Book Review: Another Day

Image: Goodreads

Rating: 4 out of 5

About four years ago, I read David Levithan's young-adult bestseller Every Day, which is narrated by a genderless character known only as "A," who wakes up each day in a different 16-year-old body. A seems comfortable in this unique life, that is until s/he inhabits the boyfriend of Rhiannon and shares an amazing day with her at the beach. After falling head over heels in love, A realizes just how difficult maintaining a relationship can be when you must constantly reintroduce yourself as someone else.

Another Day is Levithan's retelling of Every Day, this time in Rhiannon's perspective. The high schooler may not have challenges as unusual as A's, but dealing with uninvolved parents and an angry, alcoholic boyfriend are no walk in the park either. It's Justin's 180-degree personality turn from selfish to sensitive that convinces her that A truly is the body-snatcher he says he is.

Pronoun usage is one of my few complaints of the novel. I've decided to use "he," because it's very clear that Rhiannon is only sexually attracted to A when he inhabits conventionally good-looking male bodies, but her constant second-guessing (he? she?) becomes tiresome after awhile.

I wished that she would have mentally selected a gender and moved on or consciously decided to use a gender-neutral pronoun like "ze" to address her bias. This is, however, a relatively minor quip, because Levithan does a good job in all his novels to promote awareness and acceptance of all gender identities and sexual orientations.

Although not as good as the original, Another Day is still an innovative love story with great characters. Rhiannon balances the trials of teen life well: at times meek and eager to please, prioritizing her emotionally abusive relationship over that with her friends, and at other times, mature beyond her years, knowing that respecting A's hosts is more important than their own feelings.

That said, I don't believe Another Day can exist as a standalone novel, and I recommend that anyone interested should read Every Day for context. The love interests in each story can come across as a bit self-absorbed and oblivious (whether it's Rhiannon's hangup on gender or A's naivete that love can conquer all), so it's important to understand both POVs to get the complete picture.

I may not have learned anything outrageously new or enlightening in this companion novel, but I found it sweet and endearing. Levithan continues to be one of my favorite authors, and it was nice to revisit this story again.

Book Review: Library of Souls

Rating: 4 out of 5

And another series comes to an end with Library of Souls, the finale to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. I would have never jumped on this bandwagon without the recommendation of a good friend of mine, but I'm so glad I did!

Following the story of the last sequel, Hollow City, Jacob and Emma must put their lives at risk in order to save their fellow peculiar friends, Miss Peregrine, and the rest of the ymbrynes, who have been captured by the sadistic wights.

As the plot thickens, it becomes a battle between siblings as Miss Peregrine must confront the betrayals of her brothers, Bentham and Caul, who have been experimenting with the souls of peculiar children for their own gain.

Jacob also must find inner strength to harness his ability to control the menacing tentacled monsters known as hollowgast. When he learns of the addictive substance of ambrosia, will he succumb to the temptation to use it to fuel his own powers?I can't say too much without giving away this story, but it's a wonderful tale of supernatural suspense. As always, Riggs sprinkles in his creepy, cool vintage photographs to amplify the spooky mood.

When I recommend this series, I explain that it's like X-Men, but with young children, and this description still rings true. The war between mutants and humans in that comic book series is similar to the one between peculiars and normals in this tale. It's entertaining to read about people who can manipulate fire or levitate, but it's more intriguing to watch whether they use their abilities for good or for evil.

My only complaint with Library of Souls was its treatment of the hollowgast. Despite their dangerous nature, I sympathized with the creatures as Jacob honed his power over them. I wished that Riggs would have offered a more happy ending to Jacob's first hollowgast, because the Holocaust-esque experiment that it was subjected to broke my heart.

Other than that, Library of Souls was the gripping conclusion to this series that I was hoping for, and I'm so looking forward to Tim Burton's adaptation, starring Asa Butterfield as Jacob and Eva Green as Miss Peregrine. It is scheduled for release on Christmas of next year.

This ends my reading journey of 2015 with a total of 23 books completed! Be on the lookout for my review of Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk in the new year--I'm saving it until after my book club next week, because I have WAY too much to discuss!

Happy New Year, everybody!

Book Review: P.S. I Still Love You

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

When I read a book like P.S. I Still Love You, I'm reminded of why I feel conflicted about reading YA that is not wrapped in the dystopian or supernatural. With no layer of escapism, all that you're left with is teenage drama--and let's just say that I had enough of that to last a lifetime.

For those like me who were nerdy and unpopular, who valued good grades and good books over football games and house parties, high school was definitely not 'the best four years of your life.' In fact, if anyone does happen to spew that nonsense at me, I immediately distrust them. Someone could build a time machine and offer me $100 million to relive my high school experience, and I would still laugh in his face without a millisecond of hesitation.

