Category Archives: Books

Sarah Dessen, Revisited

Whenever I finish reading a new Sarah Dessen book, I want to reread some of her earlier work. Usually I resist because I want to keep up with my reading goals. Not to mention, with thirteen books published, there are almost too many choices. However, this summer saw me with more free time than usual, which meant more reading. In a time of transition I once again turned to a favorite book. And then another. And another. It was all Sarah Dessen, all the time.

The Truth about Forever

I reread The Truth About Forever, Just Listen, and Saint Anything. The Truth about Forever is a fan favorite, one that I loved at the age of 15 and had certainly read more than once in the past. Just Listen is one of the few Dessen novels that I had mediocre feelings about, only to hear multiple coworkers and friends list it among their favorites. Saint Anything is her second-to-last book, released in 2015. I really liked it at the time but had only read it once. It was an interesting cross-section of her work, which I’ve been wanting to revisit for years.

Back in 2004, I remember being nervous about The Truth about Forever. I had loved This Lullaby with such a passion, and I didn’t want my favorite author to disappoint me. Then she published a novel that was equal to, if not better than the previous book. As an adult reader, the premise is still appealing. The crew at Wish Catering is one of Sarah’s best supporting casts, and who wouldn’t want to be whisked away into a quirky new social group. Wes is also one of her most swoon-worthy love interests: the thoughtful, artistic boy with a checkered past. It’s still a humorous and touching book with amazing character details.

Just Listen

Just Listen was her very next novel, and in my mind the stakes finally got too high. It may have been the similarities of Annabel’s problems to those of the previous narrator, or I may have been bothered by the made-up musicians and band names. Quite possibly I was just a jaded seventeen-year-old who was a bit of a music snob and transitioning to adult fiction. For whatever reason, Just Listen flopped for me in 2006, and I hadn’t read it since. In 2017 I’m still a music lover but significantly less snobby about it. I also have an easier time accepting a fictional reality in a realistic fiction book. More than ten years later, I could finally see why so many other readers connected with this story.

I wasn’t planning to move on to Saint Anything, especially since I noticed during my first two rereads that all three of these books cover themes of holding in emotions and feeling unheard. I also remembered drawing comparisons between Mac and Wes when I first read Saint Anything, along with some of the other supporting characters. Of course, there’s a limit to the varieties of floppy-haired teenage dreamboats, and authors tend to touch on similar themes throughout their work. Despite having just read the other two books, the similarities in Saint Anything didn’t really bother me. And not just because I’m completely biased! Isn’t the struggle to feel understood and to be seen the way we want to be seen a central part of the adolescent experience? Nobody ever got mad at Hemingway for writing about the psychological aftermath of the First World War.

Saint Anything

I was curious, and admittedly somewhat afraid, to see how my tastes had changed over the years. And while there were moments that affected me differently, I found myself more open to enjoy plotlines and characters that had once disinterested me. As a teenager, I also considered The Truth about Forever to be quite profound. The philosophizing didn’t seem as mind-blowing now, but it didn’t prevent me from enjoying the story. Finally rereading Just Listen reminded me that I probably wasn’t very attracted to Owen as Annabel’s love interest. But tastes change—thank God—and it’s easier to see the appeal of a boy with a penchant for honesty and a beyond-obscure public radio show.

Rereading these books was a way to get back in touch with myself, to see how I’ve changed and how I’ve stayed the same. It always helps to feel grounded in yourself when your life is going through changes. I’m so glad that sixth-grade Courtney picked up her first Sarah Dessen book and found an author whose work would be with her sixteen years later.

 

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A New Wave of YA is Coming

After several years of being less engaged with the world of young adult books, I find myself looking forward to new releases from many of my favorite authors. 2017 has already been a brighter year for YA with a new book from Sarah Dessen and the discovery of Sabaa Tahir’s series-in-progress. Join me in nerding out over four upcoming books and admiring beautiful cover art.

There’s Someone Inside Your House on September 26!

There's Someone Inside Your House

Stephanie Perkins is a delight in her Anna and the French Kiss trilogy. Having briefly met her at NerdCon: Stories, I can also vouch for the fact that she’s a delight in person. She’s been teasing this book for a while now: like a teen slasher flick but with plenty of kissing and googly eyes (she promises!). It took some time for me to warm up to the idea, but now I’m pumped. I love that she’s willing to work outside of her established patterns. Given the humanity that she can bring to a teenage romance in Paris, I predict that There’s Someone Inside Your House will have more emotional resonance than the average horror story.

