Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Appeal of the YA Bad Boy


There's no doubt about it: readers love bad boys. It's a trope that shows up time and time again in young adult literature. I can't tell you how many hundreds of times I've fallen in love with the Jerk With a Heart of Gold, or the Trouble, But Cute. And while some people might not be quite as devoted to fictional bad boys as I am (which is a GOOD THING, because this means you are mentally sound. Keep it up.), as long as there are books, there will be bookish bad boys.

 

I'm focusing here on bad boys as love interests, mostly, because that's where I tend to see them. Often times, they crop up in love triangles opposite their "Good Guy" nemesis, or they catch the eye of the "Good Girl" main character and broader her horizons or whatever. And yeah, breaking those plotlines down like that, they look pretty tired and cliche. But that's the thing. I've read a million amazing books with those plots, and they worked. And part of that was because the bad boys were so darn hot.

But what makes fictional "badness" so compelling? Why do we love to fall in love with damaged jerkfaces over and over?

We like characters who change. One possibility is that we, as readers, love dynamism. And there is nothing quite so romantic as the transformation of a bad boy, am I right?

Our messy, hairy bad boy has been TRANSFORMED by the POWER OF LOVE

ESPECIALLY when this transformation comes about because of a girl. Because this big bad tough guy is really just covering up his wounded, tender heart with all that douchenosity and is actually capable of great feeling, if he'd only just LET himself. If only someone pure of soul were around to heal him and his secret pain. But oh, he's so conflicted! The douchnosity threatens to overcome him, but lo, love wins again. And I eat it up. Badness in a character breeds conflict, and conflict is the fun stuff in a novel. It's what punches us in the feels. And we just love reading about the one special girl who can let that hardened Bad Boy feeeeel.

 

The most compelling characters are ones who are complicated. I like the ones who have onion-like layers, presenting one way while being something else underneath. Like Shrek. No, we don't want parfaits. We want onions, Donkey. Onions. I personally love reading love stories where both characters have to take long personal journeys to be together. Both have to improve themselves, or discover something about themselves that they never would have were it not for the other person. We like the bad boy because we can clearly see the arc he needs to go through; we can see the places for improvement, but we can also see the potential there. We can see what he's battling against, and we can root for him to overcome it. That's what makes it truly epic.


I'm always a sucker for a villain with a redemption-through-love arc.

There are different levels of Bad Boys, obviously. Like, there's a difference between the Bad Boys who are really villains, who actually murder people and stuff, and the Bad Boys who just brood or get detention. Warner in Shatter Me, Damon from The Vampire Diaries, the Darkling from Shadow and Bone, and a whole bunch more I can't think of right now are prime examples of the bad boys who are really bad. Who have done completely inexcusable things, but still have stir something inside me that makes me want to tear their clothes off continue reading about them. I want them to believe in themselves, in the good inside them. I want them to win the girl for their own sakes (or not, sometimes). I like reading about the good winning out in the end.

Which is, obviously, totally backwards. "So... you'd rather have a murderous guy who becomes good after being a murderer, rather that an already good guy who hasn't killed anybody? Doesn't that mean you don't actually like bad boys, if all you want is for them to become good?"

"Intriiiigued. Yes, tell me more about this leather jacket wearing
bundle of sexiness with the sarcastic sense of humor."

Yes... and no. Once they become good-ish, that's usually when the story ends, because that's usually it for the interesting stuff. Also, yes, I'd prefer that. It's more interesting to read about. It's also very interesting to read about the Bad Boys who never become good, who try and try and try, but can't seem to let it happen. Or the ones who are total mixed bags, neither good nor bad. Basically, bad is interesting, and good is boring. Pure evil is boring. We want them troubled, conflicted, maybe even cruel at times, but almost never irredeemably evil.

Definitely maybe I'm over complicating things. Maybe a bad boy is appealing just because he's "forbidden". It's like, the second your parents say he's off limits, that's when you want him. The thrill of danger. Evil is sexy.

 I guess when you look at it like this, all interesting characters are bad boys. "Bad" is normal. Everybody has some bad. It's a trope that's not even a trope anymore, really: it's a fact. What we immediately classify as the cliche bad boy is the guy who just screams it upon first impression. He's in leather; he's a bully; he insulted the main character or someone he/she is close to; he bucks authority; he murders someone. Small things like that.

 

But just like good old Caroline up there, sometimes we must be vigilant against the bad boy. He is a dangerous breed, and should only be loved IN FICTION. Real life murderers are not so sexy. But seriously, why are most of us so attracted to fictional bad boys, but not real ones? At least, that's what I'm like. My ideal actual guy would be sensitive and non-jerky and would probably prefer staying home with me on Saturday night reading or watching movies or snacking. And yes, I have read appealing fictional dudes with this quality, but the moment some snarky, sexy man on a motorcycle zooms by, I'm gone. Give me the Warners, the Jaces, the Damons, the Jess Marianos, etc. You've got my heart, Bookish Bad Boys. But stay in the books, please, where I know I can love you, because you're guaranteed to have a kernel of goodness somewhere deep inside that chiseled, manly chest.

Reason #54391563820 why it's better to live in books, right?

Tell me: why do you love YA bad boys? Why don't you? Who are some of your favorites? I like Nick from The Demon's Lexicon, Roiben from Tithe, Draco Malfoy, almost all of the truly heinous Lannisters in A Song of Fire and Ice... or actually, almost every character in those books, Irial from Wicked Lovely, The Darkling from Shadow and Bone, to name a few, and I'm sure I'm forgetting tons.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Review: Anna and the French Kiss


Review: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Goodreads
Rating: Cuter than the cutest cute thing in a basket of cute. A funny, swooning, charming love story that will make you want to go to Paris immediately. But most important, there is Etienne St. Clair. ETIENNE. ST. CLAIR. Enough said.

