All tagged Recommended

Unbreak My Heart by Melissa C. Walker

Melissa Walker’s new novel had an uphill battle with me.

You see, it managed to remind me of The Worst Earworm Ever. During my sophomore year of Professional Nerding School (aka college at American University), Toni Braxton’s Un-Break My Heart was everywhere I turned. I’d hear it playing on MTV in the dorm lounge, on the radio in the cafeteria, blasting on “boomboxes” (yep, we still had those in the nineties)… everywhere.

Toni’s soulful crooning* drove me nuts for months on end. 

However, don’t let this book fool you like it did me. 

Unbreak My Heart is a charming, heartfelt read about friendship, family, first love and second chances. 

Fracture by Megan Miranda

Usually I hate taglines on book covers,* but the tagline on the cover of Megan Miranda’s Fracture says it all, 

A lot can happen in eleven minutes.

That line is from this early passage in the novel, which creates the premise of this fascinating debut, 

A lot can happen in eleven minutes. Decker can run two miles easily in eleven minutes. I once wrote an English essay in ten. No lie. And God knows Carson Levine can talk a girl out of her clothes in half that time.

Eleven minutes might as well be eternity underwater. According to the lessons from health class, it only takes three minutes without air for loss of consciousness. Permanent brain damage begins at four minutes. And then, when the oxygen runs out, full cardiac arrest occurs. Death is possible at five minutes. Probable at seven. Definite at ten.

Decker pulled me out at eleven.

The Princesses of Iowa by M. Molly BackesEvery now and then, a young adult book reminds me that I am not the target audience for YA authors.

The Princesses of Iowa is one of those books.

However, for the target audience of teen girls and their parents (you know, the people who pay for the books that their teenage daughters read), I’d say that The Princesses of Iowa is the perfect book. Except for ONE MAJOR ISSUE that I address at the end of this review for the sake of emphasis.

I say that because while the book has a lot teenagers can relate to in a non-sugarcoated way, it’s still a message book that parents will like. It’s full of lessons about tolerance, the dangers of drunk driving and the virtues of being yourself, even if you don’t know quite what that is yet.

(If you think that all of these valuable lessons crammed into one book sounds like a long book, you’d be right, as The Princesses of Iowa clocks in at a hefty-for-YA 441 pages.)

I've Got Your NUmber by Sophia KinsellaOveridentifying with a Sophie Kinsella character is often a sign that you’re on the verge of:

a. a nervous breakdown
b. being arrested for fraud
c. Finnish Finnish Finnish
d. all of the above

Well, Finnish Finnish Finnish because I loved Kinsella’s latest, I’ve Got Your Number, and totally related to the main character, Poppy.

I mean, who isn’t absolutely, life-on-the-line dependent on their cell phone? Who doesn’t think the Lion King was the greatest musical?! And who hasn’t pretended they were an answering machine when accidentally picking up a call?

Crickets on the last one? Well, FINE. You’d be surprised how easy it is to pull off though.

I liked, but didn’t love Robin LaFevers’ debut novel, Grave Mercy.

(Similar to how I liked, but never loved Lyla Garrity, and often found certain aspects of her personality annoying—hence the FNL Character rating below.)

First of all, this book is erroneously being marketed as Young Adult.

The main character and narrator, Ismae Rienne, is a young adult. That’s the only element of this book that strikes me as YA. (Sandra, a retired English teacher and therefore someone who knows what she’s talking about when it comes to literary genres, thoroughly agrees that this book does not have the attitude of a YA book.) A large part of that is due to the Ismae’s voice, which never quite struck me convincingly as that of a seventeen year old girl. This book should be categorized as historical fiction/romance with a touch of the supernatural.

Just keep that in mind if you decide to read this.

Now, the premise of Grave Mercy is Assassin Nuns + Medieval Court Intrigue, which sounds like it would = Badass Fun. However, Grave Mercy ends up going light on the badass, middling on the intrigue, and heavy on the non-smutty romance.

If that doesn’t sound interesting to you, don’t read this book. 

