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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Once Was Lost More Miss Than Hit for Me

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As a pastor's daughter, 15-year-old Samara Taylor is used to being seen as the perfect girl from the perfect family.  If only it were true.  Her mother's in court-ordered rehab, her father's more interested in his congregation's welfare than in his family's, their house (paid for by the church) is falling down around their ears, and Sam's pretty sure God doesn't exist at all, let alone care about her and her problems.  Of course, she can't talk to anyone about any of this, not without breaking her family's fragile image.  So, she follows her father's lead, swallowing her fears and saying nothing.

When Jody Shaw—a 13-year-old soloist in the church choir—vanishes from Sam's little town, it shocks everyone.  As the days pass without any sign of her, Sam's crisis of faith deepens.  How could a loving God allow something so awful to occur?  At the same time, she finds herself increasingly drawn to Nick, Jody's 18-year-old brother.  People say he's the prime suspect in his sister's disappearance, but Sam doesn't know what to believe anymore.  She just wishes time would rewind itself back to the days when everything made sense.    

While Sam grapples with all her worries and fears, she must find strength somewhere.  Will that search lead her back to the God who comforted her through childhood or down a much more dangerous path?

So, after reading a few Sara Zarr books, I've realized they're kind of hit and miss for me.  I adored How to Save a Life, but felt pretty meh about Story of a Girl.  My reaction to Once Was Lost (also published as What We Lost) is similar to the latter.  It's not that I didn't like the novel, I just didn't love it.  Zarr always writes well, using strong prose, complex characters and realistic conflict to tell engaging stories.  But, sometimes they click with me, sometimes they don't.  My problem with this one mostly boils down to Sam— to me, she comes off as sympathetic, but not all that likable.  Her whining and self-absorption get really annoying really fast.  Also, the plot of Once Was Lost runs pretty thin, so it's a character-driven novel steered by a heroine I don't really care for, meaning that overall, Once Was Lost just fell kind of flat for me.  Ah, well.
(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't really think of anything.  Can you?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs) and mature situations

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Once Was Lost from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.  
Friday, February 21, 2014

Unique, Magical Take on WWII Engaging, if Not Totally Satisfying

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

For 17-year-old Philomena "Phil" Albion and her sister, Phoebe ("Fee"), creating illusions to dazzle eager audiences is just a part of life.  Like generations of Albions before them, the girls are gifted stage illusionists.  Both are passionate about magic and can't imagine a life that doesn't involve sequined costumes, thunderous applause and the thrill of performing sold-out shows night after night after night.  But that's exactly what happens after the London Blitz when Phil and Fee are sent to the countryside, where they'll be safe from Nazi bombing raids.

Separated from their family, with little to occupy them but farm chores, the girls hardly know what to do with themselves.  Never one to sit around twiddling her thumbs, Phil—who's filled with "the fervent need to perform some patriotic act immediately" (19)—decides to create a Home Guard out of the ignorant country folk, none of whom seem to realize there's a war on.  Ever the dreamer, Fee is busy reading love stories and chasing chickens when her sister stumbles across a hidden castle full of potential soldiers.  Much to Phil's shock, it's actually a wizarding college (think Hogwarts, just with an older student body) that has no use for female magicians, especially those who know little of real magic.   Determined to prove she's a match for any of the wizards (particularly the arrogant young Arden), Phil refuses to stay away.  Who cares if the wizards-in-training don't want her around?  Phil will do anything not just to impress them with her own magical ability, but to convince them to join her Home Guard.

Naturally, complications abound.  And the harder Phil works, the less things seem to go her way.  As the Nazis edge closer and closer to Sussex, she's becoming more and more frantic.  Can Phil persuade the gutless wizards to help her defend England?  Can she make any of the small-town residents care about something beyond their farms?  It will take all of Phil's charm—and more than a little of her magic—to accomplish her goals.  No matter what, she's willing to risk it all, even if she has to give up her life, or her heart, in the process.

