Review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. Delacorte Press. 320 pp.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. Delacorte Press. 320 pp.

I’m still upset about the fact that Pushing Daisies was cancelled. I thought it was a fun show, whimsically clever, but mostly I was intrigued by the idea of a love story in which the two lovers could never come into physical contact — upon penalty of death. I’m sad that the show never had a chance to really build momentum and viewership (the writers’ strike took place early in its first season) because I had never seen anything like it before and was enthralled. It still drives me crazy not to know where the writers were going to go with things. When I read the description of Everything, Everything, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. I mean, a book about a couple who can never touch? Maybe this would allow me to finally put my Pushing Daisies curiosity to rest! (It didn’t. But the book is a beautiful thing in its own right, so I’m not disappointed.)

This is a great book. For someone who’s grown up in a bubble of isolation, Madeline is a surprisingly positive, well-adjusted girl. She’s not perfect, which I appreciated, but she’s still a character that you can root for, and I enjoyed being along for a part of her journey. Because Madeline’s world is so small, the simplest things hold a world of significance. A glance, a smile, a change in posture: all of these things become enormous aspects of Maddy and Olly’s courtship. And the scenes with Madeline’s face and hands pressed up against the window, her entire body straining to be as close to Outside as possible, are heartbreaking.

I am in love with the idea of falling in love with someone based on their mind and ideas and sparkling, witty conversation. The sketches, medical reports, notes, IMs, etc. make this a quick read, but they’re clearly not there for filler; they move the story along in a simple yet effective manner.

It’s difficult to say much about the story without giving away the big things, but let me say this: I saw the ending coming about halfway through the book. And it didn’t take away from the story as much as you might expect. When a book has such a huge, life-or-death sort of thing hanging in the balance, twists and turns of plot mean a lot, and it’s terrible to have things spoiled, even if it’s by your own brain. But having more than an inkling of where things were headed didn’t ruin the book because the writing, and the characters’ reactions to what happens, were strong enough to carry things.

All in all: Worth reading. An adorable love story and a moving, heartbreaking story of family and loss.

Review: Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone. Disney-Hyperion. 368 pp.

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone. Disney-Hyperion. 368 pp.

If you could read my mind, you wouldn’t be smiling.

Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off.

Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn’t help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she’d be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam’s weekly visits to her psychiatrist.

Caroline introduces Sam to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.

I don’t remember how I first heard about this book, but once I heard it was about a girl with OCD/anxiety issues, I was dying to get my hands on a copy. The worst thing about obsessions is that they kind of slam you out of nowhere and they’re tough to shake, and — perhaps ironically — this book about OCD became one one for me. I refreshed NetGalley constantly until I learned that I’d been approved for this one. It was kind of a mess.

Let me just start by saying that Disney-Hyperion is fast becoming one of my favorite publishers. I can’t recall reading a book of theirs that I didn’t enjoy. It’s gotten to the point where I request their titles on blind faith, even if the description doesn’t sound like my style, and their books still satisfy me.

This book was no exception. Sam is an excellent character, terribly, painfully introspective at times but with so much promise. There were times I felt frustrated by her. “Really?” I wanted to say. “You’re having a panic attack over that?” But isn’t that the thing about people? One person’s mountain is another person’s molehill, and this book captures that perfectly.

I loved Sam’s relationship with her mom, the way that the inside of her mind is almost the exact opposite of the rest of her, and how she struggles to match her lifestyle to her true self over the course of the book. There are some excellent depictions of OCD in here, and Sam’s relationship with Sue (her therapist) is one of the most special ones in the book. It’s touching and heartbreaking to hear Sam wonder what it’s like to be “normal” and to find someone who will love her, “broken brain” and all. My eyes filled with tears as I saw how lonely she was and how hard it was for her to finally embrace her brain for its strengths while fighting against its weaknesses. I saw so much of myself in her, and it was heartbreaking at times but also so amazingly accurate and true and real.

One of my favorite quotes:

And I want to stop, but I can’t, because telling someone with OCD to stop obsessing about something is like telling someone who’s having an asthma attack to just breathe normally.

Also, can we talk about AJ for a minute? What a beautiful character. Are there really boys like this in high school? Because I’m pretty sure they only reside on the pages of YA novels — though I will try my damnedest to raise two boys as sensitive and considerate as this one was. He is a thoughtful, adorably-scruffy, guitar-strumming poet. I mean, seriously. How could Sam not obsess over him?! He’s not perfect, though, and I think I appreciated that most of all.

