I am Princess X

iamprincessxby Cherie Priest
First sentence: “Libby Deaton and May Harper invented Princess X in fifth grade, when Libby’s leg was in a cast, and May had a doctor’s note saying she couldn’t run around the track anymore because her asthma would totally kill her.”
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Content: It’s a bit intense at times and there is some mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Libby died three years ago in a car accident. May knows this. She’s moved on (sort of). But, when she’s back in Seattle the summer before she’s 17, she starts seeing stickers around town. Ones of a princess in a pink dress, red Chucks, and wielding a katana sword. The spitting image of the comic that Libby and May created in fifth grade. At first, it seems like a coincidence: maybe someone got a hold of all the pages Libby left when she died. Or, maybe — just maybe — Libby’s still alive.

After reading the webcomic, May is convinced of the latter. She’s convinced that Libby’s mom was murdered, that Libby was kidnapped, and that she’s the only one who can find Libby. She enlists the help of a recently-graduated computer geek (with a bit of a dark side), Patrick, and together they follow the clues May says are left. The thing is: what started out as an innocent investigation becomes increasingly more dangerous the further they get involved.

Ohmygosh! I don’t know why this took me too long to read this!

Seriously though, people: it’s a tight, interesting thriller, one that kept me guessing along as May and Patrick figure out and follow the clues. It gets intense at times and it definitely kept me turning pages.  THIS is what a good YA mystery is about. No extra lame love story. Cool characters. A fantastic mix of graphic and prose. So, so very good.

Can you tell I liked it?

The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak

by Brian Katcher
First sentence: “Zak!”
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Content: There’s some swearing, and one (brief) naked scene (which was alluded to), as well as passing references to drug use and drinking. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I can sum up this book in one sentence: Hermione and Michael Cera spend a crazy action-filled night at Seattle ComicCon and fall strongly in like.

It sounds simplistic, and like I didn’t care for the book, neither of which is true. The book may not be tackling the deepest subjects ever, but it’s not all fluff. And I found myself — in spite of the improbable situations that Ana and Zak found themselves in — thoroughly enjoying their adventure.

Ana is the daughter of super strict parents. Seriously: she believes that she makes one mistake — like her older sister, Nicole, did — and she’s kicked out of the house. So, she does everything right, from following her parents’ (insane) rules to letting them choose her college for her.

Zak’s father died a few years back and his mother recently remarried a guy Zak — uber geek extraordinaire — has nothing in common with. So, he spends his time being the slacker, failing health (by turning in a paper copied from Wikepedia, hyperlinks and everything. Who does that?), and having no desire to even go to college when he graduates in the spring.

They come together one fateful night, when the health teacher (who also happens to be the quiz bowl coach), um, encourages Zak to come to a tournament (by telling him she’ll waive his plagiarized paper and allow him to pass the class) instead of going to his favorite con, Washingcon, that happens to be in Seattle the same weekend as the tournament. Ana is loathe to have him on her team, especially since her first impression of him was terrible. Zak is loathe to be on the team, mostly because he finds Ana rigid and cold and because he’d much rather be AT the con rather than just near it. So, of course, they spend the entire night together at the con, looking for Ana’s younger brother who snuck out to attend.

The con itself was my favorite part (good thing it was most of the book); having never been to one before (shock! It’s on my bucket list, if only to people watch), I thoroughly enjoyed the con atmosphere Katcher painted. I don’t know if it was realistic; there were bullies and gay weddings and gaming tournaments and singing and Zak being some sort of geek god, but I ate it up. If that’s what a con is, then heck yeah, I want to go.

No, it wasn’t perfect: the ending took a turn for the weird when they ran into trouble with a drug runner, and the confrontation with Ana’s mom (when it came out that they were lying about where they were) was pretty unsatisfying (especially since I has just spent the whole book hating her). But, for the most part, it was a thoroughly enjoyable geeky adventure.

And you really can’t ask for much more than that.

I Was Here

by Gayle Forman
First sentence: “The day after Meg died, I received this letter:”
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Review copy pilfered from the Penguin rep pile.
Content: There is drinking, illusions to pot smoking, language, and some tasteful sex. It’s also a post-high school graduation book. For these reasons, it’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Cody and Meg have been best friends for as long as Cody can remember. Since her mother was gone pretty much all the time, Cody practically grew up at Meg’s house. Meg’s family became her family, Meg’s dreams her dreams. Until they graduated, and Meg got a full-ride scholarship away from their small Eastern Washington town and to a fancy liberal arts school in Tacoma. Suddenly, Cody was the one left behind.

