YA not?

It seems like the YA genre is getting a lot of heat lately. Thanks to John Green and The Fault in Our Stars, the spotlight is on YA novels turned film, but the scrutiny is on the value of these books in the adult literary world and whether we should spend vs. waste our time with them.  So for everyone judging adults reading from the YA section of the bookstore, let me ask, what defines a YA book?

Probably the first answer is a teenaged protagonist. Then, subject matter relating to adolescence.  Occasionally, there is some element of fantasy, though not required. And more often than not, these books arrive in series. Let’s explore: Twilight, Ender’s Game, Divergent, The Hunger Games.  Wildly popularized by their movie buzz, but still marketed as YA.

But if we follow that set of rules, it could also be argued that books like Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie are also YA novels. And I’m sure no one would tell you to feel embarrassed about reading that. I’m firmly in the camp of read whatever you want! If you are a kid who only wants to read comic books, a teen who only wants to read magazines, or an adult who only wants to read blogs; I’m all for reading anything that informs, enriches and enlightens your world. I’m the kid who read every word on my activity placemat at diners, practically memorized the signs in the aisles of the grocery store and tried to pronounce all the vitamins and minerals hiding in my cereal. Why? Because reading is good for and it’s more fun than staring into space while you wait. Thats why I’m the adult who carries reading materials everywhere and measures my purse to my Kindle before buying. My point: never feel ashamed of your reading material! You’re already one-up on the person playing candy quest on their phone!

Instead of my normal review format, here is a list of YA novels I’ve read recently that are totally worth reading as an adult:

1) The Fault in Our Stars, John Green 

fault in our stars Hazel and Augustus meet in a support group for kids with cancer. They bond over their shared fates and as they become close, they share their favorite books with each other. Hazel’s book has an unsatisfying ending, and they decide to pursue the author together to ask for further closure of the story.  It’s rather like reading the plot of a Shakespeare play in modern times.

2) The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

book thief Set in WWII Germany, the story is narrated by Death who becomes intrigued by Liesel when he sees her steal a book at the site of her brothers grave. Death follows her story as she is taken in by foster parents, learns to read, and steals books from Nazi book burnings and affluent community members. The story is beautifully descriptive and gives unique insight into being a German citizen during the Nazi reign.

3) Reconstructing Amelia, Kimberly McCreight

Amelia Kate is a single mom, doing her best to raise her daughter well, but she works hard as a lawyer in a competitive firm and isn’t as on top of things as she may think. When she gets a call to inform her that her daughter jumped from the roof of the school, she is in utter disbelief. Then she starts receiving mysterious messages indicating that Amelia’s death wasn’t suicide after all. Kate investigates the remains of daughter’s life to uncover the truth. A bit like an episode of CSI, this story offers insight into high school social media and the privilege of affluence.

4) If I Stay, Where She Went, Gayle Forman

if i staywhere she went If I Stay tells the story of Mia who is alone in the world after a horrible car accident takes her family from her. She is hurt badly and while her body lies in the hospital, her consciousness roams amongst her friends and grandparents gaining a different perspective of the situation. It becomes clear that she has a choice to stay with them or to join her family…  Where She Went tells the story of Adam, Mia’s boyfriend and his life after Mia. At the time of the accident, Adam’s band was gaining ground in Portland and Seattle and since then, they’ve reached super-stardom.  While I enjoyed the first book better for the interesting perspective, I appreciated the closure of the follow-up.

5) The City of Ember, Jeanne DuPrau

ember Ember is a city created by “the builders” with a specific infrastructure and community plan to save its inhabitants from the dangerous conditions occurring on the surface of the Earth. The city was supplied for 200 years, but 40 after they were due to exit, Ember’s people are running out of supplies. When they are assigned their jobs, Lina and Doon become suspicious of the city’s ability to survive and discover a way to save the people of Ember. This post-apocalyptic fantasy proposes an interesting means of survival and renaissance.

