Friday, November 25, 2011

Fortnightly Book Recommendations: Hush, Mara Dyer, Lola, & The Near Witch

I have four YA books to recommend for you this time, and they're all pretty different, so I'm not going to pretend there's a theme or something. The theme is: Books I have recently read and liked! (There may be some spoilers below, but I've tried to avoid major stuff, especially in regards to the more mystery-like plots.)

(Disclaimers: I know Steph Perkins and sometimes chat with Victoria Schwab and Michelle Hodkin on Twitter. But I would not recommend their books if I didn't really like them!)

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
I liked Anna and the French Kiss a lot, but I love love LOVED Lola. It's quite possibly the best YA romance I've read . . . ever? I can't think of a better one offhand, anyway. I loved that Lola had her own interests and strong personality completely apart from any relationship. I loved that her family situation was complicated but the fact that she had two dads was the simplest, most normal thing about it. I loved that it wasn't about falling for her first boyfriend, that she spent a good chunk of the novel with the wrong guy. I loved that the fact that she was with the wrong guy made perfect sense and was completely in character, but it made even more sense for her to be with the right guy. I loved that Cricket was a geek and a little awkward. I loved that he was so obviously a good guy, in the moral sense of the word. I loved that he had his own family and personal problems, aside from the romance. I loved that the girl was more sexually experienced than the boy and it wasn't A Big Deal at all. I loved that Cricket and Lola had history but that it also made sense that they liked each other in the present. I loved that Anna and Etienne were around so much. I loved it ALL.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
This book was way different from practically anything I've ever read, and I don't say that lightly. And while there are probably books I love better, I can't recall being so gosh darn fascinated by one in recent memory. My friend Hermione is very picky about books, but after many years of friendship I know her tastes, so she relies on me to tell her if she'll like things.* As I read this one, she kept asking if she should read it, and I kept saying "I don't know! I can't figure out if you'd like it! I can't even figure out what it IS!" I knew I liked it from the start, though, partially because I had no idea what was going on - but in a very controlled way. I wasn't confused because it was badly written, but rather the opposite: I was confused because Hodkin did such a masterful job of deliberately confusing me. And I've just realized I haven't told you anything about the plot, so: Mara (not her real name) survives an accident in which her friends die, but she can't remember what happened. And she suspects there's more going on than everyone thinks, so (with the help of a really hot guy) she sets out to recover her memories and figure out what's going on. And that made it sound a million times more boring and normal than it is. I just can't find the words to describe how awesome and insane this book actually is, clearly. (An aside about the romance: I have seen reviewers complain that there was too much time devoted to the love story, and that some things about the relationship Set A Bad Example For The Dumb Impressionable Girls or whatever, and I just want to say that I disagree wholeheartedly with both of those objections, but alas, I can't say why without ruining a big part of the plot.) Oh, and if you were wondering, yes, I wound up telling Hermione she should give this one a try. So should you. Really.

The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab
This is another one that's a little hard to describe - it's fantasy, I guess, but reads like a fairy tale, more specifically. It's about a girl named Lexi in a town where there aren't ever any strangers, and what happens when a stranger shows up around the same time children start going missing. The plot is intriguing, but what really stands out about this book is the beautiful writing and how atmospheric it is. I'm not one to always picture what I'm reading, but I did with this book, especially (for some reason) Lexi's bedroom with its candles and piles of blankets. I kept wanting to cuddle up under lots of blankets while reading. And the wind, oh, the wind - it's practically its own character here, and Schwab did a great job with that. There was also more romance than I expected, which was a delightful surprise! This is the perfect book to curl up with on a cold, windy winter night.

Hush by Eishes Chayil
This semi-autobiographical novel (written under a pseudonym) is about Gittel, an Orthodox Jewish girl who witnessed her friend's brother sexually abusing her friend - and then the friend kills herself and the families and community cover it all up. As Gittel grows up, she tries to forget the whole thing, but can't, and eventually has to decide whether to expose the whole thing to the outside world. It deals with very serious, important subjects, of course, but my main reasons for liking it weren't very different from reasons why I like other books. First of all, I love reading about daily life in other cultures, especially cultures based on or highly involved with religious practice. And second, I liked that Gittel seemed very much a part of her culture. Her childhood rebellions were small and believable - eating a non-kosher candy, say. It drives me crazy when heroines who live in conservative societies (or who are in historical fiction) suddenly become fully-formed feminists without any real reason or explanation of their influences or why they're the one girl around who hates their society's strictures, and that was avoided here. It also had perhaps the best treatment of an arranged marriage I've read - Gittel saw it as a matter of course, because that's how all relationships in her society formed, and it didn't end up being love at first sight or anything, but it was, you know, fine. Perfect middle ground, and probably more common in real life than the usual fictional portrayals of "I will insist on marrying for LOVE even though I've never heard of anyone else doing that!" or "I was iffy about this but oh, look, he is hot! I love him!" or "Because this is an arranged marriage it is obviously ruining my life because how could it not?" The way it was handled in the novel just seemed more realistic.

