Year in Review: Reading

Without further ado, this is how my year in reading breaks down.  2013 was a pretty good, if not stellar, year.

READING

Overall Reading:
Total Books = 136 books
Total Pages = 41,120
Avg Days Per Book = 2.7 days
Avg Pages Per Day =  112.6

Longest Book = Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (860 pages) OR A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (830 pages)
Shortest Book/Novella = Nowhere to Run by Claire J. Griffin (118 pages)

My best reading month was December  with 23 books read and my worst was August where I only read 4 books.  The breakdown for books/pages read by month for the year looks like this:


Month…Books…Pages
JAN…… 10…….. 3195
FEB…….10………2798
MAR….. 9………2969
APR…….8………2574
MAY……6………2550
JUN…….5……… 1754
JUL……..7……….3112
AUG…….4…….2060
SEP……..9……….3023
OCT…….21……….5811
NOV…….20…….. 5335
DEC…….23………5939

The Cybils obviously skyrocketed my reading numbers the last three months of the year, allowing me to hit and surpass my goal of 100 books this year.

Overall, not a terrible reading year.  I’m not setting hard goals for next year because I’m feeling burnt out right now, but I do hope to expand my reading to genres I usually avoid.

Happy reading!

Year in Review: 2013′s Best Books

This was a year where I read predominantly YA books.  This is true of the past several years, actually.  Because of this, I chose to focus my top 10 on YA books released this year that knocked my socks off.  Without further preamble, here they are, in no particular order.

1. Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian

Evan Carter has always found one thing to be true for himself: he can have sex, and there’s never any consequences.  Because he and his dad move around so much, Evan doesn’t stay in any one place long enough to have to make connections with people.  So he uses his strategy: find The Girl Who Would Say Yes, and get down.  This is foolproof until it isn’t.  Until he picks the wrong girl, and pays dearly for it.  After the assault, Evan and his dad pack up and move to a small lakeside town in Minnesota, and it’s there that Evan starts to heal–and deal with the fact that making connections with people is messy but kind of wonderful, too. (read the rest of my review here)

2. Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston

Valkyrie White is fifteen, and the government’s black helicopters killed her parents.  This is what Valkyrie believes and has been told since she was a little girl.  Now, she and her brother Beau continue the fight her father had waged against the government since they were small.  She and Beau know that Those People won’t hesitate to kill them, so they must always be on alert in order to survive.  But now, Valkyrie’s mission is to make people wake up and pay attention.  It’s her most important mission.  It’s also her last. (read the rest of my review here)

 

3. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

In 1986, Park meets Eleanor on the school bus.  They are both misfits in their own way, and the two form an unlikely friendship that develops into a first love so profound that neither can totally comprehend it.  But with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the two might not be able to stay together, especially when one of them faces an unsafe situation. (read the rest of my review here)

4. Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

Callie’s mom stole her away from her large Greek-American family when Callie was just a little kid.  Since then, they’ve been on the run, and Callie has no sense of what a normal, stable life looks like.  She’s never had a home, never been to school, and has eaten most of her meals out of vending machines.  But when Callie’s mom finally gets arrested for kidnapping her, she’s sent back to live with her father and his new family.  At 17, Callie’s already done a lifetime of living.  But can she adjust to the new life–and new rules that come with it?  And if she does settle in, does that mean she’s abandoning her mom? (read the rest of my review here)

5. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Cath is a Simon Snow superfan.  She writes fan fiction about the popular magic books, and she has a massive online following.  For so long it was Cath and Wren, her identical twin sister, against the world.  That world meant mostly living in the fictional world of Simon Snow.  But now the girls are off to college, and Wren seems more than happy to sever ties to the fan fiction world and, it seems, to Cath.  So Cath starts off her freshman year, feeling every bit alone.  But she makes connections along the way, despite her best efforts not to.  How much is Cath willing to sacrifice of her Simon Snow world in order to live in her real one?  And should she have to? (read the rest of my review here)

6. Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Josie Moraine is living in New Orlean’s French Quarter in 1950.  The daughter of a prostitute, Josie is bright, motivated, but marked by her mother’s profession.  All Josie wants is to get out of the seedy world of New Orleans, but obstacles keep getting in her way.  When a mysterious death in the Quarter, Josie gets caught in the investigation.  Before the mystery is solved, Josie’s trust will be broken and she’ll find herself caught in a moral dilemma. (read the rest of my review here)

7. Absent by Katie Williams

Paige is seventeen, and she’s dead.  She died in a freak fall from the roof of her high school during a Physics class, and now she’s stuck within the boundaries of her high school.  She’s not alone, though: two other ghosts, both former students, are also trapped there.  Evan and Brooke are the only people she can talk to and interact with until she discovers that she can possess living people when they think of her.  This comes in handy when she hears the rumor that she jumped on purpose.  It becomes Paige’s mission to change the minds of the living–because there’s no way she’d jump on purpose. (read the rest of my review here)

8. Picture Me Gone  by Meg Rosoff

Mila is very good at reading a room and seeing the hiddenf acts and unspoken thoughts of the people who live in it that others are so quick to overlood.  When her father’s best friend goes missing, Mila travels with him to America to investigate his disappearance.  Slowly, she pieces together the life this man lead from the pieces he left behind.  As she closes in on solving the mystery, she starts to question the man she trusts most in the world–her father. (review to come)

9. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

Piddy Sanchez is minding her own business when a girl at school tells her that Yaqui Delgado wants to kick her ass.  Piddy doesn’t even know who that is, but Yaqui knows who she is–or at least she thinks she does.  According to Yaqui, Piddy isn’t Latin enough with her good grades and light skin, and she’s going to pay for it.  As Yaqui’s bullying mounts, Piddy doesn’t know where to turn.  Is there any way she can escape this torment relatively unscathed? (review coming soon)

One morning before school, some girl tells Piddy Sanchez that Yaqui Delgado hates her and wants to kick her ass. Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui is, never mind what she’s done to piss her off. Word is that Yaqui thinks Piddy is stuck-up, shakes her stuff when she walks, and isn’t Latin enough with her white skin, good grades, and no accent. And Yaqui isn’t kidding around, so Piddy better watch her back. At first Piddy is more concerned with trying to find out more about the father she’s never met and how to balance honors courses with her weekend job at the neighborhood hair salon. But as the harassment escalates, avoiding Yaqui and her gang starts to take over Piddy’s life. Is there any way for Piddy to survive without closing herself off or running away?

10. Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

It used to be Anna and her mom against the world.  But then her mom started dating, and soon Anna had a series of stepfathers and an increasingly distant mother.  When Anna discovered boys, she found that there were new ways to fill the emptiness inside her.  Boys can be her new family, and that’s what Anna tries to make happen with Desmond, and Joey, and Todd.  But Anna is always left alone, with only her friend Toy to comfort her.  It isn’t until she meets Sam and is accepted into his family that she begins to understand what real love is–and what’s at stake if she were to lose it. (read the rest of my review here)

 

This was a surprisingly easy list to craft.  What were your best reads of the year?

Book Review: Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian

Evan Carter has always found one thing to be true for himself: he can have sex, and there’s never any consequences.  Because he and his dad move around so much, Evan doesn’t stay in any one place long enough to have to make connections with people.  So he uses his strategy: find The Girl Who Would Say Yes, and get down.  This is foolproof until it isn’t.  Until he picks the wrong girl, and pays dearly for it.  After the assault, Evan and his dad pack up and move to a small lakeside town in Minnesota, and it’s there that Evan starts to heal–and deal with the fact that making connections with people is messy but kind of wonderful, too.

Carrie Mesrobian’s debut novel tackles some big issues, as the title suggests.  The novel handles these issues with grace and aplomb, but what’s truly remarkable is how concerned Mesrobian is with the “after” of these big issues.  This debut novel is gripping, achingly real, and absolutely unforgettable.  One of the best reads of the year, this one is not to be missed.

Evan’s first-person narration is startlingly authentic, and his intense, sometimes uncomfortably frank inner-monologue will affect readers.  Evan has a dark side to him, but he’s aware of it, and part of this process of healing means tackling that dark side.  He’s often lewd, but it feels realistic, and the book is full of great dialogue between its characters, and this dialogue is often very funny.

The novel is packed with ideas about sex and violence and how the two are connected, but Mesrobian doesn’t offer her characters or her readers any easy answers.  There’s subtle exploration of why Evan is the way he is, and what it will take for him to become a good person–and a good man–but it never feels too convenient or cliche.  In Mesrobian’s capable hands, Evan’s plight is always sympathetic, and readers will root for him–even when he’s being a giant douche bag.

A cast of well-rounded, interesting secondary characters elevate this gripping story even further.  There’s no shortage of vivid characters who populate Evan’s new world, but they’re all distinct, and readers will enjoy reading about Evan’s interactions with these people as he comes to grips with his new life.  This is an all-around excellent first novel.  I can’t wait to see what Mesrobian does next.

Highly, highly recommended.

Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian. Candlewick: 2013. Purchased copy. Read for the 2013 Cybils.

The Best YA of 2013 (so far)

June is almost over, and that means that the year is halfway done.  While this is kind of a scary thought (where is the time going?), it also means that it’s time to evaluate what I’ve been reading and what sticks out as some of the best books of the year (so far).

I don’t know if it’s reading and blogging fatigue, a lot of changes in my personal life, an increase in the amount of activities I’m juggling, or some combination thereof, but my reading is way, way down this year.  That being said, I’ve managed to read a fair amount of 2013 YA releases.  Here are the best of what I’ve read so far.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell 

If you haven’t checked out Rainbow Rowell’s beautiful, moving Eleanor & Park yet, you should get on it.  There’s something so beautiful about Rowell’s sweet coming-of-age story that stayed with me long after I finished the book.  I’ve since passed the book onto several people, because it’s just a story that needs to be shared.

A great example of a dual-perspective novel that works, this one is not to be missed.  Read my review here.

 

 

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Ruta Sepetys came onto the YA scene with her excellent Between Shades of Gray, and while I loved that beautifully written story, there was something about Out of the Easy that really resonated with me.  Maybe it’s because Sepetys manages to bring the city of New Orleans (a place that holds personal connections for me) to life so fully, or maybe it’s because she manages to craft a truly suspenseful novel with a really great heroine.  Either way, this smart historical novel should be on your reading list, whether or not you’re a fan of historical fiction.

Taut, tense, and gorgeously written.  Read my review here.

 

 

Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

Erica Lorraine Scheidt’s Uses for Boys is going to be an uncomfortable read for most readers, and that’s part of what makes it so important.  Scheidt unapologetically tackles the subject of teen sexuality, and she doesn’t shy away from any of the issues that come along with it.  While this isn’t going to be a favorite read for every reader, I find myself continuing to think about this one weeks later.  It’s beautiful, haunting, and nearly perfectly executed.  This is perfect contemporary YA for readers who like their stories complicated, their heroines flawed, and answers that don’t come easy.

Read my review here.

