Book Review: The Difference Between You and Me

Book Review: The Difference Between You and MeThe Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George
Release Date: March 2012
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 1

Sweet, tender, and true! - Laurie Halse Anderson Jesse cuts her own hair with a Swiss Army knife. She wears big green fisherman's boots. She's the founding (and only) member of NOLAW, the National Organization to Liberate All Weirdos. Emily wears sweaters with faux pearl buttons. She's vice president of the student council. She has a boyfriend. These two girls have nothing in common, except the passionate

The Short of It: I’m still not sure how I feel about this one. I was hoping for a good love story, but the book is more about big corporation take-overs than romance. It’s a bit preachy, but overall a decent read.

Plot:  Teen activists? Check. Secret Romance? Check. Potential big corporation take over? Check. I had hoped, okay maybe longed for, this one to be all about romance. Instead, I got a political fight of a smaller-ish town against StarMart (a big chain store). Jesse has been doing her own manifestos for about a year encouraging her fellow classmates to embrace their weirdness and let it shine for all the world to see. It’s when she gets in trouble and ends up in Saturday school that Ester pulls her into bigger things…including taking down StarMart. While there is some romance sprinkled in, it’s more about standing up for what you believe in, even if its an unpopular opinion. While a little preachy I enjoyed the overall message.

I did feel like some of the side stories got lost in the bigger whole of the story like the romance, the family, and even her best friend. I would have loved to see those issues get a bit more page time, but I do understand that they weren’t the main story. However, some of it felt like an after thought or an easy way to move the story along, especially the stuff with Esther and her family. I may be nitpicking a little, but it was still something I thought should be mentioned.

Characters: While the book alternates between Jesse, Emily, and occasionally Esther, the book is really about Jesse. The other POVs offered insight to what the other girls were thinking, but it was Jesse who truly stood out. From her fisherman boots to her manifestos, Jesse was someone you couldn’t forget.

On the outside, Jesse looked like someone who had it all together, but she really didn’t. She was a normal girl trying to figure out who she really was. While she had some bold moves, especially with Emily and her manifesto, Jesse is huge people-pleaser. She was very cautious about upsetting/crossing lines with Emily and apologizes if she goes “too far”. Even with the activist stuff, I don’t think she was truly into it at first, but let herself be dragged into it because it would make Esther (and her mom a little) happy. By the end, though, Jesse is more comfortable with her she is and standing up for what she thinks is right. While I had hoped for a slightly different ending, I was happy with how Jesse handled things, especially with Emily.

Romance: Emily and Jesse? I get it. I honestly do. I get the falling for a girl who is absolutely 100% wrong for you, yet someone you have great chemistry with. You think about if only this or that would change it would be perfect and you hold onto the hope that it’ll happen. It’s a trap that is easy to fall into and I can’t blame Jesse at all. That being said, I disliked Emily so much. She treated Jesse like crap from beginning to end. I hated how she whined that Jesse didn’t listen to her when she didn’t listen to Jesse either. She thought that everyone should agree with her end of story.

The thing I hated the most though, was the secret part of it. Emily would talk about how Jesse made her feel alive, how she missed her, and dreamed of Jesse saying I love you, yet she wasn’t willing to take the risk with her. I understand it’s hard to shatter people’s image of you, but I felt like she was essentially just using Jesse. She had no plans to break up with her boyfriend, not really, and just wanted the 15 minute-a-week thrill Jesse gave her. Part of me wished that Emily would have a change of heart, but I suppose that just the romantic side of me talking.

On the other hand, I’m not sure Esther and Jesse quite worked either. Yes, they shared a lot of the same ideas and views, but I didn’t feel the chemistry between them as much. Could I see them ending up together? Yes, but I think it’ll be awhile before they reach that point. Of course, I’m still not sure if Esther is into girls or not. I felt like the attention that she gave Jesse had more to do with pulling someone her age into her causes than true attraction.

Writing: I don’t know why, but having Emily and Ester in first person and Jesse in third person bothered me. I would have preferred it to be the other way around, since this book was more Jesse’s story than the other two girls. However, the third person POV is still quite intimate and I didn’t notice the switch until I was about a third of the way in. Having it set up as George does, doesn’t take away from the book. While it did bug me, I doubt most people will have the same reaction.

