Thursday, April 25, 2013

Review: For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund
Reviewed by Maggie: April 25, 2013
Published June 12, 2012 by Balzer + Bray
Goodreads • Buy at AmazonKindle • Shop Indie

I first heard about this book a year ago through Catie's fantastic review. As a fan of Persuasion, I figured this was an automatic skip. I mean, come on, Wentforth? And why is Coco Rocha modeling a dress on the cover? In space? Fast forward a year later, I saw this was available at my e-library and thought, Why not? Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the DNF Shelf. I loved it. And the thing is, objectively, I still agree with the points Catie made -- but sometimes, you have to go with your gut. In my case, my stomach was doing backflips as I read the scenes between Wentforth and Elliot.

In Persuasion, Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth are kept apart by class differences and societal expectations. I thought Peterfreund's approach of creating a feudalistic dystopia was brilliant. It's a modern take that makes the antiquated values that kept Anne Elliot in her place relevant. In For Darkness Shows the Stars, the world as we know it was destroyed by people who tried to go too far with scientific and technological advancements. In trying to unlock the secrets to the genetic code, people began experimenting on one another. The ERV procedure was given to babies to make them better, faster, stronger. However, the procedure resulted in generations of people being "reduced," their brains turned to mush. This became known as the Reduction. The people who refused ERV, called Luddites, ended up rebuilding in the aftermath of the Reduction and taking power. They blamed the reduced for trying to play God. The Norths are a prestigious old Luddite family. The Wentforths are CORs who live on the North estate. CORs are the children of the reduced, people who have finally escaped the effects of ERV generations later.

Diana Peterfreund knows her source material. Rather than try to compete with THE LETTER from Persuasion, she gives us a bunch of letters from the time Elliot and Kai are young. The Luddite baron's daughter and the COR mechanic's son can't be seen socializing so they leave letters for each in a knot in the barn wall. The absence of these letters once Kai leaves the North estate is felt as much as the absence of Kai himself. Elliot always glances at the knot when she enters the barn even though Kai has been gone for years. It's a detail I love so much. It's a longing for something that's long gone combined with a tiny hope of maybe.

One other significant change that I thought worked really well for a modern YA audience is the character of Elliot. There were things Anne Elliot couldn't do or be because of the times, her station, and her family. Elliot North is still under the thumb of her father but she has some independence from running the farm. She also chooses to stay behind, though it hurts her, because the responsibility she feels to the farm and everyone living on it. However, that's not to say she doesn't feel the loss of Kai acutely.
"His shadow fell across her lap, and she traces its edges with her hands."
That's all she allows herself. It's such a heartbreaking gesture.

A few years ago when Noelle was trying to get me to read Persuasion, she called Wentworth "a secret handshake." Diana Peterfreund goes one step further and makes him sleek and modern.
For Darkness Shows the Stars surprised me with its creative retelling of a classic. It's the remake I didn't know I wanted but now I can't wait for the next one. I am half agony, half hope.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Review: This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen

This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
Reviewed by Maggie: April 22, 2013
Published March 27, 2002 by Viking Juvenile
Goodreads • Buy at AmazonKindle • Indie Bound

It feels almost sacrilegious to run a Young Adult blog without having read Sarah Dessen. She's one of the biggest names in YA with a massive, devoted following. I wasn't sure where to start but when Anna suggested This Lullaby and threw in Veronica Mars as a selling point, I couldn't resist.

This book definitely surprised me. I expected Dessen to be light and fluffy. However, instead of The Sisterhood of Traveling Pants, I got The Sisterhood of the Traveling Diet Zip and Cigarettes. I know it's chic to be geek right now, but I love that Remy, the main character, drinks, smokes, cusses and has sex. And she still got into Stanford! She's not the girl standing in the corner hoping that the boy will notice her. She's the girl guys crash into hoping she will notice them. Believe me, I was not that girl, but there were other elements of her personality I related to, like when she says,
"The only I can't stand more than seeing something done wrong is seeing it done slowly."
Preach! She also does her crosswords in ink. Basically, she's a Type A personality. This is what got her into Stanford while her mother flitted from husband to husband. She also has Chloe, Jess, and Lissa, her core group of friends. Though they are all friends, they don't necessarily all get along.

This Lullaby starts right after Remy graduates from high school and right before her mother's fifth wedding. While waiting at her soon-to-be stepfather's car dealership, a guy named Dexter clumsily enters her life.