 

 

Those are the three that stand out to me right now.  There are a lot of titles yet to be published, and there are even more titles I hope to get to that have been published this year, so who knows how this list will grow and change as the year progresses.

 

What titles have stood out to you this year?  What are you hoping to get to still?

2012 Year in Review: Reading

READING

Overall Reading:
Total Books = 163
Total Pages =  41,926
Avg Days Per Book = 2.2
Avg Books Per Day = .44
Avg Pages Per Day = 115

Longest Book = 604 pages (Tilt by Ellen Hopkins)
Shortest Book/Novella = 106 pages (No Name Baby by Nancy Bo Flood

My best reading month was October with 23 books read and my worst was July where I only read 8 books.  The breakdown for books/pages read by month for the year looks like this:


Month…Books…Pages
JAN…… 09…….. 2783
FEB…….20………5216
MAR….. 20………4485
APR…….12………3992
MAY……11………3397
JUN…….14……… 4105
JUL……..08……….2501
AUG……10……….2674
SEP……..10……….3104
OCT…….23……….6767
NOV…….16…….. 4478
DEC……..09……..2739

AVG……13.5…..3583

In order to determine the best book of the year I again maintained a Top 12 list in which each month I chose the best book that I read during that month.  Those books were:

37thingsilovecrazymybookoflifegirlborrowedmylifenextdoorlisttheprobabilityanyasghosttigerlilymeandearlrawblue

JANUARY – Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar
FEBRUARY – Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
MARCH – The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder
APRIL – The List by Siobhan Vivian
MAY – My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick
JUNE – 37 Things I Love (in no Particular Order) by Kekla Magoon
JULY – Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson
AUGUST – Come See About Me by C.K. Kelly Martin
SEPTEMBER – The Girl With Borrowed Wings by Rinsai Rossetti
OCTOBER – My Book of Life by Angel by Martine Leavitt
NOVEMBER – Crazy by Amy Reed
DECEMBER – Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

What did you read this year that you absolutely loved?

2012 Year in Review: Listening

Music is a big part of my life, but I don’t write about it here very often.  Sure, I post the occasional song or video when I do my 5 things I’m into posts, but I don’t tend to go on and on about music unless there’s something I’m super obsessed with.  Partly, I believe music is very personal, and partly, I get so tired of people being judgmental little turds about what other people listen to.  If it makes you happy, go for it.  Listen to it.

My music tastes are wide-reaching and eclectic (a lot of people say this, but I actually believe it’s true when applied to me, and since it’s my blog, I get to do whatever I want).  Without further ado, here are the 10 albums that rocked my world this year.  IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER:

1. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory

20-year-0ld Cloud Nothings frontman Dylan Baldi called this album’s title a description of what the album aimed to do: attack the memories of what many people believed the band sounded like, and create something new.  The result is exactly what Baldi hoped to accomplish, as this album replaces the band’s sugary pop-punk hooks from their previous album(s) with an aggressive new sound that’s got heavier musical accompaniments.  Not everyone could handle the change in Cloud Nothings’s sounds: I had a friend throw in the towel after one measly listen to this album, which was his loss.  This is an album that grows on the consumer with repeat listens, and Baldi’s willingness to grow and adapt his music as he gets older can only mean good things for him in the future.

2. Grimes – Visions

Say what you will about Claire Boucher’s proclivity for strangeness, but you have to admit that the woman put out a hell of an album this year.  Visions is Boucher’s best album to date, and it’s also the most accessible and most fun to listen to.  Present in her music are all sorts of contrasts and complications to sort out (and I’m not just talking about trying to figure out what, exactly, she’s saying at any given time).  Grimes uses pop hooks and weirdly atmospheric beats to create a unique sound that is all hers.  It helps that her high, almost childlike voice is haunting and beautiful all at once.  Whatever.  All I know is that I listened to “Oblivion” and “Genesis” on repeat this year, and I’m not even sick of them yet.

3. Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls

This seems to be an album that has transcended age groups and has widespread appeal among the young and old.  It probably has to do with the fact that Alabama Shakes–led by twenty-something Brittany Howard–grounds their music in sounds that sound straight out of the 70s.  Howard’s throaty voice and confessional lyrics help add a roughness to the album.

This is the record that has most often been on repeat at family dinners this year.  For a debut, this is a solid album well worth a couple of listens.

4. Beach House – Bloom

Beach House has slowly come into a sound all their own.  The Baltimore-based duo’s dream-pop isn’t for everyone, but I once heard it described as “make out music for indie kids,” and that feels pretty apropos.  With their most recent album Bloom, Beach House has strengthened their sound and sharpened their craft.  This is a fantastic album, full of subtle shifts and music that attempts to describe the indescribable.

5. Purity Ring – Shrines

Purity Ring was one of my later finds in 2012, but since I discovered them in October, I haven’t been able to stop listening to them.  A Canadian duo who were virtually unknown before a song called “Ungirthed” leaked onto the internet, Purity Ring has taken the indie circuit by storm.  Megan James’s vocals are largely what propels this album to greatness, as her high, clear voice conveys lyrics that are often creepy and beautiful.  The album’s focus on the body might not sit well with some listeners, but the entire album feels like one extended piece, and the fact that it fits together so beautifully and so memorably makes this a standout album of 2012.  I can’t wait to see what Purity Ring has to offer in 2013.

