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The problem with reading mostly YA novels coupled with a strangely engrossing angel sci fi/fantasy series is that I've been going through books way faster than I can write about them, and thus I am once again woefully behind in my book logs. Consider this my valiant attempt to catch up.

I've grouped The Alleluia Files and Angelica together in one book log because they, like every other book in the Samaria series, are more or less the same story with a different cover and different character names. Normally I'd find such repetition on the part of an author to be irritatingly lazy, but in this case I find the consistency to be weirdly comforting. There's the angel/mortal couple who start off hating each other and end up being perfect for each other; the clearly defined villain; the narrowly averted peril of one of our favorite characters; the new piece of the puzzle concerning the god's relationship with technology; and a little bit of good old fashioned angel sex, usually just coyly alluded to. The good guy wins, the bad guy gets his comeuppance, and I'm left wondering why I can't put the damn things down. It's baffling, I tell you.
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I was not expecting great things from this book. [ profile] penmage, one of my two trusted arbiters of taste where YA lit is concerned (the other is [ profile] beingblueagain), read and mostly panned it months ago, and the things she criticized (MarySue protagonist, endless schmoopy bullshit between said Mary Sue and her vampire Twue Wuv, etc.) tend to annoy the bejeezus out of me. But hey, I got a free copy in the goody bag I received on my first day, and I'm on a YA kick, and I was curious about the juxtaposition of a devout Mormon author writing Intense Vampire Romance, so I gave it a whirl, and much to my surprise I really enjoyed it.

The story revolves around Bella, a 16-year-old girl who exiles herself to her father's home in dreary, boring Forks, Washington. She rapidly falls in love with Edward, her strange, pale, moody, devastatingly handsome Biology lab partner who turns out, naturally, to be a vampire.

And okay, Bella is an obnoxious MarySue whose only faults are an almost suicidal clumsiness and a complete lack of personality. And yeah, the Bella/Edward schmoopfest is grating in the extreme. But if you can set aside those faults as the inevitable side effects of a trashy good time, the rest of the book is entertaining as hell. I'm excited to read the sequel, New Moon, as soon as I get around to lugging the stupid hardcover home from work. Since my free time for non-subway reading is going to be severely restricted until late May, it'll probably be a while.
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As I heard her slog across the floor toward my desk--where she'd unveiled her makeup caddy in all its glory--a sigh of resignation escaped my lips. Yeah, I loved her. I couldn't help it. She was my brother.

Regan is a perfectly ordinary teenage girl with an older brother who is anything but. By day, he is the brilliant student and reluctant athlete his parents and classmates know as Liam. But at night, Liam transforms into Luna, the beautiful young woman that is Liam's true self. Regan is the only person who knows that Liam/Luna is transgendered. She is Liam/Luna's only confidant, letting her dress in her room in the middle of the night, buying the women's underwear that Liam could never buy, helping her cope with the psychological fallout of her double identity. At the same time, Regan wants desperately to have a normal life of her own, cultivating a relationship with her Biology lab partner, Chris. When Regan's need for normalcy conflicts with Luna's need to embrace her true identity, their relationship is strained to its very limits.

I wanted to like this book. I really did. As a sensitive portrayal of a transgendered teen, Luna is truly groundbreaking... and maybe that is why I didn't enjoy it as much as I wanted to. It's a bit like a really well done after school special: the issue is handled with great compassion and sensitivity, but so much energy and space is dedicated to the issue that the characters and plot get sort of neglected. The relationship between Regan and Chris gets increasingly interesting toward the end, but even then we never learn much about Regan as a character beyond her fraught relationship with Liam/Luna, and Liam/Luna herself has little personality outside of her gender identity struggles.

That Luna exists at all is a great sign for the future of YA literature. I'm just excited for when we get to the point where transgenderism can simply be one aspect of multifaceted characters and stories, rather than the only thing that matters.
grammargirl: (Baby reads the classics)
Eggs falls squarely into the patented genre of Jerry Spinelli books about quirky friendships between outcast kids. In this case, the kids are nine-year-old David and thirteen-year-old Primrose. David spends most of his time taking his considerable store of anger out on the grandmother with whom he was sent to live after his mother died in a freak slip-and-fall accident; he only sees his traveling-salesman father on weekends. Primrose lives with her whimsical-to-the-point-of-crazy fortune teller mother in a tiny house on a forgotten street; she treasures a framed picture of the father she has never known and is so desperate for a room of her own that she moves into the junker car on her lawn and decorates it like a miniature house. The two meet after David finds Primrose pretending to be a corpse at an Easter egg hunt, and they quickly form a tight friendship.

