Monday, January 21, 2013

A bevy of reviews

I have read several great books this month but have been slow to post reviews-- I'm in one of those phases where things are slipping through the cracks. 

As I near my tenure review I've been concentrating even more on my research, as well as the usual work of prepping classes and teaching. 

So, better late than never. Right? Let's hope so.

The Truth About Faking by Leigh Talbert Moore
Here's the official blurb from the Goodreads site:
"Jason just wants a date with Harley. 
Harley just wants a date with Trent. 
Trent's still getting over Stephanie.

When Harley and Jason decide to fake date, they uncover a school of deceptions. Trent's got a secret, but so does Jason. And the more time Harley spends secretly kissing her fake boyfriend, the further she gets from her dreams with Trent. 

Worst of all, Harley's mom is getting cozy with her hot massage therapy student, and even Harley's Reverend Dad can't fake not being bothered by it. But when the masks finally come off, can everyone handle the real truth?"

Contemporary romance is not usually my thing. And not because I don't like it-- I actually really enjoy it when I do read it-- but I think each of us is drawn to a genre and we tend to read more in that given genre. For me it's mystery more so than romance. 

This book reminded me how fun and enjoyable contemporary romance can be (and to be honest, there's a mystery at the core of every book, so I get my kicks anyway). I totally fell in love with Harley and Jason. She was believable, quirky, and heartfelt. He was swoon-worthy in the best way. When they ran into the inevitable problems that make up any great romance I was REALLY worried that it would not work out. I felt myself caring for the characters, which is a sign that the author has done an excellent job.  

There were other great elements-- the present-in-the-MCs-life AND believable parental figures (which is sometimes not the case in YA), the issues of trust and faith, Harley's crazy plans, how we convince ourselves that someone is "perfect" when they may not be... all led to an enjoyable read. Definitely check this one out. 

The Mapmaker and the Ghost by Sarvenaz Tash

Here's the official goodreads blurb:
"Goldenrod Moram loves nothing better than a good quest. Intrepid, curious, and full of a well-honed sense of adventure, she decides to start her own exploring team fashioned after her idols, the explorers Lewis and Clark, and to map the forest right behind her home. This task is complicated, however, by a series of unique events—a chance encounter with a mysterious old lady has her searching for a legendary blue rose. Another encounter lands her in the middle of a ragtag gang of brilliant troublemakers. And when she stumbles upon none other than the ghost of Meriwether Lewis himself, Goldenrod knows this will be anything but an ordinary summer . . . or an ordinary quest. Debut author Sarvenaz Tash combines an edge-of-your-seat adventure, a uniquely clever voice, and an unforgettable cast of characters to prove that sometimes the best adventures of all are waiting right in your own backyard."

I read this aloud to my boys (ages 5 and 7)... which adds an interesting element to any book. I'm probably pushing it reading middle grade to primary schoolers, but the 7-year-old is 100% in love with hearing MG books while the 5-year-old is a wiggleworm who asks questions the whole time. So, reading aloud adds something to the experience, let's say. 

Here's what I loved about The Mapmaker and the Ghost:

1. the idea of a kid who has a plan, a grand plan, and sets off on a quest to achieve it. As a child I ALWAYS loved to read about kids who seemed to be doing bigger, more important things. Goldenrod has a dream to map the entire forest behind her home and I love that it never occurs to her to doubt herself. She just does it. Who can resist that? 

2. The way the author weaves magic and reality. It's not quite magical realism. It's not quite paranormal. Surreal might be the best term? It's a mostly ordinary town with mostly ordinary things happening... except for the occasional ghost, natural-object-with-magical-properties, or mysterious elderly lady with something to hide.  

3. Middle grade often focuses on questions of friendship and this book is no exception. Watching the relationships change among the rag-tag group of kids in this book is true, sweet, and fun. 

The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Don't you just want to live in that cover?

 Here's the Goodreads blurb:
"On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a tempered smile, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool toward the upper echelons of New York society and the executive suites of Condé Nast--rarefied environs where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve. 

Wooed in turn by a shy, principled multi-millionaire and an irrepressible Upper East Side ne'er-do-well, befriended by a single-minded widow who is a ahead of her time,and challenged by an imperious mentor, Katey experiences firsthand the poise secured by wealth and station and the failed aspirations that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her life, she begins to realize how our most promising choices inevitably lay the groundwork for our regrets."

