Happy Anniversary, Little Women!

Little Women Crunchings and Munchings

by REBECCA, September 30, 2013

On this day in 1868 Louisa May Alcott published the first volume of Little Women! Now, Little Women certainly can be a frustrating read nearly 150 years after its publication, in terms of the limits to women’s freedom and opportunities. Still, whether your Little Women of choice is the book or one of the many film adaptations, there are some legitimately kickass things about it.

1. Jo March! The Jo I picture is Katharine Hepburn from the 1933 movie version, because it was the first one I ever saw. Jo is a badass independent woman. She works to help support her family, she reads voraciously, she stands up to people who try and tell her or her sisters that they can’t do things because they’re women. She writes stories and plays for her sisters to read and act out. She befriends (rescues) poor Laurie from next door and makes him part of the family. She sells her hair so she can buy Marmee a train ticket to go visit their father when he’s been wounded. She moves to New York by herself and starts publishing her stories in the newspaper, then she writes Little Women, one of the most famous YA novels of all time!

Little Women2. Marmee! Marmee models feminism inflected with a strong message of charity. She teaches her daughters about generosity—to each other as well as to those less fortunate than themselves—and how they are strong and must, therefore, always help those who are weaker. In real life, of course, the character of Marmee is modeled on Louisa May Alcott’s own mother, Abigail May. May and her husband, Amos Branson Alcott, were well known transcendentalists. Transcendentalism (perhaps most often associated with Ralph Waldo Emerson) is the philosophy that the individual must be self-reliant, looking to herself for what is right and what is wrong, and that institutions (organized religion, institutions of higher learning) merely got in the way of finding that truth inside herself. It’s no wonder, then, that Marmee teaches Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy to think for themselves.

Sidebar: I saw Mark Adamo’s 1998 opera version of Little Women performed a few years ago. I didn’t like it, ultimately, but it was really interesting to see the philosophical underpinnings of the book translated into an operatic interpretation. It is a modernist opera, mostly tonal, so the music has the very spare, clean feeling that I imagine transcendentalists like Marmee would approve of. There is nothing extravagant or decorative, so the sisters’ lives seem stripped down to a pretty (to me) depressing baseline of boredom and charity, which was further emphasized by the costumes—plain dresses with smocks. I found the whole thing quite unpleasant, with none of the warmth of the book or the complexity of coming of age. Still, it’s not often one gets to see a YA novel become an opera, so that was kind of cool.

Little Women3. Sisters! There really is no better sister book than Little Women (well, except Practical Magic, which I gush about HERE!). Sure, there are moments when these sisters want to kill each other—I mean, if my sister had burned the only manuscript of my novel in the fire I sure as hell would let the sun go down on my goddamned anger, just like Jo does. But, then, if she fell through the ice while skating after me, I’d totally save her and forgive her. Even though Little Women does a lot of moralizing, it also does a great job of portraying the ups and downs of sisterhood! Indeed, I think most of us who have sisters have played the game where we decide which March sister we are and which ours sisters are, amiright?

Little Women4. Winter Wonderland! I know it’s not winter during the whole book, but Little Women always feels very Christmas-y to me. There’s the great stuff in the beginning about buying Christmas presents, and I love how Laurie’s grandfather gives Beth his piano and they sing Christmas carols around it, and how they take their food over to the Hummels’ house (though I guess that’s a big check in the no-good-deed-goes-unpunished column for poor Beth). All the scenes in the movies of the sisters ice skating and sledding in the New England snow . . . I just love it.

Little Women5. The Power of Imagination! Jo’s writing is the most talked about act of imagination in the book. But there are other imaginative inspirations in Little Women, too. Amy pursues her passion for art all the way to Paris and Beth loves music, even if it’s just her family as the audience. All the sisters act out the plays that Jo writes, repurposing things around the house for their sets and costumes. And my favorite is Jo’s decision to turn Aunt March’s mansion into a school that will allow any child to get an education. Jo turns a traditional act of private inheritance into a radical act of public service. You go, Jo!

Do you have a favorite version of Little Women? A favorite little woman? Tell me in the comments!

Boo, Banned Books; Yay, Band Books! 10 Books About the Power of Music

A List of 10 Books About the Power of Music

Pump Up The Volume

by REBECCA, September 25, 2013

So, it’s Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of the freedom to read/time when a number of people discuss the value of the books that a bunch of yahoos have banned. Scads of smart people have written about the issue of censorship; I wrote about it last year HERE, and Tessa wrote about it HERE. These are all valuable conversations to be having.

But rather than rehash what others have said, I’ll just keep it simple. There is no situation in which I think banning books is anything other than misguided, small-minded, ineffectual fascist fretting and I don’t have anything else to say about it. So, this year, I’m going to focus on the positive: there are some awesome books about how powerful and necessary a form of self-expression music is. This year, instead of banned books, I give you BAND BOOKS WEEK: a list of 10 Books About the Power of Music! All descriptions from Goodreads.