6. Jessie Ware – Devotion

An unlikely marriage between smoldering pop music and electronic beats, Jessie Ware’s album is definitely one that requires more than one listen.  There’s a lot of influences at work in Ware’s music, including 80′s pop (you can hear some Whitney) and 90′s diva-inspiration, but the sound remains uniquely Ware’s own.  Ware’s hypnotic voice pairs well with her haunting lyrics, and the inclusion of a variety of sounds, including dubstep beats and other electronic sounds makes this an album well worth your time.  If nothing else, Ware’s voice is worth a listen.

7. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

I’m not sure what there is to say about Frank Ocean’s album that hasn’t already been said already.  This is definitely one of the best albums of the year, and pretty much everyone would agree with that statement.  Ocean’s strengths lie in the melodic power of his voice but also in his absolutely brilliant words: Ocean’s lyrics can’t be rivaled by any other songwriter working today.  Ocean’s storytelling abilities are what make Channel Orange go from a great album to a fantastic one with staying power.  Every single song on the album tells a story, and each of those stories is absolutely worth hearing again and again.  (I particularly recommend “Super Rich Kids” and “Bad Religion.”)

8. Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City

There’s an autobiographical element to Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d City that feels almost uncomfortably intimate.  But that’s also what makes the album work as well as it does.  While each song on Lamar’s album can stand on its own, it also works within a larger concept.  There’s a lot of heavy stuff at work here: Lamar deals with the powerful pull of gang life and how often the only thing keeping him from joining is his faith and his family (Lamar populates the album with snippets of actual voicemails from family members).  While all this could feel like too much, Lamar manages to pull it off because his lyrics are brilliant, his hooks are catchy, and the album as a whole is a fantastic study in how great hip hop can be.

9. The Men – Open Your Heart

I went through my punk phase in high school, but I certainly didn’t have anything like The Men to help me funnel my anger through music.  With this album, my sixteen-year-old punk self was reborn. Perhaps most interestingly, this album is both aggressive and welcoming.   It’s the kind of album that wants to knock you around a little bit and then knock a few back with you while you laugh about it all.  It’s a great album, with each song building on the last.  I’ll put it this way: it’s one of the only albums I burned in its entirety on a CD to listen to in the car this year.  That’s a ringing endorsement if I ever heard one.

10. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan

Dirty Projectors is a fairly isolating band.  People tend to either really like them or hate them (I’ve dated more than one person with a strong opinion on the band), but I’m going to come out and say that I like them.  Despite the band’s propensity for switching things up often (including who is in the band, exactly), there’s no doubt that this most recent album’s switch-up has made for the most accessible, addictive album from the band yet. Swing Lo Magellan marries catchy beats with the most straightforward lyrics Projectors has ever come out with (and…they’re still kind of hard to digest).

What did you listen to this past year that you absolutely loved?

End of Year Survey

Jamie hosts an end of the year book survey at The Perpetual Page Turner every year.  Go check out the survey for Jamie’s answers, links to all the other people who’ve participated, and to link your own!

Best In Books 2012

  • Best Book You Read in 2012
What’s interesting about trying to determine the best book I read in 2012 is that I often feel really strongly about something right when I finish it, and when I return to it later, I can’t access those feelings.  There were several standouts this year, but there are two that continue to be books I find myself thinking about again and again: My Book of Life by Angel by Martine Leavitt (review) and The Children and the Wolves by Adam Rapp (review).  Both are dark, thought-provoking YA novels with sparse prose, and both stay with you long after you’ve finished.
  • Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going to Love More But Didn’t?
 There were a lot of these this year.  I suppose there always are, when you get as excited about books as I do.  A few standouts: Small Damages by Beth Kephart (review), which was good but slower than I’d have liked (and I had issues with the chosen ending, to be honest). Fever by Lauren DeStefano (review) was a letdown after loving Wither so much.  Oh! Also, The Story of Us by Deb Caletti, (review) which felt overly long and was weirdly homophobic.
  • Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2012?
It has to go to My Book of Life by Angel by Martine Leavitt, because not only did the cover and the title do nothing for me at first, but it’s a verse-novel, which I’m usually not a fan of.  This one blew me away.
  • Book you recommended to people most in 2012? 
I’ve been pushing Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews on everyone, regardless of whether or not they read YA.  I try to tailor recommendations to people based on their actual reading preferences, though, so there isn’t really one book I recommend to all readers.  It’s not a one-size-fits-all sort of deal, yo.
But seriously, have you read this book yet?  Why not?  It’s funny and profound and moving and is everything I wanted John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars to be (but wasn’t).  It’s definitely a standout read, and it’s definitely one you should be reading.
  • Best series you discovered in 2012? 
Ouch.  Guys, I didn’t reach much in the way of series this year, and the ones I did read I didn’t exactly discovery this year.  I’m so over series right now that I’m strangely proud (and a little smug) that I don’t really have an answer for this one.
  • Favorite new authors you discovered in 2012?
I’m super impressed with C.K. Kelly Martin, Martine Leavitt, and Sharon G. Flake.  They’re all authors who I’ll be following from now on (not to mention picking up and devouring their backlists).
  • Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you? 
That would probably be nonfiction.  I read John Kraukauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven this year, and I really enjoyed it.  It was fascinating and alarming and deeply unsettling.
  • Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2012? 
Courtney Summers’s This Is Not a Test  (review) comes to mind immediately.  I loved it and couldn’t put it down.  I really couldn’t–I extended my time on the treadmill to keep reading.  Absolutely worth it.
  • Book You Read In 2012 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson (review), especially if I can convince my mom to read it, too.  I loved this one and thought it was so beautiful and haunting.  I’d totally read it again.

