eleanor and parkHave you ever read a book that immediately piqued your interest? One that you just couldn’t put down? My latest “must finish quickly” book was Eleanor & Park, and what hooked me, besides the immediately engaging story line, was that I listened to it as an audiobook and was therefore able to listen to it while I was doing other things. (The version I listened to was through OverDrive, but this title is also available as a print book and a book on cd – same narrators too!)

Eleanor & Park tells the story of the two title characters: Eleanor, a red-haired chubby high school student starting at a new school, who runs into Park, a kid right on the cusp of the cool crowd, but not firmly implanted there. Eleanor feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere, especially at her new school or at home. and Park feels like she doesn’t belong at their school either. Despite himself, Park finds himself falling for Eleanor, a situation that she has trouble with since she can’t possibly believe or see why this perfect Asian boy with the perfect family would ever fall for a mess like her, living with her mother, abusive step-father, and four siblings in a tiny house. This book is set over the course of one school year in 1986 with readers getting an intense look into Eleanor and Park’s budding relationship and daily lives as they struggle with trying to fit in and the strange sweetness and intense hold that first love has on them. This book pulled at my heart strings, making me pull for Eleanor and Park to beat the odds.

What really hooked me about this book was the narrators. Their voices perfectly matched the characters that I envisioned in my head with earnest emotion shining through both voices. Their inflections as both narrators mimicked the different people in both Eleanor and Park’s lives had me present, immediately in the story with them: sitting on the top bunk in Eleanor’s room while she read the comic books and listened to the tapes that Park gave her, and watching Park as he only asked for batteries for Christmas, so he could continue to give Eleanor music to listen to. I couldn’t get enough and finished this audiobook in two days. Check this book out, either in print or audio, and let me know what you think!

the 5th waveA brand new movie to hit the theaters recently is The 5th Wave. This movie is one of many young adult books that have been made into movies with producers and directors hoping to score big with both young adult readers and fans of somewhat dystopic literature. In order to fully prepare myself for the movie, I decided to dive into the book to see if I liked it.

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey is the first book in a trilogy (the second book is The Infinite Sea, but the third book, The Last Star, won’t be released until May 24, 2016!). The 5th Wave concentrates on the life of Cassie Sullivan, a teenage girl living with her mother, father, and brother when things start to change. While she’s in school, everything goes dark. All the lights go out and everything electronic stops working. Looking up into the sky, they see a giant ship. An alien invasion has begun.

The Earth is quickly decimated by the alien invasion. Cassie realizes that everything is happening in waves, the largest of which is when a plague is unleashed killing the majority of the world’s population, including her mother. Leaving their home, Cassie, her brother, and father are forced to rely on each other. When further tragedy strikes, Cassie is left to rescue her brother and to keep her promise. The problem is, she has no idea where he might be, only a vague idea that he could be at an army base. On her way to rescue him, Cassie is forced to confront the idea that the aliens may have been living amongst the human population for years and that the very person she has come to trust most could actually be an alien.

I found this book to be extremely intriguing because alongside Cassie’s story, Yancey designates different sections to other characters, so you are able to see how the invasion affects people besides Cassie as well. This adds depth to the book, which I really enjoyed. Check out this book or see the movie and let me know what you think!

girl onlineSitting at the reference desk affords me the best opportunities to figure out what the people who visit any of the three Davenport Public Libraries like to read. Reading selection catalogues is good for finding what reviewers think my patrons will like to read, but actually sitting at the desk and talking really gives me a solid idea about what our patrons want to see on the shelves.

My newest reference desk plug comes from a string of junior high and high school girls who, within the span of two to three days, all requested one book: Girl Online: the first novel by Zoella by Zoe Sugg. This book can be found in the young adult section and while that alone might throw some of you off and also send some of you wondering why there is a young adult review on this blog, let me tell you that while there are themes of first love and heartbreak and friendship within this book, there are also adult themes that I found resonated with me, even though I had to venture into teen land to find it. So let me tell you this: Instead of “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” maybe we should switch that handy motto to “Don’t judge a book by its call number”.

Girl Online: the first novel by Zoella by Zoe Sugg chronicles a short bit in the life of Penny, the girl behind the popular blog, GirlOnline, an anonymous blog that she runs online after she finds out that it is easier to share her real life and real feelings online than it is to face ridicule with everyone she knows in real life, or maybe a better way to word what she is doing online is to say that she is unsure whether or not others are feeling the same way as she is, so she posts her feelings and interactions only to be surprised that there are other people out there who feel the same way as she does. Penny, who is suffering from panic attacks after going through an accident with her parents, is supported through her online escapades and real life encounters by her best friend, Elliott, a gay boy struggling to get his parents to understand his homosexuality who lives right next to Penny and is able to knock on her wall with a secret code to let her know that he wants to come over and visit.

