Saturday, January 21, 2012

Review: "Love Unlisted" by Stephanie Haddad + giveaway

Title: Love Unlisted
Author: Stephanie Haddad
Publisher: Stephanie Haddad, 2011

Grace makes lists. Lots of them. Lists for her favorite things, the pros and cons about certain decisions she makes, even about the men she dates. She has to be in control of situations, and the lists help her do that. But her life is beginning to get much more complicated when her brother invades her three-bedroom apartment that she shares with her best friend, Bernsie; she's got the chance to become a full-fledged event planner instead of just as assistant, but she needs to prove herself first; not to mention she keeps bumping into Colin Kilbourne, a sexy musician with the geek look Grace so loves (Pro) but with unfortunate facial hair (soul patch) and the tendency to spill coffee on her (Con). She needs to figure out a way to get a handle on things—or just lose control completely.

So let me start my review with a story. I walked into a local coffee shop with my fiance where Stephanie Haddad had set up a table with her books, selling and signing. I approached her just before we were about to leave and asked if she would consider giving me a book for an honest review, and she accepted my offer. I'm glad I went up to her—she definitely has talent as a writer and gives Grace a fun, quirky voice that won me over.

I enjoyed Love Unlisted for the most part. The story was nothing too crazy, just a twentysomething woman at a crucial moment in her life and trying to get through it (though her compulsion to list is a main part of how she deals with it, not something typical of most people). The plot itself was not really what kept me reading, since the only things happening were at Grace's job, the stuff going on with her brother moving in, and the relationships going on. Though it was fun to see all the ways things turned out wrong for Grace in the party planning stuff.

What I really liked was watching how Grace and Colin developed their relationship, and watching the secondary characters' going about their own business. Grace also really has to wrestle with her listing habit, especially when it gets in the way of not only her relationship Colin but the rest of her life, as well.

Being from Boston, I loved reading a book set in my city. I don't live in the city, but if I were to pick one to be mine, I'd definitely pick Boston. I've been to the places Haddad writes about, so it was just a little extra fun thing for me.

This is technically an adult book, and I would classify it as chick lit, but I could easily see teens reading this. There are no explicit scenes and I think the only obstacle for teens reading this would be the inability to relate to Grace's situation as a young woman in the workforce.

My biggest gripe about this book is all of the typos throughout. It wasn't enough to drive me crazy, but there were more than normal. Granted, this is a self-published title and the typos were mostly things a spell-check wouldn't catch, but they were there. But that's my biggest problem, and it wasn't really too big of a deal.

Overall, I liked this book. Not the greatest I've ever read, but it had a fresh feel, the language had some kick to it, and it was nice to just sit down with a fun book.

If you'd like to read this or any other books by Haddad, check out her website. She lives in my hometown, which is of course how I met her, so if you're in the Boston area check to see if she'll be anywhere nearby anytime soon. She's a nice lady.

If you'd like a copy of Love Unlisted, I'm going to pass on my (signed!) copy to one of you! To enter, just leave a comment on this post with a way to reach you (email would work just fine for that). I'll announce the winner on Friday, January 27. And also, her other book A Previous Engagement is available free right now in ebook form pretty much everywhere they sell ebooks. Here's a link if you have a nook, and here's one if you have a Kindle.

Disclosure: This book was given to me by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Top Ten Books I'd Recommend to People Who Don't Read Children's Literature

This week's Top Ten Tuesday, as always hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is sort of open—the topic is Top Ten Books I'd Recommend to People Who Don't Read (fill in the blank). Instead of choosing young adult/teen books as I originally planned, I thought I'd go back to children's literature, specifically middle grade books. There are a lot of beautiful and fantastic stories told for this age group and I think it is too easily dismissed by many. Click on the links to see my full reviews.

1. Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine: This book moved me so much that I wish I could give everyone a copy. Told from the perspective of a girl with Asperger's, she tells her story of how she and her father come to Closure after her brother is killed in a school shooting. Just a beautiful book.

