1. Summer reading……

YA Literature – for adolescents between the ages of 15 and 18 and all those young at heart adults like me.

Here are a few interesting YA books to check out this summer.  They have been talked about to death everywhere, except Living Violet.  It was a suggestion that I got from a literary blog called welcomewhitefolks.blogspot.fr   Living Violet got four and a quarter stars on Goodreads and the storyline seems appealing.  I’ll definitely be checking out Divergent, Insurgent and Beauty Queens.  Veronica Roth and Libba Bray are constantly mentioned as must read YA novelists.  The others I’ll try to get to them before the end of the year.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower is coming out soon as a movie starring Emma Watson and Ezra Miller.  You know I won’t be watching it until I’ve read it.  Last but not least you probably should read The Fault in Our Stars by the quintessential John Green.  Apparently, he is YA literature.  Unfortunately, I haven’t had the pleasure of reading him yet…….

             

TBR: Check it out!

Philippa Gregory the queen of historical fiction has published her first YA novel called Changeling in the Order of Darkness series.  It takes place in 15th century Europe.  The main characters are Luca Vero and Isolde.  They are both seventeen and headed for a whirlwind adventure filled with mysterious strangers, witches, dark magic, werewolves, and much more….  Sounds extremely intricate and intriguing to me, even for those of you out there who don’t like reading YA. novels.  This could be the first one you read.  We will have to see if Gregory lives up to her reputation, while writing pure fiction for adolescents.  I’m pretty positive about it and will definitely try to check it out this summer.  So, what do you think?

21. Anna and the French Kiss

I have just started to add reading YA novels to my repertoire because some of them are pretty interesting and secondly it enables me to suggest good books to the French kids I tutor in English.  I’m an English Foreign Language teacher in France and have come to the conclusion that students have difficulty writing  and reading in English.  I figured I’d try to find some books that would entice them into this difficult task of reading in English.  That’s when I fell upon and finally finished the famous Anna and the French Kiss which is being talked about everywhere.  I do feel I’m the last one to climb on this bandwagon, but frankly I’m glad I did.  It’s not yet here in France but I’ll give it another six months to a year to arrive.

It’s the story of Anna, who’s been taken to a boarding school in Paris for her senior year of high school, so that she can get “cultured”.  Anna is shy, anxious, and doesn’t speak a word of French because she’s been taking Spanish for the past three years at her high school in the States.  Never mind, she soon starts to make the difference between oui and si and adapting to her new school, new friends, and of course Paree Paris.  Amongst all the adaptation, there’s a cute TCK(third culture kid) guy called Etienne St. Clair (everybody calls him St. Clair)  who has not only grasped the attention of Anna but of every other girl in the school.  Etienne is a Franco-American raised in England, henceforth the charming English accent.  He’s the cute boy with the “beautiful” hair.  Like Anna says, “Every American girl is a sucker for a boy with an English accent.  The story is filled with lots of teenage angst, grief, love, and shenanigans.  Makes you want to be seventeen again.

Stephanie Perkins writes with amazing sensitivity.  The voice of Anna is refreshing, amusing, honest and realistic.  There are enough turns and twists to the story to keep you reading right through to the end.  You won’t have a chance to be bored.  It’s hard to put down and speaks to the bit of youth left in the hearts of adults.  I was skeptical when I saw the Eiffel Tower on the front cover and feared a sappy love story for teenagers but that wasn’t the case.  Perkins describes the Paris 5th arrondissement to perfection – independent cinemas, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, French bakeries, sugary voluptuous pastries, etc.  The food descriptions make your mouth water.  It’s all true.  The French love their food and they should because it’s exceptional.  So, Anna and the French Kiss is just under 400 pages but a must read for anyone that likes a good love story, with romantic Paris as the backdrop.

Stephanie Perkins writes on her website, “I write novels for teens (and for adults who aren’t afraid to admit that teen books are awesome).”  That’s Anna and the French Kiss in a nutshell!  Perkins released her second novel Lola and the Boy Next Door in September 2011 which is a companion novel to Anna and the French Kiss.  It’s getting just as much attention too.  Perkins really knows how to maintain the magic in her stories, while totally avoiding cheesy and cliché concepts.  I give Anna and the French Kiss five stars.  It’ll make your day and that’s basically how long it will take you to read it.  Happy reading…..

