Dec. 2nd, 2008 09:57 am
blue_ant: (sid [reading])
[personal profile] blue_ant
153. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
This is the graphic novel version of Neil Gaiman's book of the same title. I read it because it was the only copy of the book I could get easily and it was worth it. It's a quick read, only partly because it's a short graphic novel. The real reason is because it's quite a page turner. The pictures, in addition to the language, draw you into the story and, unlike so many graphic novels, really do seem to come alive on the page. Even thinking about it now, it's like I was watching the book happen, not reading it.

The story is strong, and is about a little girl who moves with her parents into a new home. It reminded me, in the best way, of Spirited Away. Coraline finds a door that is supposed to open into a brick wall, but instead leads her to another world. She must battle an evil woman trying to be her mother, in order to free her family and friends. Gaiman's writing, as usual, is terrific and the drawings are wonderful. I cannot wait to see the movie and read the actual novella, of course.

154. Wide Awake David Levithan
First off, I'm a big fan of David Levithan. I've read several of his books and liked them all. I liked Wide Awake too -- the premise was good, our main character, Duncan, was strong and liked his relationships with his friends and boyfriend. But I think Levithan spent too much time on the message in his book and not enough on the story.

The book is filled with scattered italicized sections of text that represent excerpts from speeches given by the president-elect of the novel -- a gay Jewish man named Abe Stein. I think, instead of enhancing the novel, there are too many and they draw the reader away from what I felt was the real story -- the idea that these teens who cannot vote were out on the front lines, as it were, trying to get people to support Stein.

Levithan's other characters are interesting, but in some ways I think this book lacks the excitement his others have. Over on Amazon, School Library Journal's review said that Duncan's boyfriend, Jimmy is 'too flat to care about,' but I partly disagree. The real problem is that Duncan and Jimmy don't have a good relationship. I think Levithan missed a chance to create a strong, independent character in Duncan. He wrapped everything up too neatly, and that, I think, is the biggest flaw of the book.

I enjoyed reading it -- I stayed up too late finishing it. But it lacked the same energy and desire that I've found in his other books. But, at the same time, I enjoyed reading it. It's a timely YA novel good for kids who aren't quite sure about politics and how to stand up for what you believe in.

155. Striking Back: The 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and Israel's Deadly Response by Aaron J. Klein
I picked this book up because I'd come across a similar title and was reading reviews and all of them pointed to this book as the one book on the Munich Olympic massacre that people should read. I'd watched the movie Munich and a few short documentaries on the massacre, but my knowledge of the events was limited to popular culture. But after reading Aaron Klein's book, I feel as though I've discovered the truth.

Striking Back was published in 2006, so Klein is able to look at the events from a post 9/11 point of view, which I found to be extremely important. He was given unprecedented access to materials that remained hidden from public view until he asked.

What makes this book so good is not just limited to Klein's access to documents and people. It's the way he gives us an inside look at everything. We're not just talking about the athletes -- their families, the Israel Olympic Committee, the Israeli government, Mossad, the German government, as well as the terrorists themselves. But even then, Klein takes us on another journal.

It would be all too easy to write a biased book, focused on just the events of Munich, glossing over blame and Israel's response through rose colored glasses. Klein does not fall into the trap. Not only does he leave no one untouched, he explains the failings of both countries and then goes on to talk about Israel's response. While Munich takes a fictional view of realistic events, Striking Back fills in all the holes. Klein writes of the assassinations -- of the guilty, the supposed guilty and the accidental assassination of innocents.

Klein's writing is strong, he doesn't cushion the truth nor shy away from it when it's less than flattering. I found it to be a chilly story, even moreso because in some ways this feels like the beginning of something we've become used to -- non-state sponsored terrorism ending in a war that no one can win ad that is still going on.

155 / 170 new reads. 91% read!


Dec. 2nd, 2008 09:52 am
blue_ant: (carli [reading])
[personal profile] blue_ant
150. Tale of Two Summers by Brian Sloan
For some reason, even though I'd checked the book out of the library, I wasn't sure I wanted to read it. It's not that the premise wasn't good (two best friends relate their summer adventures to each other over the internet -- sexual exploits as well as the trauma of first loves, drama camp and driver's ed) nor was the way the book was written a turn off (written in the form of blog entries, written by both boys). I think I was afraid that the book wasn't going to be as self-aware as I like books written in a different format, to be. But luckily for me, Brian Sloan is a fantastic writer.

