Thursday, November 14, 2013

What we're reading: Romance

Anna and the French Kiss
by Stephanie Perkins
Description: Contemporary, "chick-lit," romance.

Did I like it? Well, yes. Am I a little bit embarrassed that I liked it so much? Well, maybe.

One person on Goodreads described it as Teen Angst-meter: 10, and she wasn't wrong.

The protagonist was kind of an idiot. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed her perspective, but...idiot.

The love interest was kind of a jerk. In an apologetic, passive, I-can't-help-myself kind of way, but still...jerk.

BUT...
  1. Set in Paris. Boarding school in Paris. Did I say Paris?
  2. Really cool friends at the boarding school in Paris. I wanted to know them, hang with them, learn their secrets. They kinda reminded me of the crew in Looking for Alaska, by John Green, which is a high compliment. Perkins wrote them well.
  3. Lurve. The angst-ing was over an American boy with a British accent who also speaks French, and who has great hair and a quirky style and is nice despite his indecisive and leading-them-on ways with the ladies.
Need I say more? Okay, I will.

Anna lives in Atlanta, and is all set to enter her senior year with her best friend, and just made a connection with her crush, the guy she works with at the local movie theater, when...drumroll...her dad (who wrote a couple of bestselling tearjerkers, divorced her mom, and turned insufferable) suddenly swoops in and decides she's going to SOAP, the School of America in Paris, for her senior year instead. She knows she would have been leaving for college in a year anyway, but resents that she has to go a year too soon, and to a place where she doesn't even speak the language! And boarding school? Puh-leeze.

This is the set-up. Here are my problems with the set-up:
  1. What teen in his or her right mind wouldn't want to spend a year in Paris? Intimidated by the language and by being with strangers instead of friends for your senior year, and not really your idea, but still...beyond a point you get over it, because it's PARIS.
  2. WHY was Anna's father so insistent that she go? Yes, it's good for her, yes, he thinks he's giving her the opportunity of a lifetime, yes, sometimes divorced parents like to throw their weight around just because they can, but...it happens so abruptly, and she is so resistant to it while he is so insistent that she go, it makes you think something's up--like he's trying to get her away from her mom, or away from a boyfriend who's bad news, or away from SOMETHING--so you figure you'll find out sooner or later, but...you don't. Nothing, nada, no good reason ever given. It's a small thing, but it bugged me!
Beyond those issues, the rest of the book was quite enjoyable. The friend who is also her unrequited crush because he's someone else's boyfriend is...what else can I say but hot? He's hot. He's endearing. He's definitely crush-worthy. His name is Etienne St. Clair, and he has an American parent and a French parent but was raised in London, so he's got it ALL going on. Plus he likes her. But...apparently not quite enough to break up with the girlfriend. So they dance around each other, misunderstanding one another's signals, for most of the book. As I said above, Teen Angst reigns supreme. Making up for that, they are interesting, well-fleshed-out, engaging characters, whom you either want to know or to be, and it's set in Paris. Did I mention that?

So--if you want a contemporary romance you can sink your teeth into...read Anna and the French Kiss.

A couple of interesting details:

Stephanie Perkins (how cute is she?) started writing this book during NANOWRIMO, which is National Novel Writing Month, which is November! (i.e., now!) So...it can be done! (Although my impression is that it took her a lot longer to turn it into a real novel.)

The second book, which is called a "companion" book to Anna (which I can't quite figure out, since as far as I can tell it does NOT happen in Paris) is Lola and the Boy Next Door, which we also have at the library (just released in July). She also has a new book coming out in 2014, called Isla and the Happily Ever After. If you have read Anna, you will remember a brief mention of Isla as a dorm-mate of Anna, and her love interest is Josh, formerly of Josh-and-Rashmi in Anna. Apparently this book brings them all together and wraps things up in "a sweeping finale," according to Perkins's website.

So--some more contemporary romance to anticipate!



Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What we're reading: Shadows, by Robin McKinley

How to describe this book? In a weird way, it's a dystopia, because something happened a couple of generations back that changed the world and put a bunch of scary bureaucrats in charge. But it's also a fantasy, of course, because it's all about magic and its banning from the world of science, and how it leaks and creeps back in again.

I think Robin McKinley is such a great writer, with inventive ideas, compelling characters, and amazing world-building. Anarda and I were discussing, however, that she is also unpredictable--we have loved some of her books, hated others, and been bored to catatonia by at least one. This one, I liked!

Maggie and her mom and little brother lost their dad/husband awhile back (car accident), and it's been tough going. But now her mom has found someone new to love, and although Maggie would like to be glad for her, Val creeps her out on so many levels that she just can't deal. There's his wardrobe, and his weird accent, and his fairly unattractive exterior, but that's the least of it: Val has too many shadows, which seem to loom and dart and rise up higher and create a stranger outline behind him on the wall than anybody's shadow should, and Maggie is apparently the only one who can see them. I found it a little unbelievable how long she managed to ignore them and avoid him, rather than just coming out and asking, but on the other hand, if you put this behavior in the context of people in "science world" being jumpy about anything that smacks of magic, it made sense. And that's where you have to "suspend disbelief" and be willing to go with it because you love McKinley.

As I said, there are regulations in place designed to keep people away from magic and magic away from people. In Newworld, where Maggie lives, there is a whole bureaucracy set up to defend against "cohesion breaks," or cobeys, which are apparently alternate worlds or magical worlds (?) trying to push their way through to this one (or suck people out of it). It's a crime to own magical artifacts, or to practice magic, or to BE magical, and this is a big source of Maggie's worry about Val (who emigrated from Oldworld, where they still practice magic), because now that he's living in their house, he puts them all at risk, even though he's shown no obvious signs (other than the shadows) of risky behavior. Maggie's family has a history of magic-wielders, but supposedly that gene was surgically removed from everyone awhile back--or was it?

Things I loved about this book: all the characters--her mom, her friends, Jill and Taks, her love interest, Casimir, the animals (she has a dog and also works at a shelter), the evolution of the plot. Things that frustrated me: Well, because it was McKinley I was willing to go with it, but the world-building is weird--incomplete and random, with lots of assumptions, confusing lingo, truncated history, tantalizing and infuriating hints that you could know more if only she would tell you! You are set down in the middle of a work in progress that you have to figure out as you go along, and I didn't feel like I had completely understood it even by the end of the book--but I didn't care all that much, because I was enjoying myself and the story.

The book ended satisfactorily, but it was more like the end of a chapter in this alternate history than the end of a world--it definitely left itself open for a sequel, but whether there will be one is anybody's guess, since McKinley mostly doesn't do sequels. I hope so, because I grew really fond of these characters.

So--would I recommend it? Yes. But judging from the ratings on Goodreads, which range from one star to five, you definitely have to be a certain sort of reader to like it.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Library closed on Monday

The Burbank Public Library will be closed on Monday, November 11, for Veterans' Day, a national holiday to honor the service of U.S. military veterans.