Saturday, February 25, 2012

Welcome Caller, This Is Chloe, by Shelley Coriell

Welcome, Caller, This Is ChloeWelcome, Caller, This Is Chloe by Shelley Coriell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Chloe Camdem is a girl of large enthusiasms and small self-consciousness. She's pretty, popular, and the youngest child of a large, happy and wealthy family of doctors (who are all a bit too busy for her, actually). Despite those trappings of entitlement, Chloe's the kind of girl who's not too cool to enthusiastically wear a burrito costume advertising the Mexican restaurant where she works and finds friendship, inspiration and guidance. She also spends lots of time with her grandmother, whose failing faculties place Chloe in the center of the ongoing and rather bitter conflict between Grams and Chloe's mom over Gram's continuing independence. For a smart cookie, Chloe can be rather clueless, I must say, and she never really does comprehend why her former bff's have turned on her so abruptly and ferociously, just after Chloe was crowned queen of the Winter Dance (hint, green eyes may be involved). But the biggest challenge Chloe faces is the cancellation of her big required Junior year project by the new guidance counsellor, who definitely seems out to get her. When her new project involves resucitating the ailing school radio station, even the irrepressible Chloe finds the challenge daunting, although not without it's rewards (enter swoony mysterious scarf-wearing dude).

I enjoyed this quite bit, mostly because Chloe is such a charming MC. It's a bit of an issue-o-rama, what with addictions, aging, bullying, bitchiness, true crimes and loneliness all playing a part in the plot. Chloe is a bit too good to be true, but that's part of what makes her and the book appealing. I really felt like reaching in and shaking more than one of her antagonists, and relished the various vindications that mercifully are sprinkled throughout. This is a good solid fun read, and Chloe will stick with you long after 88.8 "The Edge," has signed off for the evening!

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Friday, February 17, 2012

The Stillburrow Crush, by Linda Kage

The Stillburrow CrushThe Stillburrow Crush by Linda Kage

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Carrie Paxton has got a mouth on her, that's for sure. The size of her snark is rivalled only by that of the chip on her shoulder about her family's status in her little Kansas townn. Her dad's the town mechanic (I think she seriously calls him a grease monkey at one point), who married an upper-cruster when she got pregnant back in high school. Mom's never really gotten over that, and her sense of shame (and over-compensating perfectionism) has been passed down to her two children. So Carrie's pretty suspicious when the handsome qb of the football team seems to actually reciprocate her crush. She deals with that by some major pre-emptive bitchiness, and honestly I found her pretty hard to like for the first half of the book. It wasn't just how mean she talked, she seemed pretty doggone self-centered, too. But books are about redemption and growth (at least this one is), and in the second half, Carrie, and the author really come through. I honestly read this looking for a fluff break after some intense reading experiences, but it turns out to be pretty darn poignant, with themes of family, growing into emotional maturity and self acceptance taking the forefront. The book is artfully structured, with secrets and issues revealing themselves and unfolding in an emotionally satisfying and moving way that had me going "Oh! Now I get it," at some crucial points. It's got a small town feel and vibe to it, and it's not a gigantic big overwhelming emotional assault. It's a quiet one that sneaks up on you, but still packs an emotional wallop. Don't let the title fool you or put you off, this is a lovely and thoughtful book, with funny and tender elements.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Darkride by Laura Bradley Rede

