Raindropreflections: December 2011

Saturday, 31 December 2011

This Year and the Next

So, like everyone on the planet knows, it’s the day before 2012 begins. The year that the world apparently ends. *laughs nervously* That isn’t going to happen, obviously. Obviously.

coolest fireworks EVER.

2011’s been a GREAT year. I started blogging, I made the biggest decision in my sixteen-year-old life, and I didn’t end up regretting it! I went to amazing places, I tried some stupid things, and I found a pair of the CUTEST shoes ever. (I didn’t buy them.) (You don’t need flats more than a few months in Canada. DARN IT.) I discovered the YA genre, I read some of the most amazing books EVER, and I made amazing friends. (I’m looking at you, Bee, Nafiza, Eden, Aleeza!)

In short, it was a great year.

I’m hoping for the same in 2012.

Tonight, though, I’m looking forward to saying goodbye to an amazing year and welcoming the next. I want to see the fireworks. I want to see the expressions on everyone’s faces as the clock strikes twelve. I want to celebrate the coming year with the world.

So, here’s to you, amazing peeps. I hope you had an amazing year, and I hope that the coming one will trump whatever happened in 2011. Who CARES if the world ends in 2012? Do everything you effing can NOW! Because even though the world ISN’T going to end in 2012 (like, duh. Who said anything about the world ending? Not me. Now way.) this is a great opportunity to do everything you were scared to do before.

Let’s go out and live, peeps.

And read great books.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Review- The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson

Summary (goodreads):

Ginny Blackstone thought that the biggest adventure of her life was behind her. She spent last summer traveling around Europe, following the tasks her aunt Peg laid out in a series of letters before she died. When someone stole Ginny’s backpack—and the last little blue envelope inside—she resigned herself to never knowing how it was supposed to end.

Months later, a mysterious boy contacts Ginny from London, saying he’s found her bag. Finally, Ginny can finish what she started. But instead of ending her journey, the last letter starts a new adventure—one filled with old friends, new loves, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Ginny finds she must hold on to her wits . . . and her heart. This time, there are no instructions.

Cover: It’s just… all right. It’s not awesome, but it isn’t bad, either. It probably won’t stop people from picking it up at the bookstore/library, at least.

Before Reading: See, I have this wanderlust issue. Every time any of my friends go to some awesome place like Australia or England or Hawaii, I’m all ZOMG you’d better tell me all the details NOW. That’s why I liked Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes: because it was a virtual trip through Europe. I was hoping for the same thing from The Last Little Blue Envelope.

My Thoughts

I’m not much of a fan of the third person in YA. I mean, it’s perfectly all right in middle grade lit because it’s hard to nail an adolescent kid’s voice. But teen voices are just a little bit easier (although I’m a teen, so maybe it’s easier for me).

ANYWAYS, what I meant to say was that although The Last Little Blue Envelope was in third person, I didn’t mind it much. And although at times it felt like Ginny didn’t react to ANYTHING (understandable, since we couldn’t hear her every thought) the story and the characters more than made up for it.

The story! Darn it, Maureen Johnson did it again. This YA book had a plot that WASN’T romance-centered! I can’t tell you how happy this made me, even though I actually like romance. And there sure was some swoon-worthy romance in this book, even if it wasn’t the focal point of the book.

Remember Keith from the first book? The shaggy-haired, crazy British boy? I didn’t fall for him last time. But then in the beginning of The Last Little Blue Envelope he had to say, “Merry Christmas, yeah?”

And this is totally stupid, but then I got this HUGE crush on him. I’m already in love with British accents, and when a British guy ends a sentence with “yeah?” it’s fatal. FATAL. Plus, he got rid of that shaggy hair. Anyways, this intense crush lasted about two seconds, because then we’re introduced to the mysterious Oliver, who is TOTALLY British. And Keith is a major douche to this poor dude who I couldn’t bring myself to hate.

And when anybody messes with my British crush, I start hating on them.

But seriously. Keith was downright cruel to Oliver, and it was pretty obvious it wasn’t just because Oliver, um, made Ginny sign to give him half the proceeds from the piece of art they go around Europe to collect. He blackmailed her.

