What I’m Reading: December Edition

It’s the end of 2011! Thanks to a long week of vacation between Christmas and New Years, I managed to get through a decent number of books this month.

Here’s what I read:

WHY WE BROKE UP by Daniel Handler and illustrated by Maira Kalman. Min and Ed were an improbably match; him the star basketball player, her a movie-lover with dreams of becoming a director. I’m not spoiling when I say that this is the story of a break-up. The title says so, after all. But it is the delivery that makes this book special. The break-up has already happened and Min narrates for us by way of a (long) letter she writes to Ed to accompany a box of “his things” that she is returning to him.

The items in this box are inconsequential until we know the stories behind them. Bottle caps. Movie tickets. Ugly earrings. A toy truck. As Min talks through why she is returning these items we see the couple come together only to later break apart. It’s painful. We know how it will end, but you know what? It’s darn realistic. Min is a rambling, run-on-sentence kind of narrator, but her pain and angst in the wake of her break-up reminded me all to much of my own in high school. Especially that first one. Oh, the pains of first love. The illustrations of the items Min is returning are bold and cheerful, at times contrasting the regretful tone of Min’s words, and at others matching the humor, joy, and heart-pounding excitement of falling in love for the first time.

 

A million people told me to read Erin Morgenstern’s THE NIGHT CIRCUS. Well, maybe not a million, but a lot. So maybe I had my expectations set too high. I enjoyed this book, just not as much as I’d hoped I would.

What did I love? The circus. Everything about it. The bonfire that glowed white, the mysterious clock that oversaw the circus-goers, the caramel and hot cider and chocolate mice. The undeniable sense of magic and mystery that seeped off the page every time Morgernstern walked me into a tent. If those black and white tents popped up in a meadow, without warning, I would enter the Night Circus in a heartbeat.

But as much as I loved the circus itself, I was not so in love with its characters. They seemed a little flat to me, blending together. The plot felt slow and long-winded, and the romance (which reads in the description to be the epic, star-crossed type) was, in my-opinion, only  lukewarm.

I think Morgenstern is incredibly imaginative, and her ability to bring the magic of the circus to life (the tents, the performers, the exhibits) through mere words is amazing. I just wish that magic crossed over into some of the other elements of the story as well. Either way, it is obvious why this novel is getting so much attention. And as I said, I’d walk into it the Night Circus if it were real. I truly, truly wish it were real.

 

THE FUTURE OF US, by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler had a premise so kickass that I knew I needed to read it; through a weird glitch in a 1996 AOL CD, Josh and Emma stumble across their facebook pages, 15 years in the future. Emma, unhappy with what she finds, starts messing with the present to change the future.

I sort of felt like this novel was written just for me. Or rather, anyone who grew up in the 90s. There were so many references that made nostalgic for my own high school days — Dave Matthews and Oasis lyrics, scrunchies, dial-up tones, a lack of cell phones, desktop screensavers of plumping pipes. I loved this aspect of the book, but I wonder if I’m biased.

The inclusion of facebook was hilarious. Emma and Josh are completely confused by the concept of social networking and status updates — they don’t even know the terms — and at one point I remember one of them simply asking WHY? Why do people use this? What is the point? And the timetravel-like element (Emma changing her future) was well executed. However, I found Emma to be pretty unlikeable. She comes around by the end, but for awhile she’s very, very selfish in her actions and I had a hard time sympathizing with her. Josh on the other hand, I adored.

 

I’ve wanted to read Mary E. Pearson’s THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX for a very, very long time. Well I’ve now read it, and I loved it. From the first page I knew something was not quite right about Jenna, and discovering the truth behind her accident alongside her is invigorating. There are so many interesting themes to this novel, too. What constitutes a life? How far would you go to save someone you love? How much good can we do, scientifically, medically, environmentally, before we start to do bad? Really fascinating topics, but never does the book feel preachy. They are undertones to a fantastic (light) sci-fi mystery.

I also enjoyed the very sparse prose in this book. It seemed to blend well with Jenna’s growth and acceptance of her situation. I just wish the novel had been left a little more open-ended. It closes with a bit of a flash-forward epilogue and I’m not sure I wanted to know everything that made up Jenna’s life. Sometimes its nice to have a few lose strings left to the reader’s imagination.

 

I was fortunate enough to read the ever lovely Sarah J. Maas’s QUEEN OF GLASS this month. While Sarah is a good friend, believe me when I say this is still a subjective, honest review. (Also: No, that is not the cover. I made it, with the help of some flickr photos.* Because QoG doesn’t have a cover yet and I loved this story so much I wanted to bring it to life while writing my review. And I needed an excuse to make some fan art. View the cover full size if you wish.)

I loved this novel. Celaena is such a fabulous protagonist. She is strong and passionate and wild and brave and determined and funny and fearless and kickass and I absolutely adore her. She has her flaws, but her heart is in the right place, which is saying something given her past. An infamous assassin having served much time in jail, Celaena is given a chance to fight for her freedom in a corrupt king’s tournament. The winner will become the king’s champion, and if Celaena wins — only if she wins — she will serve the king for a series of years before finally going free.

This book has a little bit of everything. Action, adventure, mystery, romance, mythology. There were scenes that made my chest hurt they were so swoonworthy. In others, I was clenching my fists in fear of what awaited Celaena. “I will not be afraid.” Celaena says this on the first page of the novel. I wish I had her bravery.

I want to say so many more things, but I don’t want to spoil anything. I am so excited for book 2! So, so excited. Get ready, fantasy lovers. This is quite a ride!

 

Katy Upperman has been telling me to read Melina Marchetta’s JELLICOE ROAD pretty much all year. I don’t know why I waited so long. This was my favorite book this month, and maybe one of my favorite books ever.

Like everyone warned me, the beginning was difficult and confusing and I spent the first 100 pages wondering why anyone would possibly love this book. But I powered through and was rewarded ten times over. This is a brilliant mystery, tightly woven, immaculately plotted. We get not just Taylor’s story, but another story too, a tragic one that unfolded years before her time. Both stories are tied up in the Jellicoe Road, the school, and the territory wars that are played between children at the school, the locals in town, and the Cadets who visit during the summers.

I can’t do this book justice. I just can’t. All I can say is I ended up falling in love with Taylor, swooning over Jonah, marveling at Marchetta’s ingenuity and plotting, and absolutely bawling my eyes out by the end. I’ll have to re-read this sometime soon. Now that I know the end, I want to see all the pieces come together with more clarity. There’s a reason this won the Printz, people. If you haven’t read it, don’t be like me and wait twelve months to pick it up even though someone was swearing it. Go get a copy now. It is phenomenal and you won’t regret it.

Wow, I am absolutely exhausted; I need to learn to be more succinct in my reviews. Did you get a lot of books read over the holidays like me? What was the best book you read in December?

* Photography used in the cover by Fugue and K. Denman and used under the Creative Commons license.

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