The Sixes by Kate White

I loved this book! I stayed up late two nights in a row, absolutely freaking myself out to the point that even though CK was asleep next to me I still had to get out of bed and go in the living room to watch TV so my mind would stop racing with thoughts of serial killers. I couldn’t get enough of the take charge main character, the college setting, the Fall season, and the bitchy co-eds. I’m so glad that I’m taking a trip home to Maine in October because this novel (while taking place in Pennsylvania) made me seriously want to go sit under a tree in a wool sweater letting bright red leaves fall on my head and then go have four beers at a townie bar. Afterwards I’d have to check to see that all of the windows and doors were locked at my house and that nothing had crawled under the bed but that’s the fun part, right?

The Sixes takes place at Lyle College and opens with the murder of a perky young female student. Author Phoebe Hall is hiding out at the Lyle post professional scandal and teaching a few sections of non-fiction writing at the urging of her old boarding school roomie who is now the president of the college. Having worked with faculty for many years I definitely got a huge kick out of the descriptions of some of the more colorful members of the community.

Anyway, Phoebe puts her stellar research skills to good use when her old school chum asks her to look into the possibility that there’s a secret society on campus and the members might have something to do with the mounting local body count. And then all hell breaks lose and the super creepy rains down hence my lack of aforementioned sleep. Definitely pick-up or download this book to your Kindle. It is the perfect end of summer read. No beach required but you might want to invest in a nightlight…just in case.

Pretty: A Novel

A drug and boozed soaked evening leads to an inevitable tragedy and just like that we’re following Bebe’s adventures in post-rehab halfway house land with a side of beauty school fumes. I really didn’t want to like Bebe Baker but she made it impossible for me to stay angry with her. Besides I’m a sucker for a good “I’ve hit rock bottom” story and the inevitable feelings that tag along with a read like this which are generally of the “my life is looking pretty good right now” variety.

The characters Bebe befriends in Serenity house are fantastically unconscious about flying their freak flags. There’s Jake, the schizophrenic who believes he’s Jesus, Buck, real name Becky and self-defined “Republican Dyke from Alabama” and all-around super sweetheart (honestly I kept picturing Toni Colette’s character from The United States of Tara) and Violet, goth girl and self-mutilator who is known to sport her mother’s official Snow White Disneyland costume on occasion. Group therapy never gets old with this crew.

When Bebe isn’t stealing her house-mate’s peanut butter by the spoonful in midnight snack binges (a girl after my own heart) she’s listing her diagnosed initials in a litany like manner: ADD, MDD, CD, PTSD (aka Attention Deficit Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, Chemical Dependency, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder respectively). If that isn’t enough she’s also coasting on fumes towards beauty school graduation (528 hours down. 72 hours left to go) and still has fifteen wet sets to create before she completes the required two-hundred hairdos.

Bebe is a mess but somehow Jillian Lauren makes you love her, root for her to succeed and grip the book just a bit more tightly when she starts to slip.  At times I wished that I could physically drag Bebe towards the right path — the one that would finally get her to San Francisco and the fresh start she wished for and frankly deserved. In my imagination I frantically stood on the sideline waving her toward the Yellow Brick road, but honestly I felt a little guilty for not warning her that it’s always 66 degrees here and at least in LA you can be ADD, MDD, SD, and PTSD with a tan.

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Delirium (a word I can’t seem to type without the aid of spell check) is the first YA novel in awhile that I loved from cover to cover. I have yet to read Lauren Oliver’s debut novel, Before I Fall, but it has certainly been added to my unwieldy wish list.

