Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Review: This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers
Reviewed by Maggie: June 22, 2012
Published June 19, 2012 by St. Martin's Griffin
Goodreads • Buy at AmazonKindleBook Depository

I get the hype.

This Is Not a Test reminded me of Lord of the Flies meets The Walking Dead -- the first season when you're actually cheering for the humans and not the zombies -- with a dash of The Breakfast Club. Not only was this my first Courtney Summers book, this was also my first zombie book. Verdict? I'd like more of both please.

Sloane, a physically and emotionally abused girl, finds herself barricaded inside her high school along with five other students. While they know each other, they aren't friends. They came together because they were the only ones who weren't infected in a town overrun by zombies. The only signal they get on the radio is a recorded message informing them that "This is not a test." The school seems secure, the perfect place for a group struggling to survive. The difference between Sloan and everyone else is that she doesn't care to survive -- and hasn't since before the first zombie appeared.

There are so many elements to this novel. To begin, the setting is perfect. This is a survival story, but by having the group camped out at the school, the two basic elements of survival -- food and shelter -- are taken care of. Now instead of having the characters scrounge around for basic physical necessities, Summers can focus on the psychological aspect of survival. Holy mindfuck, Batman. This is an area where Summers excels. Not only is this about the living versus the dead, it's about the living dead, the people whose lives make them feel dead already. Sloane's survival up to this point has been more of a reflex than a desire. She watches as the other people in her group make choices -- cruel, arguably necessary choices -- to improve their own chances of survival. There is so much tension and suspense in this book as you try to figure out how it's going to end while you piece together how it began.

Of course, I also have to mention that one of the characters is Asian! Cary Chen, the stoner-turned-de facto leader, is a complicated, non-stereotypical character. Thank you, Courtney Summers, for that. And because I like to be thorough, I went ahead and mentally cast him.

I was hesitant to try Summers' previous books because while the reviews were often glowing, they would also include the words "uncomfortable," "intense," and "raw." Honestly, I just thought they would be too much for me, like the literary equivalent of Requiem for a Dream, a movie that I'm still not over and it came out 10 years ago! Adding zombies, though, is the perfect filter for all the intensity.  The very real exploration of human nature and cruelty is much more palatable to a wuss like me with the paranormal zombie element. Having said that, I wish there was more information on the zombies, particularly how they came to be or how widespread they were. I know zombies aren't the focus of the story, but since they were included, I wanted to know more. Nevertheless, This Is Not a Test was the perfect introduction to Courtney Summers.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dispatch from ALA12

I survived.

And I've got a lot of junk in my trunk.
The Black Eyed Peas once dared to ask, What you gon' do with all that junk? All that junk inside your trunk? I'll answer that and more in my recap once I catch up on some sleep. And finish my wine. Remember, wine goes bad once it's opened.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Review: Where I Belong by Gwendolyn Heasley

Where I Belong by Gwendolyn Heasley
Reviewed by Noelle: June 19, 2012
Published February 8, 2011 by HarperTeen
Goodreads • Buy paperback on AmazonKindleBook Depository

Corinne is the stereotypical spoiled rich girl with the narcissistic entitled attitude to prove it.  After her dad is laid off and her family loses most of their net worth in a Ponzi scheme, Corinne is shipped off with her little brother to Broken Spoke, Texas to live with her mother's semi-estranged parents.  Goodbye credit cards, hello public school.  Her new life entails having to *gasp* eat carbs and *double gasp* buy off the rack and *hyperventilate into paper bag* get a job! 

Never mind that her grandmother seems to be Paula Deen in the kitchen and the local Lyla Garrity equivalent wants to be her BFF-- Corinne considers her life ruined.  She balks at normal human interactions and generally see the whole experience as beneath her. She stubbornly persists that her living situation is temporary and doesn't see why she should bother trying to adapt or reprioritize.

Despite some capable and occasionally funny writing, Corinne's lack of attitude adjustment really brought down the book for me.  To her, the recession is the end of dropping $1000 on a dress for a school function.  It doesn't even occur to her that if the recession means such drastic changes for her privileged ass, what it must mean for those already struggling financially.

