Monday, May 30, 2011

"A proud heart can survive general failure because such a failure does not prick its pride. It is more difficult and more bitter when a man fails alone."

Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe

209 pages

Genre:  Literature; Classic; Historical Fiction; Africa

Summary: Things Fall Apart centers around a man named Okonkwo as he goes about his life in a small village in Africa.

Review:  Things Fall Apart definitely didn’t pull me in from the beginning, and for quite some time, I felt as if I was reading it out of a sense of duty more than anything else.  After I got about halfway into it, however, I really began to enjoy the book and found myself thoroughly engrossed in the plot.

Okonkwo, the main character of the novel, was an incredibly angry person, and, at times, it was really difficult to understand where his anger came from.  It was even more alarming to see the ways in which that anger manifested itself, as he was prone to rash, violent actions.  He was extraordinarily difficult to relate to in this respect, but his anger did not detract from the fact that he was quite a compelling character.   In fact, I wanted to read more about him to see if I could understand him better.

This book reminded me very much of a fable, and I thought that style worked exceptionally well here. The most interesting part of this book for me, however, was looking at the culture and religion of the village.  It was quite fascinating, yet often very sad to see how problems were dealt with, people interacted, and women’s roles in society. As things began to transform towards the latter part of the book, I found myself making comparisons to how things were in the beginning of the book, and the drastic changes were often quite sad indeed.

Things Fall Apart definitely wasn’t a happy read, but nonetheless, it was incredibly well written.  If you’re looking for a book that examines African history, definitely give it a try.

Rating: 3/5

Read-alikes:  Aesop’s Fables, Out of Africa – Isak Dinesen, The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver

Sunday, May 29, 2011

"As she left my room I knew I should shut up. But you know when you should shut up because you really should just shut up...but you keep on and on anyway? Well, I had that." - Georgia

Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging – Louise Rennison

247 pages

Genre:  YA; realistic fiction

Summary:  Presented to the reader in diary format, Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging chronicles the life of Georgia, a fourteen-year-old girl who lives in England.

Review:  Borrowing a quote from Georgia herself, Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging was pretty “fabbity fab fabulous.”

I really enjoy reading books in epistolary format, and I think it worked exceptionally well here.  Georgia seemed like an average teenage girl, and it was easy to believe that she would record all of her thoughts in her diary. This format made it quite easy to get to know her, as it allowed her to divulge information that the reader would not have found out otherwise, effectively making the book much more personal.

For me, the thing that really propelled this book forward was the humor.  Georgia was incredibly witty and sarcastic, and I flipped through the pages eagerly to see what she would say next.  I’m kind of glad I didn’t read this in public, as there were many instances in which I was laughing like a crazy person.  Many of the situations she found herself in were also laced with humor; even though these situations sometimes seemed like the end of the world, it worked well because they really could happen to anyone.  To that end, Georgia was really easy to relate to, and I could see teenage girls in particular  enjoying her adventures. 

For those who are unfamiliar with English slang, Rennison also put a helpful glossary in the back of the book where she described a word and related it back to the story.

Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging is an incredibly fun, humorous read, and if you’re looking for something light, I would definitely recommend it.

Rating:  3.5/5

Other Books in This Series:  On the Bright Side, I’m Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God, Knocked Out by my Nunga-Nungas, Dancing in my Nuddy-Pants, Away Laughing at a Fast Camel, …Then He Ate My Boy Entrancers, Startled by His Furry Shorts, Love is a Many Trousered Thing, Stop in the Name of Pants!, Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

"Not responding is a response -- we are equally responsible for what we don't do."

Eating Animals  - Johnathan Safran Foer

341 pages

Genre:  Non-fiction; animal welfare; vegetarianism

Summary:  Eating Animals is an examination of the meat industry, especially as it relates to factory farming and the dietary choices Foer will make for his son, while also shedding light upon Foer's own path to vegetarianism.

Review:  I’ve been a (mostly strict) vegetarian for the past 12 years, with a few months of waffling every couple of years or so.  Every so often, I need a reminder of why I eat the way I do because of the aforementioned waffling.  Eating Animals did just that, effectively reasserting why I originally chose my diet and giving me just cause to stick with it.

I won’t divulge any of the gory details  because I would feel extremely bad if someone unwittingly stumbled upon this kind of information, but just make sure that you’re ready to make dietary changes (or at least examine your own diet) before reading Eating Animals.  Most of it is graphic, sad, and will really make the reader stop and think about animal welfare, and whether or not one wants to continue eating factory farmed meat.