  • Favorite cover of a book you read in 2012?
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol (review).  This was published in 2011, but it’s new to me, so there you have it.  I think the cover is absolutely perfect for the story–and the illustrations inside are just as amazing.  If you haven’t read this one yet, get on it.
  • Most memorable character in 2012?
 This is a tough one, but I’m going to give it to the kids in Adam Rapp’s The Children and the Wolves.  Those characters were vivid, disturbing, and are still with me months later.  I can’t get them out of my head!
  • Most beautifully written book read in 2012?

I don’t know, man.  I think Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson was really, really well written.  Let’s go with that one.  Here’s a sample:

“Sometimes I think that maybe we are just stories. Like we may as well just be words on a page, because we’re only what we’ve done and what we are going to do.”

  • Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012?
Every book has some sort of impact on me, whether I like it or not.  For the purposes of this prompt, though, let’s go with the lovely and surprising The Girl with Borrowed Wings by Rinsai Rossetti (review).  It’s a stunning debut well worth your time, but it also reminded me that fantasy novels can be done really, really well and still surprise you.
  • Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2012 to finally read?
Maybe Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates?  I didn’t love it as much as I expected to, but I’m embarrassed it took me this long to get to it.
  • Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2012?

I don’t keep track of quotes (and maybe I should, and maybe I will in 2013?  Who knows?), but I do remember highlighting a lot of quotes when I read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.  Stuff like this:

Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.  Men actually think this girl exists. …Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version – maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain. (How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like: “I like strong women.” If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because “I like strong women” is code for “I hate strong women.”)

  • Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2012?

Longest book was Ellen Hopkins’s Tilt clocking in at 602 pages.  Shortest was No Name Baby by Nancy Bo Flood at 106 pages.

  • Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc. etc.) Be careful of spoilers!

The weird, jarring plot twist in Huntley Fitzpatrick’s otherwise perfect My Life Next Door. (review)

  • Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2012 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).

Travis and Harper in Trish Doller’s Something Like Normal. (review)  They were the swooniest relationship for me, and I don’t usually get swoony about fictional characters.

  • Favorite Book You Read in 2012 From An Author You Read Previously?

Holier Than Thou by Laura Buzo (review).  I read and loved Good Oil (being published this month in the US as Love and Other Perishable Items) last year, so I actually ordered this one from Australia.  And it was WORTH IT.

  • Best Book You Read That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else?
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork.  I read it for a children’s/YA lit class and it was definitely a standout for me.  I don’t think I would have picked it up were it not for the class.

Looking Ahead…

  • One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2012 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2013?

There are so many books that I’m chomping at the bit to read once the Cybils are over.  I can tell you that Reached by Allie Condie is high on the list.  So is Night Beach by Kirsty Eagar (not available in the U.S. but I got my hands on a copy).

  • Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2013?
Again, how do I choose?  There are literally a ton of books I can’t wait to read in 2013.  Selecting titles from authors I love helps narrow it down a little.  I’m looking forward to The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler and Sarah Dessen’s The Moon and More.
  • One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging in 2013?
I’d like to continue to grow as a critical reader and reviewer.  I’d like to branch out and read more genres.  We’ll see what happens.
That completes the survey.  I’ll still do my roundup of the year, and I hope to have some hard and fast data for you then, but this will have to suffice for the time being.  In the meantime, stay warm and keep reading!

The Best Albums of 2011

2011 was the year I fell back in love with music.  It helped that I had ended a soul-crushingly bad relationship at the end of 2010 and felt reawakened in every sense of the word.  It also helped that I started dating boys who were total music freaks.  Wherever the credit is due, the fact remains that I have consumed an immense amount of music this year.  After a lot of thought and a lot of agonizing, these are the 10 albums that stood out to me this year.

1. EMA — Past Life Martyred Saints

Erika M. Anderson is the woman behind EMA.  Before becoming EMA, she was in the band Gowns, and this, her debut album as a solo artist, is something of a departure for her.  It’s also really, really great.  Past Life Martyred Saints is an album that relies on solo guitar, piano, voice and tape collage, and the result is beautiful, haunting, and intimate.  It takes a couple of listens, but this is without a doubt one of my favorite albums of the year.

Favorite Track: “California” (see video)

2. Yuck — Yuck

Yuck is a band that is often talked about in relation to 90s-revival music.  The band clearly loves the 90s–no one is denying that–and while their sound is definitely more than a little Pavement-meets-Dinosaur Jr.-meets-Teenage Fanclub-meets-Elliott Smith, they also manage to craft emotional songs that resonate with many listeners.  Their debut album is a coming-of-age record, and songs like “Get Away” (which is probably my favorite) and “Georgia” help make this album distinguish itself from the other 90s-throwbacks available.

Favorite Track: “Get Away”

3. Lykke Li — Wounded Rhymes

Li’s sophomore effort (a follow-up to 2008′s Youth Novels) is more cohesive than her first, but it still has the rough-around-the-edges feel that makes her so appealing.  The songs on Wounded Rhymes play with opposites and dichotomies, alternating between brash anthems and slower, more contemplative ballads.  It is a novel that grows each time it is listened to.  Li’s powerful vocals and intriguing lyrics only make the listening experience that much more powerful.

Favorite Track: “I Follow Rivers”

4. The Weeknd — House of Balloons

An internet sensation who blew up after some of his mixtape leaked and Drake signed him, The Weeknd’s House of Balloons is one of the two albums that Toronto-based Abel Tesfaye (the singer behind The Weeknd) released this year.  Both are very good; House of Balloons is better.  The druggy atmosphere of The Weeknd’s sound and lyrics means that it won’t work for everyone, but it’s hard to deny how creepily fantastic the songs on this mixtape are. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the songs focus on drugs and sex in an overt way, and that more often than not, the album’s content is a little terrifying.  That being said, it’s also really, really great.