But that does NOT give Keith the right to cover Oliver with snow when he’s sleeping in bed. UGH. It made me hate Keith so much. That bully.

I just realized that I’m talking about these characters like they’re real people. Actually, since Artemis Fowl, I haven’t felt so strongly for some allegedly bad guy. Come on, Artemis Fowl isn’t BAD. HE ISN’T. I only stopped liking him because now he’s younger than I am. *sobs* OHWAIT there’s a new AF book out. He’s GOT to be sixteen in that one.

Anyways, I digress. The point is, Maureen Johnson has an amazing gift: she makes characters come to life. They’re real, they’re believable, and if they’re handsome, they’re not so handsome that we have to listen to multiple monologues about the love interest’s jade green eyes or fatally sharp cheekbones or whatever.

It was a lovely change. It’s why I love contemporary so much. It gives fictional teenagers a chance to be real.

That probably made no sense. But that’s one paradox that’s completely true of Maureen Johnson’s books.

My one major complaint is that all the emotions were toned down. Or more accurately, all of Ginny’s emotions were only a hundredth of what I’m used to experiencing through fictional protagonists. I’m still trying to figure out if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

Parting Thoughts: I ended up loving The Last Little Blue Envelope. That may or may not have to do with the awesome ending OR Oliver OR England OR my temporary satiation of wanderlust. I totally soaked up British (!) and of course European culture and I LOVED it. Whatever it was, it worked. Better than the first book.

Rating: 4/5. 

Thursday, 22 December 2011

A General Update

So. *clears throat* I got a Kindle.

*eye twitches* What? Don’t look at me like that! I still love my paper books. I promise. It’s just that… this Kindle is so sleek and shiny and pretty and useful that I have an urge to say “my preciousssssss” and hug it every time I see it. Blame Amazon for making them so darn portable and compact and awesome.

ANYWHO, this means that I can now read all those classics I said I’d get around to reading sometime, since they’re free and I don’t have much of an excuse to NOT read them. I’m also going to be taking a vacation of sorts to a place I cannot disclose because I’m paranoid. So my posts might become sporadic after the new year, although I’ll try my best to keep updating.

Also, a wonderful friend gifted Clockwork Prince for me. Needless to say, I regularly hug the book and whisper “my preciousssss” to it as well. Gollum must be related to me somehow.

Which reminds me: The Hobbit is coming out soon! And so is Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn! And The Hunger Games! 2012 will be an AWESOME year for movies.

And since this is a very rambly post without a point, I’ll just say this: my favourite books (that I’ve read, I mean) of 2011 are:

  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. Oh, gosh. Hassan!
  • Chime by Franny Billingsley. It’s absolutely beautiful.
  • Plain Kate by Erin Bow. Taggle is so amazing I have to say it here, too.
  • Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta. SO beautiful, this book.
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. It’s not YA, but easily the best book I read this year.
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. Ditto the above comment.

Watch out for a guest blog for Nafiza. I’ll post a link as soon as it’s up on her blog.

And now, peeps, I leave you with this: my favourite song right now. Thank me later. (Get it get it get it?)

http://youtu.be/3hgFP8p5Suk

Monday, 19 December 2011

Review- Plain Kate by Erin Bow

Summary (goodreads):

Plain Kate lives in a world of superstitions and curses, where a song can heal a wound and a shadow can work deep magic. As the wood-carver’s daughter, Kate held a carving knife before a spoon, and her wooden talismans are so fine that some even call her “witch-blade”: a dangerous nickname in a country where witches are hunted and burned in the square.

For Kate and her village have fallen on hard times. Kate’s father has died, leaving her alone in the world. And a mysterious fog now covers the countryside, ruining crops and spreading fear of hunger and sickness. The townspeople are looking for someone to blame, and their eyes have fallen on Kate.