So when Jenny Han's sequel to To All the Boys I've Loved Before opens with the aftermath of Lara Jean Song's class ski trip, in which someone secretly filmed her steamy hot tub make-out session with her boyfriend Peter Kavinsky and then put it online for all to see, it struck a nerve, and I felt a deep empathy for her.

I can't imagine how difficult it must be to suffer through your teenage years in the digital age. My generation was the last to know what the world was like pre-social media, considering that Myspace and Facebook had only started gaining popularity when I was in high school. I was bullied mercilessly without the assistance of cyberspace, so I'm filled with horror when I think about just how much worse the torment can be nowadays.

It is extremely difficult for me to set aside my biases and review this book objectively. Every step of the way, I see myself in Lara Jean's shoes. I give Han credit for making Lara Jean seem so young; there were many times that I felt that her character was way too naive, but I realize that I can only sense this after years of disillusionment. I have to remind myself that I too was equally sheltered and gullible, until my horrible peers shredded my innocence and my ability to believe the good in others.

My less-than-enjoyable high school years also made me despise Peter with the fire of a thousand suns. His decision to emotionally support his ex-girlfriend instead of Lara Jean, thereby making her look like an utter fool to the entire school, eerily mirrored my own relationship drama and left a bitter taste in my mouth. Boys who care so much about making everyone happy and not picking sides are cowards who will not stand by you when you need it the most. In other words, Switzerlands don't win wars.

That being said, this book is wonderfully written and kept me turning the pages. I thought it cute to incorporate Lara Jean's volunteering at a nursing home, and I'm still a fan of the Song family dynamics, which have now extended into the dad's dating life. I also really loved the reunion between Lara Jean and John Ambrose, who is a shining light among the sea of loser guys who go to this school.

I'm sure that I'm not the only one who was woefully disappointed in Lara Jean's choice at the end of the book, and I hope that Han writes another sequel just so her protagonist can grow up and learn from her god-awful relationship mistakes. I'm happy to read more about Lara Jean's teenage years, even if it means coming to terms with my own in the process.

Book Review: Sisterhood Everlasting

Rating: 3 out of 5

BEWARE: SPOILER ALERT!

The latest book that I have read is Sisterhood Everlasting (2011) by Ann Brashares. Those familiar with the popular YA series Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants know that this is the fifth installment, a long-awaited sequel which follows four best friends Bridget, Lena, Carmen, and Tibby as they are about to turn 30 years old.

In the time after college, Carmen has become a successful actress engaged to an arrogant jerk in the biz, art instructor Lena still pines for her teenage Greek love Kostos, Bridget lives with her boyfriend Eric in San Francisco but suffers from nomadic restlessness, and Tibby is living on the other side of the world in Australia with her techie boyfriend Brian.

Over the years, the girls have become so involved with their own lives that they've grown apart, each secretly yearning for re-connection but never following through. So when Tibby books them all a surprise trip to Greece, they are ecstatic to reunite after so long......that is, until tragedy strikes.

[If you're planning on reading this book, I highly suggest you stop reading this review now. Major spoiler alert up ahead!]

Let me start by saying that Tibby's death derailed the novel into territory that was both far-fetched and melodramatic. Since it occurs in the first quarter of the book, the rest of the pages are spent narrating through the other three girls' grief processes as they try to decipher whether Tibby drowned accidentally or intentionally.

I don't care if they were out of touch for awhile: I find it insanely hard to believe that Tibby would not inform her best friends of her terminal illness and her pregnancy, and instead would decide to send them on an emotional rollercoaster via the letters she gave them to be opened as designated dates after her passing.

Tibby was a no BS type of woman, and regardless of the turmoil that she must have suffered while being sick and isolated, a decent person would have at least given her friends a heads up that she just popped out a baby and would be kicking the bucket in the near future. Cold-hearted as it may sound, I found this plot twist utterly selfish and incongruent of Tibby's character. A terminal diagnosis is an opportunity to appreciate your loved ones while you're still alive--not a chance to send them on a wild goose chase to discover your toddler after you're gone.

And let's discuss her child Bailey for a moment. I don't mind her introduction as a way of keeping the spirit of Tibby alive; it's cliche, but I accept it. What I cannot tolerate is using Bailey to emotionally manipulate Bridget into keeping her own child.

The author Ann Brashares makes a big fuss that Bee couldn't imagine terminating her pregnancy after connecting with Bailey, couldn't even recognize the woman who could commit such selfishness before. I'm not aware of Brashares' personal beliefs regarding abortion, but Bridget's storyline is so pro-family that I find it offensive to women. Bee could have appreciated Bailey just as much if she decided not to become a mother herself--and to suggest otherwise was a major turn-off for me reading this book.

All in all, I loved the Sisterhood series but was ultimately disappointed by this book's turn of events. The girls either never developed (looking at you, Lena) or changed so much that they're nigh unrecognizable. Brashares has stated that she's open to writing more sequels, but Sisterhood Everlasting left such an everlasting bad taste in my mouth that I doubt I would be interested in reading more.

