Friday, April 29, 2011

TGIF: Series vs. Standalone Novels

Today at GReads! it is TGIF time. Have an opinion about today's question? Go to her site and link up to take part!

Today's question is: Standalone vs. Series: What's your stance?

Honestly, it depends on the book and the series. I'm completely fine with a book being a series, but it is true that it's hard to find the standalone novel right now. I love those as well, and it's nice to know that authors won't go changing things on you after you finish a story, especially if you loved it. Also especially if you were only lukewarm about it.

That's one of the biggest problems for me with it. If I liked a book okay and then find out there is another one after it, I might feel obligated to read it to see what happens. It makes it more tedious for me, knowing that I have ANOTHER book I feel like I should read. It's like an auto-add to your TBR and I'm not always okay with that.

Another problem I ran into recently is I received ARCs from a publisher only to discover two of them were later books in series. So now I have to go out and get the first books both series in order to read these ones I was sent!

I appreciate series and enjoy following the lives of characters I like, but right now it's overkill. I don't want every single book I read to be part of a series, and I wish there were more standalone novels out there right now.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Audiobook Review: "Revolution" by Jennifer Donnelly

Title: Revolution
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Publisher: Listening Library, 2010 (print version available from Delacourte Books for Young Readers)
Narrators: Emily Janice Card (Andi) and Emma Bering (Alex)

Andi is spiraling down. It's been two years since the death of her brother, which she blames on herself, and her mother is slowly losing her mind. Andi is constantly fantasizing about her own death, imagining the one step she could take to end all the pain. She tries to use her music to forget, but she can't play her guitar forever, try as she might. She doesn't even want to attempt to graduate. But her father, who is more concerned with her going to a good school (not for music) than with her as a person, drags her along to Paris with him when he goes for work.

Though sullen at first, Andi eventually finds the diary of a girl named Alexandrine Paradis, who wrote during the thick of the French Revolution and took constant risks for the benefit of one small boy locked away in a tower. Told as a story within a story, we see Andi's trials in modern-day Paris and those of Alex, and how they weave together against all odds.

So, first things first. I listened to this on CD, so my experience is probably very different from that of the person who just read the book. I was instantly put off by Andi's voice and Emily Janice Card's narration; Andi seemed over-the-top angsty, even for someone as grief-stricken as she is. I was annoyed, frankly, which sounds cold, but it's true. I was also distracted by Card's English accent when she narrated for Nick, a minor character in the beginning. This was all I could think of (skip to 2:30). That said, Card did have some wonderfully performed sections, most notably when Andi is in the deepest part of her grief and it starts to consume her.

However, once I got over that, I started to really like the story and how the two girls' lives fit together. There is so much history in here, so much I never learned about the French Revolution. Oh yeah, and about music. There is a lot of music in here, as Andi is very serious about it. I do wish there had been a note in the audio somewhere (not sure if there was one in the actual book) about how the composer (Malerbeaux? No idea how to spell it since I only heard it) is fictional. I found that out later in a Publisher's Weekly review.

My favorite parts were Alex's. Bering does an excellent job at her narration, even if I thought she sounded a bit too old at first. Her accent adds much to the performance (she's French, so I'm assuming it's real), and her characterizations are distinct and incredibly fitting for each person to whom she gives a voice.

And let's talk about Virgil for a moment. He is just awesome. So cool, and so incredibly intelligent about music and life. Plus he's the only person who could penetrate Andi and get to the heart of her. I must admit, Card's French accent is excellent as well, and she puts it to good use with Virgil (pronounced "Veer-zheel" in the recording) and the other French characters.

At times the narration seemed to drag a bit, and I felt like the book could have been shorter—I wouldn't have minded one less CD. But I enjoyed listening to this for the most part, aside from the gripes I mentioned above. If you don't think you have the time to sit down and actually read this, it would be worth getting the audio version and listening to it on your commute (or wherever else you listen to audiobooks).

Disclosure: I got this audiobook on CD from my local library.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Review: "What My Mother Doesn't Know" by Sonya Sones

Title: What My Mother Doesn't Know
Author: Sonya Sones
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2001

Happy National Poetry Month! Here's a little something to give you your poetry fix.

