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Archive for the ‘Romance’ Category

this is what

This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

 

I’ve already said that I needed to walk away from the bullying books for a couple of weeks. With school starting, I wanted to read something upbeat. I don’t think I could have made a better choice than This is What Happy Looks Like.

 

Ellie lives in a small town in Maine. One day she gets an email from a stranger asking her to walk Wilbur. As a dog lover herself, she responds and lets the sender know about the mistake. Well, Wilbur is not a dog, but a pig—yes, just like in Charlotte’s web.

 

What Ellie doesn’t know is that the sender is Graham Larkin, a teen movie star and countrywide heartthrob. Because the two are strangers, they joke about the pig and then realize that they like the conversation. They write back and forth for months. Graham has been having a hard time making deep connections with others due to his fame. Even his parents act strange now that he has hit the big time. So, as he continues to write to Ellie, Graham decides to remain anonymous. When the venue for his next film falls through, Graham gets the director to shoot the movie in Ellie’s hometown.

 

What fun for Ellie, right? To find out that the guy she has a long-distance crush on is actually a star? But, there’s the catch. Ellie and her mother have a family secret. They need to stay out of the limelight because any interest would draw attention to her U.S. senator father—who, as a married man, had an affair with Ellie’s mom years before. Ellie hasn’t even told her best friend about this, and she hasn’t seen her father in years. Now it looks like he’ll be a candidate for president.

 

Smith does a great job showing the spark—the chemistry—between Graham and Ellie. We get why they enjoy one another so much. And they are both fully-drawn characters, people we feel we know. We like their intimate conversations, we like the way they treat one another. We’re rooting for them.

 

And even if things can’t work out like they do in the movies—well, this is what happy looks like. Enjoy.

High school housekeeping: Don’t let the length of this book scare you. Many of the pages just have the text of short emails.

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       The Signal by Ron signalCarlson

 

I needed a little break from reading those ‘bullying books’ and wanted to read an adult book. So I decided to go for The Signal because I knew Ron Carlson to be an excellent short story writer, and I figured this slim novel would be just as good.

 

The Signal is great reading, and I think teens who may have tired of YA formula romances will like this novel a lot. Adults should love it. It’s such good writing. While reading, I kept thinking this is what Hemingway would have written if he’s had a better understanding of women, been less of an ego. Carlson is something like Cormac McCarthy minus a lot of the violence. (But not minus all of the violence.) There’s just all this beauty in the world at the same time that danger is approaching and a relationship is going to pieces. To pull all three of those elements together and not waste words is quite an achievement.

 

Mack and Vonnie are taking their tenth annual backpacking and fishing trip in the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming. They’d been married, but have recently divorced. This is to be their last trip together although Mack is hoping somehow to make a connection with Vonnie. But he’s messed up so badly recently. His mistakes began with the good intention of saving the ranch that had been in his family for generations. This made me think of how adults always told me, when I was young, that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It was a common aphorism.

 

In The Signal, Mack has landed in a sort of hell on earth, never mind an afterlife. He has worked for shady characters, not questioning the drug deals that he must’ve known his employer was setting up. He’s been involved with a broken woman, hurting both her and Vonnie. Finally, he started working for a man his father knew, someone making a lot of money in what seems to be unofficial government operations.

 

When things continue to go badly for Mack, he, in a drunken rage, attacked the car of Vonnie’s new boyfriend, and ended up in jail.

 

Now, on his trip in the Wind River Mountains, he hopes to make a lot of money by finding something for that unofficial government operator—something that crashed landed and needs to be recovered. He’s bit off more than he can chew. And considering the enemies he’s made over the last several years, there’s more at stake in this trip to the wilderness than he understands.

High school housekeeping: The Signal is a short and powerful adult novel. It’s full of danger, the opening of old wounds in a complicated relationship, and life in the outdoors. It shows the world from a guy’s point of view, one who has really messed up, but one with whom we sympathize. I’d recommend it to anyone, but if you are a guy who doesn’t read a lot and is ready (or being compelled by a teacher) to read a novel, this would be a good choice. You’ll care about Mack and the people around him. Your teacher will be impressed by your good taste in literature.  🙂

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Fanboy The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga

Fanboy puts up with the bullying he receives throughout his sophomore year of high school by hanging on to a few things he regards as good: his friend Cal—a popular jock, but also secretly a comic book fanatic; his late-night writing and illustrating of an original comic book which he hopes to have published; the knowledge that he’s the smartest kid in his school and can leave all his tormentors behind in two years; and a bullet he carries every day, one he uses as a sort of worry stone.

It seems that Fanboy will just continue his miserable existence with his pregnant and self-involved mom and his stepfather, whom he calls the ‘step-fascist.’ To ease his suffering, he keeps a list of all the people who have done him wrong and sometime fantasizes about school shootings in which they are hurt. But one day he receives an email from Kyra—Goth Girl—questioning why he puts up with the school bullying. She has images of him being repeatedly slugged in PE class while the teachers all stand in a corner and talk. Suddenly, Fanboy has a second friend, one he can claim in public.