Book Review: Invisibility

Rating: 3 out of 5

Oh, how I wanted to enjoy this book more! Invisibility, a collaboration between David Levithan (Every Day, The Lover's Dictionary) and Andrea Cremer (The Nightshade series), was published in 2013 and seemed to be every YA lover's dream. But while the story started out great, it only got more disappointing with each page.

The book's structure is certainly unique. The authors alternate chapters between two teenagers living in Manhattan: Levithan writing from the POV of Stephen, a boy cursed into invisibility by his grandfather, and Cremer writing as Elizabeth, his new next-door neighbor who discovers that she is the only one who can see him...and possibly cure him.

This sounded similar to Every Day, since it also features a paranormal romance, but I quickly found out that it's subpar to Levithan's solo story. In that book, the protagonist known simply as "A" wakes up in a new person's body every day (hence the title), and the reader is given almost no reason as to why. I appreciated that sentiment also seen in Kafka's Metamorphosis, because the audience must take a leap of faith and begin in media res.

However, Invisibility attempts to explain Stephen's condition with poorly designed world creation in which magical curse-casters and spell-seekers exist in constant tension with one another--the former like Stephen's grandfather whose nature it is to spread cruelty, and the latter like Elizabeth who have the power to keep them in check.

There are so many plot holes in this story that it would take forever to list them, but the most egregious is that there is no explanation as to why Elizabeth is the only spell-seeker who can see Stephen when there are others who can't. The rules of this magical universe are haphazard, and the overall logic is just abysmal.

In addition, this novel suffers from the common YA mistake of 'insta-love,' given that Stephen and Elizabeth are willing to die for each other only a few weeks after meeting. I won't give the ending away, but even a hopeless romantic like myself has a hard time buying that their relationship could possibly have a 'happily ever after.'

As much as the book is entertaining and keeps you turning pages, I find it a rushed, terribly thought-out tale that reads more like mediocre fan-fiction than a legitimate novel. I rated this 3 stars because Levithan's writing prowess is undeniable, but it far outshines Cremer's. While I'm happy for her for getting the chance to ride his coattails, I'll stick to the work of her writing partner in the future.

Book Review: Afterworlds

Rating: 4 out of 5

The year is almost over, and my reading challenge is finally completed! I set out to read 20 books in 2014, and the last on my list is Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld. I got my copy at a book signing in October, and after meeting the author, I was more excited than ever to read this story.

I have to say that this is the most meta tale I've experienced. Afterworlds is a book within a book, and is named after a novel that recent high school grad Darcy Patel wrote during NaNoWriMo.

Darcy hits the jackpot by landing a publisher and a six-figure advance for a sequel. She defers college to move to New York City, too swept up by fellow YA debutantes and drink nights to stick to a budget.

While attending writer parties and rapidly draining her checking account, she falls in love with Imogen Gray, a pseudonymous author writing the sequel to her trilogy. I can't stress enough how refreshing it is to have a famous YA author like Westerfeld write a protagonist of color in a same-sex relationship. How unfortunate that these characters aren't more common in literature!

The chapters of this book alternate between Darcy's world and the world which she created. Afterworlds is a novel about Lizzie, a high schooler who survives a terrorist attack at an airport by pretending to be dead--so well, in fact, that she wills herself into the afterworld.

There she meets Yamaraj, an attractive and mysterious spirit guide who teaches her how to hone her newfound powers of seeing ghosts and walking through walls. She also befriends Mindy, a friend of Lizzie's mother who was tragically abused and murdered by a serial killer when she was 11 years old. Mindy's ghost lives in Lizzie's house, fearful that the 'bad man' will find and hurt her again.

Lizzie must oscillate between the worlds of the living and the dead, all while attempting to avenge Mindy's death and further a relationship with Yamaraj. What's intriguing is that this story changes as Darcy makes revisions to it, so it's fun to read this work in progress.

What's not so fun is that at 600 pages, Afterworlds tends to drag in places. Without one half, the other would suffer, but because of this symbiotic partnership, the whole novel gets a bit bloated.

I also found Darcy grating at times. It's natural to be self-absorbed and clueless in your teenage years, but I kept wishing for Darcy to stop sweating the small stuff and focus on her writing. It's pretty bad when her younger sister is the voice of reason.

And even though I felt that Westerfeld was sometimes trying too hard to keep up with the teenage slang (annoying meme is annoying!), overall I loved getting the inside scoop about professional writers, from dealing with editors and going on book tours, to conducting research and learning all the unspoken rules.

If you're an aspiring author and love young-adult fiction, I recommend reading Afterworlds to immerse yourself within the writing process. And if you haven't read Westerfeld's Uglies trilogy already, definitely do so because it's excellent dystopian fiction.

