Book Review: Please Ignore Vera Dietz

Book Review: Please Ignore Vera DietzPlease Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King
Release Date: October 2010
Publisher: Ember
Pages: 326
Source: Library, Own

Vera's spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she's kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything. So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to? Edgy and gripping, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is an unforgettable novel: smart, funny, dramatic, and always surprising.From the Hardcover edition.

The Short of It: This is one of those books that immediately after hearing about, I pre-ordered on my nook. But when my libray’s copy came in first, I snagged it there. I’m rarely wrong when I know a book that is perfectly up my alley — and I wasn’t wrong about this one.

Plot: Can we talk about just how many stories are within the pages of this book? I feel like every character had a distinctly real and integrated story into the overall plot. I loved the over-arcing theme of grief, of decision-making, of overcoming obstacles…basically I loved this book and struggle to really describe the plot articulately.

Characters: Vera Dietz, I will never be able to ignore you. Also, I want to be friends, so give me a call? Seriously, Vera is such a supremely real character that I would not be the least bit surprised to order a pizza and have her turn up as my delivery driver. Her conflicts are familiar, even though I have never had a drinking problem or a romance with an older guy or a best friend haunting me. Don’t get me wrong, even though I really want to hang out with Vera, she is a very flawed character. But what makes Vera endearing and unforgettable is the journey that she takes throughout the book and the amount of growth that she accomplishes before the end of the book. Vera, I will keep rooting for you!

And I can’t end the characters section without talking about Vera’s father Ken, whom I came to adore. He, like Vera, is still dealing with the grief of his wife leaving him and it causes him to make a lot of bad decisions. (And a lot of bad parenting decisions especially.) But what I really loved about Ken was that he cares about Vera deeply and tried to do right by her — a portrayal of parents that isn’t often found in YA literature. (I’m so sick of evil parents or perfect friendship awesome parents.)

Romance: I was not particularly rooting for Vera’s choice in romantic partnerships, her delivery co-worker. But I will say that there were a lot of moments where I was rooting for Vera/Charlie even though it’s completely futile with Charlie being all dead and such.

Writing: There is a reason that this book won the Printz Honor, folks! The writing is chock full of awesomeness. Passages that make your heart ache and long for pickles (readers will understand!) all the way to vocab words giving new meaning to plot. And the dry, black humor! Oh my gosh. I know that I said that this book was a tear jerker (and it was), but there were also parts where I guffawed out loud. Be prepared for both!

Librarian-Mode: This will be a big hit with your contemporary issue readers. Give it to teens who loved John Green, Ellen Hopkins, Laurie Halse Anderson. But I also think that this one will go over well with your mystery readers. There is a lot of adult situations though, so I definitely recommend it for more mature YA readers. This will not work for my 13-year-old cousin, for instance. At least not for a few more years. My favorite book to pair this one with? Probably “Looking for Alaska.”

Book Review: Beautiful

Book Review: BeautifulBeautiful by Amy Reed
Release Date: Oct 2010
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Pages: 206
Source: Library

When thirteen-year-old Cassie moves to a suburb of Seattle, she is determined to leave her boring, good-girl existence behind. She chooses some dangerous new friends and is quickly caught up in their fast-paced world of drugs, sex, secrets, and cruelty. Cassie's new existence both thrills and terrifies her. She embraces the numbness she feels from the drugs, starts sleeping with an older boy, and gets pulled into a twisted friendship triangle that is tinged with violence and abuse. Cassie is trapped in a swift downward spiral, and there's no turning back.

The Short of It: For me as a reader, this book did not gel with me at all and landed. However, it was well written, realistic, and I know many teens who would love it. While it was not one for me, but I would still recommend checking it out.

Plot: The plot is dark, darker, and darkest. Cassie loses herself almost from page one and never really recovers. This book is about drugs, sex, and abuse.I appreciate Reed showing that even good kids can be swept away by the wrong crowd. Bad kids are not always bad; sometimes they’ve simply made mistakes along the way. There are no real happy endings with this book, which sadly is the reality for many teens. There is a glimmer of hope for Cassie, but even once finishing the last line I wasn’t sure she’d make it.

There is one small thing that has been bugging me since I first read it and I feel like I have to mention it. Sarah is sent to live with Alex and her mother as being sexually abused by her father. However, it is stated several times they don’t want her. With how the situation is presented, Protective Services has to be involved. If her father is in jail, it means that police were called and therefor CPS. Coming from a family that does foster care, this would never happen. It’s obvious from the start Alex’s house is not a healthy environment; not only mentally, but physically as well. It’s described as a mess, smelling of mildew, and broken things on more than one occasion. You do not sent a broken child into an unhealthy situation. She should have been put into the system, not sent to her biological mother. Now, I could be wrong with CPS being involved, but somehow I doubt it. Just seeing how the system works I can’t imagine they wouldn’t be. And since I have a foster sibling and know what kind of hoops we have to jump through for even ME to stay overnight with my parents, this situation should have never happened. And unfortunately ruined part of the book for me, considering the important roll Sarah end up playing.