Anna and the French Kiss

Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris--until she meets √Čtienne St. Clair. Smart, charming,beautiful, √Čtienne has it all...including a serious girlfriend. 

But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss?


The cover: I actually am not all that fond of the cover. First of all, there is no STRIPE in ANNA'S HAIR and this is an IMPORTANT THING. It's also intensely cheesy and looks photoshop-y and has a slight whiff of the self-published, which is not a bad thing, but when your cover has been professionally designed, it should look it. Also, I don't know whose wretched, cruel decision it was to deprive us of Etienne's face, but I want to have a few four letter words with them.



The story: Anna and the French Kiss is a book I've been dying to read for ages. It's so up my alley, what with the hot boys, the funny, delightful narrator and, most of all, PARIS. 



I was so glad that Anna didn't disappoint. This is the kind of book that makes you feel good about the world and yourself and strangers on the street. It wound itself so deeply inside me that I was happier for like three days for absolutely no reason other than the fact that part of my brain was still hanging out in Paris with Anna. I was downright giddy. Reading it is like curling up on a windowsill with a cup of chocolat chaud (and possibly a very, very attractive British boy with fantastic hair, if that is your thing, and it absolutely should be). Is it the textbook definition of First World, White Girl Problems? Most definitely. Is it oozing originality? Nope. Do I even care? NOT IN THE LEAST. Book, please let me french kiss you. You are my soul mate. 



Anna: ANNA, I DON'T KNOW WHERE YOU'VE BEEN ALL MY LIFE, BUT I LOVE YOU. I adore this girl. She is upbeat,but not perky, eccentric, but not a manic pixie dream girl, funny, but not obnoxious, and most of all, she's genuine. She so easily could have been whiny and "Wahh, my parents are forcing me to move to Paris and leave all my friends behind, woe is meeeeee", but thankfully she realized pretty quickly how amazing and different her new life is in the School of America in Paris. She's a very knowledgable film buff with a bleached streak in her hair and the slightest touch of the OCD. She is such a fun narrator it's kind of ridiculous. She's so funny, but not in a gritty, sarcastic way. In a bubbly, best friend kind of way. I was so devastated when the book ended. I want to hang out with Anna more!

So Anna's dad, who is basically a fictional version of Nicholas Sparks, in that he writes soppy romance novels in which most of the characters get various forms of cancer and then die, sends her to school in Paris. Anna is your typical American teen. She doesn't know a word of French or a single thing about the French culture. It's the beginning of senior year, and she's starting over brand new.  But Anna's resilient and adorable and quickly falls in with a great group of friends. And that, my dearest readers, is when we meet... Etienne.

Etienne St. Clair, the love of my life: He is French and American and British all at the same time. He has positively magic hair. He is a history nerd. He is, in a word, perfect. 


Aaron Freaking Johnson is Etienne St. Clair
OHHHH. My loins just skipped a beat.


Now, most of the time, perfect YA boyfriends can be perfectly boring. But St. Clair is possibly the best thing in the whole entire world. He's so attractive and charming and funny he just leaps right off the page. And yes, he screws up, A LOT. He's not actually perfect. But he's perfect for Anna, and oh, was he perfect for me. I did a lot of embarrassing squealing with reading this book. They're one of my favorite bookish relationships of all time. Best friends with something more but maybe not it's complicated who knows? So many misunderstandings, so much CHEMISTRY.


Me, nearly every second of this book. But actually.

The city of lights (and love, bien sur): Now that I have read this book, I will NEVER forgive my parents for not somehow finding a school like this and shipping me there immediately. Why is this book not my life. Why. Paris is described so wonderfully that you feel like you're walking around in it along with Anna. I took a million years of French in school, and I'm a history dork, so every time Anna did something culturally enriching (which was often, and which was so cool!), I just about died with happiness. At first I was afraid that Anna's total ignorance about all things Parisian would irritate me-- I mean, she was really ignorant, even about things which I thought were common knowledge-- but that aspect totally fit the story. You discovered Paris and the greater world along with her. Culture clash, those weird things that make a certain city and country what they are, the even weirder sensation of finding out you've moved on from your friends and family: all of these things are touched on in Anna.

The plot: The plot of this book basically boils down to romantical misunderstandings, which are, naturally, my favorite sort. Could the whole book have been solved by one, good, honest conversation somewhere around page 40? Yes. But these characters are human. That's why it takes every single character a whole damn novel to get their crap together. And it's so much damn fun. The dialogue is witty and charming, the characters are all intelligent in the way that real teenagers are. Part of why this book is so appealing is that it really does have a wish fulfillment element. There's enough conflict and character development and excellent writing to prevent it from being fan fiction, or something, but it's still the kind of book you want to live in. You want to be Anna so, so badly. Basically, I'm hoping one day I hit my head hard enough that I hallucinate living in this novel, because again: why is this not my life?

 


Friday, February 22, 2013

Review: Origin by Jessica Khoury


Review: Origin by Jessica Khoury
Goodreads
Rating: Gorgeous concept, vivid imagery, a difficult but ultimately likeable protagonist, and a unique setting attempt to overcome inconsistent pacing and some insta-love. Plus, I absolutely MUST get myself a pet jaguar. I must.

