Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances by Maureen Johnson, John Green, & Lauren Myracle

snowMost years I like to treat myself to buying a holiday romance collection. Somehow I missed this when it originally came out and was thrilled to discover it on a table at BJ’s this season.  Unfortunately, despite the promise of three superstar YA authors combined with holiday romance, this was nowhere near as good as this year’s current YA holiday collection, My True Love Gave to Me.

The first story, by Maureen Johnson, I liked the best. It sets up the premise for the interconnected stories (which, by the way I didn’t realize were interconnected because when I bought the book I literally didn’t even bother to read the back description! )It’s Christmas Eve and through a hilarious and bizarre circumstance Jubilee has to get on a train to go to her grandmother’s. A big snowstorm stalls the train on the track stranding everyone in a small town. Other characters on the train-a cheerleading team, a handsome boy-aren’t prominent in the story, but are in the other two stories.  Story #2 by John Green is mostly about two boys and a girl, all best pals, on a quest to go meet those cheerleaders by making their way through the snow to the shining oasis of the Waffle House. Story #3, well, I don’t even know how to describe. It seemed to involve a teacup pig and regret over cheating on a boy. Honestly, I was skimming by that point. I did like how it wrapped up with all the characters from the different stories coming together.

Overall, this was a bit disappointing.

My True Love Gave to Me ed. by Stephanie Perkins

trueloveThis was a terrific collection. I adore Christmas story collections and each year try to find one to buy or check out (I’m partial to Christmas Regency romances.) This year I bought a YA collection, as well as got this new one from the library. A couple were just ok for me, and I skipped two, but these were the standouts I really liked:

Midnights by Rainbow Rowell-solid Rowell story. I liked checking in with the characters on each New Year’s Eve

Polaris is Where You’ll Find Me by Jenny Han-I can only describe this as “girl Elf.” A human child who Santa found as a baby and raised at the North Pole? Except she’s sadly aware that she’s human and everyone else is not. I loved the details about the elves and life with Santa (aka “Papa”).

It’s a yuletide miracle, Charlie Brown by Stephanie Perkins- you know how in Anna and the French Kiss and the other two Perkins book I say that her characters are so ridiculously talented in interesting and quirky ways that you can’t help but be jealous of these make believe people? I felt this story had that hallmark because Marigold is a super talented animated video creator. But beyond that I just loved this. Her hoarder like apartment (not hoarding-just the entire contents of a house left by movers in the same spot for over a year), the hunky guy and his family’s tree farm, it was all just lovely.

Welcome to Christmas, CA by Kiersten White-like a Hallmark Christmas movie! Seriously, this should be a tv movie. A tiny town that’s not even a town it’s so small, a teenage girl who can’t wait to get out and leave her mom’s annoying boyfriend, they’re poor, everyone is crabby, and then a new cook comes to town who somehow knows just what people need to make them happy and cooks it. And then the wonderfully touching ending that, if you’re sappy like me, brings a tear to your eye.

Star of Bethlehem by Ally Carter-also ripe for a tv movie. Swapping identities on the spur of the moment and going to a small town in Oklahoma where everyone thinks you’re an Icelandic exchange student but you’re really a superstar hiding out. Away from fame and your creepy manager you love the warm and big family that welcomes you. The perfect ending. This was like watching a wonderful and funny tv movie.

The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer by Laini Taylor- initially I thought this was a terrible choice for the last story in this holiday collection. It’s very fantasy and dreamy and really not Christmassy at all. Very different from the Hallmark Christmas movie entries. But! Laini Taylor is an awesome writer and you get so caught up in this beautiful and strange story that who cares where it is? I really liked it. It was like a magical fairy tale.