Characters: I’ve known people like Cassie. More from a distance than up close. What she goes through is completely and utterly realistic. However, being on the cleaning up the mess end, I had trouble relating to Cassie. I wanted to shake her and scream that she was much smarter than this road she was taking. I mean INCREDIBLY smart. Like so smart she didn’t miss a beat in school even though she was messed up for most of it. However, teens want to fit in and this was Cassie’s chance, even though it was not the right crowd. And as much as I couldn’t connect with Cassie, I understand that. Most importantly, Cassie understood that deep down. I think it’s one of the many reasons her mood swings were so wild. Yes, some of that was the drugs and other issues, but some of it was her knowing this was not a good situation to be in.

Romance: None. Yes, Cassie dates, but it’s about power and status and not about love.

Writing: I did enjoy Reed’s style. There was something real about the gritty writing that sucked me in right away. While I may have other issues with the book, the writing is certainly not one of them. In fact, I do plan to pick up her next book when it comes out this year.

Librarian-Mode: Hands down this one is for the Hopkins fans. While not in poetry form, the prose reads fast enough to satisfy them.

So, now it’s your turn…have you read Beautiful? If so, be sure to let me know what you thought.

Book Review: I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend

Book Review: I Was Jane Austen’s Best FriendI was Jane Austen's Best Friend by Cora Harrison
Release Date: 2010
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Pages: 342
Source: Library

When shy Jenny Cooper goes to stay with her cousin Jane Austen, she knows nothing of the world of beautiful dresses, dances, secrets, gossip, and romance that Jane inhabits. At fifteen, Jane is already a sharp observer of the customs of courtship. So when Jenny falls utterly in love with Captain Thomas Williams, who better than Jane to help her win the heart of this dashing man?   But is that even possible? After all, Jenny's been harboring a most desperate secret. Should it become known, it would bring scandal not only to her, but also to the wonderful Austen family. What's a poor orphan girl to do?   In this delicious dance between truth and fiction, Cora Harrison has crafted Jenny's secret diary by reading everything Jane Austen wrote as a child and an adult, and by researching biographies, critical studies, and family letters. Jenny's diary makes the past spring vividly to life and provides insight into the entire Austen family--especially the beloved Jane.

The Short of It: If you’re a fan of Jane Austen, you’ll love this book as it holds a lot of the same charm and style. Admittedly, it does start a little slow, but once it gets going it’s very hard to put down.

Plot: While Harrison states that I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend is largely a work of fiction, she captured the time period nicely.  Although, I will admit I do not know much about Austen or her family, it was easy to believe that this was their way of life. Just from reading Austen books, the atmosphere that Harrison created was very much the same. I will warn, though, there are some parts that drag a bit; but I think that’s to be expected as we’re following a girl in the 1870s. She was living in a time where women were held to strict rules and there was little room for adventure or excitement without causing a scandal. And while there may be moments of dullness, overall, I enjoyed Jenny’s adventures as she found love.

Characters: There’s not much one can say that is unkind about Jenny. Yes, she’s not the break out of the mold-heroine, but she is kind and good hearted. And while she wasn’t one to break the rules normally, she was willing to put her life in danger to save Jane when she was sick. However, I do wish Jenny were a bit less shy. I hated how she was unable to stand up for herself against her sister-in-law or state how she felt about Thomas. It did seem as if she were coming out of her shell a bit towards the end and I have high hopes that with Thomas as a guide she’ll be able to speak her mind even more.

Romance: Have you every had one of those moments where you’re happy with the romance, but then at the same time you’re not? This would be one of those instances for me. First of all, I really hate girls who fall for any man who smiles charmingly at her. I know this is part of the times where girls cared less about love than finding a wealthy match, but it makes the proclamations of love seem worthless (and of course they probably really are). And I know Jenny was really not in love with any of them, except Thomas, but her school girl crushes and how they were easily dismissed was a bit tiresome. And I know this was perfectly valid for this time period, even Austen’s own heroines do it at times, but for some reason it has always driven me crazy.

So now that I’ve rambled about that, let’s talk about Jenny and Thomas’ romance. I had an instant liking to the coupling. I knew from the instant that they met that he was who she would end up with. Out of all the guys Jenny crushed out, Thomas was certainly the best. I only wish Thomas had been around a bit more. I know this is sort of based off real facts and that their romance was very fast (meet and engaged within a month), but I would have liked to know him a bit more. I would have enjoyed seeing their love truly bloom, but that may just be talking from a modern day’s perspective. After all, romance in the 1870s is very different than the ones in 2010!