 Origin

Pia has grown up in a secret laboratory hidden deep in the Amazon rain forest. She was raised by a team of scientists who have created her to be the start of a new immortal race. But on the night of her seventeenth birthday, Pia discovers a hole in the electric fence that surrounds her sterile home--and sneaks outside the compound for the first time in her life.

Free in the jungle, Pia meets Eio, a boy from a nearby village. Together, they embark on a race against time to discover the truth about Pia's origin--a truth with deadly consequences that will change their lives forever.

Origin is a beautifully told, shocking new way to look at an age-old desire: to live forever, no matter the cost.


This idea sucked me in right away. A girl in a glass house in the jungle, staring out at the wide world she can never belong to. Plus, she’s immortal. I also love books about science having gone amok and bioethics and what’s truly moral and what should be done for the “greater good”. I loved the brutality of the “Wickham tests”, tests among to scientists to prove how much of your humanity you were willing to sacrifice in the name of scientific achievement. Put that against the backdrop of the lush, untamed, colorful Amazonia jungle and I am sold.
While the book didn’t quite deliver on its amazing concept (because to me that concept is just so amazing), I still enjoyed it... with some serious reservation. Plus, I met the author, and she’s lovely and has the prettiest hair I’ve ever seen. I want it on my head in a totally non-creepy hair.

Pia was kind of a bitch sometimes. Not mean, necessarily, but rude and standoffish and completely obsessed with how physically superior she is, but it made some sense. After, she has had possibly the strangest upbringing of any character I’ve ever read about (and I’ve read Flowers in the Attic, people. Okay, no, that one’s stranger. But still. Warning for people who are now looking this book up: NOT FOR CHILDREN.). She, a scientifically engineered immortal being, has been raised by a whole camp of scientists in total isolation in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, which means she can name the phylum and kingdom and species of every plant and animal around her, but she doesn’t know what Brazil was. Yeah. That is messed up. She only learned what a party was from the dictionary.
Every now and then, I didn’t quite believe it—seriously, that must have been a very informative dictionary. It was totally bizarre and almost impossibly to relate to, but fascinating. Yet that’s how the scientists, a lot of whom have lived in Little Cam, the scientist’s isolated compound, live their whole lives. They are part of the Immortis research team, aka the ones who have worked for several generations to birth one immortal girl. AKA Pia. She is so incredibly strange that I found it mostly amusing and occasionally irritating. Socially awkward doesn’t begin to cover it. She actually has no idea what society even is. Watching her interact with Dr. Fields, who comes from the outside world and therefore knows what things like “skittles” and “San Francisco are”, actually was just kind of funny.
However, Pia's nickname for her (Dr. Klutz) was just plain bitchy. Also I didn't really see the joke. Maybe if it had been a clever play on her name? What is with all the girl hate, Pia? Anyway, crass, irreverent Dr. Harriet Fields, the only one willing to both let Pia know what a sheltered snot she was and help her become a real person, is my favorite character. She's also very complex and probably the most developed of the side characters.
What I particularly loved about Pia were the feelings she had about what it’s like for her to be the only one around her who won’t die, and how lonely it is. I loved how torn she was between Scientist Pia and Wild Pia, between the call of the jungle and the comfort of home, between sexy Eio and the guidance of “Uncle” Paolo, lead scientist of Little Cam (she calls all the scientist Aunt or Uncle, which is enormously creepy in some cases and sweet in others). And yet, most of the time I wanted to shake her because of how indecisive she was being. She was basically screwing around with Eio due to her inability to make a damn decision. To make the obviously right decision.
Which brings me to Eio. Ah, beautiful, Ai'oan Eio. There were strong overtones of insta-love in their relationship, but I must admit parts of it left me breathless. (I'm sentimental. Sue me.) There is a lot of gorgeous poetry in Khoury’s writing when she’s dealing with Eio and his people and the magic of the jungle, even though I always get nervous when books deal with that “white girl finds acceptance in a tribe full of brown people, who are more in touch with the earth and know the simple miracles of life and can paint with all the colors of the wind and que que natura you will understand” and such. This came dangerously close to that, but since Eio and Ami to some extent were fully fleshed-out characters, the pitfall was avoided. Mostly. Somewhat. Maybe not.
Though honestly, through a lot of the jungle scenes I had Tarzan playing full blast in my head.

Come with me now to see my world

Where there’s beauty beyond your dreams

Can you feel the things I feel right now with you?

Take my hand, there’s a world I need to knoooooooooow!

Which. You know. Is not a bad thing. I always appreciate a good Disney earworm.

image


My love for Eio dimmed the slightest bit when he said this:

""I will take you back," he repeats in a firmer tone. "It's not good for a woman to walk alone in the jungle without a man to protect her.

AHHH MY BELOVED EIO NOOO JUST BECAUSE YOU WERE RAISED IN THE JUNGLE AND WIELD A SPEAR AND HAVE WARPAINT ON YOUR FACE DOES NOT MEAN YOU ARE A SAVAGE. Please met me love you and let us have no more of this sexist, vaguely racist nonsense, okay? Great.

Also: did any other children of the nineties out there grow up watching Jungle 2 Jungle? Because Eio is totally Mimi-Siku, aka the love of my life when I was eight. ETA: I read some of the other reviews on Goodreads and saw I was not the first person to make this observation. THIS JUST PROVES HOW TRUE IT IS and how brilliant that movie is ("Lipo Lipo! So good they name it twice!")


