Thursday, January 26, 2012

Some good reads

My dad and I had a running joke over the holidays. A few years back, I inspired him to start his own reading journal. So, after I blogged my book stats for 2011, my dad emailed me to share his stats. However, of course, neither list was complete because there were still 11 days of December left. And numerous books to be read! So each time we finished a book over the holidays (and there is much reading in the Leone household), my dad or I would joke about adding another to our list.

I don't have the energy to update my 2011 stats, but in that spirit, I would like to share a few really good books that I devoured recently.

Anna Staniszewski's My Very Un-Fairy Tale Life is about Jenny, a magical kingdom hero, who's rather sick of the hero business. It also involves talking frogs, bloodthirsty unicorns, psychotic clowns, and a sweet-addicted gnome sidekick. And yes, it really is that fun! I also loved how quirky it was, and not just plot-wise. While relatable, Jenny is also a completely unique, memorable character. When she needs to think, she practices miniature golf. As a hero, she finds herself saying the most cheesy lines imaginable. I was rolling my eyes along with Jenny, and giggling to myself the whole time. My only regret was that I didn't get to read this book when I was nine. A spunky heroine, numerous magical kingdoms, humor, action, and Prince Lamb? Not to mention the real world issues of friendship, parents, and loneliness. I would've loved it. But I feel very lucky I got to read it eventually, and I'm looking forward to the sequel, My Way Too Fairy Tale Life, next spring!*

I won a signed copy of My Beating Teenage Heart by CK Kelly Martin from author Audrey Vernick's blog (thank you so much, both of you!). I was especially thrilled to receive it (there may have been some squealing involved!) as I had just read CK Kelly Martin's The Lighter Side of Life and Death, and I knew what a masterful writer she was (see here for my review). My Beating Teenage Heart is about the lives of two teenagers who mysteriously intersect. Ashlyn has recently died, but she doesn't know what comes next, or what she's supposed to do, or even how to be. Meanwhile, Breckon's baby sister has just died, and he's struggling with some of the same issues. How is he supposed to live when his life has been torn apart? What is he supposed to do? Martin's characters are so real that I flew through the pages, anxious to see what would happen. Martin uses a brilliant device of having Ashlyn observe, alongside the reader, Breckon's pain, and both of us are watching, helpless and frightened. I initially wasn't sure about the paranormal aspects of the book, but there are a few beautiful moments where the connection between Ashlyn and Breckon comes into play. And I know it sounds like a downer, but the story as a whole is beautiful and life-affirming.

However, a nice antidote to all that serious reading was Medeia Sharif's Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. Her teenage heroine, Almira, is such a teenager, obsessed with pop culture, driving, and especially boys. The voice in this novel was flat out perfect: funny, clueless, yet totally heartfelt and true. As the title suggests, the book takes place over Ramadan, the first time Almira has ever observed the month-long fast. So even though it's a novel about a typical teenager, it's interspersed with reflections on discipline, religion, family, and what it means to be a 21st century American Muslim. I really loved this aspect of the book, as I got a whole new perspective that I don't believe I've ever seen tackled in YA fiction before. Plus, have I mentioned yet that it's laugh-out-loud funny? No one has angst like a 15 year-old who can't snack!*

Finally, we've moved well beyond my holiday break now, but I have to mention Sara Zarr's How to Save a Life, which I just finished this past weekend--and promptly started again! That's how good it is! Zarr's Story of a Girl was one of my favorite reads of 2011, so I wanted to read more from Zarr, but I have to admit I was a little anxious given the description of How to Save a Life. Like CK Kelly Martin's My Beating Teenage Heart, Zarr's book is about the intersection of two teenagers' lives. Mandy is pregnant, escaping a difficult home, determined to give her baby a better chance at life. Jill has everything Mandy dreams of: money, a loving family, and a living room with real leather couches. But Jill lost her father 10 months ago, and can't figure out how to be herself without him. Then Jill's mother decides to adopt Mandy's baby, plus invite Mandy into their home to live with them until the birth. There's nothing wrong with this set-up, but I felt like I had seen it hundreds of times before. It's The Odd Couple, except with two teenage girls. Given it was Sara Zarr, I expected it to be good, but I was completely unprepared for the total, immersive experience of this book. Everything about the story was so rich, so raw. The characters were completely real, so far from stereotypes. And while they were such different people, I was amazed at how similar their struggles became, and how they were both so desperate to find a new, better life, yet couldn't escape the mess of their pasts. There are a few snort-out-loud funny bits, a few tear-jerking bits, a handful of swoon-worthy guys, and the whole thing is so heartfelt and moving... well, of course I had to read it all over again!