Audiobook Review: To All The Boys I've Loved Before

Rating: 4 out of 5

This was a book that I couldn't resist after reading so much great feedback from other book bloggers. Jenny Han was a new author to me, and I'm glad that I was introduced to her work.

To All The Boys I've Loved Before is a young adult fiction novel that follows Lara Jean Song, a high school-aged middle child. Her older sister Margot just broke up with her boyfriend Josh and is studying abroad in Scotland. Her younger sister Kitty is obsessed with convincing their dad to get her a puppy. And Lara Jean finds herself in the most mortifying of predicaments.It turns out that her habit of writing love letters to the boys she was once in love with has epically backfired, because somehow the letters get mailed. And one of those boys just happens to be Josh.

To save face, Lara Jean impulsively decides to pretend to date her old middle school crush, Peter Kavinsky, who also received a letter. Peter agrees to fake-date her to make his ex-girlfriend jealous, which adds even more drama because nobody crosses the queen bee and gets away with it.

This was a great audiobook, because Han imitates a teen girl very well with her short, simple sentences and conversational tone. However, as much as I loved the fact that Lara Jean was half-Korean (seriously, why aren't there more protagonists of color in literature?!), you could obviously tell that the narrator was unfamiliar with certain terms, like incorrectly pronouncing the Japanese manga that she reads as "main-gah" instead of "mahn-gah." A small quibble, but I couldn't help but cringe during these moments.

Other than that, I enjoyed this story because it was so relatable. Lara Jean, inexperienced in relationships, must learn to adapt when her once-unrequited loves start to show interest in her. She must also navigate her changing family life, dealing with her older sister so far away from home. With their father raising three girls alone after their mother's death, Lara Jean has to step up to be a role model to her younger sister.

I was a bit disappointed by the conclusion, since the story took too many turns toward the end that I couldn't predict where it would stop. Once it did, I felt that I would have outlined it differently. However, I learned that Han has a final sequel planned for April 2015 called PS: I Still Love You, so hopefully the plot comes together better in the second half.

To All The Boys I've Loved Before is a fun, lighthearted read that will make you empathize with your teen self and nostalgic for your own coming of age.

Book Review: Reached

Rating: 2 out of 5

BEWARE: Spoilers ahead!

Good lord, am I glad that I'm finally finished with this series. Ally Condie's dystopian trilogy (Matched, Crossed, Reached) started off great, but I seriously have no idea why the finale is rating an average of four stars on Amazon and Goodreads.

The reason why it took me almost six weeks to complete this novel was that it was 512 pages of booorrrriiiinnnnnnggggg. I can summarize the entire saga like this: Protagonist Cassia Reyes, who lives in a totalitarian state where the Society decides everything for you--including who you marry and when you die, joins a rebellion called the Rising with her two love interests Ky and Xander. In the end, after a catastrophic plague, they realize that the Rising is just the Society with a different name and eventually learn how to rebuild their lives and make decisions for themselves.

Does this sound original at all to you?! Condie couldn't even give her factions unique names! Unfortunately, The Hunger Games has unleashed the floodgates of mediocre young-adult dystopian fiction, and the Matched series is right up there with that of Divergent for being utterly disappointing. At least Mockingjay elicited anger out of me! Reached definitely went out with a whimper rather than a bang.

And don't get me started on the so-called love triangle. I have never witnessed a duller character than Xander. The poor boy never had a chance, and anyone who thinks otherwise is probably one of those girls who can manufacture an entire pseudo-relationship with a crush with whom she's had only one conversation.

In fact, all three of Condie's main characters are total squares. They're so bland that when I was reading each chapter, I often couldn't tell whose point-of-view it was.That's one of the top sins of writing: if a reader can't even differentiate between your characters' perspectives, then you need to go back to your sub-par MFA program and demand your money back.

I know that I'm harsh, but I'm just sick and tired of these dystopian books gaining a bunch of unwarranted hype. The problem is that it feels like a bait and switch: the debut novels start off just strong enough to get a bandwagon going, so even if the sequels are lackluster and the finales are absolute crap, well too bad because you're already too invested in the stories and feel obligated to finish them.

I think that another reason why Condie particularly rubbed me the wrong way was that it was obvious that she was trying SO hard to be deep. In the beginning, I appreciated the allusions to poetry, especially since I love Dylan Thomas' "Do not go gentle into that good night." But I honestly lost count of how many times I rolled my eyes trudging through this saccharine prose.

Instead of being subtle, the symbolism hits you so hard in the face it gives you whiplash. The navel-gazing over the "morals" of the story just came off simplistic and self-righteous: the way Condie tells you what to think rather than letting you interpret the message for yourself makes her almost a meta-Society official taking away your autonomy.

More importantly, it means that she still has a long way to go before becoming a renowned novelist. Given how she'd yammer on about the loss of culture and the destruction of the environment, I thought it was only a matter of time before she burst out of the pages screaming, "But what about the children?!"

