Author: Cynthia Voigt
Publication Date: 8/26/86
[GR | Amazon]
Noelle mailed me the second book in this series last year for my birthday and then challenged me to actually get off my butt and read it this month for She Made Me Do It. And then, she also sent me the description for this book – the first in the series – by email like a juicy little lure. A description which contains mention of a feisty innkeeper’s daughter who’s independent and strong and doesn’t want to get married and who stumbles across a disguise for the legendary Robin Hood type figure Jackaroo and decides to start dressing up in his clothes. Noelle definitely knows how to get me interested. Needless to say, I finished this in a very short amount of time and stayed up way later than I should have in the finishing. This is classic female hero driven fantasy at its best, and I would absolutely recommend it to fans of Tamora Pierce or Maria V. Snyder.
I loved that Cynthia Voigt took inspiration from the middle ages, but didn’t romanticize the middle ages. Gwyn’s life is brutally hard, and the struggles of the people around her are dire. I loved that Gwyn saw how impotent she was to change everything, but still felt compelled to try. Her actions as Jackaroo are sometimes harsh (the phrase “vigilante justice” comes to mind) but so is her world. The only part of this story that I didn’t really love was the ending. Yes, it’s what I wanted and it was very satisfying. However, I really wish that Gwyn had gotten there by choice. It’s lucky for her that she randomly fell into a marriage with the man who was perfect for her all along, but it would have been much more fulfilling for me if she had actually chosen that relationship on her own.
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publication Date: 2/26/13
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
[GR | Amazon]
This was my blackout read and it served its purpose incredibly well. I was utterly absorbed by this story – much more than I ever expected to be. This book reminded me that I am a closet romantic and I really do enjoy romance when it’s done well. Even when prickly Eleanor and quiet Park were saying some pretty cheesy things to each other, my cringe level stayed surprisingly low. But then, Rowell does such a wonderful job of bucking the typical YA romance roles. Eleanor is overweight, dresses in ill-fitting thrift store clothes, has a thorny personality, and has to deal with poverty and an extremely bad home life. Park is an outcast both at home and with his classmates. He’s quiet and small; he wears black and listens to new wave. He’s the lone Asian kid in a WASP community.
When these two slowly forged a connection – through nonverbal sharing of comic books and music at first, and then eventually through…you know, actual talking – I bought it. This book also reminded me vividly of how horrible it can be to be a child, completely beholden to someone else for your shelter, food, and security – and not always someone with your best interests at heart. I didn’t connect quite as well with the middle of the book, when it got super romancey with the declarations and whatnot but I thought the ending was pretty great. It was just resolved enough and it felt realistic. I will definitely be looking for Attachments by this same author, as I hear that it’s even better.
Author: Matthew Quick
Publication Date: 5/1/10
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
[GR | Amazon]
Have you ever wondered what would happen if Pollyanna had a baby with Benji and that baby grew up to be a quirky urban YA novel with lots of weird slang? Well, wonder no more, for here lies your answer. Amber Appleton is an irrepressibly optimistic teenage girl who travels through her town spreading hope and cheer wherever she goes. Nothing can get her down for long – even the fact that she’s living in a school bus with her alcoholic mom and it’s the middle of winter. She seems to thrive on being selfless and generous – on kindling hope in others. In short, she’s exactly the opposite of how I would be in that situation.
But what happens when Amber’s already rough life is rocked by a huge tragedy? What happens when the ambassador of hope loses the ability to help everyone who’s been counting on her? Well, if you’ve seen either Pollyanna or Benji, then you will probably know the answer to that question (minus that whole subplot in Benji with the kidnapping scheme). What elevated this book a bit for me was the style of the writing. There’s some weird slang in this book, and it is very distracting to begin with but it became more and more endearing the more I read. Truth? Truth. Amber has a kind of merry band of misfit boys, she loves to talk to the big JC (aka Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, for all the Outlander fans), she regularly debates an ancient pillar of negativity, and she runs a Motown chorus for recent Korean immigrants. Where this book felt formulaic and predictable in its story, it felt fresh and creative in its style. I think this would make a great movie. It even has the perfect Hollywood ending.
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Publication Date: 3/29/11
Publisher: Tor Books
[GR | Amazon]
Undoubtedly this is one of the most brilliant things I’ve read this year. I’m coming to realize that that statement will probably apply to just about every Catherynne Valente I read. One of the major reasons that I didn’t review this upon finishing it was that I just had no idea how I was going to possibly say anything coherent about something so over the top amazing. HOW? How do I explain that this is one of the most seamless, meaningful unions of fantasy and reality that I’ve ever read? Not only does she bring Stalinist Russia to life, she populates it with legendary fairy tale characters, magic and myth. In a time of revolution – in a time when new ideas are embraced and the old are burned – she gives us the stories that are so ingrained in the soil and the sky and the blood of the people that they can’t ever truly disappear.
I had never read about Koschei the Deathless, or Ivan or Marya Morevna before, but from what I understand (mostly from reading Wikipedia articles – not gonna lie) she turns this story on its ear. She takes a story featuring the archetypal captured girl (innocent and helpless), the cruel captor (evil and selfish), and the rescuing hero (stalwart and brave), and turns it into something completely different. What if the girl, through blood and battle, became a formidable woman? What if she didn’t want to be rescued? What if the captor were the only man who could truly match her? I won’t forget this story for a very, very long time.
And here’s a song, because I just can't help myself on this one:
Dmitri Shostakovich - Symphony No. 7, "Leningrad"
Author: Lish McBride
Publication Date: 9/12/12
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
[GR | Amazon]
This one is going to be super short because I just don’t have much to say. I never do about this series, even though I love it. These books are completely enjoyable and fun and they make me smile. I love that Sam, the “sensitive beta-male” isn’t afraid to let his alpha girlfriend be a powerful leader, even at the expense of their relationship. I love that he’s willing to step aside and respect her decisions and give her time to work out her own life. Sam is like that sweet, crunchy granola guy who I’m sure we’ve all met a few times in our lives – he’s unassuming and kind, easy to talk to, and he just wants to get along. In this book, he has to take a bit more decisive action in his life, but he finds a way to do it that’s true to his character and I really appreciated that. He also becomes somewhat of a badass (in a crunchy granola sort of way) which is pretty satisfying to witness. This book also had me cackling like a mad woman. Lish McBride’s humor is easy and effortless and often reminds me of me and my friends just sitting around making random jokes. Which is probably why it completely works on me.
Oh, and here’s a song for this one too:
Peter, Bjorn, and John - May Seem Macabre