What My Mother Doesn't Know is a verse novel, narrated by 14-year-old Sophie. She tells us her story of that particular time in her life; she meets boys and has boyfriends, she has a tumultuous relationship with her mother and an almost nonexistent one with her father, and has two very close best friends.

The poetry is lovely, though at times I didn't see how the free verse helped move the story forward. It worked much of the time, with the line breaks being just perfect, but there were points when it felt like this part of the story had to be told as a poem since the rest was—it filled in information we needed to know, but the free verse seemed unnecessary. Some of the poems had rhyme schemes, which was nice and different to see, and one had a shape to the words. I always like when poets to play with form like that.

Sophie deals with a lot during this half year in her life. She has one boyfriend, meets another (sort of), and then (possibly) another. But it's not like she's boy crazy—it all seems very natural and normal. Plus Sones isn't afraid to talk about things like sexual desire (not sex, at least in this book), which might be why she's been banned so often, even if the situations in the book are pretty tame.

I did enjoy the bits with Sophie and her mother. I got just as angry at her mother as she did, and I wish I could have jumped into the story to help them. But yet, her mother was very human and showed multiple sides that made it impossible for me to hate her. I'm glad we got to see this relationship develop a little.

This was an honest look at the life of a girl blooming into maturity and discovering all the sides of love—the love between a mother and child, between friends, and between a girl and a boy. What My Mother Doesn't Know is a sweet coming-of-age story as well as a quick read.

Disclosure: I got this book (with the pretty new cover) at my local library.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Review: "13 Little Blue Envelopes" by Maureen Johnson

Title: 13 Little Blue Envelopes
Author: Maureen Johnson
Publisher: HarperTeen, 2006

Ginny is an average girl. Quiet, shy and as normal as you could be. So when she sets off to London under the direction of her recently deceased runaway aunt, it takes her by surprise. This is completely out of the ordinary, but then again it's right in line with what she should expect from Aunt Peg, who ran off to Europe years earlier. Following the directions of letters in blue envelopes that her aunt wrote before she died, Ginny goes on a tour that starts off in London and takes her across the continent. Along the way, she meets some old friends of her aunt's, some new friends of her own, and a fun and funny English guy, of course.

I loved reading about Ginny in all the different countries; in fact, I was swept away immediately when she first set foot in London. Having spent a semester there, I fondly remember many of the places and sites Ginny saw and visited. It's also great for people who haven't been to any of these places, since Johnson does such a great job at setting the scene. It's a European tour from your bedroom (or backyard, or wherever you're reading it).

Johnson has a very gentle tone to her storytelling, and it was a nice change. Most of the YA I've recently been reading has been, for lack of a better word, tense. But the third-person narration (also a nice change) was unhurried and relaxing. That's not to say nothing exciting happened; it was just written in such a way that lacked urgency, which I found to be a good thing.

All of the characters were great fun to read about, whether it is the mischievous Keith, the nutso artist Mari, or the houseboat-dwelling Knud. I found myself smiling a lot while reading about them all.

Throughout, there is also the sadness Ginny feels about her aunt, who disappeared without so much as a goodbye. Because she was absent so long, her death doesn't quite feel real to Ginny at first, and we see the progression of her grief as she travels around Europe.

I'm looking forward to the sequel, The Last Little Blue Envelope, which will be released on Tuesday. I'm eager to see what happens to Ginny in this last adventure her Aunt Peg will send her on.

Also, for a limited time, 13 Little Blue Envelopes is a free e-book for both Kindle and Nook. I'm guessing it's free for Sony too, but I'm not sure where to look for that link.

Disclosure: I got this e-book for free from

Friday, April 22, 2011

TGIF: Explicit YA

Every Friday at GReads!, Ginger hosts TGIF and asks us a question relevant to the book and blogging world.

This week's question: Explicit Material: How do you feel about explicit language and/or sexual content in YA books?

I feel like every story is different. So long as the author stays true to his or her characters and world (be it fantasy or teens in high school), I don't have too much of a problem with a little bit of cursing or sexual situations.