Writing: I enjoyed that journal style that Harrison took on. She managed to make it feel personable to Jenny, but make the secondary characters come alive. I truly felt that, while I was seeing them through Jenny’s eyes, I truly knew most of the Austen family members. The ones that interacted with Jenny came alive on the page even in diary format.

The only thing that threw me off a little is when Harrison switched it to real time. This was usually during key events, like when Thomas made an appearance. At first, I didn’t like it, but once I realized what Harrison was doing it grew on me. Plus, it was a nice change of pace to step out to see an event unfolding rather than reading a retelling. It allowed for true dialogue and allowed for feelings and perspectives that may have been lost in the journal format. And, honestly, it did add a certain magic being there as it happened.

Librarian-Mode: I’ve been thinking about this one for a while, because I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend is quite different than most books I’ve read. Of course, anyone who loves Austen’s work will enjoy this, too, but there aren’t an abundance of those when it comes to teenagers. However, I think most historical readers would enjoy this one as well. I would think that those who liked the Luxe Series or Faithful would like this one as well.

So, now it’s your turn…have you read I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend? If so, be sure to let me know what you thought.


Book Review: Identical

Book Review: IdenticalIdentical by Ellen Hopkins
Release Date: Aug. 2008
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Pages: 576
Source: Library

Meet Kaeliegh. She's your average, all-American girl who loves to act and work part-time at a retirement home. She's rather soft spoken and tries to help people when she can. But underneath the surface, she's harboring a dark secret. When she was eight, her father crossed a line that no father should ever that ended with him molesting and raping her. She longs to break free and have a normal life & love, but could she ever have enough strength to do it alone?

Now, meet Raeanne, her twin sister. She suspects her sister's secret, but doesn't understand her pain. In fact, she's a little jealous of the attention her sister is getting. She sometimes even wishes it was her. A crazy need that pushes her to seek out attention through older guys, drugs, and sex. Raeanne believes that she is in control, but the truth is that her self-destructive attitude is about to send her over the edge. Will she seek out help before it's too late?

Watch as this seemingly normal family falls apart in plain sight.  Their lies and secrets chip away at them a little more each day until there is nothing left of the life they once knew. Can they pull it together before everything crumbles or will this be the end for Kaeliegh, Raeanne and their all-American family?

So, this was my first Hopkins book and all I have to say is, wow. I have heard time and time again how she has a way with verse and bringing it to life and I fully agree. I was reading this one in the 20-24 hour range of the read-a-thon and boy did it hold my attention. I remembering struggling to make it to that mark last year, but Identical truly helped keep the tiredness at bay. And this coming from a girl who normally doesn’t like verse novels! But Hopkins does such a great job at bringing her characters to life. I felt like I knew Kaeleigh and Raeanne so well, almost as if the 565 pages had been full of prose with lots of descriptions rather than carefully constructed verse. And, without ruining it, the ending totally surprised me. In no way shape or form did I see that one coming. I mean, yes, I have heard of that concept before and even have seen it in another book, but I was so drawn into the characters that I totally missed the truth of it all. Looking back at it now, I can totally see it, but I so missed the big clues as I was reading. I almost want to go back and read it again and see what other clues I missed along the way.

Before I end this mini-review, I want to talk about the writing itself. I’ve already established that I think Hopkins is pretty amazing, but she takes it to a whole new level with the stylization of her poems. I loved how she did different shapes from time to time and how they corresponded to the poem (hearts, glasses, etc). I also really liked the mini-sentence at the end/start of each Kaeleigh/Raeanne section and how they mirrored each other. And to be honest, I was halfway through the book before I really noticed it. I thought Hopkins was just sticking a work out to the side and never really even noticed that those isolated words formed a phrase. (Of course, my delay in noticing should be totally forgivable; after all I was reading this one from 1:00 – 6:00 am. Normally, I’m not so dense and would have caught it right away.) And how for each sister that phrase took on a new meaning. It really did help put extra meaning to what the sisters were talking about.

Being a slight poet myself, I tip my hat to Hopkins and her powerful skill to bring a story to life via verse. I certainly look forward to picking up Hopkins’ other works.


Book Review: Magic Hands

Book Review: Magic HandsMagic Hands by Jennifer Laurens
Release Date: Feb. 2007
Publisher: Grove Creek Publishing
Pages: 216
Source: Library

Cort, a popular, cute jock, has everything but a job; something that he desperately needs. The normal hot spots are already overrun with kids and the outlook is pretty bleak. In fact, it's so bad that the only job he can get is at Miss Chicha's Nail Salon. Needing money, he puts aside his pride and learns how to do girl's nails. At first, it seems as if his new job may slide beneath the school's radar, but when some girls from school find out it's all over. Soon, his days are booked with endless appointments and he's quickly learning an important lesson: girls can be catty, gossips, and cruel. But there's one girl, Rachel, that he still has hope for. She may be elusive, but she's intelligent, beautiful, and Colt's dream girl. The only problem is that he has to prove to her that there's more to him than being a good looking jock. Can Colt win her over or will she always remain just out of his reach?

