Saturday, August 31, 2013

What we're reading: Realistic fiction

I just read Sarah Dessen's brand new book, The Moon and More. In this one, we get to find out about the townies vs. the tourists in a small beach town called Colby. It's Emaline's last summer at home before college, and she plans to spend it like every other summer, working for the family business (they manage beach rentals), hanging with her long-time boyfriend, Luke, and having some quality time with her family--a mother and step-dad she loves, and her two slightly crazy-making stepsisters--and two best friends.

Several factors, however, are about to send her summer off-track and challenge her world view. One involves her absentee father, with whom she has had an email relationship since she was about 10, until recently, when he inexplicably quit participating. The other involves one of the tenants, Theo, who is a NY City guy with big ambitions that he thinks Emaline should share. The push and pull between small-town ways and values vs. living large somewhere else are messing with Emaline's thinking about her future.

This book is typical Sarah Dessen, which is to say, it's realistic; there is an interesting setting; there are family issues; there are relationship issues; and there is one central, character issue that the protagonist must confront and overcome. And as usual, Dessen does all of this well, and it's an entertaining read! I like that her characters are normal, flawed, confused people. I also liked the strength the main character develops; I'm so tired of girl protagonists who passively wait for the guys to define her! Emaline has a couple of men in her life, and in some cases she makes poor choices by sitting back and saying nothing, but she also has decided opinions, she is able to see herself and others pretty clearly, and there is a definite story arc of character development and change.

I also loved the subsidiary characters in this one, particularly the reclusive artist and Emaline's two best friends, Morris and Daisy. They were all individual and interesting.

I had a problem with the cover; it's pretty, and I know that's supposed to be beach grass surrounding the boardwalk, but since such a point is made in the book about the beach and specifically about the ever-present sand, I wonder why they made the choice to show a beach without the beach?!

This won't be my favorite book of the year (because, let's face it, I find the allure of fantasy so much more compelling!), but for those who like a realistic read, it's a good one.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

What we're reading: First novels

The Cadet of Tildor,
by Alex Lidell

Lady Renee de Winter is attending the elite Academy of Tildor, studying to become a Servant of the Crown. Specifically, Cadet de Winter is on probation, struggling with the Combat Arts Track as her fellow classmates leave her behind (which is to say, defeat her in every test of arms). Then the intimidating Korish Savoy is recalled from his command to teach the cadets, and Renee becomes his protégé--or his target, depending on how you look at it. But the bigger picture of Tildor's future overwhelms the smaller concerns of training, and Renee and friends are pulled into a desperate fight to keep the kingdom from falling to a war between rival outlaw factions.

This book reminded me very much of Tamora Pierce's Tortall books, with its fighters, mages, and politics, particularly the Beka Cooper series and the Protector of the Small series. But I didn't feel that Lidell's first book was derivative--just that it shared some similarities of world-building (as what fantasy does not?). I loved the way she developed the characters from start to finish. Although the book stands on its own, there was enough foreshadowing to make me hope there are further books about these people in our future!

Escape Theory,
by Margaux Froley

This is a murder mystery, masquerading as a boarding school book with coming of age elements...or is it the reverse? Yes, it's a murder mystery, but it meanders its way through subplots about drugs on campus and secret pregnancies and suspicious teachers and former founders of the school, all through the agency of one student counseling others after one of their classmates (whom she secretly loved) commits suicide. I suspect from the ending (and from the #1 on the cover) that there is a sequel (or maybe more) planned, which I'm not sure I would read. All of the subplots were in service of the main goal, and you eventually get to where you need to go, but the book was too choppy to sustain my interest.

It's not that it was dreadful; it wasn't even actively bad. The writing was okay, and I liked some of the characterizations quite a lot (especially Cleo), but they weren't enough to carry the book for me. My reaction was "meh." You know you will be disappointed when you get three-quarters of the way through the book and realize that your favorite character is the guy who committed suicide in the first five pages! Maybe the second book will be better...

Charming in parts, off-beat, strange...well, peculiar! And not entirely in a good way. While I adored the idea of incorporating these decidedly weird photos into the book and liked the premise (especially the stories the grandfather told), the follow-through was not great. It wasn't the writing, which was good--even beautiful, at times--it was the storytelling. It fell a bit flat for me. I also thought the book would be a lot creepier than it turned out to be, which wasn't very. The "science" (as in science fiction) had great big holes in it. Finally, I was hoping it would be a standalone, but apparently a sequel is intended, which meant that the ending was unsatisfactory as well! Not my cup of tea.

The Outside Boy,
by Jeanine Cummins

What a lovely book--poetic, beguiling, and different. It's a coming-of-age story, but within the little known subculture of the Irish Pavee--travellers, gypsies, tinkers, whatever name they are called by outsiders--circa 1950s rural Ireland. And within the picture of this culture is the intimate story of Christy, who is at the brink of many unexpected discoveries about his family's past and his own. I plan to suggest this for 10-12 book club sometime this year--a real charmer, poignant and inspirational but also a good tale.

(Editor's note: This book is in adult fiction but is recommended for teens.)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

ARC: Coming soon to your library!

I liked Rainbow Rowell's first book, Eleanor and Park, a lot. But you know how it is with authors and first books--sometimes (sadly) they only have the one good book in them! So I opened our Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of FanGirl with equal parts excitement and trepidation, hoping that it would be as good. And I can only say (with great maturity and sophistication), "Yay! it is!"

This one is about twin sisters on their way to college. They have been inseparable their entire lives, and Cath assumes this will continue in college, but Wren has a different agenda: She wants her own roommate, her own classes, her own life ("If we do this together, people will treat us like we’re the same person”), and all this throws Cath for a loop. She's hurt and upset, and all Cath really wants when she's feeling that way is to be left alone to work on her fan fiction, based on two characters from the "Simon Snow" series (eerily similar to the Harry Potter franchise). She has an enormous following for her almost novel-length fanfic takeoff featuring Simon and Baz, and college is getting in the way. So Cath lurks uneasily around the fringes, coping with the high anxiety caused by the typical challenges: where to sit in the cafeteria; how to co-exist with her scary roommate, Reagan, whose boyfriend, Levi, is annoyingly ever-present; and whether she can deal with an upper-level class she is regretting that she petitioned to take. She's also worried about her dad, who is on his own for the first time ever and who has some issues, and she has a boyfriend at another college who isn't really holding up his end of the get the idea. Retreating into the fanfic universe sounds like a pretty good idea!

This book has such a fresh voice. I loved all the characters (Levi = best boyfriend ever!), the situations and challenges, the jumping back and forth between reality and fanfic, everything! SUCH a fun book to read.

I would rate this a big fat FIVE, and would say that the age level is high school (due to relationship stuff).

And Anarda and I are encouraging you all to look it up and check it out the minute it is cataloged and on the YA shelves, will HELP YOU with this year's Teen Read Week CONTEST: Fan Fiction! Yes, that's right, we're asking you to write some of your own. Go here for all the details--it's not due until nearly the end of October, so that gives you plenty of time to figure it out. We can't wait to read it!