When a copy of Delusion, a historical YA novel by Laura L. Sullivan, arrived on my doorstep, I got a very pleasant surprise.  I mean, a unique, magic-laden take on World War II?  Yes, please!  From the cover art to the plot summary to the intriguing premise, the novel practically guaranteed an entertaining story.  Did it deliver?  More or less.  Phil and Fee are both funny, likable characters.  Sullivan's prose is clever and engaging.  Despite a few predictable twists, Delusion's plot kept me engaged.  And yet ... the story just wasn't quite as satisfying as I hoped it would be.  It's a bit anti-climatic, for one.  Also, the idea in the novel that I found most intriguing—that of the girls' parents working with a special magical unit of the military to misdirect the Nazis' attention away from key targets/missions—really wasn't explored at all.  In the end, then, I enjoyed Delusion, even if I didn't love, love, love it.  

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't really think of anything.  Can you?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence, and sexual innuendo/content

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Delusion from the generous folks at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  Thank you!
Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Quirky and Upbeat, Attachments Is Painfully (and Entertaining-ly) Authentic

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Lincoln O'Neil takes a job in security at an Omaha newspaper, he never dreams it will involve reading his co-workers' personal emails.  Everyone at the paper knows their messages are being monitored, but still—snooping around that way just feels too intrusive, too wrong.  And yet, Lincoln can't afford to quit.  He's making good money for doing relatively little.  So what if he works his voyeuristic job at night, all by himself ... if he can stick with it, the 28-year-old might be able to save up enough cash to move out of his mother's house once and for all.  

The one perk to Lincoln's otherwise deplorable job is the exchanges he reads between Beth Fremont, The Courier's movie reviewer, and her best friend, copy editor Jennifer Scribner-Snyder.  Lonely Lincoln envies the warm, supportive friendship the women share.  The more he eavesdrops on their conversations, sharing their triumphs and struggles, the closer he feels to them both.  In fact,  he's pretty sure he's in love with funny, kind-hearted Beth.  Even when he thinks their might be some interest on her end, Lincoln knows he can't introduce himself to her.  How can he?  What would he say?  "Hello, I know everything about you from stalking your emails and by the way, I love you?"  Not going to happen.  

The longer Lincoln works at the paper, the more uncomfortable he grows with his shady work duties.  What's an awkward, gun-shy IT guy to do?  Quit an easy, high-paying job?  Confess his love to a woman he's never even laid eyes on?  Break his mother's heart by moving out?  Does he dare risk it all for a journalist who'll probably be appalled by all he knows about her?  

As much as I enjoyed Fan Girl, Rainbow Rowell's third novel, I think I like her debut, Attachments, even better.  Like the former, the latter is filled to the brim with likable characters, crackling dialogue and lots of heart.  Even though it's a straight-up contemporary romance (it's set in 1999, but whatever), it feels different, more original than others I've read.  Maybe that's because it's so upbeat, clever and fun.  Whatever the reason, I love this quirky love story—it's just so painfully (and entertaining-ly) authentic!

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't really think of anything.  Can you?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for strong language and sexual innuendo/content

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Attachments from the generous folks at Penguin.  Thank you!
Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Killing Woods Another Taut, Haunting Thriller from the Author of Stolen

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Life for the Shepherd Family hasn't been the same since Jon returned from the war.  Suffering from paranoia and crippling flashbacks, the PTSD-riddled soldier has become someone his wife and daughter barely recognize.  He spends all his time hiding in a bunker deep in the Darkwood Forest Nature Preserve, reliving the horrors of combat in his head, day after day after day.  It's bad enough that 16-year-old Emily can't rely on her dad, but her mom's been coping with his illness by drinking too much, leaving Emily feeling at odds with everything and everyone.  Then, comes the night when Jon brings something in from the woods.

No, not something, but someone.  

It's Ashlee Parker—one of Emily's classmates—and she's dead.  Jon Shepherd is charged with the murder, making his daughter an instant pariah.  Emily refuses to believe her father's guilty.  He's always been a gentle soul; even now, with all his problems, he can't be capable of that kind of violence.  Can he?  Emily can't stand the thought of her dad rotting away in jail, especially for a crime he didn't commit, so she vows to find out what really happened that night in the woods.  With the help of a very unlikely ally, Emily begins to unveil the ugly truth behind Ashlee's death.  Only one question remains:  What part did her dad play in the girl's demise?  Is he the killer everyone says he is?  Or the innocent hero Emily needs him to be?

