Archive | July, 2011

Dairy Queen

25 Jul

It is summer in Red Bend, Wisconsin and 15 year old D.J. Schwenk has a lot on her shoulders. With her father still recovering from a hip injury, her mother busy with her teaching/admin work, her two older brothers off at college (and not on speaking terms with Dad), and her youngest brother selectively mute, D.J. has been running the family farm – keeping the fields, buildings, and cows in working order. With the hard work and long hours of farming, D.J.’s grades have suffered and she has had to abandon her commitment to her sports teams (one per season: volleyball, basketball, softball, and track). While she’s busy baling hay and milking cows, rather than competing in summer track meets, a family friend – who also happens to be the football coach of Red Bend’s rival team – sends his team’s star quarterback to help out at the Schwenk Farm. While the QB, Brian Nelson, doesn’t seem to be a good match at first – for the farm work or for D.J. – things get more interesting and the two teens more compatible when D.J. adds one more task to her summer responsibilities: secretly training Brian Nelson for the upcoming football season. D.J. comes from a football family (her dad even names cows after football players and coaches) and has practiced with her older brothers (former high school football stars) for years. During her summer of farming and football, D.J. learns a lot about herself, her family, and the importance of doing what you love.

Our blog buddy, Capillya of That Cover Girl, guest posted earlier this month here at Love YA Lit and counted Dairy Queen as one of her favorite YA novels. So I quickly requested the audiobook at my local library and got to listening. This book absolutely lived up to the hype and the audiobook is one of my favorites that I’ve listened to so far this year. The narrator, Natalie Moore, is outstanding. She captures the heart, attitude, and tone that Murdock created for D.J. Schwenk and with a slight Wisconsin accent peeking through, the reading is just perfect. In just under 300 pages and just over 6 hours of listening, this book packs a lot into the story of one girl’s summer. And Murdock does so without the story feeling too crowded or aspects feeling underdeveloped.

It’s hard to say what I appreciate most about Dairy Queen – the fun and fabulous D.J. Schwenk, the family-farm setting, or the way that Murdock develops both our understanding of the family dynamic and the family members as individuals. I’ve come across very few YA titles that take place on a family farm and with a farm-working protagonist. I’m friends with farmers and farm-workers and I’ve done some farmworker advocacy work over the years. I recognize some of my farmer/farmworker friends in D.J. and appreciate that Murdock shows the struggles and physical tolls that farm work can take on one’s body and life. And she shows how this important and intensely hard work can be devalued and mocked by those who don’t know any better (or are just plain mean); for example, when Brian’s friends moo at D.J. and call her “Dairy Queen”. I also love how Murdock focuses on D.J. learning more about her family – recognizing that they have some serious communication issues, and that they each have their own secret desires and activities. I have a lot of respect for D.J. Schwenk. She works extremely hard and makes personal sacrifices for the sake of her family. But over the summer, she also recognizes that her own needs and passions are important, and makes plans to do something that will make her happy, rather than simply doing what is expected or asked of her. She isn’t perfect, but she does acknowledge and own her shortcomings and mistakes and in the process gains some self-understanding and self-esteem. D.J. has an enjoyable and believable voice and is a skilled storyteller. I like her so much, in fact, that I forgive her for her snide comment about the non-milk-drinking type of vegetarian. Friends on.

There are two books that follow in the Dairy Queen Trilogy – Off Season and Front and Center – and I hope to read them all someday, as I can’t imagine that any book narrated by D.J. could be anything short of wonderful. I also think Nora should give Dairy Queen a second try. In a post Friday Night Lights world, she may be open to giving a sports-themed book a try….

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Reader: Natalie Moore
Publisher: Random House Audio (2006); Houghton Mifflin Company (2006)

Love Story: Review + Release + Giveaway!

18 Jul

Erin Blackwell is pursuing her dreams – attending the college of her choice and majoring in creative writing. Her wealthy grandmother intended for her to major in business and take over the family horse farm one day, but with Erin choosing her own path, her inheritance and college money were handed over to Hunter, the farm’s stable boy, and Erin is left on her own financially and without familial support. She should hate Hunter for stealing her life, but her lusty feelings for him inspire her to write a romantic story for her creative writing class. When he unexpectedly joins the class on the day that they will be discussing her steamy short story, the two are forced to reconnect and decide to keep their connection a secret. And when it’s Hunter’s turn to share a story with the class, he contributes his own sexy tales, which make it hard for Erin to control her longing for him. Will their love story have a happy ending or will the only happy endings take place in the romantic stories that Erin writes?