20. Not A Day Goes By

John “Basil” Henderson is a smooth, fine, chocolate brother who’s turned the head of Yancey Harrington Braxton or is it the other way around.  Needless to say, they both come from dysfunctional families and are looking for love.  Yancey is a beautiful, arrogant, highly competitive Broadway star, who spends money as if it’s water running freely from a faucet.  Their love story seems to be unshakable and passionate until we as readers learn of Basil’s secret love for men.  Basil is a man on the down low.  What does on the down low mean?  On the down low is an African-American expression used to describe men who identify as heterosexuals but that hide the fact that they also enjoy having sex with men.  Could they be described as bisexual? Possibly.  It’s also possible that they are men having difficulty fully accepting  their homosexuality.  As the story goes on, it’s obvious that it is very hard for Basil to squelch his desire for men and he partially uses his relationship with Yancey to do so.  We also realize that Yancey is a perpetual liar and has a perplexing relationship with her mother Eva.

Not having read E. Lynn Harris before, I was pleasantly surprised.  I felt his use of the narrator got to the crux of the ambiguous feelings that Basil was having about his sexuality.  Basil’s narrator voice is very strong and precise.  So much so that  when there was narrating for Yancey, it seemed to be very neutral.  I think this is done on purpose to make Basil a more sympathetic character and to express his feelings in an impressionable way.  Harris’ hopeful writing style is inviting and very African-American culture based.  It flows and is vivid.  Some people may find this slightly isolating, but in essence it’s refreshing.  I enjoyed his clever lines like, “Life is full of required courses; it’s the electives that are a bitch.” (Not A Day Goes By, p. 276) or “You didn’t eat all that, did you?  Honey, you better watch it or your little narrow hips are going to spread faster than a rumor.” (Not A Day Goes By, p. 245)  The characters’ names were maybe a bit over the top – Windsor, Zurich, Yancey… I was thinking who would have these names and do I know any African-Americans with names like these.  All in all it’s a fast paced, light read with frequent plot twists.  I give it three and a half stars.  I can’t give it more because I think it went a little too fast and I would have also prefered a better ending because frankly it was a little predictable.

E. Lynn Harris died in 2009 at the age of 54.  He was really known for portraying fairly affluent African-American gay men often tormented about hiding their homosexuality and leading double lives.  Invisible Life is the trilogy that got him famous.   In the beginning, he found no one who would publish Invisible Life so he published it himself and sold it in African-American owned bookshops, book clubs, and beauty salons.  Finally, Anchor Books discovered him and published Invisible Life in 19994 and Harris’ career soared.  Some of his other known novels are And This Too Shall Pass, A Love of My Own, Any Way the Wind Blows, Just As I Am, If This World Were Mine, I Say A Little Prayer, and many more.  Two of his books were published posthumously – Mama Dearest(2009) and In My Father’s House (2010).  I think the majority of his enthusiastic fans are African-American women, but anybody who likes reading a well-written story with twists, and is a little interested in African-American culture would easily become a fan.  His writing really does transcend all groups of people.  Harris is surely being missed in the literary world because of the fresh honest content of his novels about being gay and African-American.  I’m sure I’ll read something else by Harris surely before the end of the year.  Stay tuned…..  If you’ve read Harris comment below and tell me which novel was your favorite and why?  Happy reading….

19. Unbroken

Well this book was a real surprise for me, but also for my book club!  I didn’t originally vote for it but it passed the cut for the list of books to read for my book club 2011-2012.  Everybody enjoyed the story and said they learned so many things.  Reading the synopsis frightened me.  I thought, “Oh God not another World War II book and on top of that about the Pacific and Japan.”  I was cringing and trying to avoid it because I was dreading the pages about his captivity(about 150 pages), but happily I was wrong and strong. It was that but so much more than that.  This was a fantastic read about a true American hero that I hadn’t heard of, Lieutenant Louie Zamperini.  This biography follows Zamperini’s life from the beginning, turbulent and headstrong, all the way through becoming a bombardier in the Air Corps in world War II, to his capture and internment in POW camps in Japan, and life after the war.  He is an extraordinary person who survived many excruciating trials when most people would have given up.  Just as it’s written in the title: “It’s a story of survivall, resilience, and redemption.”  It’s obvious that his incredible strong will and confidence helped him pull through it all.

Unbroken is a 406 page book but what a page turner, along with a bit of suspense toward the end!  I learned so many different things about the war, the Olympics, B-24s, etc.  I must admit thinking back to high school I realized that the Pacific hadn’t been covered in the same depth as the Normandy invasion.  I knew very little about it.  So, for all of you out there like me, you should read this book.  Hillenbrand’s style of writing is smooth, informative but most of all easy to appreciate.  Moreover, everything is so well described that your imagination comes alive while reading.  Certain descriptions of the bomber planes and flying incidents are very clearly explained.

