Sunday, February 27, 2011

Wondrous Words (5)

Source: (we♥it)

"When they finished laughing they were on their way to being not just friends, but the dearest of friends, the sort of friends whose lives are shaped by the friendship."
- Robin McKinley, Spindle's End

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Elixir - Hilary Duff

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing

Indiebound Summary:
Clea Raymond has felt the glare of the spotlight her entire life. The daughter of a renowned surgeon and a prominent Washington DC politician, she has grown to be a talented photojournalist who takes refuge in a career that allows her to travel to the most exotic parts of the world. But after Clea’s father disappears while on a humanitarian mission, Clea’s photos begin to feature eerie, shadowy images of a strange and beautiful man—a man she has never seen before.

When fate brings Clea and this man together, she is stunned by the immediate and powerful connection she feels with him. As they grow closer, they are drawn deep into the mystery behind her father’s disappearance, and they discover the centuries old truth behind their intense bond. Torn by a dangerous love triangle and haunted by a powerful secret that holds their fates, together they race against time to unravel their pasts in order to save their lives—and their futures.

'Hilary Duff wrote a book?!' That was the reaction most people had when they realized what I was reading. To be honest, my reaction was the same when I first found out she was writing a YA novel. But when I read the summary, I was pleasantly surprised. It actually sounded promising. After finishing it though, I had problems with the execution of the plot and the characters.

One, Clea's background. Okay, so she's the daughter of a famous surgeon and a politician that has felt the spotlight her whole life. I might buy that she grew up kind of famous, but not to the extent portrayed in the novel. The America I know is more obsessed about the children of actors, models and the like. Unless you're the president or vice-president, most of America probably won't know who their politicians' kids are. I like to think of myself as sort-of politically savvy and I don't know who my senator's kids are, much less the kids from a senator from another state.

Two, Clea's characterization. Clea is rich, smart, famous, etc. Which probably won't be relatable to many readers. However, her sense of loss from her father's death, her drive for independence from her celebrity parent, and her strong friendship with Rayna does bridge the gap between her character and the reader's. That's a plus. However, Clea never felt completely fleshed out to me. She never becomes a three-dimensional person in my mind. I feel like with Clea and all the other characters is that Duff was just skimming the surface. There was so much to explore with these characters. But Rayna is the stock best friend. Ben is the boy who secretly crushes on her. And Sage is the mysterious boy who Clea is drawn to.

Three, Sage and Clea's relationship. I didn't buy it. It was one of those typical YA cliché where they have an instant connection and fall in love in a span of a couple days. Yea, that didn't sit well with me. I like my romances to build up. And it's not really about the days, but the fact that you barely know anything about him.

Clea, I can't believe you slept with him after knowing him for less then a week! And in a car?! I pretty much loss a lot of respect for you when you made that decision.

Four and last point, the plot. The premise was oh so promising. But there were so many plot holes. A lot of the plot seemed forced and engineered to get to where the author wanted it to be. Nothing felt natural. The home schooling is mention a continuous amount, but that was seemed like a way to explain all the jet setting all the time. And the two groups after the Elixir. They never really get explained. They become convenient villains. And a web forum?! For groups that sound like secret cults, a web forum?! Way to broadcast your not-so-secret group to the rest of the world. And the climax, a complete dud.

I really wanted to like this book. But there were so many problems. It's an easy read, if you can get pass the undeveloped plot and 2-D characters. I couldn't.

Book Source: ARC copy from publisher

Author Website | Indiebound | Goodreads

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Wondrous Words (4)

Source: (we♥it)

"There is only one page left to write on. I will fill it with words of only one syllable. I love. I have loved. I will love."
- Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler's Wife

Friday, February 18, 2011

Full Frontal Feminism - Jessica Valenti

Publisher: Seal Press

Indiebound Summary:
Feminism isn't dead. It just isn't very cool anymore. Enter Full Frontal Feminism, a book that embodies the forward-looking messages that author Jessica Valenti propagates on her popular website, Covering a range of topics, including pop culture, health, reproductive rights, violence, education, and relationships, Valenti provides young women a primer on why feminism matters. Valenti knows better than anyone that young women need a smart-ass book that deals with real-life issues in a style they can relate to. No rehashing the same old issues. No belaboring where today's young women have gone wrong. Feminism should be something young women feel comfortable with, something they can own. Full Frontal Feminism is sending out a message to readers: Yeah, you're feminists, and that's actually pretty frigging cool.