A year later, though, Meg committed suicide. Leaving Cody behind again.

An aside here, in case this sounds crass: this book isn’t about Meg’s suicide. Not really. It’s about Cody, and her reactions to Meg’s suicide. Dealing with grief, dealing with loss, dealing with the reasons why. Meg isn’t a character in this book, even though you kind of get to know her. She’s a reason. A cause.

Cody heads to Tacoma to clean out Meg’s apartment and discovers an encrypted file. Suddenly what seemed like a simple suicide looks more suspicious. And with the help of one of Meg’s roommates (stereotypical Korean computer whiz) and an ex-boyfriend (tortured rock soul whom Cody ends up “saving”) Cody tries to make sense of the senseless.

In the end, it was less of a mystery than I hoped for and more of a romance. And while the romance was okay, I kind of thought it took away from the whole grief thing. Cody is hurt, and maybe one needs a Man to heal, but it kind of felt out of place here. Forman is a good writer, though, and she got across Cody’s raw grief and her questions that didn’t have answers and her need for closure.

A good read, if not an exceptional one.

The Cure for Dreaming

by Cat Winters
First sentence: “The Metropolitan Theater simmered with the heat of more than a thousand bodies packed together in red velvet chairs.”
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Review copy snagged off the ARC shelves my place of employment.
Content: There’s some pretty disturbing parenting, and enough horrible people to make anyone angry. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but it’d be appropriate (though they might have a difficult time understanding the politics of the situation) for younger readers.

It’s the turn of the 20th century, Olivia Mead is several things: a burgeoning scholar, the daughter of the local dentist, 17-years-old, and (most importantly) a supporter of the women’s suffrage movement.

This does not make Olivia’s father happy. So, when a hypnotist comes to town, he decides to hire the hypnotist to change Olivia, and make her bend to his will.

Fortunately, Henri the hypnotist is on Olivia’s side. Even though he does what her father wants, despicable as it is (he needs the money), he phrases the words so that Olivia will see the world as it Truly Is. Which means, her father is demonic, covered in blood. The rich socialites are bloodthirsty vampires. Women who don’t support suffrage are slowly turning invisible. And the women who do? They’re glowing from the inside out.

Sure, there’s more plot to this one than that, but who cares? This one has a strong feminist agenda and it’s not afraid of it. The father had me seething. The rich handsy boy whom the father liked made me want to smack him. Henri was nice enough, but I really loved Olivia and her struggle against the system (and the Man) and her desire to be Free. I was just cheering her on: you go girl!

I’m not entirely sure that the historical details were completely accurate, and I was kind of hoping for more of a supernatural element (like her father turned out to REALLY be a demon). But I’m not sure it matters. This is one of those books that’s just enough of a fun ride to let everything else slide.

Audiobook: The Boys in the Boat

by Daniel James Brown
Read by: Edward Herrmann
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Content: It’s a book about the 1930s, rowing, and Nazism. It’s appropriate for anyone who’s interested in reading about those things, and can handle a long-ish book. It’s in the History section of the bookstore.

In the 1930s, 8-man rowing was one of the most popular sports (who knew). And the west coast — the University of California and University of Washington — was the hot-spot of the sport. And in the years leading up to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the Washtington team became the best of the world.

This is the story of how the Washington boys became the Olympic gold medalists.

I think this is one of those books that I really needed to listen to rather than read. While I think it would have been interesting, listening to it made it riveting. I enjoyed the stories of Joe Ranz — who ended up in the number 7 seat in the Olympic boat — and the other boys, and how they came to be at Washington. I enjoyed the conflict that coach Al Ulbrickson had with the California coach. I didn’t enjoy the rehashing of 1930s Berlin, but I think that’s because I listened to In the Garden of the Beasts and this is basically re-hashing much of that territory. For someone who is unfamiliar with Hitler’s rise, it’s pertinent information.

But what I  really loved was the bits about how the sculls were made, about the effort it took to row a race. And the races themselves? They had me glued to my seat, hooked on every word.

It was a remarkable event, a remarkable story. And I’m so glad I know about it, now.

Just Call My Name

by Holly Goldberg Sloan
First sentence:
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Others in the series: I’ll Be There
Content: To say that this is intense is an understatement. Violence, yes, but also psychological intensity. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) at the bookstore.

When we last left Sam and Riddle, their father was safely behind bars and they were living with Emily Bell and her family. A happily ever after, right?