Laura Hillenbrand is known for having written another extraordinary true story called Seabiscuit which is about  a race horse.  It’s amazing to see how much thorough information she acquired from Louie Zamperini and his family members, not to mention the help from people who corrected her writing of the flying scenes so that they would be more true to life.  Some people have criticized Hillenbrand’s style saying that it was written like a movie script, which I find harsh.   Personally I don’t have a problem with that.  I think it made it more readable and very intriguing.  The only real mistakes I thought she made was when she occasionally let her personal opinion creep in on a situation where it wasn’t necessary or when she goes on about thee feelings of certain people when she couldn’t know exactly what they would have thought and felt.  Nevertheless, once you get started you will plunge into the story and won’t be able to put it down.  I read this book in 3 days and started to wonder about the audiobook of Unbroken.  I imagined it would be very captivating to listen to because of the storyline. So I checked it out on You Tube and found an extract.  Click below. I give this book 4 and a half stars and am so glad I read it.  Thanks Sonia for suggesting it and sorry I teased you so much about it.  We missed you at the meeting.   Check it out everybody!

.

18. Lucy

Here’s the second novel this year that I’ve read from Jamaica Kincaid.  Lucy is a coming of age novel about a girl of the same name from the West Indies who is sent to North America.  There she is meant to work as a jeune fille au pair for Lewis and Mariah.  They are a young, successful, wealthy couple with four children.  They seem to be the perfect couple – happily married and of the upper class, but shortly after her arrival Lucy starts to notice some blemishes on this idealistic family.

Lucy is a young West Indian who seems to be happy to have left home, and particularly her mother.  Even though, her coming, to what appears to be New York City, immediately  triggers a sense of profound homesickness.  She feels as if she is in the middle of two worlds.  She is different and that is accentuated from the moment she arrives in North America – the cold air, a pale yellow sun.  “I was no longer in a tropical zone, and this realization now entered my life-like a flow of water dividing formerly dry and solid ground, creating two banks, one of which was my past-so familiar and predictable that even my unhappiness then made me happy now just to think of it-the other my future, a gray blank, an overcast seascape on which rain was falling and no boats were in sight.  I was no longer in a tropical zone and I felt cold inside and out, the first time such a sensation had come over me.” (Lucy p. 6-7)  Through the story it becomes clear that Lucy’s moods change as the seasons do.  In the winter she is lonely.  The spring brings to her a sense of renewal, while summer contentment and autumn disillusionment.  She has not lived with seasonal change and finds it unnecessary.

As the story continues Lucy proves herself to be an observant critic of her surroundings and of her host family.  It’s as if Kincaid uses this character to express the trials of a lot of West Indians that come to work or to  immigrate to North America.  She mentions how people start to speak with her by saying, “So you’re from the islands?”, as if all the islands are the same or worse claim to know where she’s from because they were there on holiday.  Lucy is unsympathetic and extremely hostile, which often leads to her somewhat blatant commentary.  It is sometimes a little comical, but is the principal reason she is perceived to be difficult and bitter.  She tries to make her place in this family and develops a relationship with Mariah which is similar to a mother-daughter one.  Searching for more independence, her sexuality evolves through sexually interested relationships that leave her dependent.  It’s apparent that Lucy desires full independence and a break from her past but she speaks of home and her mother often.  This proves the overwhelming force or her mother Annie Potter, despite her physical absence.

Food is described in distinct memories and the passages are beautifully written.  you can almost imagine yourself eating the delectable – mullet and figs and the fried fish.  Not to mention the lovely descriptions of the warm sun and the beautiful blue sea.  In comparison, there is a scene where Mariah asks Lucy if she has ever seen spring and speaks of daffodils, which happen to be Mariah’s favorite flowers.  For Mariah, daffodils are symbols of beauty and the arrival of spring.   Unfortunately, it only brings up Lucy’s feelings of hatred toward colonialism and her colonial education.  She remembers how she had to memorize a poem by Wordsworth called Daffodils, when she had

never seen one, while she felt the beauty of her own homeland was ignored.  Lucy is very short 160 pages and I found it making me want more.  It isn’t really a plot driven novel, but more so a character developed one.  Kincaid just needed to write a bit more (another 50 pages at least).  Not knowing much about West India, I marvel at the way the sections describing Lucy’s memories of home-made me  feel that sensation of warmth, sea breeze, and enticing scents, the same as in Annie John.  Nevertheless, I’m not sure this book is for everyone.  I say give it a try because it’s a little different from what most people are used to reading.  Kincaid’s simple style allows you to fall quickly into the story, but the abrasiveness of Lucy may put some people off.  I rate Lucy 4 stars and will be looking for some more Jamaica Kincaid novels to read next year.  Below I’ve copied the Wordsworth poem Daffodils.  What do you think about this poem?  Does it inspire spring and rebirth to you?  Do you enjoy reading Wordsworth?

“Daffodils” (1804)

I WANDER’D lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the Milky Way,

They stretch’d in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

A poet could not but be gay,

In such a jocund company:

I gazed — and gazed — but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

By William Wordsworth (1770-1850).