So let's do ourselves a favor and let this genre take a breather. Dystopian literature has reached full saturation, and now it's all starting to suck. If you can't get enough of big governments doing bad things, go read 1984 and Orwell will show you how's it's done!

Book Review: Hollow City

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Thanks to a friend's recommendation, I fell in love with Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, a young-adult story by Ransom Riggs that has soared in popularity since its debut in 2011.

It's about teenager Jacob Portman who befriends a group of kids with special abilities after the mysterious murder of his grandfather.These peculiars, as they're called, are taken care of by Miss Peregrine, who belongs to a special race known as ymbrynes--women who can take the form of birds and manipulate time.

Jacob discovers Miss Peregrine and her peculiar children in a time loop set in 1940, which allows the troop to avoid aging and live forever.

However, all is not well, as evil tentacled creatures known as hollows are after the peculiars, as well as their masters called wights who are on a mission to steal their powers and control time.

In Riggs' sequel Hollow City, Miss Peregrine has been kidnapped by wights and it's up to her kids to rescue her. And because hollows cannot be seen by anyone other than Jacob, he must learn to strengthen his ability to sense the monsters and kill them.

Of course, the icing on this already delicious read is the vintage photographs. Supposedly all completely real and unaltered except for minor post-processing, they enhance the story's creepy-cool vibe. They allow the reader to better imagine how the peculiars look and amplify the emotions of particular scenes.

Fans will enjoy this sequel for many reasons, including the developing romance between Jacob and Emma, and the deeper look into peculiar history. I felt like this universe has become more intricate, and Riggs does a great job of scrutinizing all of his characters for their actions, rather than rely on a two-dimensional dichotomy of good versus evil.

There's not much else I can say about Hollow City, except that its sequel can't come fast enough! Yes, the story continues, but we'll have to wait about another year before the next installment! Bird willing!

Book Review: Awaken

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Yet again author Meg Cabot gets me to drop whatever book I was reading and read her latest release instead. Awaken is the final novel in her trilogy which adapts the ancient Greek myth of Persephone and Hades to a high school setting.

I've already reviewed the previous novels in the series, Abandon and Underworld. In Awaken, teenager Pierce Oliviera is navigating her unconventional relationship with John Hayden, Lord of the Underworld.

But it's not like they can get lots of quality time together, not when the Fates have mysteriously abandoned the universe, prohibiting recently deceased souls from entering their final resting place.

Since the Fates have disappeared, Pierce, John, and their friends must battle the evil Furies to restore peace both on Earth and underneath it. And with so many people stuck in limbo, what does it mean when the worst happens to someone who isn't technically alive?

This series will obviously garner comparisons with Twilight, given that both female protagonists have brooding, supernatural boyfriends. Whether you're a vampire or consort to Hades, you're required to sacrifice a normal life with family and friends.

At least Pierce has more of a personality than her counterpart Bella. She throws herself into dangerous situations, wielding a whip and Fury-annihilating diamond necklace, so you certainly can't call herself a passive bystander.

However, it's a shame that her identity is still defined by John's existence. Not to mention, even though she took responsibility for her sex life in book two, she throws safety to the wind and becomes surprisingly nonchalant about possibly getting knocked up (Bella much?).

So, yes, I'm still waiting for much-needed feminist young-adult novels. It would be nice to see a girl kick ass the entire time and not give into stereotypical gender norms by becoming the equivalent of a Stepford wife in the end (This applies to Katniss too, by the way. I stand by my argument).

But as much as I complain about weak female characters, Meg Cabot still does a good job writing an entertaining mythological adaptation. Sure, the jokes can be corny and the obstacles are resolved with little effort, but let's face it, I'm a sucker for Greek gods.

If you're also a classics nerd, then don't worry, because there are better books out there. I highly recommend Gods Behaving Badly (you'll literally laugh out loud) and The Song of Achilles (bust out the Kleenex for this romantic tragedy).

Hope everyone has a happy Halloween!

Audiobook Review: Jinx

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Rating: 2 out of 5

If you've been reading Book Club Babe, you already know that I'm a devoted Meg Cabot fan. I may have a whole shelf of her work, but this was the first time that I bought one of her books in audio.

I'm still waiting for Awaken, Cabot's sequel to Underworld, which will be released this July. So I decided to check out Jinx (2007), one of her few stand-alone novels. Unfortunately, it was aptly named, but it was one big ball of bad luck.

Jinx is titled after the protagonist Jean Honeychurch's nickname. Terrible things seem to keep happening to this 16-year-old, so she runs away from her home in rural Iowa to live with her aunt, uncle, and three cousins in New York City.

One of those cousins, Tory, immediately becomes Jean's rival when Jean catches the eye of her crush, Zack. But what happens when this competition between cousins takes a paranormal turn for the worse?