Foer did an incredible amount of research for this book, and it shines through on every page.  Not only did he read articles and testimonies, but he also visited farms and contacted people from all sides of the debate, ranging from vegans to cattle ranchers, slaughterhouses to factory farms.  I think the biggest strength of this book was that the arguments were presented from all sides.  While Foer advocates vegetarianism, he wants the reader to make his or her own decision.  It reads very much as “here are the facts; decide what you’re going to do with them.”

If you really want to know what goes on with factory farming and are, perhaps, considering making a change in your diet, Eating Animals is definitely a worthwhile book to read.

Rating:  4/5

Other Books by this AuthorEverything is Illuminated, Tree of Codes, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Read-alikesThe Omnivore's Dilemma - Michael Pollen, Fast Food Nation - Eric Schlosser, Don’t Eat This Book - Morgan Spurlock

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"Every day we're told that we live in the greatest country on earth. And it's always stated as an undeniable fact: Leos are born between July 23 and August 22, fitted queen-size sheets measure sixty by eighty inches, and America is the greatest country on earth. Having grown up with this in our ears, it's startling to realize that other countries have nationalistic slogans of their own, none of which are 'We're number two!"

Me Talk Pretty One Day - David Sedaris

272 pages

Genre:  Memoir; Humor

Summary:  Told in a series of short stories, Me Talk Pretty One Day is a humorous re-telling of various events from the author’s life.

ReviewMe Talk Pretty One Day was my first encounter with David Sedaris’ work, and it definitely won’t be the last.

Every story was incredibly funny, and Sedaris’ witty, sarcastic writing style made the reader feel as if she was sitting right there, experiencing everything with him.  I especially loved reading about his time spent in France, and I cringed along with him as his French teacher grew angrier and angrier because he couldn’t speak the language properly.  The chapter devoted to his family’s dogs was also quite hilarious, and I found myself laughing out loud in many instances.  I also really liked the chapter in which Sedaris tried to learn to play guitar.  When I was younger, I, too, tried to play guitar, was just as unsuccessful as he was, and it was great to see how much we could relate in that regard. 

His family members, along with his boyfriend, were very memorable, and I especially liked his sister, Amy.  She was such an oddball, a born actress, and the stories she was in were exceedingly colorful.  Paul was also a standout character for me, and the way in which he talked was absolutely cracking me up, as I could truly visualize him in my mind.

If you’re looking for a light, comical read that will make you laugh out loud frequently, definitely give Me Talk Pretty One Day a try.

Rating: 4/5

Read-alike authorAugusten Burroughs

Other Books by David SedarisNaked, Holiday on Ice, Dress Your Family in Cordouroy and Denim, When You Are Engulfed in Flames

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"There is no means of testing which decision is better, because there is no basis for comparison. We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold. And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself?"

The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera

306 pages

Genre:  Philosophy; Literary Fiction; Classic; Czech

Summary:  The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a philosophical novel that uses four distinct characters, Tomas, Tereza, Sabina, and Franz, to illustrate various concepts and insights relating to life.

ReviewThe Unbearable Lightness of Being was absolutely mind-blowing, and I will do my best to come up with a coherent review that does the book justice, as I’m still thinking about various ideas presented therein. 

Kundera’s philosophy is incredibly intriguing, and it really forces the reader to examine his or her own life and decisions.  What is it about life that gives it meaning, and can one ever really attain a “lightness of being?”  Are things that happen in life mere coincidences, or is there some other explanation?  What is the purpose of love, and what category of being “seen” does one fit into?

I’ve postulated on many of these questions before, and the way in which Kundera examined all of these ideas through his characters was quite profound.  For me, the plot and characters weren’t really all that important, and I have a feeling that was how it was supposed to be, as they seemed like nothing more than a framework for his philosophy.   The underlying thought processes of the characters, however, was rather interesting, and ultimately provided a spectacular backdrop on which to explore issues.  I could relate to many of the ideas in this novel, and in a way, it was comforting to know that I’m not the only one who thinks about these things, even if the ideas aren’t always happy ones.

If you’re looking for an introspective, philosophical novel that will force you to examine your conceptions on a plethora of different questions, The Unbearable Lightness of Being is an absolute must read.  I know this book will linger in my mind for quite awhile. 

*Just so you're aware, there is quite a bit of sexual content in this book, so if that doesn't float your boat, you may not like this too much.