Tale of Two Summers turned out to be a really fun and engaging book. And, oh man, it was totally self-aware and in all the best ways. The story follows two boys, Charles (Chuck) and Hal, two best friends who are extremely close and are going to be apart for the first time in what seems like forever (Chuck says they haven't been separated since the 90s and the book takes place in 2006). Chuck sets up a blog before he goes to drama camp (he's really into singing and musicals) and manages to convince Hal (who has to stay in their hometown of Wheaton and takes driver's ed) to write in it. The entries are quite good, filled with detail and Sloan manages to keep the story flowing from entry to entry. Sure, we're reading blog entries, but they never felt like blog entries and I think that was essential to the book.

But Sloan also gives the book a bit of the twist. Hal recently came out to Chuck on New Year's Eve (some we learn about as the book goes on) and has a series of disastrous crushes. Both boys want relationships, or at least to get laid and that's part of what they blog about. Chuck develops crush on an exotic girl at his drama camp, while Hal meets a French boy named Henri. Both boys tell each other about their adventures in detail, but without making it seem formulaic or annoying, as diary-books often are. What I especially liked was how Sloan managed to keep us updated with things that happen when the two boys actually meet each other a few times during the summer.

Sloan also described the relationship between the two boys in a way that I haven't read before in gay literature where the best friend is a boy (who isn't also gay). I haven't read a lot, mind you, and I give Sloan a lot of credit for writing Chuck as the best friend who actually cares about Hal, without caring that he's gay. Sloan's created a strong bond between two boys, and in a way it takes a lot of guts to write a book like this -- especially considering how young the two characters are (15 and nearly 16). Some of the reviews I've read said that this wasn't quite realistic, and I totally agree with that. But, aside from that and a couple of things at the end, the book is throughly enjoyable. I applaud Sloan's effort and his book was a joy to read. So much so that I ended up staying up until 1:30 am one morning trying to finish it!

151. Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
My first thought, about halfway through, was how come I hadn't read this book earlier. This was because it was published the year before I finished college and I think I really would have appreciated it. But, as I finished the book, I realized I didn't think I would have enjoyed it as much as I did now. And, oh man, how I enjoyed it.

It's a well written story of a boy, Charlie, who is writing letters to someone -- to the reader, obviously, but not someone we know. He talks about his life, his worries, cares and basically everything. Unlike other books written in letter/diary/etc formats, this one is very detailed and self-aware unlike anything else I've read. It's as if Charlie is writing to me even though he's really writing to everyone who ever reads the book. I found this to be off-putting at first, but enchanting as the novel went on.

Chbosky's writing is strong and he guides us through Charlie's life in such a way that sometimes we feel like we are Charlie, instead of just spectators in his life. His story is complicated, like all lives of teens, but Charlie's is more than just that. He has other problems, depression, guilt, loss, things that most teens can't even begin to understand. But what Chbosky does so well is help us to understand them, through Charlie. Through his experiences, his loves and losses.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower has everything, from laughter to tears to joy to heartbreak. And Chbosky weaves these themes together through out the letters Charlie writes. They keep us turning pages, just as much as they keep Charlie going, no matter what happens to him. Chbosky is an exceptional writer and this novel is an exceptional piece of literature

152. Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman
André Aciman's novel is an exquisite work of fiction. While the book is about a seventeen year old boy (Elio), it is far from a young adult novel. That doesn't mean that young adults shouldn't read it, because they should (in fact everyone should). It's a beautiful book, mixing the angst of Elio with the beauty of Italy as well as the boy Elio falls in love with.

We follow Elio's life one summer, living with his family and their annual summer guest. This year it's a young (24, I believe) American named Oliver. Everyone likes Oliver, but Elio finds that his feelings run much deeper. Eventually the boys figure out their feelings and what we're given is a treat. Aciman captures what it means to be young, in love and running out of time. But instead of ending the novel with Oliver's return to American, Aciman gives us a glimpse of Elio's future. It's a gamble and it pays off, because the satisfaction (of a sort) that you feel at th end of the novel is worth all the, well, things that happen before.

The plot is strong, but what makes this novel so good is the writing. Aciman pulls you into the story with his writing and then keeps you there, your hopes pinned to Oliver just as Elio. the book is beautiful, heartbreakingly so and one of the best I've read this year, mostly because of the way Aciman creates and cultivates this ache inside you, the one Elio has for Oliver, as well as one that you have for Elio himself.

153 / 170 new reads. 90% read!