* No offense intended to any authors or books here: this has nothing to do with the quality of the books. It's kind of . . . idiosyncratic. For example, she has Demon Issues. And issues with anyone who reminds her of Fanny Price. ANYWAY.

Friday, November 11, 2011

New Feature: Fortnightly Book Recommendations!

I've been wanting to recommend things to you all, and I did a little survey of my Twitter followers and most preferred the idea of batched recommendations rather than a short post for each one. I was considering monthly posts until someone suggested fortnightly, and, well, I just love the word "fortnight." So here we are! Every other Friday, I will tell you about some books I like. I'll try to focus on ones I've just read, but sometimes I'll throw in some older things I've never recommended before, or things that go with a certain theme, or something. You can find my previous recommendations here and here and here and here and here, and henceforth I will tag these posts as "fortnightly book recommendations" so you can find them easily.

To this week's recommendations! I have a dark smorgasbord for you: a YA paranormal, a ghost story for kids, a classic horror short story, and a very adult murder mystery.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Question of Jane Eyre + More Practical Heroines

After I posted my previous list of practical heroines, a few of you expressed your outrage that Jane Eyre was not included. And I had thought about it! Really! But I wound up deciding that, no matter how much I love Jane Eyre (the character) and Jane Eyre (the book), she is . . . just not very practical. She is brave and independent and stubborn, but that's not the same thing. Standing up for yourself to a cousin even though you know it will get you punished and maybe beaten? Not practical. Running away out into the wilderness with no plan or supplies? Not practical. Turning down a respectable offer of marriage when you're an orphan with no prospects, in that cultural context? Not practical. And that's okay! That's why we love her! I'm not saying she's not awesome, just that she doesn't fit the criteria for this particular list. Like real people, we should allow characters to be awesome in many different ways!

Upon further reflection, though, I am surprised that no one mentioned Hermione or Katniss. Thoughts?

And here are some more suggestions for practical heroines that have trickled in:
Ann Aguirre: Sirantha Jaxx series
Cassandra Clare: Clockwork Angel
Karen Cushman: Catherine, Called Birdy
Diana Wynne Jones
Stephanie Perkins: Lola & the Boy Next Door
Diane Setterfield: The Thirteenth Tale

Friday, November 4, 2011

Practical Heroines

Yesterday I asked Twitter for book recommendations that featured Practical Heroines Who Get Things Done, because . . . well, really just because that's what I was in the mood to read. And all of you on Twitter have many good suggestions! So I thought I'd share.

First, a few I'd recommend that no one mentioned: The Spymaster's Lady by Joanna Bourne, Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon, The Demon's Lexicon trilogy by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

These are some you suggested and I have read and can vouch that the heroines are indeed practical:
Gail Carriger: The Parasol Protectorate series
Jasper Fforde: The Thursday Next series
Sue Grafton: A Is for Alibi
Laurie R. King: Mary Russell series, starting with The Beekeeper's Apprentice
Veronica Roth: Divergent

These suggestions were popular:
E. Lockhart: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
Robin McKinley: Chalice, everything else
Tamora Pierce: Basically everything by her
Terry Pratchett: The Susan Sto Helit books, Tiffany Aching books, Witches series
Patricia Wrede: Enchanted Forest Chronicles, starting with Dealing with Dragons

Others that were suggested:
Libba Bray: Beauty Queens
Emma Bull: War for the Oaks
Kristin Cashore: Graceling & Fire
James Clemens: Wit'ch Fire
Jennifer Crusie, in general
Pamela Dean: Tam Lin
Anita Diamant: The Red Tent
C.S. Friendman: In Conquest Born
Nicola Griffith: The Blue Place
Kim Harrison: The Hollows series
Eva Ibbotson: A Song for Summery
Barbara Kingsolver: The Bean Trees
George R. R. Martin: The Game of Thrones series
Colin Melot: Wildwood
John Jackson Miller: Knight Errant
James Patterson: Maximum Ride
Jackson Pearce: Sisters Red & Sweetly
Maria V. Snyder: Poison Study
Maggie Stiefvater: The Scorpio Races
Jean Webster: Dear Enemy
Scott Westerfeld: Leviathan trilogy

Do you have any more ideas? Let me know!