Librarian-Mode: This one depends on what you’re looking for. Want a secret romance, try The Secret Year by Jennifer R. Hubbard or Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler. If you want more LGBTQ, I would suggest Pink by Lili Wilkinson, Keeping You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters, or Empress of the World by Sara Ryan.

So, now it’s your turn…have you read The Difference Between You and Me? If so, be sure to let me know what you thought.

Book Review: Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters

Book Review: Freshman Year & Other Unnatural DisastersFreshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith Zeitlin
Release Date: March 2012
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher

So far this year isn't going the way she planned but it is undeniably memorable. Kelsey Finkelstein is starting her freshman year of high school and she's determined to begin with a clean slate. Her arch-nemesis moved away this summer, finally giving her the chance to stand out on the soccer team and possibly catch the eye of her long-time crush. But things don't go as smoothly as Kelsey hopes and she finds herself navigating a series of increasingly hilarious situations. From mortifying pictures in the school paper to an unconventional lead role in the musical, all while avoiding her soccer captain's bad temper, Kelsey has her work cut out for her if she's going to survive freshman year.

Short of it: A cute read that would be perfect for anyone looking for a fast-paced, funny read.

Plot: Seriously, can I just say poor Kelsey? It seems a cruel fate for such a string of unfortunate events happen to one person in one school year. Of course, some are merely coincidental, like the newspaper pictures, while others are more deliberate. I wish I knew more about soccer to know if the switch of positions was a reasonable one. The change felt odd to me since her skills would essentially go to waste, but I’ve been to exactly one soccer game in my life and have nothing to base this feeling on. However, being a theatre geek I did laugh pretty hard at the closing night scenes. While nothing that big ever happened to us, we did have a few good blunders over the years. Of course, they were limited to a scene or two meaning the whole play was not lost. I’m pretty sure I would have been sobbing had I been the director (or an actor) and my production of Fiddler on the Roof turned into a comedy. And they very well may have been, but the play wasn’t all that important to Kelsey and the way she shrugged it off was pretty spot on.

I do want to mention a couple of things that kind of bothered me. I’m not stupid and I know a lot of High Schoolers (or younger) drink or smoke, but it felt as it was a “no big deal” thing here. Beyond the one incident there are no consequences and even the parents shrug it off to “Typical Teenage Behavior”. I know this is my age, or maybe my own personal background, showing, but I hate when illegal behavior is treated so nonchalantly. I know it makes the book more true to life, but it still gets under my skin when I think about it. It’s hard to teach teens not to do it when it’s constantly in their faces as something teens are just going to do.

The other part that has been nagging at me is the whole LGBTQ plot line.  Had Kelsey not repeatedly told me this character might be gay, I would have never realized it. There was one comment that made me go huh-maybe, but nothing that would have clenched it for me. I do like how Zeitlin doesn’t have them force the person out, but allows them do it on their own terms. That earns a big gold star from me. Perhaps this is simply one of those “stepping into a long time friendship” situation, but considering how it plays out it’s all just a little too convenient.

That being said, I did enjoy the plot line. It’s one full of teen angst and missteps that most teens will be able to relate to.

Character: I liked Kelsey. Yes, she’s a bit self-centered, but what teenager (or adult) isn’t? She does seem to really care for her friends and gives them the support when they need it. What really makes her relatable is how normal she is. She gets mad at her little sister, falls in loves with boys from a distance, feels betrayed a best friend, hold grudges way longer than needed, and dreams of making a splash at her new high school. Sounds like the typical, average high schooler doesn’t it? I know I felt almost all of those and more when I was Kelsey’s age.

The other nice thing is that she learns to roll with the embarrassing and less than stellar situations she ends up in. She has her freak-outs and OMG moments, but the more things happen the more she’s able to shrug it off. It’s a nice look at how horrible luck isn’t the end of the world…and in Kelsey’s case leads to a bit of good luck in the end.

Romance: Most of the romance is happening around Kelsey and not to Kelsey. There are a couple kissing scenes and several flirting scenes, but nothing that goes to relationship status. There is a potential that looks like it’ll lead to more, but the future on that one is up to the reader.

Writing: I have no issues with Zeitlin’s style. While there are moment of predictability, that could be said about any book falling in this genre. It’s more about the life experiences than the surprises. It’s great debut novel that is funny, fast paced, and full of heart.

Librarian-Mode: There are so many great pairings to put with this book. It can easily be given to anyone who likes chick-lit, especially Dessen fans. I would also give it to anyone who liked Little Black Lies by Trish Cohen, Boys, Girls and Other Hazardous Materials by Rosalind Wiseman, and A Match Made in High School by Kristin Walker.