Turtles All the Way Down on October 10!

Turtles All the Way Down

By the time this book comes out, it will have been almost six years since the release of The Fault in Our Stars. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if John Green would ever publish again, at least in the YA genre. He’s certainly been keeping busy with creating educational online video. In this case, I’m glad to be wrong. Turtles All the Way Down deals with mental illness, which according to John himself, is inspired by his own experiences with OCD. Although I keep up with John through his online content, I look forward to learning what his brain has been working on these past six years. It’s sure to be thought-provoking.

Truly Devious on January 16!

Truly Devious

As blog readers probably know, my deepest wish is for Maureen Johnson to publish the fourth Shades of London book. Well, it’s vying with a few other literary wishes, but it’s right up there. Luckily, Truly Devious sounds like it has the potential to fill the void. It continues Maureen’s trend of boarding school settings, this time at an American school with ambitious students and a mysterious founder. If I can’t have ghost detectives in London, I’ll take a regular teen detective in Vermont. Not to mention, the cover art is on point!

A Reaper at the Gates on April 10!

A Reaper at the Gates

This is the third book in Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series. Since I just caught up with the series this spring, a year isn’t too long to wait for the next installment. However, there was much confusion when I saw the cover. A quick search revealed that the entire series is be re-released with new cover art. I’m not a huge fan of the high fantasy mood of the new designs, not being a frequent fantasy reader myself, but this interview with Sabaa explains her motivation for showing the faces of her diverse characters. The second book left the three main characters in unexpected places, so I’m excited to see where she takes them.

It’s worth noting that only one of these books is a sequel. There are fresh ideas brewing in the YA world, and I’m all about it.

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A Young Adult Fantasy Gem

An Ember in the Ashes

It’s been a while since I was truly excited about a young adult book, in part because I haven’t read very many in the past year or two. There was a stretch of time when every new book was reminding me of The Hunger Games or The Fault in Our Stars. However, when a book is independently recommended to me by two well-read lady friends, I take notice. That book is An Ember in the Ashes.

Young adult, like every literary genre, is lacking in diversity. This applies to both authors and character representation. So it’s wonderful to see a Pakistani-American author receiving well-deserved recognition for this book. In An Ember in the Ashes, you will find a society based on the Roman Empire in a desert climate with a variety of characters who aren’t white (!). Tahir builds an immersive world with a strict class system, slavery, and soldiers who are trained from childhood. The stakes are high for characters in every social sphere.

The narration is split between Laia and Elias. Laia was born into the oppressed Scholar class. When her brother is arrested for suspected collaboration with the Resistance, she is forced to become a slave in her attempt to save him. Laia isn’t the typical heroine found in fantasy adventure stories. She doesn’t start out as tough, capable, and fearless, but circumstances push her to challenge her fears. Most importantly, her understanding of herself and her family evolves as she faces these trials. Hers is a classic coming-of-age journey.

On the other hand, Elias has been trained since boyhood to join the ranks of the Empire’s most lethal assassins. Although Elias holds a privileged position, his ambiguous parentage and nontraditional upbringing give him an outsider’s perspective. He can’t speak out against the brutality of the Empire without risking death. Tahir is highly successful at bringing out the contradictions and messy emotions in this character as well. Elias objects to the role he’s expected to play, but he also loves the comrades with whom he grew up.

My friend Emmie and I were discussing how authors sometimes struggle to continue a series after a promising start. She suggested that those authors didn’t have a specific idea of where they were headed when the began the series. In addition, I think that the pressure to make each book more epic and action-packed sometimes causes the emotional threads of the story to get buried. Sabaa Tahir has planned four books for this series. I will be reading A Torch Against the Night soon and hope to love it nearly as much as An Ember in the Ashes. Even if she falls into some of the fantasy series traps, she’s a young writer with tons of potential for the future. I look forward to following her career!

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When Authors Are Torturers

Every book lover knows that authors are the source of both our greatest joy and our greatest pain. I’m talking about the often excruciating wait that comes between books from our favorite writers. On a rational level, we want them to take as long as needed to produce a quality novel, but on an irrational level, we’re desperate for our next fix. There are several authors whose disrupted publication schedule is keeping me in suspense at the moment, so here’s a rundown.