Ever had that friend that told you "I'm not a feminist, but..." because this is the book for them. It's also a great book for people who are starting to explore feminism. In Full Frontal Feminism, Valenti jumps from pop culture to sex education to violence against women and other numerous topics, providing a foundation on the issues that feminists address today. Scattered in the book are also fun facts relating to the chapter topic like "The United States is one of the two industrialized nations (the other being Australia) that doesn't provide paid leave for new mothers." or "Men outnumber women six to one in top corporate jobs." What makes this book good is not just the information provided within the pages, but the style Valenti presents it.

Full Frontal Feminism is written a way that engages readers. She writes with a wit and sarcasm shines through as she discusses purity balls, plastic surgery, child care, etc. It flows and is very conversational. When I was reading it, Valenti writes like she was simply having a casual conversation with me. Valenti is also frank and doesn't dumb down the information or hold things back. While this style is not for everyone, I believe that this will appeal to the younger generation. It definitely is a good book to give to teens about feminism and what being a feminist means. I would have definitely appreciated this book in high school. It would have definitely given me new perspectives on how to see the world then.

However, if you are already engaged in reading about women's issues and are looking for something more academic, this might not be the book for you. Due to the many topics that this book covers, it is hard to dive into depth about sex education or the influence of pop culture on girls. This book is meant as a primer for young girls who know nothing or just starting to get involved in feminism and women's issues. I can see this book sparking many a young girl's journey to becoming a feminist. My conclusion: A must for every young girl's bookshelf.

By the way, if you want to explore more on feminism, check out Feministing, a blog and community for feminists and their allies started by Jessica Valenti.

Book Source: own copy that I brought

Author Website | Indiebound | Goodreads

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Wondrous Words (3)

Source: (we♥it)

"I have crossed over to a place where I never thought I’d be. I am someone I would have never imagined. A secret. A dream. I am this, body and soul. Burn me. Drown me. Tell me lies. I will still be who I am."
- Alice Hoffman

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Mockingbirds - Daisy Whitney

Publisher: Little, Brown

Indiebound Summary:
Some schools have honor codes.
Others have handbooks.
Themis Academy has the Mockingbirds.

Themis Academy is a quiet boarding school with an exceptional student body that the administration trusts to always behave the honorable way--the Themis Way. So when Alex is date raped during her junior year, she has two options: stay silent and hope someone helps her, or enlist the Mockingbirds--a secret society of students dedicated to righting the wrongs of their fellow peers.

The Mockingbirds opens with Alex waking up in an unknown person's bed with no memory of the night before. She had sex, but she never remembers consenting. As fragments of the night comes back, Alex realizes that she been raped. What follows is an exceptional debut book about a young girl's stand for justice. Complex and authentic, Whitney weaves a story that's part courtroom drama and part emotional journey as Alex struggles to find her self and her voice in the aftermath of her rape.

I really love this book. It was one of my favorite debut novels of 2010. The characters and plot were so skillfully crafted that this is an impressive story that I would advocate every teen and their parent read this book. Alex's characterization felt very spot-on and realistic as she struggles with her feelings of doubt, guilt, shame, etc. as she attempts to feel 'normal' again. Her vulnerability and strength as she confronts her demons and her rapist definitely got me rooting for her. I also enjoyed the strong secondary female characters Whitney writes. Maia, Amy, T.S., etc. were all incredible characters as they help support Alex through her healing process. My internal feminist was definitely jumping up and down as these characters appeared on the page. Additionally, Whitney does not fall into the trap of characterizing all the boys as one-dimensional stereotypes. There were the jerks (Carter), but she also has Jones and Martin, boys who have a strong moral code and different ideas on how to approach justice.