With The Killing Woods, Welsh author Lucy Christopher delivers another taut YA thriller that's just as haunting (although not as original) as her debut novel, Stolen.  Not all of the characters in her new book are sympathetic, but they're interesting and well-drawn.  The plot of The Killing Woods feels a little too familiar; still, it's compelling.  All in all then, I found the story to be an absorbing thrill ride, albeit a dark, depressing one.     

(Readalikes:  The PTSD parts reminded me of The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for strong language, violence, sexual content and depictions of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Killing Woods from the generous folks at Scholastic.  Thank you!
Saturday, February 15, 2014

Skinny: It's About More Than Just The Pounds

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Ever Davies knows she's fat.  The 15-year-old weighs over 300 pounds, so it's not like she's surprised when someone calls her an elephant or a whale or a freak or whatever.  Not that the words don't wound—of course they do—but she's so used to hearing the labels that she hardly notices anymore.  Besides, if real people aren't calling Ever names, she's got Skinny—the constant, nagging voice in her head—reminding her that she's an out-of-control blob who will never be loved.  Ever's so used to living (if you can call it that) this way, she's almost given up trying to change things.  What's the point?  As Skinny is so quick to note, Ever is too pathetic and helpless to do anything right.  

After a humiliating experience at school, Ever's finally had enough.  Determined to gain some control over her life, she embarks on a risky journey to slim down, get healthy and prove to the world that she's someone worth noticing.  And yet, even as the pounds melt off, Ever can't stop hearing Skinny's snarky criticism.  Is it possible that Skinny's been right all along?  Is Ever destined for failure, no matter how hard she works?  Is she really too worthless to bother with—or can Ever find something inside herself that's worth saving, even celebrating?  Most importantly, what will happen when she reaches her weight loss goal?  Will Ever Davies finally be happy? 

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I wanted to read more books about obesity, especially about teens who struggle with the issue.  An author friend of mine mentioned that she'd heard good things about Skinny, a debut novel by Donna Cooner.  Cooner, who's written picture books, textbooks and children's television shows, is also a former gastric bypass patient—obviously, weight loss is something with which she's intimately familiar.  That insider's view makes Ever's fight for control over her body an authentic and poignant one.  Cooner's personal experience with bariatric surgery also makes for a story peppered with interesting details about the process.  All of that kept me interested.  What annoyed me about Skinny, though, is its lack of a well-defined central conflict.  Ever's goal is to lose weight, yes, but since the pounds are "magically" disappearing via surgery, she achieves what she wants a little too easily for my tastes.  I want to see a hero or heroine really struggle to attain the story goal, and Ever really doesn't that much.  Yes, she still has to banish the voice in her head (which, really, is the point of the story), but still ... the central conflict didn't feel like that big of a conflict, in my *humble* opinion.  In the end, while I appreciated Cooner's realistic look at a teen undergoing weight loss surgery, Skinny just didn't quite satisfy me. 

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Butter by Erin Jade Lange and 45 Pounds [More or Less] by K.A. Barson)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Skinny from the generous folks at Scholastic.  Thank you!
Friday, February 14, 2014

A Love-Filled Valentine's Vlog

Happy Valentine's Day!

I hope all of you are having a wonderful holiday full of love.  As a special V-Day treat, I have Holly Schindler visiting today.  I talked about the author yesterday, so we're just going to continue on with the Holly-love.  Holly's prepared a little vlog for us about the part love plays in her new middle grade book, The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky.  Since she does a great job explaining what the story's all about, I won't bother with a plot summary.  You get to hear it straight from the author herself!

I haven't had a chance to read The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky yet, but it sounds like a sweet, empowering story.  I'm excited to see what it's all about!