Well, Penny’s parents just happen to own a wedding planning business and, more specifically, a wedding dress store where they specialize in designing somewhat off-the-wall and different weddings. As the plot rolls on, Penny and her parents, Elliott included, are invited to New York to help plan a Downton Abbey themed wedding just around Christmas time. Could anything be more perfect?! Of course because this is a young adult novel!!! Once there, Penny meets Noah, a gorgeous, guitar-strumming, tall eighteen-year-old boy who just happens to be the grandson of the chef for the wedding. This. Is. Awesome. They travel around New York together and have picnics together on a roof top and just when you think they are going to be parted, Penny’s mom gets asked to design another party, which means they get to stay together for a whole other week! Sweet!! Penny and Noah fall in deep like, but alarm bells kept going off in my head because it seemed like Noah had a secret too. Can’t spoil everything for you. Read the book and let me know when your alarm bells start going off. Mine were right when they met. (And all the while, Penny is blogging about her encounters in New York, anonymously of course). Anyway, Penny comes home and THINGS BLOW UP! Not actual bombs and stuff, but metaphorical “her life is over because she’s a teenager and no one else will love her”. Sugg’s writing was so good in this part, I actually could not put the book down and read it all the way through breakfast.

The reason why I am blogging about this book is because it shows people just what happens when you put your life all over social media. The consequences, the interactions between your real and online life, and the inevitable collision between the two are what really makes Sugg’s writing shine in this novel. Zoe Sugg, also known as Zoella, is a vlogger, someone who, like bloggers, posts videos online to diary and document what is happening in their lives. Sugg does this through her YouTube channel. If you visit the about page on her YouTube channel, there are multiple links to her other various social media platforms. She is a social media QUEEN, winning awards and such for her presence online!

12860573I read a lot of  YA dystopia. A lot. I’m huge fan of the genre, but after so many trilogies of teens fighting the system, rising to fame, falling into a forbidden love and/or making terrible decisions, I’d become a bit bored of it. So when I came across 172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad and skimmed the book flap – in 2019 three teenagers are selected from a worldwide lottery to go to the moon in the hopes of making space travel more popular and, for the teens, to gain fame for a punk band, to forget an ex or to escape strict parents – it seemed like the same old thing. But, faced with a long stretch of being TV and Internet-less, I finally gave it a chance.

And, man oh man, was I wrong.

Forget about fighting the power, forget the love triangle. This book is one of the best straight-up no-blood horror books I’ve read in quite a while (no surprise the author is Norwegian, where some of the best stark horror novels come from.) Its classification as young adult is unfortunate, as many horror fans might turn their noses up at the genre.

The novel does begin with the usual teenage angst: Mia, from Norway is worried that her punk band will fall apart before they can reach fame; Midori feels suffocated by her life in Japan and Antoine is suffering from an exceptionally bad breakup. The trio is sped through three months of training and are soon launched to the moon, accompanied by three experienced crew, to spend a week living and conducting experiments in the previously abandoned moon base DARLAH 2. As soon as they arrive, of course, things start to go very, very wrong. Damage to key systems that appears to be sabotage, vague references to the ill-fated first moon base DARLAH 1 and its crew, and impossible sightings of spacesuit-clad others walking about the surface all combine to heighten the paranoia and terror of the group. Back on Earth, a former astronaut struggles against dementia to spread a dire warning to the world – that we should never have gone back to the moon, and – if the current crew survives – what we may bring back. Throughout the book, Harstad offers little pieces of memorabilia – blueprints of the DARLAH stations, heavily redacted mission reports and the text of strange transmissions received from an unknown source, lending an eerie reality to the story.

This is a novel that, after a bit of  slow beginning, grips you tightly with icy hands. The background of the three teens isn’t as developed as it could have been, but that only increases the feeling of watching something horrible happen from a great distance. The ending, while not an entirely happy one, left me desperate for a sequel.

I’m pretty sure that if a cute stranger offered to take me to a romantic European city for the day, I would probably say “No, but thank you. I’m just too awkward for that.” And I wouldn’t even fret about possibly missing out on an experience of a lifetime because, luckily, there are plenty of young adult romances that can satisfy my “but what would have happened?!” curiosity. Just One Day by Gayle Forman (and its companion book, Just One Year) is the perfect choice for armchair travel because the heroine just happens to be quite introverted herself, and thus, very relatable to us classic Librarian-types 😉

Just One Day begins with sensible, quiet Allyson feeling ready for her graduation trip around Europe with a teen tour group to be over so she can go home to the States. Yeah, that whining-about-being-in-Europe part isn’t that relatable to me, but granted her best friend has gotten a little bit wild/annoying, and the tour skipped over Paris–the one city Allyson wanted to see on the tour. But then she runs into a cute street actor who had flirted with her during his performance the night before…AND HE OFFERS TO TAKE HER TO PARIS! YES! YES! YES! So Allyson tells him her name is Lulu and hops on the train to Paris with him (and then promptly has several panic attacks on the train about him leaving her, killing her, making a fool of her, etc–this is actually the moment where I went from liking the book to LOVING the book). Lulu/Allyson and Willem spend an amazing day running around Paris and then live happily ever after. Swooooooon.