That said, I don't like to read material that is obviously just gratuitous. Not all teens are having sex; everyone does not do it, and that was something I wish I had known back in high school.

I suppose I don't like too much swearing either... I know it is completely realistic for swearing to be gratuitous (I used those words far more often as a teen than I do now), and it's completely reasonable and natural for them to be in YA books. But I don't want to see one in every sentence. Then it might start to get away from the actual story.

So to sum up, I don't mind that kind of stuff being in the YA material I read. It will bother me if it's completely unnecessary and the author just seems to be using it to get "cred" with teens or because they think that's the way all teens act and need to include it, forcing it in. I just like some balance in there—not all teens are the same and that should be reflected in their literature.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Silent Auction items that might be of interest to you all.

Hi all! So I met this awesome lady last week who works for Pine Street Inn, a pretty prolific charity that caters to the homeless in and around Boston. Most of the people there are just kind of ignored in society (be it for mental illness, alcoholism, drug addiction, whatever you can think of) and they won't turn anyone away.

Right now they are having a silent auction online with some pretty awesome items up for bid (for the Boston area), including a $50 gift card to Brookline Booksmith and a meal with Arthur Golden (yeah, the same one that wrote Memoirs of a Geisha. That Arthur Golden).

Here's a link if any of you are interested!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Movie review: "Jane Eyre"

For those of you who are wondering about the new adaptation of the great Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, let me give you a quick rundown. For those of you who haven't read the book, you might not understand some of my references, so you could probably just skip to the final paragraph for my final word.

Many of you know the story. As a young girl, Jane, despised by her living relatives, is sent off to a cruel boarding school where she at least gains enough education to later become a governess. Governess to the ward of one Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester, who is not the most handsome of men but dreamy in that broody moody Gothic lit way. Jane keeps all emotion out of her affairs with others, as they never seemed to help her before, until Rochester admits the unthinkable: he loves her! But a terrible secret is revealed, and Jane must make the biggest decisions of her life.

Okay, so I have to admit, when the movie started I looked over to my friend (who also loves the book) and said, "What the hell is going on?" We open with a clearly upset Jane who eventually ends up sobbing in the grayish British moors, for no apparent reason. What part are we on, I wondered? Is this supposed to e 12-year-old Jane running from the house of her awful cousins? No, it's not—it is 17-year-old Jane, surprise! And she is running away from Thornfield. Far too early.

You see, the people of Focus Features decided to kind of tell the story in flashbacks. Jane is telling parts of her story to the Rivers (you'll find out who they are, sort of, by the end of the movie/book). But after my initial confusion on this front, I started to get into the movie a bit more.

I loved the casting they did. Sure, Rochester might have been a bit too pretty, but he wasn't too good-looking or too old. And Mia Wasikowska is lovely. I thought she did an excellent job in her portrayal, and her looks fall right into one would expect for Jane. At least they did for me. And Dame Judi Dench!!! Score right there. Also, Amelia Clarkson, who was little Jane, did a great job. I hope she has a career ahead of her, she's got some talent.

I know it's hard to do justice to a tome like Jane Eyre, but a one-and-a-half hour movie just doesn't cut it. The movie felt too condensed; Jane's childhood was glossed over, with parts completely cut. And and IMPORTANT scene with a VEIL was cut too!! I was a little upset about that.

But again, considering they couldn't make this five hours long, I thought this was a good adaptation of the novel, though of course it is no substitute for reading the book itself. So much is missed with just the movie.

Final word: If you have read and loved the book, this is worth seeing, though you could probably just wait to get it on Netflix or the library instead of dropping $10. If you haven't and are too lazy to read it, at least you'll get the gist of the story. But if you have the time to read it, do it—it's a much more fulfilling experience.

Review: "Bumped" by Megan McCafferty

Title: Bumped
Author: Megan McCafferty
Publisher: HarperTeen, 2011

Note: This title will not be published until Apri 26, 2011.

