The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler

Turtleback Books, 2003, 244 pages

Turtleback Books, 2003, 244 pages

After many, many weeks hiatus, another girly review to show the world I’m still alive and kicking (though unfortunately not reading all that much). I read this book a while ago, wrote a review, then promptly forgot to post it. Oh well, that goes to show how important it is for you dear readers to subscribe, doesn’t it?

It should surprise no one that I chose this book solely on the title. Still, it’s worth noting that this hilarious novel is also a Printz Award winner. Thankfully it lived up to my high expectations! It was every bit the girly, smart, and funny book I wanted it to be.

Virginia Shreves is our fifteen-year-old narrator, sadly characterized mostly by her weight. Virginia lives by her own “Fat Girl Code of Conduct”, which basically dictates how she interacts with the opposite sex (i.e. poorly). I felt sorry for Virginia in the first half of the book. It seems like everything in her life is working against her self-esteem: her best friend has moved away, her exercise-obsessed mom is unsupportive and undercutting, and her siblings are absent. Self-hatred saturates the first part of this book, and in such a real, believable way. The fact that it is the true inner voice of so many girls out there today is what made parts of this book really quite disturbing. There’s my warning.

The flip side of that, however, was Mackler’s ability to add wit and irreverent humour to every aspect of the story. While it touches on really serious subjects, it does so in the best way possible. It’s truthful, but it isn’t brutal.

Virginia’s real coming of age takes place through a shocking family event that rocks her world. Rather than watching it ruin her, the reader gets to see a journey toward self-actualization that is truly beautiful. I can’t say I was on the same page as Virginia the whole time – along with finding her voice and being able to stand up for herself she adopts somewhat of a silver tongue, for example – but I think that contributes to the realness of the novel. Teenagers are like that, and even the “nice girl” can’t always be super gracious.  The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things is a genuine portrait of teenaged girl-dom, and I really really liked it.

Not Suitable for Family Viewing, Vicki Grant

HarperTrophyCanada, 2009, 289 pages (soft cover)

I’d never heard of this book or its author, but it’s one of those random library picks that turned out to be an entertaining surprise. Not to mention it’s Canadian, and it made me LOL. I really love books that  literally make me laugh out loud.

Before I get to the meat and potatoes here, can we pause for a moment to communally groan at this cover? As a result I was forced to find creative ways to hold my book while reading on the bus….

That’s not really where the groans stopped for this book, either. The first-person present-tense story is told from the perspective of Robin, the oft-forgotten daughter of Oprah-like TV mega-personality, Mimi Schwartz. (Want to know the name of Mimi’s show? You, You, and Mimi. Groan.) In the shadow of her famous mother, Robin feels like a neglected, fat slob with no motivation to do anything. Then one day she finds a little clue to her mother’s pre-fame days, which is just intriguing enough for Robin to take off for a tiny po-dunk village to do some detective work. This is both where the real eye-rolling as well as nail biting started for me. Along her way Robin meets a guy, who slowly but surely (somehow) becomes a love interest [spoiler alert! highlight to read!] even after she punches him in the face upon their first meeting, and later proceeds to scream – yes, literally scream – every time she sees him thereafter. Obviously this leads to his finding her very quirky, funny, and sexy- sexy. Teeny-bopper romance aside – and I had to gag my way through plenty of that – there’s actually a pretty twisty mystery hidden in these pages. I didn’t realize how much red herring is strategically placed throughout the book, until I’d finished it and had it on my mind the next couple days. Coming off of Paper Townsthis one had a lot more to offer in terms of difficulty actually cracking the case.

I’m glad I was compelled enough to keep on through the first half of this book, because the second half proved well worth it. In the first half I wondered why it was an award winner; now I see why. Layered beneath the typical teen beach romance is actually a strong commentary about how appearances aren’t what they seem.

