YA

Learning to Swear in America by Katie Kennedy

Many thanks to Bloomsbury & NetGalley! I promise all the opinions here are my own. Pinky swear.

The description on Amazon is pretty detailed, so let’s take a look at that:

An asteroid is hurtling toward Earth. A big, bad one. Maybe not kill-all-the-dinosaurs bad, but at least kill-everyone-in-California-and-wipe-out-Japan-with-a-tsunami bad. Yuri, a physicist prodigy from Russia, has been recruited to aid NASA as they calculate a plan to avoid disaster.

The good news is Yuri knows how to stop the asteroid–his research in antimatter will probably win him a Nobel prize if there’s ever another Nobel prize awarded. But the trouble is, even though NASA asked for his help, no one there will listen to him. He’s seventeen, and they’ve been studying physics longer than he’s been alive.

Then he meets (pretty, wild, unpredictable) Dovie, who lives like a normal teenager, oblivious to the impending doom. Being with her, on the adventures she plans when he’s not at NASA, Yuri catches a glimpse of what it means to save the world and live a life worth saving.

Prepare to laugh, cry, cringe, and have your mind burst open with the questions of the universe.

I wanted to read this book for a few reasons. One – my nephew is getting older, 11 now, and I’m kind of on the lookout lately for books I think my sisters’ little ones might some day want to read. Two – main character is a physicist! Three – asteroid hurtling toward Earth! Four – NASA! Really, so many good ingredients there. Unfortunately, the final dish was a little bland.

I felt like this was more of a middle-grade romance novel. It felt very formulaic, and the main focus ended up being on Yuri’s crush on American girl Dovie. I was more excited about the possible asteroid-hitting and the science that would go into saving the world, so I was disappointed by that. But basically, two wildly different teenagers meet, have romantic feels, obstacles are in the way, etcetera. You know how romance novels go. Except there were no explicit sexy times, because this is for the teens. Despite the urgent crises in the book – an asteroid about to hit Earth, the question of how Yuri will get home, his feelings for Dovie – there were no surprises, no laughs, no heart pangs.

And I should have seen this coming just from the description – but Dovie is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl character and man that’s a tired old trope. Her parents are hippies so that’s supposed to explain that, but it’s so boring to make that the reason for a guy to fall for a girl. “Ooooh, she’s so crazy and different, it’s what I didn’t know I always wanted!”

I read this in about two sittings, so it went by quick and was entertaining enough so that I didn’t just quit it, but it felt very trite. I probably won’t keep this on my running list of books to suggest to my niece and nephews.

 

~ Sarah

Advertisements

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

image

 

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

I borrowed the description from Amazon, because it sums it up pretty well. This is about two lonely teens who become best friends, and they struggle together to get through ideas of identity, growing older, and sexuality. They commiserate over being Mexican-American, confusing parents, and not understanding other people. I did really enjoy Ari’s relationship with his mom, and his tendency to push other people away even with a joke in his voice. Dante is sweet, and open. He has a great relationship with basically everyone he meets, he reads poetry, he loves art.

There’s not much more that I can say – it’s a novel about two teens trying to find themselves. But it’s beautifully written, and I highly suggest it. I bought this back in October and I can’t believe it took me this long to read it.

“We sat, drinking out tea and watching the rain fall on his front porch. The sky was almost black and then it started hailing. It was so beautiful and scary, I wondered about the science of storms and how sometimes it seemed that a storm wanted to break the world and how the world refused to break.”

This is a perfect summer read – engaging, charming, and atmospheric. I absolutely sunk into this story, and was sad when it was over. I think Ari and Dante are characters that will stay with me for a while.

Sarah Says: 4 stars

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

image

 

I feel like I’ve had my eye on this one for years. Dorothy Must Die takes the story of  The Wizard of Oz, which we all know and love, and turns it on its head. In this the girl ending up on the wrong side of the tornado is Amy, and she doesn’t recognize the Oz that she grew up seeing in movies. That’s because after the movie ends, Dorothy comes back to Oz – and she’s destroying it. It’s up to Amy to bring her down.

So the writing here wasn’t great, especially in the beginning. There was a lot of telling instead of showing. For example “And Amy just new in her gut blah blah blah”. Somewhere around the middle the author seemed to hit her stride, and it got better after that. Amy is a high school girl growing up in a trailer park in Kansas. She’s taunted at school, and her mom is neglectful. Going to Oz almost seems like a blessing, until she realizes how dangerous Dorothy has made it. You can be arrested for and punished for “Sass”. The Tin Man now has knives and needles for hands. And Dorothy is mining Oz for magic, hoarding it all to herself and killing Oz in the process. Oz is bleak.