Book Review: The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams

Book Review: The Witchy Worries of Abbie AdamsThe Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams by Rhonda Hayter
Release Date: April 2010
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 256
Source: Traveling ARC Tours

Abbie Adams appears to be your typical fifth grader unless you learn she's a witch. She may be able to time travel and do spells, but no one but other witches are to know. This means fixing her little brother's mishaps and doing homework the normal way. All in all, your every day typical life. That is until her father brings home a tiny little black cat as a gift for Abbie. Like Abbie he may seem normal, but he is anything but normal! I mean, who has ever heard of a cat that likes to read books, especially science ones? However, when they discover that the cat is really Thomas Edison under an evil enchantment everything becomes clear. Now if only they can turn him back into a thirteen year old boy and get him back to where he belongs. Can Abbie and her family accomplish this difficult task in time? Or will history change right before her eyes?

The Short of It: I can’t say enough good things about this book. I don’t often dip into the Middle Grade books, but boy am I ever glad I did. Abbie and her family are so much fun and I enjoyed every minute with them. My only complaint is that I wanted more; I certainly hope Hayter brings Abbie back for future books.

Plot: To me, this is what really sold the book. When I first picked it up, I was a little uncertain what I would think, but Hayter’s plot is what made me fall in love with the book. Who would have ever thought that a simple, small black cat would have been one of the most famous inventors in history? And the ramifications of taking him out of the correct time line was something fun to explore as well. I mean, what would happen if the light bulb or audio player or anything else he thought of had never been invented? Where would we be today? I kind of shudder at the possibility. I don’t know about you but I’m kind of fond of my lamps and MP3 player! It’s an interesting topic to think of at any age. Of course, all their little witchy skills and abilities simply added icing to the story and made a topic could have easily been boring or serious into something very light hearted and fun.

Characters: Abbie may be a witch, but in every other way she is your average every day girl. She is so easy to relate to. After all, who doesn’t worry about their friends not liking them or trying to get their annoying little brother out of trouble? Of course, she also had other typical fifth grader moments in ignoring homework/spells, hating her teacher, and occasionally doing things she shouldn’t do. But she also proved she had a good heart. No matter what her little brother did she never stayed mad and didn’t seem to hold any grudges against him. She also did everything she could to keep Tom comfortable and entertained while he was trapped in his cat form. She made sure he had lots of books, calmed him when he was upset, and even risked taking him to school so he wouldn’t be bored. It was fun seeing her grow both as a person and witch during the book as she focused and faced new and dangerous situations. I have no doubt that Abbie will become a great witch as time goes by.

Romance: No romance here. After all, Abbie is only in fifth grade! She better not be thinking about dating! I will note that there is a small connection between Abbie and Tom, but it’s more friendship than anything else. And besides, he belongs in a whole different time from her!

Writing: Hayter has a nice writing style. I adore how she weaved the historical facts into the story in a fun way. Yes, she was throwing a lot of information at a reader, but it felt like it was part of the story rather than just stuck in there. After all, how else was Abbie or Tom going to learn more about his life if they didn’t do a little web searching? Beyond that, Hayter’s writing has an easy flow to it. I wouldn’t say it was so much simplistic, but it is easily approachable by kids in grade 4 and up. (Maybe even 3rd if they’re good readers.) The short chapters go fast and will be good for those readers who have a short attention span.

Librarian-Mode: So, I’ve already admitted that I don’t read much in the Middle Grade area making recommendations very hard. I’ve been trying to figure out what else to pair this with, but there is nothing else that I’ve read that fits. My gut tells me that lovers of Allie Finkle or Judy Moody would enjoy this one as well, but I’ve never read them so I’m not positive. The safest thing I can say is that this book will be perfect for those looking for a fun, light-hearted read, especially those interested in magic or history.