Paper Towns by John Green

Speak, 2009, 305 pages (hardcover)

Speak, 2009, 305 pages (hardcover)

In the John Green hierarchy of book awesomeness, it is with a heavy heart that I’m actually able to call Paper Towns my least favourite. I still give it a 3 out of 5, but I was expecting something between a 4 or a 5. Maybe my expectations were too high, as it took me a good two years to get my hands on a copy. Maybe it’s because I’ve read literally all of John Green’s books and this felt like (don’t shoot me) more of the same.

This time around, Margo Roth Spiegelman is the unattainable girl that our first-person-narrated hero loves from afar. And when she disappears (not unlike Alaska in Looking for Alaska) the hero spends two hundred pages learning she’s not this carefree manic pixie dreamgirl (not unlike Looking for Alaska). Turns out Margo is a real girl with real problems. Nearing the end of the book comes the philosophical discussion that indefinitely confronts our protagonists’ deep-seated need to make a lasting difference in the universe (not unlike any of Green’s novels).

Okay, so I’m really poking fun here. Every author has a niche, and all I’m saying is I’m on to Green. I still think he’s the greatest living young adult author out there, because his writing is that good, and his humour is without fail. Sometimes I feel like his characters’ horniness-to-intelligence ratio is whack (in that they always seem to score pretty high on both) – but then I really know nothing about what it’s like to be a teenage boy. Paper Towns lost me in its last few pages, when [spoiler alert! highlight to read!] the romantic end felt more obligatory than necessary.

Still, for a light-hearted mystery, this fit the bill for a summer read.

AND NOW…

The John Green Hierarchy of Book Awesomeness (In My Humble Opinion)*:

1. The Fault in Our Stars (6 out of 5 stars and I can never read it again or the lack of newness will drop this score to a mere 5)

2. An Abundance of Katherines (4 out of 5 stars)

3. Looking for Alaska (4 out of 5 stars)

4. Will Greyson, Will Greyson (4 out of 5 stars)

5. Paper Towns (3 out of 5 stars, which is still a pass)

*I haven’t read Let it Snow or Zombicorns, neither of which I’d count as a true novel anyway….

Any thoughts? Agree, disagree? What does your list look like? Sound off below!

Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover? For this novel I certainly did.

The gorgeous photo of  Manarola, a city belonging to the infamous and spellbinding Cinque Terre, is what did me in. I was lucky enough to travel to the Cinque Terre last summer and so seeing such a beautiful image made me want to read the book.

In reality this book had nothing to do with the Cinque Terre. Talk about misleading!

The novel jumps from time period to time period (I’m really getting tired of this style) and is basically about a young man from Italy who lives in a small town close to the Cinque Terre (but never actually goes there) and his love for a mysterious American movie star who has arrived in his town to die of cancer. Back in America an old washed-up producer is trying to find his next big hit. Somehow the Italian man and the American man are acquainted and bond. And that’s about it.

Throughout the novel I felt as if it was leading up to an unwinding mystery. But no, there was no mystery and the book really didn’t build up to anything. The characters did not develop because each new chapter took place in a different decade. The characters were difficult to relate to. Nobody fell in love. And in the end, the resolution was neither interesting nor satisfying.

As I write this review I get more and more frustrated that I allowed myself to struggle through the novel for over 2 months. I should have quit the first time I put it down, just after a few pages, not to pick it up for another few weeks! Sometimes it is a sign that a book isn’t worth it if it isn’t devoured within the first or second week!

Moral of the story – don’t judge a book by it’s cover! I did and guess what? I now have 2 months of reading time that I can never have back!

Question: What’s one book that you wish you never read?

– Natasha

And now for a shameless plug: read about my time in the Cinque Terre (where I was in reality, not just in imagination) on my travel blog: www.arestlessnomad.wordpress.com!

On The Road, Jack Kerouac

It’s rare that I read a book and am unable to finish it. On the Road

I tried to get through On the Road by Jack Kerouac, I really did. I had been recommended this book by a good friend and was told that once I picked it up, I would never be able to put it down. The problem was for me that once I picked it up, all I wanted to do was put it down! It must be that we have different genres and interests when it comes to reading because, although this book is a classic, I was unable to appreciate or enjoy it.