Now, my favorite part of Grave Mercy is the setting. 

Books, I love them. So, who am I to judge whether a book is good or bad?

We’re all different so our taste in books differs.

I taught high school language arts for twenty-six years, so I suffered from an ailment I’ll call deep-seated-snob syndrome, DSSD. Some books I read in the privacy of my own home where I wouldn’t be caught holding a Stephen King novel in my hands—or God forbid, James Patterson.

I enjoyed these secret reads. I didn’t need to analyze them, rate them or discuss them with students. I simply climbed into their worlds, lost myself in the story and loved every minute of it.  

Reading King’s Pet Semetary late one night while lounging in bed, I came to the page where the main character’s dead cat comes back from the dead, drags its dead carcass up the stairs and leaps upon the bed. At that precise moment my own cat (clearly channeling her inner demon) leapt onto my bed. Fortunately, I avoided heart failure, but I may have screeched instead.

The point to all of this is to say, books have a place in each person’s life at its different stages and times.

After reading Gemma Halliday’s Deadly Cool this week, a bit of DSSD malady raised its ugly head. 

Tomorrow Land by Mari Mancusi hit my sweet spot for book brain candy.

And, yes, that’s a compliment—good book brain candy is hard to come by. However, I want to say from the outset that Tomorrow Land is campy. It’s cheesy. It’s over-the-top. But, I love action movies and comic book-inspired movies, so I’m always up for a bit of ridiculousness in my entertainment. If you don’t enjoy those things too, Tomorrow Land is not at all for you. 

Previously published in paperback as Razor Girl by now-defunct Dorchester (Goodreads, Amazon), Tomorrow Land is available only as an ebook (I believe it’s self-published, but it’s obviously professionally edited and formatted) at the moment. It is my understanding that Tomorrow Land was retooled as a YA novel while Razor Girl was an adult novel (I am curious as to the differences—Google hasn’t helped in determining this). 

The premise is a bit… wild.

George Pelecanos, along with Dennis Lehane and the marvelous Elmore Leonard, is one of my go-to authors if I want a crime fiction fix. 

I’ve read all of Pelecanos’ (who’s known by lots of folks for his work writing some of the best episodes of The Wire) novels and my husband wrote his MA thesis on Pelecanos’ early series, the DC Quartet (back when Pelecanos was only known by crime fiction nerds), so it’s hard for me to look at his books in isolation—I always find myself thinking about them in comparison to his other works.

In particular, I have a nostalgic affection for The Sweet Forever (Goodreads, Amazon) and The Big Blowdown (Goodreads, Amazon), which are raw and somewhat less self-conscious than his later, longer novels. Lit-fic fans tend to prefer Pelecanos’ Derek Strange novels because the social commentary is more overt, but I love the strong sense of time and place in the earlier ones. 

Fortunately, Pelecanos’ latest release, What it Was, follows the style of his earlier, shorter hard-boiled crime novels.

You know that love-hate thing that everyone has with Julie Taylor on Friday Night Lights?

I had that same relationship with this book and with Ella, the narrator of Melissa Jensen’s The Fine Art of Truth or Dare. On one hand, she really is smart, and she matures throughout the story, on the other hand, like Julie, I didn’t find myself rooting for Ella to get the nice guy love interest, Alex, until the very end (kind of like Julie). 

Ella is a working with a  somewhat visible scar, on a scholarship at The Willing School, a wealthy private school in Philadelphia. Unlike her classmates, she lives in the neighborhood in which the school is located, where her family also runs a restaurant. In TFAoToD, we follow her as she navigates class differences, changing relationships with friends, mean girls, a research project about a dead artist and a budding relationship with her lacrosse star French tutor. 

Sounds like a lot? It is, even though the book is relatively lengthy for a contemporary YA at 380 pages.

There is, however, a lot to like in this novel.

Chopsticks is probably best described as a graphic novel… sort of… about forbidden teenage love and mental illness.

But that’s not a particularly descriptive description.

