The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart
I generally reserve A+ for Harry Potter level enjoyment, and this book deserves it. It’s smart, funny, and insightful—everything you could possibly want in a YA novel. I straight up loved it. But I’ve recently learned that the book is very divisive, with some people thinking it’s anti-feminist and others believing it to be some sort of feminist manifesto. I’m not sure I see it as either. To me, it reads as a story about a young girl struggling to figure out her place in the world. She wants to be respected and seen as an equal by her male peers, but she also wants them to think she is attractive and worthy of dating. I think it’s a fairly common struggle for a modern woman (or it was for me anyways).
Frankie is a delight throughout the book, and she is easy to relate to. She is a “normal” girl, I guess, even if she does have odd habits of making up words and manipulating conversations. She doesn’t have problems though, by which I mean she doesn’t do drugs, she doesn’t have an eating disorder, she doesn’t have some recent family tragedy to contend with, etc. She just wants to be accepted—and loved—by her male peers and her boyfriend especially. The book doesn’t offer any clear answers on balancing the desire to be respected as a person and the desire to be wanted as a female, and it certainly doesn’t have a traditional happy ending. But it makes you think and laugh, which is why I love it.
Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
I think I’ve decided Rainbow Rowell is my personal hero: her writing is hilarious and her covers are amazing. I really enjoyed this book and thought it was laugh-out-loud funny. Rowell developed the relationship between Eleanor and Park beautifully. Anyone who remembers their first love will be able to relate, even if the love story did seem particularly young to me (even by YA standards). The characters go from hating each other to head-over-heels in love—which perfectly captures the intense nature of teenager’s first love.
In a refreshing move, the book’s characters are pretty diverse: Park is half Korean and Eleanor’s school friends are black. But the book takes place in the 1980’s, and except for Park’s struggles with people thinking he is Chinese and feminine, it seems to me that the issue of race is mostly ignored. While the idea of having a diverse set of characters without the novel being about race is nice, it forces the book to shy away from the racial context of the 1980’s.
Until recently, I didn’t realize that this book has experienced quite the censorship push because of cussing and “pornographic” content. Honestly, it’s shocking. This book is about a girl in a bad situation—her step father makes incredibly crude comments to her and she’s teased mercilessly—who is able to rise above it. It’s not as if she makes crude comments: she hates the way her stepfather talks. To act as if the book doesn’t represent reality for some teenagers—as if real life is too ugly for some parent’s precious snowflake of a teenager—is so frustrating, so infuriating that it makes it hard for me to even type.
Even if this book didn’t have a beautiful story, even if it wasn’t hilarious, even if it didn’t remind me of my first love, I would recommend it because I can’t stand people deciding what is appropriate for teenagers to read. I WANT EVERYONE TO READ THIS BOOK. The Parent’s Action League deserves nothing less.
Genre: Science Fiction
My husband and I started a mini-book club and Red Rising was our first book. It’s been critically well-received with a lot of hype surrounding it. I’ve already expressed my feelings on the hype andits classification as an adult novel, so now I can focus on content.
It reads like a mashup of The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, and Game of Thrones—all things I like. My husband is not a big reader, but he seemed to really enjoy this book. On the other hand, it took me a (very) long time to get into it. It’s written in first-person present—a tense that makes me rage whenever I read it. I moaned and whined about the first-person present until Chapter 32, which is exactly how long it took me to get into the book. Seriously, Chapter 32. Chapter 32 introduced a new, hilarious character. I’m a sucker for good characters, and I loved her.
While I gave this book a B+ overall, I would actually rate everything before Chapter 32 a C and everything after an A. I can confidently say I enjoyed this book, and I have every intention of reading the sequel—though probably not right when it comes out.
Coast to Coast Ghosts: True Stories of Hauntings Across America, by Leslie Rule and Anne Rule
This book lived up to its title perfectly: it's tales of ghosts across the United States. I bought it as research for a novel I’m working on, and I found it immensely helpful. Most books on ghosts are a little on the amateurish/ridiculous side. This one was not. So, if you’re in the market to learn about ghosts across the country, I would totally recommend it.
The Proposition, by Judith Ivory
Genre: Historical, Romance
This is one of the best romance novels I’ve ever read—possibly the very best. A gender-flipped version of Pygmalion (which is a neat way to shore up the power imbalances in that story enough to make a romance work); the book is beautifully, almost opulently written. It’s also a rare beast: a historical novel, set in England, that doesn’t mess around overly much with ballrooms and viscounts. I didn’t realize how sick I was of viscount heroes until I met Mick Tremore, ratcatcher extraordinaire and easily one of the sexiest heroes I’ve ever read (and oh my goodness, does the sexual tension in this book ever sing). If there’s a flaw in this book, it’s in the ending: Ivory seems to balk a little from the class problems she’s set up, and there’s kind of a deus ex machina solution. Fortunately, it’s fun enough and short enough that it doesn’t retroactively damage the story.
Judith Ivory seems to be one of those authors people talk about in semi-hushed tones: she has a reputation both for remarkable work and for producing books very, very rarely. Indeed, since the mid-2000’s she hasn’t written anything at all (due to some health problems). In total she’s published only a handful of books—which is something of a tragedy for me, since now I only have, I think, three or four of her books left to read.