It's like if Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie's reality show The Simple Life was aired DURING the recession.  

Sure, sometimes the culture shock is funny.  Sometimes it's offensive as hell.

Corinne spends the entire book looking down on people: her family, the non-socialites of Broken Spoke and then the socialites of her old life when her former BFF comes to visit.  Even worse, Corinne has no trouble verbalizing her perceived inferiority of everyone and everything around her, blaming it on her lack of filter.  She also has no problem, however, keeping her comments to herself when one of her new friends is insulted in front of her or when she has the opportunity to express any sort of gratitude whatsoever.

I kept waiting for the epiphany---the moment Corinne realizes she should examine herself before putting down others--but it never happened.  Even after she bitches out her old BFF for being everything Corinne herself still is, no light bulb goes off.  To the very end, Corinne has the self awareness of...well:

Corinne is so self centered her relationships with other characters end up as shallow as she is, making it impossible to get invested in any of her interactions with other people.  It's a shame because the author thought up several interesting characters and situations to put them through but Corinne's detachment left much of the potential untapped.

Corinne makes some (very minor) changes but in the end it just seemed too much like:

Rating: 2/5 stars

Monday, June 18, 2012

Summer Lovin! Review: One Special Summer by Jacqueline and Lee Bouvier

Do you have Seasonal Book Syndrome? It's when you find yourself picking up a particular book at the same time year after year. Seasonal Book Syndrome always hits me in the summer when I have to pick up One Special Summer by Jacqueline and Lee Bouvier.
I came across this book a few summers ago. I had just finished A Thousand Days of Magic: Dressing Jacqueline Kennedy for the White House by Oleg Cassini, which for a Vogue-loving political science nerd like me was total book porn, and I wanted to read more about Jackie. I was also taking a French language course to apply for a program in France at the time. Opening this book, written in 1951 by a 22-year-old Jackie and a 18-year-old Lee, was like seeing what I wanted for my future diary.
I checked this book out of the library so many times I hoped my librarian would pull a Beauty and the Beast move and insist I just keep it. I even had my "But sir! ...Thank you. Thank you very much!" ready. Sadly, life isn't a Disney movie. I ended up getting the latest Rizzoli edition from Amazon for $10 in 2008, but it was clearly a used copy and I've been kicking myself ever since for not buying a new copy for $20 more.

So what is this book about? One Special Summer was Jackie and Lee's scrapbook of their trip across Western Europe right after Lee's graduation from high school. This wasn't written in hopes of getting published but rather as a thank you to their mother, who preferred homemade gifts. Jackie and Lee compiled a handwritten scrapbook of their various adventures, with illustrations and poetry by Jackie and descriptions and summaries by Lee. 
Picture from an auction of the first edition.
Picture of the same page from my book.
The first edition was published in 1974, after Jacqueline Bouvier had become First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and then Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. In the prologue of the Rizzoli edition published in 2006, Lee Bouvier Radziwill wrote,
This was an ode to discovery, youth, and adventure by one very young.
Flipping through these pages, I understand why my mom always harped on me about keeping a diary. Of course I didn't listen, but I wish I had, especially when I think back to my first trip to Europe. When I went to live in France, I kept this book in my mind and forced myself to journal. I didn't journal every day or even every week, but I tried to record special moments and feelings. I even embarrassingly tried a doodle or two.

This is such a great book to give young adults, especially those who are longing for their first trip abroad. There are dated references, such as telegrams and third class cabins on boats, but the excitement and the anticipation of an 18-year-old girl going to Europe for the first time is the same. It's creative and imaginative in a way that posting pictures to Facebook will never be.