Holly's put together a blog tour for the book that's full of fun posts.  Click on the icon below to follow along:

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Cover Reveal: Feral by Holly Schindler

I first heard the name Holly Schindler back in 2010, when the generous folks over at Flux sent me an ARC of her debut novel, A Blue So Dark.  The taut YA drama about a teen dealing with her mother's schizophrenia touched me, while convincing me that this author was one to watch.  Schindler's sophomore novel, Playing Hurt, also impressed me.  Tomorrow, I'm going to talk a little about her recently published middle grade novel, but today I'm excited to be a part of the cover reveal for Schindler's fourth novel, Feral:

Oooh, it's so mysterious and intriguing.  I love it!

And here's a plot summary for Feral, which will release from Harper Collins on August 26, 2014:

It’s too late for you. You’re dead.                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Those words float through Claire Cain’s head as she lies broken and barely alive after a brutal beating. And the words continue to haunt her months later, in the relentless, terrifying nightmares that plague her sleep. So when her father is offered a teaching sabbatical in another state, Claire is hopeful that getting out of Chicago, away from the things that remind her of what she went through, will offer a way to start anew.                                                                                                                                                                                      
But when she arrives in Peculiar, Missouri, Claire quickly realizes something is wrong—the town is brimming with hidden dangers and overrun by feral cats. And her fears are confirmed when a popular high school girl, Serena Sims, is suddenly found dead in the icy woods behind the school. While everyone is quick to say Serena died in an accident, Claire knows there’s more to it—for she was the one who found Serena, battered and most certainly dead, surrounded by the town’s feral cats.                                                                                                                                       
Now Claire vows to learn the truth about what happened, but the closer she gets to uncovering the mystery, the closer she also gets to discovering a frightening reality about herself and the damage she truly sustained in that Chicago alley.                                                                                                                                                                                  
With an eerie setting and heart-stopping twists and turns, Holly Schindler weaves a gripping story that will make you question everything you think you know.

Sounds like a perfect Halloween read.  I don't know about you, but I can't wait.  I love the always versatile Holly Schindler and I'm anxious to see what she does with this newest book!

What do you think about the cover?  The plot?  Does it look and sound like something you might find interesting?

If it does, be sure to add it to your Goodreads bookshelf and pre-order yourself a copy from Amazon or your favorite bookstore.  
Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Innocence: I Didn't See That Coming

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Sometimes the jacket copy on a book is so succinct, so scintillating in its simplicity that it's absurd to try to rewrite it in my own clumsy way.  I'm not much for reinventing the wheel, so I give you the professionally-written plot summary for Innocence, Dean Koontz's newest mystical thriller:

He lives in solitude beneath the city, an exile from society, which will destroy him if he is ever seen.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   She dwells in seclusion, a fugitive from enemies who will do her harm if she is ever found.                                                                                                                                           But the bond between them runs deeper than the tragedies that have scarred their lives.  Something more than chance—and nothing less than destiny—has brought them together in a world whose hour of reckoning is fast approaching.

Lovely, right?  I think the text offers a perfect boiling-down of a novel that's actually very difficult to describe.  Like Koontz's popular Odd Thomas books, Innocence is a mix of mystery, mysticism and otherworldly suspense.  It's a strange tale, confusing at times, beautiful at others.  Overall, it held my interest while making me very curious to see just what made the main characters so repugnant to society.  The answer was one I really did not see coming.  At all.  I loved the big reveal—it surprised and delighted me, while making me ponder my own beliefs.  I didn't adore every aspect of this novel, but overall, I enjoyed it.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence, and adult subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find
Friday, February 07, 2014

A Time to Kill: Which Do You Prefer—Book? Movie? Both? Neither?

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Many moons ago, while a student at BYU, I watched an edited version of A Time to Kill, the 1996 film based on the book by John Grisham.  I remember being blown away by the movie—it made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me swoon, it made my blood boil ... in other words, it touched me.  So much so that when Grisham published a sequel to the book (Sycamore Row, 2013), I thought, "Hm, I should read A Time to Kill and re-watch the movie, just to see if the story is as powerful as I remember it being."  It was an interesting little experiment and I'll tell you what I learned ... in a minute.  

