Monday, September 30, 2013

Top Ten Book Turn-Offs


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Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

So, some months ago I actually did this topic (Bookish Trends That Need to Die/I Want More Of), so when I saw this topic I was in a PANIC. "Oh no! What if I repeat myself? The world will end and puppies will starve and there will be no more laughter!" Well, whatever. I'm going to repeat myself. In fact, I am going to quote myself. The puppies will just have to deal.

 1. Abusive douchebucket love interests

 

I think this one pretty much speaks for itself, doesn't it? I love me some bad boys, but I don't like boys who are actually bad. There's a big difference. Or at least, books who portray bad guys as good guys. I like complex, not black and white characters. But most of the time, these negative characteristics (like being controlling, physically or emotionally abusive, sexist, cold, cruel, secretive, overly protective to the point of being coddling) are romanticized in YA lit. And me no likey.

 2. Protagonists whose whole lives center around their love interests



Again, it speaks for itself. People are complex. They've got siblings, parents, school, friends, dreams, fears, worries. And yes, having a significant other is very important when you're a teen (and... well, any age, really), but it's not all.

3. Vanishing parents



This is a tricky one for me, since a lot of the time, having no parents in the picture really does help (see: The Hunger Games). But I always find it really refreshing when YA parents actually seem to 1) exist, 2) care about their children, 3) not Disapparate off the page whenever the main character really could use some parental intervention. It's one thing if the book focuses on a strained parent-kid relationship. It's another if the parents just HAPPEN to be WOEFULLY OBLIVIOUS to all the shenanigans afoot right beneath their mustachioed noses (poor Charlie Swan).

4. Stereotypes



It's hard to avoid them completely, obviously--sometimes the plot really does require a mean girl-- but why not make the mean girl a geek instead of a cheerleader? Poor? Not blonde?

5. Unrealistic teenage sex



I think it's realistic for teenagers in to books to have sex. It's realistic for them not to. But it's NOT realistic for a teenager's first time to be mind-blowing and coordinated and awesome. No, most likely you'll be like Seth and Summer, and someone will get kneed in the leg or fall off the bed and afterward you'll both just stare at the ceiling, hoping it will fall down on you.

6. Instalove

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I wrote a whole other long, rant-y, gif-tastic post on the subject of instalove. I like to root for romances I can believe in, that have some emotional foundation. I refuse to believe you're willing to give your life for someone who you only just made eye contact with. I don't care if angels sang and the sky became a rainbow  and every possible synonym for "fiery" was used to describe your body at the moment of said eye contact. You're not in love yet.

7. Whitewashing/heteronormativity

 

The world is a diverse place. I love when books accurately reflect that. If there is not ONE gay person, or person of color, or person who isn't thin and conventially attractive, or even someone from a different socioeconomic background... well, I'm going to call shenanigans. Unless your novel takes place a purposefully homogenous society, but even then someone should MENTION the issue. I really took issues with books like The Selection and Matched, which feature rigid, codified romantic situations but never even discussed the possibility that characters could be gay. Like, how interesting would that have been, if one of the girls Selected girls liked other girls instead of the prince? Or if Cassia was being matched with a dude, but she totally doesn't swing that way? These possibilities weren't even floated. 

8. Inappropriate POV switches



I actually like when books have multiple points of view (provided this is well executed, of course). I dislike when the author seems to have no control over whose viewpoint he or she is utlizing, and the narrative, which for all of the book has been focused on one person's limited third person, will flitter through another character's brain for a sentence and then pop right back into our MC's. Nooooo. 

9. Poor grammar



See: Frozen. If the author doesn't even have a basic command of English, how can I expect them to have a basic command of storytelling? I lose faith when I see that the basics aren't covered. I wouldn't hire a chef who didn't know how to fry an egg or what mise en place means or how to grill.

10. Characters who turn into wimps when a love interest comes along



 I haaaaate this. I especially hate it, because it's usually female characters who lose all their fire and spirit and awesomeness because some hot guy made eye contact with them. BLEGH.

11. Bad author behavior

 

Unacceptable in any form and will make me never want to read the author's book. 


Honorable mentions: Adultery, an overly preachy message, animal violence, slut-shaming (and virgin-shaming), standalones that MORPH into series, when girl characters seemingly need boy characters to save them.