I could go into more detail, and honestly, I wouldn't spoil much. What's the point of keeping part of the plot a secret for the whole first third of the novel, if you already know about it from reading the summary? Talk about anti-climactic!

I also already knew that Cabot has a tendency to be melodramatic, but I figured what should I expect when she's writing about teenagers? Well, even young adult fiction has to have standards.

I kept getting horrible vibes a la Fifty Shades of Grey: whether it's E.L. James droning on about her "inner goddess" or Meg Cabot harping about "the knot in my stomach," authors need to tone down the obnoxious metaphors!

You know why the green light is such a powerful symbol in The Great Gatsby? Because Fitzgerald doesn't talk about it every five sentences! I understand that Jean is a nervous outcast, but I wanted to drive into oncoming traffic every time she described her stomach knot. I get it, you're scared! Stop wasting my time with over-used clichés and move on!

I empathized most with Zack, who seemed completely fed up with all this petty cat-fighting. Although cat-fighting might be inaccurate, since Jean is the typical girl oblivious that her love is actually not unrequited after all. Yawn.

Maybe I'm just too old for high school drama. It's easy to tell a fictional character to snap out of it and get some confidence, but I know that it's easier said than done in real life. I wish that I could go back and tell my 16-year-old self to stop worrying what the "popular" kids think about you, because those bullies weren't worth the brain space anyway.

I'm just going to chalk Jinx up to being an older novel that's not representative of Cabot's level of work. I'm also skeptical of trying audio versions of her books in the future, since I may be more accepting of teenage immaturity in print. Hopefully, Awaken will redeem my previously high opinion of this queen of teen fiction! Fingers crossed!

Book Review: Every Day

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I would say Happy Super Bowl Sunday, but most in my neck of the woods aren't happy since the San Francisco 49ers lost the big game. I was in tears myself, but not over the score. I just finished David Levithan's novel Every Day, which got me pretty emotional towards the end. I know that many of you have read this book already and want to hear my thoughts, so let's jump right in!

If you aren't familiar with this story, my summary's going to sound very strange. The narrator is a disembodied spirit who calls himself A and wakes up every day in a different 16-year-old's body. I say "himself" due to hetero-normative biases, but technically A has no gender. Levithan does his best to fight society's definition of normalcy, by placing A in a variety of bodies: male, female, straight, gay, transgender, obese, gorgeous, introverted, hostile. There were even a couple heart-wrenching chapters in which A found himself in people suffering from addiction and depression.

Because of this body-hopping, A has observed a vast amount of life in a short amount of time, dealing with countless combinations of sibling rivalries, financial situations, and school cliques. But it isn't until he falls in love with Rhiannon after possessing her boyfriend Justin when he realizes just how much he's missing. Not only can he never meet her friends and family, he often has to face waking up hours away from her, or with too many obligations to the person he's inhabiting in order to see her.

This book could be narrowed down to a simple boy(?)-meets-girl plot, which Levithan writes extremely well, navigating the roller-coaster of teenage love. However, it's A's unique struggle that allows us to feel grateful for things we take for granted, like the security of knowing that someone is there for you and the hope of growing together. Luckily, the author places limitations on A's travels, given that he'd be treading in ethically murky water if he could become people of any age. A also never seems to have to deal with being inside the truly dangerous and psychotic, thank goodness.

I'm not trivializing the difficulty of trying to find love in A's world. Life is hard at 16 or 61, but I sometimes thought of how much easier it seemed when you didn't have to worry about finding work or paying rent. The love between A and Rhiannon is as stable as it could be in such circumstances, with so many innocently sweet moments. It's interesting that with such a weird premise, you can still catch yourself walking down memory lane. That's the beauty of the story--it doesn't matter who you are, we're all bound by human experiences.

However, I did appreciate the realism amidst the fantasy. A would suffer from the naive thinking that love conquers all, but Rhiannon struggled to remain open-minded when meeting a new person every day. Yes, it's what (or who) is on the inside that really matters, but the outside isn't irrelevant. Physical attraction and sexual orientation do play important roles, and I'm glad that Levithan depicted Rhiannon as a tolerant yet grounded individual with a life outside her relationship, and not as some infatuated princess willing to drop everything for a boy.

All in all, Every Day is a beautiful novel with some wonderful insights on life and love. As much as I would have liked to see some perspectives included (teenage pregnancy? special needs? bullying?), I understand that it's less about chronicling different points-of-view and more about discovering who you are and what you want when you have no frame of reference. Quite a feat for a writer!

This is one book that gets people talking, so share your views in the comments! And whether you're already a fan of Levithan or are inspired to check out his other work, read my review of The Lover's Dictionary while you're at it!

Book Review: Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian

Rating: 4 out of 5

I feel like it's the end of an era, because I finally finished the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. I reviewed the penultimate novel, The Atlantis Complex, last year, and I'm pleased to say that the finale was much better.

