Sunday, December 30, 2012

My musings on New Adult fiction

Today on The Broke and the Bookish, I talk about my feelings about New Adult literature and why I think separating out a section in the bookstores and libraries of the world is unnecessary. Check it out!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Book review: "The Bridge" by Karen Kingsbury

Title: The Bridge
Author: Karen Kingsbury
Publisher: Howard Books, 2012

Molly Allen lives alone in Portland, living far below her means, as she is the heiress of an enormous corporation. Her job as head of a charitable organization is all she has, along with her cat; and every Black Friday, she has Ryan.

Ryan, once the guitarist for a famous country band, has found himself out of work since the band broke up. He has no idea what to do with his life now, but is sure he can find something. His father wants him to come back home to be the school's music teacher, but the memory of Molly keeps him from settling.

Both never forgot each other, and both thought the other married who they were expected to get married to. When the bookstore and its owner that brought them together is in dire trouble, they know they have to act. And it will bring them together again.

Okay, so if you're looking for a Christmas book that is pretty much exactly like a Lifetime Christmas special, this is it. I would classify it as religious fiction, since Christianity is a major theme. Personally, I enjoy that sort of thing, but I know it's not for everyone so if you don't like that, I'd skip this one.

There are really no surprises in this book, but I don't think anyone who reads this is looking for twists. It's predictable and comfortable, just like the Hallmark movies many of us watch during this time of year. There are misunderstandings that are spelled out for all of us readers, leading to major dramatic irony until the very end.

Oh, and there are also some Christmas miracles.

I don't know if I would have been able to finish this one if it hadn't been so short, but it was short. I was able to race through this in about a day or two, maybe 3 hours total of reading, so if you're looking for a safe, heartwarming, Christian story about the miracles of Christmas this is what you're looking for.

Disclosure: I received a e-book for review from the publisher via NetGalley.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Audiobook review: "Safekeeping" by Karen Hesse

Title: Safekeeping
Author: Karen Hesse
Publisher: Macmillan Young Listeners, 2012 (print available from Feiwel and Friends)
Narrator: Jenna Lamia

It's an unspecified year sometime in the near future, and the American People's Party has taken over the US government. When the new president is assassinated, the government starts to take control of everyone, arresting any person who expresses some form of rebellion or disagreement with the government. When all this transpires, Radley is volunteering in an orphanage in Haiti, but despite everyone else's warnings she desperately wants to get home to her parents to make sure they're all right. And so begins her journey.

After no one arrives to pick her up at the airport, Radley must think of a plan b, and soon. She decides to walk home, and what would normally be a 2-hour journey becomes one that lasts for days. She arrives home, only to discover a house that look abandoned. Her only option seems to be what she promised she'd do if she came to trouble: head north to Canada.

Radley begins as a naive, spoiled girl, only because everything she's ever needed or wanted has been provided to her by her parents. I have to be honest, at first I was irritated by her constant refrain of how her parents usually took care of everything, but it quickly becomes clear that she is willing to do whatever it takes to survive.

Eventually Celia comes into the picture. She is a loner too, though she has a dog named Jerry Lee, and the two form a tenuous and wary bond when Radley nurses Celia back to health from a fever. The two begin traveling together, slowly becoming friends. I honestly wasn't a big fan of Celia, but I appreciated the extra character and how their friendship leads to both of their growth and sense of family.

This is a very quiet book, despite the occasional tense scene. It's not the page-turner dystopian novel we've all come to expect, but for a patient teen, or perhaps one who isn't ready for the more violent novels in the genre, it may be worth it. I will say that since I listened to this on audio, I was deprived of the photography in the print version. They come in a pdf on the last disc, but clearly it's not the same as seeing it as you read it.

Speaking of audio, I'm sorry to say I am not a fan of Jenna Lamia. Period. I'd previously listened to her narrate Linger by Maggie Stiefvater and didn't like her then either. That's not to say she doesn't do a good job narrrating; I just really don't like her voice. It's too high-pitched for my taste, making her sound much younger than she or her characters actually are. I found her voice for Celia especially grating, which may be part of the reason why I never really connected with her as a character. That said, it wasn't awful, and I listened to the whole thing without many problems.

I am glad I listened to this, as it's a quietly powerful story of survival and hope, but I have heard better productions.

Disclosure: I got this audiobook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Audiobook Review: "Sapphire Blue" by Kerstin Gier

Title: Sapphire Blue
Author: Kerstin Gier
Translator: Anthea Bell
Publisher: Macmillan Young Listeners, 2012 (print available from Henry Holt & Co.)
Narrator: Melisa Calin

After finding out she and not her cousin Charlotte is the carrier of her family's time travel gene, and the fallout of this discovery in Ruby Red, Gwyneth Shepherd is back in this second volume of the trilogy, which takes place immediately after the first in the series. Gwyneth continues her quick training, basically dance and history lessons so she'll fit in when she goes back in time with Gideon, the other carrier in her generation, and continues to try to understand what the heck is going on and why no one will answer any of her questions. Everyone seems to know something she doesn't, and everyone seems to be distrustful of her—not because of anything she's done, but because of what they think she will do in the future. Plus she's got this prophecy about being the raven and the ruby that she has no idea what to do with. So she begins to do some of her own detective work with her friend Leslie, and a wisecracking ghost of a gargoyle named Xemerius who does some spying for her, seeing as how no one can see him and he can walk through walls and all. (If you'll remember from Ruby Red, Gwyneth can see and talk to ghosts.) But will she be able to figure out the secrets that everyone is determined to keep from her, and other deeper, darker secrets, before she loses her own life?

Word to the wise, don't read this book unless you've read Ruby Red, because you will have absolutely no idea what's going on. I had a bit of trouble considering I hadn't read the first book for at least a year when I began listening to this one, although Gier did do a good job of inserting reminders and quick explanations without it being like the first chapter of the Babysitters' Club books and completely rehashing the story in a few pages.

I'm still struck with how brilliantly Anthea Bell did her translation. The humor is in full force, just like in the first volume, and there were very few if any phrases that didn't work. It makes me wonder what Gier's original German was like! I guess unless I learn German I'll never know, but Bell's translation is pretty fantastic anyway.

