Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Back When You Were Easier to Love

Back When You Were Easier to Love
By Emily Wing Smith
Dutton Books, 2011. 296 pgs. Young Adult

When Joy moved to Haven, Utah, she quickly started dating Zan, who was cooler than everyone else there: he was so "above" the silly Mormon or Latter-day Saint (LDS) culture, with the Sprite drinking and Disney-movie-watching-parties and "Modest is Hottest" t-shirts, and Mormons in general, since they aren't concerned about real issues and think they're better than everyone else. In Zan, Joy finally felt like she was somebody, but when he completed his GED and took off to California to go to college, Joy's world fell apart. Now she's desperate to get "closure" (which really means she's desperate to get Zan back), and she convinces Zan's friend Noah to drive her to California, even though she can't stand, since he's king of the Soccer Lovin' Kids--so cool and handsome he can even make being a Mormon okay. They confront Zan, and Joy has to realize what that maybe she hasn’t been seeing things clearly.

I'll start of my review with a disclaimer: I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a Mormon), so maybe I'm more sensitive than a lot of readers would be. But, as a member of the group being mocked here, I also feel like I have every right to be sensitive about how my religious group is being represented.

Joy's attitude can be really hard to take: even though she is LDS, she's so disdainful towards Haven (from the library, to the school, to the people) and toward Mormon culture (she likes the belief, just not the culture), and even toward her friends. For example, she says of her best friend, “If Zan is the world’s biggest cliché, then Mattia is Haven’s biggest cliché. She’s smart but not too smart, peppy but not too peppy, pretty but not too pretty. She’ll go to Brigham Young University like forty percent of our class, she’ll major in psychology (a subject she’s been obsessed with for as long as I’ve known her), and she’ll meet the perfect recently returned missionary. They’ll get married, have 3.5 children, and get family pictures taken up the canyon every autumn. It’s so easy for people like her” (p. 51). One of the things she doesn’t like about Noah and his friends is that they won’t have girlfriends before they go on their missions—and it also bothers her that he’s nice to everyone. (Yeah, what a rotten guy, Noah.) Joy DOES come to realize that she’s been a jerk (although I would have liked to see a little bit more realization and remorse), and some of it stems from her own insecurities. However, even after she has started to have some sense of her own snobbery, she still is very stereotypical in her assumptions about people—for example, she says, “Even though Noah hasn’t told me much about his family, I can still imagine them in a silver minivan, the girls dressed up like Cinderella and Snow White, watching Aladdin on DVD” (p.239-240). Okay, maybe that’s not the worst thing to assume about a Mormon family, but still, it’s like she’s so wrapped up in her ideas of what the quaint little Mormon life is like that she doesn’t entertain the possibility that Noah’s life could be any different. (I don’t think Joy, at least on the pages, even knows if his parents are still married, or both alive, or anything. So she might want to be a little more cautious in her assumptions, even if she thinks it’s a nice one, since she’s been so badly misjudging everyone all along…). And, even with her remorse, she still can’t put aside her own ideas enough to respect Noah’s: at the end, their car breaks down in Vegas, they go to a motel and can only afford one room, and all that’s available is one with a double bed. Yeah, sleeping together is a no-no in Mormon culture, and even though Joy is certain nothing will happen (and it’s doesn’t), she still tells Noah, even though he’s clearly uncomfortable, that it’s okay for them to share a bed, which to me, especially since she has a track record of thinking she’s better than everyone around her, shows that she still thinks her ideas are better. Why can’t she just be respectful of Noah’s standards and not push the limits?

So, yes, Joy does come to realize that she’s not better than anyone and that no one is better than anyone, but I have to say, that for me, the realization might have been too little, too late. Joy’s attitude made it hard to be sympathetic, which in turn makes it hard to care what happens to her.

I don't know, maybe I'm just grumpy. Maybe I didn't read it the way the author intended (Tangent: I'm not so sure an author can say a book should be a read a certain way, since everyone comes at a book with his or her own life experiences and opinions and such; it might be too much for any author to think that everyone's just going to be able to read a book the way that he/she "intended".), but overall, I think the book made me sad: sad to see my culture and people mocked, and even with Joy's (kinda) change of heart, I didn't feel like it fully repaired the damage it did. You know what? It's okay to like Sprite, it's okay to have Disney parties rather than drug and alcohol induced parties, and there are LOTS of Mormons who care about real issues and who DON'T think they're better than everyone...and I hope readers realize that, but I'm not sure the author really conveyed that strongly enough.

So...I don't think I'll give this book a rating. Maybe I'm overly sensitive; maybe the author would think this review is a joke. I don't know. But I'm not sure I can fairly rate it, so I won't.

Not quite a 100% clean read: it says the "h" word a couple of times, and, as mentioned, Joy and Noah do end up in the same bed (although he leaves and sleeps on the floor).