2. The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex: I listened to this on audio, and am actually relistening to it right now. Gratuity Tucci, 11 years old and left without a guardian after her mother is abducted, has to find her way to Florida after the Boov invade Earth. Not only is this really funny, the print version has pictures and comics, and there is actually a lot of parallels to history told through this invasion. If you like Douglas Adams, I bet you'd like this. Also, the audio is without compare—Bahni Turpin is brilliant.

3. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia: A quick read, but one you'll want to let sit for a while. 11-year-old Delphine is the oldest of the three girls in her family, and one summer they all go stay with their estranged mother in California, who is involved peripherally with the Black Panthers. I love that this talks about a period in history that isn't usually in children's books.

4. Diamond Willow by Helen Frost: This novel in verse is very short but is just full of emotion and heart. This is one of my favorite books I read last year, and I had to good fortune to meet Helen Frost this summer, which I am very grateful for. I am looking forward to reading her other books.

5. A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck: Every summer, Joey and Mary Alice visit their grandmother in her small Illinois town. Episodic in nature, each chapter is a different story from each summer they visit during the Depression. Grandma Dowdel is not a sweet little old lady—she's large and in charge and takes crap from no one. Lots of humor in this one, with an air of nostalgia since Joey is telling these stories from present day.

6. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle: This will always have a special place in my heart. I think adults can appreciate this just as much as children. No one writes the way L'Engle did.

7. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech: This is due for a reread for me soon. A road trip mixed with a story and some romance, mixed with a mystery. Just a great book.

8. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead: This would probably be more up the alley of someone who has already read A Wrinkle in Time, but you can certainly appreciate it if you haven't. Time travel is mixed into a realistic historical fiction (historical, yes, but it takes place in 1979, so not too far in the past). Hard to explain, but again, a great story.

Okay, I didn't quite make it to 10 before running out of steam, but these are among the best I've read in a long time. Pick them up if you get the chance!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Review: "Winter Town" by Stephen Emond

Title: Winter Town
Author: Stephen Emond
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company; 2011

Lucy visits New England every winter, for Christmas and New Year's, before heading back down to her new home in Georgia. Every year her best friend Evan looks forward to hanging out and catching up, drawing comics and going on walks, just like when they were growing up. But this year is different. This year, Lucy's hair is short and dyed black. This year, she has a nose ring and a bleak attitude. Evan doesn't know what is going on, but he tries just the same, all while trying to get his dad to back off from hounding him about his school work and getting into an Ivy League school. But will Evan and Lucy be able to overcome their differences that are now even more pronounced than ever? And what is going on between them, anyway?

I had trouble getting into this book. Though I loved all the artwork interspersed throughout the pages, especially the comics, I had a hard time connected with either of the main characters. Evan seemed dull and bland, while Lucy and her story seemed overly dramatic. Evan seemed to be defending his position that his life was hard too, just in a different way, which always seemed a bit weak to me considering what he was up against (abandonment, addiction, severe depression, etc.). Sure, there is a lot of pressure placed on him by his parents, but it seemed very whiny to me. All of this disconnect with the characters is particularly unfortunate because this book is most definitely character-driven, with most of the plot dealing with Evan's reactions to Lucy and vice versa.

As I mentioned earlier, I did really enjoy the artwork, though I liked the comics more than the more realistic illustrations. It all is very reminiscent of comic books and newspaper comic strips, and the loose line drawings are a lot of fun to look at. Emond made them a vital part of the story, including a sort of web comic that Evan creates at the beginning of each chapter, a symbolic story set in a fantasy world about Evan's own life.

I liked how the relationship between Evan and Lucy is never perfect. It doesn't tie up nicely most of the time, and it's clear that they are still just kids despite what they've been through, Lucy especially. This part of the narrative felt very real to me, and I appreciated that. I would like to check out Emond's other work to see how it compares to his latest.