YA Trend Watch: In a Galaxy Far, Far Away


This is a trend in YA that I'm extremely excited for. There has been and will be a plethora of YA novels set in space! Or that have to do with space exploration or aliens, but mostly... spaceships! This makes the nerd in me super-duper happy. I hereby declare 2013 and 2014 as the Years of Spacey YA.

The success of the Across the Universe trilogy by Beth Revis has seemed to pave the way for a whole new invasion of space themed YA:

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These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
Starglass by Phoebe North 
Earth Girl by Janet Edwards
Entangled by Amy Rose Capetta
Avalon by Mindee Arnett
Salvage by Alexandra Duncan
Cress by Marissa Meyer
The 100 by Kass Morgan
Alienated by Melissa Landers
After Eden by Helen Douglas
The Starkillers Cycle by Susan Dennard and Sarah J. Maas,
a free Tumblr epic that YOU SHOULD ALL BE READING
Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci 
Unbreathable by Hafsah Laziaf

I meant to do a clever deconstruction on why space travel seems to be the new "it" thing, replacing angels, vampires, and dystopians, but the intellectual corner of my brain is on vacation. So I'll leave the smart-ing and the clever-ing to you guys. Why do you think space is the next big YA trend? Because it leads to gorgeous covers? Because of the success of the Star Trek reboot? Because of the imminent Star Wars reboot? Because it's part of human nature to be fascinated by what we can't explain or ever see for ourselves and to always want to expand our frontiers? Manifest destiny, and all that?

Oh haiii, thinking corner, you are still functioning up there. That's a relief. (My guess is that spaceships ARE JUST REALLY COOL OKAY DON'T OVERTHINK IT.)

Also, if you think of any upcoming or just-released titles involving space, let me know, and I'll add them! Which space-themed books are you most excited for?

Review: How to Love by Katie Cotugno


Review: How to Love by Katie Cotugno
Goodreads 
Release date: October 1, 2013
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Series: No
Source: ARC gift from Lili
Rating: Conflicted.

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Before: Reena Montero has loved Sawyer LeGrande for as long as she can remember: as natural as breathing, as endless as time. But he’s never seemed to notice that Reena even exists…until one day, impossibly, he does. Reena and Sawyer fall in messy, complicated love. But then Sawyer disappears from their humid Florida town without a word, leaving a devastated—and pregnant—Reena behind.

After: Almost three years have passed, and there’s a new love in Reena’s life: her daughter, Hannah. Reena’s gotten used to being without Sawyer, and she’s finally getting the hang of this strange, unexpected life. But just as swiftly and suddenly as he disappeared, Sawyer turns up again. Reena doesn’t want anything to do with him, though she’d be lying if she said Sawyer’s being back wasn’t stirring something in her. After everything that’s happened, can Reena really let herself love Sawyer LeGrande again?

In this breathtaking debut, Katie Cotugno weaves together the story of one couple falling in love—twice.


Rating: I am SO VERY CONFLICTED ABOUT THIS BOOK. Honestly, getting my thoughts in any kind of order seems to be impossibly. It's almost like I hated and loved this book in equal measure. In the end, I feel like the strengths of this book are so strong that they outweighed the negatives. The first half of this book is sensational. The second half made me mildly crabby.



In an effort to make my thoughts more orderly, I'm going to impose some order on this review.

I loved: The writing. How to Love is written in first person from Reena's POV, and Reena is sharp and funny and observant. It was really easy to slip into the story and feel everything she was feeling. She's got a really great voice. And the narrative technique used was really interesting. There were two story threads--the Before, when Reena is in high school and Sawyer LeGrande is there, and the After, two years later when Sawyer LeGrande returns. I was surprised by how completely invested I was in the story, reading it nearly straight thought. Before tells the story of Reena and Sawyer falling in love and coming together, while the After starts with Reena, who has accepted her new life, dealing with the fact that the prodigal Sawyer is back in her life. The Before and After style created tiny mysteries that linked up really nicely, with the present echoing the past in nicely heartbreaking ways.

I hated: Sawyer. Perhaps hate is a strong word. He's got a couple of swoony moments (loved Sawyer and Rina's talk on the swingset--I totally got the Sawyer Swoon there) , and I kind of understood him as a character. His parents expect a certain life out of him, a life he doesn't want to lead. He's not a bad guy, really, but he's utterly dysfunctional, and I thought it was pretty criminal the way he dragged Reena into his dysfunctionality. Sawyer is a couple of years older than Reena, and is the child of Reena's parents closest friends. They've grown up together, and Reena's been in love with him since nearly the beginning. (Why, beyond the fact that he's extraordinarily handsome, I'm not completely sure.) Then Saywer starts dating Reena's best friend, and for me, the Sawyer-appeal began to dissipate somewhat.