Also known as the werewolf in Being Human, just so's you know.
Plotwise, I felt the beginning and the middle were slow, though the middle had a lot of Eio and some serious conflict, which, you know, hot boys + mega problems + big choices = happy Gillian. But the last part, when all the horrible, frightening puzzle pieces began clicking into place, was when things really took off. I found myself blazing through the pages then.
I really loved Khoury’s prose style. I felt it captured the dichotomy of Pia pretty well. The occasionally stilted word choice, which at first threw me, embodies her scientist side, whereas the lush, vivid descriptions and imagery embodied her “wild” side. I also liked the thoughts this book put in my head. It’s nice when a book gives a swift kick to stalled engine that is my overtaxed brain and gets it chugging again. I can also tell a lot of research when into this book, and I felt like a learned a lot, which is another thing I like.

WARNING TO ANIMAL LOVERS (like me): there is a TRAUMATIC ANIMAL DEATH SCENE that made me actually sob. It came out of NOWHERE and it was SO HORRIBLE and oh God the pain whywhywhy.
I'M SORRY FOR THIS.

Oh, yeah, and there’s also a scene with a motherfreakin’ beetle the size of A HUMAN HAND and do not Google the titan beetle unless you want nightmares for the rest of your days, is what I’m saying.
Also: ALAI THE JAGUAR. ALAI THE JAGUAR IS THE BEST CHARACTER IN THE WHOLE BOOK AND I WANT ONE. I WANT ONE NOW. People would never mess with me if I had a pet jaguar. “Oh yeah? You don’t like the fact that I just took the last brownie? TELL IT TO MY JAGUAR, TOUGH GUY.”

Also apparently the theme of this review was Disney movies. Again, I have no problem with this.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Top Ten Favorite Sidekick Best Friends


hosted by The Broke and Bookish

Technically, this week's Top Ten Tuesday is meant to be Top Ten Favorite Characters in X Genre, but I honestly stared at that topic for like five solid minutes, and not one thing came into my dense little brain. I have so many favorite characters and so many favorite genres. I'll read anything. I'm a genre hopper. A genre slut, if you will. And I had a feeling if I FORCED myself to choose just one genre, I'd end up saying all the same characters I've been blabbing about for weeks. And there are only so many times I can drool over Warner before you have me committed.

So this week, I'm bending the rules. Instead of favorite characters in X genre, I'm doing favorite X type of characters. And the x stands for... sidekicks! Slash best friends! Otherwise known as the awesome supporting players who deserve a moment in the spotlight for being so awesome.

Of course, I'm sure I've forgotten about a million of them, because these are just the ones coming off the top of my aforementioned dense head, but let's get to it.

1. Ron Weasley from Harry Potter

me in a few days

The ultimate sidekick with the ultimate hero best friend. Seriously, this guy is best friends with HARRY FREAKING POTTER (all the coolest people reading this just got AVPM earworms): Quidditch sensation, Defense Against the Dark Arts prodigy, and oh, yeah, casually that dude who defeated Voldemort before he could walk. Despite the fact that Ron sometimes feels overshadowed by his glorious best friend (and makes hideous decisions like that whole sulky chapter of his in GoF and DO NOT EVEN GET ME STARTED on what he did in DH), Ron is truly, deeply loyal. He's risked his life countless times for his best bud, and he'd do it countless more times. He's afraid a good ninety percent of the time, but in the end his sense of friendship always sparks his bravery, and then he's willing to do anything for the people he loves.

This is arguably my FAVORITE RON WEASLEY LINE. All the feels.

Shout outs to Hedwig, Crookshanks, and Fawkes for being awesome beastly besties.

2. Kenji from Shatter Me/Unravel Me


I will keep this short, as I have raved about him at length on this blog countless times. He's brave, loyal, and dedicated to his cause. But best of all, he's hilarious, honest, and always willing to pull both Adam and Juliette out of the depths of their emo doldrums (which is no small task, I assure you. Those two are like the emo king and queen). Yes, Kenji, you are completely right. There are MANY girls who want to see you naked, you handsome, devilish thing, you.

3. Angela from Unspoken

Unspoken was hands down one of my favorite reads of 2012. In the hands of someone other than Sarah Rees Brennan, Angela would be the main character and Kami, the actual protagonist, would be the sidekick. Kami is plucky, plump, and always prepared to thrust herself into certain peril in search of the truth. Angela is darkly beautiful and much admired by the opposite sex. She disdains all of humanity (except for Kami... and Holly, naturally) and hates people almost as much as she loves a good nap. She is openly rude to basically everybody, and oh, do I love her for it.


Despite her complete laziness, she's fiercely protective of Kami, which means she's willing to do all sorts of things she loathes in order to help her friend. She will also definitely physically accost anybody who messes with her or her girls. Rusty has trained her well, after all.

4. Iko from Cinder and Scarlet

Iko is the best sidekick in history who is not actually technically alive, nor has she ever been. She's an android who somehow ended up with the most distinct personality in all of New Asia. She's bright, bubbly and girly. She loves to swoon over hot princes and worries that temporarily being a spaceship makes her look fat. She and the levelheaded Cinder are a wonderful pair, and for the first fifty pages of Scarlet, I spent a lot of time going, "Yes, yes, interesting stuff, BUT WHERE IS IKO, EXACTLY?" I missed that little glitchy android.

5. Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings



OH, SAM. I already talked about how often Frodo done you wrong. It's safe to say, if they'd just given you the dang ring in the first place, those books would have been significantly shorter. Sam is the ultimate sidekick of unwavering loyalty, willing to sacrifice life, limb, happiness, and dignity to help his Mister Frodo.
 