J.K. Rowling, as Robert Galbraith, was publishing the Cormoran Strike mysteries like clockwork. 2013, 2014, and 2015 each brought an installment. But 2016…nothing. There’s still no publication date for the fourth book, which means we probably won’t see it until fall at the earliest. I realize that she’s been busy, y’know, writing movie scripts and collaborating on plays. But I need more Cormoran and Robin in my life! The Guardian reports that she’s working on two books: the next Cormoran Strike mystery and a novel under her own name. Here’s hoping for the mystery in the latter part of 2017 and the novel in 2018.

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Meeting Rainbow at NerdCon 2015 when Carry On was freshly released

Rainbow Rowell spoiled us by being impressively prolific in her early years of publication. I believe she was already working on Fangirl (or possibly done with it) by the time Eleanor & Park was published, which resulted in two books in 2013. Then she gave us one book a year until 2016. I know she wrote a screenplay for Eleanor & Park, a movie that didn’t get made, and she signed a deal to write two graphic novels. I’ve been so anxious for the first graphic novel collaboration with Faith Erin Hicks. I imagine that the art side is extremely time consuming, but this announcement was made three years ago. Three years!

My last torturer is Maureen Johnson. Maureen has had some serious health shenanigans in the last few years, so I can’t really begrudge her the delay in her publishing schedule. And yet…the last Shades of London book came out two years ago. I miss my favorite irreverent ghost squad! I reread The Name of the Star recently, which was delightful, but it also made me impatient for the fourth book. She also has a new mystery series scheduled to launch this year called Truly Devious. That could almost make up for Shades of London. (Almost.)

fall-2015-011

Also at NerdCon 2015, Maureen Johnson leading a Q&A with the Vlogbrothers

In all seriousness, I love these women and will happily read their books whenever they’re released. 2016 was just a dry year for a lot of my favorite authors. In literature we play the long game, so there’s always something to anticipate.

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Reading Roundup 2016

fall-2016-002

With the help of my trusty friend Good Reads, I have another year of reading data to share. My goal for 2016 was to read 20 books and reread some recent favorites. Well, folks, I read 20 books! And for the first time since I started setting these goals, I finished more than a week before the end of the year.

However, I failed in the rereading part of my goal. This is partially due to the fact that I went back to school part-time in the fall. I’m happy that school doesn’t seem to be restricting my pleasure reading too much, but it does reduce my free time somewhat. As I worked on my Best of 2016 posts, it became clear that I still managed to read many wonderful books. There were impressive second novels from Suzanne Rindell and Eowyn Ivey, two favorites from past years. I’m also pleased that I read four nonfiction books. Hooray for broadening horizons!

In 2017, I will read 20 books and continue trying to reread. 20 feels like a realistic goal, even with the addition of school. Although I don’t have as much time for it, rereading helps me grow as a writer. I’m looking forward to new books from Sarah Dessen and Paula Hawkins—and hoping for something new from Rainbow Rowell and another Cormoran Strike mystery. Happy reading!

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Best of 2016: Book Edition, Part 2

This year I’m in the unusual position of having already written posts about almost every book in my top 5. Sometimes it’s harder to write about books that I really love because I just want to say, “It’s sooooo good,” but I’m happy to have longer musings to offer. Here are my favorite books of 2016!

5. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

Dead Wake Cover

I feel like I’ve read a great deal about World War II and very little about World War I. Thankfully Erik Larson, the wizard of history writing, turned his attention to that era. Dead Wake follows the events leading up to the sinking of the Lusitania, one of the catalysts for the U.S. entering the war in Europe. This being Eric Larson, he gives the full scope of the event, from the ship’s passengers to military intelligence to the soldiers aboard the German submarine. I consider it one of his most fascinating works. (You can read my full review here.)

4. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

the-girl-on-the-train

As Gillian Flynn did in Gone Girl, Paula Hawkins plays with timelines and perspectives. The Girl on the Train follows Rachel, an alcoholic woman who becomes interested in a couple she sees from the train every day. Although this thriller is mainly focused on plot, I keenly felt Rachel’s loneliness and desperation. Other perspectives come from Anna, the new wife of Rachel’s ex, and Megan, the girl she watches from the train. I relished looking into these flawed women’s psyches. (You can read my book-to-film comparison here.)