Sister Mischief by Laura GoodeSister Mischief by Laura Goode

“Listen up: You’re about to get rocked by the fiercest, baddest all-girl hip-hop crew in the Twin Cities—or at least in the wealthy, white, Bible-thumping suburb of Holyhill, Minnesota. Our heroine, Esme Rockett (aka MC Ferocious) is a Jewish lesbian lyricist. In her crew, Esme’s got her BFFs Marcy (aka DJ SheStorm, the butchest straight girl in town) and Tess (aka The ConTessa, the pretty, popular powerhouse of a vocalist). But Esme’s feelings for her co-MC, Rowie (MC Rohini), a beautiful, brilliant, beguiling desi chick, are bound to get complicated. And before they know it, the queer hip-hop revolution Esme and her girls have exploded in Holyhill is on the line. Exciting new talent Laura Goode lays down a snappy, provocative, and heartfelt novel about discovering the rhythm of your own truth.” My review is HERE.

Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. GoingFat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going

“Troy Billings is seventeen, 296 pounds, friendless, utterly miserable, and about to step off a New York subway platform in front of an oncoming train. Until he meets Curt MacCrae, an emaciated, semi-homeless, high school dropout guitar genius, the stuff of which Lower East Side punk rock legends are made. Never mind that Troy’s dad thinks Curt’s a drug addict and Troy’s brother thinks Troy’s the biggest (literally) loser in Manhattan. Soon, Curt has recruited Troy as his new drummer, even though Troy can’t play the drums. Together, Curt and Troy will change the world of punk, and Troy’s own life, forever.” My review is HERE

If I Stay by Gayle FormanIf I Stay by Gayle Forman

“Mia had everything: a loving family, a gorgeous, admiring boyfriend, and a bright future full of music and full of choices. In an instant, almost all of that is taken from her. Caught between life and death, between a happy past and an unknowable future, Mia spends one critical day contemplating the only decision she has left. It is the most important decision she’ll ever make.” It’s music that brings Mia back to life and music that she lives for.

The sequel, Where She Went, is told from Mia’s boyfriend Adam’s perspective. “It’s been three years since the devastating accident . . . three years since Mia walked out of Adam’s life forever. Now living on opposite coasts, Mia is Juilliard’s rising star and Adam is LA tabloid fodder, thanks to his new rock star status and celebrity girlfriend. When Adam gets stuck in New York by himself, chance brings the couple together again, for one last night. As they explore the city that has become Mia’s home, Adam and Mia revisit the past and open their hearts to the future-and each other.”

Just Listen by Sarah DessenJust Listen by Sarah Dessen

“Last year, Annabel was “the girl who has everything”—at least that’s the part she played in the television commercial for Kopf’s Department Store. This year, she’s the girl who has nothing: no best friend because mean-but-exciting Sophie dropped her, no peace at home since her older sister became anorexic, and no one to sit with at lunch. Until she meets Owen Armstrong. Tall, dark, and music-obsessed, Owen is a reformed bad boy with a commitment to truth-telling. With Owen’s help, maybe Annabel can face what happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends.”

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-MillsBeautiful Music For Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

“‘This is Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, on community radio 90.3, KZUK. I’m Gabe. Welcome to my show.’ My birth name is Elizabeth, but I’m a guy. Gabe. My parents think I’ve gone crazy and the rest of the world is happy to agree with them, but I know I’m right. I’ve been a boy my whole life. When you think about it, I’m like a record. Elizabeth is my A side, the song everybody knows, and Gabe is my B side–not heard as often, but just as good. It’s time to let my B side play.” Beautiful Music For Ugly Children gets an automatic Band Books Week bump for being about a radio show and therefore being associated with Pump Up the Volume’s Hard Harry! My full review is HERE.

War For the Oaks by Emma BullWar For the Oaks by Emma Bull

“Eddi McCandry sings rock and roll. But her boyfriend just dumped her, her band just broke up, and life could hardly be worse. Then, walking home through downtown Minneapolis on a dark night, she finds herself drafted into an invisible war between the faerie folk. Now, more than her own survival is at risk—and her own preferences, musical and personal, are very much beside the point. By turns tough and lyrical, fabulous and down-to-earth, War for the Oaksis a fantasy novel that’s as much about this world as about the other one. It’s about real love and loyalty, about real music and musicians, about false glamour and true art. It will change the way you hear and see your own daily life.” My full review is HERE.

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony JohnFive Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

This one’s about the power of music even for someone who can’t hear it. “The Challenge: Piper has one month to get the rock band Dumb a paying gig. The Deal: If she does it, Piper will become the band’s manager and get her share of the profits. The Catch: How can Piper possibly manage one egomaniacal pretty boy, one talentless piece of eye candy, one crush, one silent rocker, and one angry girl? And how can she do it when she’s deaf? Piper can’t hear Dumb’s music, but with growing self-confidence, a budding romance, and a new understanding of the decision her family made to buy a cochlear implant for her deaf baby sister, she discovers her own inner rock star and what it truly means to be a flavor of Dumb.” Tessa’s full review is HERE.