My favorite thing about this book is that, unlike some of Spinelli's other books, the child protagonists actually sound and act like kids. David and Primrose's friendship is not saccharine-coated or idealized; rather, the two bicker and grouse and argue constantly, and the depth of their affection for each other is an electric undercurrent beneath the surface chaos. There are some priceless tiny moments in this book: David's desperate belief that following all the rules will bring his mother back (and the near-obsessive compulsive behaviors that result from this belief), Primrose dressing up as David's mother so the two children can go to a Halloween event without their guardians, the tiny white picket fence that Primrose builds around her "room." All serve as poignant illustrations of the healing power of friendship between two damaged, but not broken, children.
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Words are teeth.
And they eat me alive.
Feed on my corpse instead.

This is the suicide note left by David Kirby after his advances are rejected by Cass McBride, the most popular girl in school. David's brother Kyle, driven over the edge by David's death, decides to make Cass pay for her part in David's suicide: he kidnaps her and buries her alive. The story alternates between the points of view of Cass, Kyle, and the police detective trying to find Cass before it's too late.

This is a fast read that grabs the reader and doesn't let go until the last page. Through Kyle's and Cass's points of view, we learn about the history that drew each character inexorably to this horrifying end, and we sympathize with each character's predicament even while deploring their actions. Cass's struggle to outwit her captor and stay alive is particularly harrowing and rife with truly scary moments. Because this is such a fast read, I'd recommend taking this one out of the library or waiting until it comes out in paperback in September.
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[ profile] beingblueagain has been recommending this book to me for ages--at least since my YA lit class last semester, and maybe even since my Children's lit class over the summer. In any case, I finally got around to reading it when I found myself copyediting the new back matter that [ profile] beingblueagain wrote for the upcoming paperback edition. Mostly I'm not going to do book logs for books I read in the course of my job--I have a hard enough time keeping up as it is--but since this involved taking an actual hardcover book home with me, and I read it mostly for pleasure, I'm counting it.

Incantation is the story of Estrella de Madrigal, a teenage girl living during the Spanish Inquisition. Estrella has a secret, a secret so dangerous that she herself does not learn of it until it is too late: she and her entire family are Marranos, Jews who hide their faith and pose as good Catholics to avoid persecution. Estrella and her best friend Catalina think that they will be together forever, until a forbidden kiss between Estrella and Catalina's cousin Andres starts a cycle of jealousy and betrayal that tears Estrella's family apart.

Incantation is an incredibly fast read--it only took me a few hours to read in its entirety--and for that reason I'd suggest either taking this book out of the library or waiting until it comes out in paperback. That being said, it is truly a powerful story of betrayal, loss, and hope, and Hoffman's lyrical prose is beautiful. This one didn't quite make me cry, but it came close. Highly recommended.
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This is an utterly depressing book about the end of the world, and it is wonderful. I bought this, in hardcover no less, on [ profile] penmage's recommendation and I couldn't be more impressed.

Life as We Knew It takes the form of a diary written by a teenager named Miranda. At first, this diary is almost frustratingly ordinary: Miranda writes about school, spats with her friends, an Olympics-bound ice skater from her hometown on whom she has a fangirl crush. News coverage of an asteroid that is going to hit the moon is only given glancing, grudging notice as the subject for several homework assignments. Then the asteroid hits the moon hard enough to change its orbit, and Miranda's world falls apart.

The sudden change in the moon's gravitational pull causes tidal waves, earthquakes, and massively increased volcanic activity, killing millions; the ash generated by the volcanoes, in turn, causes extreme climate change almost overnight. Miranda's fast-thinking mother stockpiles supplies as soon as the extent of the catastrophe becomes apparent, but as the outside world becomes more and more hostile, Miranda and her family realize that their only hope is each other--and a rapidly dwindling supply of food and other necessities.

I think the thing that I loved the most about this book is that its focus is so small, almost claustrophobic. We never learn about the catastrophic damage and death tolls in the rest of the world, except through the same word of mouth that Miranda hears. Our world, like Miranda's, narrows from her school and town, to her house, to one floor of the house, and, finally, to a single room. The writing is incredibly compelling, and, if it seems a wee bit polished and adult for a 16-year-old's diary, I can forgive that in view of the sheer power of the story.