Nov. 13th, 2008 06:26 pm
blue_ant: (carli [reading])
[personal profile] blue_ant
141. Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
I absolutely loved Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, so I think my expectations were pretty high for Cohn and Levithan's second novel. Possibly too high at first, because while I found the plot interesting (Naomi loves Ely, Ely loves Naomi, but Ely loves boys more -- in brief. The book is so much more than that, though), I just couldn't get into, well, Naomi. But I progressed, mostly because I love the authors' style -- alternating points of view. Where Nick & Norah only had two points of view, Naomi and Ely had, well, lots. You have the exboyfriends, the best friends, the friends and, of course, Ely and Naomi. One of the things that kept me reading is the writing style. Cohn and Levithan do a fantastic job of integrating their styles, you don't know who is writing which part, and it doesn't matter. The book flows, just like Nick and Norah and, when all is said and done, I loved it. My problem was that I expected it to be like Nick and Norah, and it's (thankfully) not. This story is much more about hurt and love and loss (and everything in between), which is what makes it so good. You're not supposed to sympathize with Naomi (except for when you feel sorry for her -- especially since I've known people like her) and you're supposed to adore Ely. And then everything gets flipped upside down, which is perfect, too. I think what makes this novel especially good is that you get everyone's point of view, but you don't get all points of view. There's no omniscient narrator, just because you know what someone is thinking, doesn't mean that you know what everyone's thinking about that one scene. Sure, there's a lot of overlap, but it's good. Really, really good. I hope that Cohn and Levithan write more books together, because I cannot wait to read them.

142. The Blue Lawn by William Taylor
Before I explain what I liked about this book, let me get what I didn't like (well, more like that I had to overcome) first. The writing style. The book starts out in very vague tones and you don't really know whose point of view or ... much of anything. Eventually this resolves itself into the story, but it's kind of hard going at first. The reason is because this is a book written in and about New Zealand, so it uses slang that I'm not used to, but it works. In fact, it works extremely well. It's the story of David Mason and Theo Meyer, two teenagers trying to sort out their lives. David is a star rugby player, but it's sure that's what he wants to do with his life. Theo's a newcomer to the city and lives with his grandmother. It's a story about love and sex and growing up -- and then so much more. Taylor doesn't so much delve into the sex part of things, but there are a couple of extremely well written and intimate scenes between David and Theo. The story is both sweet and heartbreaking -- as well as moving. There are a couple of scenes that are extremely breathtaking. And, once you finish, you're left with a bittersweet taste, but at the same time, there's this hope that people will be able to love.

143. Hero-Type by Barry Lyga
I don't even remember why I picked this book up, except it looked intriguing, and boy was it. It's the story of Kevin. He's the town hero, he saved Leah's life, but he's also harboring a secret. That may sound a little like a cop out, but you don't know what the secret is until almost halfway through the novel. And, to be perfectly honest, I think it works just fine. What makes this book good, aside from the rather complex plot, is the fact that Lyga portrays Kevin exactly as he is -- a reluctant hero so caught up in his own shortcomings (those that his friends and family overlook) that he ends up mixed up in more than just the fame of being a hero. Kevin doesn't believe he's a hero and when we find out why, we can't help but feeling sorry for him. Lyga has Kevin redeem himself in one of the most unlikely ways, turning the book from an excellent coming of age story, into a novel that's both about coming of age but what it means to grow up and to fight for what you believe in. Maybe Kevin's a hero, maybe it's not. But, in the end, it doesn't matter.

144. Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande
I wasn't sure about this book -- I read the dust jacket summary, it sounded interesting, but maybe not quite what I wanted to read. And then, well, I read it. And I have to say that Robin Brande is brilliant. Brande's story follows the freshman year of Mean, a quiet unassuming girl who thrust herself into the center of attention (not on purpose) and got kicked out of her church for doing what she believes is right. Similarly to Barry Lyga's novel Hero-Type, we don't know exactly what Mean did until halfway through the novel. This is probably the one thing that kind of annoyed me, because I kept wanting to know what she did, but I understand why Brande wrote the story the way she did. In a lighthearted (in some ways) and touching novel, Brande explores exactly what it means to be Christian and confronted with things that you used to believe in, but aren't sure about anymore. She turns her novel into one of the most compelling fictional descriptions of the differences of church and state -- as well as Christianity and evolution. There's obviously much, much more to the story than this, but th idea that Brande can write a brilliant coming of age story and mix it up with these serious themes is a clear endorsement of her skills as a writer. Not only did she keep me throughly entertained, but she did it in a way that felt neither patronizing nor preachy. I highly, highly recommend this book.