The Lucy Variations by Sara ZarrThe Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

Lest we forget about classical music: “Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. The right people knew her name, her performances were booked months in advance, and her future seemed certain. That was all before she turned fourteen. Now, at sixteen, it’s over. A death, and a betrayal, led her to walk away. That leaves her talented ten-year-old brother, Gus, to shoulder the full weight of the Beck-Moreau family expectations. Then Gus gets a new piano teacher who is young, kind, and interested in helping Lucy rekindle her love of piano — on her own terms. But when you’re used to performing for sold-out audiences and world-famous critics, can you ever learn to play just for yourself?”

Lament Books of Faerie #1 by Maggie StiefvaterBooks of Faerie series, Maggie Steifvater

Book one is Lament. “Sixteen-year-old Deirdre Monaghan is a painfully shy but prodigiously gifted musician. She’s about to find out she’s also a cloverhand—one who can see faeries. Deirdre finds herself infatuated with a mysterious boy who enters her ordinary suburban life, seemingly out of thin air. Trouble is, the enigmatic and gorgeous Luke turns out to be a gallowglass—a soulless faerie assassin. An equally hunky—and equally dangerous—dark faerie soldier named Aodhan is also stalking Deirdre. Sworn enemies, Luke and Aodhan each have a deadly assignment from the Faerie Queen. Namely, kill Deirdre before her music captures the attention of the Fae and threatens the Queen’s sovereignty. Caught in the crossfire with Deirdre is James, her wisecracking but loyal best friend. Deirdre had been wishing her life weren’t so dull, but getting trapped in the middle of a centuries-old faerie war isn’t exactly what she had in mind . . .” My full review is HERE.

Ballad Books of Faerie by Maggie StiefvaterBook two is Ballad. “In this mesmerizing sequel to Lament, music prodigy James Morgan has joined his best friend, Deirdre, at a private conservatory for musicians. James’ almost unearthly gift for music has attracted the dangerous attentions of Nuala, a soul-snatching faerie muse who fosters and feeds on the creative energies of exceptional humans until they die. Composing beautiful music together leads James and Nuala down an unexpected road of mutual admiration …and love. Haunted by a vision of raging fire and death, James realizes that Deirdre and Nuala are being hunted by the Fey and plunges into a soulscorching battle with the Queen of the Fey to save their lives.” My full review is HERE.

Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys Weetzie Bat #3 by Francesca Lia BlocCherokee Bat and The Goat Guys (Weetzie Bat #3) by Francesca Lia Block

“Once there was a slink-chunk, slam-dunk band called The Goat Guys. Cherokee Bat danced and sang. Witch Baby, Cherokee’s almost-sister, pounded the beat on her drums. Raphael played the guitar, and Angel Juan kept the rhythm on his bass. They made music that sparkled like fireworks, and audiences loved them. But with success came power, and power was a dangerous thing. Cherokee and The Goat Guys were swept up in it-and soon it was threatening to destroy them. Until Cherokee realized that it was up to her to save them all . . .” This is the third in the Weetzie Bat series and it totally stands on its own!

BONUS Francesca Lia Block duo that has music at its core: Ecstasia and Primavera.

Ecstasia by Francesca Lia BlockEcstasia: “Siblings Calliope and Rafe, along with Dionisio and Paul, are Ecstasia—the most popular band in Elysia, a city of jewels and feathers, of magic and music, where the only crime is growing old. Then Calliope’s visions take her to Under, where the Old Ones go to die, and where her parents had vanished long ago. Rafe joins her there, in search of the Doctor, who can bring back the dead to ease their loved ones’ broken hearts. And that is when rapture turns to nightmare.”

Primavera by Francesca Lia BlockPrimavera: “From the very moment she was born, Primavera’s songs made water flow and flowers blossom. She brought new life to the desert where her family lives. But even in Paradise there are dreams that cannot be fulfilled. Primavera is in love with a man who can never be hers–so when a handsome stranger offers her the gift of a horse-headed motorcycle, Primavera leaves home in search of the magical city of Elysia. But in Elysia, Primavera discovers that she has left behind everything she truly needs, everyone she truly cares about—and, if the city has its way, she will never find her way back home.”

Happy Band Books Week, my lovely readers. Tell me about your favorite musical YA reads in the comments. TALK HARD!

A Review of Made of Stars, by Kelley York

Entangled Teen, 2013

Made of Stars by Kelley York

by REBECCA, September 23, 2013

Hunter and his half-sister Ashlin have spent nearly every summer since they were kids at their dad’s house in Maine, with their best friend, Chance, the impulsive, whimsical, and mysterious boy they met at the creek. But after their cop father was shot and needed time to recover, it’s been a while since they were back, and since they’ve seen Chance. Now, in the winter after they graduate high school, both Hunter and Ashlin have put college or future plans on hold to return to their father’s house and take some time to figure things out. Since Chance always had a million excuses why they couldn’t talk on the phone or email, Hunter and Ashlin can’t tell him they’re coming to town, and both are desperate to see him, finally.

