Monday, December 31, 2012

"Sunday" Smiles: Year-End Edition

Okay, okay, it's Monday.  But I knew I wasn't done with my 2012 reading yesterday--and the Sunday before was the day before Christmas Eve, and I hadn't finished a single book that week!  So you'll excuse the late, weird post, I hope: here are my last five reviews of 2012.  I spent all day today reading (glorious) and managed to get my year's total up to 120 books read in 2012--not the crazy goal I set for myself but definitely more than I would have read without the crazy goal, which is why I love crazy goals.   Since there are five reviews today, I am only posting two in their entirety because I love them THAT MUCH; the rest have snippets and are linked to Goodreads so you can see the full reviews if you want.

What I Read...Recently:

 Anna Dressed in Blood (Anna, #1)Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What I liked: Anna. [...] I liked Cas's voice. I liked the suspense and was actually pretty cool with the horror elements in general. I thought Carmel was better than she had to be, as the OMG Most Popular Girl Ever, which was a relief. [...]  I wanted to know more about Cas's mom and her witchcraft...[Full review]

Catching Jordan (Hundred Oaks, #1)Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book definitely picked up for me as I went along. I really liked the portrayal of the team, and what it means to be a peer leader (nerd alert: I just realized I've been roughly translating "QB" as "Stage Manager", which is why I related so strongly to that part of Jordan's life).[...] But overall, I was really rooting for Jordan and her friends, and I enjoyed parts of this one a lot.[Full review]

GentlemenGentlemen by Michael Northrop
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I started reading this book one day a year or two ago--I think I had picked up a copy for my classroom when Borders was going under or something, just on a hunch that some of my kids would like it. I only got about thirty pages in before lending it to a student or having to put it down for some other reason--that happened a lot, and it was unusual that I'd go back to books like that. But I remembered the dark, ominous, funny first thirty pages. [Full review; recommended read, esp. for reluctant readers!]

Ask The PassengersAsk The Passengers by A.S. King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. As good as everyone says it is. I can't stop thinking that it reminds me of Speak, and somehow doesn't suffer in comparison: about the highest praise I can give a YA Contemporary novel. (Oh how I would love to teach a unit with Ask the Passengers and Speak. If any books could ever make people be a little less awful to each other, I think that's the pair that would do it.) What I mean when I compare this with Speak is that both books have protagonists who feel so real, and who need and deserve so much love, and who have such difficult journeys through their small towns and high schools, and that both books just overwhelm me with how deeply I care about the characters.

I'm also really, really happy to find a book that has a main character who is truly questioning--not just reluctant to come out, but really trying to figure out how to define herself romantically and sexually, and struggling with the idea that she has to define herself that way to begin with. I appreciate books that come from different places, too: there absolutely should be more books about teenagers who are happy and confident in their sexuality across the spectrum, and more books about teenagers who are certain of their sexuality but meet with obstacles that make it hard for them to express what they know about themselves. But I think this is the first book I've read that gives so much honest space for questioning. The bottom line is, we need more books of all stripes in which young characters have the kinds of real, honest experiences of figuring out their sexual and romantic identities (and I love that this book refused to make those be the same thing). Ask the Passengers is going to set a nearly-impossible-to-top standard, but man, I would love to see more people trying to hit the high, high bar that has been set.

This is a book about questioning. It's a book about love: between parents and kids, sisters, friends, strangers, and couples. It's a book about what people say and how far that can be from the truth. It's about philosophy and brain people and tiny towns and airplanes. This is the kind of book (like Speak that I think should be required reading for everyone, full stop. You don't have to like it or feel the way I felt about it or have any particular reaction. But read this book. It will have an effect on you.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland, #1)The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I felt my heart grow three sizes as I was finishing this book. Or else I felt it get slightly squashed under all the feelings. I don't know how else to account for the suspicious dampness in my eyes when I finished--it's not a crying book, really, but there it was anyway. This is the kind of book that rewards being a forever reader--I'm sure it's lovely even if it's the first book you've ever read, but if you've read and read and read and read and read, at recess and under the covers and on buses and trains and planes and finished books before you could get them home from the library and just spent a whole life loving books, this is the kind of book that loves you back.

It's also the kind of book that very nearly anyone can read. It has the magic of a really good middle grade fairy tale; some people will cry, "But there is fighting! And injuries! And sadness! And nudity! And fish guts! Won't you think of the children!" and to those people I would say, that's the lovely thing about words: they can only be as graphic as what's in your imagination. I suppose a book that went into exceedingly long explanations of any of those things, with a great number of descriptive words, might be a little much for a child in the middle grade age range. But this one isn't one of those, so I'm not particularly troubled by the idea of a child reading words like "blood" or "naked". (In fact, I'm given to understand that most people's very first experience in this world involves both of those things, so really, why the fuss?) At any rate, I would probably have been ready to really enjoy this book around age ten or so--a fairytale riff with a great story and more than a smattering of really excellent words--but I guess I just kept getting readier and readier to read it up until this afternoon, when I finally got around to it.

The bottom line: If you like a good story, read this. If you are A Reader--if that is part of who you are, and especially if as A Reader you have spent some time already in Fairyland--YOU MUST READ THIS. It's one of Those Books that hooks in somewhere under your rib cage and tucks a tiny little piece into your heart that you didn't know was missing.

View all my reviews

Happy New Year, everyone: I'll be posting a looking back/looking ahead post tomorrow, on New Year's Day.  Until then: have a good night, be safe, and see you next year! 


  1. Love this: "...that's the lovely thing about words: they can only be as graphic as what's in your imagination." That's exactly my parenting philosophy when it comes to books and movies. The rule in our house is that you read the book first before seeing the movie (in most cases anyway) and my reason is precisely what you said. I want my son's imagination to do the work first and his mind will construct a picture based on his experience, whereas a movie director's interpretation might be far more graphic and perhaps unfaithful to the original story. I know you weren't really talking about movies, but I've said the very same thing in this context so I had to comment. :)

    Thanks for sharing these great reviews. Happy New Year!

    1. I can't recall my mother ever telling me I couldn't read something because of mature content--she'd tell me if she thought I wouldn't like it, but while she was very particular about what movies and TV I was allowed to watch, I basically had the run of the library. And amen to reading the book before the movie! I just made a big exception for myself in that arena--I watched the first season of Game of Thrones, because my husband likes it but I know I'm never going to get to the book (my TBR list couldn't take it!)

  2. Oh, ha. I just commented on your other post about your favorites, I guess I should have just scrolled down!
    I really enjoyed Anna Dressed in Blood, too. And I've started The Girl Who. . . but haven't finished it yet. I'm looking forward to it! :)

    1. I'm doing a top ten for today, I think. It's gonna be tricky to narrow it down!


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