But Kyra is one messed-up girl. She lies out of habit and has dark secrets. She is volatile and often irrational, getting into arguments with Fanboy that result in wildly inappropriate behaviors, cutting him off, and then reappearing in his life without explanation. Yet she understands Fanboy’s creative drive and his insights about the hollow experience of his education. She both helps and hinders Fanboy.

What Fanboy learns about coping and about standing up for himself against his tormentors makes The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl a worthwhile read. That said, I do worry that if you aren’t a comic book fan yourself, or at least someone who has seen several superhero movies (and there are so many that are popular right now), you might get lost in the discussion of comics and comic book creators. If you happen to be a comic book fan, I think you’ll love this novel and the richness of Fanboy’s obsession with his artistic pursuit. Goth Girl remains an enigma to the end. The novel doesn’t have the tidy closing that most YA novels do, and that might be a problem for some readers. But if you think about friendships and romances in real teen lives, you’ll find that Fanboy and Goth Girl is often spot on.

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When we think of summer reading, we think of books we choose because we like them—books for fun.

In the past I’ve read long lists of YA books over the summer and have encouraged you to read some of them as well. This year I think I need to feed my soul with some not-so-light adult books that probably don’t have wide teen appeal. I will also be reading some books about bullying—both the cyber sort and the in-person attacks. (I listed choices in a recent post.)

Since I think you should pick some fun reads for summer, I hope you’ll read some YA books that are soon to be movies. Reading the book before you see the movie provides a good opportunity for you to compare and contrast two works; it’s a great way to think at a higher level without even realizing that your brain is working.

 Win-win.

 So many good teen books are coming as movies in the next few years. Here are some that I’ve read and reviewed:

 2013:

Catching Fire

(Second book in the Hunger Games trilogy)

Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

The Great Gatsby

(OK, it’s an adult book, but teens read it in school, it’s short, and it’s great—

romance, betrayal, mobsters–all the stuff teens love)

2014 and possibly 2015:

Divergent

Graceling

The Knife of Never Letting Go

(first book in the Chaos Walking series)

Incarceron

The Maze Runner

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

The Fault in Our Stars

(Yea! It will star Shailene Woodley as Hazel. No word on Gus yet.)

Coming as movies soon, but I haven’t had the chance to read the books yet:

Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare

Tunnels by Roderick Gordon

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith (and Jane Austen, of course.)

Actually, I have had the chance to read this one,

but I didn’t like it, and I quit after a few chapters.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Have a great summer reading on your own and at the theater!

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Road Trip! Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson 

Amy and Roger's Epic Detour

Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour

Three months ago Amy’s dad died in a car accident, and Amy hasn’t driven since. Because, after all, she was driving then. She knows she’s responsible for his death.

So when Amy’s mom decides to move cross-country from California to Connecticut, she first puts Amy’s drug-addled twin brother in rehab in North Carolina. She then leaves Amy to look after herself for a month while she finishes her junior year in high school. Once Amy finishes the school year, her mom has a plan for Amy: she will cross the country with Roger, the nineteen-year-old son of a friend who also needs to get back East, to Philadelphia, to see his father. Amy’s mom has provided maps, driving instructions and pre-paid hotel reservations. The two teens should make it to Connecticut in four days.

What could go wrong?

Just about everything.

But what’s so great about this story is that what goes wrong is what goes right—it’s full of the happy mistakes that make memories of a lifetime.

It isn’t that Amy is some happy-go-lucky girl. Quite the opposite. She’s guilt-ridden and her hair is starting to fall out from stress. She’s immersed in grief, thinking of her father’s death as the endless interruption of a conversation. He was a history teacher who loved Elvis Presley. Amy had always been his navigator on long road trips. Theirs was a close relationship, and no one in the family has tried to appropriately deal with his death.

Road trip books are always fun, and Amy and Roger have the valuable experience of ‘getting ready for the party being more fun than the party itself.’ They first get off track when they decide to go to Yosemite. Amy’s family had taken vacations there together, and she longs to see it again. Once the pair is committed to disobeying Amy’s mom and traveling wherever they like, taking as long as they want, it becomes clear that Roger is on this trip because he wants to confront his ex-girlfriend, for whom he still carries a flame. Too bad, because he’s incredibly good looking.

Many of the stops on this cross-country adventure have connections to other books—for example, the detour to Kansas, where Amy questions what home really is, and whether you can go back there when someone in the family is missing. It’s a sweet nod to The Wizard of Oz.

The trip includes unexpected meetings with eccentric characters, all of whom enrich Amy and Roger in some way. There’s lots of good fast food—different franchises in each state—and there’s always good music as Roger creates playlists based on the pair’s emotional state that day or on their destination. (Don’t let the unfortunate opening with Billy Joel songs put you off. The wackier, more creative choices are coming right up!)