This was my first Jennifer Echols novel.* The contemporary romantic drama genre is a stretch for me, but I pride myself on stretching my comfortable limits and I had heard such rave reviews of Echols’ novels that I decided it was time to give her a go. I struggled at first, mostly because it took me a long while to be able to stand, let alone care for, Erin as our main character. I’m not sure that I ever felt a strong connection with her or Hunter or their love story, but I did eventually feel drawn in by the twists and turns that Echols threw their way.

There’s a scene in the novel where Erin’s classmate, Manohar, who is incredibly critical of her work, talks with her about the importance of believability. He claims that just because something is real doesn’t mean it is inherently believable, and that a quality story has to be believable. Usually I would agree with him (to a certain extent), but in this case the less believable the story got, the more I enjoyed it. Once I let go of needing to connect with the main characters, I just had fun with it. The whole “communicating” through stories bit was interesting and led to, not surprisingly, a whole lot of misunderstandings. It’s not a very “neat” love story, but what great love story is? It actually reminded me from time to time of some favorite screwball comedies. I also appreciated the college setting, as I haven’t read a book set during that stage of life in a long while (the closest I generally get is reading books set in boarding schools, which remind me of college days) and I appreciated the flashbacks to that time of my life (I lived in a mini-inner-room my freshman year just like Erin does).

Em’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Author: Jennifer Echols
Publisher: MTV (July 19, 2011)
Note: ARC received from publisher for honest review.

Love Story, we have a sweet giveaway for readers who want to get their Jennifer Echols on!

Get ready to fall in love with Jennifer Echols with this fabulous prize pack! Thanks to Big Honcho Media and Simon & Schuster/MTV, one winner will receive copies of Going Too Far, Forget You, and Love Story! To enter, fill out this form by July 31st. One entry per person, US residents, 13 years of age or older. Winner will be contacted by email and announced on this site.

*for Jennifer Echols fans, which of her books should I read next?!

Trapped (wintery read on a summery day)

12 Jul

Snow days are awesome, or at least they were back in my day. If we went over our allotted snow days, we just ended up staying later into the summer which meant that I had a shot at celebrating my birthday at school (this only happened once – we had popsicles). But if you don’t like losing vacation days, early dismissals are really your best friend.

In Trapped, the snow is coming down with no signs of slowing and students are sent home early (yay!). After the majority of the school community heads home, 7 teenagers and 1 teacher remain, waiting for the last handful of parents to come pick up their kids. But as the snow piles up, forcing the road to close, it becomes clear that no one is coming for them. As the blizzard takes its toll on the school and the students, our narrator (Scotty) and his friends and classmates face challenges atypical of the usual high school experience (and a couple typical ones too) and struggle to survive the storm.

I read Trapped on a hot June day, just in time for a Trapped-centric radio show, where my 10 year old co-host and I talked about this book, shared an interview we had recorded with Michael Northrop, and played prom songs (in honor of the Winter Wonderland Dance that never happened – see back cover). It’s interesting reading a book set during a blizzard, when it is brutally hot out. I wonder if reading this in the dead of winter, would have added to the chills (not that I didn’t have enough!). Though I love snow, extreme weather is my biggest fear, so Trapped was just the right kind of scary for me.

What I appreciate most about Trapped is the clever, funny, and suspenseful narration from Scotty. Northrop has Scotty tell this serious and devastating story in a way that mixes in humor, thoughtfulness, and suspense, making for an enjoyable read, despite the suffering and tragedy. The narration also tells us a lot about our main character, who is genuinely likable and easy to relate to. In addition to helping the crew of teens figure out how to survive a blizzard in their increasingly dysfunctional shelter, Scotty also contemplates his chances with one of the cute freshman girls trapped in the school with him. His crush on Krista and his thought process around his chances with her reminds us that while they are in an awful situation, they are still human, still teenagers, and they have things on their minds that are not specifically about survival. The other characters in Trapped are interesting too – Les and Jason are two personal favorites who really came to life on the pages for me. The girls, on the other hand, are not well-developed characters. I got a basic sense of Krista and Julie, but it didn’t get much deeper than that. Usually, this would be a complaint, but in this case it seems rather appropriate given that the girls (perhaps girls in general) are a bit of a mystery to our narrator.

