Sunday, June 21, 2009

Giving It Away For Free (the only time Momma would approve)

Serena Robar is giving it away for free the entire month of June. That’s right. A book a day, every day in honor of her latest book release Giving Up the V. All you have to do to is sign up for her newsletter and you are entered to win. Enter once and you are in the running to win a YA book every day the entire month of June.

Summary of Giving Up the V by Serena Robar, available June 9 from Simon Pulse:

What's So Wrong With Waiting?
Spencer Davis just turned sixteen. But unlike most hormonal teenagers who seem obsessed with sex -- like her entire crew of friends
-- Spencer just doesn't get it. She'd rather wait for the right guy and the right moment. But that moment may be arriving sooner than she'd thought. Enter Benjamin Hopkins, a new transfer student who seems to have his eyes on our V-card-carrying heroine. He's gorgeous, funny, suave, athletic, and capable of making Spencer's knees wobble with a single glance. Spencer has never felt this way about anyone before, but is Ben truly V-worthy?

Sounds good, right? No wonder she's celebrating by giving away free books every day. So sign up and get ready to win.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Along for the Ride--Sarah Dessen

You might call what Auden has a sleeping disorder, or you might call it insomnia. Whatever it is, it's been years since Auden slept at night. It all started when her parents starting fighting daily. It was a habit she began to prevent the fighting (thinking that if she stayed up, they wouldn't fight) and that continued past their divorce. She lives with her mom in Lakeview, while her brother travels through Europe and her father lives in the charming beach town Colby with his new wife and baby. But the summer before she goes off to the nicest college in North Carolina, she's going to live in Colby.

All she plans to do is stay in the house and prepare for her college courses--especially Econ. However, when Heidi, her stepmom, offers her a job in her clothes boutique, Auden is suddenly dumped into teenage life. She never experienced that on her own, never had a real childhood, as she was too busy being the perfect daughter to her demanding mother. When she meets Eli, however, that all changes. To the other teens in Colby, Eli is a quiet, sad guy mourning the loss of his best friend. But he's also an insomniac which allows for Auden to see the real Eli as he introduces her to all the things you can do in the middle of the night, and takes her on her Quest for childhood.

Slowly, Auden realizes there's more to everyone than there appears to be on first sight. Even her mother, whom she's known all her life, has another side that Auden has never seen. Her brother Hollis is a completely different person than she once knew. And her father is so drastically different. He's someone she doesn't recall existing before, and all she needed was to see him with his new wife and daughter to realize he's not the best father, and never has been.

My first instinct, when nearing the end of the book, was to say that I felt nothing for it. It neither disappointed nor impressed me. But then, when trying to explain this to Caroline, I figured out exactly what I was trying to say. It didn't have the impact a great novel usually does. It didn't make me sad to see it end. I wasn't overjoyed, by any means, but I wasn't upset that I turned the last page and closed the pink polka-dotted back cover.

Auden is a great narrator and tells the story well, but for being the main character, she's just not strong enough. I mean, let's face it--she's no Remy. And I don't mean to compare two Dessen books (because I prefer to judge a book by what it consists of, not by what another book is), but it's true. She's not a stick-up-for-herself kind of girl. She bends to others when her heart is stronger than that. You can tell she has the power to stand up and speak for herself, but she doesn't. Besides that, though, it doesn't feel like her story. She tells it well, and she's in the center of it all, but more of what happens seems like it belongs to the other characters, even though it really is her story. Her narrative allows Dessen to make her point that all people aren't what they first appear to be, and there is always something more to them, but it would do just as well to spin the story a bit and give Auden a larger part in it all. She seems like a bystander in this crazy, mixed up world, when really, she's the heart of it all.

Despite all this, Auden is completely relatable. To me, at least. While everyone in high school doesn't experience the academic and lose the social, it is easier to identify with that than a character that is fully social, and less academic. It's a blatant stab at self-conciousness that everyone experiences, if not in the full amount that Auden does. She's completely aware of her bumbling ways and not falsely confident, as many YA narrators can be. This is surely Dessen's strong point: Creating a narrator that can be related to by many. And even if, by some odd chance, the reader doesn't identify in some way to Auden, they have many well-developed characters to choose from. No name is thrown about lightly in this book (with the exclusion of some necessary minor characters that even have a little interesting story themselves, if you look hard enough).

Plus, it's a huge help that Eli makes me squeal like a little girl. I mean, SA-WOON! He's not present through many of the scenes, but when he is, he just...has a commanding presence. He's not loud, not angry, and not exciting (in that caught-in-the-moment way), but his personality is huge. You can feel his pain and guilt, but also how he has moved on and is happy again. He has all these feelings mixed up in one massive ball of amazing-ness. And I like how he's very Norman (for fellow Dessen fans who have read Keeping the Moon) in the way that he's not the leading man throughout the book. Auden doesn't fall for him wholeheartedly and their romance isn't played up to be the largest part of the book. She has other options and she goes for them. He's not introduced on the first page and her boyfriend all the way throught the last. It's a progressive thing.