Well, only Holly Goldberg Sloan would take a happily ever after and turn it into a nightmare.

First, there’s the whole issue of security: Sam and Riddle (especially Riddle) were controlled and abused for so long that it’s difficult for them to trust their own decisions, to get back into “real” life. They’re suffering, and much of that is the residual affects from the years spent with their father. It doesn’t help that Emily and her family (well, except for her brother, who’s resentful) are super nice. Sam and Riddle don’t know how to handle super nice.

And then their happily ever after starts unraveling. First, it’s Destiney Vance, one of those girls that just screams trouble. Sam just knows it: like calls to like, and he understand’s Destiny’s hard life. But, she won’t be gotten rid of, and sticks to Sam and Emily (and Emily’s former boyfriend, Bobby) like glue.

Which is a good thing, because their dad, Clarence, finds his way out of jail and is coming for the boys. And the Bells.

Few authors have the power to completely wreck me emotionally, and yet keep me turning pages at an ever more furious pace, dying to know: WHAT NEXT? Sloan is one of those authors. She captures the inner lives of all the characters, deftly balancing between Sam, Riddle, Emily, Jared, Destiny, Robb, and Clarence. You wouldn’t think it would work, but Sloan pulls it off not only well, but spectacularly. It probably would have been even more powerful if I’d read the first book right before, but even though I didn’t, I was able to immerse myself in this story, my heart simultaneously aching and pounding as I read about Sam and Riddle and their not-so-happily ever after.


The Geography of You and Me

by Jennifer E. Smith
First sentence: “On the first day of September, the world went dark.”
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Review copy sent to my boss by the Little, Brown people, and she passed it off to me.
Content: There’s kissing. And a wee bit of swearing. Mostly it’s just sweet. It was in the Teen section (grades 9+) but after finishing it, I moved it to the YA section (grades 6-8) and it fits there just fine.

Lucy is the youngest child of well-off parents, living in an upscale apartment in Manhattan. Owen is the only child of parents who were once drifters, and whose mother recently died in a freak accident. His dad — who isn’t doing so well — is now the superintendent of Lucy’s building. They would have never met, except they were both in the elevator when the power went out. It was a chance meeting, but one that expanded into a night spent wandering a darkened New York City, and then falling asleep on the rooftop.

The next morning, though, Owen is gone when Lucy wakes up, and they never really quite connect again. Lucy’s parents move her to Scotland; Owen’s dad is fired and they’re headed west, looking for jobs. They figure they’ll never see each other again. Except, Owen starts sending her postcards. And so, they start a tentative long-distance relationship. One with its ups and downs.

It’s not a spoiler to say that this one has a hopefully ever after. It’s not happy, per se — Lucy and Owen still live a great distance away — but it’s hopeful that they can make it work. And it’s not a spoiler to say that it’s not a terribly deep book. There’s no issues, really, and no angst. It’s mostly just a sweet journey of two people figuring out they really really like each other.

It’s enjoyable fluff, though. Sweet and charming. And I found that’s exactly what I needed to make me smile.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

by Leslye Walton
First sentence: “To many, I was myth incarnate, the embodiment of a most superb legend, a fairy tale.”
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Release date: March 25, 2014
Review copy sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an IndieNext blurb.
Content: There are a few mild swear words, but lots of sex (none of it graphic), including a rape scene. It also reads more like an “adult” book than a “teen” one. I’ll probably shelve it in the Teen (grades 9 and up) section, though it might do better in the general fiction section at the bookstore.

While the title of the book suggests this book is about a girl named Ava Lavender, there is more to this story. In fact, it’s about Ava Lavender only because she’s the granddaughter of Emmaline Roux and daughter of Viviane Lavender. It’s equally their story. And it’s (to be honest) a difficult story to tell.

There’s foolish love, unrequited love, passion, and most of all a magic running through it all. It’s the magic of Like Water for Chocolate: Things happen because of the passion. Not the least of which is that Ava Lavender was born with wings. Not just little wings, either. Full-fledged, huge speckled wings. Her mother, being the person she is, doesn’t allow Ava to leave their hilltop Seattle home. But. Ava longs to be a “normal” teenager. Unfortunately, normality comes at a price.

The magic runs in other places as well: Ava’s twin, Henry, only talks when he needs to, and that’s not very often. Her grandmother sees ghosts. Her mother sense of smell is beyond extraordinary. The man down the road inspires people to confess their sins. Things like that.