Well, until the next morning when Allyson wakes up alone in an empty Paris art studio.

With lots of tears and panic, Allyson finds her way back to London and her tour group and then back home to the United States. We then follow her through her first year of college as she learns to overcome her broken heart and embarrassment. After a long self-inflicted isolation, new friends help Allyson discover that she needs to revisit Paris and find Willem–partly because she believes that there is a mystery surrounding the morning Willem left her and partly because she needs to prove to herself that she is in control of her life.

Sorry, I can’t tell you if she finds Willem…BUT I will tell you that the companion book Just One Year tells the story of what happened to Willem during his year apart from Lulu. He does quite a bit more traveling…that is all I will say.

These two books are a must read for fans of Stephanie Perkins, John Green and Maureen Johnson and anyone else who likes a little independence and a little travel with their romances.

Margo Lanagan is an artist, and Tender Morsels is a potent story, rich in magic and full of feeling. Liga, with a babe in arms and another on the way – both forced on her in the most unpleasant ways you care to imagine – is rescued from her miserable life by an elemental creature, removed to her Heart’s Desire: her personal heaven, a world that narrowly overlaps her real pre-industrial, vaguely-historical, sort-of-European one. The boundary is firm for a while and Liga raises her daughters in peace and safety, but eventually people start poking their way through – in both directions. What follows is a meditative, surprising, totally unique tale of self discovery, familial and romantic love, magic, fear, and growing up. It’s slow paced and knotted with complex, beautiful language. It’s brilliant and mature and devastating, but uplifting at the same time. Tender Morsels is based on the fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red. It fills in the bones of that story, adding motivation to the characters and a reason to the movements of the plot, which always bends to fit the whims of the magic, and never the other way around.

 “You are a living creature, born to make a real life, however it cracks your heart.”

This book isn’t for everyone: the plot hinges on violence and sexual abuse, so those who are uncomfortable with those topics will be unhappy with this book. It’s written for a teenage audience, but the complexity of the writing and some mature content mean that it’s better suited for older teens or adults who read YA.

Some more novels based on fairy tales:

relishLucy Knisley is an illustrator who loves food.  Raised by foodies before they would have been called foodies, Knisley writes and draws about her life through the lens of the meals that she ate.  Foie Gras, Kraft Mac and Cheese, apricot jam filled croissants, sushi, fresh tamales, and cherry tomatoes right off the vine all bring back significant memories in Knisley’s life and pepper Relish: My Life in the Kitchen with funny stories and delicious recollections.

I had read Knisley’s previous foray into food themed graphic novel memoirs French Milk, about her trip to Paris with her mother following her graduation from college, and I wasn’t particularly impressed.  But after reading positive reviews of Relish, I decided to give Knisley another chance.  I am so glad that I did.  She seems to have found her voice (and a better editor) for this book, and has included delightful illustrated recipes at the end of each chapter.  It left me wishing that she would write a full graphic novel cookbook.  Each of these recipes calls back to a specific memory in Knisley’s life, from childhood to the present, shaping the person she has become.  Knisley’s passion is infectious, and this would be a great read for anyone with a lost young adult in their life.

rookie1.cover_webGet this book for any teen girl you know. Tavi’s online zine, Rookie Mag, has been collecting accolades since the fifteen-year-old blogger started it from her Midwestern bedroom. Tavi has been a respected style blogger since 2008, when she began her fashion blog Style Rookie at the tender age of eleven. Since then, she’s been invited to attend and review fashion shows all over the world, but it’s not just clothes anymore; this clever writer and all-around gifted young woman has created a magazine where teens can go for conversations with other teens about school, friends, music and movies, feminism, body image and self esteem, fashion, sex, and all the minutiae of teenage life that seems so monumental to those who are living it. She writes about the problems and the questions that real, modern teens have. She’s frank and funny and I wish I’d been even one-tenth as smart and confident as she is when I was a teenager. What I’m getting at is: here is a great, realistic role model. And a great book!

Rookie: Yearbook One is an ink & paper retrospective of the online magazine’s first year. It contains a lot of writing by Tavi, but it’s been touched by dozens of others; Miranda July, Lena Dunham, Aubrey Plaza, Joss Whedon, Patton Oswalt, and many others make appearances – either in pieces they’ve written for the magazine or as the subject of one of Tavi’s excellent interviews (I love how she is just as comfortable grilling Whedon about his modern-day interpretation of the sexual politics of “Much Ado About Nothing” as she is sharing a laugh with Plaza about how much they love the film “Reality Bites”). These are articles that matter, ideas that resonate, and interviews that are exciting and in-depth; it’s also lighthearted (you’ll love the section on how to cry without anyone catching you), and the graphic design of the book is phenomenal. If you have any taste for collage (and a little bit of the ridiculous) your eyes will pop at the juxtaposition of textures, photos, and hand-drawn illustrations. It’s just amazing, and I wish so much that I’d had it when I was a teenager!