The premise is this: Sal Paradise, a young 20-something year-old man picks up and leaves his life to go to San Francisco for the first time. There he meets Dean Moriarty who is a young (-ish), selfish, drug addicted, wreck of a man who Sal admires above everything else. Throughout the novel Sal is taken on a wild ride of drugs, sex, and cross-country travel, meeting interesting (and stressful, frustrating and stupid [my opinion]) characters along the way. The care-free attitude of each character is something that I think would resonate with a lot of young people in the late 50’s when this book was published. Coming out of war and depression, I can imagine that freedom was sought after by many, and I think that this book encapsulates a lot of the attitudes of American youth during the 1950’s. The fun jazz music, the excitement, the freedom to travel across the nation, loving whoever whenever… That being said, I know that within the novel there was some sort of metaphor that I just didn’t understand. Now I can’t even remember if it was drugs Moriarty was addicted to or if his behaviour was just so spastic that drugs were all I could think of!

Kerouac wrote this novel based on some of his own experiences. If any part of this book is accurate then I must say that Kerouac really did lead an interesting life! And like I said earlier, I can imagine the excitement that the novel would have to many. Just not to me. Not only was the story difficult to relate to but the writing was also all over the place. The story felt recycled at times because it seemed to just repeat itself over and over with no climax or interesting section to draw me in.

I stopped reading the novel about 65% of the way in. It was impossible for me to continue and since I was on holiday, I didn’t want the book to drag me down and stop me from reading all the other novels I was looking forward to!

In 2012 the novel was adapted into a film featuring actors Garett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, and Kirsten Dunst. I haven’t watched it yet but hope that if I do watch it, I will find it more engaging than the book. If anyone has read the book or seen the movie, I’d love to hear what you think. Did I miss something when reading the book? What is the metaphor that I didn’t understand? Share with me, I’d love to hear.

Quitting On the Road was a relief. I wanted to enjoy the book! I thought that reading about men in the 1940’s traveling across the USA in a car while listening to jazz music would be a big giant win! But oh was I wrong. Next time I read a novel like this (specifically one labelled ‘beat’ or ‘counterculture’) I need to do some more research so I avoid wasting time and effort on a novel that I just don’t get.

If I Stay, Gayle Forman

Dutton Juvenile, 2009, 201 pages (hardcover)

It’s a regular Monday night and I’m just wising up to the fact that I still run a blog. Sorry if it hasn’t felt that way – life can sometimes change in an instant, for better or for worse. Priorities tend to shift in those moments. Which is a good lead-in for this latest review!

If I Stay follows an intriguing premise. A shy, cello-playing seventeen-year-old named Mia has just barely survived a car crash. One second she’s riding along with her family, and the next, she’s watching the wreckage from across the street. What follows are her lengthy out-of-body observations en route to and inside the hospital, while her body remains in its coma.

While I like the concept and appreciated a truly unique first-person perspective, I’ve concluded that this novel is overrated. Hand it to an eleven-year-old girl with a romantic streak and she’ll probably say it’s the saddest book ever. Truth is, while it’s got its definitive sad moments (those come with the territory), the plot for me actually wore a little thin. The bulk of the novel is shaped from flashbacks to happier times. Sure, this is about the only way to lengthen any book with a comatose protagonist, but I actually thought a lot of the dialogue and exchanges between Mia and her boyfriend Adam, and Mia and her parents felt unrealistic. I also felt the author overselling the irony of it all. The foreshadowing was too obvious and as a result took on this “see how profound this is?” quality that I didn’t love.

All this said, I think Forman has a talent for keeping her readers turning pages, and I’d happily read the follow-up novel (Where She Went) if it were to fall in my hands. I’m also pretty excited to see the movie, which is supposedly slated for this December. I have a feeling a lot of what this book is will work better on screen.