One major aspect that I notice in many reviews is the commentary that Carter did not get a fitting enough punishment for his crime. That date rape is something that need to be address by the public legal system and that he should be given time in prison, etc.. I don't disagree with that statement. Rape is a serious issue and I completely agree that Carter should be given a harsher sentence, but given the confines of the premise, the punishment the Mockingbirds give for the guilt sentence is as far as their power can go. Because the Mockingbirds is a student-run society, anything harsher is out of their reach. The other comments I notice is about the version of justice that the Mockingbirds use on Carter. I can understand their point, but my counterpoint is that since the Mockingbirds is not a formal court of justice, they have to use other avenues to ensure that the accuse show up for the case and accept their punishment if found guilty. If they did not use ways to compel the accused to show up, how will they try the case or punish someone, the Mockingbirds will be an ineffective group. And it is very checks and balance as attest by Alex when she signed the contract. If Alex was found lying, she'll have to accept punishment.

"Sexual assault is against the standards to which Themis students hold themselves. Sexual assault is sexual contact (not just intercourse) where one of the parties has not given or cannot give active verbal consent, i.e., uttered a clear "yes" to the action. If a person does not say "no" that does not mean he or she said "yes." Silence does not equal consent. Silence could mean fear, confusion, inebriation. The only thing that means yes is yes. A lack of yes is a no."

This quote above is one of the most candid messages I read about rape in a YA book and one of the best messages in this book. Especially today, where society still stigmatize women for not being a virgin or acting morally (getting drunk or high, dressing provactively, etc.). And if they do act unmoral, they are therefore "asking for it." The Mockingbirds empowers women with its strong message that rape isn't simply the act of sexual intercourse and that being drunk or expressing sexuality through clothes or words is not an agreement to sex. That silence does not equal consent. And a lack of yes is a no. This message alone makes The Mockingbirds a must-read for anybody and everybody, but combined with the awesome characters and plot, its not only empowering, but page-turning as well.

Book Source: Brought my own copy

Author Website | Indiebound | Goodreads

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Maze Runner - James Dashner

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Indiebound Summary:
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls. Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift. Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers. Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.

I actually got this book a long time ago and I finally got around to reading it when I got the sequel from the librarian that runs my book group. Honestly, this book wasn't too high on my to-read list partly because the main character is male and this seemed very much a book marketed for boys. I can't really explain it, but I am just not a big fan of most boy books. I'm a pretty girly person and my reading tastes reflect that. But since I got The Scorch Trials, I figure it was time that I read The Maze Runner.

It starts with a boy in a dark box with no memory. When the box opens, Thomas finds himself surround by a ragtag group of boys. Where was he? Who were they? Why is he here? What happen to his memories? As Thomas finds out more about the Maze, the reader learns along with him since the whole story is from Thomas's perspective and voice. There were moments where I was intensely frustrated with Thomas and his lack of knowledge because I wanted to know why were they in the maze, who put them there, why is there only boys, etc. I almost gave up because the pacing in the beginning moved too slow for me. I wanted more about the world to be revealed, but it's a good thing Dashner did not reveal a lot since the mystery kept me reading.

After the beginning, the story picks up and is filled with well-placed cliffhangers and hooks. While some questions are answered, new questions were being formed. Dashner keeps the mystery going using those hooks, but also moves the story steadily along. Another one of his strength is his writing style - it is incredibly descriptive and Dashner spends a lot of time building this world of the Maze with the changing walls and creepy Grievers. I definitely don't want to bump into one of those in a dark alley anytime. I really enjoy the vivid world he created.

On the other hand, his characters did not have as strong of an impact compared to the setting. The only female character, Teresa, wasn't that fleshed out and felt very flat. She was always needing to be rescued by Thomas, which did not jive with my feminist sensibilities. Thomas didn't stand out either - a very typical boy hero figure to me. A big problem with Thomas is that he seemed too perfect - he comes in with no memory and saves the day. There was no emphasize on Thomas's flaws which would have made him more realistic, more human for me.

Despite some flaws, I did enjoy The Maze Runner. Once I got through the beginning, the plot really moved, the action was fun and the questions grew. The main compelling element throughout the book was the mystery of the maze.

Given that YA lacks boy books, I'm glad this book is out there for me to recommend to the boys. The mystery and the action will definitely draw boy readers. And since it ended with more questions than answers, I'm off to read the sequel to satiate my curiosity.