Set in a very near future (2035), the world of Bumped by Megan McCafferty is a world where only teenagers can have babies because of a Virus that prohibits anyone over the age of 18 from conceiving. As a result, teenagers are not only needed but enthusiastically encouraged to have lots of sex and babies. In fact, it's common for teens to "go pro," or enter into contractual agreements with older couples who want children. Preteens and young girls buy FunBumps, or fake bellies. Teens have masSEX parties that are basically orgies in hopes that the girls will end up pregnant. Popular songs talk about sperminating etc. And there is a lot of language that we would mostly find gross, but are normal here.

The main plot is told alternately by Melody and Harmony, twin sisters who were separated at birth and recently reunited with each other. Melody grew up in the pregnancy-worshiping world, while Harmony grew up in a very strict and isolated Church community where early marriage and procreation are highly valued. Melody has signed a pregnancy contract and is waiting to be paired with someone to "bump" with (you figure out what that means), while Harmony wishes to convert her newfound sister and save her soul by stopping her from doing this. As might be expected, things don't go according to plan and there are a few major cases of mistaken identity.

A lot of people have been buzzing about Bumped in the blogging world. Most of the reviews I've seen so far are lukewarm at best, but I think McCafferty deserves more credit than she seems to be getting. I think she handles the satire very well. I've read about people being uncomfortable with the glorification of sex and pregnancy, but it's not that far off from what we're experiencing in our own society. Though it might not be with explicit sex, girls are certainly gaining knowledge of sexuality earlier and earlier. If you doubt this, just take a look at this Jezebel post about Kotex's new line of maxipads aimed at 8- to 12-year-olds. No joke.

I also wasn't as grossed out by all the semen and pregnancy puns and phrases thrown around in typical conversation. In fact, the language kept me engaged in the text. I doubt many teens will be too put off by it, either—it's just a part of this world that McCafferty has created. And it's beyond clear that McCafferty is in no way endorsing sex or teen pregnancy. This is a future in which a new way of living is forced upon everyone, but most especially teens and, in particular, teen girls. Yes, it's disgusting, but that's the point.

In any case, this was a short read with a lot to say. However I was not impressed with all of it. I could not believe that this was all taking place in 2035, a mere 24 years into the future. It was easier for me to ignore this detail while reading. I also was not a huge fan with how religion is treated in the book.

Perhaps the biggest question for me is this: How does the LGBTQ community fit into this society? I'm betting teens are not allowed to be in these relationships or to explore these possibilities in their lives. It's briefly touched upon, but only very briefly. I'm pretty sure this will be explored more fully in the sequel(s), but it was something I wondered about while reading.

Bumped is not going to be for everyone, but it's not without merit. I foresee a lot of challenges in this book's future because of its content; I'm sure it will be deemed "inappropriate" by many. But I think it's worth checking out. It will certainly be unlike any of the other futuristic (I blanche only slightly from calling this a dystopia) books popular at this point in time.

Disclosure: I received an e-galley of this via NetGalley.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Audiobook Review: "Half Brother" by Kenneth Oppel

Title: Half Brother
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Publisher: Brilliance Audio, 2010 (print version available from Scholastic)
Narrator: Daniel di Tomasso

After being dragged across the country from Toronto to Victoria, Canada, Ben's thirteenth birthday isn't what one might call normal. You see, the reason he was dragged across the country arrives on that day—a tiny bundle of chimp they name Zan. Ben's parents are planning to experiment and study Zan by teaching him sign language to see if species other than humans can communicate with actual language. At first Ben wants nothing to do with the experiment and Zan, but gradually, as he signs with Zan, he begins to love him as he would an actual brother,—even if Ben's behavioral psychologist father sees Zan as only an experiment. But what will happen to Zan once the experiment ends?

I enjoyed this story. Ben really grows attached to Zan, loves him like a real brother, and it's truly touching to see what lengths Ben goes to in order to protect his little brother. Oppel also brings the serious issues of animal rights and ethical practices in working with animals to the table. This takes place in the 1970s, so there aren't as many concerns in Ben's or his parents' minds, or in the university's that funds the project, as there might be in today's world.