Amy’s mother is so angry at her disobedience that she cuts off her credit card. Amy and Roger pool their funds and have to arrive back East just as the money runs out. When they get there, Amy has learned much—about life as well as death. And she’s ready to have the conversation that she and her mother have been putting off.

Just about any teen will enjoy this one.

Note: Morgan Matson, the author of Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour, is scheduled to be at this Saturday’s Ontario Teen Book Fest at Merton Hill Auditorium (on the Chaffey High campus–corner of Euclid and Fifth Street).  The book fest will be  9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. It’s free, but you must reserve a ticket to get in. Call 909-395-2225 to reserve your ticket. You may also pick up a ticket in the quad–May 9 at Chaffey High, May 10 at Colony High.

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Ontario City Library and Best Buy Children’s Foundation

are sponsoring another Teen Book Fest!

May 11, 2013

9:00 AM-5:00 PM

Merton E. Hill Auditorium

(on the Chaffey campus–next to the district offices)

211 W. Fifth Street, Ontario

You must reserve a ticket, but it’s free. Call 909-395-2225.

Doors open at 8:30. Come early and buy a book

so that you can have the author sign it!

This year’s authors include:

Carrie Arcos–Out of Reach

Leigh Bardugo–Shadow and Bone

Jennifer Bosworth–Struck

Jessica Brody–My Life Undecided

Stephen Chbosky–The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Sara Wilson Etienne–Harbinger

Suzanne Lazear–Innocent Darkness

Marie Lu–The Legend series

Morgan Matson–Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour

Gretchen McNeil–Ten and Possess

Gregg Olsen–The Empty Coffin series

Andrew Smith–The Marbury Lens and others

Ann Stampler–Where  It Began

Lex Thomas–Quarantine: The Loners

See you there!

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ashes   Ashes by Ilsa Bick (first in a trilogy)

Alex, seventeen and traveling alone in the Michigan wilderness, is on a mission to bid her goodbyes to the world. She has a brain tumor that appears unstoppable, even with experimental treatments. While Alex is on her backpacking adventure, an electromagnetic pulse—EMP—rocks the earth, killing many people. Yet after the EMP, Alex is not only alive, but changed. The sense of smell she had lost due to her cancer treatments is now so keen that she can smell emotions, such as fear.

Alex discovers that almost all others who are left alive are very old or very young. Generally, after the EMP blast, middle-ages folks are dead and teens become zombie-like—Alex refers to them as ‘brain-zapped.’ While the brain-zapped don’t eat one another, they crave human flesh. The combination of troubles is post-apocalyptic: teen zombies, a dying earth with fried technology and no means of modern communication, and a remaining population with no means of producing goods, including food. The worst in people comes out, and they fight and kill for survival supplies.

When the EMP takes place, Alex happens to be talking to a few people she met on her wilderness hike, a little girl named Ellie and Elle’s grandfather. The grandfather dies immediately, and Alex becomes Ellie’s protector. Later she teams with the hunky but shadowy Tom, who is on leave from the war in Afghanistan. They fear that they, too, will become brain-zapped. Their goal is to travel to safety, to find a town and some help. But along the way, danger separates them. Tom is wounded as survivors are stealing his provisions, and his wounds become infected. In seeking help, Alex finds a surviving town called Rule.

Rule is an odd place. Folks are deeply religious, but in a way that demands subservience from women. The fact that the folks in Rule are helping Alex is more sinister than it first seems. These survivors appear to be as dangerous as the zombies. Except for Chris, who has a crush on Alex.

Bick does a great job of framing her post-apocalyptic world and of explaining how such a thing might happen as well as hinting at the reasons why some young people like Alex, Tom, and Chris have survived. In all, she does a great job with drawing the reader in. Her writing is also very good. Given these things, and the fact that no plot points are concluded, most teens will quickly leap to the next book. However, Bick also spends a good portion of the novel with lengthy descriptions of the gross realities of this new world. Ashes is an A-One gore-fest. Bick has that paradoxical ability to stop the story dead in its tracks to wax on about zombies plucking out eyeballs and livers, and yet to make it feels like this is fast-paced action.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m something of a sissy in these matters. While the blood jets, the shootings and other violence didn’t get to me, I couldn’t stomach the frequent and vivid descriptions of pus—yellow-green, oozing, stinking. I read while waiting for appointments—and thus in public places—and often found myself unable to continue, the bile rising in my throat, the gag reflex operating. For this reason, I’m not going to continue the series. But if you don’t have these sorts of issues, this is a heart-smacking work for mature readers (about 14 years and up).

I’ve thought about why my reaction to books like Ashes is so different from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which is also set in a post-apocalyptic, violent world of survivalists and cannibals. I think it just comes down to the writing. McCarthy can make me realize all the terror of his world. I have the full emotional impact, the genuine sense of horror and concern for the characters. But I’m never at risk of puking while waiting for the dentist.

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