 

Those are just a few suggestions to get you started, all coming with my recommendation for personal enrichment, book club discussions and side-by-side reading with your favorite 13-17 year-old!

 

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” ― C.S. Lewis

Advertisements

Silence is Golden

The last time I went to a public library was 9 years ago. I went daily for 5 weeks straight to study for my physical therapy board exam. It was NOT a quiet place! I was settled at a table in the center of the stacks (adult fiction, G-J) with people milling around me, chatting with their friends, the other “regulars.”  I was only a few feet away from the bank of computers where people could access the internet, so that brought its own special noise as people laughed at their screens or asked help of the attendant. Patrons held cell phone conversations, and listened to music through headphones at a volume that could be overheard. And the best part by far; the library was housed below a senior center where shuffle board was played regularly on the floor above. Scrape, shuffle, collide and begin again at regular intervals with a drop ceiling buffer. A McDonald’s PlayPlace may have been a quieter environment to study! With the convenience of mass-market book stores and the advent of the Kindle, I haven’t needed to re-visit the library since, but I do appreciate the concept of free use of books. Now that I can borrow from my Kindle, I’m more inclined to try the title that doesn’t cost me anything and return them when I’m done. That’s how I crossed paths with this title and I enjoyed its price as well as its content.

Book# 25- Conspiracy of Silence, Martha Powers

silence Rating: 3- It was a good book

Synopsis: Grand Rapids, Minnesota is a quiet little lake-side town. Unassuming and uneventful as far as small towns go. It’s home to renowned author Nathan Hassan, and that is the reason for Clare Prentice to travel there from Chicago; to interview him for her literary magazine. But she has another reason as well. She recently discovered she was adopted after her mother’s death and her only clue to her identity is a class ring from the town from 1962. Clare’s best friend also has a connection to the town; her father grew up there, and her aunt still lives there with a cottage for rent by the lake. As Clare begins her research, she discovers her adoptive mothers real name is Rose Gunderson, and that her sister Lily Newton was murdered in 1982. It becomes clear very quickly that Clare is really the Rose’s niece, Abigail Clare Newton and was sent away because her father was responsible for the murder. As Clare uncovers more details, she grows closer to Nate and his daughter Erika. But she also clearly stirs up a past that someone doesn’t want uncovered. There is more to this murder that meets the eye and someone doesn’t want Clare sticking her nose into it. Who is it, and what lengths will they go to to keep the past quiet? That is what Clare is about to find out before she can find out who she is.

My Impressions: I do love a good murder mystery. In fact I think I’m a bit of a sucker for them. This one was pretty good, though slightly predictable… I figured out that the boy would get the girl after their first meeting; as happy endings tend to go. And I figured out the source of secrecy about half-way through, even though the unveiling of details still made for an interesting journey to the ending.
The ending of the story itself was rather abrupt. I would have liked an epilogue to tie a bow on it. Perhaps since Clare’s cover story for the investigation was an update of the 25th anniversary of the murder, the epilogue could have been her article on the subject. I think it would have been nice to have a brief telling of all of the facts surrounding the story. Or a first person narrative of her journey to the truth since that is how she ultimately found her identity.
Overall the voice and the character development were fitting, and not forced. Even when I thought relationships were progressing unnaturally fast, the characters would recognize it and accept responsibility for it before backing up a little bit for a reality check.

Why You Should Read It : A sweet, if not a little clumsy heroine, a handsome hero. Murder, suspense, intrigue and small-town charm. It’s a recipe for success! Plus if you are a Kindle/Prime user (this is not a plug, I have no financial interests here!) it’s free. I guess also if you are a library user, than so is every other book; so there’s that…

Read if you liked: The Bean Trees (Barbara Kingsolver), The Secret Life Of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd), Lost Lake (Sarah Addison Allen)

Book #25 in the bag!