The idea of those deemed wicked actually being the good guys is such a fun spin. Amy’s fight to save Oz kept me reading. That, and her developing crush on a boy named Nox. I almost quit Dorothy Must Die when I was about a quarter of the way in, and I’m glad that I stuck with it. I spent most of last Sunday just reading it on my couch, totally sucked in. There are sequels and prequels out, which I’m thinking I’ll read soon. I need to know what happens!

Fun fact: my sister read this with me. This is the first book we’ve ever picked out and read at the same time! How have we not done that before??

Sarah Says: 3.5 stars

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

image

What do you even say about this??? Many people have written about Brown Girl Dreaming, about how wonderful and beautiful it is. I don’t know that I have anything to add, except that they’re correct. It’s the author’s story of growing up as a young black child during the 60’s & 70’s, first in South Carolina and then in Brooklyn. There’s some heartbreaking moments, and some hopeful ones. There are a lot of mentions about her growing love of telling and writing stories. And most interestingly, it’s written in verse! It’s a cool, unique way of doing a childhood autobiography.

“I believe in one day and someday and this perfect moment called Now.”

“If someone had taken that book out of my hand said, You’re too old for this maybe I’d never have believed that someone who looked like me could be in the pages of the book that someone who looked like me had a story.”

“Everyone else
has gone away.
And now coming back home
isn’t really coming back home at all.”

I can’t wait to explore more of Jacqueline Woodson’s work, and to put her books into the hands of my niece and nephews. I hope schools embrace it and add it to their reading lists. Brown Girl Dreaming was a treat to read, and I’m glad I have my own copy to page through in the future.

Sarah Says: 4 stars

Amped by Daniel H. Wilson

Amped by Daniel Wilson

 

I’ve been eyeing Daniel Wilson’s sci-fi novels for a while – Robopocalypse got a lot of praise a while back, and Amped came out last year. I’ve been meaning to try this for ages and so I grabbed Amped from the library a couple of weeks ago and I FINALLY got around to reading it. I’m feeling lazy, so here’s the description from Amazon:

It’s the near future, and scientists have developed implants that treat brain dysfunction—and also make recipients capable of superhuman feats. Exploiting societal fears of the newly enhanced, politicians pass a set of laws to restrict the rights of “amplified” humans, instantly creating a new persecuted underclass known as “amps.” On the day that the Supreme Court passes the first of these laws, twenty-nine-year-old schoolteacher Owen Gray is forced into hiding, only dimly aware of the latent powers he possesses. To escape imprisonment, and to find out who he really is, Owen seeks out a community in Oklahoma where, it is rumored, a group of the most enhanced amps may be about to change the world—or destroy it.

It’s a fun idea. It reminded me a tiny bit of Nexus by Ramez Naam, which was also about the idea of posthumans – humans with enhanced abilities thanks to technology. It’s something that could be decades away, or it could just be a few years away, but it does seem a path that we’re likely to go down as a species and I like that authors are playing with the topic.

However. Amped didn’t do it for me. It was a quick read, but it wasn’t fun or engaging. It required some leaps of faith, because Wilson didn’t spend much time on world-building. It wasn’t particularly thought-provoking or exciting. I never really connected with the main character. Owen is supposed to be almost thirty years old, but his thoughts and mannerisms made me picture him as a teenager while I read. That almost makes me want to classify this as young adult – the sci-fi elements are there, but the character seemed so juvenile and the writing just wasn’t good. It was almost as if the author decided he didn’t really like the idea of the novel, but he had to finish it anyways so he rushed through writing it.

Sooo. Yeah. This is coming off kind of harsh, and I don’t mean it to sound that way, but this was definitely a disappointment.

Sarah Says: 2 stars

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

 

Fangirl

Rainbow Rowell, you are so good at everything.

Fangirl is Rowell’s newest book, a YA novel about Cath. And because I’m a little lazy, here’s the description from Amazon:

In Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life–and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.
Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
 

Rowell does such an incredible job at sucking me into the worlds she creates – in Nebraska, no less. I read this book in two days, easily devouring up the words. I really liked Cath, for the most part – she’s introverted, shy, but a little sassy too. I liked Levi, too – he had that Southern good guy charm that reminded me just a little bit of Lincoln from Attachments. I liked that Cath’s problems and family issues were kind of normal, and resolved in normal ways. No magic fixes. I liked Cath’s love of taco trucks, and Kanye West, and the internet.

Even though I really liked Fangirl a lot, there were a couple things that I didn’t quite like. I didn’t really love the Simon Snow & Simon Snow fanfiction excerpts sprinkled between the regular chapters. Like, I get that Simon Snow is similar to HP in it’s fandom crazyness, but I didn’t need snippets from the books or from Cath’s fanfiction to appreciate it, especially since I’m not really into fanfiction. Those parts felt like filler. Also, Levi was a little too perfect. I adored him as a character and my goodness, girls should absolutely aim to have a Levi-like boyfriend. But he had pretty much zero flaws, which made him seem a little unreal. That being said, the best parts of the book were usually the parts with him, because he was funny and I liked his banter with Cath.

