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Backwib 2: Return of the backwib

January 31, 2012

I am going to try, hard, to knock out as many teen and adult books that I read last year as possible.  I may draft this up and work on it later.  It may end up long.

Or I will get tired and review, like, five books.  Whatever happens, happens.

How can I have disliked a book so much to give it 0 stars on Goodreads and yet cannot remember anything but its basic idea–not even plot–not even the name of the main character?  Did I forget to give it stars?  A star or two, for its weakness?  Or did I really hate it?  Usually when I hate something, I sure do remember it, but I’ve got nothing in my brain for Terra Elan McVoy’s Pure, not a thing.  I remember it had to do with purity rings and a friend losing her virginity and everyone being horrified and conflicted and whatnot, and I don’t remember liking it, but surely–0 stars?  I guess the only thing I can say, this far after the fact, is that I do not recommend this YA book.

Susan Isaac’s As Husbands Go was another let-down.  I have always, always loved Susan Isaacs, since I was about twelve.  I loved Shining Through, Almost Perfect, and her murder mystery After All These Years.  I believe As Husbands Go is supposed to be in the vein of After All These Years, but Isaacs drops the ball with a protagonist I couldn’t find it in me to care about, a story that meanders, and a sassy granny who I’d love if I liked the rest of the book more.  I don’t remember the mystery anymore, or even the name of the main character–all I can remember is the granny chastising the main character for not brushing under her tongue, or brushing her tongue, or something.

Call Me Irresistable, which takes place in the aftermath of a broken engagement, was my attempt at a Susan Elizabeth Phillips book after the bizarre fan fiction that was What I Did for Love (my brief review of my brief reading of it here).  I want to love SEP, because she’s a friend of Jennifer Crusie’s–I want to believe that friends will write similar books, or at least all be as…I hate to say “enlightened” but I also hate to use “feminist” as an adjective here.  SEP’s been hit or miss with me in the past, but Call Me Irresistable is a hit for sure, even winning me over, which is saying a lot for any romance/chick lit put out in the past five or ten years.  I’m not sure how it did it, with so many loathesome characters, but it did, and I will be reading the next book, although with some hesitation, and probably nowhere near the first day it comes out.

In a completely different vein, I read Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  I agree with those who say that the beginning of the series is incredibly slow–it is not until the leads come in contact with one another that everything picks up.  I liked Dragon Tattoo because of its mystery: it’s kind of a locked-door mystery in that everyone is on an island.  Fire was a bit weird, but Hornet’s Nest ties it all together into what was probably the most satisfying trilogy I’ve read (or, in this case, mostly listened to) since The Hunger Games.  Simon Vance does a fantastic job with his voices in the audiobooks, as always, although I believe his Lisbeth sounds TOO vulnerable.  These were the audiobooks that got me into Vance in the first place.

I also listened to all of Vance’s Medicus books by Ruth Downie: Medicus, Terra Incognita, Persona Non Grata, and Caveat Emptor.  These mysteries take place in ancient Rome, and you know me and Ancient Rome.  It’s not quite my time period, but I’ll take it.  Another slow-starter of a series, once the mystery gets going, the reader will fall in love with the characters.  My only problem with the audiobooks is that Vance changes his Valens voice (third book?) and I just couldn’t accept the new voice.  It didn’t fit as well as the old one.

I forced myself to read The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner, a Twilight novella, because it had been a while since I read the Twilight books and I thought, well, this story must be worth telling, right?  Wrong.  Meyer once again proves that she’s a bad writer (technically) by writing a novella with no breaks.  No breaks.  None.  It’s difficult not to read the thing with one big mind-breath, which actually does nothing to promote the gathering tension in the book and everything to make the reader turn blue.

Scarlett Thomas’s Our Tragic Universe did not stick with me the way her other books did, yet it’s the solid story of…um…there’s this writer, and her relationship sucks, and there’s some stuff about…well…uh.  There’s a Beast…thing…and…

You know what?  Just go read it.  Either you will like it or you will not.  But I would not start with it if you’ve never read Thomas before.  I’d start with PopCo.

As for Sarah Dunn’s Secrets to Happiness, it’s another book where I want to say “Go read another one first.”  That would be The Big Love, which I adored.  I enjoyed Secrets to Happiness, but I didn’t adore it.

Sarah Dessen’s What Happened to Goodbye is one of THOSE Sarah Dessen books–the in-between one that isn’t as good as the one before and the one after it.  But even not-her-best Sarah Dessen is still great Sarah Dessen, and she’s one of my go-to authors for teen females looking for book recs.  I think she needs to step away from the same places and the same interlocking characters, though; it’s getting harder and harder to remember which book was which.

The Second Virginity of Suzy Green by Sara Hantz did not hit its mark.  In fact, I read it around the same time as a bunch of Australian YA authors who just made me go “Is this supposed to be the best your country can do?  Because…eh.”  Beatle Meets Destiny was one of those, but Suzy Green is less forgettable and more dislikable.  Even my daughter didn’t like it, and she likes almost everything.  Suzy’s sister died and now she feels like she should be the perfect one, which apparently at her new school includes being part of some virginity club, even though she isn’t a virgin.  Great premise, crap book.