This was sent to me for Christmas by my BFF/cousin/college roommate who ALWAYS picks the BEST books to send my way. This was a humdinger. I could not put it down. And when I had to put it down, because I had finished it, I wanted to start it all over again.  

This book is a fascinating look at how some of the upper classes and some of the lower classes lived as the country was pulling itself ever further from the Depression and into the WW2 era. It is beautifully written and contains a pretty magnificent mystery at its core. Though the book may be about the handsome banker Tinker Grey, I found myself falling in love with the whip-smart but in some ways naive Katey Kontent as she tries to make her way in a world that's at times heartbreaking, at times confusing, but always exciting. 

Chaste by Angela Felsted

Here's the Goodreads blurb:
"When he steps into his physics class on the first day of senior year, Quinn Walker is too exhausted from staying up all night with his three-month-old nephew to deal with moral dilemmas. As a devout Mormon who has vowed to wait until marriage for sex, the last thing he needs is a very hot and very sexy Katarina Jackson as his physics partner. Regrettably, he has no choice.

Kat feels invisible in her mansion of a home six months after losing her older brother in a fatal car crash and will do anything to get her parents’ attention. Since her pastor father has no love for Quinn’s “fake” religion and her ex-boyfriend refuses to leave her alone, she makes an impulsive bet with her friends to seduce her holier-than-thou lab partner by Christmas."

What I liked about Chaste was that it dealt with chastity. (Duh! It's right there in the title!) Like I said, it deals with chastity. As an issue. In a YA book. In many YA books to-have or not-to-have sex is kind of glossed over. It seems that this question-- to have or not to have-- is either THE MAIN ISSUE or is mostly avoided. There are stories about YAs who are having sex, some heart-wrenching stories about those unwillingly having sex, or stories where sex is never part of the landscape, so to speak. 

I think that makes perfect sense, because it probably reflects reality to a degree. But if people are NOT having sex in YA books, there is not often a reason given. I don't think that accurately reflects reality. Because in high school (at least in the deep South 20 years ago when I was in HS... which, granted, may not reflect reality then or now), there are people who are not having sex, and when that's the case it's often because of their faith. 

So I loved that Angela created this character, Quinn, who is so sincere, so likable, who is trying so blessedly hard to do what he believes is the right thing. And that he's challenged. And that it's not easy. And that he's able to be a true friend to the very, very broken Katarina who has used her sexuality in the past in a way that doesn't end up making her feel that great about herself. Angela doesn't hesitate to deal with this issue head-on, and I'm so glad she didn't. 

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

Here's the Goodreads blurb:
"In one of the most important and beloved Latin American works of the twentieth century, Isabel Allende weaves a luminous tapestry of three generations of the Trueba family, revealing both triumphs and tragedies. Here is patriarch Esteban, whose wild desires and political machinations are tempered only by his love for his ethereal wife, Clara, a woman touched by an otherworldly hand. Their daughter, Blanca, whose forbidden love for a man Esteban has deemed unworthy infuriates her father, yet will produce his greatest joy: his granddaughter Alba, a beautiful, ambitious girl who will lead the family and their country into a revolutionary future.

The House of the Spirits is an enthralling saga that spans decades and lives, twining the personal and the political into an epic novel of love, magic, and fate."

This was last month's read for my grown-up book club. It has taken me two months to read, but it has been worth it. Allende is an interesting writer who does NOT pull punches in revealing her characters strengths and their many, many weaknesses. Their horribly depressing and self-destructive weaknesses. 

This book is more firmly in the realm of magical realism (I think? Am I totally clueless and wrong here?) The world is mostly a normal version where crazily extraordinary things happen. Particularly through the character of Clara, the matriarch of the clan that serves as the focus of the book. 

Allende has a really interesting style where she reveals something HUGE that will happen in the future long before it happens, without really giving you the context to understand it.

I found it at times disconcerting, but it also helped build a sense of dread for the future, which was effective, I suppose. 

So that's what I've been reading lately! Great stuff-- you should check it out!

What about you? What books have you enjoyed lately?

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