Something that people may find off-putting is that this book and the two upper class girls who wrote it are very much products of their time. When Lee meets a flirtatious man from Lebanon on the boat, she writes,
Jackie has warned me about the quirks in the sex lives of Near Easterners!!
The flip side to that, though, is that this book seems like a honest snapshot of the era, albeit from a very privileged perspective. When Lee and Jackie try to re-sell the cheap used car they bought, they meet with a lawyer-turned-missionary who says he doesn't want to pay much because "$5 could keep an African child alive for a month and every $5 he spent on himself meant one more would starve to death." The girls' response?
We were for slaughtering the whole tribe but his conscience would only let him starve 206 of them.
Definitely not something you picture coming out of the mouth of the future First Lady, right? I loved seeing the sarcastic side of a young Jackie, especially since the image that's ingrained in the history books is of a refined, proper figure -- not someone who'd say something so Jessica Darling. I love that nothing's been changed from the original 1951 scrapbook, not even the things that could've been viewed as politically incorrect when it was first published in 1974.

One Special Summer is a unique and colorful look into the lives of two sisters on the cusp of adulthood. The fact that one sister grew up to be one of America's most famous and guarded women makes the book even more special. This is one of my favorite books and, though out of print, definitely worth tracking down. If not at your local library, there are used copies on Amazon.

Rating: 5/5 stars.

One Special Summer by Jacqueline and Lee Bouvier
Published April 11, 2006 by Rizzoli • Goodreads • Buy used on Amazon
Reviewed by Maggie: June 18, 2012

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Bookmark Binge: June 17,2012

Can't get enough of...

Something Like Normal?
Staff Sergeant Eric Kocher discusses different aspects of being a Marine on Big Think.
Great story on 92-year-old vet Big Hy Strachman who bootlegs DVDs to send the troops.

Look at all these links lying around...
Kinda wish we had thought of this for our cover reveal this week
International cover comparisons are always fun.
Belle's Bookshelf shared the awesome Fictitious Dishes photography series.
A little journey down Farenheit 451 cover memory lane.
Super recapper Flannery strikes again with her Fierce Reads Tour play by play.
Forbidden Planet asks where have all the illustrated book covers gone?
Patrick Ness being his Patrick Ness Bestest.

Coming soon -- What We're Reading and Reviewing... In Theory



Maggie will be attending ALA Anaheim this week, so if you see someone looking lost, say hi! And definitely let us know if you're going.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Review: Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller
Reviewed by Maggie: June 14, 2012
Published June 19, 2012 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Goodreads • Preorder at AmazonKindleBook Depository

"In war, there are no unwounded soldiers."
- José Narosky

Something Like Normal is about a 19-year-old Marine who returns home after serving in Afghanistan for a year. Travis Stephenson is physically intact, but after spending a year on active duty and seeing his best friend get killed, his emotional scars manifest in a form of PTSD. Travis doesn't even feel like he's home because home to him is with his fellow Marines, not his parents' house in Florida where he never lived up to his father's expectations. He's also confronted by Harper Gray, a girl whose reputation got trashed after a little white lie Travis told when they were 13 years old got out of hand.

My biggest concern before reading Something Like Normal was whether a young adult book could accurately portray Marines. One of my favorite shows, HBO's Generation Kill based on the book by Evan Wright, set the standard with its raw, unflinching portrayal of Recon Marines stationed in Iraq. In Trish Doller's hands, my initial concern turned out to be moot. To use a Brad "Iceman" Colbert-ism, this book is pretty fucking ninja.

I love it when authors write about subjects they love. When Kirsty Eagar writes about surfing, her passion for it comes across the page and temporarily makes it my passion. Trish Doller loves Marines. Her affection for them is evident in her portrayal of these young soldiers and all the research that clearly went into making sure she did justice to their depiction. Though this story doesn't take place during battle, she gives us some insight into the conditions with her descriptions of the flea bites on the soldiers' legs and the sand that would get into every orifice. However, Doller's affection for Marines doesn't mean she turns them into saints. The passage that sold me on the book happens on page 10, when Travis talks about his motivations for enlisting. He says,
I didn't have a noble purpose in joining the Marines. I didn't do it to protect American freedom and I wasn't inspired to action by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I was in grade school then, and the biggest priority in my life was any bell that signaled it was time to leave school. I enlisted mostly because I wanted to escape my dad, who'd made my life hell since I quit the football team at the end of sophomore season.
This isn't about politics or patriotism -- it's about people. And those are the stories that I care about. I care about Travis and the friends. I laughed at their nicknames for each other, like Solo, Kevlar, and Fido.