How about some good–no, GREAT books?  Let’s talk about Mira Grant and how awesome she is.  Feed blew me away and Deadline, the second book in the series, is almost as good and DEFINITELY as heart-breaking.  I wrote these books up for my library newsletter because I feel like they’re the zombie books you could suggest to almost anyone.  They are not horror-based; they’re politics-based.  Yeah, politics.  Georgia and her brother Shaun are bloggers, and bloggers as always just want to be heard.  Fortunately, they’re being taken fairly seriously, and are invited on the campaign trail with a presidential hopeful.  Sure, they live in a world of zombies, but life has to go on, right?  This book is set AFTER the apocalypse, when real life has asserted itself back into a sense of normalcy, and that’s only one aspect of it that I really enjoyed.  Georgia and Shaun, the adopted children of famous parents, are an inseparable unit after their fairly traumatic (although they’d say “irritating”) childhoods.  She writes facts and thoughtful opinions; he writes actions and pokes zombies with sticks.  They’re a team, rounded out by their webmaster friend Buffy.  But as they uncover a bigger story on the campaign trail, the team finds itself in jeopardy.  The series builds and builds until you find yourself desperate for the next book.

And that’s where I am now.  Wah.

I hate to shift like this, but I also read Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls, which was the incredibly moving story of a girl living with an eating disorder after it has already killed her best friend.  It’s so gorgeous and engrossing and horrible.  I highly suggest it to, like, everyone.

I reread Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien for my book club, and found that I loved it as much as I ever did.  This book should be read by your kids BEFORE they see the stupid, magic-filled movie.  SCIENCE > MAGIC.

I read Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist as well as Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares.  If you haven’t read them before, I suggest Dash & Lily first, because it’s a little lighter, a little more fun.  A good Christmas/Hannukah read.  Rachel Cohn & David Levithan are a good combo of writers, balancing each other well while still merging together in story.  (And I didn’t feel like they ended up with as cheerily, movie-like false an ending as Levithan & Green’s Will Grayson, will grayson).  I’ve found that I’ve really enjoyed most books that have the male and female perspective, especially nowadays, when the gender gap seems so much further than it was when I was a little tomboy.  Lily is kind of an idiot, but if you can make it through that, you’ll enjoy both books.  (And Will Grayson.)

I also listened to Pop Princess by Rachel Cohn but it turned out to be abridged.  ARGH!  Why would you do that, like ever?

Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour ISN’T by Cohn & Levithan, go figure, but someone named Morgan Matson.  It’s the story of a girl who’s going cross-country with her mother’s friend’s kid, which is sort of the last thing she wants, even if he’s cute.  On the way, she mourns her lost father and gets to a place of healing and happiness.  Which is nice, except I kept finding reasons not to enjoy the book.  I forget why because I felt good when I was done with it, but ultimately it got two stars from me.  I think it might be an almost-three kind of book.

Max Barry’s Jennifer Government is the kind of book I don’t like: a satire that’s more parody than it should be, laughs a second, blah blah I don’t like that kind of stuff.  I was expecting something a bit more clever, with its interesting premise of a near-future world where we’re corporate run.  Ah well.

Bumped was another let-down with a great premise, and by an author I like–well, used to like–well, let her series go on about three or four books too long.  Megan McCafferty, who wrote the brilliant Sloppy Firsts and great Second Helpings and pretty good Charmed Thirds and why-am-I-reading-this Something To Do with the Number Four, and THANK GOD IT’S OVER Perfect (?) Fifths has begun a new series, set in a future where only teen girls can conceive.  They become commodities, which would be AWESOME if not for the fact that McCafferty doesn’t take this anywhere interesting at all.  Ignoring the next one.

I read some Maureen Johnson based on that story she has in that Christmas book with John Green.  The Bermudez Triangle, which is about three friends whose connection gets bumped when two of them hook up, was a fun read, and Devilish is about selling your soul or something, and I don’t remember it as well but it’s got a GREAT cover and I apparently enjoyed it enough to give it four stars.  Johnson hasn’t lived up to my expectations of her, but it’s nice having that author in reserve that I can use as a go-to when I’m looking for something I know I’ll like.

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride gets the award for best title of the year, hands down, even though I keep trying to type “neuromancer” EVEN THOUGH I NEVER READ THAT BOOK.  The book itself is consistently good, but I have to say I wasn’t the only one who was like “Um, wait, the book’s almost over?  But you just started setting it up!”  See?  STOP WRITING SERIES; start writing books.  Teens will love this one, although perhaps sometimes despite themselves.

I reread the first of Lisa Lutz’s The Spellman Files to reread the rest of the Spellman Files: Curse of the Spellmans, Revenge of the Spellmans, and The Spellmans Strike Again.  Every time I read that first one, I like it less, but I like the other ones a lot more.  This is the flip side of her weird, irritating book with her ex David Hayward, Heads You Lose, which is more like reading writer’s crappy drafts and emails than their actual collaboration.  The Spellmans are frustratingly charming and seem less psychotic after the first book, thank God.

FINE, we’re under 600.  That’s something.  So much more to do, but I’ll do it…uh…later…


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