Also, deserving of mention (and praise) is the overall book design. The eye-catching cover communicates the basic story premise and the suspensefulness of the story. I especially love how the title is slightly obscured by the snow. Venturing inside, the first page of the first chapter is white at the bottom and gray with speckles of white at the top, representing the snow covered ground and the sky filled with flurries. As the story progresses, so does the snow line at the start of each chapter; it moves up and up as the school gets more and more buried. This, along with Scottie’s narration, really adds to the suspense. One shouldn’t judge a book by its cover of course, but it never hurts to have solid design work to match a solid story.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Michael Northrop
Publisher: Scholastic Press (February 2011)

Blogger We Believe In: Capillya of That Cover Girl

5 Jul

We are excited to welcome Capillya of That Cover Girl to Love YA Lit this month to share some of her YA faves. In addition to loving her blog and her focus on cover art, we also follow her book reviews on goodreads and suggestions on twitter and run to the library/bookstore to check out any book that gets her stamp of approval. While she’s still not quite sure she’s a legit blogger (since she doesn’t own any animals nor has ever watched Friday Night Lights), her love of design and reading inspired her to create a blog dedicated to awesome (and awful) YA cover art. Her producer job helps finance her unhealthy spending on sneakers, baked goods, and of course, books.

First off, can I say how honored I am to even be on Em & Nora’s blog talking about a few of my favorite books? It’s an interesting breath of fresh air to not pick apart a novel’s cover art, that’s for sure. I’ve spent so much of my time just looking at design, typography, negative space and texture. I’ve gotten distracted by die-cuts and debossing, so much so that it’s a little awkward to talk about a novel’s real story. I hope I give these few books the respect they deserve without completely turning you off by my incessant fangirling.

I’ll start with this gem of a novel:

I didn’t understand what authors meant when they talked about “voice” until I read Marcelo in the Real World. I was immediately taken in by the sweet and gentle Marcelo, a teenager living with a form of autism. At its heart, Marcelo tackles the harshness of the real world as experienced by a perspective that was completely strange to me — Marcelo didn’t understand the greed, selfishness, and heartlessness outside his safe boundaries of his home and school. He didn’t understand how that translated within his father’s law firm and spread throughout his social circles. It was so different just being inside his head, and I loved every minute of it. I loved Marcelo so much that I wanted to know more about the characters and where they would journey to after I finished the last page.

As someone who generally doesn’t like faces on covers, I named Ally Carter’s Heist Society one of my top covers of 2010. And while I don’t feel like the Katarina Bishop on the cover represents the character within its pages, it did absolutely nothing to tarnish the story inside. Heist Society is exactly what its title states, a story about a group of con artists — professional (teen) art thieves. Katarina Bishop is one of my all-time favorite characters. She’s quick, calculating, discerning, and her brain is always on fire. What’s more, she heads up an amazing ensemble of characters, each written completely differently yet fitting perfectly within the group. And most people who are fans of this book will ooh and ahh over Hale. Well guess what? I’m a card-carrying member of that fan club, too.

Oh, Parker Fadley. Your story was one of the grittiest ones I’d ever read in the YA realm. You are the queen of the mean girls, and yet I couldn’t help but love you in the end of this novel. Yes, Cracked Up to Be was the debut brainchild of the talented Courtney Summers, folks. It was this novel that put her on my insta-buy list from now and forevermore. Cracked Up to Be is a no holds barred story about a girl with a messed up past, trying to make sense of the messed up present, and where as a reader you’re trying to decipher her messed up future. There’s a mystery element to it, and while I realized what was happening pretty early on in the story, it didn’t repel me in the least — Summers’ razor-sharp writing kept me turning quickly from page to page.

Every time I see this cover it makes me cringe, but the story of Meg and John kind of makes my heart want to explode. It’s an interesting feeling, that’s for sure.

The first Echols novel I’d read was The Ex Games, which I enjoyed. But I wasn’t sure what to think about Going Too Far when I first picked it up (especially when I saw that hideous cover). Shortly after reading it, I declared Echols the YA queen of dialogue, tension, and storytelling all rolled into one person. Both Meg and John are driven by two completely different motives throughout this novel and yet they molded so perfectly to each page. Curious that not a lot of things actually happen in this story, but the way the characters are written and how they interact — you never want to see them apart, ever.

I couldn’t agree more with Jaclyn Moriarty’s blurb on the front of this silly-lookin’ cover. Every time a blogger likens an upcoming novel to Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s Dairy Queen, my eyes go all wide, full of expectation and hope. With one of the best summaries I’ve read on the back of a novel, Dairy Queen is one of those stories that hit close to heart because swimming around in its soul is the essence of family. It also hits close to home because my husband’s grandparents are small-town dairy farmers, and D.J. Schwenk is freakishly similar to how I envision my mother-in-law was at her age. I just loved D.J. as a person. She’s hard-working and no-nonsense, but also still a realistic teen with her worries and attitude. I still haven’t brought myself to read the other two books in the series because I loved the way this novel ended.

Be sure to visit Capillya over at That Cover Girl! You will not be disappointed!