I loved: Reena. I totally got this girl. She is the Good Catholic Daughter, the high achiever, the one nobody thought in a million years would get pregnant. She plays it pretty close to the vest, which is something I can relate to, doing everything she can not to make her true feelings about things known. Her family has been magnificently unfair to her, but she loves her daughter, Hannah, with all her heart. Before Hannah, she wanted to be a travel writer and go to Northwestern and see the bigger world outside her small Florida town. This book immerses us really well in Reena's mind, showing us her true desires and feelings. And because of all that, I would have loved this book if it hadn't been for the next point.

I hated: Sawyer + Reena. It seemed like every single time Sayer and Reena interacted, he did something to hurt her. My particular favorite Sawyer moment was the first time they slept together (not a spoiler, they have a child), which happened to be the first time Reena had ever slept with anybody, and then Sawyer didn't call her. Or see her. For, like, three months. And then never apologized. He had other issues goes on, I got that, but I never thought Sawyer reached the right level of contrition for all the enormous harm he'd done to Reena (not just the pregancy thing. Admittedly, he didn't know Reena was pregnant when he took off, but he still took off). There's the time Sawyer pressures her to skip school. To betray her best friend. Let's not even mention what he does the night Reena gets into college.

I mean, I was basically rooting for girlfriend to



All of the really bad stuff is Before Sawyer. And Before Sawyer is not a healthy Sawyer. After Sawyer is way swoonier and way more put together, and I could have worked with this. I MUCH PREFERRED After Sawyer. I almost really, really liked him. But again... he didn't seem sorry enough! He just kind of waltzed back into town and was all offended that Reena was so mad at him. And I just wanted to scream "YOU ARE LUCKY YOU STILL HAVE ALL YOUR TOES, BUDDY, BE GRATEFUL FOR THAT."

Blegh. I'm sorry, guys. I just didn't feel this romance. Shelby, Reena's awesomesauce best friend, said it best that self-sufficient Reena forgets how "bad-ass" she is whenever Sayer, who done her wrong, turns his big emerald eyes on her. BLEGH.

I loved: Everything else. The narrative technique, the way Cotugno portrayed family dynamics, and the particular family dynamics of a high-achieving Catholic teenager getting pregnant at sixteen. Extra points for a loving stepmother, minus points for a mostly invisible brother, a bajillion points for Shelby the awesome-- if judgmental--lesbian best friend who tries to tell Reena to GET A GRIP. I loved the scene where Reena finally lets out all the feelings she's been keeping inside since she got pregnant, basically letting her father and Sawyer's parents have it (now if only she'd done this to Sawyer too).

Most people are really going to love this book. It has a lot going for it, and I will definitely read whatever Cotugno writes best. I truly loved her writing. But when you read a love story and can't truly invest in, well, the love story part, there's no way you can give that book all the stars. I'm pretty bummed about it. With a few tweaks, this could have been one of my favorite reads of the year. I was totally engrossed in it, and the characters were vivid, and it was equal parts funny and heartbreaking (even a tad melodramatic). I recommend giving it a shot, if only so we can have conversations about stomping on Sawyer LeGrande's feet.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Book Haul, or the One With All the HarperTeen Titles


So this was a super exciting week for me, because I got whitelisted for all of Harper's teen titles on Edelweiss! *cue shrieks and screams and not-at-all-embarassing flails* Basically, this means I've got access to all the books that they put there for review. Which is... kind pf the most awesomest thing to ever happen to me. I actually cried. No, I actually did.

So I told myself I'd be responsible and NOT go tearing through Edelweiss like a kid in a candy store, swiping e-galleys into my virtual shopping cart left, right, and center. I did it properly. I made a list, with titles and release dates, seeing how all these shiny new pretties could possibly fit into my review schedule. I was going to limit myself, I said. I was going to do this responsibly, I said.

Yeah...

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For review:


*has not one single regret*

I also got this awesome Courtney Summers anthology, which I won from my buddy Christina at A Reader of Fictions:

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What Goes Around by Courtney Summers


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Keep Romance in Oven Until Fully Baked: Or, Why I Love Slow Burn Romance




Many moons ago, Molli, Shae and I had a discussion about the glory of slow-burn couples. While I don't remember the impetus of this discussion, we did all decide to write posts about why we love the slow burn. So make sure to check out their blogs today and see what they wrote on the subject!