Rating:  4.5/5

Other Books by Milan KunderaEncounter, Le Rideau, Identity, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, The Farewell Party

This book was also made into a movie of the same title in 1988.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

"It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine." - REM

As an homage to the speculation surrounding today, I thought it would be fun to put together a list of my favorite dystopias.  Dystopias have helped me prepare for survival in the face of many possible cataclysmic events, including, but certainly not limited to:  the moon getting closer to the earth and throwing off the tides, a zombie apocalypse, a regular apocalypse, a huge war that ends life as we know it, battling to the death in a tournament, what to do if someone installs a computer in my brain, and fleeing when crazies take over the government.

It wasn’t easy to only choose five, but alas, here they are.

Honorable MentionThe Uglies series - Scott Westerfeld

I reviewed the third book in this series, Specials, a little while back; here’s a link to the review, if you’re interested:  Specials

This series was truly enjoyable, and it really allowed me to check my brain at the door and lose myself in the plot.  The characters live in a world dictated by looks, and when one turns sixteen, one moves to the part of town where all of the other pretty people live, undergoes a surgical operation, and becomes a pretty, too.  With that, however, one begins to lose her ability to think and process rationally. When someone presents the possibility that there is life outside the society, will the characters pursue it, or will they stick with what they know?

5.  Feed - M. T. Anderson
In Feed, Anderson conceptualizes a society in which internet feeds are put directly into one's brain. These feeds allow the consumer to access information just by thinking about it, and one is always being bombarded with advertising.  While having information available immediately seems pretty great, there are a few pitfalls:  everyone is rather dumb, they have lost the ability to reason, and they can no longer write.   

Ultimately, Feed is a frightening, cautionary tale that shows the dangers of corporate greed and consumerism.  The writing style is a bit odd, but after you get used to it, it really makes sense in context with the story.  Check it out!

4.  The Hunger Games series - Suzanne Collins
This series was the first that really kindled my interest in YA literature.  In these books, there was a great war, and most of the United States was completely decimated.  The remainder was portioned off into 13 districts, and to atone for the war, each year the districts have to send a boy and girl into a competition called the Hunger Games, where only one person will survive.

3.  1984 - George Orwell
1984 is definitely a classic for a reason.  Orwell imagined a society in which Big Brother oversaw every aspect of one’s life, and to go against the grain would mean certain death.  I remember reading this for the first time a few years ago, and it was terrifying to see the parallels to today.  Definitely a must read for dystopia and classic lovers alike!

2.  The Road - Cormac McCarthy
I read The Road quite a few years ago, and scenes from the book still linger in my head today.  McCarthy imagines a bleak, post-Apocalyptic world as a father and son take a journey that spans several months.  This book was quite sad, yet incredibly brilliant.

1.  The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood 
Margaret Atwood ranks at the top of my list for almost everything, but the society she imagined in The Handmaid’s Tale was truly frightening indeed.  Basically, the US was taken over by religious zealots who effectively stripped women of their rights and identity, and forced everyone in the society into religious submission.  When I read this, I remember thinking how terrifying it truly was, and the parallels I was able to draw to the present were quite scary indeed.
Now that we all have our tinfoil hats on, what are your favorite dystopias?

"Miss Tarabotti was not one of life's milk-water misses--in fact, quite the opposite. Many a gentleman had likened his first meeting with her to downing a very strong cognac when one was expecting to imbibe fruit juice--that is to say, startling and apt to leave one with a distinct burning sensation."

Soulless – Gail Carriger

357 pages

Genre:  Urban Fantasy; Paranormal; Steampunk; Romance

Summary:  Miss Alexia Tarabotti is a soulless, perpetual spinster in Victorian London.  One day, she accidentally kills a rouge vampire at a dinner party in an act of self-defense, and a series of events begin to unravel that leave Alexia running for her life.  Will everything catch up to her, or will she somehow find a way to defeat these forces that she can’t seem to escape?

Review:  Soulless didn’t draw me in from the very beginning; in fact, I set it aside for a few weeks and read some other books instead.  Once I decided to give it another try and got 100 pages in, however, I was hooked.  Gail Carriger’s writing is quite whimsical and fun, and wit is absolutely dripping from every page of this book.  There were many parts where I was absolutely laughing out loud. 