So the short version is: read this book, if you haven’t already. It’s marvelous.
The Phantom Bride, by Lisa Cach
Genre: Historical, Paranormal, Romance
If you’d told me I would be giving a book entitled The Phantom Bride an A grade this time last month, I probably wouldn’t have believed you…but here we are. I had an extraordinary string of luck this month: I read The Proposition and The Phantom Bride back-to-back, two excellent romance novels in a row. This is a remarkable happening when I am lucky to read one excellent romance novel every two months.
The Phantom Bride is a historical (both the 1300’s and the 1800’s), and it’s a ghost story…and the heroine is the ghost in question. It takes, I think, a fair amount of ambition to write a romance novel where one half of the lead couple is dead, and has been for about five hundred years. And there’s none of that time travel nonsense here: girl is dead. The hero and heroine don’t even converse for probably at least a quarter of the book. She just floats along behind him and tries to haunt him.
It’s an unconventional romance to say the least; and even better, it keeps its unconventionality and energy all the way to the end, where Cach shows a great deal of imagination. The Phantom Bride is a sweet, funny, highly enjoyable read. I would especially recommend it to readers who are feeling a little burnt out with more traditional romances.
Genre: Historical, Romance
Another beautifully written Ivory book, The Indiscretion suffers the same kind of ending problem as the first—but it’s a lot more serious. This story, like The Proposition, uses class differences as its central problem; but similarly balks when it comes time to unite the hero and heroine permanently. This feels almost like a betrayal: she’s such a good writer that she sells these romances completely, so for her to then turn around and make all the serious problems she’s set up so compellingly magically disappear is a major let-down.
The Indiscretion is still a wonderful read, and I heartily recommend it. Unfortunately, the problematic ending takes up much more room than it did in The Proposition, which knocks it down to an A-.
Genre: Paranormal, YA
Loved it. Totally loved it. And I didn’t expect too—the title Vampire Academy (along with the atrocious film released a year or two ago) didn’t really inspire confidence. In fact, I only picked it up after being very impressed with The Age of X series, Mead’s return to adult fantasy (which we reviewed this month); and even then I was prepared to be disappointed.
Well I wasn’t. I was delighted. Funny and fast-paced, with a smart-ass female protagonist and a bunch of great supporting characters, this entire series is a really fun read. It was only knocked down to an A- because the central romantic plotline is riddled with problems (big age differences, power imbalances…nothing that’s unusual in a certain strand of young adult fiction, but things I don’t much like).
Genre: Paranormal, Romance
This month, I introduced myself to paranormal romances. As you’ll see throughout the remainder of this post…it didn’t go very well (related: if anybody has any recommendations in this genre, please please please leave them in the comments). The Kate Daniels series is a big exception to the general dreariness of this experiment.
I read the first five books in the series this month (I burned out a bit, and I think I’ll take a little bit of a break, but I’m pretty sure that’s just the result of popping them like so many M&M’s). The protagonist, Kate Daniels, is great. She’s insane, and extremely competent, and more than capable of handling any of the men that the series throws her way. Basically, she’s crazy, bloody, and smart—which, for me, is an irresistible combination. The books are filled with action and hot sex and smart-alecky comments, and I enjoyed the hell out of them.
Grade (averaged) A-
Genre: Fantasy, Romance
Despite the surprise of The Phantom Bride, the real unexpected winner this month was G.A. Aiken’s Dragon Kin series. Because, you know, this is a series about dragon shapeshifters. Dragon shapeshifters with floor-length hair. Who sleep with, but also eat (and yes, that way too, but I mean actually eat, as in for dinner), humans (although supposedly they no longer eat humans who they have also slept with: any given human will theoretically only experience one of those two events with the same dragon).
I’m kind of talking myself out of this series again, just describing it.
Allow me to justify my surprisingly high grade. This series is hysterical. And the women are super, super badass—warrior women straight out of Xena, political masterminds straight out of Tudor England, all of them absolutely insane. In fact, everyone in these books is insane; just like the books themselves.
Most of the books in the series are probably more like B+’s, and had I begun with the first one, Dragon Actually, I’m not sure if I would have continued. Fortunately, I accidentally began with the third in the series, What A Dragon Should Know, which is fantastic. It’s hilarious—I mean, rocking-back-and-forth-on-the-couch-with-tears-forming-in-the-corner-of-your-eyes hilarious—and it’s clever, and it’s entirely unexpected. Aiken does a lot of interesting work with gender throughout the novel: in many ways, the hero and the heroine occupy roles traditionally held by the other, a fact that both occasionally exploit.
So normally I would tell you to simply skip to the third book in the series, but there’s a hefty amount of political intrigue in the second half of the book that’s a continuation of storylines from the first two books. Given that, I recommend that you read the first three books and then end it on a high note.
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
This series is absolutely charming. If you’re looking for a really enjoyable, light-hearted read that will cheer you up, this is the series you will find it in. It bears mild similarity to some of Nora Roberts’s better family trilogies (except that there are twelve books and counting in this case): populated with non-irritating, interesting characters; filled with hot hot hot sexual tension; and featuring tons of great comedic moments. I’m looking forward to the next installment, which I believe is coming out at the end of summer.