6. Bess Marvin and George Fayne from Nancy Drew


These guys are like the quintessential sidekicks. They're brave-ish, and they're loyal, but they're not supposed to be nearly as awesome as Nancy Drew. But who even is, really? She's Nancy Drew. She, like, routinely saves herself and random heiresses from kidnapping, foils jewelry heists, and catches murders, all before jaunting off to have a romantic picnic with boyfriend, Ned, with not one strawberry blonde hair out of place. (Undoubtedly, though, something nefarious will occur at said picnic, requiring her to leave poor Ned in the lurch for the millionth time. Ned is long-suffering.) Bess and George are total opposites, with Bess being flirty, flighty, and blonde, and George being tough, tomboyish, and dark haired. Bess also, strangely, wants ice cream one hundred percent of the time. They balance out practically perfect Nancy really well, I feel.

7. Zero from Holes



ZERO. I love him. He was so underrated by everybody except for Stanley because he couldn't read, but he was absolutely brilliant. He was the one who seemed to figure out nearly every secret in this magnificently secret-laden book. He'd been through a lot, but he was willing to go through a lot more for his best bud Stanley Yelnats. You just can't help but love this kid.




8. Kitten from The Immortals

I talked about Tamora Pierce's glorious series last week, focusing on Daine and Numair's swoony romance, but this week I'm going to talk about Kitten, otherwise known as Skysong, who happens to be Daine's dragon ward. Yup, she's a tiny baby dragon who doesn't know how to talk or fly yet, but she's got a fearsome temper and scales that change color with her mood. That is basically the best kind of animal sidekick you could ask for, really. Except for possibly...

9. Saphira from Eragon



Full confession: I haven't read the last book in this series, and I'm not sure if I will. I totally loved Eragon, liked Eldest, and enjoyed Brisingr, but the books burnt me out, to be honest. They're a lot of work. BUT my absolute FAVORITE PART of the series was Saphira and Eragon's unique relationship. She's a dragon, and he's her rider, but they're equals who love and rely on each other so fiercely that you can barely even call Saphira a sidekick. She's brilliant and definitely can be very scary and they can communicate WITH THEIR MINDS. I would trade my dopey dog in for a Saphira in a heartbeat, who can barely understand me when I communicate the word sit.

Okay, I'm wrapping up here. Do you have any favorite sidekicks I forgot (and I forgot a lot... oh crap, I'm just remembering Hana from Delirium and Kim from If I Stay and so many others and oops. But I must stop here. Can't include them all)? Did you actually do the Top Ten Tuesday question that was posed to you? Leave me your links so I can come visit, please!

Monday, February 18, 2013

How to Get Out of a Reading Rut


My brain in a reading rut

I feel like there are two definitions of a reading rut: either you're stuck in one genre (help! I'm stuck in a genre and I can't get out!), or you're just stuck in general. You've tried a million different books, but they're just not clicking for you. You've stopped and started a million times, and while usually you're gobbling down books like they're potatoes chips, for some reason things have slooooowed dowwwwwn.

This post is about the second type: the reading brain block. Otherwise known as the book blogger's most deadly affliction.

Some of you are probably looking at me your computer screen like I'm crazy (stop doing that, you look stupid making faces at an inanimate object). "Um. That never happens to me. I have no idea what you're describing." Those people are lucky. But the rest of us, and even the most voracious of readers, sometimes just get stuck.

Picture the scene: the humble book blogger sits in her room, gazing sadly at the ceiling. Books overflow from her shelves, piled into stacks three feet high, spilling over the floor. She thumbs through her e-reader and sees over a hundred unread books. Heaps of reviews are due. The people expect them, and the publishers expect them, but there's just one problem. SHE'S GOT NOTHING TO READ! Every book she picks up might as well be written in a foreign language, because something just isn't working.

Gillian will stop talking about herself in the third person now.

This is how I was two weeks ago. Things just weren't grabbing me. I wasn't in the right headspace or something, and it was devastating. My favorite feeling in the world is falling so deeply into a book that it just swallows me whole, and I forget I'm even on planet earth and that I'm more than just a pair of eyeballs blazing across pages. But you can't force that to happen, sadly.

But in the end, I managed to break out of my reading rut (huzzah!), and it ended up being very educational. Now I shall share with you a few of the tips I picked up for busting free.

Get thee to a library! When I buy books from bookstores or online, I always feel enormous pressure to read it, even if it's not grabbing me, because I paid good money. I owe it to my wallet and the good meal I gave up in exchange for purchasing the book to read the darn thing and read it now. But often when you feel pressured to read a certain book, those are the times where it just ain't happenin'. So the library is a perfect place to grab something for free. If you don't find the time or impetus to get into the borrowed book, then no worries! It either goes back to the library and you get something new, or you try taking it out another week. No consequences.

Read a sequel you are positively salivating for. You're already eager for it. You already know and love the characters, so there won't be that awkward first-date period where you're wary and you're brow is furrowed and you're withholding judgment.

Harry is doubtful.

My rut basically ended the day I got Unravel Me, and it sparked the magic. I got it at about three in the afternoon and finished it around eleven. AND I went out to dinner that night like an actual socializing person (which I am not. I mean, I'm still a PERSON, but I tend to not be the best with situations that are social. I didn't even want to GO to dinner, but I was forced by people who have no patience for bookish shut-ins).



Choose a genre you really, unapologetically love. One you're predisposed to enjoy, and hits you where you're hittable. Love books with ghosts? Try horror. Love magic? Pick up a fantasy.

I recommend, though, that you try contemporary. Unless you're one of those people who just can't STAND it, of course, but I think it's the best way to ease yourself back into the rhythm of reading. And while I run into a lot of contemporaries that just don't work for me, a really fun and funny contemp read is the perfect thing to pull me out of a reading brain block. For one, there's no tricky worldbuilding. It requires much less tax on your brain, because it's about the world you live in, and you already understand all the rules. You don't have to concentrate the first fifty pages or so. If I'm in a rut, my brain is overtaxed and unable to focus, which means I'm less likely to absorb crucial information.