Book Review: Sing Me To Sleep

Book Review: Sing Me To SleepSing Me to Sleep by Angela Morrison
Release Date: March 2010
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 320
Source: Around the World Tours

Beth has always been the unattractive girl; teased endlessly by her peer and nicknamed "The Beast".  However, everything changes when Beth lands a solo in her all-girls choir; one that wins them a spot in an international choir competition in Switzerland. And after an intensive make-over, Beth now resembles the angel she sounds like and begins gaining attention from boys, including a dreamy, Canadian singer named Derek. While their time is short together in Switzerland, the two fall in love and plan to continue the relationship once they're back home. The only problem? Not everything is as magical once they've returned. Beth soon realizes that Derek has a dark secret, one that is threatening to tear them apart. Not to mention her geeky, and now hunky, best friend, Scott, has proclaimed his undying love for Beth as well. The only question now is who makes Beth's heart sing more: the boy she's always known or the one who feels like a dream?

The Short of It: I’m still a little torn about how I feel about this book. On one hand it’s an interesting story and excellent writing. Morrison knows how to spin a story in a way to keep the reader captivated and interested in her characters. On the other hand, I’ve been unable get past the emotions this book inflicted (whether intentionally or not) and ultimately hurt how much I could have enjoyed the book.

Plot: The overall plot was okay. I enjoyed reading about Beth in choir and how she earned the right to be in the spotlight. It was obvious that she cared a lot about singing and had enough talent to go far. Being from a musical background myself, I did like how it was intermixed into the book and how fun it was/could be. While my own choir experiences were different, I couldn’t help but remember all the good times I myself had with my high school choir. As for the ending, I wasn’t surprised and actually saw it coming. I don’t want to ruin it for my readers, but by the way he acted I figured it was something more than a bad boy/drug behavior.

Before I move on, I do want to talk about the make-over, which is something that really, really bothered me. In fact, it’s part of the reason why I ended up not liking the book. I don’t mind the type where a little hair restyling and wardrobe change gives the illusion of a “better” girl. I do have a HUGE issue with the lengths that this makeover went to. When you get into cosmetic procedures and other surgeries, I start to cringe. What kind of message is that sending to teenage girls? (Who already have SO much to deal with when it comes to body image.) Morrison’s only saving grace is that the makeover didn’t instantly “fix” Beth. She still had doubts about how she looked and took her a while to believe she was truly beautiful. I only hope that the girls can latch onto that and not the whole ugly-duckling made swan = get everything I want.

Characters: I hate to say this, but overall I was rather indifferent to the characters. There were moments of sympathy, but there were also a lots of moments where I was to shake some sense into them. For example, I hate how Derek lied to Beth. I understand why he did, I really do, but how can you have a true relationship, friendship or dating, based on such a BIG lie? And then Beth how she sulked and pouted whenever he did his disappearing act; it literally drove me insane. On the other hand, I did admire Beth’s loyalty to stand by what she really cared about. She could have easily ditched both Derek and her choir, but she chose to stick it out.

Although, I suppose if I were to name a favorite character it would have to be Scott. He felt like the one person who was honest and true throughout the whole book. He wasn’t afraid to love Beth when she was the “Beast” and did everything he could to protect her from their cruel classmates. I loved that he was able to see past the physical appearance and care for the girl within. In fact, I think he earned even more points with me when he disapproved of the make-over because it wasn’t Beth. Ok, maybe he did a few things that were a little creepy, but they were kind of sort of adorable at the same time (like tracing her lips with his fingers).

Romance: This is where I have to be very careful not to rant. I hated, HATED the romance in this book. My hackles raised and all I wanted to do was save Beth from the abusive/controlling relationship with Derek. Yes, there were times that Derek felt like the perfect boyfriend, especially all the events in Switzerland, but once they were home it was a whole different story. It made me sick how he tried to control her life without consulting her. I know finding out his secret explains his actions, but I don’t think that it excuses him. The way he demanded her to do things, coupled with the emotional and physical outbursts felt way too abusive to my tastes. Girls should NEVER feel like this behavior is acceptable.

While Scott had his own quirks, I kept wishing that Beth would dump Derek already and go to him. He was the one who truly knew Beth’s beauty (before she was one!) and loved her for HER and nothing else. I think their relationship was the true love story and wish it had played out more than it did. Of course, their story was not the one that Morrison was trying to tell. (Again, trying to stay relatively spoiler free, but once you read the book and author note, you’ll understand that comment.)

Writing: This is where Morrison shines. She truly know how to weave a story that keeps someone reading. Even though, overall, I was rather indifferent to most of the characters, I still found moments where my heart strings were pulled. (I’ll even admit I shed a tear or two at the end.) To still pull that kind of emotion out of someone, especially when they don’t agree with things that had done or went through, is a true gift indeed. And while I may not have enjoyed this book, I am interested to read other books by Morrison.