First, a plot summary:

Relations between the black and white residents of Ford County, Mississippi, have never been what you might call peaceful.  The only black sheriff in the state works there, it's true, but that hardly makes the county progressive.  Or sympathetic toward those with brown skin and woolly hair.  This fact becomes increasingly apparent when Carl Lee Hailey, a 37-year-old black mill worker, kills the men accused of raping his 10-year-old daughter.  The murdered "boys" are white rednecks, the kind of dumb, lazy oxen who will be mourned only by the clients of their flourishing drug-dealing business.  Still, it's a shocking turn of events.  As deserving of a lynching as the pair might have been, most folks in the small town of Clanton are horrified by the commission of such a violent act of vigilante justice on their own soil.  Especially by a black man against two white men.      
When Carl Lee asks Jake Brigance, a local white lawyer, to defend him, things get even more interesting.  Jake knows it's the kind of case that could make his whole career, so despite some misgivings, he takes it.  It's not long before he's receiving death threats, burning crosses on his lawn, and pleas from his wife to hand the whole mess off to someone else.  The more heated the situation becomes, however, the more determined Jake is to keep Carl Lee out of prison.  No matter what the cost.  Which is becoming dearer and dearer.  With the help of his ragtag legal team, Jake might just be able to pull it off.  But, with the Ku Klux Klan, corrupt court officials, and the deep-seated racism which has defined Ford County for more than a century all standing in his way, it's going to be a long, perilous journey—one which just might end at the electric chair.  

The book, as you can probably tell, is an intense, action-packed drama filled with colorful characters forced to wrangle with a whole host of sticky moral dilemmas.  It's a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat page turner, for sure.  If you've read Grisham, you know he writes what I call "guy books," meaning fiction that focuses more on action than on character development, emotional reaction, or relationships between characters.  Because of this, A Time to Kill—like most "guy books"—feels a little stiff to me.  I still enjoyed the story, I just had trouble empathizing and identifying with most of the characters (with the exception of Carl Lee).  Even Brigance, whose devotion and determination—not just to his client, but also to his family, his friends, and his town—comes through so palpably on-screen, falls flat in the novel.  In fact, book Brigance is a grouchy, sexist media whore who's almost as slimy as the rest of his comrades.  This disappointed me since I found his movie character so appealing (and not just because of McConaughey's pretty face).  Now, I do have to say that the film version skips over some of the humor and subtlety that makes the novel stand out and yet, I like the former so much more than the latter.  Is it because I'm a girl?  Maybe so, but the movie has a whole lot more heart than the book, mostly because it shows Brigance experiencing a wide range of emotions—we see him feeling confident, conflicted, remorseful, sad, guilty, nervous, proud, scared, etc.  This makes him seem empathetic and human in a way the book does not.  For this and other reasons, I much prefer the film version of A Time to Kill.  Which isn't to say it's a sweet, heart-warming family flick.  It's not.  At all.  It's depressing and difficult to watch, but powerful all the same.  The book has its moments, of course—overall, though, the movie tells a better story.

(Readalikes:  Sycamore Row; also reminds me of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee)


If this were a movie (and it is!), it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), including frequent use of racial epithets; violence (including a fairly graphic rape scene), and depictions of excessive drinking and illegal activity

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of A Time to Kill from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.  
Monday, February 03, 2014

A Rose Is A Rose, Unless It's a Blossoming Violet

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Violet Diamond is used to standing out.  That's what happens when you're the only brown-skinned, nappy-haired girl in your town, in your school, even in your family.  It doesn't bother the 11-year-old all that much.  Except when it does.  If only her African-American dad was still alive, then she wouldn't look so out of place.  Violet knows her mother and half-sister—both pale blondes—couldn't care less about the color of her skin, it's just that sometimes, she really wishes people could look at the three of them and see a matched set.

When Violet gets a chance to connect with her father's family, her world opens up like it never has before.  She doesn't completely match the Diamonds either, nor does she feel perfectly comfortable with them, but the better she gets to know them, the more whole she feels.  As she explores the black side of her bi-racial makeup, she asks herself some tough questions:  Is she black or is she white?  With which side of the family does she identify most?  To which does she really belong?  And, most important of all, does a family have to match in order to count?  In order to love?