Breakfast on Mars and 37 other Delectable Essays

marsPaul brought this home and I was attracted by the cover, plus he told me some authors I like were in it.  The premise of this collection is that some excellent authors are going to tackle traditional school essay topics and show you how great they can be.  I thought that the angle might be to satirize the essay a bit, but that was not the case at all.  Each essay genuinely is whatever type of essay it is supposed to be and they are, for the most part, great.  My favorite was the very first one I read, which I read first because I like the author-Scott Westerfeld.  His topic was to debunk a popular idea.  And the idea was the adult books don’t have pictures because adults should use their imaginations and only little kids need pictures.  Well.  I think I would like to make every adult who has that notion or pooh-poohs graphic novels, read this essay.  He explains that once all those classics like Wuthering Heights, A Tale of Two Cities, etc.-books for adults-were illustrated and that the change in publishing was more a matter of the introduction of photography and the decline of the profession of illustrator. It was fascinating and well told.  I also liked “pick a myth or urban legend and argue why it must be true.” Kirsten Miller had me practically believing that Sasquatch might truly exist!

Other popular topics were things like “describe an experience that a profound impact on you”, “describe your unique family”,  a persuasive essay, debating both sides of a topic, and if you could pick a trait from an animal to have what would it be? (Tails!)

This was a surprisingly enjoyable book and I hope that high school English teachers might keep a copy in their rooms for students to read and get inspiration from.

The Best of 2010

It’s New Year’s Eve and that means I like to look back at this blog and first count up how many books I read this year, and then pick out my top 10.  This year I read 57 books. That doesn’t seem like a very high number to me, but it does equal more than one a week which is more than many people read, so I guess I’m doing alright.  As for top 10, well I’ve really got a top 15.  And by “of 2010” I mean that they are books I read in 2010, they don’t necessarily have a publication date of 2010 (though, in fact, most of them do.)  Here’s my very scientific method for choosing my best-first the few books that I automatically remembered  went on the list. Then I looked through the list of posts for this year and chose any book that was something I immediately remembered vividly, something that had an emotional impact on me, something I thought was great. Here are my best remembered, most favorite, books I most often said “you have to read this!” about, books I am still thinking about months later, books of 2010.

Everything Matters by Ron Currie, Jr.–this reminds me I want to read his other things. This wasn’t the most fun book I read this year, but it really stood out to me as a well written book that gripped me and gave me a lot to think about it. (Original post here)

Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling–wow did this book ever stick with me (and introduce me to a whole world of people who are into these). I can’t wait to read the rest in the series. And by the Lord and Lady, I will! (Original post here)

Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson (YA)–beautifully put together, a book that has playlists built into it, and all around awesome road trip journey novel (Original post here)

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly (YA)–rich and realistic, historical and present day, I thought this was an amazing book and intense story.  Made the French Revolution vivid and heartbreaking. (Original post here)

Candymakers by Wendy Mass (YA)–I will recommend this to every child, teen, and adult I can. Maybe the most fun book I’ve read this year. With a nod to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the rest is all original and creative, and the book is put together in a wonderful way, with each section at once repeating and building upon the story. (Original post here)

Machine of Death (anthology)–I’ve passed this around, gifted it last week for Christmas, and am still thinking about it.  I came to it via a sewing blog (!) The concept (machine tells you how you will die) is taken by many different authors and written about in such different ways. A super solid collection with a fascinating premise at its core. (Original post here)

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins–this has to be on the list for anyone who has been following the Hunger Games trilogy.  I personally did not think this much anticipated conclusion disappointed in the least.  I found it full of excitement, as well as very moving. (Original post here)

One Day by David Nicholls–engrossing, heart breaking, real, funny, all around great book.  I worry it’s being overshadowed by the fact that the movie version was already being filmed as this was starting to be widely read. The characterization in this book is fantastic. (Original post here)

The Help by Kathryn Stockett–I’m late to the party on this one. You know I’m not wild about liking Oprah type, nationally popular books, but as they say, sometimes there’s a reason something is popular. It’s just a flat out really good story, and it is told very, very well. The novel captured my imagination and my curiosity about history and sociology. It made indignant and outraged, and also very judgmental. (Original post here)

The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall–Another popular one (this made the top of the EW list for the year) This book was huge and took me forever to read, but it was worth it.  With 28 children and a bunch of wives, there are a lot of characters in this book.  Most of them are very vivid and clear, and none more so than Golden, the polygamist protagonist himself.  My feelings really changed back and forth about Golden, but I always felt very invested in him and the story.  An everyman hero? Not really, but I went from thinking of him as a weak little man to a big man with a big heart, big family, and big destiny. (Original post here)

Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick (YA)–This gets chosen because I can still recall the emotional impact it had on me, all my crying, and how I thought for days it was so awesome.  I don’t remember the feisty main character’s name but wow does she have a shitty life.  And yet-moments of funny laughter and warmth. (Original post here)

Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald–The premise of this was so awesome. And then it was just bizarre and creepy that it was based on something that actually existed-a practice baby raised by home economics students.  That baby is Henry and the story follows how he turns out.  Sociologically riveting, fictionally engrossing, impressively written. (Original post here)

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist–another novel I recall immediately needing to discuss with someone. I love weird future books where people are living in a dystopia and people without “value” have to donate organs, etc.  This was stunninng structured. (Original post here)

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson–charming, charming, charming, just one of the more delightful books I read this year. Not heavy hitting, heavy emotion, just all around good. (Original post here)

Admission by Jean Korelitz–a little late to the party on this one, too. Absolutely fantastic book.  I loved the details of the admission process, but the story is also really great and not just a vehicle for a behind the scenes look at getting into Ivy League schools. (Original post here)

Truly, Madly/Deeply, Desperately by Heather Webber–I’m going to give a runner up to these two books.  Sure they are paperback romances but I was really really taken with both of them-the character is not a ding dong, the supernatural element is vital but not totally crazy and weird, and the non romance parts were not just filler, but really good story. (Original posts here and here)

And you know what? How about one more runner up for Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth? Loved it. Fast action, secret details of Washington, D.C. and the adventure that comes with being…the President’s Vampire. Thought about it the whole time I was in D.C. this summer. One of the most “fun” books I read this year. (Original post here)

There you have it! Wishing you a happy new year filled with great reads!
Happy Reading, Sarah

Snowy Night with a Stranger

What’s more decadent at Christmastime than curling up with a Christmas themed Regency romance? Nothing, that’s what. This year’s book was Snowy Night with a Stranger. I believe I saw it at the grocery store, wrote down the title, and then Paul brought him home from the library a week before Christmas. Three stories, perfect length for busy Christmas season when your mind might be on wrapping and gifting and creating and baking.  They were all delightful, though I believe my favorite was Julia London’s Snowy Night with a Highlander.  Apparently it snows a lot during the winter in Scotland, as that was something that was a big part every story.  Fiona has to go find her rake of a brother and the tragically scarred-brought to his senses man who accompanies her on the snowy journey is of the course the man for her (though he had foolishly spurned her when he was young and haughty.)
The stranded travelers in Sabrina Jeffries When Sparks Fly must stay at a baron’s home that hasn’t seen merriment since the death of his brother some years ago. The “Black Baron” as he is known now is your typical gruff, all because of people’s misunderstandings and tremendous guilt, afraid to love, heart of gold hidden by mean exterior type of character.  The interesting thread in this story is that he is a bit of a scientist working on explosives.  Also interesting? The traditional game of Snapdragon, wherein you pluck raisins from a bowl of burning brandy. I’m half tempted to try it!
Jane Feather’s A Holiday Gamble features a feisty heroine who is in a forced betrothal with a horrible brute of a man. She has plans to escape and fortunately for her a stranded traveler, the Viscount Allenton recently returned from India, not only is willing to aid and abet, but also turns out to be the one to show her true love and passion. There was a bit of excitement and mystery in this story, which I liked.

Delightful light Christmas reading!

Machine of Death, ed. by Ryan North

I came to this book in a funny way–on one of the sewing blogs I read the author mentioned that she had a story in this book. I looked it up and thought it sounded great and, surprise! It showed up a week later (thank you, Paul!) This is a 400 page short story collection and out of all those stories I only skipped two. I thought the whole thing was great, a really solid collection that actually worked so well as a cohesive book.  Each of the stories shared a single fact-there exists a machine that can take a drop of your blood and spit out a card with your eventual method of death written on it. The machine is never wrong, it does not tell you the date, but it sometimes is ambiguous.  For example, let’s say you get  “Boating Accident” and therefore avoid the sea for the whole rest of your life, but then one day are driving down the highway and the boat trailer in front of you detaches and crashes into you, thereby killing you.  The machine was not wrong, but it certainly surprised you.