Try setting aside a specific time for reading. Before bed, during lunch, whenever. When that time comes around, your brain will know it's time for booking (yes it's a verb), and you'll be more likely to get into your book.

Read a book that's getting a LOT of great buzz... or don't. Yeah, that one's contradictory, because it can go both ways. Either you're guaranteed a fab read, or you'll be disappointed and feel like the one dense person on the planet who just doesn't get it. Tread with caution here.

Read something that's unapologetically trashy/fluffy/funny. These are NOT BAD THINGS. They are awesome things. Find your personal guilty pleasure kryptonite, like a romance so cheesy you just know you'll roll your eyes but inside you just might be squealing. Something that won't challenge your brain cells but will engage your heart.

My brain FINALLY GETTING BACK INTO THE SWING OF THINGS

Read with a friend! You'll feel more motivated, plus you'll have someone to share the experience with. You can fangirl or complain together.

REREAD. Reread reread reread. Go back and revisit a book you know you love, one that is guaranteed to suck you in. It's like visiting an old friend when you need a pick me up. Preferably choose a book that you adore but perhaps haven't read in a little while. This always does the trick for me. It's like warming up before starting the big race of reading something new.

So! How do you haul yourself out of the dreaded reading rut? Are you one of those lucky people who is NEVER burnt out reading-wise? Tell us where you live, so we can throw things at you in a jealous rage (don't actually tell us where you live). Which of my tips do you think could or couldn't work for you?

 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Review: Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnik


Review: Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnik
Goodreads
Rating: An adorable and breezy modern day retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Not exactly the deepest thing in the world, but delightful and hilarious.

Epic Fail

At Coral Tree Prep in Los Angeles, who your parents are can make or break you. Case in point:

- As the son of Hollywood royalty, Derek Edwards is pretty much prince of the school--not that he deigns to acknowledge many of his loyal subjects.


- As the daughter of the new principal, Elise Benton isn't exactly on everyone's must-sit-next-to-at-lunch list.

When Elise's beautiful sister catches the eye of the prince's best friend, Elise gets to spend a lot of time with Derek, making her the envy of every girl on campus. Except she refuses to fall for any of his rare smiles and instead warms up to his enemy, the surprisingly charming social outcast Webster Grant. But in this hilarious tale of fitting in and flirting, not all snubs are undeserved, not all celebrity brats are bratty, and pride and prejudice can get in the way of true love for only so long


The cover: I think it's cute! It's sort of vaguely Sarah Dessen-esque as well. I also think it does a really good job of portraying what kind of book this is. Flirty, fun, and funny.

The story: Considering the fact that Epic Fail is walking on hallowed ground, this is a pretty enjoyable read. I am always both excited and leery when I hear about books about or inspired by Jane Austen. As previously established, I'm a hardcore Janeite. Pride and Prejudice and I go way back. And in general, I love retellings of things. I mean, I loved For Darkness Shows the Stars, which was a post-apocalyptic retelling of Austen's Persuasion, so a cute YA version of Pride and Prejudice might not be all bad. Maybe it'll be like a high school version of Bridget Jones' Diary.

Adapting Jane Austen: jumping in may look fun and exciting,
but be careful. It's harder than it looks #wordplayFTW

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Review: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer


Review: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer, book two of the Lunar Chronicles
Goodreads
Rating: A tightly-plotted, immensely enjoyable sequel with awesome new characters that I actually think is even better than Cinder! Plus, there's Wolf. And also Thorne. It's sci-fi for people who don't really like sci-fi (and for those who do).

Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles, #2)

Cinder returns in the second thrilling installment of the New York Times-bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother and the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she has no choice but to trust him, though he clearly has a few dark secrets of his own.

As Scarlet and Wolf work to unravel one mystery, they find another when they cross paths with Cinder. Together, they must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen who will do anything to make Prince Kai her husband, her king, her prisoner.


Warning: Since Scarlet is a sequel, my review will contain spoilers for Cinder, book one in the Lunar Chronicles. Just a heads up.

The cover: *pets the pretty* The Lunar Chronicles covers are seriously some of my favorites out there. They're graphic.  They're arresting. They adequately portray both the fairy tale inspiration and the light sci-fi feel, with the black, outer space-like background against that fluid Red Riding Hood cape. I like the juxtaposition of the Gothic-esque title script with the more futuristic text of the series name. Plus they're just plain beautiful. Love the movement. Love her hair. Love the bright red against the black. It looks so purrrty next to my copy of Cinder.

The story: I was a huge fan of Cinder. It's safe to say my expectations were super high for Scarlet. Not only are sequels in general pretty tough things to pull off, but Meyer took on the extra task of introducing us to a new main character. This could have seriously backfired. I was so in love with Cinder, that pragmatic, no-nonsense cyborg mechanic-turned-Lunar fugitive. Would I really want to spend time with a heroine who wasn't her?

About ten pages into Scarlet, I quickly realized the answer to that is yes. Yes, I really want to spend time with this new heroine, because she's ten kinds of awesome. Most of the narrative is split between Cinder, who has escaped from the New Beijing prison and is on the run, and Scarlet, a French farm girl determined to find her grandmother, who has mysteriously gone missing. While Cinder was a futuristic version of Cinderella, Scarlet is clearly Meyer's interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood. Only there's nothing little about her. Scarlet is tough and fiery. She loves her grandma more than anything in the world, and while she's not as practical as Cinder-- she lets her temper and passion get the best of her common sense-- she's wonderfully brave. Also, Scarlet happens to be overrun with hot guys.