The only thing about this book that I didn’t like [MINOR SPOILER, I GUESS] was the sex scene. And no, it’s not the fact that there were high school kids having sex, even though I was most certainly not having sex in high school. It’s the fact that a girl who can never turn off her brain, who obsesses over everything, has sex and doesn’t think about it or analyze it at all. It happens and then isn’t really mentioned for the rest of the book It didn’t seem in keeping with the character and made me wonder what the purpose of that scene was. It felt sort of thrown in there, and I could have done without it because it didn’t seem to affect the rest of the story at all.

All in all: This is one of those rare books that I received as a free review copy that will go on my “To-Buy” list. It was just wonderful, and I can’t wait for it to hit shelves so that other readers can get their hands on it.

Review: Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond

Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond. 386 pp. Skyscape.

Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond. 386 pp. Skyscape.

A ballerina, twirling on a wire high above the crowd. Horses, prancing like salsa dancers. Trapeze artists, flying like somersaulting falcons. And magic crackling through the air. Welcome to the Cirque American!

Sixteen-year-old Jules Maroni’s dream is to follow in her father’s footsteps as a high-wire walker. When her family is offered a prestigious role in the new Cirque American, it seems that Jules and the Amazing Maronis will finally get the spotlight they deserve. But the presence of the Flying Garcias may derail her plans. For decades, the two rival families have avoided each other as sworn enemies.

Jules ignores the drama and focuses on the wire, skyrocketing to fame as the girl in a red tutu who dances across the wire at death-defying heights. But when she discovers a peacock feather—an infamous object of bad luck—planted on her costume, Jules nearly loses her footing. She has no choice but to seek help from the unlikeliest of people: Remy Garcia, son of the Garcia clan matriarch and the best trapeze artist in the Cirque.

As more mysterious talismans believed to possess unlucky magic appear, Jules and Remy unite to find the culprit. And if they don’t figure out what’s going on soon, Jules may be the first Maroni to do the unthinkable: fall.

I love circus tales. I think it’s the performer in me; although I haven’t danced in years, there’s still something about show narratives that draws me in. This one made me nervous about halfway through; it was starting to seem like yet another Romeo and Juliet retelling. I love Shakespeare’s language, but the plot of R+J makes me angry. I mean, how stupid can you be?! I enjoyed the Bard’s version because of his way with words, but it’s not a story that needs to be remade half as often as it is. I needn’t have worried, though, because Girl on a Wire is its own story. Yes, there’s a hint of forbidden love, but it’s not the be-all, end-all of the book; it’s just a nice side element.

I loved the talk of rehearsals and performances, the way that all the circus folk know one another’s acts and lives so well because they spend every day together. It’s clear, however, that this knowing is really just on the surface; when push comes to shove and Jules tries to determine who is making the “accidents” happen, there are so many potential culprits. (I loved that, of course; I hate to see where things are going.)

The writing, while not anything spectacular or poetic, is clean and doesn’t get in the way of the story. This is an easy read that melds many genres together: romance, mystery, contemporary, and a little bit of fantasy.

All in all: An entertaining read that kept me guessing. Worth checking out if you enjoy YA, books about performers, or both.

Review: The Last Flight of Poxl West by Daniel Torday

The Last Flight of Poxl West by Daniel Torday. 304 pp. St. Martin's Press.

The Last Flight of Poxl West by Daniel Torday. 304 pp. St. Martin’s Press.

All his life, Elijah Goldstein has idolized his charismatic Uncle Poxl. Intensely magnetic, cultured and brilliant, Poxl takes Elijah under his wing, introducing him to opera and art and literature. But when Poxl publishes a memoir of how he was forced to leave his home north of Prague at the start of WWII and then avenged the deaths of his parents by flying RAF bombers over Germany during the war, killing thousands of German citizens, Elijah watches as the carefully constructed world his uncle has created begins to unravel. As Elijah discovers the darker truth of Poxl’s past, he comes to understand that the fearless war hero he always revered is in fact a broken and devastated man who suffered unimaginable losses from which he has never recovered.

Hm…what to say about this one? I requested it because of this tweet from John Green:

Granted, it doesn’t take much to get John to cry, as is evidenced by his recent reaction to Shailene Woodley’s MTV Movie Award acceptance speech and his own admission (time and time again) that he’s an easy crier. But still. When something is so moving that you don’t even know what the hell just happened to your emotions, it can be a pretty powerful thing. So I hopped on over to NetGalley and requested this book.