“You can find friends between the pages of a book, wonderful friends.” ― Cornelia Funke, Inkspell

Universal Theory

You’re not supposed to judge books by their covers, and since reading primarily on a Kindle for the last 3 years, I hardly ever see the covers, so problem solved! You’re probably not supposed to judge books by their titles either. I’ve come to learn that the author generally doesn’t get input on the title of the book, the cover art and so on. But sometimes it’s a catchy title and it makes me think it might be an interesting story (I recognize that’s really the point). That’s how I chose this book, and well… You win some, you lose some.

Book #24-  The Theory of Opposites, Allison Winn Scotch

opposites Rating: 2- Not my Fav

Synopsis: Willa Chandler was actually born William. She did not have a sex-change or an identity crisis, she had a father who firmly believes in the ebb-and-flow of the universe. So when the doctor said it would be a boy, they chose the name William, and that was that, no turning back despite the absence of a penis upon birth. Willa dad is actually quite famous for his theories, having written a widely published self-help book about the absence of choices in life. Willa subscribes to these theories because she has had them ingrained since, and since the whole idea is to allow the world to happen as it will, she doesn’t protest.

That’s how she ends up with a husband who is asking for the summer off from their marriage (she didn’t think anything was wrong?), fired from her job (who can make adult diapers sexy? Who?), and thrown into a project with her best friend that forces her out of her comfort zone. Vanessa is challenging her to resist inertia, react in the exact opposite manner than she is inclined, all for the sake of stepping out of her fathers shadow and testing “the theory of opposites.” What happens to you when turn left if you have always turned right? Can you go back and correct a wrong turn?

My Impressions: This isn’t a very complicated story. Things go wrong early on and Willa, a general peace-keeper, not one to make waves, just sort of lets them go on. Her husband wants to leave, so she watches him go. She gets fired, so she needs a new job. Her dad gets sick and she faithfully stays by his side. Her mom has a bit of a life change and she casually accepts that too. Her friend Vanessa thinks she knows what Willa needs and Willa goes along (only protesting slightly). Blah, blah, blah…DOORMAT! I really had a hard time reading a story about someone who was so accepting of their own unhappiness and thought there was nothing they could do since that’s the hand they were dealt. I just couldn’t enjoy this story for all the apathy of the main character and the lack of responsibility for her own part in her circumstances. I kept reading because I was waiting for this great revelation about her trending behavior because everyone around her was happy to hint at it, or just say it out-right. But it never happened, until the very end. The very far-fetched end…

Why you should read it: Well, it’s a short book… It may make for an interesting discussion in a book group because of the basic philosophies presented. But it doesn’t really get a high recommendation from me.

Read if you liked: Delusional Thinking (Bonnie Trachtenberg), 20 Times a Lady (Karyn Bosnak)

Book #24 in the bag

“A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.” ― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

 

Murder He Wrote

This weeks book was a bit of a guilty pleasure read. Except I don’t think you should feel guilty or embarrassed about anything that you choose to read, just for the record! So the book I read this week is fan fiction for the TV show Castle. One of my favorite shows for many reasons including the “ruggedly handsome” Nathan Fillion (as Richard Castle) and the amazing chemistry with co-star and role-model leading-lady Stana Katic (as Kate Beckett). The premise of the show is that Castle is a murder mystery writer and Beckett is a homicide detective. He tags along to her crime scenes and consults to help solve her cases and she is his muse for a series of mystery novels. Bringing us back to the book… They are actually published books! The back story differs slightly from the show and the murders borrow inspiration from things seen on TV, but it’s a really fun read! If only Jessica Fletcher could have done the same!

Book #5 Deadly Heat, by Richard Castle

deadly-heat-richard-castle-ftrRating: 3- It was a good book

Synopsis: The fifth installment in the Nikki Heat series picks up where Frozen Heat left off. Nikki, a NYPD homicide detective is a few steps closer to solving the coldest case of her career; the murder of her mother. She now knows the name of her mother’s killer, but she doesn’t know why, or who ordered her killed. Nikki is riding the momentum of the break in the case; and trying to stay out of the spotlight after an article about her, and the work of her precinct; was written by Pulitzer prize winning journalist Jameson Rook. He has an in-depth view of the inner-workings of the precinct, shadowing and consulting on high-profile cases, and dating Nikki. 