I'm always thrilled when I find books for young readers that feature girls of color, especially those who are bi-racial like my adopted daughter.  She's only five, but you should have seen her face light up when she spied the cover of The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods—"That girl looks just like me, Mom!" she exclaimed.  Although my little girl is too young to read it now, I have no doubt that the themes of the book will resonate with her as she grows older.  The story brings up issues that are especially relevant to bi-racial children, but really, Violet's out-of-place feelings will be familiar to all readers since we've all felt that way at one time or another.  I definitely empathized with our heroine and felt that she was working through issues that need to be addressed more in children's literature.  That being said, I thought the plot got a little wobbly in places.  Also, I would have liked more subtlety, as the story sometimes seemed heavy-handed and preachy.  All in all, though, I enjoyed it.

(Readalikes:  Black Boy, White School by Brian F. Walker; Sell-Out by Ebony Joy Wilkins; When the Black Girl Sings by Bil Wright)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for intense situations

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond from the generous folks at Penguin.  Thank you!
Saturday, February 01, 2014

Paris Cravings Cover Reveal: Ooo La La

I'm feeling a bit under the weather today, but I can't crawl back into bed until I show you all something awesome.  Ready?

Pretty, isn't it?  

Paris Cravings is a new book from a lovely lady named Kimberley Griffiths Little.  You might recognize her name—she's written several middle grade novels, including Circle of Secrets, When the Butterflies Came, and The Healing Spell.  She's a gifted writer and a wonderful person.  Paris Cravings is her first book published under the pseudonym Kimberley Montpetit.  It's a YA romance about an American teen who gets stranded in Paris.  Given how turbulent her life is back home—not to mention her attraction to a very cute French boy—she's in no hurry to leave the The City of Light.  With the police trying to track her down and her mom having a nervous breakdown at home, she's got to figure things out.  And fast.   

Sounds like a fun, romantic story, right?  I know I can't wait to read it.  If you want to snag a copy for yourself, follow the links below.  If you want a chance to win one of five copies of the book, fill out the Rafflecopter form below.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Mormon Mention: Rainbow Rowell

If you're not sure what a Mormon is, let alone a Mormon Mention, allow me to explain:  My name is Susan and I'm a Mormon (you've seen the commercials, right?).  As a member of  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon or LDS Church), I'm naturally concerned with how my religion is portrayed in the media.  Because this blog is about books, every time I see a reference to Mormonism in a book written by someone who is not a member of my church, I highlight it here.  Then, I offer my opinion—my insider's view—of what the author is saying.  It's my chance to correct misconceptions, expound on principles of the Gospel, and even to laugh at my (sometimes) crazy Mormon culture. 


In Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Cath Avery is a college freshman who spends most of her time in her dorm room studying, worrying and writing fanfiction.  She's introverted and nerdy, a complete puzzle to her new roommate, Reagan.  This conversation ensues:

"Wear whatever.  Wear something that doesn't have Simon Snow on it, so that people won't assume your brain stopped developing when you were seven."

Cath put on her read CARRY ON t-shirt with jeans, and redid her ponytail.

Reagan frowned at her.  "Do you have to wear your hair like that?  Is it some kind of Mormon thing?"

"I'm not Mormon."

"I said some kind."  There was a knock at the door, and Reagan opened it.

-- Quote from Fangirl, page 69

Like I said, Cath's a "good girl," a virgin who doesn't drink, smoke, party or throw herself at random guys.  Naturally, Reagan—who's her complete opposite— assumes she's a nun.  Or a Mormon.  

Passages like this are actually compliments to us, I think, since they're commentaries on the LDS ideals of clean living.  Active church members adhere to the Word of Wisdom, which strongly cautions against the use of tobacco, strong drinks, even coffee and tea.  We are counseled to stay away from other potentially harmful behaviors as well, including taking illegal drugs, abusing prescription drugs, engaging in premarital sex, etc.  Thus, we've earned a reputation as people who strive to be as squeaky clean as possible.  Which isn't a bad thing.  Not at all.