Lastly, this is the thing that disappointed me the most, but it’s spoiler-y, so highlight it to read: I feel like Cath’s problems suddenly started to go away once her & Levi started dating, and she didn’t actually evolve or grow as a character. She didn’t grow out of the Simon Snow world at all, she still seemed pretty introverted, and she didn’t grow away from Wren really. But really, my issue is that dating Levi seemed to be the thing that turned her life around, as if she needed a boy to help her solve her issues and deal better with her anxiety. The way it was written, I feel like if they broke up, she would be a crumpled mess all over again. And the book ended so abruptly – did her and Levi last? Did she go on to write anything else besides fan fiction? Did she eventually mature a bit?

So. Still a great story, and freaking wonderful as far as YA goes. But I think Eleanor & Park was a lot greater, even if it was a bit sadder. And Attachments is still my favorite, probably just because I prefer reading about adults to reading about teens. Teens are so emotional and dramatic and self-concious- Rowell portrays teenagehood fantastically, but I still prefer the confidence and grown-up-ness of adult characters. I’m really excited that Rowell’s next book, Landline, it going to be an adult book. I am SUPER psyched about that. I can’t wait.

And to end, let’s just recap some of my favorite quotes!

“He’s a perfectly good boyfriend,” Cath would say.

“He’s an end table,” Wren would answer.

“He’s always there for me.”

“…to set magazines on.”

———–

“In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can’t google.) Like, where does the line start? What food can you take? Where are you supposed to stand, then were are you supposed to sit? Where do you go when you’re done, why is everyone watching you?… Bah.”

———–

“I’m not really a book person.”

“That might be the most idiotic thing you’ve ever said to me.”

———–

“Levi. I can carry my own gross, dirty laundry.”

“Cath. I’m not going to let you.”

———–

“Are you okay?” he asked, grinning back because he couldn’t help it. (Bless him. Bless him to infinity and beyond.)

Oh man. Now I want to re-read all of her books. I don’t write down nearly enough good quotes.

Sarah Says: 4 stars

Matilda by Roald Dahl

 

Matilda book cover

 

Oh Matilda. I so wanted to be you when I was a kid.

When I was a kid, the movie Matilda was my JAM. I didn’t even realize it was based on a book until I was an adult working in a bookstore. So this is both my first time reading Matilda, AND my first time reading a Dahl book! Weird, I know. I’m 26 – how did I go so long without reading one of the biggest children’s authors of all time? Too bad I hadn’t finished this sooner, I could have used it in my Top Ten Books Set in England list this past week.

The book was a good enough read, for an adult reading a kid’s book. It was easy breezy readin’, and I liked that even though I’ve seen the movie a hundred times, I didn’t always see the actors in my mind as a read. My brain came up with it’s own pictures of the characters, and that’s always nice. Although I DO have to say that Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman as Matilda’s parents? PERFECTION.

Anyways, right, the book. I haven’t actually given a summary yet. It’s about a neglected girl named Matilda, who can read Dickens and do math by the time she’s 5. Impressive, right? When she goes to school, she bonds with her sweet teacher Miss Honey and refuses to be afraid of the monstrous headmistress, Miss Trunchbull. Stuff ensues. The book is short, cute, and it makes me so so happy to see so much book love in a kid’s book. If my nephew hasn’t read this yet, he totally should. And my niece, when she’s a bit older. Is it a bit unbelievable, as a grown-up? Of course. But it’s still a fun ride.

Also interesting – Matilda is now a musical, and there is supposed to be U.S. tour of it sometime soonish. I would LOVE to see that.

Sarah Says: 3 stars as a grown-up, 5 stars if I was still a kid

 

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

image

This one was a let down for me.

One morning pre-teen Julia and the rest of the world wake up to some alarming news – the Earth’s rotation has slowed by 56 minutes, and it doesn’t show any signs of stopping. They don’t know how long it will go on, or what’s causing it, but the days are getting longer. Julia and her family try to adjust to this new Earth.

There’s one key phrase in the blurb on the book jacket that should have told me I wasn’t going to particularly enjoy this book – “coming of age”. Coming of age novels hardly ever work out well for me. Julia is about 11 and just coming into those teenage years, so this book focuses a lot more on her being lonely and friendless, her first crush on the stereotypical skater boy with a tragic story, on her family dynamics, and so on. The huge effects of the Earth’s rotation slowing were kind of going on in the background, so if that’s what makes this book sound interesting to you, I’d skip it.

I guess my problem with this book is just that it was slow-paced and there wasn’t a whole lot happening. I’m sure this was intentional, to match the gradual slowing of the Earth’s spin, but it made for kind of a boring read. And while the focus on Julia and her life make this seem like a YA book, it’s not quite written as one – the language and prose is a lot more mature, because Julia is actually telling the story as an adult later on, looking back at that time in her life.