July is here!

1 Jul

Can you believe it is already July? Talk about time flying by! There are not too many bookish events that we’re planning to attend this month (aside from a great one at Oblong Books & Music), but there are a whole lot of books that we’re looking forward to reading!

White Crow
by Marcus Sedgwick
Anticipated Release Date: 7.5.11 Roaring Brook Press

    Nora loved Sedgwick’s Revolver, which was a Printz Honor book. His latest release (a new release in the US this month, old news in the UK) is said to be beautifully written, suspenseful, and scary. Em likes a good book that makes her shake in her boots (even if she’s not wearing them). The story is told in three voices which is interesting when done well and we’re betting Sedgwick won’t let us down here!

Now Is The Time For Running by Michael Williams
Anticipated Release Date: 7.5.11 Little, Brown Books For Young Readers

    Imagine you’re playing a game of soccer with your friends and all of a sudden soldiers come, devastating your village and forcing you to flee everything you’ve known. This book seems to explore both a refugee experience and the little-big-things that continue to give us hope in times of tragedy (in this case, the main character Deo’s love of soccer). Em and Nora’s hubbies both LOVE soccer (playing and watching) and Em has caught the bug (at least on the watching end) and so is looking forward to this as much for the soccer as for the refugee story. Nora loves refugees, but can’t read team sports books – Friday Night Lights is the only sports thing that she likes – so this one will likely not be for her.

Texas Gothic
by Rosemary Clement-Moore
Anticipated Release Date: 7.12.11 Delacorte Books for Young Readers

    A young woman from a family of witches, who wants to live in the mundane world, takes charge of her aunt’s not so normal ranch for the summer (are the goats paranormal? will have to read to find out). Then bodies are discovered, and there’s a ghosty creeping around, and a big ol’ mystery a la Nancy Drew (can’t you picture the book cover?). But there’s also a hot neighbor, and did I mention there are goats? Goats are good. Our friends have goats who loved jumping on their trampoline so much that they broke it! Nora grew up in Texas and says that going to your ranch in Texas is like going to your shore/country house on the east coast, only with more scorpions and underage drinking (and goats Nora! don’t forget the goats!).

The Summer I Learned To Fly by Dana Reinhardt
Anticipated Release Date: 7.12.11 Wendy Lamb Books

    This sounds like a sweet story about two new friends who go on an adventure together. Characters with quirky encyclopedic knowledge about rats and cheese sound like a fun addition as well. Set during one summer in the 80s, this could also be a nice opportunity for 80s summer flashbacks for adult readers out there. (note: when will there be books that give us 90s flashbacks!? that is what we’re really waiting for!)

by Jo Knowles
Anticipated Release Date: 7.19.11 Henry Holt & Co. BYR

    Em met Jo Knowles at a book fest recently, and could tell by the way that she talked about her characters that she truly gets to know them and care for them in all their complexity. Nora and Em both also love stories that involve family secrets, so this one – about a young woman who learns more about her family history when her beloved grandfather dies – sounds right up our alley.

The Girl is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines
Anticipated Release Date: 7.19.11 Roaring Brook Press

    YA noir. Yes. Please. (Em only, Nora does not do noir) Set in the early 1940s, young gal Iris goes all Veronica Mars when her private eye dad, back from war one leg short of a full set, finds himself limited in his ability to do all that he once could do in his detective work. The case? A missing boy from school. Sounds like this one will have great characters, strong sense of place/time, and a nice little mystery. (note: Hall & Oates’ Private Eyes is stuck in my head now – not necessarily a bad thing)

Love Story
by Jennifer Echols
Anticipated Release Date: 7.19.11 MTV

    Confession time: we have never read Jennifer Echols. That is about to change! In this little love story, our protagonist, Erin, loses her promised college tuition when she refuses to plan her life around taking over the family farm. Instead, her money pot goes to the farm’s stable boy and she has to work her butt off to make her educational dreams come true. In college, she finds herself writing about this hunky stable boy in her creative writing class. Then one day, the stable boy (the real deal one, not her fictional version) walks right on into class and shares his sexy stories that drive her wild.

Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker
Anticipated Release Date: 7.19.11 Bloomsbury USA Children’s Book

    Hell House! Have y’all seen the documentary? So good! In Small Town Sinners, the main character is all like “this is my year to be Abortion Girl”, but then she meets this new guy in town and something happens with Hell House that makes her rethink everything. Based around a story that Walker wrote for Elle Girl, this one is a definite must read for us! Speaking of Nora’s Texas past and 90s flashbacks (see above), she went to an actual Hell House back in the early 90s. It was insane!

What are you looking forward to reading this month?!