Favorite Track: “House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls”

5. Smith Westerns — Dye it Blonde

The Chicago-based band was known for lo-fi music before the release of their second album, Dye it Blonde.  Before this album, the band’s sound was much noisier–the kind of garage-rock one would expect from a bunch of high school kids (which is what the band was doing when they released their first album).  The second album, created after being signed to Fat Possum, had the production budget teens usually only dream about.  The result is a much slicker, much more accessible sophomore album that retains the brilliant hooks the band promised their first go-around.

Favorite Track: “Weekend”

6. Cults — Cults

Cults first attracted attention when their single “Go Outside” appeared (magically) on the internet.  It was instantly catchy–how could it not be–but many wondered how far a band could go with such a hook and a sing-a-long feel to their music.  The reality: much farther than people thought.  The debut album from the New-York based duo provided not only the creepy song “Go Outside,” which features audio tape from infamous cult leaders, but also provides other startlingly resonant lo-fi pop music that keeps readers listening again and again.  While the 1960s girl-pop influence is pretty evident, the choices in editing are not as obvious and are quite the audio treat.

Favorite Track: Go Outside

7. Gang Gang Dance — Eye Contact

Although I’ve never been a fan of electronic music before, I’ve found a few albums this year that have worked especially well for me.  Gang Gang Dance’s Eye Contact is one of them.  Much more accessible than their earlier work, Eye Contact’s often joyful music provides the perfect accompaniment to those runs that I don’t quite want to finish.  Despite this, though, listeners should be warned: Gang Gang Dance is a weird band, and their music often pairs club beats with lyrics about communicating with the dead.  This is trippy stuff, but it’s also really entertaining.

Favorite Track: “MindKilla”

8. Wavves — Life Sux (EP)

Wavves is one of those bands that’s fairly polarizing: if you don’t like stoner noise-pop, you’re probably going to hate them.  If you do, you’re going to love them.  I’m not going to lie: I love Wavves.  The discovery of Nathan Williams and his weird, crazy music was the best thing to come out of one of my worst breakups ever this past spring.  King of the Beach just might be one of my favorite albums of all time, so I was pretty excited for this year’s Life Sux EP to come out.  While it doesn’t quite live up to my admittedly high expectations, Williams delivers more of what fans want: drug references, noisy guitar, and a completely ridiculous attitude.

Favorite Track: Nodding Off (feat. Best Coast)

9. Drake – Take Care

I loved Drake’s new album so much that I wrote a review of it a few weeks ago.  I’m not sure there’s much more to say about it: the album continues to grow on me and surprise me in new ways.  It’s emotional, introspective, and a little ridiculous.  I love it.  There isn’t a single song on the album that feels like filler.  Each one stands on its own.

Favorite Track: “Marvin’s Room”

10. tUnE-yArDs — Who Kill

Probably my favorite artist of 2011, tUnE-yArD’s Merrill Garbus is totally weird.  She’s not afraid of her weirdness, though, and her primal music reflects that.  Combining all sorts of music, including rock, funk, R&B, and funk into a sort of hybrid that is uniquely her own, tUnE-yArDs delivers another killer album full of infectious, thought-provoking songs that require repeat listens.  Have you seen the video for Bizness?  Why aren’t you watching it right now?

Favorite Track: “Bizness”

What are your favorite albums of the year?

The Best YA Books of 2011

Well, Gentle Readers, the time has come.  It’s time for me to compile a list of the 10 best YA books of 2011.  Criteria were simple: the book must be marketed to YA readers, and it must have been published in the United States in 2011.  Without further ado, here are the 10 YA books that blew me away this year.

1. Sister Mischief by Laura Goode

Listen up: You’re about to get rocked by the fiercest, baddest all-girl hip-hop crew in the Twin Cities – or at least in the wealthy, white, Bible-thumping suburb of Holyhill, Minnesota. Our heroine, Esme Rockett (aka MC Ferocious) is a Jewish lesbian lyricist. In her crew, Esme’s got her BFFs Marcy (aka DJ SheStorm, the butchest straight girl in town) and Tess (aka The ConTessa, the pretty, popular powerhouse of a vocalist). But Esme’s feelings for her co-MC, Rowie (MC Rohini), a beautiful, brilliant, beguiling desi chick, are bound to get complicated. And before they know it, the queer hip-hop revolution Esme and her girls have exploded in Holyhill is on the line.

I’ve extolled the virtues of Goode’s debut novel on this blog several times before, but it’s worth mentioning again.  I connected with this book in the rarest, purest of ways, and I loved every second of it.  Goode’s representations of faith, identity, and female friendship rang true, and it didn’t hurt that the girls in her story are funny as hell.  If you haven’t read this one, please don’t let the slang-filled summary dissuade you: go get your hands on a copy of this right now.

2. Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

Chloe’s older sister, Ruby, is the girl everyone looks to and longs for, who can’t be captured or caged. When a night with Ruby’s friends goes horribly wrong and Chloe discovers the dead body of her classmate London Hayes left floating in the reservoir, Chloe is sent away from town and away from Ruby.

But Ruby will do anything to get her sister back, and when Chloe returns to town two years later, deadly surprises await. As Chloe flirts with the truth that Ruby has hidden deeply away, the fragile line between life and death is redrawn by the complex bonds of sisterhood.