This is right up there with The Book Thief when it comes to books that you should all go out and buy immediately even though they're still in hardcover. Have I steered you wrong thus far? I think not.
grammargirl: (To-read pile)
Oh man, I am so behind on book logs. The problem with reading mostly YA books, coupled with the fact that my job seems to have magically increased my reading speed, is that I've been going through books way too fast to keep up with writing about them. We'll see how much of the backlog I can get through before someone finds something for me to do (yeah, it's another one of those days).

So. Jovah's Angel. Honestly, I read this one long enough ago (all of a couple weeks, I think) that I don't remember all that much about it. It's a sequel of sorts to Archangel, set 150 years later. The characters were, on the whole, less whiny and OMGANGST than those in Archangel, which I liked, and I was pretty pleased that my suspicions regarding the relationship of technology to the Samarians' god were proven correct. Other than that... I got nothin'. Angels + sci-fi = A+ escapist subway reading, but I'd recommend borrowing the books from a friend or the library rather than buying them.
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Holy crap, you guys. Read this book. READ IT NOW.

The Book Thief is phenomenal. It almost made me cry on two different forms of public transportation this week, and then it actually made me cry as I finished it at lunch today, sitting in the crowded cafeteria and ineffectually wiping at my eyes with a napkin.

I don't know where to begin talking about this book. I could tell you that it's the story of Liesel Meminger, who is sent at the age of nine to live with foster parents in Molching, a tiny town in the heart of Nazi Germany; that she and her new family hide a Jewish fist-fighter named Max in their basement; that the book is narrated by Death; that it is ultimately about the power of words to save and to destroy. I could tell you about Liesel's papa's accordion, or her best friend Rudy's lemon-colored hair, or how Max whitewashes Mein Kampf and then writes his own story over it.

Or I could give you a brief sample:

The last time I saw her was red. The sky was like soup, boiling and stirring. In some places, it was burned. There were black crumbs, and pepper, streaked across the redness.

Earlier, kids had been playing hopscotch there, on the street that looked like oil-stained pages. When I arrived, I could still hear the echoes. The feet tapping the road. The children-voices laughing, and the smiles like salt, but decaying fast.

Then, bombs.

...but really, you should just read it for yourself. Read it now. Trust me.
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I'm not sure exactly what I expected from this book. Some kind of 60s version of Go Ask Alice, maybe, the book that symbolized drug culture in the same way that Lady Chatterly's Lover once did for sex. I expected tawdryness and lots and lots of camp. And all of that is there, to a certain extent--the slang alone is hysterical--but much to my surprise, the characters were well fleshed out and interesting, and the tawdry stuff didn't really kick in until more than halfway through the book.

Valley of the Dolls is about Anne, Neely, and Jennifer, three girls who become best friends while trying to make it in post-WWII New York. Each, in her own way, becomes a phenomenal success, and each has to deal with the consequences of that success--mostly by ingesting a lot of barbiturates.

I think the most entertaining thing about this book is its utter datedness--everything from the slang I mentioned above (take one guess what it means to "put starch in his lob") to women's practically universal obsession with tricking some man into marrying them, to the hilarious ease with which the main character, Anne, arrives in New York and finds a room to rent and a plush job at a prestigious entertainment law firm, all in the space of her first day.

Valley of the Dolls is hardly great literature, but it made for excellent subway reading, and now I can say that I've read one of the iconic drug books of the 60s.
grammargirl: (Baby reads the classics)
Well, this is it. The last of the Song of Ice and Fire series that has been written so far. Now I'm just going to be biting my nails until the next one comes out like everyone else.

After getting off to a somewhat rough start, A Feast for Crows sucked me in just as thoroughly as its predecessors. It was, however, an infinitely more frustrating read. While for the most part it lacked the Terrible Plot Developments that so infuriated me in previous books, it was chock full of cliffhangers that, for the most part, won't be resolved until the sixth book in the series, who knows how many years down the line. Because of the author's (frankly questionable) decision to divide the fourth and fifth books geographically--that is, book 4 tells the stories of the characters in the north, while book 5 will deal with the characters in the south--many of my favorite characters weren't featured at all, and those who were won't be featured in the next book. This makes the many life-or-death cliffhangers infinitely more nerve-wracking than if I just had to wait until the next book for resolution.

