Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012 favorites: SIXTEEN OF THEM.

This is a post I have been dying to do since the beginning of the month when all the blogs started doing this, but I decided to wait until it was a little closer to the end of the year.
Because this is my FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2012 POST. There are 16 of them, and this list only includes books that were PUBLISHED in 2012, although I cannot say I have read all of the books published this year, nor can I say that I didn't discover some new favorites this year that were published prior to 2012.

These are ranked in decreasing-number style, indicating that my #1 favorite is the last one you'll see. 

16. Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
I have been harsh on this book, but it really is one of my favorites of the year. Not necessarily for the story-- I stand firm in my opinion that it was not what it could or should have been-- but the writing. There's no denying Lauren Oliver a spot in your heart when she wants it, and oh, does she want it. If there's a writer out there who reads Lauren Oliver's words and is not overcome with writer-jealousy, they're lying to themselves.

15. Every Day by David Levithan
One of the most unique and unexpected books I've ever read. It made me think, it made me cry, and it made me glad that David Levithan doesn't shy away from writing about things that seem uncomfortable and teaching you that they really aren't.

14. The Story of Us by Deb Caletti
I love me some Deb Caletti, okay? And this book-- even more than Stay, which I'm pretty sure was intended to make you cry-- made me cry more than any of her others. This is the story that never gets told. This is the story of a couple who was comfortable and happy and perfect together, and their relationship fell apart anyway. Not because they turned against each other, but almost because they were too attached. The thing about this book is that it leaves you with the feeling that Cricket and Janssen's breakup might have actually strengthened their relationship. It leaves you with hope, but doesn't spell anything out for you.

13. Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson
There are plenty of books out there that try to combine a light summer romance with a heavy personal story, but none this year have done so quite as well as Second Chance Summer. I was ugly-crying by the end of this book, and at the same time the romance aspect had me internally happy-dancing. Great characters, great story, and a real emotional doozy.

12. Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
(Hey, this book came out on my birthday!) Dystopian novels are kind of considered a dime a dozen these days, and as much as I think this is an oversimplification (there may be a formula to dystopias, yes, but they're all different! My love for the dystopian genre prevails because people are always coming up with new worlds in which we'd never want to live, and they're all pretty fascinating), this one surely stands out in the crowd. It's a strange combination of futuristic techno-society and primitive tribal society. The characters, the romance, the world-building, everything seems to be done well and thoroughly in this book. If you're becoming jaded toward dystopias, try this one before you write off the whole genre.

11. Live Through This by Mindi Scott
I don't really want to say much about this book, because the less you know going into it, the better your experience reading it. I'll just say that it's a really important and powerful book, and you should read it.

10. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
If you had any idea how many books I read this year that wished they were this book, you might be concerned. This is the kind of light contemporary romance I long for and so rarely receive. If I can put your book on the same shelf as my Stephanie Perkins books and not feel like it's contaminating the awesome of that shelf, you're doing something right. (full disclosure: this book actually isn't on the shelf with my Perkins books, but the point is that it COULD BE.) The main character isn't a whiny, boy-crazy uptight brat! The love interest has qualities that make him seem like an actual person! They have witty banter and meaningful conversation! YAAAAY.

9. Promised by Caragh M. O'Brien
I. Love. This series. Promised was the perfect ending: bittersweet, heavy on the bitter. I can't actually believe that there are enough books ahead of it to make it number 9. Gaia! Leon! Commitment with absolutely nothing wishy-washy! Science fiction done believably! Supporting characters getting the attention they deserve! READ THIS SERIES.

8. Middle Ground by Katie Kacvinsky
Why haven't I heard from more people who are into this series? I don't get it. Middle Ground is the ideal sequel: it ain't no bridge book. If you ask me, it's better than the first one. The characters are stronger, the story is more interesting, and the overall concept is darker and more disturbing. Which, you know, is exactly what I want. I'm a big fan of escaping into worlds that make me go all NO THIS IS BAD MAKE IT STOP THIS CANNOT HAPPEN, and this book TOTALLY BRINGS IT. Also: relevant. That's all I'll say.

7. City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare
This might be higher on my list if I were more of a Mortal Instruments fan, but we all know I'm an Infernal Devices girl through and through. The Mortal Instruments just don't *get* me like the Infernal Devices do, and that's okay because I still love these books. City of Lost Souls made my inner (okay, not-so-inner) fangirl squee and sob and analyze and just generally not want to put the book down. Mostly this was because of the references to TID, but this book really made me appreciate TMI more as well. I particularly appreciated the way the supporting characters (SIMON. SIMON. SIMON.) became more important in this book, and how the relationships you'd never thought about before were brought into light. You can tell an author really knows and loves her characters when they all have their own connections, rather than false connections that come from having someone in common.