The very first alert occurs within ten pages. We get to the goods fast.

The wolf in Scarlet isn't a creepy talking animal, but a sweet and sensitive street fighter named Wolf with green eyes and a key to my heart. I loooooved Wolf. Total sweetheart with a complicated past who was a mess of contradictions. He and Scarlet's paths intertwine on her journey to find her grandmother, and it's so much fun to read. These two have a lot of emotional and physical chemistry, and some of their scenes together made me breathless. The narrative shifts between three main stories: Scarlet and Wolf in France, Emperor Kai and horrid Queen Levana in New Beijing, and Cinder, who is on the run in a spaceship with another brand new, handsome male character named Thorne. Thorne is my FAVORITE. He's handsome, arrogant, hilarious, and obnoxious. He and Cinder are total opposites, and watching them play off each other was like watching some weird book version of a buddy sitcom. They have really good friend chemistry. (For those of you worried, don't be: this book series (so far) is an entirely love triangle-free zone, and it looks like it will stay that way.)

So, not only do we get a second heroine, we get a second setting: futuristic France!



Meyer's future is sci-fi lite, which is not an insult, by the way. It's subtly futuristic in a way that's not overbearing or difficult to understand. The technology is improved: everybody travels in hovers and spaceships, everyone has an ID chip embedded in their skin, so on and so forth. Cyborgs exist, and the way they fit into this new society is pretty fascinating. But all the changes are super easily to absorb as a reader. You're never confused.

The same goes for Meyer's plotting. Seriously, it's so smooth. While this isn't the kind of book that punches you right in the feels, it's so well executed and has such likable characters that you end up enjoying it so much. Probably Meyer's only flaw is that I can almost always see her twists coming, but I don't necessarily see that as a bad thing. Everything's set up so beautifully and revealed so neatly. Plus, she did manage to surprise me in one particular scene (where Cinder discovers something in a barn, for those who've read. That reveal was really eerie).

What really amazes me about Meyer's writing, apart from her lovely, unadorned language, is that, even though she's writing in third person, her POV's sound different. Meaning the voice shifts slightly depending on whether we're in Cinder's or Scarlet's or Wolf's or Kai's or evil Lunar Queen Levana's (!) head. Usually, juggling multiple points of view can go... well, something like this:



But this book flows so seamlessly from one plot thread to the next. And that's because Meyer's managed to create a completely distinct cast of characters. Reading Scarlet after loving Cinder so much was like going back to summer camp and seeing all my old friends again. I was like "Cinder! Kai! Iko! I missed you! OMG. Levana. Who invited that bitch again?"

Just give her a mustache to twirl.

She is a fabulous fairy tale villain. She's so completely eeeeeevil and creepy and ruthless. I have no idea how our ragged little band of heroes will end up thwarting her, but I can't wait to find out. Because seriously, I read Scarlet way too fast and now I NEED Cress, the next book in the series, which is inspired by Rapunzel. I need more of these characters in my life! They're so alive! I mean, one could argue that the fabulous android Iko is the most vivid character in the whole book, and she's not even corporeal! She's just a voice! I'm going to suffer through some serious withdrawals until the next book.

 

 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Top Ten Favorite Romances


hosted by The Broke and Bookish

Well, this just might be the hardest Top Ten Tuesday assignment ever. Fifty percent of what makes me like a book is how I feel about the central romance. I have so many favorite literary couples I don't even know where to begin! I'm the kind of person who, no matter how good the book is, is always a tiny bit bored if there's no romance going on. I'm always like, "Yes, wonderful prose, but when is the kissing going to happen, please?"

What I'm saying is, I LIKE ROMANCE. A lot a lot a lot.

To make this a little easier on myself, I'm only going to list couples I love from YA literature. That means I'm skipping over couples like Elizabeth and Darcy, Laurie and Jo (IF ONLY, amirite?), Jane and Rochester, and other non-YA couples. So only YA couples here. Also, spoilers ahead, folks, so be wary.

So, in no particular order, and bearing in mind I have left out about fifty other possible couples:

1. Tris and Four from the Divergent series



These two are true equals, and in some ways are all the other has in the world. Not only do they respect each other, but there's some serious chemistry between them. They know each other through and through and are familiar with their partner's strengths and flaws. What I love about this relationship is that it's not based on attraction or a shallow crush, although there's certainly heat between them, but respect. There's friction sometimes, and sometimes their trust in one another is challenged, but in the end these two always come through for each other.

2. Ron and Hermione/Harry and Ginny from the Harry Potter series



I'm sure a lot of lists this week are going to swoon all over Ron and Hermione, and just like any diehard Harry Potter fan, I ship these two something fierce. I may or may not have shrieked and hugged my book the first time I read DH and a certain kissing scene came up. I could talk about why these two are perfection personified for quite a while. But I'm going to take a moment to talk up a couple I think is kind of underrated: Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley.

I think they're perfect. They're both fierce and brave and funny. (Seriously, older Ginny Weasley is the awesomest. She's got Fred and George's sense of humor and Mrs. Weasley's tenacity, absolutely enviable hair.) Ginny's the only one who can get Harry to snap out of his emo self-loathing moments. They both love Quidditch. And by marrying her, Harry finally became a part of the only real family he's ever had. Cue the awwwww's.