The action is back too, with plenty of still-unsolved mysteries and yet-to-be-revealed secrets. A few things come out here, but the tension has increased by the end of the book and the stakes have been raised. (Who is the nefarious Count St. Germain, and what does he want?) We know things could go really wrong for Gwyneth. Really, that's all you can ask for a second book in a trilogy, so I'm not disappointed. Certainly I'm looking forward to book three, Emerald Green, for the big reveals and finales. I have my own theory about a few things going on.

The one thing that really wasn't my favorite thing was the romance. I don't really get the whole Gideon/Gwyneth relationship, but to be fair, Gwyneth doesn't really know either. It's explained sort of by the end, but I wish he weren't so rotten to her when he decides he doesn't want to be her friend. I felt really bad for her and understood her confusion about him.

Melisa Calin was a decent choice for narrator. There were times when her English accent sounded strange to me, like she was actually putting on an accent, but I got used to it as the recording progressed. She did a good job of giving different voices to different people and I didn't really have a problem figuring out who was talking. I did, however, have trouble figuring out if Gwyneth was saying something out loud or thinking it, and I often had to relisten to portions because I wasn't sure if everyone else had heard what she said or if it was in her head. But that's more the issue of not having a clue within the text, and isn't really anyone's fault.

All in all, the audiobook of Sapphire Blue was a fun experience, and the book itself is a great continuation of the story. I am really eager to find out what happens in the final volume! (Hint hint: Anyone with a galley, I'd love to borrow it.)

Disclosure: I received this audiobook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Book Review: "Fathomless" by Jackson Pearce

Title: Fathomless
Author: Jackson Pearce
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012

Lo is a woman of the sea, what one might call a mermaid (though she has no fins). She can't remember her life before the sea, just the vague thought that she had one. But she feels like she is happy under the water and tries to forget.

Celia is a triplet with the power to see a person's past with just a touch, though she feels her power is the most disappointing out of the three sisters—Anne can see a person's future, and Jane can see their thoughts in the present. Celia is shy and feels slightly useless compared to her sisters.

When the two girls meet and together save a boy from drowning, they discover how Celia can help Lo recall who she once was. But does Lo want to know? And what is the cost Celia will have to pay?

In this third installment of the Fairy Tale Retellings trilogy by Jackson Pearce, characters mentioned in the two previous books have their own story told. This isn't really a spoiler, so I'll tell you that Celia and her sisters are the much younger sisters of Silas from Sisters Red, and Lo is of course Naida, Sophie's sister from Sweetly. Finally the two stories come full circle, though that's not to say there isn't room for expansion down the road if Pearce decides to take that route.

I enjoyed the dynamics of the three sisters. Their mother is dead and their father has Alzheimer's, which is a terrible thing especially since they are only 17, so they are all each other has. It's very hard for Celia since she feels like the odd girl out, which leads her to take some risks she perhaps shouldn't when she discovers a use for her power. We see the sister relationships mature during the course of the book, giving more dimension to the characters in the process.

Fathomless rounded out what is now a trilogy very nicely. There was plenty of mystery and action, as Celia meets Lo at night on the shore and tries to read her past. We who have already read Sweetly basically know what has happened already, but it's still exciting to see Lo/Naida get there. One thing I really loved was how the perspective kept changing—first from Lo to Celia and so on, but then Naida had her own chapters as well. What made it really interesting toward the end was Celia not knowing which personality was in charge of Lo/Naida. It takes a bit of concentration to keep everything straight, but I didn't think there was anything too confusing going on.

If you've read Pearce's other fairy tale retellings or you like fractured fairy tales/modernizations of classic tales, this is a solid contribution to the genre. (By the way, this is Pearce's take on "The Little Mermaid.") I've found Pearce's retellings to be original and fresh, and this one is no exception.

Disclosure: I borrowed this copy from a friend.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

My review of "The Diviners" up on The Broke and the Bookish

Yesterday I posted my review of Libba Bray's The Diviners, a wonderfully creepy and thrilling story about supernatural and occult happenings and murders in NYC during the 1920s. You can check it out here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Audiobook Review: "Because It Is My Blood" by Gabrielle Zevin

Title: Because It Is My Blood
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Publisher: Macmillan Young Listeners, 2012 (print available from Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Narrator: Ilyana Kadushin

In book two of Gabrielle Zevin's Birthright series, we pick up Anya Balanchine's story after she is released from her summer incarceration at Liberty prison. This second installment had all the excitement and action of the first, as well as some great twists, but toward the end it fell victim to second-book syndrome.

Because of her prison time, Anya finds that not many schools will allow her to enroll with her checkered past. Eventually she finds herself in a situation she never envisioned herself in—she is sent to a different country, one where cacao is legal, to learn about how it is grown. But the longer she stays abroad, the more heated things get at home, until she must return to the life she has been condemned to live.

We come back into Zevin's futuristic America where chocolate and coffee are illegal and organized crime revolves around these two substances. I was struck by how much cacao's existence in this world mirrors marijuana's existence in ours, and I think that was what Zevin was aiming for, especially with some of the questions on the ballot in this upcoming election. It's an interesting parallel and does indeed make you think about illegal substances in our society, regardless of whether you believe they should be illegal or not.

The change of setting was welcome for me, as I'm not a huge fan of NYC anyway. Plus the new cast of characters that comes with the change of place is wonderful. Theo is my favorite character in the entire series so far now—love him. I'm interested to see where the next book will take us as far as the relationships between characters. Who will become allies, who will become enemies? It's pretty clear that Zevin has set up for something big in the next book.

That said, because of all the setup, the action tapered by the last pages of the book. We know something series shiz is about to go down, as Anya pretty much tells us so, but we are left with a short argument between Anya and another family member and then that's pretty much the end. Luckily the beginning and middle were gripping and full of action.

Ilyana Kadushin, as always, does an excellent job narrating Anya's story. Though her voices for other character's aren't always the most distinct, it doesn't really matter because Anya is the one telling it. Her narration is measured and calm, just what is needed for Anya.

I'm mostly looking forward to the next book in the Bloodright series, though I am also pretty apprehensive. I'm not a huge fan of violence, and I have the feeling there is going to be a lot in the next book.

Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher in exchange for an honest and fair review.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Book Review: "Ungifted" by Gordon Korman

Title: Ungifted
Author: Gordon Korman
Publisher: Balzer + Bray, 2012

Donovan Curtis has always been one to act before thinking. He'll just get this urge and act on it, and then he'll have to deal with the consequences afterward. But when his impulses lead to the accidental destruction of the middle school gym, he knows he's made a huge mistake this time. Luckily for him, an error works out in his favor and sends him to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction and away from the wrath of Superintendent Schultz, who has conveniently forgotten the name of the student he caught red-handed. Unfortunately Donovan is decidedly not gifted in the same ways his new classmates, all with extremely high IQs, are. Yet despite how clear it is he doesn't belong, he manages to figure out just what the self-described nerds need. He just needs to be able to fake his way through the Academy in order to stay there and out from under the watchful eye of the man looking for him.

This was a really fun look at what might happen if an average kid was thrown in a group of supersmart ones, though it was not without its flaws. Donovan really throws a wrench into the relatively normal proceedings of the Academy, which is admittedly far beyond what you would see in a regular middle school. I really liked how Donovan highlights this; the smart kids get all sorts of advantages and a very nurturing environment in which to work and learn, as opposed to the dismal surroundings and equipment found at his old school, Hardcastle Middle, where each grade has about 300 students. Korman shows how the way students are treated and the tools they have can really make a huge difference.

This story was told with lots of humor, too. This is my first book I've read by Korman, but I hear this is pretty typical of his work. The situations that Donovan gets himself into, and that the Academy students end up in, are pretty funny to read about. Plus the characters themselves are funny, both in manner and in the things they say.

One of the things I most appreciated about this book was how Korman wrote about a realistically pregnant woman in Katie, Donovan's very pregnant sister who ends up being a huge part of the plot. He does not shy away from the physical discomforts about being pregnant, such as the constant need to go to the bathroom, swollen ankles, the difficulty of moving around, etc. She is grumpy about her situation, and the fact that she misses her husband who is serving in Afghanistan only adds to her character and fueled my sympathy. It's rare that I read about a pregnant character who is engaging in the way Katie is, and who kids might be able to relate to. No, they might not be able to relate to the baby stuff, but her relationship with her brother is something any kid with a sibling can get. Plus, now readers will know a bit more about Human Growth and Development.

Yet this novel had its flaws too. I had trouble with the incredible stereotypical image given to the kids at the Academy. All are smaller and shrimpy, physically weak, and pasty from lack of sunlight. I understand that Donovan and his "normalcy" are at the heart of the book, but it kind of gives the message that supersmart people are all supposed to look and act a certain way. I'm also unsure as to the amount of diversity in the book, though there was little to no physical description of the characters so that could be left up to the reader to decide the ethnicities of the students—mostly all I had to go on was "pasty," which doesn't really lend me to think there are many (if any) students of color. I wish there had been more description, and character development actually. Only a handful of people had more to their character than how smart they were and their special talents. We occasionally got a first-person perspective from secondary characters, but many are left completely undeveloped.

Despite the issues I had with the characters, Korman manages to tell a fresh, fun story about how a person's ungiftedness might actually be his gift. It's a story of teamwork, friendship, and robots, which are always fun to have around.

Disclosure: I got this book from my local library.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Top Ten Books We Shouldn't Forget — Banned Books Week Edition

Red Epic Reads Badge

This week is Banned Books Week, and I have been trying to think of something to post about it. Luckily, this week's Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) theme is books we don't want people to forget, and that works just perfectly with Banned Books Week. The best books to remember are the ones others want you to forget.

1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Hands down one of the best, if not THE best, young adult novel I've ever read. If you haven't read it yet, do yourself a favor and do it this week.

2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. Another brilliant novel, which is also often challenged. In happier news, this was recently made into a movie and is in theaters now. I would really like to see it!

3. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. This is a classic in YA lit as far as I'm concerned. Who remembers the Scroggins challenge?

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I don't think anyone in America went through high school without reading this book, it is that much a part of American literature and our culture. A masterpiece, one that will never be forgotten.

5. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. The first in a series of historical fiction about a black family in Mississippi, in 1933. Needless to say, there is abundant racism, and it's been banned for language, yet how can we forget this time in history and ignore what happened? I listened to this on audio, narrated by Lynne Thigpen (I remembered her from the game show Carmen Sandiego), and it is excellent.

6. The Color Purple by Alice Walker. This is just a great book that I feel doesn't get enough attention anymore.

7. The Giver by Lois Lowry. Another classic in children's lit, now complete with the release of Son today!

8. Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause. An older paranormal romance, before they got truly eyeroll-inducing. I thought this werewolf story was very well done, with the ending I wanted (maybe not the one you would want, but I was happy with it). This one has been challenged for sexuality and unsuitability to age group.

9. Anastasia series by Lois Lowry. I've only read the first in this series, but it was so funny that it's hard for me to forget it. I really should continue the series.

10. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. This will forever be my favorite and have a place in my heart.

There you have it! My top ten favorite banned/challenged books that shouldn't be forgotten. I'm sure this list could be added to, because unfortunately many cases are made each year for banning or censoring books. Celebrate your right to read this week by reading one from this list, or really any book you want.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Book review: "My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece" by Annabel Pitcher

Title: My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece
Author: Annabel Pitcher
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company, 2011

Though his sister Rose died five years earlier in a terrorist bombing, Jamie's family can't seem to get past it. His mother has abandoned him, his older sister Jas, also Rose's twin, and their father for another man; his father has descended into alcoholism, drinking heavily in the morning and passing out for most of the day. The only person he has is Jas, despite his hopes that his mother will come back to them some day soon. As he begins school in a new place after they move to the Lake District, Jamie soon meets Sunya, the only Muslim in his class and the only person who seems to want to be his friend. His father hates Muslims because they killed Rose, but Sunya throws Jamie off balance with her kindness, when she sticks up for him at school, and with her attempts at friendship. Though this all confuses him, he tries his best to figure out the best way to act, how to get through each day, and how he can get his family to be a family again.

This is quite a heavy book. We start with the specter of a dead, and therefore perfect, sister who is basically worshipped by a grieving father, leaving his other two children ultimately invisible. It's really a story about a broken family, bad parenting, and the effects they have. Jamie and Jas must learn to live on their own and take care of themselves, as their dad cannot seem to function and certainly can't take care of his family in the constantly drunk state he lives in. For most of the book Jamie stays in the same Spider-Man T-shirt, and I could not believe no one made him change or at least take a shower. And poor Jas must live with being the remaining twin, unable to make a change in her appearance without getting hell for it from her parents who feel the need to cling to whatever part of Rose they can.