When they show up on his doorstep in November, a place they’ve never been allowed to go, they find that the stories Chance has always told them—about his parents’ frequent travel, their nice home, and his life—are lies. His parents’ trailer is run-down, his father violent, and his mother neglectful. How could they never have noticed the signs before? But when they finally catch up with Chance, he’s as captivating as ever and the three fall back into their familiar habits of spending every day together. Indeed, Chance nearly lives at their house. When Hunter’s girlfriend comes to visit for Christmas, though, Hunter has to confront the idea that maybe Chance has always meant more to him than just a friend—and that may mean more than he’s willing to admit.

Made of Stars is a near-perfect story: it’s simple, resonant, and beautifully characterized, and I loved every minute of it. The narrative shifts between Hunter and Ashlin’s perspectives, and it’s through their adoring eyes that we see Chance. Now that they’re eighteen, what was once a sibling closeness takes on a more adult intimacy, and Kelley York does a bang-up job of evoking the tension in this triangle. Chance is like a puppy—easily affectionate, loyal, and sensitive—and Hunter and Ashlin have different reactions to him. Ash realizes that she’s attracted to Chance and wants him to trust her. Hunter realizes that what he’d always taken for friendship may actually be love, and he wants desperately to protect Chance.

The contrast between the warm, familial scenes in Hunter and Ash’s father’s house and the hell that Hunter and Ash suddenly realize Chance has grown up in is gutting. It’s also lovely to see a half-sibling relationship in YA lit that’s close and supportive rather than competitive. Hunter and Ash live with their mothers across the country from each other, and they live for the summers when they get to be together, and with Chance. The idea that both Hunter and Ash have been unable to decide what to do with their lives after high school until they can get back to Maine and see Chance again runs subtly through Made of Stars.

After Hunter and Ash realize that Chance has hidden major things about his life, he’s recontextualized in their eyes, and they want to help him. Chance, however, just wants to forget about his life when Hunter and Ash aren’t around, and to enjoy the time they have together. When Chance’s mother is murdered, though, and Chance becomes a suspect, that becomes impossible. The helplessness that Hunter and Ash feel is tangible on the page, and is a beautiful counterpart to the joy they feel when Chance is around.

Hushed by Kelley YorkThe one critique I have of Made of Stars is simply that Ash and Hunter’s voices are never quite distinct enough, so when the perspective shifted, I often found myself looking back to see who was narrating.

As with the first book of hers that I read (and LOVED—see full review HERE), HushedMade of Stars is a book about relationships, and the interplay of the characters is the drama. It’s beautifully understated while still leaving me desperate to turn the page and find out what was going to happen next.

readalikes

Andy Squared by Jennifer Lavoie

Andy Squared by Jennifer Lavoie (2012). Twins Andrew and Andrea have always been the best of friends. When a new kid moves to their school from Texas, and Andrew realizes that his feelings for him may go beyond friendship, it changes his relationship with Andrea dramatically. My full review is HERE.

Stick by Andrew Smith

Stick by Andrew Smith (2011). When Stick’s abusive father finds out that his older brother, Bosten is gay, Bosten has to leave home for his safety. Stick sets off on a grueling road trip to find Bosten. My full review of the really wonderful Stick is HERE.

procured from: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Made of Stars, by Kelley York, will be available October 1st.

Back To School, Young Adult Style

by REBECCA, September 18, 2013

my so called lifeNo matter what age I am, September is Back To School month. The smell of new pencils + paper + too much hairspray  is in the air, summer is over (thank god!), and the start of a new year makes it seem like anything’s possible. I love that feeling. So, since I don’t get to start school, being long past that age, here is a list of my all-time favorite Back To School YA!

Harry Potter by J.K. RowlingOne of my favorite YA tropes is the Starting A New School trope! The Harry Potter books are perhaps the greatest Starting A New School books ever, because the new school Harry’s starting is a school of WITCHCRAFT AND FREAKING WIZARDRY. I find Starting A New School books so satisfying because the reader gets a crash course in what may as well be a whole new world—new social landscape, new rules, new potential disasters, etc. It also capitalizes on what is, for most of us, a pretty familiar feeling: the self-consciousness that comes from not knowing where you’re going to fit in. In the Harry Potter books, there’s also, of course, the anxiety that comes from knowing that in addition to having to start school and learn that magic exists, you also have an evil nemesis who wants you dead. Now that’s first-day anxiety for you.

If Harry Potter is the most exciting Starting A New School series, my favorite has to be The Secret Circle series. As I wrote in my plea for people to read this amazing series even though the CW made an abysmal show based upon it, Cassie’s experience starting a new school has all the components that make the experience both so dramatic and so banal. Starting a new school always necessitates:

The Secret Circle by L.J. Smitha.) An evaluation of who the character is and who she wants to be, sometimes resulting in delicious tension when she decides to reinvent herself but some event causes her old traits to out.

b.) The anthropological assessment of the new school—you know, what clique does the mysterious soul in your math class belong to; who, exactly, eats at the tables by the windows during lunch; does the fact that the intimidating girl in your writing class can cause spontaneous combustion mean she’s part of a local coven . . . you know, just the usual.

c.) The shaking up of the status quo. Every time a character arrives in a new social setting, she necessarily changes it; it’s like the observer effect. Naturally, some people welcome change while others resist it. This creates . . . drama!