The Friday 56: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars

the-friday-56Hosted by Freda’s Voice, The Friday 56 follows these simple rules:

  • Grab a book, any book.
  • Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader.
  • Find any sentence (or few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  • Post it.Shakespeare's Star Wars

Published last summer, Ian Doescher’s work falls somewhere between ‘Zounds!’ and ‘Revolutionary’. I’ve only read snippets so far (I’m waiting to get it out at the library), and can already tell that the force is… um yeah I better quit while I’m ahead.

Luke – …Verily, I loathe the cruel

And noisome Empire, aye, yet nothing ‘gainst

It have I pow’r to do at present. Fie!

It doesn’t get much better than that, people. Have a good weekend!

Shakespeare's Star Wars1

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Young Adult Series

As hosted by the Broke and the Bookish, this week allowed me to choose any genre I wanted. I read all genres and found it tough to narrow it down, however I have a lot of YA books in my repertoire, and thought to keep it to YA series, since I just finished Cress, the third book of Marissa Meyers’ Lunar Chronicles series. Even this is a little tough! I don’t include Harry Potter or Anne of Green Gables books, which usually fall under Juvenile fiction. I figured I’d give some other books a shot at being on the list.

Graceling#1 Graceling Realm Series, Kristin Cashore

These are some of my all-time favourite books, which I’ll read over and over again.

Cinder#2 The Lunar Chronicles, Marissa Meyer

I’m loving these fractured fairy tales! Retelling the Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Snow White stories, they focus on a future time when Lunars, colonists from the Moon, threaten to take over Earth. Cinder is a main character throughout the novels, and the supporting cast are great entertainment.

Hunger Games Trilogy#3 The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

Even though the last two books are not that great, there’s still a lot to salvage; evidenced by the great movie adaptations.

The One#4 The Selection Novels, Keira Cass

Again, not the greatest writing, however I love the story that Cass tells here. I’m also looking forward to the conclusion to the trilogy, The One, which comes out in May!

Angus, thongs and full-frontal snogging#5 Confessions of Georgia Nicolson Series, Louise Rennison

I’ve only read the first of the ten books in this series, but plan on pulling the other ones out on the beach this summer!

Heist Society Series#6 Heist Society Series, Ally Carter

This is a fun little series of wealthy teens with abnormal abilities to steal high-security items from museums and other collectors. The relationship between Kat and Hale makes this series a page-turner.

Ender's Game#7 The Ender Quintet, Orson Scott Card

This one’s a little different. I loved Ender’s Game, merely enjoyed Speaker for the Dead, and don’t have any plans to continue in the series. However, I really loved Ender’s Game. So, yeah.

Vampire Academy#8 Vampire Academy Series, Richelle Mead

I expected very little from this series, which I judged both by its awful cover, and by the word ‘Vampire’ in the title. It ended up being very enjoyable, and main character Rose kept my attention with her spunk and tenacity. Her relationship with Dmitri didn’t hurt, either.

His Dark Materials#9 His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman

Now 15 years old, this series was greatly enjoyed by me in the past, and is due for a re-read (which it hopefully lives up to!).

Wicked Lovely Series#10 Wicked Lovely Series, Melissa Marr

I only read the first in the series a few weeks ago. Marr creates a detailed world where Fairy royalty and other mythical creatures walk among us. I love the covers, and will definitely get around to the second one eventually.

Bonus! Least Favourite YA Series (From Best to Worst)

#1 The Divergent Trilogy, Veronica Roth

I don’t hate it, in fact I loved it the first time. Unfortunately the re-read didn’t live up to expectations. Looking forward to the movie though!

Uglies#2 The Uglies Series, Scott Westerfeld

Not enough interest there for me. But kudos for being one of the ground breakers in the genre!

#3 Chemical Garden (Wither), by Lauren DeStefano

Started with an interesting idea, then went a little crazy with it.

#4 The Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie

Again, started with a really cool concept, and made it weird and ugh.

City of Bones#5 The Mortal Instruments (City of Bones), Cassandra Clare

Though I never really enjoyed this series, it sucked me in to read all the books. There were a few too many things going on in this series, though.