I really liked Dessen's portrayal of family and friendship, but with all the dramatic exits and declarations and breakups, it felt more like a romance book. It was like a YA version of a Kristan Higgins book, aka Type A Bitches Deserve Love Too. (Not that there's anything wrong with being Type A. Or a bitch.) There's even a dog! Dexter was so sweet and rumpled and lovable and his dog, Monkey, just killed me, but there was such a quick turnaround from first meeting to True Love. A lot of issues are brought up and not really explored. It was all very dramatic -- and very high school. Sometimes, like with Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty, it works for me. Sometimes it doesn't. In the case of Sarah Dessen, I liked This Lullaby and can see her appeal, but I'm okay with being one and done.

Rating: 3/5 stars. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Review: 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma

17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma
Reviewed by Maggie: April 17, 2013
Published March 21, 2013 by Dutton Juvenile
Goodreads • Buy at AmazonKindleIndie Bound

I spent most of this book confused. Like the main character, I wasn't sure what was going on or what was going to happen next. And then it all came together. It's unfortunate that discussing how it all came together is a huge spoiler because it's such an important topic, but luckily, Nova Ren Suma addresses more than one worthwhile issue.

17 & Gone is about in-between girls at that in-between age. They're not legally adults but they left the protection of childhood long ago. If these girls disappear, it's noted but not particularly noteworthy. Expected even. Lauren isn't one of those girls. She lives with her mother, goes to school, and has a boyfriend. Yet one day, she finds herself drawn to a flyer of a missing girl, Abigail Sinclair. She knows without a doubt that Abigail actually went by "Abby." She knows this because Abby is talking to her.

This is a book that could've easily turned into a public service announcement or after school special, but instead Nova Ren Suma weaves her message into a taut thriller. Even when I was confused, I couldn't put it down. The first part, where Lauren obsessively tracks down details of missing girl after missing girl, was heartbreaking and staggering. There's a "ripped from the headlines" feel because they probably were. At one point, Lauren wonders,
I was 17.
I was a girl.
Didn't we matter?
The second part deals with a topic I wish was explored more. I'm being purposefully vague but wanting more is just a testament to the quality of the writing. I expected a straight criminal procedural, but 17 & Gone surprised me with its creative depiction of relevant and serious issues.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Extracurricular Review: Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews

Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews
(Kate Daniels World #1 / Kate Daniels #5.5)
Reviewed by Maggie: April 12, 2013
Published July 31, 2012 by Ace
Goodreads • Buy at AmazonKindle • Indie Bound

Do you remember that episode of Arrested Development where GOB goes to work for Stan Sitwell (Season 2, Episode 7: Switch Hitter)? While trying to impress Sitwell, GOB runs through the entire backlog of Michael's ideas in one meeting and then goes back to Michael and asks for more.
Michael: There were 34 proposals in there.
GOB: You'd be amazed how fast they come out when you read them all in a row.
Michael: That was 6 months worth of work. You can't just blurt them all out at once.
Well, Ilona Andrews, I'm sorry I blurted through 6 years worth of Kate Daniels novels back to back ... to back to back. And thank you for knowing we'd ask for more after Gunmetal Magic and throwing in the Magic Gifts novella (and setting some of it in a Korean restaurant!).

I kind of wish I had read Magic Gifts first. Both stories take place at the same time, Magic Gifts from Kate's perspective and Gunmetal from Andrea's, but since Gunmetal is full length, it goes beyond the events of the novella and references some of it. When I was reading Gunmetal, I thought I had missed a story or my brain had finally turned to mush after a week of choosing Curran over sleep.

Gunmetal Magic shifts the focus of the story over to Kate's partner-in-crime, Andrea Nash. Andrea was always such an interesting character to me because she's a lethal weapon who constantly allows herself to be sheathed by the Order and Ted Moynohan. Her loyalty to the Order is unflinching and it costs her in Magic Bleeds. She lives by a code that revolves around the Order first, herself second, her beastly self last -- at all costs last. Who she is without the Order?

Girl. You slapped Aunt B once and survived. You're an ass kicker!

I felt for Andrea so much in this because after learning more about her childhood, I understood how much the badge meant to her. For a girl who was abused by people bigger and stronger than her for the first 11 years of her life, the Order badge was a sign that declared, "You will not fuck with me. You will not touch me." The badge was a symbol that demanded respect. The Order was also a place she could feel at home. It was her pack, no boudas allowed. She always knew the Order was only her home so long as she hid who she really was, but it still hurts to be proven right.