Winger by Andrew SmithAs we have well established on Crunchings & Munchings, we love boarding school books, and they are often the most dramatic of the Starting A New School books, since that experience is not just about school but about life too. One of my favorite books of the year, Winger, by Andrew Smith, is a wonderful boarding school book. It’s not strictly a new school, since Ryan Dean West attended it the year before, but it may as well be, because this year he’s been put in a new dorm (for trouble makers), which changes his whole experience and his friend group, giving him a new best friend (not to mention some new enemies). The Tragedy Paper, by Elizabeth LaBan, tells the story of Tim Macbeth, a recent transfer to boarding school, and what leads to a tragedy that a returning student writes about a year later. In Openly Straight, by Bill Konigsberg, Rafe is a teenager who’s been openly gay since 8th grade, but is sick of being The Gay Guy. He decides to go away to boarding school where no one knows him and decides that he simply won’t mention being gay. It’s a great book about how much the stories we tell about ourselves impact how we’re perceived.

The Secret History by Donna TarttThough the New School in question is a college rather than a high school, The Secret History, by Donna Tartt (one of my favorite books EVER), is a perfect Starting A New School book because Richard Papen, who moves from bland suburban California to attend a small liberal arts college in Vermont, is such an outsider. Through his eyes, even the styles of jeans his new classmates wear are unfamiliar. Janice Harrell’s The Secret Diary series, which, as I discuss HERE, is a near-total ripoff of The Secret History set in high school, is also a satisfying Starting A New School book. Joanna, like Richard Papen, starts a new school and immediately falls in with a tight clique of students who are hiding a terrible secret.

Twilight by Stephanie MeyerWhatever I think about the Twilight series (and most of it is unflattering), the first book is a great Starting A New School book because of Bella’s relationship with Edward. I thought the movie did a particularly good job of capturing that confluence of new school weirdness and my-lab-partner’s-a-mind-reader weirdness. Of course, it would have been more interesting told from Edward’s point of view, which would then make it an Interesting New Student book. I was curious to read Midnight Sun, the retelling of Twilight from Edward’s perspective . . . until I read it and it was really boring. Sidebar: being able to read minds would totally change the way you view the world; why doesn’t anyone get it right?

Wonder by R.J. PalacioIn Jennifer Lavoie’s Andy Squared, twins Andrew and Andrea Morris have always shared everything—including their future plans—or so they thought. When new student Ryder arrives from Texas, he changes Andrew’s life and shows him that his future isn’t as set in stone as Andrea has made him think. R.J. Palacio’s Wonder is told from multiple perspectives, making it both a Starting A New School book (for Auggie) and an Interesting New Student book (for everyone else). Auggie, born with a facial deformity, has always been home schooled. When his parents convince him to try out school for the first time, Auggie has a lot of new experiences, but his classmates’ experiences are just as significant. Other Back To School hybrids include Siobhan Vivian’s Same Difference, featuring a teen from suburban NJ who attends a summer art school program in Philadelphia and Deborah Hautzig’s Hey, Dollface, in which Val and Chloe are new to each other, forming a close friendship because they’re the only ones who think their NYC prep school classmates are lame.

So, what about you? What are your favorite Starting A New School and Interesting New Student books? Tell me in the comments!

The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle #2) by Maggie Steifvater

A Review of The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle #2) by Maggie Stiefvater

Scholastic Press, 2013

The Dream Thieves The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

by REBECCA, September 16, 2013

I was so excited to read The Dream Thieves, the second in The Raven Cycle, because I adored The Raven Boys. I promise that this review will have no spoilers, since the book’s not out until tomorrow (though there are spoilers for The Raven Boys, in case you’ve not read it yet). The cycle looks like it’s going to be at least two more books, going by Goodreads, which shows untitled numbers 3 and 4 for release in 2014 and 2015.

The Raven Boys by Maggie StiefvaterThe Raven Boys was tightly-plotted and set in a world that was about 70% realist—there’s Blue Sargent’s family of psychics and scryers and a ghost. We met Blue, the only non-psychic in her family, and the eponymous Raven Boys, who attend the posh Aglionby Academy in Blue’s town. There’s Gansey, who is obsessed with tracing the ley lines in town with the hopes of finding Glendower, a Welsh king whose location will, the tales say, result in great favor. Adam is a local who feels constantly out of place in Aglionby because he’s poor and unconnected, unlike the rest of its students. Ronan is passionate and angry and hates Aglionby, though he stays out of loyalty to Gansey. Last and least is Noah, who, we learn, is a ghost, killed by his Aglionby roommate years before, who was also looking for Glendower.

Where The Raven Boys was a tightly-plotted, 70% realist first novel, The Dream Thieves is an expansive, 70% non-realist second. The Dream Thieves is a book packed full of ideas and featuring a piece of world-building that makes for limitless possibilities. Like The Raven BoysThe Dream Thieves is still heavy on character and atmosphere, but where the former was Gansey’s book, this one is Ronan’s.