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


By Ally Condie
Nov. 2011. 367 pgs. Teen fiction (I read the ARC)

Cassia finds a way to get to the Outer Provinces, where she is intent on finding Ky, despite the fact that he's been given a work assignment that is almost certain to kill him. However, he manages to escape into the Craving, a series of canyons that could lead to freedom. Ky is just as set on finding a way to get back to Cassia. However, when the two mind each, Ky realizes that Cassia has found out about the Rising, a rebellion against their Society--something Ky doesn't want to be a part of and would like to keep Cassia out of as well.

I think fans of Matched will like Crossed as well. It can be a bit slow; there's a LOT of time spent in the canyons, both before and after Ky and Cassia are reunited--and they don't find each other until over halfway through the book, so that made things seem a little slow as well. I didn't necessarily love the first book, and again, this one was just likeable for me, but I think fans will enjoy it--and I might like it better if I weren't totally burned out on dystopias and love triangles.

3 stars. Clean read.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Roadside Assistance

Roadside Assistance Amy Clipston

Roadside Assistance

By Amy Clipston

Zondervan, 2011. 278 pgs. Teen fiction


Emily’s mother died from cancer and the medical bills ended up costing her and her father their home and his business. Left with little to their name, they move in with Emily’s aunt Darlene and her family, including her cousin who is everything Emily isn’t. Emily just wants to work on cars—her favorite hobby—but she feels pressured by her family to be something she’s not. While the boy next door, Zander, proves to be a good friend, Emily is frustrated by his deep faith; since her mother died, she hasn’t been able to pray or find any solace and she doesn’t want anyone to preach to her.


I enjoyed reading about Emily’s struggle to re-find her faith; I think her feelings are realistically portrayed. I also enjoyed watching her developing friendship with Zander. My only complaint was that sometimes the language didn’t seem fitting for a teenager; there were places where it was oddly formal. Overall, though, this is a good choice for those looking for Christian fiction.

3 stars. Clean read.

Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto

Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto

By Paul B. Janeczko

Candlewick Press, 2011. 102 pgs. Poetry

Summary and Review:

This is a collection of brief poems that describes how the Nazis herded Jews into the Terezin ghetto before shipping them off to the death camps. The poems show the view point of the Jews, as well as the SS guards and the non-Jewish people who were removed from their homes in order to build the ghetto. It’s a slim collection of poems, but it’s definitely moving, showing lost love, broken lives, and more.

3.5 stars.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Changing My Ratings...

I decided I needed to change my rating system; there were a whole lot of 3 and 3.5 star books and not a single 1...which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I think I felt bad rating any books that low. My ratings were probably a bit skewed, so I've re-rated...and interestingly enough, there were actually a couple books that I gave a HIGHER rating to.

As a guide, this is how I'm going to define the stars:
1: didn't like it
2: it was okay
3: liked it
4: really liked
5: amazing

Friday, August 19, 2011

Waiting to Forget

Waiting to Forget
By Sheila Welch
Namelos, 2011. 170 pgs. Middle Grade fiction

As T.J. sits in the hospital waiting room, anxious for news about his sister Angela, who has suffered a fall, he reflects on their life. "Now" they are adjusting to being recently adopted and fitting in with their new parents, but "then," they lived with their mother and her series of boyfriends, with T.J. acting much more like an adult than his mother as he tried to keep himself and his sister safe. As he reflects on his life and worries about his sister, T.J. comes to realize what he wants from life.

This is a touching, thought-provoking story. Told alternately between "now" and "then," it takes readers through the children's lives, as they craved their mother's love and attention but could never quite rely on her, and their struggles to fit into a new family. While it deals with difficult topics, such as abandonment and neglect, it does so in a gentle, caring way that invites readers to join T.J. on his emotional journey.

3.5 stars. Has a little bit of language, but of the milder variety.

Daughter of Helaman

Daughter of Helaman
By Misty Moncur
Bonneville Books, 2011. 201 pgs. Teen fiction

Although Keturah is of marrying age, she has no intention of getting married yet. Instead, she wants to join her brothers and the other young men of their people as they form a rag-tag army and prepare to battle their enemies. Ezekiel, the boy who has been her friend all her life, wants Keturah to accept his offer of betrothal, and while she thinks she loves him, she can't help the rising feelings she has for Gideon, the only man who seems willing to accept her need to be a soldier.