I liked this book a lot but some of the Andrea-Raphael scenes reminded me of the Alpha & Omega series, ie super romancey and drawn out. And I hate, HATE to say this, but the Kate and Curran scenes made me think of Anna and Etienne in Lola and the Boy Next Door. Perfect couple is perfect! Kate would GAG at that. I missed hearing Kate gag at that or mentally threatening to punch Curran in the face. I loved Andrea's scenes with Ascanio the teenage heartthrob, and Ascanio and Julie. Ascanio and Julie -- I'm calling it now! I loved seeing a more serious side to Raphael, although he most definitely could've used a punch in the face too. The characters in this more than held their own without Kate calling the shots... but I can't wait until Kate is back.

Rating: 3.5 stars.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Extracurricular Review: Kate Daniels Series by Ilona Andrews

One week ago, I fell into the world of Kate Daniels. 5 books and 3 novellas later, I'm finally resurfacing -- and only because there aren't any more books until July 30. This series has completely wrapped me up in its magic, its world, and its characters. Kate redefines badass. She is woman, hear her make Curran roar. Smart and smart-ass, this series is everything I could have asked for.

My review for Magic Bites (Kate Daniels #1) can be found here.

Magic Burns
(Kate Daniels #2)
Read from April 4-5, 2013
Published April 1, 2008 by Ace
Goodreads • Buy at AmazonKindle • Indie Bound

For the first quarter of the book, I thought this was heading toward 3 stars. I liked it and it explained the world much better than Magic Bites, but there were more new characters and creatures when I'd barely managed to wrap my head around the ones already introduced. But then, but then, there was the soup and the please and the thank you and AH. And then Noelle sent me this gif for Curran:
...and well, I was walking around murmuring Curran all day.

Starbucks barista: May I have a name for this drink?
Me: Curran.
Barista: Karen?
Me: CURRAN. Wait, what are we talking about?

I haven't been this wrapped up in a world since last year when I zoomed through all the Mercy Thompson books. Full review to come.

Psych. I'm getting some coffee (coffee) and reading the next book. And if you like The Princess Bride, you need to read this.

Rating: 4 stars.
• • •

Magic Strikes
(Kate Daniels #3)
Read from April 6-7, 2013
Published March 31, 2009 by Ace
Goodreads • Buy at AmazonKindle • Indie Bound


1. That knife you used to butter your toast? It now has a name.

2. You relate everything in the real world back to the Kate Daniels world and start making the cheesiest jokes.

3. You said "Katelanta." Even once.

4. Lions. How hot are they?! --> This is a legitimate thought.

5. You're panicked that your Kindle battery will run out mid book because you usually charge it while sleeping but you haven't been sleeping because of this series!

There is so much MORE in Magic Strikes. We get more of Kate's back story, more of Curran's back story, more of Kate and Curran's present story... Hold on while I go back and reread EVERY scene with them.

Derek has quickly emerged as a favorite character as well. He's like a mix of Warren and Ben from Mercy Thompson wrapped up in a pretty package. And Doolittle! Who doesn't love Doolittle!

As in the previous books, the word/foreplay in this is off the charts. It's a slow, simmering burn and yet the effect is scorching.

Rating: 4.5 stars.

Okay, on to Book 4. Curran is a hell of a drug.

• • •

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Early Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
The 5th Wave #1
Reviewed by Noelle: April 10, 2013
(YAA received an ARC of this book from the publishers)
(Will be) Published May 7, 2013 by Putnam Juvenile
Goodreads • Preorder on AmazonKindle

Aliens are coming and everyone knows it. They've been hanging out in orbit for a week or so now, observing Earth. Waiting. Watching. And they like what they see. They like it a lot. Except here's the thing: they don't really do sharing, so nothing against us humanoids, but we've gotta go.

Earth's eviction notice comes in five waves:

Wave #1: Say buh-bye to electricity.
Wave #2: Hope you live above sea-level.
Wave #3: You thought lil' ol' bird-flu was scary? That's cute.
Wave #4: Shhh...what you can't see might kill you.

By the fourth wave, 95% of the human population is dead and those who remain aren't even sure who the real enemy is--or what they look like. The fifth wave is coming, battle lines have been drawn and Earth's greatest weapon is up for grabs: humanity itself.