When Ronan’s father was killed, he was disallowed from returning to his family home. Now things have begun happening, both in real life and in his dreams, that make him determined to return and solve the mysteries that his father’s death left behind. The plot about Glendower takes a bit of a back seat here to Ronan’s personal abilities, and I enjoyed the hell out of that. Ronan was the character I was most interested in from The Raven Boys, so I was thrilled to follow his journey. We get the introduction of a threatening new character, Mr. Gray, who is in Henrietta searching for something that intersects with the quest for Glendower, and Kavinsky, a Raven Boy who will change everything for Ronan.

The Raven Boys by Maggie StiefvaterLike I said, The Dream Thieves is chock-full of ideas. As such, it gets a little baggy in the middle, where I felt I was being re-introduced to themes and character traits. It couldn’t have been the first book in a series, certainly. As a second book, though, I found its meandering moments forgivable, particularly since the ideas Stiefvater is playing with really are shiny enough to justify diversions. As you can guess from the title and final line of The Raven Boys, this book is about stealing from dreams. So. Good. My favorite thing about The Dream Thieves is the way Stiefvater effortlessly juggles the effects of this concept, which includes every imaginable (dreamable) possibility.

Whereas the end of The Raven Boys pointed strongly to where the next book would go, The Dream Thieves raised the stakes of the story so much that I find myself totally unsure where the third book in the cycle will go. But I trust Stiefvater and I love these characters, so count me in for the ride, wherever it goes!

procured from: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle #2) by Maggie Stiefvater will be available tomorrow!

Sarah Dessen, Redux

A Review of The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen

Viking Juvenile, 2013

The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen

by REBECCA, September 11, 2013

“Luke is the perfect boyfriend: handsome, kind, fun. He and Emaline have been together all through high school in Colby, the beach town where they both grew up. But now, in the summer before college, Emaline wonders if perfect is good enough. Enter Theo, a super-ambitious outsider, a New Yorker assisting on a documentary film about a reclusive local artist. Theo’s sophisticated, exciting, and, best of all, he thinks Emaline is much too smart for Colby.

Emaline’s mostly-absentee father, too, thinks Emaline should have a bigger life, and he’s convinced that an Ivy League education is the only route to realizing her potential. Emaline is attracted to the bright future that Theo and her father promise. But she also clings to the deep roots of her loving mother, stepfather, and sisters. Can she ignore the pull of the happily familiar world of Colby. Emaline wants the moon and more, but how can she balance where she comes from with where she’s going?”

The Moon and More is Sarah Dessen’s long-awaited twenty-thousandth novel and I was kind of looking forward to it, hoping it would be in the vein of my favorite Dessens,  Just ListenThe Truth About Forever, and Lock and Key.

Just Listen by Sarah DessenSadly, The Moon and More retreads the most familiar (and least compelling) of Sarah Dessen territory. As with all her books, it’s a well-written, well-woven slice-of-life. Unlike her better books, though, The Moon and More‘s characters are, for the most part, bland and unlikeable. Our protag, Emaline is bland, uninsightful, and I didn’t care about her at all. She doesn’t have any interests, really—doesn’t seem to read, care about movies or politics or sports or . . . anything. Her only charming moments were when she interacted with her little brother. Theo, the geeky and impassioned urbanite who Emaline dates after Luke, is annoying, selfish, and snobby, and Dessen doesn’t make any attempt to hide it, which made me like Emaline even less for being interested in him.

The Truth About Forever by Sarah DessenEvery Sarah Dessen book has a theme—a takeaway message. The better books, like Just Listen and The Truth About Forever, have subtle and intricate themes that drive the books forward. The theme of The Moon and More, as you can guess from the title, is balancing expectations of grandeur with those of moderation. Emaline’s Not From Here father and boyfriend think that anything that isn’t everything is nothing, but Emaline is happy with more more modest goals. I think this is a theme that a lot of readers can identify with and I applaud Dessen for writing a protagonist who isn’t consumed by being superlative (even if she does renege a bit at the end). As a theme, however, it’s . . . well, boring. Moderation, sadly, does not make for a dynamic narrative.

The Moon and More has it’s funny lines and its charming moments. Summer jobs, always a Dessen feature, loom large here, and the scenes of Emaline’s job working for her family’s realty company are detailed and interesting. The split between the locals and tourists in this small beach town are, as always, well-drawn. Really, though, I read the first 200 pages of The Moon and More wondering when it was going to start and the next 200 wondering when it was going to end. The Moon and More reads, more than anything, like a dull Sarah Dessen knockoff—as predictable and formulaic as her books’ covers.

Sarah Dessen

Neither Sense Nor Sensibility: Austenland

A Review of Austenland, written and directed by Jerusha Hess; based on the novel by Shannon Hale

Austenland

by REBECCA, September 4, 2013

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a movie in possession of both Keri Russell and literary intertexts, must be worth seeing, amiright? Rarely has a universally-acknowledged truth been so epically false.