There is so much to this novel. Racism, eating disorders, bullying, alcoholism, abandonment, grief, loss. Yet all of it comes from Jamie, a 10-year-old boy who doesn't even remember the sister that is gone. He doesn't grieve for Rose, but rather for the mother he has lost and the father who can't make himself get out of bed in the morning as a result. Jamie can't even feel comfortable being friends with Sunya for a long time because of the incredible hatred his father feels toward every Muslim no matter who they truly are inside.

The characters are all really well developed. I loved Sunya, who is incredibly strong for going up against every kid in their Catholic school with a spark of mischief in her eye and a way at getting back at people for their misdeeds. Jamie, our narrator, is complex and has complex emotions about what has happened to his family, showing himself to be a victim of terrible circumstance and the grief of others. Jas is a wonderful sister, though not perfect. She takes care of Jamie as best as a 15-year-old can, but she still wants her own life and not one that she must share with a dead girl. Even Jamie's father, deadbeat that he is, has depth.

One thing I am unsure of is how middle grade readers will respond to this. Some will race through the pages once Jamie's forbidden friendship with Sunya begins, as I did, but I'm sure some will find it too heavy to stick with for long. Maybe I'm selling the intended audience short on this, but I guess I just feel like this wouldn't have been something I would have picked up when I was 12.

Has anyone else read this? What were your thoughts? How do you think middle grade readers will respond?

Disclosure: I got this book from the library.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Book review: "Guitar Notes" by Mary Amato

Title: Guitar Notes
Author: Mary Amato
Publisher: Egmont, 2012

Tripp Broody and Lyla Marks have both been assigned to Practice Room B during lunch. Tripp has the odd days, Lyla the even. Their friendship begins when Lyla writes a note asking the "Odd Day Musician" to please throw away his trash he left on the music stand. What follows is a note exchange that turns into a friendship with a guitar at the center of it.

Lyla is under enormous pressure as a classical cello player, taking after her mother, a professional player who died in a plane crash when Lyla was little. She doesn't really enjoy playing anymore, but puts on a smile and does what she's expected to do.

Tripp has had his guitar confiscated by his mother, who worries he's isolating himself and that his guitar has become his obsession. Tripp hasn't made any friends since his father died a few years ago and his best friend moved to Schenectady, and his grades have been suffering. In an effort to get back to the one thing that keeps him sane, he signs up for a practice room, provided the school can loan him a guitar, which they do but under the stipulation that it must stay in the practice room.

Both Lyla and Tripp have to deal with the loss of a parent, though they don't necessarily connect with this similarity. Lyla was very young when her mother died, so she doesn't grieve like Tripp or her father does. Instead, she is living in her mother's shadow and trying to fill her shoes, an enormous task that is almost oppressive. Because her father is so invested in Lyla's success as a cello player, she never has any room to be who she wants to be. Tripp, on the other hand, only lost his father a few years earlier after he suffers a brain aneurism. His father was the more involved of the two parents, and every year they went camping on a plot of land they owned. In fact, it was the last camping trip that led Tripp to start playing guitar, making the guitar one of the last connections he has with his father. I love that each character is affected very differently by their losses, and that they don't come together because of their loss, but instead because of their love for music.

Lyla and Tripp don't have a blossoming romance, or a fated connection. They just both need a friend who understands them and is willing to actually listen and share music. It is quite a blessing for both of them, since Tripp really doesn't have any friends and Lyla's only friend, Annie, is constantly in competition with her (she's a violinist) and never really seems to understand she needs time away from her. The duo begin to write songs together and separately, challenging themselves to become better musicians and better writers, and in the process become better friends.

The book itself is full of the notes, song lyric brainstorms, and text messages. I loved this addition. For someone who has never written a song or a poem, it's nice to see the thought process behind it. And I do love this new way to show dialogue in literature (yes, I know texting isn't that new, but it's not often that you see a whole conversation in a novel). Oh, and bonus: If you play guitar, there's an appendix that has all the songs, both the music and the lyrics.

This is a book about friendship, music, and the pressures of living up to the standards parents place on their children whether they realize it or not. It's a fast read, and a refreshing gem in teen lit.

Disclosure: I got this book from the library.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Top Ten Series I Haven't Finished

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

There are always those series that you start with the best of intentions to continue, but somehow other books come up first, or you're not in the mood, or whatever reason that keeps you from picking up the next one. Today's Top Ten Tuesday gives us all a chance to admit which series we've yet to finish.

1. The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness

I love these books very much, but I have yet to pick up the third book, Monsters of Men.

2. Divergent series by Veronica Roth

I just haven't gotten around to picking up Insurgent yet. But I am on the waiting list at the library!

3. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

I got as far as Voyage of the Dawn Treader and stopped about halfway through. I'm guessing someday I'll finish this, but maybe not sometime soon.

4. Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery

I got pretty far in this series, I think up to Anne of Ingleside, but not farther than that. I would really like to finish the series someday; I love Anne and her stories.

5. The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan

There's a story behind this one. I started listening to this on CD two years ago, right around the time I got my car. When I tried to load the CDs into the player, somehow they got stuck—turns out my car doesn't like it when CDs have labels on them. To make matters worse this was a library book, so I had to get them out of there. I ended up taking it back to the dealer, who got them out for me. I have finally started listening to this first in the series again and am almost done.

6. The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud

I loved the first book in this series, which I read at the beginning of the summer this year. It's funny and full of magic and dynamic characters. I own the second one on my nook, but I have not yet had the chance to start it.

7. Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series by Louise Rennison

Hilarious books, I just never got around to reading the later sequels. I did quite enjoy her newest, Withering Tights, too.

8. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams

I don't know if the humor is just not for me, or if two books were enough, but I really have no desire to finish this. I feel like I read enough.

9. The Monstrumologist series by Rick Yancey

I won the first two books in the series in some giveaway and read the first one last Halloween. It is incredibly well written, with language that reminded me of Victorian literature. Plus it's horror at its best. It's so much a horror book that I'm having trouble picking up book two—I really have to psych myself up if I'm going to read another of these.

10. The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger

Great paranormal steampunk series. I borrowed book 2 from a friend two years ago. TWO YEARS. I'm sorry Krista! I'll get it back to you someday.