If you haven't heard of Artemis Fowl, let me bring you up to speed. Artemis is a boy genius with unsurpassed intellect, upscale taste in designer suits and classical music, and an obsession with increasing his already massive family fortune. His penchant for illicit scheming makes him many enemies, but he's always shadowed by his best friend/bodyguard Butler.

The book series covers his life from ages 12-15, starting when he kidnaps an elf military officer named Holly Short to gain access to fairy gold to the present novel in which he puts aside his greed to save humanity. After seven books, Artemis and Holly are close comrades, and together with centaur techie Foaly and conniving dwarf Mulch Diggums, they must once again band together to stop the series' pixie villain Opal Koboi.

It's interesting to see an author's writing style evolve over the course of a saga, and at times I felt Colfer inserted too much politics in regards to climate change or animal species preservation. The Atlantis Complex did not feel true to the series when Artemis became an obnoxious schizophrenic. Reading that novel, I was worried that Colfer had lost his magic.

But it came back full force in The Last Guardian. As Opal used time travel to thwart the LEP, I too felt like my younger self, literally laughing out loud at the many jokes that made the series so fun when I was in middle school. Being entertained by Mulch's flatulence might seem juvenile, but with Artemis and friends battling an army of possessed crickets and ducks, how could you not chuckle?

Harry Potter fans will most likely draw similarities between the two supernatural stories, especially at the end of The Last Guardian. Artemis must make a sacrifice like Harry, but I won't give away the details. I'll just say that you walk away with that sad, yet satisfied feeling of fulfillment.

I only wish there could have been more romance between Artemis and Holly! Is that weird? I know that love blossoming between a teenage human boy and a three-foot-tall, 80-year-old elf would be far-fetched, but readers of the series know just how close they've become over the years. And in my opinion, nothing Artemis does can be considered normal or average, so I wouldn't expect his love life to be either.

Lack of love story aside, reading Artemis Fowl has been a wonderful ride, and I would recommend the tale to anybody. Don't wait until the movie comes out, because after eight years of conflicts, ranging from financial disputes between Disney and the Weinstein Company to the creative decision between CGI and live-action, the project has been shelved as of last year. The odds of seeing Artemis on-screen soon are slim, but at least you have time to catch up reading!

Book Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I'm finally back from Tokyo! I had such a great time with my little brother and one of my very best friends--we visited temples, played in arcades, tried traditional dishes, drank with the locals, and so much more! It was so fun exploring the cities and meeting people, but I am glad to be home with my family.

Even though I'm still suffering from jet lag and a slight cold, I couldn't leave you guys hanging any longer! Between the super-long flights and all the time spent commuting on the trains, I was able to finish three books during my vacation. I even found an English bookstore in Gotanda, Japan, and bought two more for 800 yen (about $10).

The first novel I read was The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, which was published by MTV in 1999. Chbosky is also known for writing the screenplay for "Rent" and the TV show "Jericho." I'll admit that the only reason why I picked up this book was because I was intrigued by the film adaptation starring Emma Watson, but I'm glad I saw what all the fuss was about.

Perks is written in the forms of letters by a high school freshman who goes by the alias Charlie. He writes these letters to a person he doesn't know, but was told by a friend that he/she was a good listener. The lack of physical descriptions of Charlie and many other characters creates a relatable atmosphere.

Taking place in Pittsburgh in the early '90s, Charlie befriends two step-siblings: Patrick, who has a secret romance with the high school quarterback, and Sam, who instantly becomes Charlie's love interest. As high school seniors, the siblings show Charlie the world of drugs and rock & roll, all while he struggles with much deeper issues.

I won't reveal the reason behind Charlie's introversion, but I found his character simultaneously interesting and annoying. His juvenile writing style and general naivete make him seem much more than simply shy, to the point of mentally challenged. However, he's also extremely clever, voraciously reading classic novels given to him by his endearing English teacher Bill. I wouldn't even be surprised if Charlie was an autistic savant.

Regardless, I appreciate the author's decision to leave the question of Charlie's condition open-ended. I'll only say that his constant choppy sentences and simple vocabulary became tiring and grating at times. But at least the book shows the reader why it's difficult for Charlie to make and keep friends, and I applaud Sam and Patrick for showing such compassion.

My only other major complaint is that Chbosky, in an attempt to address teen social issues, piles on so much melodrama that you can't help but roll your eyes sometimes. I mean, in the first 50 pages, you witness depression, suicide, domestic violence, drug abuse, and homophobia.

I'm not saying that one person can't experience all these horrific things, but I felt that Chbosky was laying it on a bit thick. It was as if he was just checking them off a list rather than truly addressing their impact. And from what I hear, he suffered from the same problem in "Rent."