#6 The Caster Chronicles (Beautiful Creatures), Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Not sure if having a male main character was weird, or not, but this book is just a little bit better than the movie.

Legend#7 The Legend Series, Marie Lu

It looked like it would be so good, and it just…. wasn’t.

#8 The Gemma Doyle Trilogy ( A Great and Terrible Beauty), Libba Bray

See previous entry on said awful book.

#9 House of Night Series (Marked), P.C Cast and Kristin Cast

I haven’t read this one! But I’ve read the back cover, and a few reviews and that was enough to turn me off forever!

#10 The Wolves of Mercy Falls (Shiver), Maggie Stiefvater

Shiver is one of the worst books I have ever read. Like in the top two.

Wedding Night, Sophie Kinsella

Wedding-Night-coverI love Sophie Kinsella despite the fact that she can be a hit or miss. Her hits are just that good (for me). Wedding Night, her 2013 release, is unfortunately a miss.

Older sis Fliss always looks after Lottie, and when Lottie breaks up with her long-time boyfriend, Richard, she is ready for one of Lottie’s Unfortunate Choices; rash decisions Lottie always makes after a break-up (like a bad tattoo, or joining a cult). But even Fliss is surprised when Lottie elopes with an old beau, and she is determined to prevent them from consummating the marriage, which would disallow the possibility of an annulment. Fliss teams up with best man, Lorcan, and together with Richard, who is now determined to win Lottie back, and her son, Noah, they plan to break up the marriage, traveling to the Honeymoon destination Ikonos, and teaming up with hotel staff to create the worst honeymoon ever.

So the book is a little insane, and there is not much else to redeem it. The comedy fell flat and the romance was far from compelling. Rarely do I have so little good to say about a book, but it’s looking like this will be a pretty short review. I’m always baffled by the roller coaster of Kinsella’s works. Her 2012 release, I’ve Got Your Number is one of my favourites of Kinsella’s, and of the entire chick lit genre. Wedding Night was far too easy to put down, and a burden to finish.

Top Ten Popular Authors I’ve Never Read

This weekly meme brought to you by the Broke and the Bookish!

This weekly meme brought to you by the Broke and the Bookish!

For your enjoyment, I’ve lovingly split this topic into two Top Fives!

Top Five Popular Authors I’ve Never Read…And Don’t Intend To:

  1. Stephenie Meyer, for two reasons. 1) I’ve never understood the romantic appeal of vampires (or invading alien species), and 2) I just can’t spell her name. I had to look it up in order to post it here. Which is irksome.
  2. Leo Tolstoy…and pretty much all the classic Russian authors. Because if things like difficult spellings deter me, multiple family trees with complicated Russian names spanning years and hundreds of pages doesn’t sound like the ideal book for me. I would, however, venture into Nikolai Gogol’s short stories. But no promises.
  3. Stieg Larsson. I have no desire to read The Millenium Trilogy, and I’m okay with that. Really people, I can live without it.
  4. Stephen King. I get the heebie-jeebies when a piece of paper sitting on the edge of my desk flutters to the ground for no reason. This is not the author for me.
  5. Dan Brown. I’m 99% sure I’d like his books once I got into them, but aside from theological implications I’m not much excited to explore, they plumb don’t interest me.

Top Five Popular Authors I’ve Never Read…And Super-Duper Can’t Wait to Try!:

  1. Kurt Vonnegut. Somehow made it out of high school without having to read any one of his novels, and now I feel deprived. I think there’s only one way to find out whether I actually am….
  2. Margaret Atwood. As a Canadian I think this is a bit shocking, and probably plain rude. As I foray into more sci-fi, this may have to be one direction I travel.
  3. Also without a doubt, Ursula K. Le Guin. I have no clue where to start, but she’s always been intriguing to me.
  4. Robert Galbraith. Tee-hee! It’s sort of a cheat, but technically I have yet to get to “Robert”‘s first novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling.
  5. Markus Zusak. Who knows what he wrote besides The Book Thief, but still! Slouch authors don’t win awards.