In addition to not turning them into saints, I love that she doesn't water down the dialogue by making it PC or PG. Forget soldiers, what 19-year-old male do you know who doesn't swear or say politically incorrect things? Dawson Leery doesn't count. These guys say "fuck" and they call each other "retards." And so do the guys I know. They also fuck around with girls.

This brings me to what doesn't work for me and why I'm giving the book 4 stars instead of 5. Doller's love of Marines doesn't affect her realistic portrayal of Travis, but perhaps it led her to create a perfect, unrealistic girl for him. Harper, though likable, doesn't seem believable. A guy responsible for ruining her reputation for YEARS -- to the point where even parents know about her -- comes back into town and after one token punch to the face, she starts to get over it? Maybe it's because I'm Korean and a Scorpio, but I don't get over shit that quickly, IF EVER. And if I only get ONE hit, it definitely ain't going to the face. I never sensed any real tension, even when Travis's ex-girlfriend comes into the picture. Sure, Harper gets mad but... not really. Maybe she was in love with Travis since middle school thus making it easier for her to forgive and forget, but then, that just makes me want to hit her in the face.

Still, all the other relationships in the book are so well done that my issue with Harper seems minor. Travis's developing relationship with his mother made me cry. The love and desperation the mother of a soldier feels is so palpable. I also really like the depiction of Travis's relationship with his brother, in that there isn't one. Travis's father, the ex-Green Bay Packer, raised his sons to compete against one another, often favoring one over the other. It's no surprise that the sibling relationship is contentious and broken. It also helps you understand why Travis considers his fellow Marines his true brothers.

This book will make you want to hug a Marine -- if Trish Doller hasn't gotten to them all.
It allows you a look into the life of a guy, who happens to be a soldier. Stay frosty, it comes out next week. 

Rating: 4/5 stars.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cover Reveal: The Reece Malcolm List

We have three words for you: Reveal. Yo. Self.
We loved having Amy Spalding here last week to talk about how her cover idea started. And now we get to see the final cover. Reveal yo self, Amy!

Thanks so much to all the great blogs who hosted part of The Reece Malcolm List cover reveal blog tour: Young Adult AnonymousGReads!Novel NoviceA Good AddictionClear Eyes, Full Shelves, and The Book Cellar.

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for: the final cover reveal for The Reece Malcolm List!  Drumroll, please...

Things I know about Reece Malcolm:

1. She graduated from New York University.
2. She lives in or near Los Angeles.
3. Since her first novel was released, she’s been on the New York Times bestseller list every week.
4. She likes strong coffee and bourbon.
5. She’s my mother.

Devan knows very little about Reece Malcolm, until the day her father dies and she’s shipped off to live with the mother she’s never met. All she has is a list of notebook entries that doesn’t add up to much.

L.A. offers a whole new world to Devan—a performing arts school allows her to pursue her passion for show choir and musicals, a new circle of friends helps to draw her out of her shell, and an intriguing boy opens up possibilities for her first love.

But then the Reece Malcolm list gets a surprising new entry. Now that Devan is so close to having it all, can she handle the possibility of losing everything?

Visit Amy around the web:

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Bookmark Binge: June 10, 2012

As the great Ron Swanson once said:
Instead of half-assing the blog, we whole-assed our other commitments last week. However, we will be back whole-assing this week, including a review of Something Like Normal on Monday and the cover reveal for The Reece Malcolm List on Wednesday. Until then, enjoy these links!

Can't get enough of...
Amy Spaulding's The Reece Malcolm List cover reveal tour?
Amy kicked off the tour here at YAA on Tuesday with a guest post about how she came up with an idea for the cover.  The tour continued at...
GReads with adventures in location scouting
Novel Novice on the importance of wardrobe and styling
A Good Addiction has an exclusive interview with the cover model

Look at all these links lying around...
Just in case you missed it, The Readventurer's YA Flow Chart at Stacked is a must-see.
If Ron Swanson wrote book blurbs.
Into audiobooks? Into FREE audiobooks? Bookmark this link (via bookshelves of doom).
If any of you are participating in the 48 Book Challenge this weekend--good luck!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Cover Reveal: The Reece Malcolm List

We're so excited to welcome Amy Spalding to Young Adult Anonymous to start her cover reveal tour for The Reece Malcolm List, her debut novel. It's one of the books we're anticipating most highly in 2013, and you know we love a pretty cover. Without further ado, here's Amy.