Austenland by Shannon HaleAustenland is the story of plain Jane (Russell), unlucky in love and (not unrelatedly) obsessed with Jane Austen—the books, the characters, the time period, the aesthetics, everything. Her guest room is an altar to her obsession with Mr. Darcy in particular, and she has a life-size cardboard cutout of Colin Firth’s Darcy in her living room. Apathetic and convinced that the only good men are fictional, Jane buys a package to go to Austenland, an immersive vacation where guests stay in an Austenesque manor and are the center of their own story, complete with men, food, entertainments, and, of course, romance. Jane can only afford the basic package, though, so rather than a Lizzie Bennet, she is relegated to navys, browns, and the servants’ quarters. Drama (kind of) ensues; you can guess the rest.

People, I kind of don’t know where to start with this mess.

keri russell felicityAustenland is always torn between showing scorn for Jane as a pathetic, deluded loser who romanticizes fiction instead of living life, and showing that she is different than all those other losers, so she’s not an appealing character. And I fundamentally refuse to believe that this character yo-yo-ing is Keri Russell’s fault. I mean, this is freaking Felicity we’re talking about: girlfriend makes pathetic romantic appealing as hell.

The premise of Austenland is that the actors there act charming and dote on the women, giving them the experience of their fantasy Austen heroines. The movie is determined to pull one over on its audience in the “reveal” of a clever “twist” (my scare quotes, if it isn’t clear, suggest that this “reveal” is no revelation) having to do with whether the men are really acting or if their romance is real. However, it doesn’t matter whether whether the romance is real or contrived because both the Mr. Darcy character and the stableboy character are so absolutely unappealing.

Don’t even get me started on Jennifer Coolidge, whose “dumb American” character has, at this point in cinematic history, become so unrelentingly clichéd that she may as well have been plucked out of another movie and stuck into this one. James Callis and Georgia King add dashes of random absurdity that do little more than remind the viewers that we wish this movie would be as absurd in its execution as it is in its premise.

Really, JJ Feild, as the Mr. Darcyish character is the only one who can get away with playing it straight, because Austenland, for all that it alleges to be comic, is, at heart, a fairly uncreative and conservative reinscription of the notion that every woman’s fantasy is Mr. Darcy, and if they act Lizzy Bennet-esque, then that fantasy will come true.

austenlandAnd that’s the real failure, I think: that the movie, in the end, only replicates Austen as opposed to conversing with her.  Jane’s journey is an unsubtle parallel of an Austen character’s and fails to address any of the questions that could have been interestingly raised about a modern woman obsessed with Regency times. In a movie packed with gags, references, uncomfortable humor, and lots and lots of curled hair, there really isn’t a single moment of charm. Nor is there any hint of what someone like Jane might find appealing about Jane Austen’s world to begin with. Indeed, Austenland seems to be operating under the assumption that it doesn’t need to explain what’s appealing about Austen, because we all already agree. Rather, from the opening scenes of the film, it is clear that young Jane will be taught a lesson: you must be disillusioned of your fantasies to have a chance at real happiness. It is equally clear, I think, that this is a lesson Austen has taught us many times over—and with far wittier dialogue.

Philadelphia YA

A List of Young Adult Books Set in Philadelphia

philadelphia

by REBECCA, September 2, 2013

Yesterday was my two year Philaversary (anniversary of moving to Philly, that is)! So, obviously, I was too tanked on Bloody Marys to write this post last night. I love Philly, but, as cities go, it really doesn’t get the literary representation of a New York or an L.A. (though I have learned there are a number of mysteries set here). So, in honor of my Philaversary, here are 10  YA Reads Set in Philadelphia.

Same Difference by Siobhan Vivian

Same Difference by Siobhan Vivian

I love this book. Emily lives in suburban New Jersey, where her main joy in life has been to drink frothy Starbucks concoctions with her bestie. But what she hasn’t really acknowledged is her passion for art. So, when she starts a summer art program at an art school in Philadelphia, it isn’t just the city that throws her for a loop. Emily’s journey isn’t only about connecting with her art; it’s about finding her own voice and letting that unique perspective permeate every facet of her life. My full review is HERE.

Pretty LIttle Liars

Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard

Ok, I have only watched the TV show, not read the books, but I love the show. Their fictional town of Rosewood is 20 miles from Philly, on the Main Line, so the girls go into Philly often.

“Three years ago, Alison disappeared after a slumber party, not to be seen since. Her friends at the elite Pennsylvania school mourned her, but they also breathed secret sighs of relief. Each of them guarded a secret that only Alison had known. Now they have other dirty little secrets, secrets that could sink them in their gossip-hungry world. When each of them begins receiving anonymous emails and text messages, panic sets in. Are they being betrayed by some one in their circle? Worse yet: Is Alison back?”

Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart

Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart

“It is 1876, the year of the Centennial in Philadelphia and Katherine has recently lost her twin sister Anna in a tragic skating acci­dent. The loss haunts and threatens to suffocate her, and one wickedly hot September day, Katherine sets out for the exhibition grounds to end the life she no longer wants to live. But Katherine’s not as alone as she thinks, and a surprise encounter may just save her from her own tragic end.”