DarkrideDarkride by Laura Bradley Rede

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow, I honestly did not expect to love this book so much! I am a bit of a recovering horror/thriller fan, and for me the Twilight books were sort of the culmination or apogee of my fascination with vampires, werewolves and their penumbra, rather than the beginning of it. I've become sort of a "quiet contemporary" fan, a devotee of Dessen, an acolyte of Ockler, a worshipper of Webber (Tammara, that is!), and thought I'd put my wild and woolly neck chomping days behind me. But then I encountered Laura Bradley Rede, courtesy of some clever and thoughtful posts on a friend's fb page, and was intrigued. When I learned she was an author - an indie YA author, no less, my favorite! - I had to check out her book, albeit (please forgive me, Laura, I didn't know!) with some trepidation vis-a-vis the whole paranormal thing, which is not really my thing. So, I started in. The Goodreads summary does a good job of conveying the basics of the story, so I won't try to repeat that. It's told in rotating POV's of the three MC's: Ander, the werewolf; Cicely, the "normal" girl (she doesn't know she's a witch yet!); and Luke, the vampire prince. This works really well to draw you into the story and the characters, since they all have secrets they are keeping (or think they are keeping!) from each other (gosh I love secrets in a story!), but which you, dear reader, are made privy to via said narrative device. It also really draws you in to the motivations, the personalities and the drama of each of these MC's, who are individually and collectively an irresistably charming bunch. Side note - the supporting characters are great too, all of them (although I had a particular soft spot for Emmie) and some who seem rather peripheral come to have fairly big roles in the plot. They also do a great job at filling you in on the author's inventive and interesting vampire mythology. Anyway, when the two male MC's were introduced as a vampire and a werewolf, and Cicely seemed to be a rather typical lovestruck teen, bemused and bothered by their bizarre behavior, I thought I had a handle on what was going to happen. Boy was I wrong! These characters never cease to surprise you with their depth and resourcefulness, and man, they are going to need every bit of it to handle all the plot that Laura throws at them! The twists just keep coming, and they not only propel the story like the "darkride" of the title, they keep you absorbed and frantically turning the pages to see what happens next. I love it when authors use literary works to shed light on characters and to move the plot forward, and the use of Romeo and Juliet and a suite of fairy tale images seem fresh and fun, which isn't that easy with these familiar works. But that is the beauty (and the beast? sorry!) of this book, it takes tropes, characters and themes that you might think have been played out, and combines and reworks them in inventive, gripping and imaginative fashion. For some reason this reminded me a little of the The Princess Bride in the way it plays upon and reinvents a classic genre to great effect. It's also not without its touching and poetic moments of cinematic and poetic description, and genuine emotion between not only the MC's but some of the supporting cast as well. This really was a pleasure to read from beginning to end, and although there is a literal cliff-hanger at one point, the author is kind enough to end the story with some closure, but also at a great launching point for the much-anticipated sequel! Even if you think you prefer contemporary to paranormal, this is an enjoyable, relatable and fun take on a seemmingly familiar, but still fresh, scenario.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

New Girl, by Paige Harbison

New GirlNew Girl by Paige Harbison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

New Girl is a great read - gothic-y, teeming with tension and brimming with brooding atmosphere. It's got great characters, too, including a pack of creepy mean-girls that ensure that our poor MC can never let her guard down. It's written in a beautiful spare but luminous style - kind of like Hitchcock's black and white version of Rebecca, the novel on which this is loosely based. That style cinematically captures the novel's setting, the exclusive Manderley Academy, on the isolated New Hampshire coast, which is so much a part of the book that it's almost a character itself. When our MC, the titular New Girl, transfers to Manderley for her senior year (she doesn't have the heart to tell her excited parents no), the last thing she expects is for her room to be a shrine to its mysteriously vanished previous occupant, the enigmatic and beautiful Becca Normandy. Even more disturbing is the reaction of her roommate Dana, the priestess of said shrine, who makes it clear that the New Girl is not wanted, that she's a just temporary place holder for the anticipated return of Becca, and that she will always fall short of dear departed, but soon to return Becca. The New Girl also soon becomes entangled in the mess of a love triangle Becca left behind, attracted to the emotionally distant but still attractive Max, and fond of Johnny, the livelier friendly guy who is one of the few people at Manderly to show her any kindness. The mystery of Becca's absence, the cruel and harsh treatment of our MC by Becca's former friends, and the puzzling emotional behavior of Max seem to be the main threads of the story, but as it progresses, and we learn more about Becca from the alternating chapters with her POV, we learn that there was much more, and much less, to Rebecca and her relationships with Max, Johnny and Dana than might have appeared.
The mystery of Becca's disappearance is a major thread, but to me it became overshadowed by New Girl's growth in strength, confidence and perseverance. I'd like to say she achieves some sort of HEA, but it's not that simple. In the course of the story, however, she does become a "New Girl," one who thinks for herself, evaluates her assumptions about herself, her friends and the direction of her life in ways she might not have, but for the experience of Manderley and the fallout from Becca's disappearance. Only when she has achieved that kind of strength and level of self acceptance do we finally learn her name. By that point we are at least confident that she will move beyond, and even perhaps build upon, her experience with Manderley and the girl she never met, but who dominated her life for so long.