The Short of It:
I kind of went into this one not expecting much and came out being pleasantly surprised. There are some general editing and narrative issue and some cliquish moments, but overall it was a solid read.

Plot: The plot is what really drew me to this book. I mean, c’mon, a boy working in a nail shop?! How could you not be interested in that? Of course, what I got was not exactly what I was expecting. I figured he may do the prep work or paint a few nails, but I NEVER imagine he would actually do the nails. But maybe that was because I knew you needed training to actually do nails. (Sorry tiny spoiler-but common sense right?) The miles of miles of girls that come to have their nails done after he’s discovered seems rather accurate at first glance. The only thing that nags me is do that many high school girls really get their nails done and would older women really care? Ok, maybe the cute guy has something to do with it, but it was stated several times that the clients only really ever wanted Cort. I can understand that if you’re a high school girl (cute, popular guy + doing nails + hand massages = girl heaven) but would the older women really care? I guess some may like to be fawn over by a cute guy, but if it were me I would totally just take whoever was available. I mean, really, are you seriously going to wait hours just to have some boy do your nails?  Other than that, the plot really rang true on the realistic front.

Characters: Colt and Rachel were both great characters. They both had they’re flaws, but overall they were enjoyable characters. Colt was your All-American boy; the popular jock with enough intelligence, kindness and charm to make everyone like him. I also liked that he was a hard-worker. He could have easily walked away from the nail gig at anytime, but he kept with it no matter how tiring it could be. I’m sure part of this had to do with the big tips, but he still took the time to learn how to do everything properly. The only thing I didn’t like about him is that he seemed to be a bit of a push-over. Perhaps this went with the nice-guy routine, but it felt like he was being taken advantage of/rolled over, especially when it came to Bree, Rachel, and Miss Chachi.

Rachel, on the other hand, was a bit harder to like. I did end up liking her, but it took much longer. There were times she was so aloof and a little snobbish that it drove me crazy. She kind of had this superior “I’m better than you” attitude for most of the book. Even worse, there was no justification to the attitude. I think Rachel was trying to be mysterious and hard to get, but it’s not how it really came off. However, once she opened up and stopped hiding herself she was a wonderful character. I really enjoyed her job and the easy repertoire and friendship she developed with the elderly.

Romance: I would have enjoyed the romance a lot more if it had been played out a bit differently. Rachel’s hard to get attitude really affected the relationship. What bothers me the most is that she really does like him. The first page talks about how he’s great eye-candy; the only problem is he’s a jock. An irrational hate that I really don’t understand. I know the stereotype is that all jocks are jerks, but Colt proved rather quickly that he wasn’t. And every time she let him near, she would push him away without any warning. It was one-step forward, two-steps back the whole way with her. If there had been a reason for her mistrust/aloofness I might have been okay with it, but I don’t think one bad experience with a crush when she was young was enough. I felt like there should have been a pile of them to make her that leery of guys.

Colt, however, was kind of cute. He was a little crazy for continuing to go after Rachel despite all her mixed signals, but it made him more likable. I have to give him kudos for going to the lengths to prove that he wasn’t some egotistical jock and that he really did like her. In fact, I’m a little surprised that he stayed around for all her head games, but I guess the chase makes the catch more valuable? Ok, so maybe he’s a little too good to believe as a high school boy, but I did enjoy the fact that he took note of what was important to her and tied them into his own. All in all, once Rachel opened up they really did make an adorable couple.

Writing: Ok, this is where my biggest complaint lies. There were some minor editing errors that I could overlook, but the switching point of views drove me batty. Without any warning, Laurens would change from Rachel to Colt or vice versa. And I’m not talking like one chapter Colt, one chapter Rachel, I’m talking in the middle of the scene. Like they could be sitting in class, Colt could think or say something and suddenly you’re in Rachel’s mind hearing what she thought. I will admit that it was nice to hear both of their thoughts, but Laurens needed to figure out a smoother way to do it. The instant switching was much too jarring for me and drew me out of the story way more than I would have liked.

Librarian-Mode: I would easily recommend this one to my realistic, romance lovers. Those who love a good cat-and-mouse game will eat this one up. If I’m picking read-a-likes I would most likely place this one with Sarah Dessen or Elizabeth Scott (ala Bloom/Perfect You). I will also be honest in that my library does not currently own this book, but I am going to look into order it. (Well, providing it has the new cover. Old cover is HORRIBLE and almost made me send it back!)