This was an exciting adventure, the first book in a new series, and overall I enjoyed it and I think other readers will, too. It's fast-paced and Keturah is a spunky character. I was a little put off by the use of modern slang in a historical fiction novel. (Duh, awesome, etc. just don't strike me as being a big part of the vocab before Christ...granted, I don't know what would have been, but it was a bit jarring.) I also got a little frustrated with Keturah going so far as to tell Zeke she loves him (multiple times) but all the while obviously being attracted to Gideon. It honestly made me frustrated with her; I can be sympathetic to her being conflicted about her feelings, but if she KNOWS she's conflicted (and she should, or she's kinda dumb), then she shouldn't tell Zeke she loves him. Also, I didn't feel like her relationship with Zeke was developed enough to really make me take her feelings for him seriously; we see a lot of him being bossy or opposing her (and some good stuff, too), but mainly it felt like the author TOLD the reader that there were feelings there, rather than actually showing it. All in all, though, I was intrigued by the book and look forward to the rest of the series.

3.5 stars.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Jane Austen in Scarsdale

Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death and the SATs Paula Marantz Cohen Jane Austen Persuasion retelling

Jane Austen in Scarsdale

By Paula Marantz Cohen

St. Martin's Press, 2006. 275 pgs. Adult Fiction

In this modern retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion, Anne Ehrlich is a high school guidance counselor who, thirteen years before, was persuaded by her grandmother that her boyfriend Ben wasn't a good choice for her. She's never been able to forget about him, and when his nephew transfer to Anne's school, she finds herself face to face with Ben once again--and finds that her feelings for him have never died. However, Ben has a fiancé, and Anne is certain he won't forgive her for how things ended between them.

My opinion:

This is a clean read and a fun modern version of Persuasion. Even those who aren't familiar with the original will still enjoy the plot line.It's an easy, breezy read that's perfect for an afternoon of light reading.

3 stars.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Never Sit Down in a Hoopskirt

Never Sit Down in a Hoopskirt and Other Things I Learned in Southern Belle Hell
By Cricket Rumley
Egmont, 2011. 298 pgs. Teen fiction

Troublemaker Jane isn't exactly the typical participant in Bienville, Alabama's Magnolia Maid Pageant, but since her beloved grandmother asks her to try it and Jane is trying to connect to her deceased mother (the Magnolia Maid queen in her day), Jane gives it a go, and surprisingly, is one of the finalists. That means she has to join four other girls in being a true Southern belle, complete with a hoopskirt and sweet Southern manners. However, bickering between the girls, plus the barriers Jane has put up around herself due to a painful past, make it even more difficult than Jane anticipated.

This a fun, fluffy read, good for a lazy afternoon. At the same time, it has some deeper and more serious aspects, such as lessons about friendship and dealing with family disappointments.

3 stars. Pretty frequent examples of underage drinking, but no sexuality and only minor language.

Friday, August 12, 2011


By Heather Dixon
Random House/Listening Library, 2011. 10 sound discs (ca. 71 min. each). Teen fiction

When the queen dies, the king puts the entire household into mourning. His twelve daughters, who love to dance, are determined to find a way to keep dancing, and magic allows them a way. They find a secret passage to a forest where they can dance. However, the Keeper there seems to have dark secrets, and Azalea, the oldest of the princesses, must find a way to free her family from his grasp before it's too late.

I like the setting and the world described in this story, as well as the language (although I got really, really tired of the words skirts, crinolines, and cravat by the end of the book), but I had a harder time with the plot and the characters. I guess my main problem is that I was never really sold on the girls' need to dance. Keeper is creepy, and I don't understand why they ignored that to go dancing. Maybe someone who dances would understand, and I don't, but honestly, where's their sense of self-preservation? Or common sense? Or any inkling that they might be in danger? Since I didn't buy the need to dance, that made it hard for me to get into the rest of the story, because (for a disbelieving reader like me), they either seem really dumb (which doesn't endear them to me) or really young (which makes it hard to accept that the three oldest have romantic entanglements, because they seem too young and therefore the gentlemen pursuing them seem icky for pursuing them and gives the reader an unsettled feeling during the reading). I wonder if I would have liked the book better than the sound recording; although the narrator was good, the sheer time it takes to listen to a book (instead of being able to breeze through reading it in a matter of hours) gave me lots of time to notice and ponder things I didn't like, whereas if I'd read it, maybe I would have been more swept into the story.

3 stars. Clean read.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ruby Red

Ruby Red
By Kerstin Gier
Henry Holt and Company, 2011. 330 pgs. Teen fiction

Gwen's family has a history of time traveling, and everyone thinks that her cousin Charlotte will be the next time travel, but it turns out to be Gwen instead. Charlotte, in anticipation of her role, has been given all sorts of training to help her blend in when she visits the past as well as an introduction to the secret society that protects the secret of their time travel and the machine that lets them control where they travel. Gwen doesn't have that training and is somewhat at a loss as to what is expected of her. She has a time-travel companion, handsome Gideon, who quickly makes it clear that Gwen is not his type and pretty much beneath his notice, and her mother warns her not to trust anyone, so Gwen is pretty confused as to what's going on and who is even telling the truth.