The secondary characters made the book for me. I loved Peter—a hippie-like dude who takes care of Zan in the best ways possible, and who can talk to Ben like an equal. Peter becomes a big ally for Ben, and a champion for getting what's best for Zan. It was also interesting to follow the relationship dynamics between Ben and both his parents. His dad tends to be jerkish and cold, but his mother is kind and gentle with both Ben and Zan, to the best of her ability.

I thought the whole Project Jennifer sideplot was hilarious. Ben has this huge crush on Jennifer, the daughter of his dad's boss, and so (in true scientist fashion) keeps a notebook he labels "Project Jennifer" and takes notes on her likes, dislikes, things he might say to her, etc.

I couldn't figure out it was taking place in the 1970s right away. It took me until after the first CD (or somewhere around there) to figure it out, from some sort of reference to the time. The beginning would have made a lot more sense to me had I known this from the start, since I was bothered by the fact that Ben's parents were just given a chimp like they were. I felt like no one thought about the potential dangers Zan would pose to his caretakers once he wasn't a baby anymore.

As for the audio, it wasn't that great. I felt like it was sloppily produced. It was clear at points that the actor had stopped recording one part and continued later, with a distinct vocal difference. At times it sounded like a different person talking, the difference was so pronounced. I didn't think di Tomasso put much emotion into the performance, and it fell flat as a result.

If the premise intrigues you, I would pick up a copy of Half Brother and read it; skip the audio version.

Disclosure: I got the audio version of this from my local library.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Rock the Drop today!

So you all know how I'm studying to be a teen librarian? Well, today is Support Teen Lit Day, a part of National Library Week. And readergirlz is hosting Rock the Drop, a day when all YA lit lovers spread the love! As I love teen lit like it's my job (oh, wait...) I have released two teen books into the wild.

This first book is ttyl by Lauren Myracle, great YA author and often found on top banned books lists! Automatically she is awesome. And this book is the reason she makes it on there, though it is a shame some people are deprived of it. It's written all in IMs, which is really fun, but deals with tough issues and growing up (apparently this is a good reason to ban books). I hope someone finds it who will enjoy it! It's on a bench in the center of Burlington, near the gazebo.

This second one is a mystery, Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams. I left this one in True North Cafe on Cambridge St. I hope someone who will appreciate it finds it!

Go ahead, world, spread the YA love today! Even if it's just reading a YA book or talking about them. Teen Lit Power!

Review: "Shine" by Lauren Myracle

Title: Shine
Author: Lauren Myracle
Publisher: Abrams, 2011

Note: This title will be released May 1, 2011. That said, I've seen it for sale in stores, so who knows.

Cat hasn't spoken to her once best friend, Patrick, in years, ever since an incident that caused her to stop talking to pretty much everyone. But when Patrick, who has not made any efforts to hide his homosexuality in their small Appalachian town, is the victim of a brutal hate crime, Cat thinks she knows who did it. She also knows justice won't be served in Black Creek, and resolves to find the perpetrator at any cost. But as she digs, she's learning much more about her community and the people in it than she thought she would, in addition to having to revisit and start resolving what happened to her three years earlier.

Not for the faint of heart, Myracle gives us a true-to-life and bluntly honest look at life in rural Appalachia. Cat's town of Black Creek is a place of addiction, alcoholism, school drop-outs, and poverty. It's also a place of secrets, ones that most of the people in the small town want kept secret. The characters mostly want to sweep the unseemly parts of their lives swept under the proverbial rug, unless it's really juicy gossip they can share at church. But for those involved or affected, they usually just look the other way.

Cat has looked the other way for too long. After a sexual assault, which two members of her family witnessed and said nothing about, she has learned to block out the rest of the world. But as she tries to help a comatose Patrick, she begins to gain confidence and becomes what one character calls "fierce"—a term she is surprised to find she not only likes, but agrees with.

I loved how Myracle slowly reveals what happened in Cat's past and what is going on in Black Creek. Suspense is ever present, and once the momentum gets going, boy, does it really get going. Twists and turns are everywhere, and I was honestly surprised at how things progressed, though I did guess what happened a while before Cat did.