Enter Linay, a stranger with a proposition: In exchange for her shadow, he’ll give Kate the means to escape the angry town, and what’s more, he’ll grant her heart’s wish. It’s a chance for her to start over, to find a home, a family, a place to belong. But Kate soon realizes she can’t live shadowless forever — and that Linay’s designs are darker than she ever dreamed.—

Cover: OMG LOVE. We need more covers like these in YA, people. I swear, every time I pick up the book I stare at that city and try to disapparate into it. HEY WHERE IS MY HOGWARTS LETTER I KNOW ALL THE SPELLS ALREADY *cries*

Before Reading: so BOTH Eden and Nafiza recommended it to me, and since I trust them and their enormous reading brains, I was pretty excited to read this. But I mean, I’d read How I Live Now right before this one, so I was like, “Hmm, I don’t know, maybe this won’t be as good…”

My Thoughts

So I usually get this weird pinched expression on my face when I’m proved wrong, like I accidentally licked a lemon or something. (Although I don’t know why I’d accidentally do something that weird.) But when I read Plain Kate and berated myself for thinking that maybe it was plain after all, I was glad to be proved wrong.

Because guys, this book is AMAZING. For one, it’s fantasy, which makes it pretty much a win in my case, and on top of that it features the best talking cat in the history of talking cats: Taggle. I love Taggle so much that if I ever get a cat I’m going to name it after him.

When I read The Knife of Never Letting Go and it featured the most awesome talking dog in history, I told myself I’d name my dog Manchee. And that got me thinking: Taggle and Manchee are so amazing that I’d love to see them both battle it out for Most Awesome. Because I can’t decide, people. I just can’t decide.

Also, this is a YA without a romance.

I repeat: this is a YA without a romance. You can’t read it wrong twice, can you? Because it’s true! That Plain Kate (who is NOT plain, so somebody please tell her that) doesn’t need a guy to make her interesting because she is most definitely not a Mary Sue or a Bella or some bland YA girl we’re all supposed to live through because WE don’t meet hot angels and werewolves every day.

ANYWHO, I mention this because I am a fan of romance in YA because okay, I live through these girls when it comes to meeting hot werewolves *resists urge to howl at moon* but this book?

It doesn’t need a romance. Because *gasp* it has a burning story to tell. It’s so well-plotted, so intricate, so amazing and breathtakingly intertwined that I didn’t even remember all that Team This! or Team That! shiz. This blows my mind, peeps. I like a book without a romance that is NOT a middle-grade!

OH MY GOSH.

I thought my excitement for this book would die down in a day or two, which is why I waited a while before writing this review. But as you can see from my babbly, breathless rambling review, I obviously love this book.

And I didn’t even mention the writing! I love it so, so much because dude, it’s simple but it’s not. I recall someone somewhere calling it “deceptively simple,” and it’s SO true. Because it was through this wonderful simple prose that Plain Kate’s story came alive and still pops up in my head from time to time.

And the Roamers? And Linay, the most well-rounded villain I’ve read in YA to date? LOVE LOVE LOVE. These people are so real I feel like I can touch their hair and smile shyly and ask them if I can please join their awesome club. But sadly, they’re not real. But Erin Bow convinced me otherwise. Also, she’s Canadian. ’Nuff said.

This review cannot contain any more of the awesomeness that is Plain Kate so I’m going to stop talking now.

Parting Thoughts: what? You really thought I was going to stop talking? Not a chance, peeps. I never stop talking. Anyways: read this book. You will not regret it. And if you somehow do regret it, we need to have a talk, you and I.

Rating: 5/5. All that love couldn’t be for nothing, could it?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

How Do YOU Feel About Religion in YA?

I recently did a post about racism and typecasting in YA, and that got me thinking: what about religion? Is it welcome in YA? Is there a way to incorporate it into a mainstream YA book without the book being automatically relegated into the ethnic/religion section?

I’m the sort of person who’s always thirsty for knowledge (the teen years consist of the absorption stage, according to local genius Nafiza), especially about people. I don’t mind reading about religion in YA; I appreciate when an author mentions it, actually. It shows a different sort of bravery, casually mentioning someone’s religion without making it an “I’m so confused about myself and where I belong” type of book. Although I don’t mind those sorts of books, either.