Part scrapbook, part narrative, Chopsticks in an innovative approach to storytelling. This contemporary YA tells the story of Glory and Frank, next door neighbors that fall in love and are rapidly split apart by both distance and Glory’s father. Glory is a piano prodigy slowly descending into a dark world, where she’s only able to play Chopsticks on the piano and obsesses over Frank’s drawings. Frank is a gifted artist who’s failing out of his prestigious prep school. Chopsticks takes the reader through the couple’s tale in photo, snippets of IMs, YouTube video links, drawings and mementos from their relationship. 

Beyond the IMs and occasional scraps of paper with notes and lists, there are no words in Chopsticks. 

C.K. Kelly Martin is one of my favorite “sleeper” young adult authors.

It boggles my mind that her work is not more widely known. The Lighter Side of Life and Death is an outstanding example of authentic, engaging teen male point of view, while One Lonely Degree is a heartwrenching story of friendship. (I haven’t read I Know It’s Over, as it deals with teen pregnancy and I usually avoid that theme, but many folks have told me it’s excellent as well.)

My Beating Teenage Heart was unexpected. 

{Review} Freefall by Mindi Scott

FNL Character Rating: Vince Howard!!!!!

{Editor’s Note: This is one of my favorite all-time novels, and one I recommend to people who think they don’t like YA fiction. I recommended this to Laura and I was thrilled that she loved it as much as I do. What’s even better is that Laura got different things out of it because of her own experiences with music, so it was doubly awesome to read her review. ~Sarah}

The first thing I loved about this book was the voice.

It is so rare and refreshing to read a YA book from a male POV. Author Mindi Scott, manages the very difficult task of making me, a 31 year old female adult, relate to a 16 year old teenage boy’s POV. It is seriously freaky how Mindi Scott managed to write wrote the male version of me (personality and humor) wise into a book character in Seth McCoy. 

I don’t read a lot of novels in verse, nor do I read a lot about dance. The former is more because I don’t really know how to sift through the good stuff and the bad stuff, the latter because dance (especially ballet) kind of freaks me out—the body obsessive, intense grind of it is extremely disturbing to me. However, despite my reluctance with both of these elements, Audition was a fantastic read. 

Interesting Themes

Fish out of water, rural girl in an urban, sophisticated setting, is one of my favorites and it’s handled so, so well. Having lived that experience as a 17 year old, I appreciate when this is done well, and in a nuanced, non-stereotypical manner. Audition really nails the feelings of having the wrong everything—the wrong clothes, the wrong accent, etc. I haven’t seen this addressed in a lot of reviews, but it’s an important element. 

Fangirl squeal!!!

I’m a bigtime Sarah Ockler fangirl. Big. Time. Her books just speak to me—she writes about family, and places, and relationships and life in a way that makes me think, “That is my life/family/hometown/whatever.” Plus, one time I “talked” to her on Twitter about Friday Night Lights (as well as her editor and Melissa C. Walker), so she’s completely rad simply for that reason, natch.

I have a feeling that Bittersweet will be one of those books that people read in very different ways. Some will read it as a “cute” book with a cupcake theme, some with grasp onto the sports themes or the small town story, while others will see it more as a divorce novel. It certainly took me by surprise—I loved Sarah Ockler’s other books, but since most of the early reviews I’d read of this one had focused on the cupcake/bakery theme, I was expecting something less emotional—Bittersweet has a lot of depth and it really surprised me. 

Well, this is embarrassing. 

Heart of Steel was recommended by Noelle, whose taste is very similar to my own, so I reluctantly looked past the heinous cover (thanks to my ereader) and aversion to steampunk and gave it a try. And, holy moly, am I glad I did.

Heart of Steel is seriously badass: in bullet points.

  • Yasmeen is a fantastic lead character. She’s tough and smart and capable. I loved her as the captain of an airship, and her loyalty to her crew. 
  • Archimedes Fox, the male lead, is delightful. He’s funny and a clotheshorse and awkwardly in touch with is feelings. He’s brilliant character.