Monday, April 30, 2012

Love? Maybe

Love? Maybe
By Heather Hepler
Dial Books, 2012. 267 pgs. Teen fiction

Piper, born on Valentine’s Day, is quite cynical when it comes to love. When her friend Claire gets dumped just before V-day, their friend Jillian decides they need a Plan that will help them all secure dates by V-day. Although reluctant, Piper goes along with The Plan for Claire's sake, and soon, she's managed to attract the attention of her long-time crush. However, even as things seem to be going well with him, and the candy (Consternation Hearts) she created at the shop where she works are super popular, Piper can't quite shake her cynicism. In spite of everything, though, maybe she’ll find love after all.

This is a sweet (pun intended) read, that, while it takes place around Valentine's Day, can be enjoyed by readers year round. While it's a little on the fluffy side, it also has some depth as we see the experiences in Piper's life that have made her cynical about love and her wake up call to realize that things don't always have to go wrong in love.

3.5 stars. Clean read.

Monday, April 23, 2012

How to Save a Life

How to Save a Life
By Sarah Zarr
Little, Brown, 2011. 341 pgs. Teen fiction

Jill is a senior in high school when her mother decides she's going to adopt a baby; via the internet she has "met" a young mother who is willing to give up her baby, but she wants it done without lawyers and agencies. Jill has tried to convince her mother that this is a bad idea, that she's just grieving for her late husband and that she can't just impulsively adopt a child. And yet, her mother invites Mandy to come stay with them in the weeks before the delivery. At first, Jill, who has cut herself off from pretty much everyone since her father's death, can't stand Mandy or the idea of her being there, and she's certain Mandy isn't telling the truth about a lot of stuff (and she isn't). And yet, as the time passes, it turns out that Mandy and her baby might be exactly what Jill and her mother need.

Jill and Mandy alternately narrate this novel of love and healing and hope. Each girl has struggles that readers, although perhaps not in the exact same situation, will be able to relate to and will be able to take hope from the changes and healing that come about for the two protagonists. Both girls have moments when they're frustrating, but it never goes over the top, which means Zarr nailed the personality of the normal teenager without antagonizing readers. There's some language and off-screen sex, and it tackles hard issues so it's probably best for mature readers. I'd be putting off reading this one for months for some reason (maybe because I didn't particularly like Zarr's book Sweethearts), but I'm definitely glad it made it's way to the top of my list. It's a rewarding book for those who looking for a little insight into life and love. It's also the sort of book that invites you to compassion--I think I might have sided with Jill on some things (like it being really weird for a mom to invite a pregnant teenager to their home without getting more information and stuff), and I tend to be a little judgmental myself, like Jill, and so as a reader, it was good for me to be able to see Mandy's point of view and gain a little compassion and be able to grow along with Jill.

I listened to the downloadable audiobook. The narrator who did Mandy's voice was a little grating at first but grew on me by the end; the narrator for Jill's voice was very good.

4 stars.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Grave Mercy

Grave Mercy
By Robin LaFevers
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2012. 549 pgs. Teen fiction (I read the ARC).

Ismae, the daughter of Death himself, is forced into an arranged marriage to a man who doesn't realize that she has the evil mark upon her. When he discovers it, he intends to have her destroyed, but she is rescued instead and taken to a convent dedicated to serving Death. There she is trained in how to kill in various ways--weapons, poisons, etc.--and finds strength she didn't know she possessed. Before she takes her final vows, she is sent out on a mission that makes her challenge what she thought she knew about Death and her convent--and her own heart. Although she has long feared/hated men for their cruelty, her mission has her paired up with Gavriel Duval, the bastard son of the deceased duke, who is determined to protect his half sister and get her crowned before France can invade or corrupt barons force her into marriage. Although her abbess sends her to spy on Duval as well as eliminate anyone with the marque of death, Ismae finds herself drawn to Duval and wonders if he could really be the traitor the abbess says he is.

This is a first-rate piece of historical fantasy. With political intrigue, a well-developed setting, action, romance, and complex, engaging characters, this book pretty much has it all. Ismae and Duval are both such real characters, struggling to figure out what they want and what is right. There is some violence, and the idea of girls being trained to carry out death is gruesome. There's also some innuendo (since Ismae is posing as Duval's mistress and they do end up acting on their feelings--although it's not described in much detail so I wasn't even positive that was what actually happened), so it's probably more appropriate for older teens. Now I just have to anxiously await the second book in the series.

4.5 stars.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Books I Can't Force Myself to Finish and Why

This is more for my memory than for anything else, but I thought I'd maintain a list of books I just couldn't bring myself to finish reading:

Ashfall by Mike Mullin (see post)
The Returning by Christine Hinwood (see post)
You Are My Only by Beth Kephart (see post)
The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour (not going to do a post, but I was put off by all the language and didn't really care about Colby or his feelings for his best friend, who seemed, at least from what I read, like a pretty selfish girl)
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews (after a conversation about eating pussy and another about masturbating with pillows, I'd had enough of the bathroom humor--and little hope that it wasn't going to be a major part of the book)

Monday, April 9, 2012


By Eoin Colfer
Hyperion, 2008. 11 hrs, 22 mins. Teen fiction

Conor Broekhart was born to fly. In fact, he was born flying--in a hot air balloon over Paris. Returning home to the Saltee Islands off the Irish coast, Conor quickly becomes friends with Princess Isabella, despite her daily, or hourly, or even minutely, threats to have him hanged. He's even given the opportunity to study with Isabella's tutor, a Frenchman named Victor Vigny, who shares Conor's interest in flying. Both are determined that they will fly someday; however, their plan is cut short when the evil Hugo Bonvilain, Marshall of the Saltee Islands, puts into effect his plan to kill the king. Conor discovers his treachery, but Bonvilain catches him, and after convincing Conor's parents that Conor died with the king, sends Conor to Little Saltee where he works in the prison mines, gathering diamonds that make the corrupt Bonvilain rich. Feeling forsaken by his family and his love (Isabella), Conor is determined to forget his former life and survive the wretched conditions of the prison long enough to escape.

With flying, corruption, evil schemes, and a good villain (meaning, a bad villain that you can hate as much as Conor hates him) this book is a good pick for most teen guys, as well as quite a few teen girls. John Keating, as always, does a good narration, making this a good choice for those looking for a good audiobook as well.

3.5 stars. Clean read, other than some very, very slight usage of "d***" and "h***" (although, in some cases, it was comparing prison to the real place, so I'm not even sure if that counts as cursing).