One of the first things I loved about Delirium was that it takes place in Portland, Maine. A city I love and lived in for several years after college. Following Lena, our heroine, around the streets, beaches, and landmarks of Portland was fantastic and really fun. I could almost always picture exactly where the action was taking place as I’d been there before. Although, as an aside, it got on my nerves a bit when Oliver referred to The Old Port as just “Old Port” or the Eastern Prom as Eastern Promenade as though they were the same as Brown Street or Smith Ave. I know a single article in a sentence isn’t that important but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone refer to THE Old Port without adding a “the” to the phrase. But I digress…

The Portland I know and remember is drastically different in this dystopia. The world weaved is one of isolation, governmental brainwashing, disinformation and an intense amount of fear. The United States has closed her borders and declared love a disease. To cure this “affliction” citizens are essentially lobotomized after graduating from high school. The operation is supposed to cure all symptoms of Amor Deliria Nervosa [love] and then men and women are paired for marriage by a scientific committee. Anyone who shows too much emotion, laughs to loudly, is caught dancing, or even caring too much about their children can be prosecuted and potentially sent to The Crypts, a dungeon where inmates are left to rot in deplorable conditions.

At the beginning of the novel Lena goes along with this reality. She is resigned to the fact that her operation is scheduled for a date merely a few months away. She’s complacent and obedient — the perfect sheep, but then Lena meets Alex and everything changes.

I found myself able to relate to Lena wholeheartedly. She was a fully realized character with nuance and extreme likability. While light on actual romance, what there is was handled sweetly and believably. This book is part of a trilogy so thankfully yet another cliffhanger ending will be resolved at a later point. But this does bring out my continued annoyance with the trend for YA, as of late, to always be multi-parted. Even if I’m absolutely in love with a collection of characters sometimes it’s nice to have a succinct and tidy wrap-up to a book. What do you think? Is this sequel happy world getting a bit much? Or do you subscribe to the “more is more” camp?

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Jennifer Donnelly’s initial foray into young adult fiction, A Northern Light, was the first and only selection in the Young Adult Book Club Anna and I tried to start when we were living in Portland. We even bought a copy of the book for our friends Jaime and Kelly, who lived across the street from me, and left it in their mailbox, gently “encouraging” them to participate. In the end our failed book club consisted of Anna and I sitting in the Barnes and Noble Cafe drinking lattes. Although, to our credit we did discuss the book. That’s not something you can claim with most book clubs, right?

As much as I loved A Northern Light, I have to admit that Revolution trumps it completely. Donnelly’s ability to weave her extensive historical research into such tight and cohesive plot is uncanny. I simply couldn’t put the book down and found myself extremely sympathetic to the main character,  Andi Alpers, and her struggle with depression and the guilt she harbors over the tragic death of her young brother.

Andi’s life is one of privilege. She attends a posh New York city school with the creme de la creme of society. She’s a gifted musician and guitarist but she has become completely consumed in the deep blackness of a depression she can’t escape. She’s addicted to prescription drugs, her geneticist father has left the family, and her mother is in a constant state of mourning for her brother. When Andi’s grades reveal that she may not graduate high school her father drags her to Paris so that he can monitor her activities as she attempts to write an outline for her required thesis.

In Paris, Andi discovers the diary of Alexandrine, a passionate actress who worked as the companion to the young son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Via Alex’s diary entries Andi uncovers an amazing story of heroic proportions. It’s difficult to write about the book as I truly don’t want to give an iota of real plot away. Trust me. The scenes that take place in 18th century Paris are just as outstanding as those that deal with the present day.

As an added bonus there is an immense amount of music, both present day artists and classical works, mentioned throughout the novel. A quick Google search doesn’t appear to show any listing for an official author’s play list so maybe I’ll take the time to scour the book’s pages and pull something together? In the meantime, definitely read this book!

Room by Emma Donoghue

I received an arc of Room via Shelf-Awareness during my summer of moves. It sounded intriguing at the time but a bit dark for a summer read so it was packed away for future consumption. Now several months later it’s on numerous bestseller lists and everyone is talking about it. In case you’re wondering if you should pick up the book on your next bookstore excursion or Kindle splurge I’m going to offer up a resounding yes!

Room by Emma Donoghue is the first book in quite some time that made me want to stay up all night reading. I literally couldn’t put it down and practically broke my leg one morning when I was so engrossed in the pages that I didn’t notice the escalator had arrived at the top of Porter Square Station. If a book makes you look like a fool then it has to be a keeper.