I, of course seeing as it was written by Sarah Dessen, read this novel like a speedy reading demon, but it still lasts, if you know what I mean. I haven't thought about it much since setting it back on my shelf, and I haven't wondered what happens next, but everytime I do think of it now, I feel a bit of nostalgia. It's one of those stories that feels like a personal memory, and I like that.

A 3.98 out of 5 for this one (I can't bring myself to give it a three point anything, really, because that three just holds so much weight, but I don't want to give it quite as high as a four, either. So this was my best compromise.)


P.S. For those of you that have read all the other Sarah Dessen books, I rate this one after Just Listen, This Lullaby, and The Truth About Forever, but before the others. It's about fourth on my list (and only barely better than Lock and Key. Almost tied with it, actually.)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

How to Buy a Love of Reading by Tanya Egan Gibson

To Carley Wells, words are the enemy. Her tutor's innumerable SAT flashcards. Here personal trainer's "fifty-seven pounds overweight" assessment. And the endless assignments from her English teacher, Mr. Nagel. When Nagel reports to her parents that she has answered the question "What is your favorite book?" with "Never met one I liked," they decide to fix what he calls her "intellectual impoverishment." They will commission a book to be written just for her--one she'll have to love--that will impress her teacher and the whole town of Fox Glen with their family's devotion to the arts. They will be patrons--the Medicis of Long Island. They will buy their daughter the love of reading.

Impossible though it is for Carley to imagine loving books, she is in love iwht a young bibliophile who cares about them more than anything. Anything, that is, but a good bottle of scotch. Hunter Cay, Carley's best friend and Fox Glen's resident golden boy, is becoming a stranger to her lately as he drowns himself in F. Scott Fitzgerald, booze, and Vicodin.

When the Wellses move writer Bree McEnroy--author of a failed meta-novel about Odysseus's journey home through the Internet--into their mansion to write Carley's book, Carley's sole interest in the project is to distract Hunter from drinking and give them something to share. But as Hunter's behavior becomes erratic and dangerous, she finds herself increasingly drawn into the fictional world Bree has created, and begins to understand for the first time the power of stories--those we read, those we want to believe in, and most of all, those we tell ourselves about ourselves. Stories powerful enough to destroy a person. Or save her.

This book is just--wow. The eloquence of the language, the syntax of the sentences, and the indirectness and honesty of the dialogue all come together to make is novel astounding and spectacular. Undeniably unique is this remarkable debut by Tanya Egan Gibson, who I'm sure to continue reading for her enchanting style, with and refreshing voice. She also has the ability to create a character, Mr. Nagel, who fully embodies wit, charm, and malignity all in one and creates, in his own, indirect way, Carley Wells herself. For, without Nagel, there would be no book and a change in character could not happen. He is never once present throughout the entire 389-page book, but his presence is overwhelming. Because this book is told in many points of view, the reader gains insight into nearly every important character's thoughts. When the story is told from Carley's point of view, you see how much Mr. Nagel has influenced her. She is constantly saying he did this, he said that, and questioning herself, believing she will always be wrong because she almost always is around him. This second-guessing girl is just trying to become what Hunter wants, and since he is an avid reader, she believes that literature and understanding Nagel will help her become that.

Gibson has the ability to become her characters (or, rather, her characters become her, according to the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote at the beginning of Part III: Devices) and write from their mind. When reading Carley's point of view, the reader understands her yearning and desire, and how much she truly doesn't understand or doesn't want to. When reading from Bree's point of view, the reader understands how out of place she feels and how she doesn't care to fit in if she has to be like these people. The best however, is Hunter's point of view. It resonates, it's poignant, and it reveals to the reader all the self-loathing he has felt throughout his life, his need for the drugs, and his worry about how he appears to others.

It is the characters that make this book, as the plot couldn't stand on its own. Not much really happens except for a change in the characters. And because of the change in them, their lives change. But mostly, Bree writes a book, Carley critiques it, Hunter drinks, and families have issues. I'm not saying this is bad. I actually liked this refreshing way of handling things. It's as if Gibson was trying to prove her own character, Bree, wrong by writing a book for the characters, not the plot or detail (which, actually, probably was her point. Funnily enough, you'll know why when you reach the end--which is really good, by the way).

It took longer than usual to finish How to Buy A Love of Reading and not only because I was busy. I was so immersed in every every section, every chapter, every sentence that I didn't want it to end. I could have sat in my room for hours, reading and rereading one page and constantly finding new meaning to some things and the same meaning to others and never get tired of it. I got half way through and wanted to slow down, not wanting it to end, but I wanted to keep reading--quickly, as if taking a long time would make it disappear.

This wasn't the best book I've ever read, and there were some issues I had with the fluidity of a few paragraphs, but mostly, this was thoroughly enjoyable, and it gives me an obsession with F. Scott Fitzgerald in quote form--he is a smart man. I'm ready for the next book by Tanya Egan Gibson.

4/5 cups of sobering coffee.