While some of the plot elements were a bit predictable, the characters were vibrant and full of life, and I loved that this book was told from Alexia’s point of view.  Alexia was so surly, sarcastic, and strong, and I thought it was great that she was so unconventional.  I haven’t often encountered tough ladies like her in literature dealing with the Victorian era.  Lord Maccon was also a wonderful character, and I loved the way in which he and Alexia played off one another.  Even though he was only in the book every once in awhile, Lord Alkedama was probably my favorite character of all, and I absolutely loved the description of his harem, along with all of the random terms of endearment he used.

Sometimes I get a little iffy in regard to books that deal with werewolves and vampires, but I really liked the interplay between the characters in Soulless.  Their interactions seemed believable, and making the supernatural beings members of high society was quite a nice touch.

Even though I wasn’t sure how I felt about this book at the beginning, I’m really glad I read it and I do plan on continuing with the series.  If you like supernatural themes mixed with Victorian high society and super tough female protagonists, give Soulless a try.

Rating: 3/5

Other Books in The Parasol Protectorate Series:  Changeless (Book 2), Blameless (Book 3), Heartless (Book 4; expected to be released in July 2011), Timeless (Book 5; expected to be released in 2012)

Read-alikes:  Twilight – Stephenie Meyer, The Vampire Chronicles – Anne Rice

Thursday, May 19, 2011

"She doesn't need anybody to laugh with, she just laughs... and sees beautiful things everywhere."

The House on Mango Street – Sandra Cisneros

128 pages

Genre:  Literary Fiction; Realistic; Coming of Age

Summary:  Told from the perspective of a young girl named Esparanza, The House on Mango Street unfolds in a series of vignettes that focus on the narrator’s life.

Review:  For such a slim, little book, The House on Mango Street definitely packs a punch.  I found myself thoroughly engrossed in the story from the very first page, and I read the whole book straight through in one sitting.

The language Cisneros used to craft this book was lyrical and poetic, and I oftentimes found myself lingering over the passages in an attempt to fully absorb her words.  The imagery created through description was incredibly beautiful, and at times, terribly heartbreaking, and events flowed seamlessly from one to the next.

I really liked that The House on Mango Street was told in simple vignettes.  While this style doesn’t work well in every book, it worked wonderfully here.  By giving the reader short glimpses into the narrator’s life, the book really developed a layer of authenticity that made the events therein seem incredibly realistic. 

Some of the characters were only introduced in small fragments; those little bits of information were so powerful, however, that it was quite easy to see the characters come to life.   The narrator herself was a very real character, and I liked watching the story unfold through her eyes.  Esparanza had so many hopes and dreams, and while she wasn’t always happy with her lot in life, it never kept her from thinking about how things could be.  I think many readers would be able to identify with her.

If you enjoy books that have lyrical language, real characters, and complex emotions, definitely give The House on Mango Street a try.

Rating: 4.5/5

Other Books by Sandra Cisneros:  Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories, Caramelo, Bad Boys

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"It may be unfair, but what happens in a few days, sometimes even a single day, can change the course of a whole lifetime."

The Kite Runner - Kahled Hosseini

372 pages

Genre:  Literature; Contemporary; Historical Fiction

Summary:  Set on the backdrop of both pre and post-Taliban occupied Afghanistan, The Kite Runner unfolds through the eyes of Amir, a wealthy boy, as he comes of age during the political turmoil in his country.  Not only does this book examine Amir’s life, but it also highlights his relationship with his friend Hassan, a servant in his home, along with exploring the dynamics between fathers and sons.

Review:  I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf for a number of years, but I’ve never gotten around to reading it, as I had a feeling it was going to be super sad.  I finally picked it up a few days ago, and while this book is, indeed, very sad, I found it thoroughly engrossing, albeit horrifying at times, and I could barely put it down.

The characters were incredibly well-drawn, and I especially liked the narrator.  Amir was a deeply flawed character who was constantly conflicted by emotions and mistakes he made in the past, and it was easy to see him as a real person.  I also really enjoyed Hassan, even though I didn’t quite understand his unwavering loyalty to Amir.  He had a great deal of inner strength, and his actions were often quite admirable.

The plot itself was rather heartbreaking, and I kept reading along, hoping things would get better for the characters.  I liked the dichotomy that Hosseini provided in relation to the two Afghanistans:  one ruled by the monarchy, the other, by the Taliban.  It was horrifying to see just how much everyday life in the country changed with just a change in power.  The racial and religious dynamics presented in the book were also incredibly sad, but I kind of already knew that was the case before reading this book.