Disclosure: The publisher sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Review: "Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have)" by Sarah Mlynowski

Title: Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have)
Author: Sarah Mlynowski
Publisher: HarperTeen, 2011

When April's dad and stepmom drop the bomb that they're moving to Cleveland, she can't even begin to comprehend or accept it. In fact, she'll do anything to stay in Connecticut, where her friends, her school, and her boyfriend Noah are. The problem is, her mother and brother are all the way in Paris and there's no where else she can stay. Well... except for her friend Vi's place. Where her mom will be leaving her unsupervised for the semester since she got the leading role in a traveling production of the musical Mary Poppins. All April has to do is tell a few little lies. But there are definitely some things she wasn't expecting to happen, like getting a hot tub, adopting a kitten, throwing the biggest party ever...

When I saw this book was only 99 cents for my nook, I knew I had to take advantage of that. I'd heard great things, and this book didn't disappoint. I couldn't believe some of the things these girls did, or that they had the guts to do them—at some points I was actually a bit upset at their decisions. But overall it was a fun book that had a lot of serious moments and issues teens deal with on a regular basis. Well, besides the whole living without guardians thing.

I loved that this is sort of a framed narrative. It starts off the morning after the big party, with April getting a phone call from her father saying he's 15 minutes away from the house to surprise her for her birthday. Needless to say, she is very surprised and goes into panic mode. Then we cut back to right before New Year's Eve, when we find out her father is leaving. The rest of the book goes through the time they are without parents, with a twist following the scene where the book started. I loved this.

What I'm most impressed with is how Mlynowski handles sex in her writing. April loses her virginity (one of the 10 things), and the way Mlynowski writes it is not only completely believable, but probably pretty normal. I was incredibly impressed with how responsibly she treats the subject—April and Vi both go on the birth control pill to start, use condoms, etc. Yet Mlynowski makes it clear that there can be consequences to sex, both emotionally and physically, and for that I am grateful that this book exists. I can think of a few people who should have read this.

I also really liked how April tries so hard to manage her love life and do the right thing, even though she is starting to have feelings for her friend Hudson and it's clear he likes her too. She stays loyal to her boyfriend, but there is that thought in the back of her mind that maybe she would be happier with someone else, especially when Noah starts to act differently toward her.

Overall, this was a quick, fun read that teens can easily relate to, despite the abnormal circumstances. I would certainly recommend this to teens, as well as those of us who read young adult novels well into adulthood.

Disclosure: I bought this as an e-book from Barnes & Noble.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

John Green came to Boston!

Last night I had the good fortune to attend the John Green event in Wellesley, Massachusetts (okay, so not quite Boston but close enough). I'm so happy I was able to make it, and that there was enough parking, and that we all had a place to sit down and enjoy the Nerfighteria in the auditorium.

When I got there at 5:30, about an hour and a half before the event was supposed to start, the line was already reaching waaayyyy far back. I tried to get a picture but cell phone cameras are not the greatest. Anyway, it was really long. We stood around for about half an hour before the doors opened and they started letting people in. By the way, kudos and thank you to Wellesley Booksmith for organizing this event, and for keeping it so under control. Everything went so smoothly, especially considering the 700 people or so that attended. But then again, those who attended are all Nerdfighters, so I wouldn't have expected a riot or anything. :)

When we finally got in, got our books and wristbands, and found seats, we did some more waiting. But it's okay because we each had at least one book to occupy our time, not to mention the program that was written especially for Boston. (Thanks, John and Hank, for doing that.) Also, there was a crossword puzzle in it! Unfortunately I didn't have a pen or pencil, but that's okay.

And finally, Hanksock the puppet introduced John who took the stage, looking dapper in a suit and reading from his new book, The Fault in Our Stars, for which, of course, he is currently on tour. Hank came out after and played a few songs, and then John came back out, this time in T-shirt and jeans, to answer questions for exactly 7 minutes. He timed it. And told us if he was still answering a question when the buzzer rang he'd get a mild shock, which he wasn't kidding about. Luckily we didn't have to see it!

John Green answering questions and trying not to get shocked. Also, note the puppet stage for Hanksock.
Hank came back out to play some more, and then the two brothers answered questions for exactly 10 minutes. This time someone would have to get electrocuted a bit, because they decided whoever was answering a question when the buzzer rang would be punished. It was Hank (who was answering a question for John, but still).

Also, we got Rickrolled. Not joking.