On, the other hand, a book can talk down to you or take a preachy turn, which is always something I’ve hated both in real life and in books. But when religion is handled well, whether in a negative light or a positive one, I wouldn’t mind reading that sort of book.

So I’m fine with it. (update: although, like the awesome Dalya Moon says, I wouldn’t necessarily incorporate it into my writing) I can even suggest some good books that handle religion well. (Okay, I can suggest like, two.) But I’m curious, peeps. How do you, as readers of YA, feel about religion in books? Are you comfortable with it, or do you run as far as you can the other way at the mere mention of it? Tell me about it!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Review- Flawless by Lara Chapman

Summary (goodreads):

Sarah Burke is just about perfect. She’s got killer blue eyes, gorgeous blond hair, and impeccable grades. There’s just one tiny-all right, enormous-flaw: her nose. But even that’s not so bad. Sarah’s got the best best friend and big goals for print journalism fame.

On the first day of senior year, Rock Conway walks into her journalism class and, well, rocks her world. Problem is, her best friend, Kristen, falls for him too. And when Rock and Kristen stand together, it’s like Barbie and Ken come to life. So when Kristen begs Sarah to help her nab Rock, Sarah does the only thing a best friend can do-she agrees. For someone so smart, what was she thinking?

This hip retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac is filled with hilariously misguided matchmaking, sweet romance, and a gentle reminder that we should all embrace our flaws.

Cover: It’s eye-catching, definitely, but how long does her forehead go on? Where’s the hairline?

Before Reading: I ordered Flawless from the library because a) it was a book about, well, insecurities, and b) that’s something I can totally relate to.

My Thoughts

Flawless was a mixed bag for me, really. Like, okay, Sarah has this ginormous nose, and she obsesses about it all the time, thinking that she’s like, totally ugly or whatever, and yet she ends up having two super-hot guys like her. Hmm.

I guess I should explain a bit of the story before going on. See, Sarah, like I said before, has a giant nose, while her best friend is perfect. They both end up liking the same guy (named Rock. I won’t even comment on that), but it turns out that he’s actually passionate about literature, which is totally not Kristen’s forte. So Kristen enlists Sarah’s help in feeling equal to Rock’s smartness.

I have one major problem with this. Not with the light, pretty predictable story, mind; just with the fact that Sarah is such a doormat. Kristen asks Sarah to reply to Rock’s super-smart Facebook messages, and she barely ever says please. It’s always something like “Facebook. Now.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d be pissed about being talked to like that, no matter how familiar you are with someone. Especially if you’re doing them a huge favour.

But it turns out that this is what Sarah needs to overcome, because honestly, all I saw Kristen as was a manipulator. And Rock was- well, I failed to see the appeal. He was one of those fictional love interests who’s like, complete wish fulfilment. A SUPER hot guy who’s read everything under the sun in his seventeen years? Yeah, sure.

Moving on to the good points. I actually liked Jay Thomas a lot more than Rock. He’s blond and funny and sweet and dedicated and what’s not to like? Unfortunately, Sarah fails to see the appeal and keeps lusting after Rock.

And then there was the whole journalism aspect of the story. I really liked that, because I’m very interested in journalism myself, whether it’s print/online or broadcast. It turns out that both were very prevalent in Flawless, so yay.

The ending was a little too cupcakes-and-forever for me, though. It almost gave me a cavity with all that sweet goodness. Eurgh.

Overall, this book was a lukewarm experience for me. I liked all the cool quotes on beauty at the beginning of every chapter, and some of the characters (like Jay Thomas!) but I felt a little cheated in the end. I wanted Jay Thomas to be more, well, prominent in the story. Only Sarah keeps lusting after a guy too perfect to be true.

Parting Thoughts: I’d recommend this book if you’ve read Cyrano. (I haven’t read the play, btw.) It didn’t work out for me, personally, but you might just like it if you’re into modern retellings.

Rating: 3/5. 

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Woes about Paranormal

I’ve realized that in YA, most books have a mishmash of family, crushes, friendships, and the lovely “finding yourself” journey. I’ve also noticed that this stuff is usually (not ALWAYS, but usually) dealt with more thoroughly in contemporary YA than say, paranormal romance (PNR).