EEOnce I devoured Gail Carriger’s excellent Parasol Protectorate series, I was delighted to see that Etiquette & Espionage represents her return to the same steampunk universe of  Soulless et al. It is also a first foray for Carriger into the field of YA. This is a true YA title – it’s perfect for, and I’d recommend it heartily to, almost any teenager/YA reader. It takes place at school; the main character is 14; the gore/sex/four-letter-words are tame or nonexistent. There’s a lot of emphasis on self-discovery, resourcefulness, learning, and intelligence, as well as bravery and friendship. The only element of a typical teen novel missing? ROMANCE!

In Carriger’s adult series, romance and sex were a huge driving force behind both the plot and the characters’ motivations. Without ever being crass or gratuitous, those books are about the way adults fall in love and stay in love – emotionally and physically. But in Etiquette & Espionage, the much, much younger teenage characters are motivated by entirely different things. Sophronia, the main character, is a “covert recruit” at a floating school for future spies; here, she’ll be trained to curtsy perfectly, measure poisons precisely, and wield sewing scissors to deadly ends. Sophronia is interested in boys, and she knows about feminine charms and how she might need to deploy them in her career as a spy, but her motivation is never reduced to the moronic, unimportant whine of “I want a boyfriend!! Why doesn’t a boy love me?!” – a fixture of many other YA titles. As the series goes on and Sophronia grows up, I fully expect Ms. Carriger to allow her to expand her romantic interests in a way that is intelligent and logical for her age, but in the meantime I’m thrilled to read a novel about the teenage experience outside of the desperate “need” for a boyfriend. Etiquette & Espionage is refreshing, exciting, and leaves the door open for a bevy of sequels that will be even better now that the groundwork has been laid.

~~Sigh~~ A windswept island, daring escapes from Nazis, British country estates, dancing with soldiers in London, writing Food Ministry brochures extolling the values of carrots to hungry British citizens and a funny little sister who bullies a young Princess Elizabeth at a aristocratic Girl Guides Meeting. The Montmaray Journals by Michelle Cooper (a series of three lovely books: A Brief History of Montmaray, The FitzOsbornes in Exile, and The FitzOsbornes at War) are those kind of books where the narrator feels so natural, so familiar that I often forget that the stories in the book didn’t actually happen to me. Sadly, the memories are not all pleasant. These books are about a teenager’s family evolving and trying to survive World War II, all with the weight of a small country on their shoulders. I had originally written “evolving and surviving World War II,” until I remembered the pages and pages of sobbing while reading The FizOsbornes at War. Don’t worry, there is a wonderful ending.

Montmaray is a (fictional) tiny island monarchy between England and Spain whose already small population was decimated during World War I, and there are only a few village families left living in the shadow of a romantic, crumbling castle when 16 year old Sophie begins keeping her journal in 1936. Oh yes, ROMANTIC, CRUMBLING CASTLE. Sophie is actually Princess Sophie of the FitzOsborne Royal Family– she is one of three Princesses of Montmaray (the others being her stunning, intellectual cousin, Princess Veronica, and her younger tomboy sister, Princess Henry) and also the younger sister of the future King of Montmaray, charming Prince Toby FitzOsborne. However, Sophie’s royal title does not correspond to a royal lifestyle, at least not while she is living on a remote island in a stripped bare castle under the rule of her mentally ill uncle. Their wealthy aunt is forever trying to get the girls to move away from Montmaray and become a part of British Society, but their loyalty to Montmaray keeps them grasping to its shores until they have no choice but to fall into the lap of luxury. And then, of course, the war begins and Sophie’s home seems lost forever.

It is no secret among people who know me that my favorite book is I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (I have written about it on the blog here and compared it to another fabulous book, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, here, and the Montmaray Journals shares much in common with Dodie Smith’s fantastic novel (which is pretty much the highest praise I will give a book!). Both stories are told in thoughtfully-written diary entries by quiet teenage girls in 1930’s and whose lives seem both beautifully ordinary and bohemian at the same time. Both girls fall in love with men named Simon. Both feel inferior to their prettier, outgoing relations. And yes, both live in ROMANTIC, CRUMBLING CASTLES!

P.S. I will just say, that for those of you who thought the end of I Capture the Castle was not a happy one (and I disagree with that! but now is not the place to discuss…), you will be very satisfied with the ending Sophie chooses for herself.