fall book bonanza

August 28th, 2010

Boy, oh, boy has it been a bumper crop of amazing books this fall. I’ve been lucky enough to read some of them ahead of time and now I’m going to list some of my favorites of the season in this epic fall book review—AND GIVEAWAY—post.

I’ll start light and move on to dark.

By now, some of you have heard me rave about Stephanie Perkins’s debut, ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS. Allow me to rave some more. I had this book for a few months before I picked it up and it was not what I expected. In other words, not fluff. It somehow managed to be the perfect romantic comedy, lovingly and excruciatingly (in the best of ways) drawing out the realistic relationship between St. Clair and Anna over a year at a boarding school for Americans in Paris. But it’s also more. I’ve traveled a fair bit in my life and so I love books with a strong sense of place and Stephanie so perfectly captured not just Paris, but how an initially homesick, later Paris-enchanted teen would see the city. Also, having been a foreign exchange student myself, I thought she nailed the conflicting feelings of living in a foreign locale (it’s so weird; I don’t fit in here; OMG, it’s awesome here; holy crap,  I don’t fit in at home anymore) perfectly. So I was shocked—shocked, I tell you—to discover that she hadn’t been a student in a Parisian boarding school, had hardly been to Paris when she’d started writing the book but had just researched the hell out of  it. You’ll never know. The book is delicious and smart and as irresistible as some of the French food she so lovingly describes. It’s out in December. You’ll want to read it over your winter break. The scenes of Anna and St. Clair on their winter break (and Thanksgiving) were among my favorites.

Next up, Natalie Standiford’s delightful, intelligent and addictive CONFESSIONS OF THE SULLIVAN SISTERS. I fell in love with Natalie’s writing after reading last year’s HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT and this book just confirms that Natalie is one of the best contemporary YA authors out there. Sullivan Sisters in the story of three sisters, part of a large, wealthy Baltimore family—wealthy thanks to the largesse of an imperious grandmother known as Almighty, one of the best grandmothers ever written, ever. The book opens with Almighty displeased about something and threatening to cut the family fortune off unless the guilty party confesses. The narrative is split into the three confessions: Norrie’s is a love story—a swoon-worthy love story, though one that certainly Almighty would find inappropriate. Jane’s confession is about a blog she’s started called—and Natalie has continued blogging as Jane. And Sassy’s confession, well it has to do with something a little mysterious and supernatural. The book is full of Natalie’s effortlessly wonderful prose, her quirkiness —and once again,  Baltimore is a character of its own, like  a loving, well-meaning drunk uncle. The Natalie of Robot is on display here but I found this book to be more accessible and a Total Page Turner (maybe it’s because I’m such a sucker of a good love story).  It’s out September 1st, so celebrate (or commiserate) back to school with this book!

Moving to some of the darker titles, can we just start by saying that Elizabeth Scott is amazing! As I was reading GRACE, her tense, terse, almost claustrophobic—but in a good way—novel about a suicide bomber who goes against her training and now must escape both the totalitarian country in which she lives and the rebel band that trained her (and has rejected her), I kept having to remind myself: This is Elizabeth Scott. You know the one who wrote Love You, Hate You, Miss You. Bloom. The Unwritten Rule. I mean, I know she also wrote Living Dead Girl, but Grace is a departure even from that. The world she imagined is so bleak—Elizabeth based it on Turkmenistan and having traveled in that part of the world, I say she nailed it—but the story is so compelling you can’t put it down. I’m always in awe of writers who can create such rich vivid worlds, and Grace (and all the books reviewed here, actually) manage to do that so well, but that Grace manages it in about 200 pages and in a narrative that takes place almost entirely on a train (with flashbacks) is a feat! If this sounds like Work, think again. The book is a fast read, and the suspense at times was almost unbearably painful. Grace doesn’t offer easy answers or the kind of happy endings you’re used to in Elizabeth’s romantic comedies. But it is a book you won’t be able to stop reading or thinking about. It is compelling. I hope it wins awards. At the very least, read it and be glad you live in the U.S. (or France or the UK) instead of  the creepy all-too-real nameless country she describes. And be glad Elizabeth Scott is so multi-faceted! This is also out in September. Go grab it!