The 5th Wave is a taut, psychological sci-fi thriller that is destined to be a huge hit and deservedly so. The suspense is well-crafted and the characters' voices, particularly Cassie's, feel alive and three dimensional.

Cassie, a "normal" teenager who suddenly might actually be the last human on Earth, is my favorite. She is isolated and on the run but desperately driven by the chance of reuniting with her younger brother--at much physical, psychological and emotional pain to herself. I loved reading about her struggle to stay pragmatic in the face of paranoia and her moral balancing act with the ever evolving rules of survival in the post-invasion world.

I wasn't as engaged with Zombie's POV but I rather enjoyed the character when he was depicted by others. The strength of his character voice wasn't as dominant as Cassie's and while that made sense with his character's story line, Zombie's guilt (and other extenuating circumstances) gave his voice a muted quality in comparison. I enjoyed the psychological suspense the most and wished those aspects of Zombie's story had been cranked all the way up to the Ness-ian levels they flirted with. (I couldn't help but also wonder what it'd be like with a dual female protagonist POV pair of Cassie and Ringer as well...) There are several other intriguing smaller POVs that have room to grow in future installments of the series and one in particular I would have SO much to talk about if not for pesky spoilers.

The POVs expertly enrich the depth and scope of the invasion and the story is such that even though you'll figure some twists out before the characters, it does nothing to diminish the suspense or emotional rewards. Sure there are some questions that surface when you think too much about certain plot points (the age demographic of the squads for one), but the overall result is so entertaining and well-written that the questions are easy to brush aside. The more the different POVs come together, the stronger the story grows with surprisingly moving results.

I love backing characters into corners to see what they are capable of--and an alien invasion has a lot of corners. Let's face it. Humanity is freaking weird and that will always be our secret weapon. How strong we can be with our weaknesses. How unpredictable we are in our predictability. Humanity has a fluidity than cannot be fully foreseen or contained. You can back humans into a corner and you're never quite sure what you're going to get. The results can at turns disgust or delight, but something will always prevail.

Whether that is to the benefit of Earth's surviving humans or the new invaders, is yet to be seen.  But I'll definitely be reading to find out! Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Read the first 70 pages for free!

*I got a sort of sick relief that Florida (aka me) would get wiped out by the second wave and miss the whole bleeding-from-every-orifice third wave, but that's why I'm a lowly blogger and not the star of an amazing sci-fi action adventure I guess.

**Bonus points for mentioning tampons in a dystopia! What's next--actually acknowledging body hair when all the razors are gone?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Extracurricular Review: Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews
Kate Daniels #1
Reviewed by Maggie: April 4, 2013
Published March 27, 2007 by Ace
Goodreads • Buy at AmazonKindleBook Depository

When your entire blogroll recommends a book and your co-blogger threatens public shaming until you read said book, what do you do? Well, you fall asleep the first two times you try to read the book. I mean, the main character was drinking Boone's Farm Hard Lemonade. FFS. How am I supposed to take a mercenary seriously when she drinks something that high schoolers barely get drunk off of? Not only that, it takes place in a future Atlanta where people are driving buggies with horses? Because of magic? What in Boone's Farm hell?


Noelle, I never doubted you. For too long. The third time was a charm. Remember the dynamic between Veronica and Logan in Season 1 of Veronica Mars? Now instead of a tiny blonde, picture all that tension and animosity in these two:
Source: Celebitchy
Kate Daniels is Veronica Mars in the body of former MMA fighter Gina Carano. And Curran... RAWR... Curran is Logan Echolls in the body of Superman Henry Cavill.

I usually complain about all the world building in fantasies, but in this one, we're just dropped into a world of vampires and shapeshifters and ley lines without much explanation. Despite feeling kind of lost in the beginning, what kept me engaged was the dialogue. Kate is snarky as hell. After she finds out that her guardian has been killed, she tries to get involved in the investigation. When asked whether she knows anything about investigative work, she replies,
"Sure. Annoy the people involved until the guilty party tries to make you go away."
Annoy like the wind, Kate! In the course of her investigation, she has to meet with the Master of the Dead and the Beast Lord. While the world and the rules of magic were kind of vague to me, I really liked Ilona Andrews' take on the supernatural. Vampires are mindless, hairless, glitterless bodies that are piloted by necromancers. Shapeshifters aren't limited to the usual werewolves, but there are 337 different varieties, including were-rats, were-bobcats, and were-bears. Fingers crossed that there is a cameo from Magenta the were-hamster from Sky High at some point in the series. There are strict rules in the pack and clear consequences for breaking those rules.