We were told we'd meet John's wife, but we got Hank dressed like Malibu Barbie singing Rick Astley.
Anyway, there was dancing, singing, excitement and just an all-around sense of belonging and community last night. Then it came time for the signing. Wellesley Booksmith had the brilliant plan of numbering the wristbands we were issued at the beginning and called up people in groups of 25, starting at 34501. I was super lucky and got 34570, so I only had to hang around for an extra half hour, which was just brilliant. :) And I got my books signed! Well, I got Paper Towns and my nook cover signed, and TFiOS personalized. And John Green liked my name! And kept the sticky that had it written on it! Hooray!

Thank you John and Hank for coming to Boston, thank you Wellesley Booksmith for making sure everything went without a hitch and for keeping the signing line organized and manageable, and thank you Nerdfighters everywhere!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Review: "Sweetly" by Jackson Pearce

Title: Sweetly
Author: Jackson Pearce
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; 2011

In a modern telling of Hansel and Gretel, Jackson Pearce brings us to Live Oak, South Carolina, where Ansel and his little sister Gretchen, ages 19 and 18 respectively, run out of gas on a cross-country road trip after being kicked out of their home by their stepmother. Gretchen, still scarred from her twin sister being snatched by what she remembers as a witch one fateful day in the woods, is very withdrawn yet desperately wants to stand out so she doesn't disappear too. Ansel has always been her rock. Things look like they might be changing for the better when they find a temporary home with Sophia Kelly, the young woman who owns the local chocolatier. Yet there are secrets in these woods, and Sophia isn't telling them everything. What seems like paradise starts to look more and more like the woods Gretchen left behind.

In her second fairy tale book, Pearce has once again taken an age-old tale and brought it to the modern day. I love fairy tale retellings, but I was a little disappointed with Pearce's Sisters Red. But here, I think Pearce has improved as a writer. I liked the characters much more, and the language she uses for her characters is pitch-perfect.

I was intrigued by the mystery, and Pearce unraveled it at just the right pace. I was never too far ahead of the characters (I hate it when I can figure it out too soon), and I really like how she tied her two novels together. And man, did she bring on the action. My favorite part of Sisters Red was the fighting, and I was glad to see it return.

Oh, also? Delicious candy. I wanted chocolate pretty much the entire time I was reading this.

One thing I couldn't stand, though, was how often Pearce used certain words. The most memorable one was the word "tease." I felt like everything anyone said to anyone was followed by "I teased" or "she teased." It got so bad that I started rolling my eyes when I came across it—it was just aggravating. But I guess if that's my biggest complaint, that's not so bad.

I'm looking forward to the third novel, a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" titled Fathomless, later this year. There were hints about part of the plot in Sweetly, and I'm eager to see how the series will continue and for the introduction of new characters.

Disclosure: I got this book from the library.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Top Ten Books I'm Excited to Read in 2012

This week's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish as always, is a look at which books we're most excited to read in 2012.

1. Insurgent by Veronica Roth. This was my personal pick for The Broke and the Bookish (which you can check out by clicking the link above). Roth's Divergent was so refreshingly different as far as YA dystopian, and I'm excited to see where her story will go.

2. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. No, I haven't read it yet. But I will. And I'm sure I'll enjoy it.

3. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Thinking back on it, this should have been my personal pick for TB&TB. Everything John Green writes is gold, and this is sure to be a winner. Also, I'm super excited about seeing him on January 10 in Wellesley! Yay!!

4. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. See above. I need to read this.

5. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. See above.

6. Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness. I can't believe I haven't already read the final book in the Chaos Walking trilogy, but I will make it happen this year.

7. Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool. This won the Newbery Award the previous year, so I have to read it.

8. The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler. I have had this ARC since my friend picked it up for me at BEA. I really liked 13 Reasons Why by Asher, and I have the feeling I'll like Mackler's writing too.

9. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake. I've heard so many great things about this one. It's waiting for me in my car; I took it out of the library and is overdue. But I'll get to it. I swear!

10. If I Stay by Gayle Forman. People have been raving about this one for forever. I bought it a while ago, but I still haven't set aside time to read it. This year will be the year!

What are your picks?
Related Posts with Thumbnails