Admittedly I was a bit wary of the subject matter examined in the story. Lately the press has had a field day recounting the stories of kidnapped women who were held captive for years by sadistic people — did I really want to read about that sort of horror in my free time? To help the reader overcome these feelings Donoghue has quite brilliantly written this harrowing and heartbreaking tale from the point of view of Jack, the captive woman’s five-year-old son. A son she conceived against her will during her years of imprisonment.

Jack and Ma live in Room which is essentially a fortified shed in their captor’s backyard. Room is the only world that young Jack has ever known. The only contact they have with the outside world is via an old television and the nightly visits from “Old Nick” their jailer. The imaginative use of language and the world that Ma is able to weave for Jack is truly astonishing. I believe you’ll find yourself simply overwhelmed by the creative ways she manages to teach, inform, protect, and entertain her son in such a hostile environment.

I know I’m bordering on gushing over this story but I honestly don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it. I promise you’ll fall in love with Jack and revel in his bravery and perseverance. Don’t shy away from this title just because it’s “ripped from the headlines” a la a Law and Order episode. Room is a book that begs reading and then a prompt hand-off to your best friend so that the two of you can discuss it over wine.

My Name is Memory

I finished Ann Brashares latest novel My Name is Memory last night and instantly wondered if maybe my review copy had left out a much needed “to be continued…” at the end of the book. The way the first novel ends is incredibly frustrating, but thankfully after a little online research I discovered that this is going to be a trilogy so I can now stop my eyes from bugging out of my head in annoyance. In all seriousness though a little clue into that fact right up front might have helped me deal with the agony I was feeling when I was down to the last five pages and nothing was wrapping up. I’m curious if the actual copies that are for sale in bookstores now alert readers to this fact or not? I’ll have to pop over to Porter Square Books at lunchtime and see.

Notwithstanding the rather abrupt ending, My Name is Memory weaves together elements of so many genres that I love including historical fiction, romance, and sci-fi. The best part is that they all seem to work harmoniously together. The basic premise of the book revolves around the many lives of Daniel. Daniel has a memory that stretches across centuries. Thankfully not in the “I’m a vampire and I’ve lived for 2000 years” mode. Daniel lives and dies like a normal man, but somehow Daniel is able to retain his memory from each of his lives as he is reincarnated over and over again.

Many of his lives intersect with a woman whom he refers to as Sophia. In each of these instances he is consumed with persuading this woman of their destiny. As you can imagine having a strange man you’ve never seen before explain that you have hundreds of years of history together could be a bit daunting. The present day incarnation of “Sophia” who is actually known as Lucy essentially runs screaming from Daniel when he starts spouting his seemingly crazy notions. But his strange tale stays with Lucy and she begins to wonder if perhaps there could be something to Daniel’s claims.

While Lucy ponders, Daniel takes the reader on an epic jaunt through his past lives. I loved Daniel’s portions of the book. Reading about his many adventures in various foreign and far-flung places offered an exciting pace to the story, and the frequent near-misses in Daniel and Sophia’s tragic inability to ever be together left me feeling frantic for them to meet in the present day.

Of course, nothing comes easily to these star-crossed lovers. In true villain fashion Daniel’s evil brother, who also harbors the same supernatural ability but with a more wicked twist, decides it’s time to make his presence known.

Will Sophia and Daniel ever live happily ever after? Well you wont find out in this book, but perhaps by book three we’ll all be able to celebrate a merry resolution to this epic love story.

Just as an aside, I actually had this book with me on a flight home from Houston where Alexis Bledel sat two rows in front of me. I was instantly star struck and thought it was such a cool coincidence that the star of the film versions of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was on the same plane with me while I read an Ann Brashares novel. I know…I know…I’m a total geek.