Have you read anything good lately?

Note: I'm not certain if I'll be posting on the blog next week. Life has become a little hectic as I'm scrambling to finish (and perfect!) Project Demo. But I promise, if not next week, I will return shortly!

*Of course, as anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, Anna and Medeia are both long-time Critically Yours readers and friends! I can't say that didn't influence my book choices and reviews, but I CAN say I still loved both books just the same! And I'm both so happy for and proud of my friends!


  1. I just had the pleasure of telling somebody about Medeia's book -- a woman who said that there weren't any teenagers' books about Muslim girls. Now I'm going to have to read it myself so she doesn't beat me to it. I've heard of the other books too and how good they are. I've never had less time and more things I've wanted to do at any point in my life.

    I've just started Megan Crewe's 'The Way We Fall', and I'm really enjoying it. I'd probably be finished with it already if someone hadn't borrowed it.

  2. I'm re-reading two of my favorites ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia and MOON OVER MANIFEST by Clare Vanderpool. Both are MG though so I'm itching to read some good YA. Since I've read NONE of the books you mentioned I think I'll go track them down.

    Good luck with your wrap up of Project Demo. Can't wait to hear about it when you return.

  3. Mary: What a great opportunity to spread the word about Medeia's book! I really don't think there's many like it. Sorry to tempt you with all these good reads!

    Wait, you were thoroughly engrossed in and enjoying a Megan Crewe's book, and someone borrowed it from you?! Totally obnoxious! I hope you get it back soon! That's another one I've heard good things about and been wanting to read!

    Bridgette: Ohhh, both of those books are on my to-read list, but I haven't gotten to them yet! Thanks for the recs! I've been meaning to read some more MG myself. And thanks for all the good writing wishes!

  4. Thank you so much for including my book, Anne. I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Now we just need to get your book out into the world so I can rave about it on my blog. :-)

  5. I finished Anna's book just last week - you're right! What fun! It's won a spot on my "Books for when the Kidlet is older" shelf. I just know she's going to love it! I'll have to check out the other books you highlighted - I'm definitely intrigued by them! At the moment though I've been head down in research for a couple of weeks, with only a bit of light (adult) reading on the side.

  6. I've heard some good things about HOW TO SAVE A LIFE. Love this author's work.

    I just finished THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green and it was heartbreaking but really good writing.

  7. Anna: Oh, you're welcome! Thanks for all the enjoyment I got out of reading it--especially since it was on my birthday! ;) Getting my book out into the world sounds like a good idea for MANY reasons, not the least of which being so you can rave about it. That's really sweet, thanks.

    Elisabeth: Yay that you have a kidlet to share it with! It's the perfect gift for a young girl! Hope I inspired you to get some gifts for yourself, too! ;)

    Karen: Ohh, I know everyone has been saying it, but good to get the personal review on John Green's book. Definitely you should check out Zarr's newest. And I need to get going on reading her other books!

  8. Thank you for kind words about my book, Anne. I'm glad to hear people find it funny.

    I'd love to read the other books in this post.

  9. When was the last time I so heartily agreed with a recommended list? This^ one is brilliant.

  10. Medeia: Oh, you're welcome! Thanks for a great book! And it really is funny--I had to read some of it aloud to my husband as it was making me chuckle so much!

    Mirka: Yay! Glad to share!

  11. Thanks for these reviews Anne. I'm particularly looking to read more lighthearted YA. I think I'll bump Anna's and Medeia's books up on my list ;)

  12. Ruth: You're welcome! Glad to share some good reads with you, especially some of the lighter ones. The YA world can get a bit heavy sometimes!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.