In a lot of YA series, the destined romantic couple get together in the first book. This is often... okay, but imagine how much more satisfying the eventual coupling would be if the author had waited. This is why my favorite type of literary romance is the slow-burn, where the tension builds between two people for ages. Where you get a hundred little moments that make your heart skip. Where you just want to reach into the pages and knock the character's mouths together.

 

Where you sob into your pillow about how life would be perfect if they could only SEE how much they should be together. Where you curse every obstacle in their path as slowly, inevitably, they make their ways towards each other. And when they finally kiss... it is magic.

 

 TV does this so well. Maybe it's because everybody is terrified of the Moonlighting Curse (though not anymore... thank you, Castle and New Girl and Bones), but TV shows like to keep their TV couples apart for ages and ages, tossing you a few tantalizing  morsels of goodness every now and then to make you die a little. Obviously you don't want to drag out the tension TOO long, so that the chemistry fizzles, but when you have a long history of push-pull-almost-almost, that moment where they come together will be all the sweeter. It will be earned. The couple will have taken their slow, delicious time. Not from zero to a million in thirty pages flat. No, no, no.

These are the kinds of ships I love. These are the ships that make me go a little crazy.

 

 These are also the ships that are given time to develop and never rely on inta-love, which is often used in the place of development. If the characters just know they love each other, then we don't have to spend all this time explaining why, right? But I think a bookish couple that waits will love each other more in a million more ways. Why? Because they'll get to learn about each other. And we get to watch. There's nothing more fun.

Related: Insta-Love: An Insta-Turn Off

Sometimes, when the couple gets together so early, it feels like a wasted opportunity. I mean, if Castle and Beckett had gotten together in Season One, would their first (real) kiss have made me scream and (quite literally) topple off my couch in ecstasy? If Ron and Hermione hadn't been bantering and bickering for seven years, but had instead decided they were Meant to Be 4everz back in their first year, would we have loved them as much? No. Because we wouldn't have gotten to  see all the moments of normalcy between the two characters. Those are the moments that make me really love a ship. The everyday chemistry. The under-the-surface love coming through in the little things. In Castle bringing Beckett coffee. Daine from The Immortals bemoaning the fact that Numair talks all fancy. Ron making fun of Hermione being a teacher's pet.

I'm just going to leave this here for no reason whatsoever.

I really love Castle, okay?
OH WHOOPS, no clue how this got in here, either. *stares at GIF for ten more minutes*

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You've all experienced the moments. Things look like they're going southward for our beautiful, stubborn, non-canon OTP. Maybe they're fighting, or there's a battle, or one of the characters is dating somebody else. But then something HAPPENS, there's a MOMENT, and...



HAAAAAALLELUJAH! THE GREATEST FEELING THERE EVER WAS. Tell me you have never screamed or clasped a book to your heart or danced around the room when your couple finally coupled? Twelve-year-old Gillian practically had a seizure when Daine and Numair kissed in the last book int The Immortals quartet by Tamora Pierce. These moments of finally coming together feel... well, momentous. Life-changing. Earned. The author has put in the hard work and the patience, and so have I. All those years of investing have paid of big time. The more feels you invest in a couple, the more feels you get out. It's simple shipping math.

Here are some of my favorite slow-burn TV couples with some of the BEST "Eureka!" moments around.

Castle and Becket from Castle
 
Chandler and Monica from Friends

Luke and Lorelai from Gilmore Girls

Rory and Jess from Gilmore Girls 

Nick and Jess from New Girl

Elena and Damon from The Vampire Diaries

And here are some of my favorite slow-burn YA couples (this was a harder list to put together)

Alek and Deryn from Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Ron and Hermione from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling



Daine and Numair from The Immortals by Tamora Pierce

Elisa and Hector from The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Anna and Etienne from Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Persis and Justen from Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

Blue and Gansey from The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater
(not actually a couple but I SHIP THEM SO CAN'T YOU FEEL THE TENSION)

Michael and Mia from The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot 
 (SHIPPED THEM WITH ALL MY SOUL AS A YOUNG TEENAGER)

Georgie and Dave the Laugh from the Georgia Nicolson series
(THE ORIGINAL OTP AND IF YOU DON'T THINK THEY'RE PERFECT FOR EACH OTHER THEN YOU FAIL TO COMPREHEND ROMANCE)

Make me wait for it, authors. I may die in the short run with impatience, but in the long run... well, if you play the long run, you may make it onto my shipping hall of fame.