3. To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

to-the-bright-edge-of-the-world

Eowyn Ivey made us wait four years for her second novel, but this was worth the wait. To the Bright Edge of the World is another piece of exquisite historical fiction set in Alaska. While her first novel focused on quiet moments, this one has plenty of action as Colonel Allen Forrester leads an expedition up the Wolverine River. Yet their journey also contains simple moments of human connection. Back at the military barracks, his wife Sophie pursues an interest in photography that raises eyebrows with the other wives. A beautifully written, beautifully human novel with a hint of the uncanny. (You can read my full review here.)

2. Room by Emma Donoghue

room-cover

Room is a triumph of character voice. The story of a woman held captive in a single room is narrated by her five-year-old son Jack, who has never known the outside world. Even though I committed the cardinal sin of watching the movie first, I could appreciate what Emma Donoghue achieved with this novel. Jack has a distinctive way of speaking that reflects his age and bizarre upbringing. I wanted to jump through the page and hug him, but that’s not to say that the story is saccharine. As was mirrored in the film, Ma and Jack are perfectly imperfect.

1. Three-Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell

three-martini-lunch

Suzanne Rindell is my favorite new author on the literary fiction scene. Three-Martini Lunch deals with three characters searching for literary success in 1958 New York City. As in her first novel The Other Typist, Rindell explores the ways that we present ourselves to others and how small decisions shape our lives. The narrators range from Cliff, a deluded Greenwich Village hipster, to Miles, a black man coming to terms with his identity. Even as they made mistakes, I cared so much for these characters and hated to leave their world. I suspect this isn’t the last time Suzanne Rindell makes my list. (You can read my full review here.)

Thanks for joining me on this year-end review!

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Best of 2016: Book Edition, Part 1

My reading took a somewhat different direction this year. I read very little in the young adult genre, but a lot of mystery and multiple nonfiction works. There were even a few classics because you don’t just stop being an English nerd. Here are my favorite books read in 2016, numbers 10 through 6!

10. Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood by Mark Harris

pictures-at-a-revolution

My Classic Hollywood education has naturally progressed to reading. Pictures at a Revolution follows the production of the 1967 Best Picture nominees and the breakdown of the studio system. The book could have easily been a confusing collection of names, but Mark Harris makes the stories easy to follow without feeling the need to refer back to earlier chapters. Like the best writers of film history and analysis, he brings immediacy to the rebellious beginnings of films that are now established classics. I stayed interested from start to finish.

9. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar

Esther Greenwood is a scholarship student at a prestigious East Coast college doing a summer internship with a women’s magazine in New York City, during which she experiences mental breakdown. Swap Esther Greenwood for Sylvia Plath, and all of these details remain true to her life. While sometimes stressful, The Bell Jar provides spot-on descriptions of the acute pain of depression. Having read a biography of Plath’s early life in 2014, I enjoyed finding the fictional counterparts to real-life people. It’s a tough but worthwhile read.

8. Prayers for Rain by Dennis Lehane

prayers-for-rain

As mentioned in this post, I’ve been reading Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie & Gennaro mysteries this year. I liked all of the books, but Prayers for Rain stands out as a favorite. Being the fifth book about these characters, the emotional threads start to come together in satisfying ways. Patrick and Angie’s repartee is as sharp as ever, and at this point Lehane has become deft at asking complicated moral questions without being heavy-handed. The psychopathic killer also provides a particularly mind-bending mystery for the detectives and the reader.

7. Me Before You by Jojo Meyes

me-before-you

I avoided reading this book for a few years because of the weepy storyline. Then I took it to Florida with me, and while there are weepy moments, I was pleasantly surprised by the liveliness of the characters and pacing. When the movie came out, many people took issue with the story’s approach to the paraplegic character. All I can say as a reader is that I took his choices as particular to him and not representative of how all paralyzed individuals feel or think. To recommend itself, the book has witty dialogue and a narrator worth loving.

6. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Rebecca Cover

I had a running joke with my mom about long it took me to read this book. However, the delays were a product of library book interruptions, not a dislike for the book itself. Daphne Du Maurier’s writing reminds me of my favorite Gothic novels. In fact, the setting and plot are somewhat reminiscent of Jane Eyre, which blends the styles of Gothic and Victorian novels. While maintaining its foreboding atmosphere, Rebecca also made me feel a kinship with the narrator. I was glad to take my time with it. (You can read my full review here.)

Come back tomorrow for the top 5!

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