I’m not saying that I prefer one over the other. (Okay, I do.) But the fact that in most PNRs I’ve read so far a) have missing/negligent parents, b) friends that disappear as soon as the supernatural dude (who never has to work out to keep his inexplicable six packs) comes along, which brings us to c) a very, very unhealthy love interest, and/or d) a weak heroine that doesn’t want to find HERSELF; oh, no, she wants to find that angel/vampire/werewolf/whatever.

I’m hoping that this is just a passing trend, people riding on the giant Twilight wave that swept the world, but… this is why I prefer contemporary. (Oops, I said it.)

So I’m asking YOU lovely people: can you please recommend to me a YA paranormal that does not have any of those annoying tropes in it? I will love you forever (even more than I love you already for reading this) if you find me a paranormal book that I will fall head over heels in love with and forget that I don’t like paranormal all that much.

Bring on the recommendations, peeps! Convince me! Resurrect the credibility of paranormal!

Monday, 5 December 2011

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

Summary (goodreads):

Jessica thinks her life is over when she loses a leg in a car accident. She’s not comforted by the news that she’ll be able to walk with the help of a prosthetic leg. Who cares about walking when you live to run?

As she struggles to cope with crutches and a first cyborg-like prosthetic, Jessica feels oddly both in the spotlight and invisible. People who don’t know what to say, act like she’s not there. Which she could handle better if she weren’t now keenly aware that she’d done the same thing herself to a girl with CP named Rosa. A girl who is going to tutor her through all the math she’s missed. A girl who sees right into the heart of her.

With the support of family, friends, a coach, and her track teammates, Jessica may actually be able to run again. But that’s not enough for her now. She doesn’t just want to cross finish lines herself—she wants to take Rosa with her.

Cover: I LOVE IT. The lovely plain white, the amazing font, the way it’s been slightly smudged, and even the shoes hanging from the R. Seriously. It’s why I picked up the book in the first place.

Before Reading: I didn’t know ANYTHING about this book. I think I saw the cover once on That Cover Girl, but other than that, I had zero exposure to The Running Dream. I saw it on display at my local library, and I decided to borrow it.

My Thoughts

I really don’t know WHAT I expected. Sure, I thought I’d read a good contemporary. I thought I’d learn something.

And in the end, I went through an entire journey. I came out a winner, too, because every time I think of Jessica, it inspires me to try a little harder, give up a little later, and above all, appreciate life a hell of a lot more.

The growth that the protagonist Jessica goes through is truly amazing. Like, seeing her at the beginning, all down about life (who wouldn’t be, after an amputation) and then the end- wow.  I’m a Wendelin van Draanen fan now, and I’m going to get her book Flipped the next time I go to the library.

The other characters shone, too. Fiona, Jessica’s best friend, was amazing. I can think of more than one person right now who’d drift away from Jessica just because she isn’t exactly normal now. It’s tough to say, but it’s true. And I know you guys know it, too. But Fiona stuck with Jessica through thick and thin, so I liked her as much as Jessica.

Rosa, the math genius with cerebral palsy, was also a vibrant character I saw as a person, instead of someone with a disability. And you know what? That’s exactly what she wanted.

And Gavin Vance was more than a little swoony. I mean, come on. Smart AND handsome? That’s a total win. So yeah, I’m a little bit in love with him. *blushes*

There were so many things about The Running Dream that made it stand out from other YA books. Like, for one, there isn’t a central romance. I suppose I’d normally have missed it a little, but in the end, for this story, the romance being a subplot was the best thing. Jessica and Gavin’s relationship was real, believable, and most importantly, realistic.

And secondly, Jessica’s struggles were like, heroic. Seriously. Imagine being a runner and then being in an accident that takes away your leg. That’s like someone gouging out a reader’s eyes. But the important thing was, Jessica had grit. She plowed forward no matter what, and I feel truly lucky to have read about such an amazing journey.

