Monday, May 18, 2015

A Genovian for a new Generation: From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess

From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess by Meg Cabot (Middle School Princess #1)
Feiwel and Friends, Expected Release Date: May 5, 2015

*ARC provided by the publisher - thank you! This in no way impacted my opinions on this book.*

Olivia Grace Clarisse Mignonette Harrison is pretty normal as far as twelve year olds are concerned. Except for her super long name and the fact that she lives with her aunt and uncle's family because her mom died and her dad sends letters but has never met her because he's always working around the world. Sure they don't let her do much of the things her cousins do, but she's happy with her friends, doing math, and practicing drawing so she can someday be an wildlife illustrator. But everything changes one day when the school bully threatens to pound her and the truth comes out: Olivia's dad is the Prince of Genovia, making her Mia's half sister and a princess herself. There's nothing normal about her life now!

I was lucky enough to have grown up with the Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot, and as soon as I found out that this book and another Princess Diaries novel, Royal Wedding, would be coming out this summer, I decided to reread the series. While I wouldn't consider the books that old, I was surprised by the discovery that my adolescence is now far enough away that it's practically historical fiction. This new series will allows for a whole new generation of readers to enter the world of Genovia and the challenges of growing up a modern-day princess. Readers don't have to know Mia's story to love Olivia's, but for those who are familiar with the previous series are in for a treat. It was so fun to see Mia, Grandmere, and Prince Philip from a new point of view.

While the previous novels were young adult, Olivia's story is firmly in the land of middle grade, but don't let her age deter you from reading. She's smart. She's clever. She has a flare for the dramatic (like her sister) but is also incredibly grounded. More than anything, she's a girl who wants to do good and be loved, and her adventure is just getting started. This story is told in her journal entries as well as via text messages, an update from the "old time" practice of writing notes to friends. Another wonderful bonus is that this book has also been illustrated by Cabot herself, letting us see more of Olivia's perspective a bit more literally.

All in all, if you're a fan of cute contemporary stories or know someone who is, pick up this book. In her usual feel-good fashion, Cabot has created another heroine for readers to root for and by her side, growing pains feel a little more bearable.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Meg Cabot's Website
Meg Cabot on Twitter
Meg Cabot on Tumblr

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Someone to Watch Over Me: Saint Anything

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
Viking Juvenille, Expected Release Date: May 5, 2015

*ARC provided by the publisher at ALA Midwinter - Thank you! This in no way impacted my opinions of this book.*

Sydney has spent her whole life in the shadow of Peyton, the older brother she idolizes. He's always had a way about him, something that's made him the center of everything, even when he started to get in trouble. In fact, he's still sun that their entire family revolves around when he's locked away in jail after his drunk driving left another boy in a wheelchair. Her mom acts as if Peyton was the victim, her father is barely around, and Sydney is wracked with guilt about her brother's actions, her best still never being good enough. But positive changes come into Sydney's life in unlikely places - at a new school where she doesn't know anyone and at a family run pizza place with pies too perfect for words. The Chathams are completely unlike Sydney's own family - loud, loving, and they actually look at and accept her. Someone finally seems to care about where Sydney is and how she's doing.

A voracious reader, I always have at least a book or two I'm working my way through. But that's the thing - sometimes these 200 page books have felt like work. Saint Anything's 448 pages, however, flew by far too quickly. I was completely enraptured in this story. This was one of those books where the rest of the world disappeared around me whenever I was reading it. Though I have never been in the exact same situation as Sydney, I have felt a lot of the same feelings both in my high school years and even as an adult. It's agonizing to have people looking at you for all the wrong reasons, and such a relief when it happens for the right ones.

While many are describing this as Dessen's darkest novel, I don't think I'd agree with that sentiment. In her 12 published books, Dessen has not shied away from serious topics such as abusive relationships, body image, teen pregnancy, loss, and substance abuse. This story isn't an easy one - there's a lot of anger and hurt, but it's honest and realistic and it made me appreciate this book that much more. While it's true that this author has given us plenty of swoonworthy relationships in her books, they've never just been about romance. The same can be said for Saint Anything. Did I fall for Mac, the oldest boy in the Chatham household, just as hard as Sydney? Oh yes. But I was just as in love with the friendships that make up the core of this story, especially Sydney's with Layla Chatham.

All in all, Saint Anything has to be one of my favorite Sarah Dessen books ever, which is saying something since I have such high praise for her other titles as well. Even though the the subject matter can get dark, it is also full of hope and light, and I already can't wait to reread it.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Sarah Dessen's Website
Sarah Dessen on Twitter

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Short Story Saturday: Irish Girls About Town, Soulmates

Welcome to Short Story Saturday! Each week, I'll talk about a different story from the collection I'm working my way through and offer up some thoughts. I'm currently reading Irish Girls About Town.