All in all, I imagine that the movie will definitely be indie, and since stories with so much "reality" in them aren't really my cup of tea (I like my happy endings, thank you very much), I'll just have to watch it with an open mind. Who knows? Maybe I'll like Charlie and friends better on the big screen.

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games (film)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Yes, I'm a bit shocked myself to be writing that high of a rating, but I was pleasantly surprised with this adaptation. After waiting in a relatively long line for a 10:30 a.m. showing, my dad and I watched the much-anticipated "The Hunger Games." Clocking in at almost 2.5 hours, it certainly didn't feel that long, since I was enthralled every second.

The cast did brilliantly, not overdoing their acting, but not behaving like robots either. Sure, Jennifer Lawrence has been criticized for her feminine curves, and while I was concerned when learning of the cast that their looks wouldn't be realistic, I understand that it's unethical to actually starve actors for their roles. Plus, don't people realize she's been nominated for an Oscar for "Winter's Bone?" She does a great job as Katniss, and just because she's got boobs and a butt doesn't mean she's too sexy for the role. So, I'd like to tell The New York Times to politely shut their face.

As for the setting, Panem looked fantastic. I loved the contrast between the ultra-modern Capitol and the rural districts. Those who haven't read the books might find the flamboyant Capitol citizens a bit cheesy in their crazy outfits and makeup, but I'd also like to tell them to politely shut their faces. The movie was not made for you.

While the first scenes were great, from the heartbreaking Reaping to the tributes' training, we all waited in suspense for the Games to begin. I found it very meta that we were just as excited as the Capitol to watch these kids kill each other. We are part of the problem, and Suzanne Collins is making an excellent point that our society is disturbingly obsessed with violence. Our reality TV culture has made us the least common denominator, and that need for voyeurism made me uncomfortable.

That being said, I still feel that the actual gore was diluted down too much, especially with Cato's death. I kept thinking to myself as I read the scene, How are they going to show a boy get reduced to a skinless, meaty pulp? Well, they didn't, of course. Should they have? I can understand that the producers did not want to lose most of their demographic with an "R" rating, but I feel pretty jipped as an adult. If I made the decisions, there would be two DVD versions--the theatrical version and an adult-only one that maintains the book's level of brutality.

Overall, I was very pleased with the film, and I recommend it to any fan of the series. Perhaps if the filmmakers keep this up, I won't be as upset watching "Mockingjay" as I was reading it. Well, one can hope, right? And as President Snow said, "Hope, it is the only thing stronger than fear."

2011 Book Review Catch-Up: Part 1

So in case you haven't noticed, there's six books that I read this past summer that I did not have the opportunity to review. In order to effectively rank them from best to worst, I wanted to introduce the novels properly. Yes, I've taken valuable time away from my Christmas just for you guys! (That's okay, though, I needed a break from stuffing my face with food anyway!)

I decided to do mini-reviews for two books at a time, starting with two science-fiction young adult novels: A Wizard of Mars by Diane Duane and Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex by Eoin Colfer.

A Wizard of Mars

A Wizard of Mars (Rating: 3.5 out of 5)

This ninth installment in Duane's Young Wizard series, published in 2010, takes teenage wizards Nita and Kit back to Mars to learn about the planet's alien species. Unfortunately, they're caught up in a galactic conflict which could destroy Earth in the process. Although it seemed like Duane did her research on the red planet extremely well, I'm getting tired of this series. I've been reading it since middle school, but it began in 1983, and many of the novels seem to take the form of "filler" stories. Duane herself has admitted that she sees no end in sight, and writes as she goes. So what started out as magical has become stale and without purpose. However, I still love these characters and hope that Nita and Kit get a real romance going soon. Maybe a bit of outlining on the author's part will give this series the structure it so desperately needs and will maintain my attention span for a few more years.

Cover of

Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex (Rating: 3 out of 5)

This seventh and penultimate novel in Eoin Colfer's series, also published in 2010, hit a new low. I have loved this tale of boy genius Artemis Fowl, but now this boy is a teenager suffering from "the Atlantis Complex," a psychological fairy syndrome with symptoms such as OCD and split personalities. He creates an alter ego called "Orion," who is a flamboyant, obnoxious character with Don Quixote-esque delusions of adventure and romance. Meanwhile, Butler and Juliet fight luchadores in Mexico, and Turnball Root concocts a scheme to save his aging human wife Leonor. Overall, this novel suffers from the same staleness as A Wizard of Mars, but thankfully the final book--The Last Guardian--will be released sometime next year. I wish Colfer would ditch his overly moral storyline on global warming and return to us the mischievous Artemis we all fell in love with, but I highly doubt that'll happen.

So these two science-fiction novels, although drastically different in subject matter and writing style, fell victim to the same weakness of becoming tiring after so many years into their respective sagas. But if you've been a fan of Duane or Colfer, I trust you'll be following them to the very end.