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

“It’s late summer 1793, and the streets of Philadelphia are abuzz with mosquitoes and rumors of fever. Down near the docks, many have taken ill, and the fatalities are mounting. Now they include Polly, the serving girl at the Cook Coffeehouse. But fourteen-year-old Mattie Cook doesn’t get a moment to mourn the passing of her childhood playmate. New customers have overrun her family’s coffee shop, located far from the mosquito-infested river, and Mattie’s concerns of fever are all but overshadowed by dreams of growing her family’s small business into a thriving enterprise. But when the fever begins to strike closer to home, Mattie’s struggle to build a new life must give way to a new fight-the fight to stay alive.”

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos

This one doesn’t necessarily look like it’s my speed, but it sounds charming for folks who like romantic-y type books. Also, “Love Walks In” is one of my favorite Van Halen songs, so . . .

“When Martin Grace enters the hip Philadelphia coffee shop Cornelia Brown manages, her life changes forever. But little does she know that her newfound love is only the harbinger of greater changes to come. Meanwhile, across town, Clare Hobbs—eleven years old and abandoned by her erratic mother—goes looking for her lost father. She crosses paths with Cornelia while meeting with him at the café, and the two women form an improbable friendship that carries them through the unpredictable currents of love and life.”

Creating Monsters by Christopher Rankin

Creating Monsters by Christopher Rankin

I don’t remember where the hell I heard about this book, but it looks super interesting!

“In modern Philadelphia, where a deep economic depression has left the city near collapse and most of its inhabitants in gruesome poverty, Mitchell Gray, a twenty-year-old graduate student in a beleaguered university physics department, spends most of his time playing piano and touring the city’s worst slums in stolen cars. He is a technical virtuoso whose scientific ideas challenge the foundations of his field but he lives in hiding from one of the world’s most powerful billionaires, a man obsessed with the quiet Mitchell and determined to capitalize on his strange inventions. When Mitchell falls in love with an older woman, the wife of a wealthy pharmaceutical executive, their relationship inspires him with a mad plan use his creations to change the world. With the help of a brilliant and neurotic chemistry student named Charlie Nolan and technology so advanced that it resembles magic, Mitchell devises horrifying yet harmless schemes and supernatural hoaxes, causing an uproar in the city.”

Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

“The year is 1876, and there’s something strange and deadly loose in Philadelphia . . .  Eleanor Fitt has a lot to worry about. Her brother has gone missing, her family has fallen on hard times, and her mother is determined to marry her off to any rich young man who walks by. But this is nothing compared to what she’s just read in the newspaper—the Dead are rising in Philadelphia. If Eleanor is going to find her brother, she’ll have to venture into the lab of the notorious Spirit-Hunters, who protect the city from supernatural forces. But as Eleanor spends more time with the Spirit-Hunters, including their maddeningly stubborn yet handsome inventor, Daniel, the situation becomes dire. And now, not only is her reputation on the line, but her very life may hang in the balance.”

The Philadelphia Adventure by Lloyd Alexander

The Philadelphia Adventure (Vesper Holly #5) by Lloyd Alexander

Well, since our blog’s name is inspired by a Lloyd Alexander character, it delights me to find out that Alexander wrote a Philly book. “Vesper Holly has foiled murderers, crossed mountains, and narrowly escaped earthquakes. Now she’s home in Philadelphia, where she can relax—until President Ulysses S. Grant asks for her help. The Centennial Exposition of 1876 is about to begin, and luminaries from around the world will be there. But so will Vesper’s arch-nemesis, the evil Doctor Helvetius. There’s only one person who can thwart his evil plans—Vesper Holly!”

Rise of the Corpses by Ty Drago

Rise of the Corpses (The Undertakers #1) by Ty Drago

“‘On a sunny Wednesday morning in October, a day that would mark the end of one life and the beginning of another, I found out my grouchy next door neighbor was the walking dead. When you turn around expecting to see something familiar, and instead see something else altogether, it takes a little while for your brain to catch up with your eyes. I call it the ‘Holy Crap Factor.’ Forced to flee his home and family, twelve-year-old Will Ritter falls in with the Undertakers-a rag-tag army of teenage resistance fighters who’ve banded together to battle the Corpses.”

Nothing But Ghosts by Beth Kephart

Nothing But Ghosts by Beth Kephart

“Ever since her mother passed away, Katie’s been alone in her too-big house with her genius dad, who restores old paintings for a living. Katie takes a summer job at a garden estate, where, with the help of two brothers and a glamorous librarian, she soon becomes embroiled in decoding a mystery. There are secrets and shadows at the heart of Nothing but Ghosts: symbols hidden in a time-darkened painting, and surprises behind a locked bedroom door. But most of all, this is a love story—the story of a girl who learns about love while also learning to live with her own ghosts.”

Am I missing your favorite Philly-adjacent book? Tell me in the comments!

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