Story: Soulmates
Author: Marian Keyes
Summary: Georgia and Joel are soulmates, always having an amazing, wonderful, awe-inspiring relationship that even when things go south, none of their friends can ever fully understand and definitely can't replicate in their own lives.
Thoughts: Hmmm. This was a thought provoking story for sure, and definitely brought up some emotions that I'm embarrassed to say I could identify with. Doesn't everyone know that one person who things just always work out for, whose star shines a little brighter and you are jealous but at the same time impressed and you can't even be mad at them because they're so nice? Yeah, this story tapped right into that side of me, of all of us.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Write from the Heart: To All the Boys I've Loved Before

To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han (To All the Boys I've Loved Before #1)
Simon & Schuster, 2014

There's a hat box under Lara Jean's bed, inside which live the deepest secrets of her heart: letters she's written to each of the boys she has loved. They're not typical love letters, though. They're letters she wrote to fall out of love with them, to spill all of her feelings out onto paper, seal them up, and move on from these crushes she's never admitted to anyone. Lara Jean's life is already undergoing big changes with her big sister heading off to college in Scotland, but things get even more complicated when someone not only discovers her letters, but mails them to the boys they're about. Now she's trying to take care of her dad and little sister along with faking a relationship with Peter - one of her past crushes - in a plan to make each of their current crushes jealous. Only is it really a fake relationship after all?

This was my first time reading a Jenny Han novel, and this world was a lovely, light story to read while on vacation this spring. Over a couple of days, I enjoyed reading about the hijinks and tight corners Lara Jean got herself into, and part of me really admired how she feels things widely and deeply. While the fake relationship plot is something that's certainly been around the block, I loved seeing how some of the various boys responded to getting their letters and how Lara Jean responded in their release. The idea of these almost reverse love letters was clever and cathartic, and fit Lara Jean's sentimental and whimsical personality perfectly.

I'll admit that there were times when I was a bit frustrated with the protagonist since many of the problems she encountered could have been resolved by simply talking to someone or by reigning in her very active imagination that has a flare for the dramatic and romantic. In spite of this, I was still rooting for her, wanting to see her grow up a bit more and see that even though reality isn't as pretty or easy to navigate as her fantasy world, amazing things can still happen even when life gets messy.

If you are a fan of contemporary romance or looking for a book to entertain you for a few hours, pick up To All the Boys I've Loved Before, and keep an eye out for the sequel, P.S. I Still Love You.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Jenny Han's Website
Jenny Han on Twitter

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Short Story Saturday: Defy the Dark, This Was Ophelia

Welcome to Short Story Saturday! Each week, I'll talk about a different story from the collection I'm working my way through and offer up some thoughts. I'm currently reading Defy the Dark.

Story: This Was Ophelia
Author: Tessa Gratton
Summary: When she's feeling bored with the stuffy life she leads, Phe sneaks out at night to illegal club in town, dresses as a man, and calls herself O to escape, but when she falls in love with Hal, the late-mayor's son, as O, her seemingly small life gets infinitely more complicated.
Thoughts: I'm completely intrigued by this story! The historical setting and the gender constructs that go along with it, the fact that things aren't so different today, and the characters driving the story ask complicated questions of each other and of themselves. If Gratton were to adapt this into a longer story, I'd definitely be interested in reading more.

And that's it for Defy the Dark!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Look Closer: Read Between the Lines

Read Between the Lines by Jo Knowles
Candlewick Press, 2015

*ARC provided by the publisher at ALA Midwinter 2015 - thank you! This in no way impacted my opinions of this book.*

There are some books that I will always be a sucker for, that will always peak my interest, and when I first read about Read Between the Lines, the newest novel by Jo Knowles, two of my favorite things made the list: multiple points of view and an entire book that takes place in one day. Over the course of nine chapters, readers temporarily enter the lives of nine different people. Many of them are students at the same high school, one is an alumni, and one is a current teacher. It's one ordinary day, at least on the surface, but readers can see that people often have much bigger impacts on the lives of others than we realize.

Knowles' prose is particularly strong in that each chapter could probably stand on its own as a short story, however the stories are intricately overlapped and weaved together in a realistic fabric. The villain of one chapter may be the hero in another. Point of view is powerful, and enforces the idea that truth may not be as black and white as we'd like it to be because perspective - literally and metaphorically - can change everything.

I know that this review is not terribly specific, but I don't want to give away specifics that could spoil this book for potential readers. With each chapter focusing on someone else, this was a very quick read. On the flip side of this, I didn't feel like I necessarily got to know some characters particularly well or make connections with them because I wasn't with them for a prolonged period of time. This is a good buy for libraries, and a thought provoking look at how people impact the lives of others, especially when we're not looking.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Jo Knowles' Website
Jo Knowles on Twitter

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Short Story Saturday: Defy the Dark, Where the Light Is

Welcome to Short Story Saturday! Each week, I'll talk about a different story from the collection I'm working my way through and offer up some thoughts. I'm currently reading Defy the Dark.

Story: Where the Light Is
Author: Jackson Pearce
Summary: Will is a miner in a small mining town, miserable and determined to leave someday, but his boring life gets interesting when he comes across a faerie girl who lives far below the earth's surface.
Thoughts: This was lovely! Rooted in reality with a solid dash of fantasy to keep things interesting, a forbidden love, an interesting mythology and two characters who I was genuinely rooting for. I've known about Pearce's writing for years, but this was my first time reading it. This was just the push I needed to finally check out some of her books!