Best Friends Forever

Best Friends Forever by Jennifer WeinerI can’t quite figure out why Jennifer Weiner’s newest book, Best Friends Forever, has such an uninspiring title. In spite of this rather insignificant shortcoming (that is honestly more than made up for by the gorgeous cover art) I can absolutely recommend this tremendous chick-lit novel to you without any reservations at all. To me Jennifer Weiner is the queen of escapist novels. Her stories are filled with endearing and memorable protagonists that get into and out of bizarre shenanigans in ways that seem truly plausible. Her ability to weave such well-rounded and likable female characters is a true gift, and I enjoy nothing more then to curl up beach-side or pool-side with a brand new copy of her latest novel and drift away. Unfortunately this means that my Weiner books are almost always splattered with a mixture of water, sand, and sunscreen, but it’s a small price to pay for a light summer afternoon read that leaves you feeling truly happy and satisfied.

Best Friends Forever examines the relationship and subsequent break-up between childhood friends Addie Downs and Valerie Adler. Addie and Valerie are polar opposites. Whereas Addie is shy, cautious, and prone to weight issues, Valerie is outgoing, curious, and eventually blossoms into a blonde bombshell. Unfortunately the cliques and pettiness of high school lead to a betrayal of trust and Addie and Valerie end their friendship.

Then on the evening of their fifteen year class reunion Valerie appears on Addie’s doorstep with blood on her coat and the two women are thrust into an amusing Thelma and Louise like road trip where deep pains from their respective pasts are revealed.

One of my favorite portions of the novel involved a childhood trip to Cape Cod that the girls take with Valerie’s crazy mother. Jennifer Weiner’s decadent description of traditional beach food found on The Cape made my mouth simply water:

There was corn on the cob and clam chowder and red plastic net bags filled with gray clams that Val and her mother called steamers. There was coleslaw and French fries and a tangled mound of thin, crispy onion rings, tall plastic cups brimming with ice and soda, and little plastic dishes filled with melted butter. A dozen oysters lolled slick in their shells on a bed of crushed ice, and two gigantic lobsters sprawled over oval-shaped plates, leaking steaming pale-pink water.

See what I mean? I would kill for some clams right now. Absolutely kill! So if you have a little vacation time left this summer and you’re looking for that perfect book to bring along I’d suggest that you promptly pick up a copy of Best Friends Forever and stash it in your overnight bag immediately.

The Year of the Flood

The Year of the FloodLike many of you the first novel of Margaret Atwood’s that I read was The Handmaid’s Tale. I remember feeling utterly bewildered by it at the time. Truth be told it was probably a bit over my head. In Junior High I went into adult novel high gear and routinely devoured anything that didn’t involve girls my own age. A dystopian world of women forced to become surrogates for wealthy and well placed couples was quite a departure from my usual diet of V.C. Andrews and Jude Deveraux but because I found the book on my Aunt Beth’s bookshelf I simply had to read it.

Years later though I appreciate Margaret Atwood’s novels thoroughly. From Alias Grace to The Robber Bride each story is beautifully developed and seems to always stay with me in a haunting manner. This was doubly true for the apocalypse fueled Oryx and Crake. Interestingly enough Atwood chose to revisit the world she created in this novel in her latest work, The Year of the Flood. Whereas Oryx and Crake was told from the perspective of two men, The Year of the Flood is told from the viewpoint of two women: Toby and Ren.

At the opening of the novel a virus has decimated humanity. Toby has sealed herself inside the luxury spa she managed where thankfully many of the treatments she used on clients are edible. Ren, a trapeze artist, is trapped inside the high-end sex club that she danced at. Food is running low and both women wonder if anyone besides themselves have survived the unnatural element that has wiped out society. A disaster that was vocally predicted by Adam One the leader of the pro-animal and vegetarian activists the God’s Gardner’s whom they both followed in the past.

The novel deftly moves between Toby and Ren’s respective back stories and the horrors of their present day confinement. Reader’s of Oryx and Crake will fully recognize familiar plot points including the CorpsSeCorps (the corrupt corporation that essentially has taken over all aspects of the American life), Rakunks (half skunk, half raccoon engineered animals without a skunk smell), and of course Jimmy aka “Snowman” who had his own connections to the downfall of humanity.