I feel a little guilty for not liking this one. Not because John liked it and I’m a big fan of his (John the Nerdfighter more than John the Author, to be honest) but because, when I step back and look at it, it has so many positive elements: it’s a coming of age story, it’s a book within a book, it tells tales both modern and historical, and the idea of a young Jewish man fighting with the RAF during World War II just felt right somehow. It’s a great examination of the role that stories play in our lives and the fine line between fact and fiction. Reading what I just wrote, it sounds like I’m endorsing this book. But honestly, it almost bored me to tears rather than moving me to them. I feel like the concept was better than the execution and, although I wanted to like this book, I didn’t, not really.

All in all: It was too dry and detached for me, but if you don’t mind that sort of style, the story is good and the themes interesting.

Review: My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp

My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp. 400 pp. Little, Brown.

My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp. 400 pp. Little, Brown.

The title caught my eye, and I was intrigued by the idea of a bunch of just-out-of-high-school kids making moonshine. (I’d never before read a book about moonshine-making. I didn’t realize it was still a thing people did, to be honest.) When I realized that Lulu didn’t have the money for college because her dad blew it on a failed business venture, my heart went out to her. Here’s a kid who follows all the rules piled on her by her parents and her priest. She works hard in school and stays out of trouble, but her future comes down to her father’s poor choices. Once she realizes that some things truly are out of her control, Lulu decides, basically, to earn her own college money no matter what it takes. In fighting for herself, though, she asks a lot — and sometimes too much — of the people who care about her.

The entire book is written as a sort of letter from Lulu to Mason, a local boy whose help she enlists because his family’s in the moonshine “business.” This narrative technique works beautifully when she’s reflecting on her feelings for him or wondering what he was thinking at a particular point in their relationship. Other times, though, it’s frustratingly unnecessary. Every scene narrated with something along the lines of “And then you looked in my eyes” made me want to scream, “Why do you need to tell him what he did? He was there!!!” I get that it’s for my benefit as the reader, but it didn’t make sense and didn’t work the way it needed to. I mean, seriously. Why recap your entire summer step by step like that when you were both there to share it? It was just for narrative purposes and, as poignant as it was in some scenes, I would have removed this device entirely because of how it flopped overall.

All in all: I usually love sumer-after-high-school books because of the potential for change that lies thickly over everything, but I didn’t love this book. Although it wasn’t terrible, the writing, the characters, the plot…nothing was quite good enough for me to recommend it.

Review: When by Victoria Laurie

When by Victoria Laurie. Disney-Hyperion. 336 pp.

When by Victoria Laurie. Disney-Hyperion. 336 pp.

Maddie Fynn is a shy high school junior, cursed with an eerie intuitive ability: she sees a series of unique digits hovering above the foreheads of each person she encounters. Her earliest memories are marked by these numbers, but it takes her father’s premature death for Maddie and her family to realize that these mysterious digits are actually death dates, and just like birthdays, everyone has one.

Forced by her alcoholic mother to use her ability to make extra money, Maddie identifies the quickly approaching death date of one client’s young son, but because her ability only allows her to see thewhen and not the how, she’s unable to offer any more insight. When the boy goes missing on that exact date, law enforcement turns to Maddie.

Soon, Maddie is entangled in a homicide investigation, and more young people disappear and are later found murdered. A suspect for the investigation, a target for the murderer, and attracting the attentions of a mysterious young admirer who may be connected to it all, Maddie’s whole existence is about to be turned upside down. Can she right things before it’s too late? 

Here’s the crazy thing about this book: the description, although solid, doesn’t do it justice. It’s even better than it sounds. It’s full of heart and pathos while still managing to incorporate some action and romance; there’s something for everyone. My heart broke for Maddie as she struggled to come to terms with her mom’s alcoholism; it raced as she strove to help the FBI find the murderer in time; and it soared in the final scene as she finally revealed her own deathdate and its significance.

I flew through this book. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t read it sooner, especially since I’ve loved every title by Hyperion that I’ve picked up. I never thought I’d have a favorite publisher, but I think I’ve found mine! I guess I should have known. I mean, I love Disney, right? So why wouldn’t I love stuff put out there by Disney Books Group?

The only criticism I can find for this book (other than that the main character calls her mother “Ma,” which always makes me think of Danny Castellano) is that it might be a little too happily-ever-after for some readers. I didn’t mind it, though; in fact, I think the book ended in such a sweet, satisfying way that for once a happy ending didn’t feel contrived.