6. Insurgent by Veronica Roth
I finished this book the day after it came out, and I would have read it through the night were I not such a big fan of sleep. It is that good. To be honest with you, I don't really care about the minor plot holes and inconsistencies that everyone seems to think diminish the quality of the book. TRIS. AND. FOUR. Just, ugh. If you're looking for a series where there's real character development and a relationship that actually mimics reality, look no further. Allow me to introduce you to Beatrice Prior and Tobias Eaton.

5. Black Heart by Holly Black
This is a series I could read over and over and over, and Black Heart is once again the perfect ending. I just really love this take on magic (if you want to call it that), and how it's given a twisted criminal side in these books. The love story helps, too. And I have to say, this one is probably my favorite in the whole series, because not a single element of the story is left out of place. Everything in this book has a point. Something may seem small and insignificant, so you forget about it, but then later on it comes back and BAM! Ruins everything. Saves the day. Whichever. All of the dots are connected and Cassel's story is wrapped up in an open-ended kind of way, which only makes sense. I mean, I personally never *really* wanted to feel like I was saying goodbye.

4. The Evolution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
This has been my comprehensive review of The Evolution of Mara Dyer by the infallible Michelle Hodkin.

3. Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan
My first experience with this book was at a signing with Cassie Clare, Holly Black, and Sarah Rees Brennan, during which Sarah read a particularly hilarious (though, really, most of them are particularly hilarious) scene from Unspoken whilst acting it out by unbuttoning her cardigan. And so began my infatuation with this crazy Irish lady (if you're not obsessed with her yet, you soon will be, grasshopper). Fortunately, I had already preordered the book, and then I just had to wait FOR TWO MONTHS for it to come. And oh, I was not disappointed. Sarah said her goal was to give readers something that would make them laugh and cry, and evidently she takes her goals PRETTY SERIOUSLY because I laughed so hard I cried, and then I cried so hard that I went back and reread the parts that made me laugh because I wanted to remember the good ol' times. The times before THAT ENDING. Cruel, evil, and undeniably fabulous.

2. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
THIS. BOOK. I'm about to turn into an incomprehensible mess, because that's what happens every time I try to explain how much I love this book and its characters. The freaking characters, man. To me, every single thing about this book is perfect. It's like, "Hey, I'm going to give you a premise and see what you think: Girl has a prophecy that says she will kill her true love by kissing him. She meets a ghost and finds out that she either kills him or falls in love with him. I know what you're thinking. Obviously she's going to fall in love with him. This is a YA book after all. But oh, I'm going to twist your brain around a little before I tell you whether you're right." The great thing about this book is that no matter what happens, I will love it. I'll love it if Blue falls in love with Gansey, because okay, I'm a little bit in love with Gansey and I want him to have a deep connection with someone other than Adam. But I'll also love it if Blue kills Gansey, because I will be absolutely devastated and I'm a glutton for punishment. And because that would make these books even less trope-y than they already are (which is... well, not at all). It would spin the world's perception of YA on its axis. It would BE TOTALLY GREAT. Allow me to just finish this by listing the numerous other things that make The Raven Boys my perfect book: the friendships, the setting, the magical aspect, the reasonable main character, the weird way my brain connects Gansey and Adam to Gatsby and Nick, Gansey himself (he's a naive teenaged boy with enough confidence and suave to make it okay when he acts like a mature adult), the fact that the characters see each other's weaknesses, the mystery, GOD I NEED TO READ THIS BOOK AGAIN.

1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
So it turns out, if I wanted to find my favorite book of 2012, I didn't have to look very far or for very long. This was the first 2012 book I ever read, and it set the bar so high that no other book could really jump over it. So many good things have been said about TFiOS, oh, I don't know, EVERYWHERE (pretty sure it's on every "Best Books of 2012" list in existence), I don't feel the need to explain why it's my favorite. I just had to say that it is. I can't express the gratitude I feel for having been introduced to Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters.
In the book, Hazel talks about how there are some books that you love in a way that makes you feel like the broken world will never be put back together unless and until everyone reads them, and there are some books that you love in a way that makes you feel like they belong to you and you alone, and it would be a betrayal to announce your love of them to the world. This book is both for me. I think the world would be a better place if everyone were to read it, but at the same time I don't want it to belong to everyone. And I'm pretty sure that's how everyone feels about it.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sometimes Jessamines make their own decisions

This post is in response to this post, which brings up some very good points.