A side note on Mormon college life:  Many LDS kids choose to attend church colleges (BYU-Provo, BYU-Idaho, BYU-Hawaii, etc.), not just because they're good schools, but also because students there are required to uphold the standards of the LDS Church.  Does this mean there isn't any drinking, smoking, drugs, partying, sleeping around, etc.?  Of course not.  If you're looking for that kind of thing, I'm sure you can find it at BYU just as easily as anywhere else.  However, it is definitely not the norm.  Most BYU-ers are at BYU because they've made a conscious choice to avoid those kinds of elements.  In fact, BYU-Provo's been named the nation's top "Stone Cold Sober" school for almost 20 years in a row by The Princeton Review.  It's a distinction of which Mormons, especially BYU alums (like Yours Truly), are extremely proud.    

College Coming-of-Age Story Funny, Authentic (With a Giveaway!)

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

There's one man who's always been there for Cather Avery:  Simon Snow.  Through her mother's desertion, through her father's bi-polar mood swings, through drama with her twin sister, he's been by her side.  Simon's steady and devoted, so much so that the 18-year-old can't stop thinking, dreaming and obsessing about him.  The problem?  Simon's not real.  He's a fictional character, the leading man (well, boy) in a wildly popular children's series (think Harry Potter).  Cath is not his only fan, of course, but she might just be his best.  Through her fanfiction, which thousands of people read online, Simon lives on.  Cath's greatest pleasure in life comes from thinking up new adventures for her favorite book hero.  

Now that Cath's a freshman in college, though, she's a little torn over her infatuation with Simon.  She wants to fit in with the university crowd, but she also needs her book crush—however juvenile it may be—to get through the new stresses in her life.  And she's got lots:  Cath's twin sister, Wren (get it?  Cather + Wren = Catherine), has declared her independence, moving into a completely different dorm and leaving Cath on her own; Cath's roommate leaves plenty to desire, as does her always-around boyfriend; her English professor isn't as wowed by fanfiction as Cath hoped she would be; and, to top it off, Cath's worried about her father, whose fragile psyche seems ready to shatter.  Since all Cath does is sit in her dorm room studying, worrying, and thinking up new Simon stories, she wonders why she ever left home in the first place.  She's clearly not cut out for living in the "real" world among live people whom she can't edit into perfection.

As Cath rides the ups and downs that college brings, she has to ask herself the big questions:  Can she live her own life, one that doesn't include Wren holding her hand through every hardship?  Does she even want to?  And can she give up Simon Snow in order to enjoy "real" life?  Even if it means opening herself up to the possible disasters that could come from a romance with a guy who lives outside the pages of her imagination?  Who would even want that?  Maybe, just maybe, Cath does.  

There are so many things I love about Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.  The well-rounded characters, the crackling dialogue, the bookish plot, the virtual world vs. real world dilemma, the sister conflict—all of it sucked me right in and kept me turning page after page after page.  I adored Cath in all her nerdy glory.  She's a girl after my own heart, the kind of character who, surprisingly, doesn't turn up in fiction all that much.  I admire Rowell for writing Cath in a way that makes her good girl tendencies (she cares more about grades than guys, more about papers than parties, etc.) admirable, even cool.  Cath just comes off as very authentic.  Geeky, but real.  Now, of course, there were parts of Fangirl I could have done without—the swearing, Simon's gay romance, etc.  The book's edgier than I thought it would be, definitely more new adult than young adult.  Overall, though, I enjoyed this unique, funny, well-written, coming-of-age novel.  

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't really think of anything.  Can you?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:  

for strong language, sexual innuendo/mild sexual content (including homosexuality), and depictions of underage drinking/partying

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Fangirl from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.  

Interested in getting your hands on Fangirl?  You've come to the right place.  I'm giving away my gently-used (it's been read once and is in almost perfect condition), hardback copy of the book.  To win, all you have to do is comment on this post.  I won't even make you answer a silly question this time, so entering is about as easy peasy as it could possibly be!  Please do include an email address so that I have a way to contact you if you win.  I'll choose a winner (well, will do the picking) on February 15, so entries must be in by midnight on the 14th.  You need to have a U.S. or Canadian mailing address in order to be eligible for the giveaway.  Good luck!

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