All in all: Innovative and engaging. As far as this book is concerned, my only regret is that I didn’t pick it up sooner.

Review: We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler

We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler. Bloomsbury. 288 pp.

We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler. Bloomsbury. 288 pp.

A boat has gone missing. Goods have been stolen. There is blood in the water. It is the twenty-first century and a crew of pirates is terrorizing the San Francisco Bay.
Phil is a husband, a father, a struggling radio producer, and the owner of a large condo with a view of the water. But he’d like to be a rebel and a fortune hunter.
Gwen is his daughter. She’s fourteen. She’s a student, a swimmer, and a best friend. But she’d like to be an adventurer and an outlaw.
Phil teams up with his young, attractive assistant. They head for the open road, attending a conference to seal a deal.
Gwen teams up with a new, fierce friend and some restless souls. They head for the open sea, stealing a boat to hunt for treasure.
We Are Pirates is a novel about our desperate searches for happiness and freedom, about our wild journeys beyond the boundaries of our ordinary lives. 
Also, it’s about a teenage girl who pulls together a ragtag crew to commit mayhem in the San Francisco Bay, while her hapless father tries to get her home.

I’ve been reading Daniel Handler for over a decade. After figuring out that he was the alter ego of Lemony Snicket, I read everything he’d written that I could get my hands on. As the years have gone by, I’ve snapped up everything he’s written, enjoying the wordplay in Adverbs and even lugging a copy of the full-color (and therefore rather weighty) Why We Broke Up around New Orleans with me when it was released while I was on vacation a few years ago.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune when NetGalley approved me for a review copy of his latest, We Are Pirates. I didn’t get far, though, before realizing this book is entirely different from the Daniel Handler that I know and love. It’s less sly and more forthright, less black comedy and more bleak, less linguistic show-off and more “literary.” I love Handler’s usual style and, though I didn’t dislike this book (in fact, I was pleased to see him try his hand at something new), I didn’t immediately love it the way I did The Basic Eight (my favorite of his books).

Thematically, though, We Are Pirates just might be Handler’s strongest book yet, with its foggy coast reflecting the loneliness and confusion of those on the outskirts of society. The idea of a teenage shoplifter and a man struggling with dementia leading a crew of pirates is laughable in theory, but Handler manages to make it into something poignant and terrifying all at once.

And there’s still a bit of the old Handler thrown in for good measure in lines like these:

There was a joke so vicious and funny she could not say it:

All hands on deck.

There was a hand on deck.


“I was Singapored.”


“I knew it was a city…”

I didn’t find this as immediately quotable and lip-quirking as Handler’s other works, but I definitely didn’t dislike it. I’m actually glad that he’s proving not to be a one-trick pony like Chuck Palahniuk; I gave up on him a few years ago when I realized that his books could be epitomized by that line from Empire Records: “Shock me, shock me, shock me with that deviant behavior.” I’m interested to see what Handler’s got in store next! And while I wait, maybe I’ll finally pick up those Lemony Snicket prequels…

All in all: I didn’t love it, but I definitely liked it. Worth reading if you don’t mind feeling a little sad/shocked.

Review: This Shattered World

This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner. Disney-Hyperion. 390 pp.

This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner. Disney-Hyperion. 390 pp.

I enjoyed These Broken Stars quite a bit, so I was quick to request This Shattered World when I saw it on NetGalley. I was a little (okay, a lot) disappointed when I saw that the second book in the series wasn’t going to be about Lilac and Tarver (great names, right?!). I mean, I wanted to know what was going to happen to them and how their journey would turn out. So I picked up the second installation, sadly expecting it to be inferior to the first. And boy, am I glad that I was wrong!

This Shattered World is set on Avon, a planet that’s supposed to be undergoing renovations to make it more habitable and commercially profitable. However, the interventions aren’t going as planned, and that’s not just because of a group of native rebels calling themselves the Fianna. The planet itself seems to be fighting all efforts to improve it, and the military group stationed there to ensure the transition goes smoothly is starting to grow concerned.

Jubilee Chase, a captain of the military force on Avon, is kidnapped by Flynn, a rebel leader who hopes to save his home in the most peaceful manner possible. Many of the Fianna are thirsty for blood, however, and Flynn helps Jubilee to escape shortly after bringing her to his people’s headquarters. Our two main characters find themselves in a tricky situation, each wanting to do what’s best for everyone involved, and (of course) they ultimately decide to work together for the good of everyone involved.