Librarian-Mode: The romance of this book reminds me a lot of the romance in Twilight. So, the paranormal-vampire lovers looking for something more realistic may just love this. Also, this is a big tear-jerker novel and would easily fall in with those who love Lurlene McDaniel.

Have you read Sing Me To Sleep? If so, let me know what you thought!

Book Review: Girls, Boys, and Other Hazardous Materials

Book Review: Girls, Boys, and Other Hazardous MaterialsBoys, Girls, and Other Hazardous Materials by Rosalind Wiseman
Release Date: Feb. 2010
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 304
Source: Library

Charlie Healey, a freshman, believes that Harmony Falls will be her reboot to life. No longer subjected to the abuse of her "best friends," she's ready to hide her past away and become someone new. But on her very first day she'll learn that you simply cannot outrun your past. Faced with a best friend turned hunk and a girl she terribly wronged, Charlie learns to blend the old with the new. She'll need to learn to conquer old demons if she ever truly plans to achieve a new start. Amidst it all, Charlie will face many challenges such as jerky boys, a prank gone wrong, and learning what boundaries are okay to cross. Will Charlie shrink back into her shell or will she finally be brave enough to do the right thing?

The Short of It: Ah, so nice to have a book I really enjoyed. This was the first book I had read by Wiseman and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. What I got was a fun story about discovering who you are, correcting old wrongs, and standing up and doing what’s right. A story of friendship and life that’s worth checking out.

Plot: Ok, so I admit that the plot didn’t have a lot of originality. In fact, you may even say a lot of it was predictable, but something about it really pulled me in. Beyond the stereotypes, it is an honest story about a freshman getting a second chance as she figures out the truths to life. It’s about friendship and and learning to break out of one’s shell. Having been in Charlie’s shoes most of my life, I could easily relate to the storyline and it rang true to me. But don’t think that this book is all seriousness because there are still a lot of fun, crazy, and even drama filled moments. All around, I really do think it’s a fun plot (cliques and all)!

Characters: I think Charlie is a love her or hate her type character. Being where Charlie has been, I didn’t find her as annoying as I normally may have. I understand the power that some people can have over others, but I’m really not sure why Charlie allowed herself to be stomped on and belittled for so long. At first, I thought maybe it was just because she was weak, but I no longer think that’s the case. She obviously had enough courage to break tradition and tell someone of authority about the hazing issue. Something that had been going on for years, that no one else had really been willing to challenge and see that it changed. Not to mention the way she told off her former “best friends” during the dance. That kind of courage/strength doesn’t just appear because you’re going to a new school; I just don’t understand why she didn’t use it much, much sooner. Other than that, I really did like Charlie. She was a nerdy/smart girl, who although clueless at times, really did have a lot of substance to her.

Of course, I think her best friends, Sydney and Nidhi, really helped bring her to life. Both girls were smart and sassy and didn’t allow anyone to bulldoze over them. I kind of wish Wiseman would have fleshed them out more than she had though. For the most part, they were kind of stuck in the background (especially Nidhi) and never truly got to shine. I felt like there could have been so much more to them than being Charlie’s cheerleaders or filling the high school persona quota. It really is your classic case of secondary character who have so much potential that is never fully reached.

Romance: Without ruining anything here, I’m going to say that most of the romance is a read between-the-lines one. A lot of that high school drama of “oh he could never like me” type stuff. This is probably the area that felt the most cliquish to me. You’ve got the hunky jock who will inevitable like the sexy friend and then the boy who she grew up with who is just a “friend”. But while there is a lot of back-and-forth teasing and whatnot, nothing really happens until the last page. Like, literally, the last page. While there are couple of sweet moment here or there, don’t expect a heart-throb, sweep you off your feet romance.

Writing: Really no complaints whatsoever here. Wiseman really does weave a good story, even if it has all been done before. I was sucked into her world right away and never felt myself bored/not caring. The story flowed with ease and had me eager to see how it would turn out.

Librarian-Mode: I feel like I’ve been reading a lot and lot of chick-lit lately and have been giving the same recommendations over and over. Boys, Girls, and Other Hazardous Materials really is your typical high school drama full of peer pressure, friendship, and kicking away the norm. There are hundreds of books out there like that so I won’t go off naming them all. But if I were making a booklist I would easily throw this onto one with The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Real Real, and Little Black Lies.