Welcome to the blog tour for the exclusive cover reveal of The Reece Malcolm List, coming February 2013 from Entangled Teen! This post kicks off the series. Thanks so much to Maggie and everyone at Young Adult Anonymous for having me.

I’m pretty sure one of the things most writers worry about, once the book deal’s been finalized and the contract is signed and the Publishers Weekly announcement is out there, is their book cover. Yeah, yeah, we’ve been told our whole life not to figuratively or literally judge a book by its cover, but we do.

Book covers are important, right? Yes. They’re crazy important. I have picked up books I wouldn’t have otherwise because of their beautiful covers. I have avoided books I found out later were wonderful because of their heinous front covers. And I don’t like to speak for others but I’m gonna say most writers want our books to be in the former category, not the latter.

I’m really lucky to be at a small publisher like Entangled, because they take a lot of care to make sure a whiny and control-freakish author such as myself will be happy with the final product. I received a cover suggestion form almost immediately upon signing, and filled it out diligently, as well as spent loads of time looking for examples of other book covers I loved that would hit the same tone as I needed for my contemporary YA The Reece Malcolm List.

I also thought, hmmm, maybe I can just cut out the middle man and look directly for a great photo. I’m great with stock image sites! So I started looking, and before long, I found something amazing. I found something perfect.

Well. Almost amazing. Almost perfect.

I loved everything about this. The titular Reece Malcolm List is something Devan, the book’s main character, keeps in a notepad. I could immediately imagine the title on this photo, imagine my name, even conjure up a hypothetical glowing blurb. But there were some serious issues, guys.

For one thing, this girl looks about thirteen, while Devan is sixteen. Also Devan is really into fashion. She’d never be caught dead in this outfit. Plus her hair is darker. Plus obviously she wouldn’t draw childish doodles. She would draw doodles related to the list or to her new school or to the musical she’s in AND OF COURSE to the boy she’s crushing on.

But I would not accept defeat! A plan began to solidify in my crazy little writer brain….

Find out all about my crazy plan tomorrow on GReads, and come back to Young Adult Anonymous on Wednesday, June 13, for an exclusive reveal of The Reece Malcolm List’s cover!

Amy Spalding grew up in St. Louis, but now lives in the better weather of Los Angeles. She received a B.A. in Advertising & Marketing Communications from Webster University, and currently works as the Digital Media Planner for an independent film advertising agency. Amy studied longform improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, and can be seen performing around L.A. Her debut novel, The Reece Malcolm List, will be published by Entangled Teen in 2013, and combines many of her favorite things in life, including Stephen Sondheim and boys with great hair.

Visit Amy around the web:
Official site

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Bookmark Binge: June 3, 2012

Haven't gotten enough of...


Sarra Manning vlogs about her teenage musical influences, including Hole and The Smiths.
She also vlogs about other influences, including Jordan Catalano and leaning.
Her official Adorkable playlist on Spotify.
Manning's Adorkable Pinterest board.

Oh look at all these links lying around...
As you know we're big book-related jewelry fans here at YAA.  If you are too, check out Katie's Book Blog Bookish Jewelry tag.
A Todd and Manchee (Chaos Walking) illustration by Grace (liberatrix) on tumblr.
Stacia Kane isn't a YA author but she IS pretty freaking awesome. (Also awesome: her Downside Ghost series).
Couldn't make it to the YA or Bust book tour featuring Nina LaCour, Gayle Forman and Stephanie Perkins? Check out Authors are Rockstars' podcast.

Coming soon -- What We're Reading and Reviewing... In Theory

Bridesmaid duties galore this week but hopefully---