Head on over to The Broke and the Bookish to add your top ten.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Book review: "52 Reasons to Hate My Father" by Jessica Brody

Title: 52 Reasons to Hate My Father
Author: Jessica Brody
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2012

Lexington Larrabee has grown up with everything she could possibly want: custom-made cars, private jets, mansions across the United States and Europe, designer clothing, the works. She just hasn't had much of a father, since her dad is the CEO and founder of Larrabee Media, one of the biggest media corporations in the world. She is counting down the days until her 18th birthday, when she will be given access to the $25 million trust fund in her name, allowing her to have her freedom from her father's estate and rules. But after a particularly bad car crash into a convenience store, Lexi's father decides she needs a bit more time and effort to earn her trust fund. He picks out 52 jobs for her, one per week for a year, before she can get that check. Jobs like being a maid, digging graves, working in a fast-food restaurant, and working at a caterer's. Lexi is horrified, and things are only made worse when one of her father's interns, Luke, has been assigned as her "liaison," or as Lexi calls it, her babysitter. She's going to have to figure out how to get through this next year without having things done for her or handed to her without question, and without going crazy.

This whole premise reminded me a little bit of that "reality" show with Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton, The Simple Life (remember that?). Except there are no cameras, no script, just Lexi, Luke, and each job. Along with each supervisor who has signed a NDA too, of course. Basically Lexi needs to let go of her pride and get down to the dirty work, most of the time literally. So, think The Simple Life crossed with Dirty Jobs.

Not only was this book really fun, I enjoyed watching Lexi's character develop throughout the novel. It's predictable that Lexi will change over the course of the book, otherwise there would be no real point, but it was still nice to see the gradual change. I especially liked how she reacted to her friend Rolando and his living situation, and what she took from that experience.

This would be a good read for people who enjoy living vicariously through books like Gossip Girl, without the shallowness. There is depth and growth in the characters, as well as some great dialogue and a plot with both humor and a bit of suspense. It's true there is some name dropping going on in here as well, which I usually can't stand, but fortunately the names being dropped are from more timeless designers and are much less likely to be dated in a few years.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to people who are looking for a quick, fun read and who enjoy reading about glamourous lifestyles, without having to sacrifice on the quality of the story.

If you're still not convinced, take a look at this book trailer.

And if you're wondering, I'm pretty sure this will be made into a movie sometime soon, if Brody's acknowledgments at the back of the book are anything to go by. Get excited.

Disclosure: I got this book from the library.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Book Review: "Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses" by Ron Koertge

Title: Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses
Author: Ron Koertge
Illustrator: Andrea Dezso
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2012

In this poetry collection, we see familiar fairy tales turned completely upside down and twisted to a barely recognizable transformation. Popular tales like "Cinderella" and "Little Red Riding Hood" coexist with less familiar ones like "The Robber Bridegroom," and "Godfather Death" in very dark modernizations and reimaginations. These are not stories you would want to be told at bedtime.

This is a very short volume, one I finished in under an hour. Unfortunately I feel like Koertge was looking to bring new meaning to the fairy tales, different messages to a modern audience, yet not always succeeding in making it as deep as it felt like he wanted to go. Some of the poems succeed more than others—for example, I found the stories told from the villains' perspectives to be illuminating and well done, like the stepsisters' story in "Cinderella" and the Mole's story in "Thumbelina." Others seem to be just modernizations with nothing new or that interesting to share, like "Bluebeard" and "The Frog Prince," or lack a clear message, like "Bearskin."

I have mixed feelings about this collection of retold fairy tales, but I would say if you are interested in them, you should give the book a shot. It's short and a very fast read. If you end up feeling like the volume is missing something, or want a poetry collection of fairy tale retellings with more substance, pick up Anne Sexton's Transformations, an excellent contribution to American literature and the poetry canon.

Disclosure: I got this book from the library.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Book Review: "Seraphina" by Rachel Hartman

Title: Seraphina
Author: Rachel Hartman
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers, 2012

You may have read some rave reviews of this high fantasy novel lately, and all of them were right. This is a wonderfully refreshing return to what fantasy should be, with a fully realized and well-constructed world and dynamite characters.

In Goredd, a tense peace exists between humans and dragons, the latter of whom can transform into human form. Seraphina, the new assistant to the royal music coordinator/conductor/composer, has the most dangerous secret she can have in this world: she is half dragon. Passing as fully human, she must hide what she is, something that is so unthinkable that humans and dragons alike cannot conceive that something like her can exist.

Right at the beginning of the novel, we discover a member of the royal family has been killed in a particularly draconian way. Because of her insight into dragonkind, taught to her by her tutor and relative Orma, she finds herself deep in the intrigue and conspiracy that follows the murder, all while trying to stave off visions and keeping the characters in these visions from driving her insane.

Set in a medieval fantasy world, Seraphina reminds me of the classic fantasy from days of old. It's not only incredibly well written, it seems to be very well researched as well. Hartman did her homework when it comes to instruments, tools, and other aspects of medieval life that she worked into Goredd and the countries surrounding it. I also found her construction of the religion of Goredd fascinating, though I'm not entirely sure I understand it—basically they worship a large number of saints and believe in Heaven, but no one deity. I'm hoping we learn more about it in the next book.

It's clear that dragonkind and humankind pitted up against each other is metaphorical for race relations in our world, and it works very well. Having to hide her parentage affects Seraphina in distressing ways, but it is inspiring and heartening to see how she handles it and uses it for herself and for her people. Again, I'm interested to see where Hartman takes this in the next installment.

Coupled with the carefully built world, we have a thrilling plot, mystery, and a bit of romance. Seraphina and Lucian Kiggs, the captain of the royal guard who is also a prince of the kingdom, investigate the murder of Kiggs's uncle, leading to some very dangerous situations. Seraphina also discovers things about her mother, dragon intrigue, and what she truly is a part of bit by bit through her visions and unexpected meetings at the palace. All through the book I wanted to find out who did what and what would happen next. I still want to know, since it's quite clear there will be a sequel, though the ending here is satisfying and no intense cliffhanger.

One note: There is a glossary and list of characters at the very end, which is nice to have. After reading through them, a few things were a bit clearer to me about the world.