If you’re looking for a happy tale with loose ends tied together by the book’s end, The Kite Runner isn’t for you; however, if you enjoy sad, gritty, raw books that examine human psychology and give a nod to history, you should definitely check it out.

Rating: 4/5

Another Book by Khaled HosseiniA Thousand Splendid Suns

Saturday, May 14, 2011

"They're afraid of change, and we must change. They're afraid of the young, and we are the young. They're afraid of music, and music is our life. They're afraid of books, and knowledge, and ideas. They're most afraid of our magic."

Witch & Wizard – James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet

314 pages

Genre:  Juvenile/YA; Paranormal; Urban Fantasy

Summary:  On a seemingly average morning, siblings Whit and Wisty are jolted awake after government officials break into their house and place them under arrest.  Whit and Wisty are terribly confused, and the confusion only gets worse when the “New Order” government informs them that they are “extremely dangerous” criminals who wield extraordinary powers.  Will the duo find their way out of this mess, or will they meet their demise all too soon?

Review:  Ever since reading the first Harry Potter book as a twelve-year-old, I’ve enjoyed reading any book about wizardry that I can get my hands on.  When I saw Witch & Wizard, I really couldn’t wait to read it:  a corrupt government, kids with exceptional magical abilities, and lots of action…where can one possibly go wrong?  Sadly, Witch & Wizard definitely did not live up to my expectations. 

Stylistically, I really didn’t understand why the narrative kept switching back and forth.  In fact, I was downright annoyed by it most of the time.  The switch made a bit more sense towards the latter part of the book, however, but at the beginning, I felt it was completely unnecessary to continuously shift voices, especially when the chapters tended to be three pages long.  I enjoy dual narratives quite a bit if they’re done well, but for me, it just fell flat in this case.  Since the narrative kept switching, it was hard for me to get a feel for who the characters were as people, thus making it hard to care about what happened to them.  Had this book been written in third person, I think I would have enjoyed it much more.

I was also quite bothered by the fact that everything seemed incredibly easy for the characters to deal with.  Nearly every obstacle Wisty and Whit encountered, no matter how great, was easily resolved in just the nick of time.  Boring!  I also found it hard to believe that Whit and Wisty were still really calm and smart aleck-y after they were first arrested, as their means of escape were pretty much non-existent.  Their world looked absolutely bleak, and they were still acting like everything was a big joke?  Really? 

Granted, some of the dialogue was rather funny, and I could see a 9 - 12-year-old kid enjoying the humor quite thoroughly.  I also liked the way in which Patterson played with words from popular culture; I laughed out loud a few times when I pieced together the reference, and I especially liked the nod to his Maximum Ride series (it was something along the lines of “Children with wings?   That’s ridiculous.”)

The opening of this book, as well as the attention to magical kids, is very akin to the Maximum Ride series, so Witch & Wizard would probably be a worthwhile read if you’re a fan of Maximum Ride.  This book would also be great for reluctant readers, as there is quite a bit of humor and action throughout.

Rating: 2.5/5

Other Books in this SeriesThe Gift (Book 2)

Read-alikesMaximum Ride series – James Patterson, Magyk - Angie Sage, Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling

Friday, May 13, 2011

"For my entire life I longed for love. I knew it was not right for me — as a girl and later as a woman — to want or expect it, but I did, and this unjustified desire has been at the root of every problem I have experienced in my life." - Lily

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan - Lisa See

253 pages

GenreHistorical Fiction; Literature; China

SummarySnow Flower and the Secret Fan is told from the perspective of a girl named Lily, effectively chronicling her life from childhood to old age in nineteenth-century China.  The book focuses on many aspects of historical Chinese culture, but at its core, it revolves around the relationship between Lily and her laotong, or “old same,” Snow Flower.

Review:  The thing that immediately drew me to this book was, once again, the cover.  I’m kind of fascinated by Asia, and when I saw the pretty fan, I knew I had to pick this book up.  Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed in the least.

I found Snow Flower and the Secret Fan to be thoroughly engrossing, and I could barely pull myself away from its pages.  The book was incredibly heartbreaking most of the time, and I kept reading along with the hope that things would get better for the characters therein.  I found See’s writing style to be quite engaging, and I especially liked the sections in which Snow Flower and Lily were weaving poetry onto the fans.