I think by now, many of you have heard of Ally Condie’s MATCHED. I raved about it when I read it over the summer and now it’s getting closer to its release date. I am sure this book will draw many comparisons to HUNGER GAMES, and for once, I actually think that’s a good thing. The two form nice bookends for a discussion of totalitarianism. Think of Hunger Games to 1984 to Matched’s Brave New World (and if you haven’t heard of those books, will you please go read them now?????). Whereas the Capitol in HG rules with an iron fist, the Society in Matched rules with a velvet glove. But it is no less frightening as Cassia finds out when she begins to see threads in the fabric of her perfect worlds and starts pulling on them and the whole thing begins to come undone. There is also a love triangle in Matched, and at least in the first book, it is much more central to the story than HG (more Twilight that way, or perhaps more Eclipse, though that’s the only comparison I’ll make to vampire books). That’s because the premise of Matched is that the Society matches you for everything: your perfect job, your necessary nutrition needs, your perfect mate. They decide where you work. Where you live. If you marry. Who you marry. When you die. And the thing is, people seem happy. Cassia’s parents seem blissfully married; the Society knows what it’s doing. Nobody gets sick or dies of diseases. They can’t write by hand or read stories or poems beyond the 100 approved list. But hey, it’s a fair tradeoff, right ? But when a mistake in the system causes Cassia to question her perfect match,  the whole house of cards begins to come down. This is one of those books that operates on many levels: a great love story,  a suspenseful dystopian tale and a philosophical debate about free will. And Ally writes like a poet.  Matched is the first of a trilogy.  Look for it in November.

Speaking of books that work on multiple levels, I have to mention Suzanne Collins’s MOCKINGJAY, which I just finished and am still blown away by. But first, I have to admit that I was wrong–and happily so. A few months ago, after BEA when I saw yet another article fishing for “The Next Twilight,” I wrote of the folly of trying to guess what  the next Twilight would be and suggested that none of the books in the article captured the title. The one possible exception—and it was my hope—was the Hunger Games Series. I now have to say I was wrong (or maybe right). Because even before the film versions have gone into production, Mockingjay is out. And it’s a full on cultural phenomenon. And deservedly so. I think it’s pretty rare that a series builds and gets better (Harry Potter did. Another famous series, IMHO, not so much; please don’t kill me). But Mockingjay, wowza! I will not give away any plot points but suffice it to say, Collins upped the game bigtime. She is truly a masterful storyteller. She took a dystopian franchise and turned it into something deeper and darker and richer. For all the talk about Team Gale or Team Peeta, these books aren’t merely a love triangle. These books are about war and survival and the impact of violence on the psyche. The love story is just a way to illustrate that, not the be all,end all. Collins took my breath away with the places she took Katniss in this book (both literal and metaphorical). And Peeta. And Gale. All unexpected. All believable. And it all kept me guessing until the last page. Un-f-ing believable. I can’t think of a popular adult writer who could handle such complex work so well—Stieg Larsson compared to this? Please! No wonder adults are flocking to this book by the boatload. Suzanne Collins, I bow at your feet. You truly impressed me! Authors like her, like all of the writers in this post, make me SO DAMN PROUD to be part of the YA community.

(Speaking of, the WAKE UP AND SMELL THE YA T-Shirts are almost done. I’ll keep you posted on how to get them.)

Oh, yeah, giveaway. I’m giving away a copy of each of these books, except Mockingjay, which is out now (and I promised my sister my copy). So I’m giving away one ARC each of ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS, CONFESSIONS OF THE SULLIVAN SISTERS, GRACE, and MATCHED to four lucky winners. All you have to do is respond to this post and tell me whether you prefer light or dark (your fiction, not your coffee, or, um, other things). I’ll randomly pick and four of you will get one of these delicious books!

  1. What a hard choice! Light or dark fiction. Honestly, it really depends on my reading mood. Sometimes after finishing a darker story, I need something light to read. I like them both but after finishing something like Mockingjay, I was really glad to read The Secret Society of the Pink Crystal Ball, a much lighter read. They balance each other out.

  2. I prefer light =)
    I love YA novels!!

  3. I prefer light =)
    I love YA novels!!

  4. I prefer light, but a good mixture of dark in there is good, too. :)

  5. I really go both ways – it depends on my mood so much. When I’m way down and feeling dark and twisty, I like my lit to be the same. When I’m bubbly and happy I like light-hearted reading

  6. I am more of a dark person..I like things raw and startling..I guess because it just reminds me of myself a bit…

    I do enjoy reading light as well, though! Light-hearted stuff is sometimes the best ;)

  7. If I had to choose, I’d say dark, but I really prefer a bit of both in a book :)
    Thanks for the great contest!

  8. I prefer light fiction although sometimes a little dark makes it interresting.

  9. I love my fiction both. Daght. Or….Lark, if you will. I don’t how to explain it. I love cute, fun books but lately I’ve been in the mood for serious and intense books. SO YES. There we go – it depends on my MOOD. :)

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