Disclosure: I got this book from the library.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Book review: "The Grimm Legacy" by Polly Shulman

Title: The Grimm Legacy
Author: Polly Shulman
Publisher: Puffin Books, 2010

Elizabeth's new job is one she never thought she'd have. She works at the New York Circulating Material Repository, a lending library of sorts that loans out objects instead of books. She's delighted with her new position as page, one she got on the recommendation of her social studies teacher after she writes a research paper on the Brothers Grimm. And being the new girl at school coupled with a new stepfamily who treats her as a lesser, she is happy to have a place to spend her time. Soon she is let in on the secret, special collections that are kept in the basement, objects that come straight from the land of what she once thought was fiction. But all is not well in the magical world, and Elizabeth, along with her fellow pages, set off on a dangerous quest to stop the evil from destroying the Repository.

This book was recommended to me as a read-alike for A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, but now that I've read it I'm not sure why. The only similarities are the fantasy elements and the quest story, in addition to the main character's self disgust of her looks. However, I did really like the premise, and it's a great one: the Grimm fairy tales (along with other myths and folklore) actually did happen, and the Repository has some of the objects in its special collection, the Grimm Collection. Unfortunately, the execution left much to be desired for me.

I found the writing style overly simplistic, with a lot of explanation of the magical world, and the job of page itself, told through dialogue in the form of Elizabeth asking somewhat ridiculous questions and giving us the benefit of the answer. For example, when explaining the job of page, Elizabeth asks her coworker Marc something along the lines of, so am I a dishwasher or something? Marc rightly looks at her likes she's crazy, and she goes on to say it's because she was asked if she washed dishes at home in her job interview. Other things like this happen throughout the book, and it just made me crazy, especially at the beginning.

The exposition really bugged me too, which went mostly as I mentioned above. We learn that Elizabeth's mother passed away and her father, who remarried, is using all his money to put her stepsisters through college without leaving much for Elizabeth. I hated the way her stepfamily is the stereotypical fairy tale stock characters, pretty much straight out of Cinderella. This was most likely done on purpose, but I found it mostly unneccesary unless you count needing a reason for Elizabeth to not have her parents present at all in the story.

I also didn't really understand why Elizabeth disliked herself so much. She had no friends at all, as her best friend had conveniently moved to California, and she was often getting down on herself. This coupled with her irritating propensity to misunderstand pretty much everything (EVERYTHING) made me want to stop reading early on.

However, I kept at it, and it did eventually turn around a bit. The best part is by far the Grimm references and all of the objects from the tales, and the adventure portion is pretty good too. Elizabeth dials back the annoying-ness, and the ending doesn't have all the loose ends tied up quite yet (though most of them are). Once I got about halfway through the book it was pretty easy to finish, and I'm glad I did get all the way through.

This was a fun story with a great premise, just a bit of a lackluster execution. I'd say this is a good book for middle schoolers looking to read about teens and magic. It's all very tame, both in romance and violence, with enough to interest and engage.

Disclosure: I got this book from my local library.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Top Ten Favorite Books Since I Started Blogging

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Today's Top Ten Tuesday is the ten favorite books I've read since I started blogging, which was back in June of 2010. I decided to only count the ones I've reviewed, since I can't necessarily remember all of them. After going through my list, here are my favorites:

1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (this is cheating a bit since it was a reread)

2. Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol

3. Mockingbird by Katherine Erskine

4. Diamond Willow by Helen Frost

5. Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

6. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

7. 3. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

8. The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

9. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

10. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

And also because I think it would be close to the top too, Chime by Franny Billingsley.

Those are my top ten. Head over to The Broke and the Bookish to share yours.

Monday, August 20, 2012

My book review of "Liar and Spy" over on The Broke and the Bookish

In case you're interested, my review of Rebecca Stead's latest novel, Liar and Spy, is up on The Broke and the Bookish. Head on over to check it out!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Book review: "The Running Dream" by Wendelin van Draanen

Title: The Running Dream
Author: Wendelin van Draanen
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2011

Jessica is an all-star runner, on track to really make a name for herself in the sport, until a horrific bus accident takes away one of the most important things for her: her right leg. Now, she is unable to walk well, let alone run. At first she is in a very dark place, sulky and heartbroken. But eventually she realizes she needs to get back out in the world, and get moving again.

Told in the present tense, Jessica tells her story to the readers as it happens to her. She tells us about her rehabilitation, getting her prosthesis (fake leg), and the incredible support she receives from her teammates and peers, as well as her community at large. She also makes an unlikely friend in Rosa, a freshman with cerebral palsy who has difficulty communicating and needs a wheelchair to move, but who is brilliant at math. Jessica's journey of healing both physically and mentally brings together not only the people in her school to fight for her cause, it also unites her community around her goals.

Wendelin van Draanen's writing is incredibly realistic, and it is clear she did her research. Never was I left thinking something didn't sound right or feel unsure about the medical issues, the track lingo, or the problems that Jessica's family had with insurance. Everything felt authentic, including Jessica's struggle to accept this drastic change to her life and move on. She not only had to deal with the future of her running career, but also the day-to-day difficulties and worries, like if boys would ever find her attractive now.

I really appreciated the inclusion of Rosa in this book. van Draanen could have easily focused on Jessica and her recovery alone, but Rosa adds so much more complexity and richness to the story. Rosa often writes Jessica philosophical notes, which often ground her and help her to realize what she does have instead of what she's lost. The most important message we come out with is that we need to see the person, and not the condition.

Bonus: Oscar Pistorius is briefly mentioned, which I found really great since I had been thinking about him a lot while reading this because of his competing in the Olympics this year.

This was a great, realistic, inspirational read about overcoming seemingly impossible odds to meet your goals and to truly appreciate what you are given.

Disclosure: I got this book from the library.

Note: I started to listen to this on audio, and let me save you the time: Don't bother. I thought it was horrible and had to stop a few tracks in. I just couldn't stand listening to the woman narrating; it felt like she was overacting, plus she kept raising her inflection at the end of almost every sentence.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Audiobook Review: "Chomp" by Carl Hiaasen

Title: Chomp
Author: Carl Hiaasen
Publisher: Listening Library, 2012 (print available from Knopf Books for Young Readers
Narrator: James Van Der Beek

Wahoo Cray lives in the Everglades on what most people would call a zoo. His dad, Mickey Cray, is an animal wrangler, and takes care of animals like raccoons, snakes, and gators, including the enormous Alice. It is Alice that gets the attention of the survival reality TV show, Expedition Survival! They want to do an Everglades episode, and Wahoo takes the job on behalf of his dad. They need the money since Mickey got knocked in the head by a frozen iguana and started getting debilitating migraines and double vision as a result. And so they put up with Derek Badger, the show's idiotic, spoiled, and phony host. But things start to get out of hand when Derek insists on doing the show in the actual wild. Wahoo and Mickey meet and bring along Tuna, a girl with an abusive father who really wants to find her, and Derek ends up bitten by a bat and runs off into the Everglades on his own. It will be a miracle if they all get out of this alive.