I find myself suddenly at loose ends with regards to what to read next. After a month spent living in this fully-realized world with characters to whom I've become way more attached than is probably healthy, I can't imagine that anything else is quite going to live up to these books. I'm halfway tempted to go purchase the whole series for myself and reread them all from the beginning, but I should probably wait until book 5 has a release date. Right now I'm tear-assing my way through Valley of the Dolls, which has made for... a strange transition, to say the least. After that... well, thanks to tax refund + new job I'm once again in the position to buy books and have my biggest worry be where to put them after I've finished, so if anyone has any stellar recommendations for books that will make me miss my subway stop, I'm all ears.
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Like I said a couple days ago: Archangel is way better than any sci-fi/fantasy romance novel about angels has any right to be. It's about the divinely destined love between Gabriel, the future Archangel, and Rachel, a proud and fractious former slave. I can't offer any more about the plot without making most of you run screaming into the night, but it's actually a really interesting story with a satisfying (if predictable) ending.

I really can't decide how I feel about this book. The characters, lacking distinct speech patterns, all ended up sounding more or less alike, and more often than not seemed more like mouthpieces for the author's meditations on the philosophical underpinnings of religion than like real breathing people. Plus, it's about angels, for chrissake. Nevertheless, I devoured the book in about two days, almost missed my subway stop a couple times when reading it, and am looking forward to boosting Haley's copy of the sequel the second she finishes it. I don't get it, either. Anyway, it's an excellent book to hide from the cold with for a few days, and I highly recommend it for escapist purposes if nothing else.

Next on the subway reading list: Valley of the Dolls. Stay tuned.
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This book pissed me off.

Not because it was a disappointment after the first two awesome books in the series (it wasn't), not because the writing or plot or characterization lacked anything (in fact, I think it's the strongest of the series so far), but because the author kept doing terrible things to characters I love. I kept finding myself writing furious e-mails to [ profile] mary_wroth and "[ profile] innocenteexpres that began "THAT MOTHERFUCKER." By about 2/3 through the book I was constantly reminding myself not to get to get too attached because anyone could die, or worse (oh yes, there are worse things than death in these books...) at any moment. It did not make for a restful read. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I dream about these characters and their stories on a fairly regular basis, so every time some awful new catastrophe struck one of my favorite characters I felt a sting of betrayal.

As I wrote to [ profile] mary_wroth the other day: Hi, my name is Melanie. I get overly involved in novels.

Anyway. There's a lot to be said for the skills of an author who can piss me off that much and still keep me reading. I'm having sort of a hard time getting into the fourth book in the series, partially because there are a bunch of new characters to get to know when all I really want is to find out what became of all the cliffhangers in A Storm of Swords, partially because I'm reluctant to become too attached to the few of my babies who remain alive and relatively unscathed, and partially because this is the last book that's been written of the series (Book 5 is due out sometime in 2008, I think), and I'm reluctant for what I'm sure will be an excruciating waiting period to begin. It's also hardcover, and weighs a ton, so I'll probably only be reading it at home instead of dragging it around everywhere as I did with the first three books. To tide me over, I've got [ profile] innocenteexpres's copy of Archangel, which is way better than any sci-fi/fantasy romance novel about angels has any right to be.
grammargirl: (Baby reads the classics)
A Clash of Kings, the second book in the epic A Song of Ice and Fire series, is in some ways even more relentlessly addictive than the first (A Game of Thrones, discussed in this entry). Like the first book in the series, A Clash of Kings is narrated from a third person limited omniscient perspective, with the chapters alternating between different characters' points of view. The thing that really impresses me about the way the story progresses here is that we get the perspectives of everyone, not just the protagonists. That means that we get into the heads of characters who would otherwise be portrayed as flat-out evil, and in the process they actually become three-dimensional and even sympathetic.

I won't go into too many details here for the sake of those of you who will read this eventually, but there's a plot development that happens toward the end of this book that made me literally drop my jaw in consternation and write a distraught email to [ profile] mary_wroth along the lines of "OMGWTFBBQ, I can't believe he just did that to me!" I actually felt personally betrayed. Everything was wrapped up by the end in a 2nd-book-in-a-huge-series kind of way, but still, I can't even remember the last time a book evoked such an extreme emotional reaction. Good times. I can't wait to read the next one.

Oh, and P.S. I have this weird compulsive thing wherein I always read the last page of books before I get to the end. This usually doesn't spoil me nearly as much as one might think; you'd be surprised how rarely anything significant gets revealed on the last page of books. A caution to anyone out there who might have the same compulsion: RESIST THE URGE for these books. That's... all I'm gonna say about that.

And now I go vacuum whilst Haley and Jeremy attempt to watch the superbowl, for I am an unpatriotic asshole and it's not like Haley can complain that I'm actually doing my cleaning for once. WHEEE!
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I've been thinking about reading Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series for a while now. I gave up buying books back when it became clear that my crappy temp pay was unequal to supporting my reading habit, and, with four books clocking in at well over 800 pages apiece, I figured the series would at least keep me busy for a while. [ profile] mary_wroth loaned me the first two books in the series a couple weeks ago, and their condition alone--beaten up, dog-eared, and clearly well-loved--spoke well for their contents.

