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Saturday, July 17, 2010

My Heartbeat


(from flap)

Ellen loves Link and James. Her older brother and his best friend are the only company she ever wants. She knows they fight, but she makes it a policy never to take sides. She loves her brother, the math genius and track star. She is totally, madly in love with James, his face full of long eyelashes and hidden smiles. "When you grow out of it," James teases her, "you will break my heart." Ellen knows she"ll never outgrow it. She'll always love James just the way she"ll always love Link. Then someone at school asks if Link and James might be in love with each other. A simple question. Link refuses to discuss it. James refuses to stay friends with a boy so full of secrets. Ellen"s parents want Link to keep his secrets to himself, but Ellen wants to know who her brother really is. When is curiosity a betrayal? And if James says he loves her, isn't that just another way of saying he still loves Link? My Heartbeat is a fast, furious story in which a quirky triangle learns to change its shape and Ellen, at least, learns the limits of what you can ever know about whom you love.


My Heartbeat has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the, ah, least best books I read this year. Make no mistake--it is somewhat well-written. Freymann-Weyr is quite talented and I thoroughly enjoyed two of her other books: The Kings are Already Here and When I Was Older. My Heartbeat was a book I had very high expectations for (it is a Printz Honor book after all). Unfortunately, I just couldn't properly connect with it, plus a plethora of other things. The three parts:

1) It was boring. I felt much of the book lacked substance and Freymann-Weyr just didn't make me care about the characters--the exception being the scene with the bribe: it was the one truly amazing scene in the whole book!--so that when the book eventually wound down to its (weak) climax and conclusion I was relieved.

2) The characters spoke unrealistically. Ellen thought like a 34-year-old for much of the book; sometimes when used sparingly this effect works (I've only seen it done once and that was a stretch) but not here. James, Link, Ellen, even the parents were unrealistic. Some minor characters like Adena and Polly seemed realistic but also flat, 2-D and pretty much...bleh.

The whole book was 'bleh,' really.

3) The sex was completely unneccessary. Just saying. I mean, it just . . . didn't add much to the book.

Verdict? My Heartbeat could've been really good. There were a few passages that were truly well-written. But ultimately, the book just dragged. On and on and on and on. And when you can say that about a 154-page book, that's a whole new kind of sad.

Well, then you're obviously not me. In all seriousness, I would heartily recommend the other books by this author I've read (When I Was Older and The Kings are Already Here) whether you liked this book or not. Both are excellent books.

Writing: 7/10
MC: 3/10
Other Characters: 4/10
Plot: 5/10
Ending: 3/10
Cover: 2/10

Overall Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Cover? 1 out of 5 - I'm just going to say it outright: THIS COVER SCARES ME.

Houghton Mifflin
April 29, 2002
160 pages

Checked out from library.

God Is In the Pancakes

(note: I received this book as part of 1 Arc Tours.)


(description from ARC)

No one is more surprised than fifteen-year-old Grace Manning herself that she likes her job in the local nursing home. But that has everything to do with her relationship with one of the residents, Mr. Sands, an ex-Marine with Lou Gehrig's disease. He keeps up with Grace's witty banter, teaches her to play poker, allows her to give him a mohawk, acts as a father figure . . . and one day, cheerfully asks her to help him die. Grace tries to avoid the wrenching decision, first by praying for a miracle, and then by stuffing herself with pancakes. Soon she's running away from all feelings, including the new ones she has for her best friend, Eric, who suddenly seems to have a lot of female admirers. But Mr. Sands continues to get worse, and Grace knows this decision is too important to ignore . . .


First off: I mentioned it once, but I probably need to mention again that I received this book as part of the site 1 ARC Tours, where ARCs are sent around to different people and then back to the owner . . . well, just click on the link if you want to know more. Anyways, I received the book 7/10 and really need to mail it today but first I need to find a box or something because I don't think I can afford one of those bubble mailers . . . okay, rambling. On to the book.

God is in the Pancakes starts off with a jolt. The plot is set up in the first chapter, which was a bit refreshing after reading quite a few "oh, let's follow our boring characters through a whole day of, er, exploits"-type books. Like most of my reviews this one is split into 3 parts:


I cannot stress how important this is. When a would've-been-good-(or at least mediocre) book drags on and on, it can really make the book a lot less good (or mediocre). God is in the Pancakes moves at a quick pace and does not suffer for it.


For the most part, the more main characters (Grace, Mr. Sands and his wife, Grace's mother, etc.) were well-delineated, and though a couple of the more secondary characters seemed rather stock at times, it fit their roles in the book, if that makes any sense. Furthermore, the relationships in this book were amazing. Grace and Mr. Sands' friendship is well-drawn and believable, especially the passage where Mr. Sands explains to Grace why he wanted to keep her a secret from his wife. The way Epstein uses parallels to show Grace that she needs to have a better relationship with her mother, the further (romantic) dilemmas faced by Grace throughout the course of the book, all of it fits into the plot well. Grace herself is a brilliantly drawn protagonist: realistic, funny, sardonic, and unsure of herself. She's deeply flawed and has practically no clue how to operate in 'the real world' and never is it more apparent than in the scenes where she grapples with whether to 'help' Mr. Sands or not. Grace's eventual decision surprised me a little, as did the eventual conclusion, but it all felt real.


