Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire

Beautiful DisasterBeautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is kind of a weird combination of Fight Club, 10 Things I Hate About You and Casino (don't let this scare you off or mislead you into looking for the plot to follow any of those, just a vibe thing). It's the story of two extremely prickly people from dysfunctional families (no moms, lots of emotional abuse) who burst into flames of crazy, crazy love when they meet. Unfortunately, our dear MC (who is lovable, likable, but often irritating) spends most of the book denying those feelings for various good or silly reasons. So obviously there's lots of intense drama - major sexual tension build-up alert when they sleep together for a month as the result of a bet - but only as "best friends," no intimacy allowed. Uh huh, that is so going to work out for you two. And the resultant intense emotional highs and lows are what make this book both fun to read and somewhat maddening, since they are often the result of foolish pride, poor impulse control and bad judgment (Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols was sure a great book along these lines, btw). Flames of crazy, crazy love often end up burning people around them, and there's plenty of that, too. Overall, I enjoyed reading this, but probably would have given it three stars except for 1) self-pub, $2.99, gotta encourage that; 2) super page turner, you keep waiting for the seemingly inevitable disaster of the title; and 3) secrets, lies and sexy times. Also, great cover, although as is so often the case, the precise way it has anything to do with the book is somewhat enigmatic (there are lots of tattoos, though, he's "that kind of boy.") One minor quibble: what with all the ass-kicking of various friends, acquaintances, enemies and randoms that Travis engages in, not to mention various other catastrophic events he's involved in/causes, I couldn't help but wonder at the incompetence of the Eastern University campus police. Just sayin'.

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

The DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend)The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This really is an awesome book, I was almost surprised at how good it was, since I read wildly conflicting reviews about it, all from people whose judgment I usually trust. But for me, the character of Bianca (the titular DUFF), who I liked so much, even as the story made my heart ache for her, totally won me over. I know YA books are about separating from parents and all, so of course the parents have to be dead, clueless, remote or otherwise awful, but in this particular case I couldn't help but be angry at just how badly Bianca and even Wesley got the short end of the parenting stick. Another great element was the offbeat relationship between the two of them (I realize this is an odd word to describe it if you've read the book, but I can't think of another). It's not a love-hate relationship, it's a hate-hookup relationship. So maybe we've seen that before (in one of Lauren Barnholdt's At the Party books, for one place), but here it comes across as believable in a sharp and emotionally impactful way. I also liked the way two great books were worked in, The Scarlett Letter and Wuthering Heights. The themes of the books - which most high schoolers have to read at some point in their academic careers - really resonate with the story and with the characters and the reader. It's like Leaves of Grass in Paper Towns in the way it illuminates the personalities of the characters and also moves the story forward. I am looking forward to reading Kody Keplinger's other books now, this was an amazing debut for a 17 yo author. Wow!

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Between the Lines by Tammara Webber

Between the LinesBetween the Lines by Tammara Webber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this warmly engaging read from start to finish. It's more of an acoustic singer/songwriter piece than a senses assaulting rave (no crazy "teen lingo" or wacky style devices), and the pace and your engagement with the characters builds slowly, but intensely, as the story unfolds. It's a POV of two characters, the somewhat (but not completely) naive Emma, a young actress appearing in her first major film, and Reid, a mega teen idol playing the lead, and he hopes, playing Emma as well. To me Emma was the main attraction of the book, and it seemed like it was really her story. Other reviews have even questioned what Reid's POV added, but although he does seem like a classic Mr. Wickham-style cad, he has a backstory and lots going on that make him relatable and interesting, if ultimately unappealing. There's enough to him that you can see why Emma is attracted, even beyond the obvious. I did feel like shouting "Don't go in there, Emma," more than once, but that just added to the fun. A sequel is planned, and I suspect we may see him working out some of those issues therein, I hope so, his story with his parents, and Brooke, the naughty image co-star with a secret, are definitely worthy of further exploration. Emma's friend Emily is a great character too, not just as a foil for Emma's thoughts (and lots of backstory), but as a charming and quirky person on her own. Graham, the other main male character is everything one could hope for in a YA mysterious indie loner dude, and Emma's struggle to understand him, and her feelings for him (and his for her?) are unrolled at just the right pace to build tension and interest, without being downright frustrating. This has been one of the best books I've read this year, right up with favs like Lauren Barnholdt. I hope it does well, it is a self-publication on Kindle and Nook (I read it on my Nook), and though lots of people do have access that way, not everyone does, so I hope it works out for the author. For the $.99 price tag, I definitely got $99.00 worth of enjoyment. Did I mention that it's long enough to be satisfying, too? Super short novels are fun, but this is a main course, not just a couple appetizers snagged from a Wish catering tray as Kristy sashays by. Congratulations to Tammara Webber, and here's hoping for a long and happy writing career.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Movie Review - Super 8

I haven't read a lot of reviews of this, so this might not be "super" original, but this struck me as a combination of ET and Stand By Me. It had an ET-ish kind of plot, but a Stand By Me kind of vibe with the kids who were the main characters. Actually, come to think of it, it was kind of more like "It," where the "Losers Club" had to band together, act more mature than their years to confront a mysterious force that was threatening their town and their families, and in doing so, confront and overcome their own fears and issues as well. And of course in the act of doing so, they forge relationships that are intense and deep. All of the actors were great - I especially liked Charles, the would be director, a charming mix of bluster and vulnerability, and of course Alice. Wow, that kid can act. The first scene where they start filming the home movie - it's like suddenly the movie shifts into a deeper level of emotion and intensity. Like in Star Wars when they leap into hyperspace, it's almost breathtaking. The plot, honestly, didn't do much for me. This was a movie about the characters, the town and the ache of missing what's been lost. It also kind of reminded me of The Wonder Years, my all time favorite tv show, in the way it was able to portray relationships among kids in a realistic, but lyrical way that captures the way we remember the feelings we had at that age. So, I give it a high rating, and definitely recommend it to all my wonderful readers!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Aces Up, by Lauren Barnholdt

Aces UpAces Up by Lauren Barnholdt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an enjoyable quick read, essentially a first person narrative of a smart girl's stupid choices. Those include a crazy fling with poker playing, hooking up with a sketchy guy, and losing touch with her friends, family and the guy she actually likes and deserves. So, put that way, it doesn't sound so funny, but it really is, due almost exclusively to her quirky and characterful narrative voice, which makes her bad decisions seem comprehensible, if not wise, and give her choices a surface plausibility, even if they are kooky and self-destructive in the short, long and medium runs. So, I liked this book, just not loved, loved, loved it like I did Two Way Street, or One Night that Changes Everything (which it was more like, I'd say). Shannon's unlikely friendship with McKenzie, the tough cookie waitress who inducts her into the casino world is an especially charming and unexpected element. So, a fun read, benefiting from lowered expectations.

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