reason for living.”

Drawing on his own experience and on the literature of combat from Homer to Michael Herr, Hedges shows how war seduces not just those on the front lines but entire societies, corrupting politics, destroying culture, and perverting the most basic human desires. Mixing hard-nosed realism with profound moral and philosophical insight, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning is a work of terrible power and redemptive clarity whose truths have never been more necessary. (Taken from Goodreads)

Review: I’ve been on a nonfiction kick this summer, which is lucky for me as my summer reading for AP Lit this year consisted of war books, one of which was War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. I enjoyed this book, despite my original trepidation. It made me think about a lot of assumptions and beliefs instilled in me by American culture and it really opened my eyes to the truth and reality of war as opposed to the “myth of war” that Hedges describes. Knowing his background, I could ignore the slightly overdone language when needed, but the author has a very nice way with words for the most part, and I found myself tearing up at several points in the book.

It also, rather surprisingly, has affected my own novel. There is certainly violent conflict in some portions of the story, but it hadn’t even occurred to me to think about the psychological aspects that accompany war when it comes to my characters. War Is a Force gave me a clearer view of the realities of any violent situation and helped me cement in my mind how I will approach fighting and battle scenes in Star Kings. We’ve all been exposed to cultural icons such as LOTR, “Braveheart”, “300”, and “The Patriot”, to name a few, and it never occurred to me personally that there was any other way of portraying war. Chris Hedges, however, has made me consider more fully how I want this part of my story to go, and I have a feeling this awareness of the nature of war will be invaluable when it comes to writing those scenes.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Recommend it? Absolutely.

Review of “City of Bones” by Cassandra Clare

Genre: YA fantasyCity of Bones cover

Synopsis: When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder — much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Clary knows she should call the police, but it’s hard to explain a murder when the body disappears into thin air and the murderers are invisible to everyone but Clary.

Equally startled by her ability to see them, the murderers explain themselves as Shadowhunters: a secret tribe of warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. Within twenty-four hours, Clary’s mother disappears and Clary herself is almost killed by a grotesque demon.

But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know….

Review: I read this book, and its sequel, in the hazy wee hours of the night during freshman year. When I decided to start the series over, partly because the movie is coming out in August ERMAGAHD, I remembered loving it, and I remembered an adorable gay guy, but that was about it. So I started reading with a fair bit of optimism, and I wasn’t let down.

Cassandra Clare has a writing style that could satisfy the vast majority of age groups, though it is geared toward a teenage audience. She has characters and plotlines that most YA writers wouldn’t dare to attempt: a (very adorable) gay relationship between a closeted Shadowhunter boy and an 800-year-old flamboyant warlock, a *SPOILERS* not-really-but-it-seems-like-it incestuous couple, disturbingly creative methods of murdering people, etc… As a writer and as someone who maintains the motto “as long as you’re happy and your actions aren’t hurting anyone (including yourself), it’s your life”, I really appreciate Ms. Clare’s fearlessness and sensitivity toward more controversial issues (although I have to eyeroll at the thought that who someone loves and/or sleeps with is something people feel the need to argue about, because frankly, it’s none of your damn business, but that’s another issue).

I did have a few problems with this book however. For one, the main character Clary gets on my nerves constantly. Her character doesn’t flow very well, she’s childish, she can’t open her damn mouth without saying something thoughtless, and she is completely unaware of her own looks. The last bit irks me because it’s so ridiculously overused, and her lack of confidence sometimes makes me want to drown her in pickle juice. But she does have great moments, and she’s a fairly dynamic character, although I would’ve liked to see a bit more character development (ie, I want her to freaking GROW UP and act like an intelligent life form once in a while).

Also, I would’ve liked Valentine (the oh-so-dreadful villain) to be a little more original and less like a blond, better-dressed version of Voldemort. While I understand how he became who he is in the book, his backstory didn’t really grab me, and he still felt pretty one-dimensional to me by the end.

But, flaws aside, I enjoyed this book a lot and I recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of this genre. While Clary doesn’t grab me, most of the other characters do (especially Jace *swoon*) and I’m willing to look past her shortcomings in hopes that the following books in the series will spice her up and make her more likable.

Rating: 4 stars

 

Review of The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

**Warning: One or two spoilers**

So I read this novel, The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, on Tuesday in one sitting, which I honestly haven’t done in a long time. I’ve seen the movie twice already, and I’ll be pre-ordering it on Amazon in the next few days (if you’ve been reading my blog, you probably know that I fell harder than diamonds for that movie).

What’s interesting about the book/movie relationship is that Stephen Chbosky wrote the book with a film in mind, and he produced, directed, and wrote the script for the movie version, which is a secret, far-away dream of mine. So I was really excited about reading Perks and seeing if it was as good as/better than/worse than the film, only to discover that any comparison is pointless. They are both incredible in different ways, and trying to pick one over the other is like trying to pick a favorite snowflake.

The novel, short at just over 200 pages, is written in a letter format, and I quickly grew to love the way Charlie, the main character, expresses himself on the page. For such an age, he is remarkably thoughtful and observant, and the way he sees the world and life around him is so refreshing. He made  me laugh one minute and cry the next, and I don’t do either easily when reading.

I was also very happy to see Patrick included and given a significant role in the story; I’m a huge support of LGBT rights, and to know that Perks has been a YA bestseller despite having a leading character who is gay (flamboyantly so) warmed my heart. Patrick is, I must say, one of my favorite characters, both in the movie and the book. Not only is he an incredible friend to those he cares about, but he has issues that many people can relate to and sympathize with. I teared up several times during a few of his scenes, especially the one in the cafeteria.

Sam was everything I hoped she’d be, strong and flawed and beautiful, far from perfect but still someone I can’t help but admire. She’s been through so much and she’s still standing, keeping her heart and mind open and never giving up.

This novel is so powerful because it is fearless. There is suicide, drug and tobacco use, sex, teen drinking, homosexuality,  physical and sexual  abuse, and dangerous amounts of good music, good books, and good advice. I can imagine many parents would find faults in its content, would protest their children reading such a scandalous book, but even though I personally don’t agree with many of the things the characters do, this novel merits not only respect, but appreciation. It is a coming-of-age story, an honest, fresh look of that crazy time between adolescence and adulthood, and it does it with a style that’s both whimsical and somber.

If you are willing to take a chance, try this novel. You may or may not love it, but you will certainly be affected by it.

As for me, it is and will remain among my list of favorites. Thank you, Stephen Chbosky, for giving us your words.