I bite down on the inside of my lip. "I don't really think handing out celebrity magazines qualifies as Christian."
"The Lord works in mysterious ways."
(p. 122, uncorrected proof. NOTE: Per Dial Books' requirements I must indicate that my review is based on an uncorrected text, etc.)
Yeah... sorry if you were expecting something deeper.

Verdict? God is in the Pancakes is thoughtful, funny, sad and ruminative, with a heroine forced to make a possibly life-altering decision. Ultimately, the book asks many questions of the reader, most importantly: How far would you go to help a friend?

Donut Days by Lara Zielin
I could say something like "both are about GOD" but really it's more like "this one's about donuts instead of pancakes." I mean, come on. WHO DOESN'T LIKE DONUTS?

Writing: 8/10
MC: 9/10
Other Characters: 8/10
Plot: 9/10
Ending: 10/10
Cover: 8/10

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Cover? 4 out of 5 - The cover is okay. Nothing special, really, but the pancake is nice. And it makes me want pancakes. Mmm, pancakes...

Dial Books
May 15, 2010
272 pages

ARC received from 1 ARC Tours

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Giveaway! someone else

First Novels Club is doing a giveaway of the much-anticipated (especially by me) The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May and June here:

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Say the Word (aka Real! Live! Reviews!)

Say the Word

Yes, I am writing an actual review. Don't adjust your television set.


Dredging up the past can knock the present right off balance.

The world expects perfection from seventeen-year-old Shawna Gallagher, and for the most part, that’s what they get. She dates the right boys, gets good grades, and follows her father’s every rule. But when her estranged lesbian mother dies, it’s more than perfect Shawna can take. Suddenly, anger from being abandoned ten years ago is resurfacing along with Shawna’s embarrassment over her mother’s other family. As she confronts family secrets and questions from the past, Shawna realizes there’s a difference between doing the perfect thing and doing the right thing.

Shawna’s honest and relatable voice will draw readers in and hold them until the last page in this coming-of-age story. Jeannine Garsee has delivered a compulsively readable second novel, perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen and Laurie Halse Anderson.


Like I am wont to, I loved this book. (Don't worry, I have two negative reviews being cleaned up as we speak for those of you who heart schadenfreude.) There are many reasons for this. I'll split them up:


This 360-page book had 121 chapters. Many of them were just one or two pages. Seriously. How can you not love that?


Jeannine Garsee has done something amazing with Shawna Gallagher. She has made her real. Real does not necessarily mean politically correct, or sure of anything, or even sure of herself--but she is real. Shawna has been struggling with the issues surrounding her mother for years. She doesn't think about it much, at least until the events of STW. When it all begins everything comes surfacing up and it's like an explosion of emotion. Shawna is surprisingly wont to say-- or at least think-- what's on her mind, and sometimes, thanks to all the issues she has, it's harsh, as evidenced in one scene during her mom's funeral when she says several harsh things about gay people. She does this a lot-- not really near the end but especially near the start. Yeah, she isn't perfect. But you're still rooting for her, because she is genuinely a good person-- something that becomes clear in the book's final pages when she...well, she does something I personally think is awesome.

The other characters were amazing, too. Shawna's best friend Lee Lee, Fran (aforementioned lesbian partner) and her sons Schmule and Arye, even Shawna's asshole father were all brilliantly delineated. I really, really hated Shawna's dad and with any luck you will too. Satisfaction guaranteed or your money squandered in endless pursuits of personal pleasure! (Credit to Libba Bray for that last sentence.)


The plot really worked. I can't explain this without giving away tons of spoilers, but I felt as if it always had flow.

Some subplots didn't work--the romance seemed forced, for instance. And the ending! Wow. I've heard mixed reviews of it--some people loved it, hated it. Personally I loved it: I felt it was the only way the book could've ended satisfactorily.

So here's the verdict: Say the Word is a well-written, thought-provoking book filled with wonderfully delineated characters. Shawna is an awesome protag who, with any luck, you'll like from page one, despite her many (and there are many) flaws. Eventually, by the end, she learns a lot and so do we.

Come on, short chapters!

Wild Roses by Deb Caletti
Caletti's writing style is similar (enough) to Garsee's-- if more ruminative-- and both are about parent issues, like all of Caletti's (and Sarah Dessen's) books seem to be.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
Honestly, I just wanted to take this opportunity to 'market' WGx2, per se. Seriously. READ IT.
Something, Maybe by Elizabeth Scott
Again with the parent issues. A lot shorter, though.

Writing: 9/10
MC: 10/10
Other Characters: 9/10
Plot: 9/10
Ending: 8/10
Cover: 9/10

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Cover? 4.5 out of 5 - This is an okay cover. For all intents and purposes it works, and the girl facing out reminds me of Shawna's description. I don't know who the other person is, though--Shawna's mom? One of her 'personalities?' It's kind of left up to interpretation, which really works here.

Bloomsbury USA
March 17, 2009
368 pages

Checked out from library.