What I found so interesting was how each author took that concept and then imagined the resulting world.  In some stories the machine had been around for years and was an established part of society and culture. In others it was brand new and wreaking havoc with people’s faith and civilization.  Some stories had a bit of humor, others were definitely sad.  A lot of topics can’t help but arise in this stories: fate,  the nature of human behavior, mortality, our feelings about death, and the overall point of living.  I really enjoyed this collection and have been telling many friends about it.  I didn’t recognize the any of the authors, so I don’t know how many of them are “unknowns”, but do them (and yourself!) a favor and do go find this book and read it.

*And yes, after reading the whole book and thinking so much about it my answer to “would you want to know how you’re going to die?” is NO.

What Happens in London by Julia Quinn

I can’t stand this silly title, but saw this on an RWA list and had to read it.  What a delightful Regency! Olivia lives next door to Sir Harry Valentine and spies on him because of rumors he killed his fiancee (he’s never even been betrothed).  Olivia and her friends are very modernly funny and she enjoys a witty repartee with Harry.  An interesting angle is that he works for the War Office as a Russian translator (but no one knows about his spy background).  When a Russian prince has his eye on Olivia and Harry is assigned to keep his eye on the unlikable prince madcap Regency fun ensues.  This really was a very fun romance (and I’m sorry I don’t have more to say about it but I read it a month and a half ago and well, it’s a Regency romance.)

The Heart of Christmas by Mary Balogh, Nicola Cornick, and Courtney Milan

I’m a sucker for Christmas themed historical romances, so a few weeks ago while Christmas shopping at the bookstore I treated myself to this.  I love everything Mary Balogh writes, so that’s really what I was buying it for.  And indeed, her story was great.  A woman of genteely impoverished circumstances decides that she must prostitute herself to save her family.  She agrees to go away for a week (during Christmas)  with a duke who is looking for a last fling before settling down.  This was delightfully predictable-falling in love, showing she’s a lady, there is loads of Christmas joy and goodwill and it’s all very heartwarming.

The second story I didn’t care for as much.  As much as I love historical romances I’m a bit tired of all these characters who are “afraid to love” at the expense of refusing to acknowledge their obvious love for someone. It’s all just too absurd.

The third story must be saved until next Christmas (that’s right, Christmas was six days ago, so now I won’t read/watch Christmas things!).

It’s been a while since I read a nice historical romance and I almost forgot how much I like them.  I’ll have to get some more to read!

Everything I need to know about being a girl I learned from Judy Blume ed. by Jennifer O’Connell

judy.jpgLike most women of a certain age, I totally revere Judy Blume. Thus, I really looked forward to this anthology of essays by women writers, many of whom I already enjoy. Each writes a very personal essay,which she connects in some way to the impact J.B. had on her life, her girlhood, or her writing. Before my comments on the essays, why don’t I share my own J.B. thoughts?

Not surprisingly I was a voracious reader as a kid. I loved Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, Starring Sally J. Freedman Herself, and Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? Then, of course, I read Forever. Continue reading

21 Proms ed. by David Levithan and Daniel Ehrenhaft

21-proms.jpgThis is collection of 21 stories by today’s best young adult authors. The topic is obviously the prom. Or, as everyone outside of New Jersey says, “prom”. (This is true. We say “I’m going to the prom.” But apparently everyone else, especially in John Hughes movies set in the Chicago suburbs, says “I’m going to prom.” or “What about prom, Blaine?” )

As with any collection there are hits and misses. I skipped a few stories, but overall a pretty solid collection. My favorites:

John Green’s “The Great American Morp”–Girl hosts an anti-prom at her house. John Green is a Printz and Printz Honor winner, and also very witty and charming to boot. Check out his video blog http://www.brotherhood2.com This story was v. funny and had characteristic John Green smarty pants humor. Also the phrase “jill off”, which made me laugh out loud.

“You are a Prom Queen, Dance, Dance, Dance” by Elizabeth Craft–Girl has date at the prom who makes her reveal her true feelings for him. A nice regular old story.

“Mom Called She Says You Have to go to Prom” by Adrienne Maria Vrettos Continue reading