One of the things I found really interesting about this book was the attention paid to foot binding.  I learned about this practice a few years ago but hadn’t really done an in-depth exploration, and to see the girls suffer through it was incredibly sad, yet eye-opening.  In the same vein, the treatment of females throughout the book was quite poignant, and I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for the characters who were raised to feel as if they were worth nothing.

Before reading this, I had never heard of a laotong friendship, and I really enjoyed seeing the strength of the relationship between Lily and Snow Flower.  While things weren’t always cut and dry with them and sometimes deceit was involved, in the end, they were always there for each other.  

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan was an emotional roller-coaster, but definitely worth the ride.  If you’re interested in nineteenth-century China, or if you just like to read about relationships between people, definitely give it a try.

Rating: 4/5

More Books by Lisa SeeShanghai Girls, Peony in Love, Red Princess series

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"What is the meaning of life? That was all- a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one."

To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf 

252 pages

Genre:  Classics; Literature

Summary: To the Lighthouse is centered around the Ramsay family as they vacation somewhere along coastal Scotland.

Review:  Even though I was an English major in undergrad, I never encountered anything written by Virginia Woolf, and I’m honestly not quite sure how that happened.  To the Lighthouse marks my first foray into her body of work, and it definitely won’t be my last.

This novel was incredibly complex and it took me ages to get through, which was surprising since it’s such a slim volume.  It may seem as though I didn’t like the novel because of this, but that’s definitely not the case; it’s just a difficult read.  I really enjoyed that this work didn’t focus as much on the plot, but rather focused on the psychology of the characters.  The way in which Woolf put her characters under the microscope to reveal their inner workings was incredibly interesting, and I oftentimes found myself relating to them.

For me, the thing that stands out most, however, is the way in which this book was written.  I’ve never really encountered a style like Woolf’s before, and her prose is truly something to behold.  The images and insights she was able to craft with her words were incredibly illuminating, and many of her passages were downright lyrical.

I’m sure I haven’t truly absorbed everything this novel has to offer through just one read, and I’ll definitely revisit it again in the future.

If you enjoy classics that explore the concept of psychological examination, give To the Lighthouse a try.

Rating:  3.5/5

Read-alikes:  The Awakening – Kate Chopin, The Hours - Michael Cunningham

Other Books by Virginia WoolfOrland,  Mrs. Dalloway, A Room of One’s Own, The Waves

Friday, May 6, 2011

Top 5 Best YA Books for Adults

If you’re an adult, do you cringe when you see the YA label pasted on a book you’d otherwise be interested in?  Do you put it on the shelf quickly because you don’t want to appear childish, and then run away as fast as your legs will carry you?

I have a confession to make:  I used to be just like you.  In fact, until about a year or so ago, I used to be a really big book snob.  The root of my former pretentiousness can be directly traced to the fact that I was an English major during undergrad.  If someone was reading Dan Brown or Nicholas Sparks, I would smirk and judge them as I basked in my glory while reading my precious Victorian novels.  This all began to change, however, when some friends in library school introduced me to YA literature, and I subsequently took a course focused entirely around resources for YA patrons.

At first, I was very reluctant to even pick up a book with the YA distinction.  I figured I wasn’t a teenager (I didn’t even read YA when I was a teenager), so what could it possibly have to offer me now?  I would proceed into the YA section of the bookstore with trepidation, looking around to see if anyone was watching me, almost as if I was sneaking into some sort of secret club that I wasn't a member of.  After awhile, YA really started to grow on me, and instead of feeling like an imposter, I began to appreciate the fact that I just really like YA.

I know what you’re thinking:  don’t all YA books deal with vampires, aliens, or some other super cheesy thing that I wouldn’t be interested in?  Like all types of literature, there’s some that’s really great and some that’s really terrible, and YA is no different.  Yes, there is quite a bit that deals with the paranormal, as it’s the current trend right now, but there’s also a ton of realistic fiction, fantasy, and pretty much any genre you can think of that’s extremely well-written. 
With that being said, here are my personal picks for YA authors that would also be suitable for adult readers.  Check them out!

5.  Jennifer Donnelly 

Okay, perhaps this is cheating a bit because she writes for adults, too, but alas, the YA that Donnelly writes is incredibly interesting and well-written.  The first of her novels that I read, A Northern Light, combines historical fiction with intrigue and murder.  This book has a great plot, is incredibly interesting, and I could barely put it down.  In fact, I think I read the whole thing in a sitting or two, and hastily put her adult series on my reading list shortly thereafter.