But the thing is, I still mostly hate Jessamine. As a character study in the vapid and boring, she's great. (I'm being serious. She is the way she is for a reason). As a real person, even, who makes mistakes and has faults and sometimes wants the wrong things, she's perfect. But as someone that I can bring myself to like? Not so much. And that's fine. I don't need to like a character for him or her to be a good character-- that's not how it works. So let me get this out of the way: I'm not going to argue that you should hate Jessamine, or that she's a villain (she's not), but I am going to argue that maybe we're supposed to love hating her.

Jessamine is everything that was wrong with how women were viewed in the 19th century. She's got this badass streak a mile wide, and yet she pushes it down and gets more miserable every time she has to use it, because she wants to be a meek little kitten. She wants to be like all the regular women she envies because they don't have to get their hands dirty. Now, you may argue that she wants this because of society's conditioning in that time; she believes women are meant to be passive creatures because that's what The Man has taught her. But if you argue that, you're wrong. Jessamine has spent a good portion of her life in the Institute, being trained to kill demons and the like. With a parasol. She's spent all of that time with Charlotte, who has the kind of power that women so rarely saw back then, and who still manages to be a woman. Being a Shadowhunter hasn't turned Charlotte into any less of a female, so it's not like Jessamine legitimately has that to fear.

Jessamine's fear is not being accepted. And she lets it hold her back. And she judges other girls (read: Tessa) constantly for not wanting the same things as her, for wanting more than the life that's been given to them. Jessamine, she wants less than the life she's been given. She wants simplicity and domesticity and to have a man around to affirm her femaleness. Is there anything wrong with Jessamine wanting different things? No, but there is something wrong with her attitude toward it. She belittles everyone who isn't her idea of the perfect human specimen. She betrays the people who have cared for her since her parents died, the people who affectionately call her Jessie (which, you'll notice, I refuse to do), because she has it in her head that doing so will get her what she wants.

Yes, she was tricked. But at the same time, she knew what she was doing. If we pretend that she had no part in her own demise, that she was an Innocent Pawn in a Game of Evil, we're treating her exactly the way she wanted to be treated. As a passive 1878 girl who simply didn't know any better. But that's the thing-- that has never been who Jessamine is, because if it were, she wouldn't spend so much time fighting against her own life. She may not have known that Nate was never interested in her, but she did know that he was planning on handing Tessa over to Mortmain. Tessa had never done anything to warrant that, but Jessamine chose Nate anyway because she saw something in it for herself. She's selfish, and that's a quality that just does not fly with me.

And then, when Jem and Tessa go to visit her in the Silent City, she teases them. She mocks Tessa for having feelings for both Jem and Will, and she teases Jem-- Jem! Tell me, what kind of person teases Jem?!?*-- for not being able to keep his hands off Tessa on the way there. As if she has any right to talk, Miss I-Betrayed-You-All-For-A-Nefarious-Psychopath.

So yes, I do think Jessamine is a victim, rather than a villain. But I'm not just talking about what Nate did to her. She's her own victim because she brought this on herself, too.

To sum up, there are reasons to like Jessamine:
1. She usually says what she's thinking-- especially if it's snarky. (her "perfectly reasonable fear of annoying idiots" quote is one of my favorites)
2. She's a fascinating character.
3. She's not a villain.

But my reasons for hating her are:
1. She wants to be the victim...
2. ...but that's not all she is.
3. She's selfish.
4. The things that come out of her mouth fill my feminist self with such disgust that I almost want her off the page completely.
5. I almost respect her too much to label her as "poor naive Jessamine."

*Other than Will, who is allowed.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Review: Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill

This was a book for which I harbored a decent amount of anticipation, due to the fact that it was recommended to me based on my love for Stephanie Perkins (!!!), Sarah Ockler and Jennifer E. Smith. The good news: the comparisons make sense. The bad news: it doesn't quite live up to any of the above.