Oh, and I keep having to remind myself that this isn’t a REAL story. But it might as well be; I’m sure many amputee runners have faced the same problems, and Jessica is that rare character that jumps off the page. (Incidentally, the only other example I can think of like right now is Jessica Darling. Is it something about the name?)

The prose was quiet and steady, and this particular example took my breath away with its stunning simplicity:

Oh, and prior to this passage, Jessica’s dad is talking very technically about what things are going to be needed for Jessica’s fake leg.

He sounds like he knows what he’s talking about.

But really he’s a self-employed handyman.

And I’m not something he can fix.

Pretty in-your-face, right? I loved it.

Parting thoughts: Please read this book. It’s about real-life struggles, and it gave me strength and made me thankful for everything I have. Plus, Gavin is pretty swoony. Just saying. Smart and handsome- you know what I’m talking about.

Rating: 4.5/5. The Running Dream just took that from me, effortlessly.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Review- Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

Summary (goodreads):

 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.

Cover: I wasn’t particularly impressed by it when I saw it onscreen, but in real life, the cover is actually pretty cool.

Before Reading: I’m pretty sure that the awesome Eden recommended this one to me, and since she has very good taste in books, I trusted her on this one. And I’m SO glad I did.

My Thoughts

So, Five Flavors of Dumb (henceforth referred to as FFOD because I’m lazy) is about a deaf girl. But what’s special about the book is that it isn’t ABOUT her deafness; it’s about her life. Good contemporary manages to bring up a topic without centering on how difficult it is living with something. And FFOD did just that.

So, well, since I really can’t think properly enough right now to form cohesive paragraphs on my thoughts on this book (it was THAT good) I’m going to outline just what blew my mind about Five Flavors of Dumb.

First off, the author is a guy, which is rare enough in YA, but you know what? Antony John has become one of my favourite authors because he can emulate a teenage girl’s voice exceptionally well- better than some female YA authors, which I believe is a commendable accomplishment.

Second, I am a HUGE fan of music. But I’m very mainstream. (I think I’d be one of those screamy girls crying at concerts, too, but I am what I am.) But this book introduced me to something very different: rock music.

Dude, I hate rock music.

But by the end of FFOD, I wanted to YouTube Nirvana’s songs and learn about Jimi Hendrix and immerse myself in something I didn’t previously like. And come on, when a book opens your mind like that, it’s a GOOD sign.

Thirdly, there is a love interest who is NOT a stalker (okay, that doesn’t happen in contemporary anyways, but still) who is NOT perfect/popular/way too muscular for a teenage guy/brooding/loner/the list goes on and on and on.

What I’m trying to say is, Ed Chen was NORMAL. And that’s why I absolutely loved him. He was a little nerdy, a little awkward, and a nice guy. He was real. Finally, a love interest that isn’t ridiculously perfect! (Okay, this is contemporary. But it’s still YA!) I totally fell for him.

I liked Finn, Piper’s little brother, until I realized that he’s a freshman, so he’s about two years younger than me. That’s a little awkward. But he’s so sensitive and cute!

Actually, I also liked Josh, the lead singer of the band Dumb in the beginning. I KNOW. All you peeps who’ve read this book are going to be like WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU and HOW COULD YOU and all that stuff, but until we realize that he’s a complete douche, he’s actually kind of swoony.

There. I said it. I feel terrible now.

ANYWAYS. My fourth reason for loving FFOD: the supporting cast. Every character had a backstory, and Piper’s family was so three-dimensional (rare for YA) that it made me very, very happy. Also, the twist on the perfect, popular girl Kallie was very welcome as well.

Finally, and most importantly: Piper herself. Not only does the girl have an awesome name, she is pure amazing. She doesn’t go all angsty about not being able to hear. She pushes herself where others wouldn’t. She is SMART, people. What a welcome change. And her character growth? AWESOME.

Parting Thoughts: if this doesn’t convince you to read Five Flavors of Dumb– COME ON. A swoony BUT real-life-type love interest? Check. Smart, grounded protagonist? Check. Amazing cast of supporting characters? Check. Complete awesomeness? CHECK.

Rating: 5/5.

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