The foreshadowing is incredibly subtle, and I wondered at some points if it was too subtle, if certain character traits or plot points were so understated that they were underdeveloped. In the end I think they were realistic, making for a more believable story.

Myracle's writing is, as I said earlier, blunt. She does not shy away from domestic abuse, drug addiction, bullying, intolerance, or the results of a severe beating. Her vivid descriptions provide a clear setting and atmosphere for the story being told. She also writes in the vernacular, adding to the authenticity of the story.

The LGBTQ themes in the text are relevant and topical, providing readers with a look at how ugly intolerance and gay bashing can be, especially in a small town.

This is a great page-turner, full of suspense and mystery. Yet it is also a well-done portrait of a poor Appalachian town and community, burdened by deeply buried secrets and the fierce desire to keep them hidden.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this e-book from NetGalley.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Rock the Drop!

So, remember how I told you about National Library Week? Well, YA lovers, rejoice, because Thursday, April 14 is Support Teen Lit Day! And the awesome readergirlz are hosting Rock the Drop, an initiative designed to help readers of teen lit spread the love.

Basically, on April 14, the idea is to take any YA book, put one of the nifty bookplates (available for download at the readergirlz site, linked above) inside, and let it loose into the wild. Leave it on a bench, at the mall, wherever, and hope whoever finds it will love and appreciate it as much as you. They're also encouraging everyone who does this to take a photo and send it to them (e-mail available on their post).

Oh, and did I mention that people who send in a picture will be entered into a drawing for the entire Ruby Oliver series by E. Lockhart? If that's not incentive, I don't know what is.

Spread the love, people!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

National Library Week!

Hooray for libraries! Free access for all!

So today kicks off National Library Week, which provides us all with a chance to take a moment and think about how awesome libraries are. I mean, free book rentals! It's like Netflix, but for books and free. And okay, you have to go pick them up. But still. FREE.

Not to mention all the things libraries provide for the community. Internet access for those who don't have computers, CDs, DVDs, audiobooks, magazines, a place to go to just sit and read for hours. Databases, if you're a student or a researcher. Historical documents if you live in a town with the means to keep them. A meeting place for clubs, groups and just a few friends who like to quilt and chat (yes, we have that group in Lexington). They're community centers and champions of the right of each individual to have free access to materials they might not be able to otherwise.

Right now I'm reading a lovely book about librarians and libraries, and how now more than ever we are needed in this Google-crazed world. It's called This Book Is Overdue! and it's by Marilyn Johnson, who, by the way, is not a librarian. And just look at this picture!

Superlibrarian to the rescue!

Anyway, I just wanted to bring attention to the fact that this is being celebrated this week. For a much better and funnier post about National Library Week and some cool facts about libraries check out my friend Nicole's post over at her blog, The Librarian in the Cupboard.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Review: "Paper Towns" by John Green

Title: Paper Towns
Author: John Green
Publisher: Dutton Books, 2008

Margo Roth Spiegelman is a legend. She has led mass TP-ing efforts; has gone to Mississippi for days with the only clue being the four letters M-I-S-P she left in her alphabet soup; has broken into many of the theme parks around her subdivision in Orlando, Florida. Quentin, known as Q, has loved her for pretty much his whole life. And so when she comes to his window around midnight with the proposal of helping her with a revenge-seeking mission, he only hesitates for a moment before agreeing. What follows is an incredibly awesome night.

But the next day, Margo isn't at school. After a few days it becomes clear that this isn't like when she ran off before. And then Q starts to find the clues. With his friends Ben and Radar, and the indispensable online user-generated encyclopedia Omnictionary, Q begins to piece it all together. But the closer he gets to an answer, the more nervous he gets. Where is Margo? And will he want to find her?

Let me just start out by saying John Green is one of the greatest teen writers of all time. I love him and the craziness he comes up with in his books. All of Margo's pranks? Pure genius. Not to mention the easily grasped philosophical musings Q has in his internal monologues. There's a lot of deep thinking going on here, and this in turn makes the reader consider his or her own life and the way they live it. In particular, how we all imagine others to be what we expect them to be without ever really getting to know them. Green keeps coming back to this over and over in the book, in a bunch of different ways.

Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" is a key part of the story and Margo's clues. Not only does he use it in a clever and incredibly useful way for the plot, he also does a lot of analysis with it that readers can actually begin to understand what Whitman is talking about (and believe me, that poem is not easy). How many readers went out and read some Whitman after reading Paper Towns? I know the answer is at least two—I did, and so did one of the (12-year-old!) girls in my teen reading group. This is awesome; I mean really, how many authors can get teens interested in American poets like Whitman? I feel like I'm a better person for it, and I actually learned something about poetry (sidenote: hooray National Poetry Month!).

The characters are so much fun. Ben is absolutely hilarious and completely over the top in pretty much everything, and Radar is a nerd-tastic Omnictionary-obsessed dude whose parents own "the world's largest collection of black Santas." No joke. Q is also very likable, but unfortunately his personality kind of pales in comparison to his even more eccentric friends. That said, their friendship might be the best part of the book in my opinion. The dynamics of their interactions and snappy dialogue make me all smiles—I certainly laughed out loud at parts (in public, I might add). I was glad to see so much of them in the story.

My only complaint is that, despite all his philosophizing, I feel like I didn't really get to know Q, or rather he lacked personality. At times it almost felt like Green was using him as a mouthpiece for his (admittedly outstanding) ideas. But this complaint is not enough to make me like this book less than I do.

About a year ago, I listened to this on audio, and I have to say the narrator, Dan John Miller, was ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC. All of his voices were different for each character, and his characterizations were superb. I would absolutely listen to this again.

Disclosure: I bought this book from for my personal library.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Review: "Jane Austen: A Life Revealed" by Catherine Reef

Title: Jane Austen: A Life Revealed
Author: Catherine Reef
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011

This title will be published on April 18, 2011.

Jane Austen is a part of literary history, with classic novels such as Pride and Prejudice and Emma finding their way not only into the classrooms, but into the hearts and minds of countless fans throughout the world. Her novels are not just romances—they describe everyday life for middle- and upper-class members of rigid English society during the Georgian period, the time in which she lived (around the turn of the 18th century). But not much is known about the woman behind these stories. In this compact biography, Catherine Reef gives us some insight into the life of this elusive literary figure.

Reef tells Austen's story chronologically, starting with her birth and ending with her posthumous novels and her legacy. We are given what facts are known to the world through the letters and diaries of Austen's family and through Austen's own letters, of which only a fraction survived after her death—her sister (and closest companion) Cassandra, for some unknown reason, decided to destroy most of them. Austen is given character, personality and ambition.

I especially liked how we learned of each of Austen's family members and their personalities. I had forgotten how many siblings she had, and I had never known anything about them, aside from Cassandra.

I also enjoyed the overviews of each of her novels, though if you haven't read them and don't want spoilers, I'd skip the synopses. Reef goes into the history behind each novel, and speculates about Austen's reasons for writing the stories as she did, though Reef makes it clear these are speculations. The author never assumes what Austen was thinking when she wrote certain things without some sort of proof from Austen's own life.

Not only do we learn about the famous authoress, we are given a context to Austen's world. Reef shows us each story as Austen's contemporaries and peers would have seen them. Words are defined according to Georgian standards, and the culture is explained thoroughly enough to give readers an idea of the kind of world Austen was writing about (and that she was writing in). A bibliography in the back provides further reading and shows the sources Reef consulted while researching Austen's life.

Images—including illustrations, movie stills (yes, including Clueless), and letters—are sprinkled throughout the pages with informative captions. The images certainly added to the text, both in understanding of the era and in sparking interest in Austen's works (even if it is in just the movies her books inspired). Plus who doesn't want to see a little Matthew Macfadyen as Darcy? I know I wasn't complaining.

This is a perfect introduction to Jane Austen and her time, and gives a great context for her novels. It would make a good addition to any course about Jane Austen, and would especially be useful for teens who are either learning about Austen in school or who just like her books. Short, simple and to the point, yet with all the information you need.

Disclosure: I received an e-copy of this book from NetGalley.
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