Once again, an interesting premise that just could have been done better, I think.

Sarah Says: 2.5 stars

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray book review

This is going to be short. My entire review could just be “ehh”, but that’s not very entertaining. Or informative.

Basically Soviets take over Lithuania and this girl and her little brother and her mom get shoved into a train and taken to Siberia. They’re forced to do lots of manual labor and it’s freezing and they’re starving and things over all just suck. Oh and she’s good at drawing. The end.

See, THIS is why I don’t read books that get a lot of hype. Because EVERY REVIEW I SEE goes on and on about how a book is so fantastic, and then I read it and it’s so not even close to fantastic. I read the book quickly, in one afternoon. The situation of the characters sucked, but it didn’t really move me or make me feel all the emotions that other reviewers apparently felt. Honestly, I’ve read much better books about fictional characters suffering during World War 2. Between Shades of Gray was kind of boring, with very little plot, and I was happy that it was over. SNORE.

I’ve had this book on my shelf for at least a year now, so at least now I can get rid of it without feeling guilty for not reading it.

Sarah Says: 1.5 stars

The Diviners by Libba Bray

The Diviners, Libba Bray

Holy crap ya’ll – this book was so much more awesome than I was expecting. I finished it 2 days – it was really hard to put down. I literally have NO complaints about it.

Evie is a 17-year old flapper girl who is being sent to live with her Uncle Will in Manhattan, where she plans to live it up- dancing the night away in speakeasies, shopping, and seeing pictures with her friend Mabel. But when her uncle (the curator at the so-called Museum of the Creepy Crawlies) becomes a consultant to help solve a rash of new mysterious and gruesome murders, Evie is right there ready to help however she can. Evie has a mysterious gift no one knows about, and it may just be the key to catching the madman behind the murders.

SO MUCH TO LOVE ABOUT THIS BOOK. First off, if you’re looking for something to read in the next week to put you in the Halloween spirit, look no further. The spooky factor was definitely there – a terrifying serial killer, horrible ritual murders happening in the dark streets of Manhattan in the 1920’s, special powers, awesome scenery – anything you could want.

Evie is a fun character – at first I thought she was a bit of a brat, but she definitely matures throughout the book. I loved her flapper ways, even the pos-i-tute-ly silly flapper lingo. Her gift is pretty cool, and I like that she doesn’t shy away from it. She has a much more reserved friend, Mabel, who already lives in NYC. She also makes some new friends instantly – a pickpocket, her uncle’s quiet assistant, and a Ziegfield girl. We’re also introduced to a couple more really interesting characters, including the handsome young poet named Memphis. Overall, it was a FANTASTIC group of characters who I ended up loving and can’t wait to see again. Everyone was brimming with personality, even the secondary characters who only turned up once or twice.

I wasn’t sure I’d like the 1920’s setting, but it was a lot of fun and felt very real. You could practically feel the hustle and bustle of the city, the daring nature of the flapper girls, the racial tension, the excitement for industry… I did have to look up some of the slang used, and it was a little distracting at first, but I got used to it. And there was just so much happening – dances, parties, chases, visions, tricks, flirtations, interrogations… never a dull moment, really.

The mystery of the murders was really engrossing, and for real, it creeped me out a bit. Like when it was dark out I got just a little bit paranoid that the serial killer was out there somewhere coming to get me, before I reminded myself that duh – it’s fiction. And even though I’m not sure what the plot of the next book will be (this is supposed to be a 4-book series, I believe), there is plenty that has me already eagerly awaiting it. I can’t wait to see where the characters’ storylines go, and what the whole mystery is behind the “gifts” that some of these characters possess, and… yeah. It’s hard to talk about without me giving away any spoilers, so just trust me on this.

The Diviners is only the second Libba Bray book I’ve read – I knew I really liked her just from reading Beauty Queens, but I hadn’t tried anything else by her yet, so I was slightly hesitant going into this. But it totally wow-ed me, and while I’m waiting for the next book in this series, I think I may have to try out her Gemma Doyle series.

If you’re thinking of waiting for the paperback to come out, I don’t recommend it. The hardcover (underneath the dust jacket) is decorative and pretty, AND there’s a bonus little “newspaper” included in the back. It’s definitely worth the money, and once you read this, you’ll want to buy the next book as soon as it comes out. If you’re picky like me, you like all of your books in a series to be in the same format, so you should just plan on getting them all in hardcover now*…

image

Seriously, you guys need to read this so I have someone I can talk to about it!

Sarah Says: 5 stars

 

* I just realized this makes me sound a little pushy and I promise, I read this book because I wanted to and am recommending it so highly because I loved it. I bought my own copy, and I don’t receive any sort of compensation for this review.