I find Atwood’s ability to create such an alien human existence that feels so completely foreign and yet frankly quite possible given today’s tumultuous environmental and political climate to be an amazing gift. I simply couldn’t put the novel down and found myself racing through the story frantically reading to uncover how Toby and Ren ended up in their respective predicaments.  The Year of the Flood will be released on September 22, 2009.

Undiscovered Gyrl

Undiscovered GyrlThe story of Katie Kampenfelt would be engaging all on its own. An eighteen-year-old girl skips college in order to take a year off while we steadily watch her world unfurl. Her hunt for “true love” involving her parents, friends, and men her own age all fall flat. Then a clandestine affair we rather frighteningly see coming a mile away erupts and Katie’s world is turned completely upside down.

But Undiscovered Gyrl isn’t as cut and dry as your traditional teen taking the “road less traveled” story. There’s a twist. Katie Kampenfelt isn’t our narrator’s real name. She’s quite upfront about that. In our extremely connected world Katie Kampenfelt is (of course) sharing her life with us via her personal blog and she’s changing identifying details to “protect the innocent.” While we as readers follow our unreliable narrator’s online persona down a path of drugs, booze, and risky sexual behaviors we never quite know what is truly real and what might simply be hyperbole.

Katie’s self-destruction is intensely emotional, raw, and realistic. I found myself frequently debating whether or not I wanted to strangle her or hug her. Obviously when she’s stalking the 32-year-old film professor she’s having an affair with it’s difficult not to condemn her, but then she would do something endearing or a little more truth about her background would trickle out to explain her motivation and I would begin to root for her all over again.

Without going into many details, as I’m very anti-spoiler, I do admit to having some mixed feelings about the ending of the novel. I found the “resolution” to be a bit preachy, but the book on a whole was very well done and Allison Burnett has detailed the inner workings of a troubled young woman phenomenally well. I’d absolutely recommend picking it up (and then we can discuss the ending).

In true Web 2.0 fashion Undiscovered Gyrl not only has a website of its own but also a Facebook profile for the main character. I love that such a plugged in book is actually utilizing the internet so thoroughly in the marketing campaign. This title will be released on August 11, 2009.

Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow

Strange AngelsIt’s Supernatural meets Veronica Mars in Lili St. Crow’s new young adult novel Strange Angels. Straight away our scrappy heroine, Dru Anderson, hears some odd tapping noises at her back door. Surprise! Dad’s been turned into a zombie. Fortunately Dru is channeling bizarre Allison DuBois like psychic abilities and her grandmother and father (before he became reanimated) both schooled her thoroughly in the art of things that go bump in the night. Even so what she has to do in this scenario is every daughter’s worst nightmare.

It goes from bad to worse quickly and unfortunately Dru just can’t catch a break. Her new friend Graves lets her crash in his swinging hidden bachelor pad at the mall but then they get attacked by “wulfen” and Graves is bitten. Thankfully he’s a virgin though so legend has it he wont be turned into a freaky fury fiend.

I’m not entirely sure I understand the difference between “wulfen” and “werewolves” so if someone wants to enlighten me feel free. In the novel vampires are also referred to as “suckers” which feels awfully offensive to me for some reason, but at least the vampires are properly vicious and don’t sparkle.

After some gun wielding, a great escape, and a little research Dru and Graves make contact with a mysterious vampire-not-a-vampire named Christophe, who is appropriately dreamy and well heeled, but is he on their side or just leading them astray? I’ll never tell…

Some parts of this novel felt a bit too much like other popular media in the supernatural category, but it’s well paced for the book to develop into a series. I’m intrigued enough to want to read the next novel, Betrayals, scheduled to be released this Fall (especially since we’re left with a cliffhanger ending) in hopes of unraveling some of the many hanging plot points surrounding Dru’s family and the other mysterious beings who are introduced.

By the way, thanks to that nasty zombie at the beginning of the book, I had three separate zombie nightmares last night. Miss St. Crow I think this means that all in all you did your job.