Book Source: own copy

Author Website | Indiebound | Goodreads

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Wondrous Words (2)

Source: (we♥it)

"One day I would have all the books in the world, shelves and shelves of them. I would live my life in a tower of books. I would read all day long and eat peaches. And if any young knights in armor dared to come calling on their white charges and plead with me to let down my hair, I would pelt them with peach pits until they went home."
- Jacqueline Kelly, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Friday, February 4, 2011

Things I Know About Love - Kate Le Vann

Publisher: EgmontUSA

Indiebound Summary:
Things I know about love.

1. People don't always tell you the truth about how they feel.
2. Nothing that happens between two people is guaranteed to be private.
3. I don't know if you ever get over having your heart broken.

Livia Stowe's past experiences with love have been nothing but disappointing, but all that is about to change. After years of illness, she's boarding a plane for the first time to spend the summer in Princeton, New Jersey, with her brother who's studying abroad. This Brit is determined to make the most of her American summer and to record every moment of it in her private blog.

America is everything that Livia's ever dreamed of. And then she meets Adam.

Swept up in the promise of romance and the magical New York City that Adam shows her, Livia is smitten, but with all she knows about love, is Livia really ready to risk her heart again?

At first sight, I expected this 150 page novel to be a fun, fluffy story about love. When I delved in, I got much more than that. Things I Know About Love is a fast-paced story that explores Livia Stowe experiences with love as she journeys from the UK to visit her brother in the USA.

Livia is an easy character to root for. Since the story is set up in blog posts, the readers gets to hear Livia's voice as she recounts the one relationship that she had, her desire to find true love, and her experiences and emotions as she starts falling. It's definitely something every teenage girl can relate to.

What I love most is how the author avoids the cliche rampant in YA of absent/indifferent parents. In this story, Livia has a strong relationship with both her mom and brother. It's heartwarming to see how that kind of open relationship is showcase in the story.

I had some reservations with the ending, partly because it didn't seem that realistic, but overall, a touching book on love - all different kinds of it.

Book Source: borrowed from library

Author Website | Indiebound | Goodreads

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chinese New Year

Source: (we♥it)

Happy Chinese New Year!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The DUFF - Kody Keplinger

Publisher: Poppy

Indiebound Summary:
Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn't think she's the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She's also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her "Duffy," she throws her Coke in his face.

But things aren't so great at home right now. Desperate for a distraction, Bianca ends up kissing Wesley. And likes it. Eager for escape, she throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with Wesley.

Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out that Wesley isn't such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she's falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

I'm not quite sure what to make of The DUFF. On one hand, it is an amazingly authentic YA book. On the other hand, I spent most of the story annoyed at Bianca and frustrated by the plot.

Bianca comes off as jaded, sarcastic, cynical. She judgmental of the world and self-absorbed. I couldn't stand the negativity. Right at the start of the book, Bianca is at a teen club watching from the sidelines and she jumps right in to judging people who were enjoying themselves dancing. Even her actions toward Wesley seem sort of extreme. When she kisses him in the beginning, she stopped herself and proceed to yell at and hit him. Violent much? Even her treatment of her friends, who were amazingly loyal and awesome, grated on my nerves. And her decision to sleep with Welsey… argh, I wanted to shake her. How was this empowering to women - sleeping with the guy that called you the ugly friend. It's a horrible lesson on self-esteem.

But, I was ranting to my friend about this character and she pointed out that the character is acting like a teenager. And she was right - Bianca portrays a typical teenager that many people can relate to. As a teenager, when haven't we made stupid decisions or fallen for the bad boy. Okay, so maybe I can't relate to the bad boy thing, but I made plenty of dumb decisions as a teen. Nothing as serious as sleeping with a boy, but still dumb choices. And I think that what's appealing about this book is that Bianca is not a flawless heroine and that she is easily relatable. When haven't we compared ourselves to our friends and felt inadequate. I know that sometimes I still feel like the DUFF when I'm with my friends. But as this novel points out, everyone feels like the DUFF sometimes.

I had some problems with the plotting. There were some issues, like Bianca's father battle with alcohol, that I felt she took shortcuts with. But overall, I didn't regret reading this book. I enjoyed the character development and Bianca improved in the end.

Book Source: ARC Copy borrow from library book group

Author Website | Indiebound | Goodreads
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