Nova Ren Suma’s Imaginary Girls might be one of the most polarizing YA books to come out of 2011.  It seems as though readers either hated it or loved it.  I fell into the second camp, though the book took a while to grow on me.  Rarely has a book gotten under my skin the way Imaginary Girls did.  I was so supremely creeped out while reading it that it was almost a painful process.  However, Suma’s beautiful prose, tight plotting, and compelling story about two sisters whose bond crosses from tight to inappropriate ultimately won me over.  This one is definitely worth a second look.

3. The Summer I Learned to Fly by Dana Reinhardt

Drew’s a bit of a loner. She has a pet rat, her dead dad’s Book of Lists, an encyclopedic knowledge of cheese from working at her mom’s cheese shop, and a crush on Nick, the surf bum who works behind the counter. It’s the summer before eighth grade and Drew’s days seem like business as usual, until one night after closing time, when she meets a strange boy in the alley named Emmett Crane. Who he is, why he’s there, where the cut on his cheek came from, and his bottomless knowledge of rats are all mysteries Drew will untangle as they are drawn closer together, and Drew enters into the first true friendship, and adventure, of her life.

One of the most beautiful little books I think I’ve ever read, Reinhardt’s book about a girl, her rat, and her best friend made me want to believe in miracles.  Although it’s definitely not the flashiest book, this is one that stayed with me long after I finished the last page.  Beautiful.  Heartbreaking.

4. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

This is an extraordinarily moving novel about coming to terms with loss. The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming. . . .

This monster, though, is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.

Full disclosure:  Before I picked up this book, I had read a bunch about it and didn’t think I was all that interested in it.  Despite the critical acclaim the novel was attracting, I couldn’t seem to muster the enthusiasm required to read it.  But then I started to read it at the gym.  I didn’t leave the treadmill until I finished it (sobbing).  It is absolutely emotionally resonant, true, and beautifully rendered.  It deserves the praise that has been heaped upon it, and if you haven’t read it, you should.  Right now.

5. Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Just when seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter thinks he understands everything about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town, it all disappears. . . .

In the summer before Cullen’s senior year, a nominally-depressed birdwatcher named John Barling thinks he spots a species of woodpecker thought to be extinct since the 1940s in Lily, Arkansas. His rediscovery of the so-called Lazarus Woodpecker sparks a flurry of press and woodpecker-mania. Soon all the kids are getting woodpecker haircuts and everyone’s eating “Lazarus burgers.” But as absurd as the town’s carnival atmosphere has become, nothing is more startling than the realization that Cullen’s sensitive, gifted fifteen-year-old brother Gabriel has suddenly and inexplicably disappeared.

While Cullen navigates his way through a summer of finding and losing love, holding his fragile family together, and muddling his way into adulthood, a young missionary in Africa, who has lost his faith, is searching for any semblance of meaning wherever he can find it. As distant as the two stories seem at the start, they are thoughtfully woven ever closer together and through masterful plotting, brought face to face in a surprising and harrowing climax.

Despite my vaguely uncomfortable feelings about the female characters in Whaley’s book (I can’t be the only one, right?), I can’t deny that this book is something really extraordinary.  Literary fiction for the teen set, this book is definitely aimed at a more sophisticated reader.  Those who stick with it, though, will be fully rewarded.  Whaley crafts a story about Cullen and the people whose lives intersect with his that is compelling, fascinating, and a little nail-biting.  Worth it.

6. Shine by Lauren Myracle

When her best guy friend falls victim to a vicious hate crime, sixteen-year-old Cat sets out to discover who in her small town did it. Richly atmospheric, this daring mystery mines the secrets of a tightly knit Southern community and examines the strength of will it takes to go against everyone you know in the name of justice. Against a backdrop of poverty, clannishness, drugs, and intolerance, Myracle has crafted a harrowing coming-of-age tale couched in a deeply intelligent mystery. Smart, fearless, and compassionate, this is an unforgettable work from a beloved author.

What could have been a preachy, issue-driven novel in a lesser author’s hands becomes one of the  most compelling, heartbreaking stories of the year.  I remember reading this, being blown away by it, and forcing it into the hands of my much-more-skeptical younger sister on a camping trip this summer.  While she claimed to not like it as much as I did, she devoured the novel in about a day.  Full of flawed, realistic characters and a dark portrait of the rural south, this is a book that shouldn’t be missed.

7. Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Obviously, something went terribly wrong. Genetic mutations have festered, reducing human longevity to twenty-five, even less for most women. To prevent extinction, young girls are kidnapped, mated in polygamous marriages with men eager to procreate. Sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery, a recent victim of this breeding farm mentality, has vowed to break loose from its fetters; but finding allies and a safe way out is a challenge she can only hope she will survive.

The thing about Wither is that it could easily be like so many of the dystopian series that are popping up all over the place.  In fact, when I first started Wither, that’s pretty much what I thought.  But then I let myself stay in DeStefano’s world, and I started to realize that Wither offers much more than many of its peers in the dystopian genre: richly-drawn characters and absolutely gorgeous prose that never feels overwrought.  Whereas many books being marketed to dystopian fans seem to lack character development, Wither offers it in spades.  No character, however minor, is neglected.  That kind of attention to detail is worth taking a look at.

8. Blood Red Road by Moira Young 

Saba has spent her whole life in Silverlake, a dried-up wasteland ravaged by constant sandstorms. The Wrecker civilization has long been destroyed, leaving only landfills for Saba and her family to scavenge from. That’s fine by her, as long as her beloved twin brother Lugh is around. But when a monster sandstorm arrives, along with four cloaked horsemen, Saba’s world is shattered. Lugh is captured, and Saba embarks on an epic quest to get him back.