I haven't read much of Hiaasen's work, just Hoot, but I already have an idea of the flavor of his writing. I'm guessing his adult novels are similar, with more mature subject matter and probably less animals. What I love about Hiaasen's writing is the fullness and roundness of all of his characters. He gives almost every character who enters into the story a background and a reason why they are the way they appear in the novel. Mickey is probably my favorite character out of them all—sure, he's Wahoo's dad, but he is such a part of the novel in a way that you don't necessarily expect adults to be in literature for children. Wahoo often has to watch after his father because he tends to let his mouth run when he sees something he doesn't like, but Mickey is also a very smart man with a strong desire to protect those who need it.

The story itself is something of a survival story, though not in the way the characters expected. With his signature humor, Hiaasen takes Wahoo, Tuna, and Mickey, as well as all of the other characters they meet along the way, on a thrilling and dangerous adventure full of tension and suspense.

James Van Der Beek does the narration, and he does a great job. It wasn't the very best narration I've ever heard, but it is certainly a job well done and very enjoyable. I appreciated how he didn't really give Tuna a high voice that sounded fake, and he did the accents pretty well. He really did a great job giving the different characters different sounding voices, especially one character named Link. There were just a few spots where I wish there were more pauses, but I think that had more to do with production and editing than with Van Der Beek's performance. Also, Dawson read me a story.

All in all, a very enjoyable audiobook experience with great characters and action. I'll be picking up another of Hiaasen's audiobooks for younger readers soon.

Disclosure: I got this audiobook from my local library.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Book Review: "The Boy on Cinnamon Street" by Phoebe Stone

Title: The Boy on Cinnamon Street
Author: Phoebe Stone
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2012

After a traumatic experience she can't remember, 13-year-old Louise moves in with her grandparents, quits gymnastics, changes schools, and starts calling herself Thumbelina. As someone who is only four-foot-seven, she feels she connects with that story best—and she can no longer be Louise. But when she begins to get notes and signals from a secret admirer, it opens up feelings that Louise isn't sure she understands, and might lead to some very well buried memories.

I have not read many novels that deal with memory blocking as the result of a traumatic experience, but I am glad I was briefly brought into this world through The Boy on Cinnamon Street. We are very slowly told what happened to Louise and her family, and why she can't remember it, through a day-to-day plot line of trying to figure out who Louise's secret admirer is and what she and Reni try to do about it.

On the surface, it's a fairly normal circumstance for young teens: someone thinks someone else likes you, and you need to figure out if you like them back and how to let the other person know you do. Louise, however, is a special case. She says she has never had a crush before except on Frosty the Snowman when she was 6, and so she is unsure if the feelings she has for who she thinks left the note are truly a crush, or if it's something else. We get hints throughout that there is more to this story, and we obviously know from the beginning that there is more than what is on the surface, but we must be patient and continue with the characters as they stumble through adolescence with the added burden of hidden grief.

Siblings Reni and Henderson are well rounded as supporting characters. Henderson is especially captivating. A nerd in the best sense possible, he is not ashamed or embarrassed of his intelligence, desire to learn, or his passion for writing. He is gentle and always smiling, and I would love to have someone like that in my life. Reni is a warm, kind, loyal, and Justin Bieber–loving (not everyone is perfect) best friend to Louise. Reni thinks she knows everything there is to know about crushes and takes the secret admirer mystery to a whole different level when she gets behind the wheel. There is also a lot behind both siblings, who have their own quiet issues to deal with at home. Reni is overweight to the point where diabetes is a threat, and she must live in the shadow of her older sister, a talented painter and poet who gets most of their parents' attention. Henderson in turn looks out for Reni when no one else really does, where it counts. It's a sweet relationship, and I really appreciated the added fullness to the story.

Somewhere in the middle of the story I was starting to get tired of waiting for the big revelation of what really happened on Cinnamon Street, where Louise used to live with her parents. I had a guess, but I was getting a bit impatient with Reni and Louise getting all hung up on a particular suspect, and I had doubts that younger readers would stick with it. It was certainly worth the wait in the end, though—what a powerful crescendo that led to the beginning of Louise's path toward healing. This is definitely a book you'll want to read near a box of tissues.

Disclosure: I got this book from my local library.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Book Review: "Lola and the Boy Next Door" by Stephanie Perkins

Title: Lola and the Boy Next Door
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Publisher: Dutton Books, 2011

Stephanie Perkins has this amazing ability to just get it and write it all down. I don't know how she so perfectly captures the feelings of crushes, young love, awkwardness, and the pain and hurt that come with rejection or not being able to have the one you want, but she's done it again.

Lola and the Boy Next Door is told from Lola's perspective. Lola is dating an older guy named Max, a 22-year-old lead singer in a rock band. Unfortunately her two dads hate him. Also unfortunately, Cricket Bell and his family (including twin sister and not-very-nice person Calliope) move back next door. Lola had a thing with Cricket a couple of years earlier that didn't end so well, and she's still upset about it. But Cricket is only home on the weekends since he's going to college, and as the weeks pass, it turns out he's not as terrible as she thought. They begin a tentative friendship, but that is all it can be, because Lola is in love with Max. Right?

Lola is a pretty kooky character, in the best way possible. She has such a strong sense of self that she is able to dress up in costume almost daily (which she does). She loves color and originality and isn't afraid to show it in her wardrobe. All of the other characters in the novel are nice and round too, as they should be. Every one is fully developed without a stock character in sight. Lola's dads, Nathan and Andy, are awesome, oh and by the way, Lola has gay parents, which is also awesome. And Cricket is just such a cutie. A really really smart cutie who can be incredibly awkward. Really, every character is just so well thought out. And this is a pretty character-driven novel, so that's a great thing.

I don't think I enjoyed this one as much as its predecessor, Anna and the French Kiss, but that's only because AATFK was one of the best young adult novels I've read in a while. Both are excellent in their own way, I just preferred the first one over the second one. I think part of it might be because sometimes I just found Lola to be too much, but just for my tastes. Obviously she is just right for her own, and that's the point.