4. Suzanne Collins 

Suzanne Collins is the author of The Hunger Games trilogy, and the first book in the series, The Hunger Games, is actually being made into a movie right now.  The series is set on a decimated landscape, the results of a huge war, and focuses on the aftermath within the former United States. The land was divided into districts, and each year, two children are sent from each district to battle to the death until there is only one survivor remaining.  In addition to action, adventure, and murder, this series also has romance and love triangles.  How can you go wrong when these elements combine into a glorious union of awesome?

3. Laurie Halse Anderson 

I haven’t read all of Anderson’s books yet, but the ones I have read, Speak, Wintergirls, and Fever, 1793, have been extremely well-written and engaging.  Anderson’s style of writing is lyrical and poetic, and her characters are incredibly well-developed.  Her characters are often faced with an underlying issue, and Anderson doesn’t shy away from making that issue as real as possible, which I really appreciate.  Some of the subject matter can be hard to read at times because it is so realistic, but her words are thought-provoking and leave you eager to get to the next page to see what will happen.

2.  John Green 

I just love John Green.  In addition to being an incredibly talented writer, he also seems like a pretty big nerd, which I can really appreciate.  I’ve read (no, I think a better word is ‘devoured’) all of his books thus far, and I think my favorite is probably Will Grayon, Will Grayson, even though Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns, and An Abundance of Katherines are also great.  His characters are real, complex, and have the thoughts an actions of real teenagers as they face many issues and moral dilemmas.

1.  Markus Zusak 

It was hard to decide which author would land in first place on my list, but after a lot of deliberation, I knew it had to be Zusak.  I’ve read two of his books, I Am the Messenger and The Book Thief, and while I enjoyed both immensely, The Book Thief was definitely my favorite.  In fact, it easily found a place in my top ten favorite books of all time, regardless of genre, and it was one of a handful of books that actually brought me to tears.  Zusak’s writing is complex, thoughtful, and poetic, and his plots and characters are incredibly interesting and dynamic.  Do yourself a favor and check out his books, especially The Book Thief.

Do you have any favorite YA authors that adults would also enjoy?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

"Someone was looking at me, a disturbing sensation if you're dead." - Helen

A Certain Slant of Light – Laura Whitcomb

282 pages

Genre:  YA; Paranormal; Romance

Summary:  Helen, a ghost whose soul has been trapped on earth since her death 130 years ago, attaches herself to various hosts and, effectively, haunts them.  There isn’t any malicious intent in what she does; rather, she just enjoys watching the lives of the people she chooses to follow.  Her world is turned upside down, however, when she notices that somebody can see her for the first time since her death.  Will she figure out the mystery surrounding this person, and will she ever be able to make it to a place where her soul can finally rest?

Review:  Originally, what really drew me towards this book was the cover.  The colors were pleasing, the picture was rather creepy, and after reading the description on the back, I couldn’t wait to read it.  Unfortunately, while the premise was incredibly promising, it didn’t live up to my expectations.

One of the primary things that I found to be rather off-putting was the religion laced within the text.  Going into it, I had no idea that religion was going to be such a big factor, and at times, I found it incredibly distracting.  I understand its place in the text, especially as it relates to the time period in which the narrator originated as well as latter parts of the book, but it just wasn’t doing anything for me.

Furthermore, I thought that the relationship between Helen and James developed much too quickly.  I understand that they were both in the same situation, but everything seemed rather rushed, especially if you take social mores of the times in which the two narrators were born into consideration, and it just didn’t seem believable to me.  Every time James or Helen commented on what a gentleman James was, I had to stifle a laugh.

This book wasn’t completely terrible though.  The story really picked up speed towards the middle when things began to change in Helen’s life, and I really enjoyed reading about how she adapted to everything.  It was also rather interesting to see her memories begin to unravel as she let her walls down bit by bit.

I found the ending of this book, however, to be rather cheesy and much too neat and tidy for my taste.  I think my exact thoughts were akin to “let’s join hands and skip through fields of daisies together.”  Ugh…

While this book wasn’t for me, I think people who are looking for a ghost story mixed with romance and a bit of a religion would really enjoy this.  At times, it also reminded me of Twilight, so if you’re into that series, you may like A Certain Slant of Light, too.

Rating: 2.5/5

Read Alikes:  Everlost – Neil Shusterman, The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney – Suzanne Harper, The Adoration of Jenna Fox – Mary Pearson, If I Stay – Gayle Forman