What about you? How do you feel about slow-burn romances? Do you have any favorites?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Review: If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch


Review: If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch
Goodreads 
Release date: March 26th, 2013
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Series: No
Source: won from Judith at Paperiot
Rating: Harrowing, touching, and gorgeously written.

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A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey’s younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very survival. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency. Until that one fateful day their mother disappears for good, and two strangers arrive. Suddenly, the girls are taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes and boys.

Now, Carey must face the truth of why her mother abducted her ten years ago, while haunted by a past that won’t let her go… a dark past that hides many a secret, including the reason Jenessa hasn’t spoken a word in over a year. Carey knows she must keep her sister close, and her secrets even closer, or risk watching her new life come crashing down.



The story: If You Find Me is the type of book that must be read when you're in the right move. It's harsh and lyrical and gritty and beautiful all at the same time.If you're in the mood for something light, this isn't the right book for. If you want to read about the horrible effects of neglect and abuse and the strength it takes to hope and change, then I recommend checking out If You Find Me.

Fifteen-year-old Carey lives in a trailer in the woods with her six-year-old sister and her mentally ill and drug-addicted mother. Carey's whole life is the woods and her sister, Nessa. She lives in a shelter of neglect, entirely cut-off from the outside world and not really aware of how horribly mistreated she is. One day, a social worker and her long-lost father arrive. Just like that, Carey is whisked away from the only home she knows and plopped down in a culture that's foreign to her and living with a strange man she doesn't trust.

This book is beautiful and gut-wrenching. My heart would break over the tiniest things, particularly when Carey's ignorance would come through. Her father offer to take her and Jenessa out for hamburgers. Carey answers that she doesn't think they've ever eaten "handburgers", but she's sure they'd really like them. She finds it a near-miracle to actually own a coat that doesn't reek of cat pee. She's never encountered a whole room for your clothes before. Much of Carey's thoughts are formed in a wood dialect, but not the sort that bothers me, and she makes a conscious effort to "clean" her language so she won't be mocked.

Carey's journey is difficult and lovely to read. She knows, objectively, that she was mistreated in the woods, and yet she misses it anyway. She describes it in such visual, poetic terms, and she missed the "woods-brave" girl she was there, where she knew what to expect and how to handle things. Watching her adjust to this new, loud, confusing world was really heartbreaking. She misses the days  when her little sister, who doesn't speak, depended on her entirely. She doesn't feel like she fits in her father's home or in the real world, despite the fact that her father and stepmother were both lovely people who tried to help (that was nice to read about). 

One of the few aspects of this book that didn't work for me was the romance. Carey has been horribly abused in just about every way, and while it was sweet that Ryan was so... well, sweet, I just didn't really buy it. It was a bit quick and easy, and while I'm so glad that Carey has found someone she can trust, I felt it should have been a little more difficult for both of them. Carey had been through so much, and I'm not sure Ryan, who'd also been through a lot, really grasped that.

My other problem was with Delaney. She's Carey and Jenessa's stepsister, and is initially extremely resentful and hostile to Carey once Carey comes to live with them. While I understand Delaney's resentment-- she's used to being the only child, all of her parent's attention is being diverted to Carey and Jenessa, etc-- I felt Delaney was unrealistically vicious. She had a right to some of her anger, but the way she took it out on Carey just seemed impossibly cruel. Here is a fourteen-year-old girl who has lived in a trailer in the woods for ten years. The only adults she's seen in that time are her meth-addicted mother and sexually abusive strangers. She lived without electricity, raised her six-year-old sister, and doesn't know a single pop culture reference or even how to use a washing machine. She doesn't know what hamburgers or milkshakes are. Carey has led an absolutely horrendous life.

Not even the most spoiled of American teenagers would react with vitriol and mockery to such a situation. Delaney's complete and total mean-girl-ness just seemed over the top to me. I don't think a character who abandons an abused girl on her first day of high school in a world she is entirely unfamiliar with is redeemable. The story did a good job of making me sort of understand her, but it also wanted me to forgive her actions, which I could not. They were too much for me.

Despite those two issues, If You Find Me is a very powerful read with some stunning pieces of writing. This book has soul, if that makes sense; it really managed to connect to something inside me and make me think and feel.