This is an exciting start to a new series; I like the time-traveling elements (although, I'm not quite sure I understand all of it, so I hope Gwen gets enlightened a little more in the next book so I can understand more as well), and Gwen is a good protagonist. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.

4.5 stars. A really, really little bit of language, but otherwise, this one's clean.

Friday, August 5, 2011


By Jane Austen
Oxford University Press, 2004. 249 pgs. Adult Fiction

Eight years ago, Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth fell in love, but Anne's father, a vain, shallow man who is overly hung up on appearances, money, connections and social class, won't approve the marriage. Anne's deceased mother's closest friend also discourages the match, and Anne is persuaded to end their engagement. Now, the Elliots are running up debts and have to economize; they rent out their estate to the Crofts--Captain Wentworth's brother-in-law and sister--and Captain Wentworth, recently returned from sea and now distinguished and wealthy, comes to visit. He and Anne barely speak, neither acknowledging their previous engagement. Captain Wentworth seems to be taken with another young lady in the neighborhood, and soon, Anne realizes her true feelings for him.

I'm not sure why I never bothered to read this book before; I enjoy Jane Austen, and I liked this one, although not as much as some of her others. Still, I like the idea of second chances and both Anne and Captain Wentworth are likable, although I wish we got to see a little deeper into both of them. Still, I'm not sure you can go wrong with Jane Austen.

4 stars.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


By Veronica Roth
Katherine Tegen Books, 2011. 487 pgs. Teen fiction

Chicago is divided into five factions: Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), and Erudite (the intelligent). Each faction exemplifies the behaviors and attitudes that they think will most benefit the world and combat the problems of human nature. As teens reach a certain age, they are given an aptitude test that tells them which attributes they have, followed by a ceremony where they choose which group to remain with for the rest of their lives. Most people have one dominant attribute, but Beatrice Prior, who has been raised by her Abnegation parents and community, isn't sure she's selfless enough to stay with that faction. When her aptitude tests reveals that she has multiple dominant attributes, meaning she is divergent, she must choose which faction to join--as well as hide the fact that she's divergent, as she's been warned that her life depends on no one finding out her secret. Tris makes her choice, changing her name along with her alliances, and as she trains for her new faction, she struggles to know who to trust and starts to fall in love but also realizes that everything could be ripped away but a group that is ready to overthrow their way of life.

Some books just hook you, and some don't. For me, this one definitely did. I think this has the potential to be the new Hunger Games--the trilogy that everyone has to read and can't stop thinking about. With an intriguing dystopian world, engaging characters, action, adventure, romance, and more, there's not much that this book doesn't have. I will say that I thought the end of the book, where we see the conflict really unfolding, as the rebel group begins rolling out their plans, went by to quickly for me and was actually too easily resolved. Obviously, there's going to be a lot more going on in the next books, but I would have liked to see a little more in this one, as it all plays out in a matter of a few hours. On the other hand, Tris's training and personal growth and conflicts were explored in much more detail and over time, so the juxtaposition just made the larger, societal conflict seem glossed over. Still, I'm hooked, and I can't wait to see what happens next! A great choice for anyone who liked The Hunger Games, dystopia, romance, action, or kick-butt characters.

4.5 stars. As far as language goes, I think this one's pretty clean. There's a lot of violence, though. Sexuality is minimal; there's some kissing, a little sexual tension, and a discussion of how two characters might possibly at some point in the future if they're ready, sleep together.

P.S. (3/26/12) I listened to the audio version of this book last week. I was a little apprehensive at first, since I know a bad narrator can ruin a good book, but , I was quite satisfied with the narrator. Very well done.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Lost in Shangri-La

Lost in Shangri-La
By Mitchell Zuckoff
HarperCollins, 2011. 384 pgs. Adult Nonfiction

In May of 1945, a popular activity at the U.S. Army base in Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea, was taking flights to see "Shangri-La," a remote part of the island, completely isolated, surround by mountains and rain forests, with thousands of native inhabitants. Although others had completed this trip, for one group, it didn't turn out so well. When their plane crashed, twenty-one soldiers and WACs died--but three survived. Margaret Hastings and Kenneth Decker, both badly wounded in the crash, and John McCollum (whose twin died in the crash) lived but they were in a remote area of the world, wondering if the natives were cannibalistic, if the Army would be able to evacuate them, and if gangrene would lead to emergency amputation. The Army was able to parachute medics and other soldiers in to help the survivors, but they still didn't know how to get them out.

This is an engaging true story, which, although published for adults, would likely appeal to teen readers interested in WWII and survival stories. (I will say, though, there are pictures of the native men, who traditionally wore penis gourds and little else; some readers might not want to skip the photos.) The details about the survivors as well as the natives are interesting; the rescue was a little less dramatic than what I thought it would be, based on both the dust jacket and the chapters leading up to it, but still, it moves well and is an engaging piece of nonfiction.

4 stars.