Nikki’s attention becomes divided when the body of a health inspector is found in a pizza oven and then a local news personality is strangled in the park. The two are from opposite worlds, but their deaths are linked by the very bizarre clues left behind at their crime scenes. Clearly the work of a budding serial killer, Nikki and her team must work quickly to track him down before he strikes again; but they have to stay hot on the trail of the other case too before it goes cold again…

My Impressions: I really love the strong, independent heroine in this story. She’s that super cool chick that most girls want to be, but she knows when to get real; and when she loses her cool, it’s just awesome.  The relationship between Heat and Rook reads the way Castle and Beckett play out on TV and that draws you in even more. You kind of cheer them on as a couple because they compliment each other so well. The story itself is suspenseful and it keeps the pages turning. By the time you realize what is really afoot, you can’t believe you were duped! The plot is a little complicated… You have to know the back story of the first plot line and keep all the details straight (from this book and the last one) and then you have to keep up with the thread of the second plot line and all of the ways that the two overlap. It’s not hard to follow, you’re not reading Shakespeare, but it’s hard to keep all of the tiny details in mind.  Once I got 30% into the story (ah, Kindle) I couldn’t put it down!

Why you should read it: It’s mind candy! Just a little no-brainer pleasure reading. There’s romance, mystery, action, suspense, betrayal. And no shortage of murder! There are some great one-liners, jokes built in for fans of the show, and references for scifi fans of Nathan Fillion. If you want to get caught up in a fun story, check out the Nikki Heat series!

 

Book #5 in the bag!

“The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives… She traveled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.” ― Roald Dahl, Matilda

 

A Book in The Bag

I love to read! I wanted to be read to as a child. I read along with cassette tapes that prompted page turns with a little ping! I learned to read and maxed out my book limits at the school library and the public library. I got “pre-approved” and maxed out credit cards at Barnes & Noble.

Okay, that last part may not be entirely true… I’m sure I also had some help from  Target and DSW.

But you get the point. I read a lot, often, and I’m never without a book. Or these days, a Kindle. I have the app for my phone so in the rare case that I’m without my latest read, I can sinc up to where I left off. And I buy my handbags based on the criteria that they be big enough to fit my Kindle.

And so the name of my blog, a book in the bag.

But since I do so much reading, an get so much enjoyment from books, I thought I’d keep track and offer my modest and untrained critique of the books that I’m reading. I just turned 31, so my self challenge will be to complete 31 books this year. (This might be too lofty of a goal, I haven’t really done the math!)

I’m going to to try to honor each book and it’s author with an objective review of the work, before offering my opinion. I recently read an article about online book review sites calling some amateur reviewers “book-bullies” for their harsh and heavily opinionated posts. One went so far as to include GIFs and memes mocking the work. That will not happen here.

I am going to be honest about my feelings towards the book. I’m going to step out of my reading comfort zone a little too, though I make no promises to finish a book that fees like work to get through. Once while I was complaining about a book being particularly hard to finish my friend, an author, said to me, “Then just stop reading it! Who says you have to finish it?” I’m sure I blinked a few times before saying something intelligent like “Oh, okay…” It just never occurred to me to give up on a book, I felt like I must finish what I started. Or maybe it just gets good in the last 50 pages?

To this day, I don’t know how Middlesex ends, and I’m totally okay with it… Life is too short to read bad books! Or some other coffee mug quote…

Anyway I think you get the idea. I read all the time, and now I’m going to blog about it. I’m no Mother Goose or LeVar Burton, but maybe I can inspire someone else to pick up a good book! (Sorry that song is going to be stuck in your head for hours.)

So without further ado, Let the wild rumpus start!