Suddenly thrown into the lawless, ugly reality of the world outside of desolate Silverlake, Saba is lost without Lugh to guide her. So perhaps the most surprising thing of all is what Saba learns about herself: she’s a fierce fighter, an unbeatable survivor, and a cunning opponent. And she has the power to take down a corrupt society from the inside. Teamed up with a handsome daredevil named Jack and a gang of girl revolutionaries called the Free Hawks, Saba stages a showdown that will change the course of her own civilization.

Perhaps closest thing to replace The Hunger Games-shaped hole in many readers’ hearts is Blood Red Road, the first in a planned trilogy.  Part dystopian adventure, part science-fiction epic, this novel has a lot going on (probably a little too much): giant sand worms, hovercraft ships, sibling rivalry, undeniable attraction, etc.  Moving along at a whip-fast speed, Young’s novel about Saba (a seriously kick-ass heroine) is just enough adventure and fun to keep readers riveted.  I really liked this one.

9. Stay With Me by Paul Griffin

Fifteen-year-olds Cece and Mack didn’t expect to fall in love. She’s a sensitive A student; he’s a high school dropout. But soon they’re spending every moment together, bonding over a rescued dog, telling their secrets, making plans for the future. Everything is perfect. Until. Until. Mack makes a horrible mistake, and in just a few minutes, the future they’d planned becomes impossible. In this stark new reality, both of them must find meaning and hope in the memories of what they had, to survive when the person they love can’t stay.

I’m not going to lie: this is not an easy book to read.  It’s clear from the start that life is not easy for Cece or Mack, and that things are definitely going to get worse.  But there’s something so compelling about the story that Griffin tells in Stay With Me that it’s impossible to stop yourself from rooting for these characters who continually mess up their lives.  It’s a beautiful love story, full of drama and heightened emotion that marks first love (especially in adolescence), but there’s also a lot of grittiness to the story.  Complex, well-written, and full of characters who will stay with readers for a long time.

10. Tighter by Adele Griffin

When 17-year-old Jamie arrives on the idyllic New England island of Little Bly to work as a summer au pair, she is stunned to learn of the horror that precedes her. Seeking the truth surrounding a young couple’s tragic deaths, Jamie discovers that she herself looks shockingly like the dead girl—and that she has a disturbing ability to sense the two ghosts. Why is Jamie’s connection to the couple so intense? What really happened last summer at Little Bly? As the secrets of the house wrap tighter and tighter around her, Jamie must navigate the increasingly blurred divide between the worlds of the living and the dead.

A twisty little retelling of Henry James’s novella The Turn of the Screw, Griffin’s novel about an au pair whose perceptions of the world are already suspect before she starts seeing ghosts is one of the most entertaining novels I read all year.  Brilliantly paced and absolutely surprising, this is a book best read either on the beach or right around Halloween.  You won’t be disappointed.

There are other books that could have easily  made this list.  What did I miss?  What do you think belongs on this list?  Talk back, folks.

Lists & Procrastination: 5 Things I’m Currently Obsessed With

Gentle Readers, welcome!  It’s time for another installment of Things I’m Currently Obsessed With.  Previous installments can be found here, here, here, here, here, hereherehere, and here.  (I realize that at some point, I’m going to have to make a separate page for this.)

1. Popular (1999-2001)

High school teen queen Brooke McQueen (seriously) rules her school.  She’s head cheerleader, has a football player boyfriend, and is the envy of everyone.  When Sam McPherson, a totally nobody, gets in her business, Brooke is pissed.  The two girls are on the opposite side of the popularity spectrum and want nothing to do with one another.  When their parents start dating each other, things get even messier.  It becomes an all-out war.

This show aired on the WB in the late nineties.  The teens on the soap were in high school at the same time I was, and I have to say that the 90s fashions make my parts hurt.  Popular was totally weird, and watching it again now is somewhat surreal.  Popular was Ryan Murphy’s test-run for Glee, and it’s interesting to notice similarities (and repeating plot lines) between the two shows.  If you’ve never watched this show, I suggest you check it out for its camp value alone.

2. Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close

Essentially about a group of girls in their mid-twenties, Close’s novel focuses on the uncertainty of post-college life and the troubles with trying to date and maintain relationships.  Close’s novel is wry, darkly funny, and often uncomfortably true.  Even though I had some issues with the structure of the book (which I will cover in my review), I’ve found that I can’t get the book out of my head.  That has to stand for something, right?

 

3. Lana Del Rey – “Video Games”

I don’t know what it is about Lana Del Rey–it could be that she’s kind of beautiful/kind of weird-looking, or it could be that she’s only released something like 3 songs and is already super divisive.  It might be the fact that she refers to herself as the “Gangsta Nancy Sinatra,” which is, of course, sort of irritating.  Whatever it is, I do know that I can’t seem to get enough of this song.  Controversy lives on.

4. tUnE-yArDs – “Bizness”

This video is a total trip.  Merrill Garbus has always brought the weird to her music, and “Bizness” is no different.  Primal, nervy, and lush, tUnE-yArDs is one of my favorite artists of the year (and her album, Who Kill, is definitely in my top 10).  If you haven’t given her a listen, you should do so now.  Don’t let the glowy teeth scare you: this song is amazing.

5. Year-End Best Of Lists

I’ve already posted about this, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate my love for this stuff.  I love year-end lists.  I’m not even particularly discerning about what it is: I like movie lists, book lists, TV lists, music lists, pop culture event lists–you name it, I love it.  Large Hearted Boy is keeping track of a lot (A LOT) of Best of Lists.  You should check it out.