Kate is such a compelling character. She's tough and physically fit -- she has to be since she fights for a living. Whenever she's feeling vulnerable or outmatched, she hides behind a smart-ass bravado. She acknowledges she is not the feminine ideal, but she left any wallowing about her appearance behind when she was 14. Why?
"Survival took precedence over fashion."
Bravo. She's not entirely certain about how she's handling the investigation, but she's determined to bring her guardian's killer to justice.

The verbal sparring between Kate and Curran, the Beast Lord, is fantastic. Curran is someone who demands instantaneous respect. Kate chafes at authority figures. Put them in a room together and you don't get any insta-love. I highlighted at least one line from each of their interactions and cracked up over the rest.

Magic Bites is a supernatural version of Criminal Minds meets Veronica Mars. There are a lot of dead bodies and a lot of snark. I finally found an urban fantasy series to challenge Mercy Thompson. Round one goes to Mercy, but I can't wait to start round two.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Review: Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta
Reviewed by Maggie: April 3, 2013
Published May 9, 2006 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Originally published Oct 5, 1992 by Puffin/Penguin Australia
Goodreads • Buy at AmazonKindleBook Depository

The first Marchetta. The only one I hadn't read. It was as precious to me as a last born in Charyn and I kept it hidden away for as long as I could. And then Carla declared that it was time to break the emergency glass on this book.

Josephine Alibrandi had me from the beginning. I knew I was dealing with a kindred spirit when on page 5 she says,
"Believe me, I could write a book about problems. Yet my mother says that as long as we have a roof over our head we have nothing to worry about. Her naivete really scares me."
Josie is whip smart, a scholarship student at a fancy private school who dreams about being a lawyer. She's been raised in the loving bosom of her single mother, Christina, who got pregnant at 16, and the suffocating bosom of her grandmother, Nonna Katia, who moved to Australia from Italy at 17. She knows her father is Michael Andretti, the boy next door, but she's never met him. Then one day, Michael Andretti shows up to visit her grandmother. Suddenly, the HSC (High School Certificate), mean girls, and her overbearing Nonna are the least of her problems. And then there's Jacob Coote, the boy from Cook High who caught her attention with a speech about voting and who dances pretty well too.

Guys, I never realized I was Italian-Australian. Okay, all joking aside, I know it's Marchetta and she speaks to me as few authors do, but still, imagine my surprise that as an ethnic Korean born and raised in the US, Josie Alibrandi is a character I related to on such a personal level. I can't even think of another character who comes close. Growing up, I remember thinking how much easier it would be if my family was European instead of Asian. It's not that I disliked who I was, but oh, to not have to prove my Americanness or my ability to speak English, to not have to worry about people pulling their eyes back and telling me to "go back to my country." I knew other immigrants and minorities dealt with their own prejudices, but I was convinced that Europeans, who didn't look so obviously foreign, had an easier time. Actually, scratch that. I was convinced they had an easy time, period. Josie's opinion of rich students like Ivy Lloyd and John Barton reminded me of that. She was sure their privilege cocooned them from her harsh reality. As a young girl, she was ostracized for being a bastard child by other Italians. As a student, she was called out for being on scholarship by other wealthy students. However, when someone says they would hate to be Italian after listening to her, she says,
"No. You can't hate what you're part of. What you are. I resent it most of the time, curse it always, but it'll be part of me till the day I die."
This. A thousand times this. I don't think you can sum up the immigrant experience in a few words, but this is pretty damn close.

I know I'm making it sound like an issue book because I was so impressed with Marchetta's portrayal of it, but it's not -- or it's not just that. I'm not surprised it's considered a modern classic in Australia and studied in school. Josie actually reminded me of another classic character. Remember when I was talking about gumption?
"I'm not ready for heaven yet and I don't think heaven is ready for me."
Josie, the spitfire, reminded me so much of Anne Shirley. They're both dreamers who won't settle for the status quo. Or personal attacks. Slates are nothing compared to modern science books. Jacob Coote, though, is no Gilbert Blythe. Still, Josie's interactions with Jacob, and her decision whether or not to sleep with him, and her regret at said decision, and her regret at her regret were so honest.

