I read a lot of books this month; some of them were quick reads and a number of them were Whitney finalists. I'm just about finished reading the categories that I chose--I plan to read everything except the speculative categories.
Geek Girl by Cindy C. Bennett
I first checked out this book simply because I liked the cover. It's quite different from what you usually see on Cedar Fort books. The plot itself was fairly stereotypical (opposites attract and find they actually like each other), but the writing was fun and I had a good time reading it. Sometimes I wanted a bit more introspection from the characters, but since they are high school students that was probably a bit too much to ask for.
Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock by David Margolick
This book gave me a greater, more complex understanding of recent American history. Margolick doesn’t shy away from describing the difficult and ugly parts of our past, and he doesn’t try to force the story into a moral or a happy ending. At the same time, this was a very good book and I felt like I understood and empathized with both of these women much more than I would have before reading it.
With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo
I didn't expect to like this book so much because I got tired of Quirky Southern Books a while ago. But the story is really well-done and I think it is one of the better middle-grade novels out there. I liked that the protagonist had a good relationship with her family, that the plot involved a boy and a girl who become friends without romantic innuendo, and that someone managed to write a historical novel set in the South that actually wasn't about civil rights (not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's been done a lot and I think it's good for kids to read about Southern states in other contexts besides just that of race relations).
Sean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt
The Whitney nominees for Youth Fiction this year are all really good; I can tell it's going to be hard to choose when it comes time to vote. This was another book that manages to cover familiar tropes of YA literature in new and refreshing ways. There were some things I didn't like about it, particularly the protagonist's best friend, but it had many strengths. I especially liked the way the romance developed as a more natural outgrowth of friendship--I wish I could have had something like that as a teenager.
Miles from Ordinary by Carol Lynch Williams
Williams is a very skilled writer and I always enjoy her books. That being said, I felt like this book wasn't much different from any of her other books that I have read. I also thought the plot felt fairly insubstantial, like this could have been told in a short story rather than a novel.
Miles to Go by Richard Paul Evans
I have never read anything by Richard Paul Evans before and I expected to dislike this book. The good news is that I didn't dislike it; the bad news is that I didn't really like it either. It was really boring; I felt like there was a lot of "telling" rather than "showing" and that nothing much happened. I understand that it is the middle book in a series and that it is supposed to be a person's diary, but that doesn't mean that it shouldn't have a plot.
If I Should Die by Jennie Hansen
I thought the mystery element of this book was well-done and I was kept guessing until the end. This book was more romantic suspense than straight mystery and I wasn’t expecting so much focus on the love story, but it is a good, quick read
Bloodborne by Gregg Luke
The first chapter of this book was great, but when I started the second chapter I actually burst out laughing due to a bizarre plot twist that was completely unexpected and poorly executed. This book was somewhat painful to read, but mercifully quick to get through.
Enduring Light by Carla Kelly
After reading and loving Borrowed Light last month I was happy to go right into the sequel. Like sequels sometimes do, this did disappoint a bit simply because the major narrative arc of their story (falling in love)was already completed. It was still fun to read some more about the characters and to spend a little more time with them (even if they were newlyweds and spent half the book making veiled remarks about sex).
Smokescreen by Traci Hunter Abramson
I had a bit of a hard time getting into this book at first because I don't usually read suspenseful thrillers and because this is one in a series. Thankfully it was still able to stand on its own quite well and I generally enjoyed it reading it.
I had this book checked out for a few weeks before I decided to read it. I just wasn't sure if I was up for reading about a bunch of people who were going to die in a horrific way (yes, I know I read a lot of gritty stuff, but still). I'm glad I read this book; it was difficult to read but also very enlightening. It does not focus much on Jim Jones, but rather on the people who followed him and why they did. It gave me a lot to think about.
The Wedding Letters by Jason Wright
This is another book I didn't particularly hate, but that I didn't particularly love either. It mostly left me feeling 'meh', even though I could tell that it was trying hard to make me feel something. I couldn't connect with any of the characters--they felt like stereotypes rather than real people and I just didn't understand some of their motivations at all. This was also another book that suffered from being a sequel in which characters constantly reference things that happened in a previous book, but they are never well-explained to new readers.
You Against Me by Jenny Downham
This book's plot is not really anything new, but I thought the writing was particularly well-done and I enjoyed reading it. I didn't like the ending, however, and felt that it was underdeveloped.
Pride and Popularity by Jenni James
This book wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, which I know is faint praise. I was impressed by the author's ability to retell Pride and Prejudice in a modern setting without the plot or characters feeling too forced. However, the language all sounded like a bad imitation of the movie Clueless and I don't think that teenagers currently talk like that.
After seeing this movie, I mostly had a strong desire to see it as a play. I think it's an intriguing story and I felt like all the actors did a great job, but I would love to see how the original version went.
The plot of this movie is basically The Bicycle Thief all over again, but the acting is great and I really liked the director's choices. It's interesting to watch a movie set in Los Angeles where most of the dialogue is in Spanish and the only white people you see are police officers.
This was another movie that made me want to seek out the original; I felt like there was quite a bit of backstory that I was missing out on somehow. That said, I liked the fact that it was a movie set in Hawaii that felt real (well, as real as a movie about rich haoles can be).