144 / 150 new reads. 96% read!


Nov. 10th, 2008 11:43 am
blue_ant: (devon [fandom + work])
[personal profile] blue_ant
137. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron
Cameron's book is truly a fantastic book. Not only is the story well done, but the writing is brilliant. Someday This Pain Will be Useful to You is the story of James, an 18 year old boy trying to figure out, well, life. He's not sure he wants to go to college, he's not really sure about much of anything, except that he wants to be alone and he hates people his own age. Cameron handles everything perfectly -- the several time married mother, the distant and yet controlling father, the implied crush on the older coworker, and the love that James is seeking without really knowing it. I say perfectly because he manages to capture how our lives (the lives of the family, of teenagers, of college students, of everyone) are not perfect at all. James' view is one that anyone can relate too, not just teens. This isn't just because he's such a universal character in many ways, it's also because Cameron proves to be a sublime writer. James is smarter than many people (perhaps smarter than we are) and while in many books (YA or otherwise) this would be a turn off, it's the opposite. James doesn't lord it over his readers, just the people he encounters. And often, it's not even on purpose. While this book isn't about me, reading it I felt it had been written for me. It's an incredibly emotional (and emotionally driven) story about what it's like to grow up when you're already halfway there.

138. Awakening by Robin Wasserman
139. Betrayal by Robin Wasserman
140. Truth by Robin Wasserman
I'm reviewing all three of these together because they're part of the Chasing Yesterday trilogy. This is the story of a girl "named" JD. She wakes up in pain and has no idea who she is or what's going on. Eventually she ends up in a hospital, but her memories are still gone. Known as Jane Doe at first (before asking to be called JD), she is stubborn and strong, stronger than she really understands. Upon leaving the hospital, JD ends up in a home for, well, kids with nowhere else to go. She befriends Daniel, the one person she believes she can trust. The story follows JD and Daniel as they try to figure out who JD really is. As the books progress, the danger increases, for both JD and Daniel and from JD herself. There's a twist of fantasy within the novels that was slightly surprising, but well done. The books lead quite well into each other and Wasserman does an excellent job of tying the trilogy up, without really copping out on an ending. There are several surprises that caught me off guard, which was nice, considering some books similar to this would be seen as too formulaic. The storyline, in many ways, reminded me loosely of the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson. The writing, of course, was much better that Patterson's books, but there were a few elements (an institution, issues with parents and lies about the past) that brought the other series to mind. But, over all, if you a few days, I suggest checking all three books out and reading them one after the other. And, if you liked those, read Wasserman's other book with a similar theme, Skinned. Which, in my opinion, is even better.

140 / 150 new reads. 93% read!


Nov. 8th, 2008 04:25 pm
blue_ant: (daniel [rock star])
[personal profile] blue_ant
135. Not Flesh Nor Feathers by Cherie Priest
This is the second novel of Priest's that I've read. It's not the second in her series, but it's the only other one I could get from the library. The book is excellent, it's both scary without getting out of control and interestingly descriptive without driving me crazy (I like action, what can I say?). I haven't read a lot of zombie books (a few graphic novels), but this is a great one. Her reasoning behind the zombies is different, but sound and it works perfectly, both in the context of this book as a lone read and in the series as a whole. Her writing style fits the characters perfectly and her setting fits the novel just as smartly. Throughly enjoyable read, and I'll be heading the bookstore soon to pick up her other books.

136. Skin Deep by E.M. Crane
I wasn't sure what to expect when I started this book. The cover is beautiful, but gives nothing away. The back cover reads only "Do you know what's underneath if you scratch the surface?" Which also gives nothing away, though it does hint at the depth of the novel. Even once you read the inside flap, you don't really know if this is some sort of fantasy story or just straight fiction. In a way it is fantasy, but not in such a way that the book should be shelved anyplace other than regular fiction. It's a story that any girl (or boy) who wasn't ever that popular in high school can related to. In loose terms, it's about love, loss and growing up. But Crane's book is so much more than that. It's an extraordinary view into a world that is like our own, but not quite. Our heroine, Andrea, is in the process of discovering who she is and in doing so, she uncovers more than she bargains for. She might not find herself by the end of the novel, but what she does find is much, much better.

136 / 150 new reads. 91% read!


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