The world-building is good in this one, done without too many asides, and the characters are well-fleshed-out, which made me happy. (I hate it when the plot’s interesting but the characters do absolutely nothing for me.) I loved Jubilee’s dream sequences; I thought they were beautifully symbolic without being too heavy-handed. I probably could have done without the romance, just because I don’t think every story needs a love element, but I appreciated that the characters fell for one another over time, and after observing each other in action, rather than immediately. Also, let’s just say that I was thrilled to catch a glimpse of some characters from the first book. I totally didn’t see them coming and literally gasped when they were mentioned.

All in all: A great sequel, something that’s increasingly rare. Worth reading, but read the first book first to better appreciate it.

Review: Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky. Disney-Hyperion. 250 pp.

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky. Disney-Hyperion. 250 pp.

What if who you are on the outside doesn’t match who you are on the inside?

Grayson Sender has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body. The weight of this secret is crushing, but sharing it would mean facing ridicule, scorn, rejection, or worse. Despite the risks, Grayson’s true self itches to break free. Will new strength from an unexpected friendship and a caring teacher’s wisdom be enough to help Grayson step into the spotlight she was born to inhabit? 

Debut author Ami Polonsky’s moving, beautifully-written novel about identity, self-esteem, and friendship shines with the strength of a young person’s spirit and the enduring power of acceptance.

At first glance, Grayson Sender is a twelve-year-old boy who gets good grades but keeps mainly to himself. [Note: Eventually, Grayson will probably choose to be referred to as “she,” but since that decision wasn’t made during the course of this book, I’ll use the pronoun “he.” I’m not thrilled with this designation because I feel like “she” is more fitting, but I’m trying to stick with the plot as it’s been covered so far.] Orphaned at a young age, he lives with his aunt, uncle, and cousins and flies below the radar as much as possible. Grayson’s big secret is one that he struggles to understand, one that involves drawings of princesses in castles; longings for soft, colorful clothing; and auditioning for the role of Persephone in the school’s stage production.

When Grayson actually gets the female role, the drama teacher is supportive but it seems that no one else is. The reactions of Grayson’s family, teachers, and fellow students are varied and sadly realistic. During an admission that is already terrifying for Grayson, it is heartbreaking to see the way he is treated (especially his aunt’s response).Classmates’ reactions range from teasing to outright physical assault as they rage vehemently against something that they don’t understand. A few girls in the drama club, though, embrace Grayson for who he is, and these girls are a breath of fresh air throughout the book.

All in all: Moving and definitely worth reading. If you enjoyed Wonder, you’ll likely enjoy this.

Review: The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion. Simon & Schuster. 352 pp.

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion. Simon & Schuster. 352 pp.

I’ve been wanting to read this ever since I found out there would be a sequel to The Rosie Project, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The Rosie Effect picks up not long after The Rosie Project leaves off, with Don and Rosie married and living in New York City. Don’s a visiting professor at Columbia, and Rosie’s working on her dissertation while also finishing some classes. They seem to have found a way of life that works for them until — surprise! Rosie’s pregnant!

What follows is a series of misadventures that shouldn’t surprise you at all if you read the first book. Don means well but approaches everything — including his roles as husband and father-to-be — scientifically: he designs a strict dietary regimen for Rosie that includes all of the “daily dozen” power foods recommended in What to Expect When You’re Expecting, he “reminds” Rosie of all the things she’s not allowed to do now that she’s pregnant, and he surreptitiously records video footage of children in their natural habitat (a city park) to learn how to socialize with kids. Needless to say, these things (and many others!) don’t exactly work out the way Don hopes them to, and he and Rosie grow further and further apart during the course of her pregnancy.

Although I enjoyed it, this book didn’t stand up to the first one, at least for me. It wasn’t bad, not by a long shot, but the tone felt different to me. In The Rosie Project, Don’s mishaps were amusing, events that made me smile and shake my head at him. In The Rosie Effect, on the other hand, I felt frustrated by his cluelessness. Some of the scenes were funny, but more often, the turn of events felt bleak and at times even hopeless.

I think the problem (at least, for me) is that the first book is the kind you can recommend to almost anyone, regardless of their interests and preferred genre. I didn’t feel that the sequel had as much appeal.

All in all: I’d recommend the first book but not the second, unless you’re dying to see what happens to these characters.