  • Julia Lichtenstein, aka "Book Licker," strikes me as one of those characters who a lot of amateur reviewers (myself included) may be tempted to write off as "annoying." But I hate that, as it's not a useful description of any character, so I'm not going to do that. My problems with Julia are a lot more complicated than that, anyway. You see, Julia's a lot like me in the sense that we'd both rather stay in and read a book than go to a party with a bunch of strangers. We don't think we're not fun, but we know that other people might see us that way no matter how much we want to convince them otherwise. But Julia is so uptight all the time, I almost couldn't handle her. The perfectly-aligned bathroom supplies. The memorizing of her phone number via Shakespeare's birthday (highly coincidental, too, considering Shakespeare is her favorite author-- that was a real reach)-- oh, and that one number left over that she just couldn't possibly remember was 4 unless she reminded herself that it was her GPA (also a reach-- you're basically just driving home the point that she's a goody two-shoes, which I already got, thankyouverymuch*). The girl is so rule-oriented that you almost fear she might have Asperger's or something-- until you realize that she's also got a boy-crazy streak a mile wide. All the time she doesn't spend perfectly arranging her messenger bag and taking copious notes, she spends thinking about her MTB, which is text-speak for "meant to be." Because evidently grammatical rules don't apply to text messages for this compulsive know-it-all. She constantly texts her best friend in annoying shorthand that no intelligent people have actually used since 2007. She daydreams about a guy back home who seems not to know she exists, texts with a mysterious guy she doesn't remember, and gallivants around London with a boy who might actually be perfect for her-- but she's too busy judging him and all of his friends to see it! She's in one of those situations where she hates the popular girls because they judge her, so she thinks it's okay for her to judge them (hello? How do you not see that you are doing the same thing to them that they do to you?). Only the problem is that their judgments of her are mostly accurate, while hers of them are not. We have talked about girl-hate, right? Because that's what's going on here. She's assuming that these girls are all shallow, vapid label-mongers with nothing inside their pretty little heads, just because she's never seen them read Austen or Shakespeare. Just because they can find something entertaining about a guy who doesn't take himself too seriously. I understand that this frame of mind is what set her up for the character development she would inevitably experience upon realizing that she was wrong about them, but SHEESH. That pedestal she put herself on sure did make it easy for her to look down on everyone else, and it got old.
  • Luckily, Julia's character was my main problem with this book. Jason Lippincott was kind of a shining star here. If not a wholly original character (Logan Echolls, is that you?!), he certainly contributed to the overarching message that people are, in essence, complicated. He brought just the right amount of realism to Julia's romantic ideals, and just the right amount of ridiculousness to her seriousness. I mean, she's walking in the park with her supposed MTB (who is not Jason Lippincott) and he's so jealous he starts doing random cartwheels and running into things, causing her to run into people and general havoc to be wreaked. While Julia's combination of structured and idealistic made next to no sense to me, Jason's combination of carefree and cynical actually worked. Also I loved that he did not instantly fall in love with Julia (because honestly, who would?). He tries to help her. He fights with her. He forgives her. He calls her a pain in the ass. He realizes that there may be other girls who make him feel the way she does, and that's okay, but he chooses her. And he makes her realize that that's what it's about-- not soulmates, not destiny, just choice.
  • Reminding myself that "all stories have been told before," I'm going to ignore the nagging feeling I had that this book was trying too hard to be Anna and the French Kiss (or even a critique of Anna, with its "blegh, Paris" attitude). The plot was decent. It was not earth-shattering, but it kept me reading. Parts of it almost read like a mystery, but maybe that was just my brain trying to figure out how Jason was finding out all the things he knew about Julia. I hope it was intentional, because that was the part that gripped me the most. I wanted to know what he was up to. You've got one text from Julia to Phoebe saying "What's your favorite line from Shakespeare?" and then almost immediately you've got Jason misquoting that very line. [How Julia didn't remember it, I don't know, because later on she states-- without having seen the response from Phoebe-- that they have the same favorite line.] Suspicious, no?
  • There were some plot holes with regard to the twist at the end and how it related to things that happened earlier, but at this point in the review I doubt anyone would be like OMGZ NOOOO  PLOT HOLES THE TRAGEDY I SHAN'T READ THIS BOOK! If you've read to this point and still think you might want to read it, go for it. The plot holes are not *that* major.
  • The pacing was pretty good, too. Definitely no insta-love between the two main characters (between the main character and other characters, though...). It pretty perfectly alternates between lighthearted moments and serious ones, and I love that the characters don't dwell on either too much.
  • There were some laugh-out-loud moments for me, though I haven't committed them to memory.
  • That scene in the rain, on the grass, in the mud... Yeah. That... that was good. [Though, once again, eerily similar to the Anna scene in the park.]
 *an entirely overused phrase/word in the book

Overall Rating: 
Somewhere between "love" and "hate."