3. Juliette and Warner

Unravel Me (Shatter Me, #2)

Most of my review of Unravel Me was inarticulate flailing over how much I love this couple. These two are HOT, HOT, HOT. Twisty, dark, sexy, way too similar, way too different. They connect on such a deep emotional level, more than Juliette would ever like to admit. And OH YEAH, they've got some serious physical connections going on as well... *fans self furiously*

4. Katniss and Peeta from The Hunger Games


“You love me. Real or not real?”
I tell him, “Real.” 


SWOON. For me, Peeta was the only possible choice for Katniss. Don't get me wrong, I got the appeal of Gale, but Peeta? The sweet, sensitive baker with a heart of gold and a talent for painting? No brainer. He and Katniss are a perfect match and are always connected, even when motives get muddled. Not even tracker jacker venom can fully destroy their relationship. She's all fire and spikiness and fierceness, while he's solid, strong, and calming. His steadiness of heart and character bring out the best in Katniss. He creates a safe, loving place that she needs. Plus when they kiss it makes my HEART FLUTTER.

5. Mia and Adam from If I Stay and Where She Went



Bring out the tissues, ladies and gentleman. This couple is put through the emotional ringer like almost no other contemporary YA couple I know. I mean, Mia stayed for him. I can't even. And yes, they rip each other's hearts out, but they understand each other like nobody else does. They speak the language of music, after all.

6. Elisa and Hector from The Crown of Embers


So. Hot. Seriously, these two have scenes together that just... I had to put the book down and take a lap around the apartment just so I could breathe again. These two are so fiercely loyal to each other it's amazing. She's the queen, and he's her guard, so obviously there are some obstacles there, but they're both willing to die for each other. They respect each other more than any other person, and the way TCOE ended made me sob big fat baby sobs. Any couple able to shred my heart into little pieces is a couple worth reading about.

7. Georgia Nicolson and Dave the Laugh from the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series

Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me? (Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, #10)

Dave the Laugh, I have loved you since I was fourteen-years-old, and it absolutely devastates me that you are not a real person. You are my ideal man: British, handsome, and absolutely, mind-bogglingly hilarious. Seriously, Georgia may have swooned over Sex Gods and Italian Stallions for most of the series, but it was always Dave who was the one for her, he of the never-ending pants jokes ("The hills are alive with the sound of PANTS!") and Hornmeister expertise. They share the exact same sense of humor and disregard for sanity. All of Georgia's other boyfriends were always somewhat appalled by her completely lunacy, but that's why Dave loved her (that and her enormous "basoomas". GOD I MISS THE LANGUAGE OF THIS SERIES).

8. Alina and Mal from Shadow and Bone

Amazing fan art by Irene Koh

I'll admit, I am deeply fascinated by The Darkling. He is so sexy and evil and powerful and I would have his twisted, gruesome little babies in a heartbeat. HOWEVER, Alina and Mal definitely have a healthier romantic connection. They've been best friends forever, having grown up together as fellow orphans. Then they joined the Ravkan army together, and Alina's feelings developed into something more than friendship. I love these two together. Mal is cocky and confident but ultimately extremely loyal. Alina loves Mal more than anybody. She tamps down her own power just to stay with him, finally releases it to save his life, and is willing to do a whole bunch of crazy shizz to save his life (see the end of Shadow and Bone).

Just so you can all see the gorgeousness that is one Mal Oretsev. You're welcome.

9. Daine and Numair from The Immortals series by Tamora Pierce

This is the cover I grew up reading and I
refuse to believe there are any other covers.
Don't disillusion me. 

It was hard for me to choose just one Tamora Pierce couple, but I ultimately had to go with Daine and Numair. Daine is a teenager who can talk to animals (and can ultimately shapeshift into them) and Numair is her teacher. Yes, there's a slight age difference here, but Daine is so mature and they're such equals that it's not even an issue. Plus, it's high fantasy. Different rules apply. She's lower class, fiery, and no-nonsense. He's highly educated, flamboyant, and can do magic. It takes them three and a half books to finally admit they lurrrrve each other (although they came CLOSE at the end of the third book, when one of them thought the other one was dead and I cried and cried). Their big kiss scene in The Realms of the Gods is one of my favorite kiss scenes of all times. It really affected me as a kid. I practically have it memorized.

10. Anna and Etienne from Anna and the French Kiss



THE SINGLE CUTEST COUPLE IN ALL OF CONTEMPORARY YA. I defy you to read this book and not squeal and flail like a thirteen-year-old at a Justin Bieber concert. Seriously. These two. They're quippy, and adorable, and they're best friends who not-so-secretly love each other, and who make out on top of world-famous Parisian landmarks. And he's British and has a lot of hair and she's American and awesome and aaaaaagh. Why is that book not my life? Why?!

Extremely Honorable Mentions:
Po and Katsa from Graceling, Lyra and Will from His Dark Materials (a tragic couple who SHATTERED MY HEART when I was eleven years old. I have never recovered), Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe from Anne of Green Gables, Sophie and Howl from Howl's Moving Castle, Jessica Darling and Marcus Flutie from Sloppy Firsts, Mia Thermopolis and Michael Moscovitz from The Princess Diaries, Lily Evans and Severus Snape (ALWAYS! *bursts into manic tears*) from Harry Potter, Alec and Magnus from The Mortal Instruments series, Alek and Deryn from the Leviathan series, Annie and Finnick *bursts into more tears* from The Hunger Games, Jase and Samantha from My Life Next Door, Logan and Rachel from Defiance, Celaena and Chaol from Throne of Glass, I could do this probably for the rest of my life, so I'll stop.

Tell me which couples you love, and leave me links to your Top Tens if you have them!