I don't think this is the best Marchetta (that honor goes to The Piper's Son and Froi of the Exiles), but it's the one closest to my heart.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Review: The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty
The Ashfield/Brookfield Series #2
Reviewed by Maggie: April 1, 2013
Published February 1, 2004 by Arthur A. Levine Books
Originally published as Finding Cassie Crazy on
November 1, 2003 by Pan Macmillan Australia
Goodreads • Available at AmazonKindleBook Depository

Every four years, I turn into this crazed figure skating fan. I remember the 2002 Winter Olympics in particular because I lived and died with Michelle Kwan four years earlier and 2002 was going to be HER year. In the long program, Sarah Hughes (aka Sarah Who?) skated first and threw down a flawless performance. Triple toe loop-triple loop, triple salchow-triple loop -- technically and stylistically, it was pretty damn perfect. However, with Michelle Kwan, Sasha Cohen and Irina Slutskaya still waiting to skate, I figured Hughes's performance was just the beginning and I was waiting to be blown away by something even greater.

I read The Year of Secret Assignments, aka Finding Cassie Crazy, last year and immediately placed it on my I Have Just Read You and I Love You shelf. This was before Noelle and I started blogging so I rated it 4 stars and moved on to my next read. However, after revisiting Feeling Sorry for Celia last week, I decided to reread and review Secret Assignments. Well, knock me over with a Sarah Hughes triple salchow because not only did it hold up on reread, it was even better than I remembered. I knew it was good, but after a year of blogging and reading too many Sasha Cohens, this time I let myself be blown away by the skill and artistry of Jaclyn Moriarty's writing.

As with Celia, Secret Assignments is written in epistolary form. Mr. Botherit is back spreading the Joy of the Envelope between rival schools Ashbury and Brookfield. Emily, Lydia, and Cassie are Ashfield girls and best friends. Emily, daughter of two lawyers, wants to be a lawyer herself even though she regularly butchers the English language. I nearly spit out my coffee when she wrote, in all seriousness, that something was "non d' scrip." Lydia wants to be a writer and often uses her creative energy on her friends. She's the instigator behind their secret assignments, tasks that they must complete no matter the peril or potential for punishment. Cassie wants to sing, though her stage fright prevents her from singing in front of anyone other than Em and Lyd. She also lost her father last year and she doesn't know why people keep saying "lost" as if he's been misplaced. Em, Lyd, and Cass have been best friends since elementary school and it shows -- learning about one means learning about them all.

I'll get to the Brookfield boys in a minute but first, how much do you love that the girls are characterized by their goals?? The book starts off with an entry from Lydia's notebook. The Notebook™ is supposed to help aspiring writers achieve their dreams. It is so patronizing and ridiculous. It reminded me of all the mind-numbingly tedious assignments I had to do in high school that were supposed to either get me into a good college or prepare me for adult blah blah blah. Lydia gives The Notebook™ the respect it deserves.

Second, I adored the portrayal of the parents, especially Emily's dad and Cassie's mom. The girls all have at least one lawyer parent who is friendly with the others because they attended law school together. Emily's dad routinely calls her down to dinner via a summons delivered by her younger brother. Em's parents are away a lot for work, which she resents, but whenever they are present, they are so clueless but with good intentions that they never fail to crack me up. The memories of Cassie's dad though will squeeze your heart. ("Now you're cooking with gas!")

Are you ready to meet Charlie Taylor and Seb Mantegna? I love good banter and the letters between Charlie and Emily and Seb and Lydia are so witty and fun. The chapters are set up perfectly so you get some scenes with Charlie and Em, then Seb and Lydia, and then Matthew Dunlop and Cass. I put the Charlie and Seb section of my notes on the left. Considering the notes I usually take, it shows how much I loved them. They are both such decent guys. There's no brooding loner bullshit with them. You will be charmed before you can say VERSHOOM.

There are six different letter writers and six different points of view and each one has an individual voice. I could always tell who was doing the talking/writing without having to flip back. On technical merit, Moriarty is solid.

Presentation is where Moriarty really shines. The letters are such an original and fun way to tell this story. There's so much energy in the story and the characters. She captures the indignities that come with being underaged as well as all the potential for mischief. There is a lot of humor in this book but like the relationship between Emily, Lydia, and Cassie, it is based on heart. You don't need to read Feeling Sorry for Celia to read this book, although Celia is worth a read. The Year of Secret Assignments, though, is a perfectly executed triple-triple combination.

Rating: Sarah Hughes. 5 stars.