The writing is… lyrical. The book… magical. And me? Well, I read it. See, magical realism and I don’t really get along terribly well. I wanted… something more to happen.  It’s not that it was a bad book; it wasn’t. It just wasn’t, well, my cup of tea.

Where’d You Go Bernadette?

by Maria Semple
ages: adult
First sentence: “The first annoying thing is when I ask Dad what he thinks happened to Mom, he always says, ‘What’s most important is for you to understand it’s not your fault.'”
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Bernadette Fox is one of those enigmas that drive Soccer Moms crazy. She’s a recluse, she’s  doesn’t involve herself in the PTO, she has impeccable fashion sense, and she’s talented. All of which adds up to jealousy and gossip.

As told from Bernadette’s 14-year-old daughter Bee’s point of view, here are the events that led up to Bernadette’s disappearance:

1. Seattle is horrible. (I, personally, can’t vouch for that, but then I never lived there. But it she made a very good case for Seattle being full of a bunch of urbanite wannabes, without the sophistication, which makes for insecure and vicious women.)

2. The neighbor (one of those urbanite wannabes Bernadette calls “gnats”) insists on Bernadette removing ALL of the blackberry bushes from her yard. In the middle of the wettest December ever.

3. In the middle of the neighbor’s party, the entire hillside (where the aforementioned blackberry bushes were) slides down into the house destroying the party (and the house). Which sets neighbor off.

4. Another “gnat” (and neighbor’s best friend) becomes Bernadette’s husband’s admin. With disastrous results.

5. Bee wants to go on a cruise to Antartica. In December (it’s their summer). Which sets off Bernadette’s anxiety.

6. Husband decides (with some prompting by aforementioned admin gnat) that what Bernadette really needs is to be checked into a mental institution.

So, of course Bernadette has little choice but to disappear.

Someone asked me, after reading the jacket blurb, “Is this a sad book?” I can wholeheartedly say: No, it’s not. It’s funny, it’s pointed at those people (women, mostly) who want to pretend to be Sophisticated, it’s a heartfelt exploration of depression and of acceptance. And it’s a testament to a girl’s faith in her mother. It’s a sweet story, if a bit rambling at times, one that I didn’t mind spending a few hours reading. 

Two Middle Grade Verse Books

I read these two back to back while getting my hair done a while ago. And since they were so similar in style and tone, I figured I needed to review them together.

Eva of the Farm
by: Dia Calhoun
ages: 9+
First sentence: “On top of the hill, I lean against the deer fence and write a poem in the sky.”
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Twelve-year-old Eva lives on her family farm in Eastern Washington. For the most part, she’s been happy, but tough times have hit the area, and things are Changing for her. Her best friend’s family lost their farm and had to move to Seattle, and they’ve grown apart in the months since. And since finding out her family’s finances — not to mention the mounting medical bills from her younger brother’s illness — were more than precarious, Eva’s been trying to find ways to help, to find Hope in her life again.

For the most part, the book is a lovely verse novel. I liked that Calhoun tackled the plight of small farmers, and how hard it is to keep the small family farm going in this era of Big Farm. I enjoyed the imagery, and I especially liked the relationship Eva has with the Bead Woman, and the things about Hope and Love she learns. The thing that didn’t work for me was the poetry within the poetry. See, Eva’s a poet, and her poetry played a big role. But I almost felt like it was overkill: to have a novel in verse, and then throw in extra poetry. It just didn’t work for me. (And, yes, I skipped all the poems.)

But, otherwise, it’s a lovely little book.

Looking For Me
by: Betsy R. Rosenthal
ages: 9+
First sentence: “I’m just plain Edith.”
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This one is a slim historical book about a large Jewish family in Baltimore based on the author’s mother’s life. Edith is number four in a family of 12 children, growing up during the Depression. Her father is remote, trying to make ends Follow my blog with Bloglovinmeet running a diner. Edith doesn’t really know who she is: she’s always being bossed around by her older siblings and being expected to take care of her younger ones. She doesn’t think she’s the brightest person (she doesn’t know all the big words, and she can’t spell terribly well). But she has a good heart.
While enjoyable, Looking for Me lacked the emotional punch that I wanted from this story. Maybe it had something to do with the form — though usually, verse novels don’t turn me off — but, I wanted more from this one. There’s a death that wracks the family, but I felt… nothing. I wanted to feel pain and hurt, and hope when Edith began recovering, but I was kept at a distance by the novel, and I found that ultimately disappointing. Also, while she got the business and crowdedness of a big family, she missed, somehow, the deep friendship and love that exists in a family that large.

It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t brilliant either.

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