This is just a sweet, realistic romance that I could relate to as a reader, and I'm sure many other readers will be able to relate to as well. Highly recommended to fans of contemporary romance, quirky characters, and realistic fiction. Needless to say, I'll be picking up Perkins's third book, Isla and the Happily Ever After, when it comes out next year.

Disclosure: I got this from the library.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review: "Unraveling" by Elizabeth Norris

Title: Unraveling
Author: Elizabeth Norris
Publisher: Balzer + Bray, 2012

Janelle knows she died that day the truck hit her. All she remembers is seeing it hurtling toward her, then darkness. Then excruciating pain—and her classmate, Ben Michaels, standing over her. She knows she died, but she knows Ben brought her back.

This is freaky in and of itself, but things are starting to get even stranger in Janelle's life. Her father, an FBI agent, is investigating cases where unidentified bodies are showing up, with the cause of death being extreme radiation burns. They can't figure out where the bodies are coming from, or what caused the burns. In addition to all this, they've found a device with a countdown, though they aren't sure what the device does (is it a bomb? something worse?) and are unable to deactivate it. Janelle and her best friend Alex start their own investigation, eventually joined by Ben and his friends, but they may have gotten in over their heads—the fate of their world might be at stake.

Unraveling is a page-turner, for sure. It is a mystery, an apocalypse story, a love story, an action story all rolled into one. Janelle is an interesting character, and I enjoyed being in her head. She swears a lot, which I found pretty typical for a teenager, and she has a no-nonsense attitude that I liked.

As far as plot goes, when one of the big reveals happened (those who've read the book know which one I'm talking about), I did an eye-roll and thought, Really? But once the initial inner groaning stopped, I got back into the story. I really wanted to know why these strange and supposedly unexplained things were happening. I also loved that Norris made Janelle, her younger brother Jared, and her dad huge X-Files fans, which probably got me more excited about the unexplained stuff. Not that I was ever a huge X-Files fan, but it lent a nice flavor and atmosphere that would have been missing otherwise.

I read Anna's review for this on her blog while I was reading the book, and one thing I couldn't agree more with: I had a hard time believing Janelle's dad would leave his FBI files out everywhere for Janelle to find. It should not be that easy to hack into the federal government's system, even if it is your dad. Or, you know, go into his office and just grab papers and read them. Not likely. I almost wish Janelle had been older and an FBI agent herself; I think it would have been more believable.

Lovers of romance will be happy, too, since Ben turns out to be a romantic interest for Janelle, though *gasp* it's a forbidden romance! To me, this wasn't a huge plot point in the novel since I wasn't that interested in their quickly developed relationship/didn't really care if they ended up together, but I know I'm speaking only for myself. The more important aspect for me was the adventure and mystery of it all.

A couple more things that annoy me. 1) The cover. Janelle is described as olive-skinned, and to me the girl on the cover seems a bit whitewashed for my tastes. Also, I usually hate covers with models. 2) There were some characters that I found to be unnecessarily added in. Not a whole lot of development, not a whole lot of purpose, but in there enough for me to wonder why they were important. There were also a few subplots that didn't really turn into anything and I couldn't help but wonder why they were even included at all, since they were distracting from the real story.

Despite a few weak plot points and issues with suspension of disbelief, Unraveling was enjoyable. Not the greatest sci-fi book I've read in the past year, but fun. If you like high stakes, sci-fi, X-Files-y stuff, and a bit of edginess, this might be worth a read for you. Just beware: it's a bit think, weighing in at 464 pages.

Disclosure: I got this book from the library.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Top Ten Most Vivid Settings/Worlds

This Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, lists my favorite settings and worlds in books. In this installment, I'm going to focus on setting more than other worlds in the sense of worlds being planets—settings that are originally unfamiliar to me but are vivid in the way they are described and the way the characters interact with them. Though I will include some fantasy and sci fi.

1. The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness

This series takes place on another planet called New World, which has been colonized by people from Earth. The biggest problem with New World, unknown by the colonizers when they landed about 13 years before the story begins, is the Noise. Thoughts can be heard by anyone around the thinker, and this includes animals. You really have to read this to understand how incredibly well written and conceived New World is, and I highly recommend this series as a whole.

2. When the Stars Go Blue by Caridad Ferrer

When the Stars Go Blue gives us an in-depth look at the incredibly intense world of drum and bugle corps. Bonus: this is a retelling of Bizet's opera Carmen.

3. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Are we surprised this one made it onto another of my Top Ten Tuesdays? This book and all its worlds will forever have a place in my heart.

4. Feed by M.T. Anderson

I dare you to read/listen to this book and not see some terrifying parallels to our world today.

5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

This is probably one of the best YA books ever written. It's a world I've never experienced first-hand, but Alexie does an incredible job bringing his readers into the world he grew up in—in this book, it's a reservation in Spokane. Side note: if you haven't read this book yet, you probably should soon.

6. Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

This book was so vivid that after I stopped reading, I had the incredibly strong urge to go stock up on canned goods and bottled water.

7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Another one of the greatest YA books in existence, possibly just one of the best books in existence. In my opinion. We see the white, happy Southern side of Macomb County, but in stark contrast we see the racist, dangerous segregation of this small town too. Please read this if you haven't already!

8. Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

This is the Hawaii we don't see in the guide books or paradise pictures. A full, remarkable history of one of the most recent additions to our country. I got a much better idea and understanding of Hawaii and its people from this book than I had prior, and I'm so glad I listened to this on audio before I went there.

9. Shark Dialogues by Kiana Davenport

Sticking with the Hawaii theme, this novel gives us the history of Hawaii in a fictionalized form, telling the story of seven generations of women as they live through Hawaii's history. This does an even better job of describing the islands and its people than Vowell's book, as Davenport is part native Hawaiian herself and grew up on the islands. Disclosure: I'm still in the middle of reading this one, as its very dense and long, but it's wonderful.

10. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

No one does a better job at humorously taking an in-depth look at society, culture, and place than Bill Bryson. This book is a great example of this, as is I'm a Stranger Here Myself which takes a look at American culture as a whole.  If you know me, you know my deep and abiding love and admiration for this author and won't be surprised to see him appear on this (or any) list of mine.

Have you read any of these? What are your top ten settings?
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