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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Loving Emily, by Anne Pfeffer

Loving EmilyLoving Emily by Anne Pfeffer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a pleasure to read and experience. I wish I could remember how I found it, so I could properly thank the wonderful Goodreads friend who recommended it, and try to reciprocate with an equally charming book. The story starts with MC Ryan so smitten with his lovely classmate Emily that he tells his life long friend Michael (boys don't do bff's, sorry)he'll have to drive himself to Emily's sweet sixteen party so Ryan can get there early and maybe have a chance at conversing with Emily before she gets swept up in the festivities. When Michael does finally arrive, trashed with his scuzzball new friend Chase, Ryan tries to help his friend out, despite his egregious party manners, but things don't work out and Michael drives off alone. Cue the music for uh-oh, some bad stuff is about to happen. When it does, Ryan blames himself, especially his desire to be with Emily, for Michael's death. Ryan has some other issues to deal with too. His parents are emotionally and physically absent, leaving Michael and his charming twin second grade sisters alone most of the time with their surrogate parent, Rosaria, the housekeeper of their Hollywood mega mansion (I hope she has help, this sounds like one of those places where dusting is a full time job!) Academically, he's in a bit of a slump, and he gave up on tennis after Michael's earlier overdose drove an even deeper wedge between Ryan and the fam. Speaking of tennis, Michael's brief encounter with Chrissie, the cute aspiring actress who works in the pro shop, has left some complications. Ryan sees helping Chrissie as a way to redeem himself for failing his friend, but things get complicated. As his reluctant relationship with Emily deepens (he doesn't deserve to be happy, when M is dead!), the conflicting commitments he's made pull him in different and demanding directions.

Not that many YA books like this (a family drama, coming of age with romantic overtones) feature a male protagonist, so that is a refreshing change. It's always great, to me, to know what the guy is thinking, they are usually so opaque, and to be left wondering what is on the girl's mind. Ryan is a great character, he initially comes across as a little too good to be true, but as you come to know him you begin to understand where his maturity and seriousness have come from. The way the romance develops with Emily is sweet and tender, and yes, very intense. The supporting characters are interesting, well developed and real feeling (Emily's father, especially is quite the piece of work), and contribute to the rich immersive world the author creates. Seeing Ryan find his way as he tries to do the right thing (and it's not easy sometimes to figure out what that is!), is touching and draws you deeply into the world of the story. This is really a wonderful book, and I urge you to give yourself over to the pleasure of enjoying it!

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Catching Jordan, by Miranda Kenneally

Catching JordanCatching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am kind of an emo guy, just putting that out there up front, sports and sporty people are not really my thing. Too many noogies, too many girls who liked me until baseball season started - maybe I'm even still jelli of the adulation and attention our Latin Club never got (and we rocked the Junior Classical League competition, let me tell you!). Anyway, that perspective unfortunately totally colored my experience of this book, which I must say was well crafted and engaging, with many charming elements. So, if you like books about sporty girls who have family and romantic issues, this is absolutely a good choice for you! It was also a good price on Nook ($4.99). Plus, if you are thinking about reading this, lots of my Goodreads friends loved this one, and you should check out their reviews, because they have awesome taste! But for me, sorry, it wasn't my cup of tea (see, I'm a tea drinker, GAH! that might explain a lot! and BTW, IF YOU HAVEN'T READ IT YET THE REST MIGHT BE MILDLY SPOILERISH) The MC is a jock, with a jock outlook on life, she dresses, eats, talks and acts like one. So, until she starts her journaling and a (slightly) more introspective way of looking at the world, she reminded me a lot of why I didn't especially like jocks in high school (seriously, Sally, how could you!), or why I'd rather have my nails pulled out than watch Sports Center. Sam Henry? C'mon girlfriend, is there one girl in this book/the whole school he hasn't slept with? And now you love him? After he treated you like that? Why? In fact, all of the characters' attitudes towards sex seemed ... jockish, I thought, kind of cavalier and slightly crude, without much of an emotional element. And the dad was such a dick (he's a professional jock!), I had trouble with his "redemption," at the end, it seemed way too little too late. I do want to clarify that this is cute, with funny and dramatic parts, character growth, real sounding teen voices and lots of things that make for a good read. But ... it's about the jock life, which ain't my life, and I just didn't have the strength of imagination to get past that. I wish the author every success, she seems awesome, but I see that her next book is about baseball. Yikes, that sport really kicked my ass, so ...

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