I was a little dubious at first--I haven't read high fantasy since high school, and the political intrigue between ancient Houses is every bit as complex as that of Frank Herbert's Dune series, the various members of the various feuding royal families difficult (at least for me) to tell apart. But the writing behind the intrigue was good enough to suck me in, and the history and politics became clearer before long. This book had a sneaky way of gaining momentum and dragging me along in its wake. At first I just read it in fits and starts on the train to and from work; then I started reading it during lunch instead of eating at my desk like I usually do; finally it took me hostage and demanded my every free moment. I devoured the last 300 pages or so this weekend in a marathon that kept me housebound from Saturday morning until I finally went out scavenging for food late this afternoon--and even then I brought the book along with me to read as I ate.

This book has everything: lords and ladies and warfare and all that nonsense, sure, but also incest and psychopathic thirteen-year-olds and desert warrior queens and bastards and an acid-toungued dwarf and wolves. Best of all, and unusual for this genre, the writing is actually good. Not just good, but almost eerily addictive. I'm glad I had the second book, A Clash of Kings, to begin as soon as I finished the first; if I'd been reading them as they came out and had to wait for the next one, I'd be going nuts right now. Luckily the dealer of this particular crack lives all of six blocks away, and I have three more books and probably 2500 more pages of said crack to consume before my supply runs out. Oh yeah, and an upcoming HBO miniseries, apparently, which could be a triumph or a complete disaster, though I suppose I'll watch it either way.
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(I actually finished this one a good week and a half or more ago. It probably doesn't bode well that I've fallen behind in my book logs before January is even over.)

It makes me a little sad that Thisbe Nissen has only written two books. Thankfully, the author photo on the back of The Good People of New York, Nissen's first novel, makes her look like she's about 16, so one can hope she has a long and prolific career ahead of her.

The Good People of New York is a wonderful novel, though I didn't fall in love with it the way I did with her short stories. The book traces the life of its protagonist, Miranda, from her parent's courtship and marriage through her birth, childhood, and rocky adolescence, and ends with Miranda's first visit home during her freshman year of college. The thing that really struck me about Miranda's story is how thoroughly herself she is throughout the 18-year span of the novel; even as she metamorphoses from a sweet-tempered little girl into a rebellious and unpredictable teenager, she is still clearly the same person. Watching Miranda grow and change and evolve and make mistakes is truly a pleasure. Nissen's also remarkably adept at capturing the way girls' minds work at various stages of their lives; 8-year-old Miranda is as vividly and believably drawn as her 15-year-old counterpart. Not an action-filled read by any means, but a quietly compelling one.
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I'm not usually a huge fan of short stories. I want character development and plot and fictional people I can love like friends, and there's just not time for that kind of attachment in short stories. But a couple days ago I found myself growing thoroughly sick of rereading Harry Potter for the zillionth time, and I had this book of short stories by an author I'd never heard of that the lovely Miss Hilary loaned me ages ago, and I figured if nothing else it'd make for good subway reading.

I didn't expect to fall in love.

These stories are amazing. Sad and funny and hopeful and so real it hurts. The characters are people I know, or have known, or wish I knew, awkward and confused and perfectly imperfect. When I finished the book over lunch today, it was like saying goodbye to a friend I've known my whole life. I loved it so much I might have to go buy my own copy.

An excerpt that made me gasp out loud yesterday:

"Love is an entity unto itself. There are patches of it all over the place. It's not really tangible but it's there, pools of it. Blue pockets, swirling like eddies. People don't meet because they both like Burmese food, or because someone's sister has a friend who's single and new in town, or because Billy's nose happened to crook just slightly to the left at an angle that made me want to weep." Lynn leans toward me again. "People don't fall in love with each other," she says. "They just fall into love."


"Some people are lucky enough to bump into each other in the middle of a path of love," she says, feeling it necessary to clarify her point. "On the express line at Grand Union," she grins at me, her eyes sparkling, "on a mountaintop in Wyoming . . . My advice, Lilith, is just don't fall into one alone. It's devastating." She looks at me concertedly to make sure I'm understanding this. "It wells in you," she says, "and there's no outlet. No place for it to go."


"It aches," Lynn says, rubbing. "It aches."

--"Accidental Love"


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