Friday, December 19, 2014

Historical Fiction: Secret of a Thousand Beauties by Mingmei Yip

I was sent Secret of a Thousand Beauties by Mingmei Yip in exchange for a review, and what initially intrigued me about this book is its setting in 1930s China with a focus on a group of female embroiderers. I thought it would make a great follow-up to last week's post on Evan Osnos's Age of Ambition, which is about how China and its people got where they are today.

The Situation: Spring Swallow has escaped a life she never wanted to be a part of, a life that was chosen for her before she was even born. While her mother was still pregnant, Spring Swallow and her future husband, who also had not yet been born, were promised to each other and expected to be married when they got older. And even though her future husband would never make it out of the womb, Spring Swallow finds herself running away from her family after the wedding ceremony that was put together to bind her forever with her dead husband. After a young girl, Purple, takes pity on her and offers her food, clothes, and a roof to stay under, Spring Swallow finds herself living with a team of embroiderers, all studying under Aunt Peony, who used to sew for royalty. Fearing that her family may find her and drag her back into a miserable existence, Spring Swallow is determined to earn Aunt Peony's favor and become the best embroiderer she possibly can.

The Problem: Simply living under Aunt Peony's roof along with Purple, Leilei, and Little Doll, while doing chores and learning embroidery is not as simple and easy as it sounds. Aunt Peony turns out to be a secretive, stern, and demanding woman. And while Purple is extremely helpful, Leilei is full of resentment and envy, while Little Doll carries on as a simple house girl. Plus, Aunt Peony has one rule that none of the girls are eager to follow: they must take a vow a celibacy. Never are they to be with a man or marry one if they are to learn and live with Aunt Peony. Spring Swallow may have run away from her ghost husband, but she is not sure she is willing to give up on one day having a real one and maybe even starting a family. Will she be able to keep the vow she reluctantly made to Aunt Peony? Or will she go back on her word and risk being cast back out onto the street? As Spring Swallow continues her embroidery lessons, she also learns more about the strange and enigmatic woman she is studying under, as well as the other girls in the house. And when life begins to become a little more chaotic, maintaining her vow of celibacy to Aunt Peony soon becomes the least of Spring Swallow's concerns.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a historical fiction novel set in 1930s China. A large part of the novel is set in the small city of Soochow, where Aunt Peony's house stands, but there are frequent trips to Beijing and the surrounding area. The first part of the novel does focus heavily on the embroidery and the amount of time, patience, and practice it takes to become as good as someone like Aunt Peony. It is a highly sought after skill even though there is no longer any royalty to sew for. Stores and companies still look for talented seamstresses who produce goods they can sell. As a former embroiderer for royalty, and one of the best, Aunt Peony is teaching Spring Swallow and the others all of her patterns and skills, while still holding back the full story of her past and even a few of her best patterns. Just as the relationship between Spring Swallow and Aunt Peony grows, it also grows between Spring Swallow and the rest of the girls, although she is naturally closer to some more than others. All four of Aunt Peony's tenants are girls of misfortune that she has decided to take mercy on, and although they are all grateful, they still someday hope to leave and begin a life of their own, except for maybe Little Doll. Eventually the story no longer focuses as much on embroidery as it does Spring Swallow's continuing adventure, and the fate of everyone else in the house, including Aunt Peony. There is love, loss, tragedy, betrayals, reunions, and survival, all before Spring Swallow reaches the age of twenty.

My Verdict: This is an overall good story with great characters and a fantastic setting. Having Spring Swallow flee her family and become an embroiderer in 1930s China gives the story the feeling of a fairy tale, while still having it be accessible since the events take place in the 20th century. However, while the beginning of the book has a nice, steady pace, especially when it comes to learning the actual embroidery, the last two thirds of the book seem to have one plot twist and reveal after another. Ultimately, the book seems to leave the sewing behind and becomes something else entirely. Eventually, there is so much going on that it becomes problematic to remember where some characters in Spring Swallow's life left off and which ones know what information. It makes for a great page turner, but the overall clarity and consistency of the story suffers. And as the book continues on towards the end, the believability begins to suffer as well.

Favorite Moment: When Spring Swallow sees Aunt Peony smile and laugh for the first time while talking about awkward English words and phrases.

Favorite Character: It is somewhat difficult to choose as they all go through so much and make many foolish mistakes, mostly when trusting the wrong people, but I will go ahead and choose Little Doll. She may be young, and Aunt Peony frequently calls her either "slow" and/or "stupid," but she is ultimately quite helpful and probably the most trustworthy person in the entire book.

Recommended Reading: Although it is nonfiction, I recommend Evan Osnos's Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China. It is the 2014 winner of the National Book Award for Nonfiction, and for me, an incredibly enlightening account of modern China.         

Friday, December 12, 2014

Nonfiction: Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos

The full title of the National Book Award winning work by Evan Osnos is Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China. As someone who would not describe themselves as an informed person, I anticipated that this book would be both informative and enlightening. I know of China's history in only the broadest sense, so anything Osnos put down in this book was almost certainly going to be new information for me. And while I expected to learn a good amount, I did not expect to also be so thoroughly entertained as well as fascinated. 

Genre, Themes, History: This is of course a nonfiction book that gives a detailed account of China: where it's been, where it is now, and in what direction the country seems to be heading. The book is split up into three sections, as its title indicates, that include fortune, truth, and finally, faith. Within each section, Osnos blends together stories from the lives of individuals that he has encountered due to his work, with the greater story of China as a nation. Some of the early accounts found in the book come from the writer's experience while working for the Chicago Tribune, but for the past six years, Osnos has found his home at The New Yorker

The first section on fortune includes the most discussion about China's history as a communist country and the rise of the individual. People are now working to make fortunes for themselves, and those that were born into the lower classes are doing their best to escape a fate that used to be considered unalterable. 

The second deals with truth and the people's desire for honesty from their government. According to Osnos, finding out the truth from the Chinese government is not only incredibly difficult, but anyone making an overt attempt to discover it, and distribute it to others, is in danger of essentially disappearing at the hands of Chinese officials. One trend that seemed to be a reoccurring one was the hiding of numbers and names of those that die in horrible disasters. The government refuses to release information on the number of deaths after schools collapsed with children inside after an earthquake; after a train crashed into another train because of a system failure due to a lightening strike; and even how many miners have died in collapsed mines over the past few years. Situations like these have caused the people to distrust their government. And even trying to discuss events such as these via the media or Internet ends up being difficult as sites get shut down and journalists are silenced.

The third and final section talks about the search for faith in the new China, and not only in regards to religion. The five recognized religions are Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, and Taoism (although many sources substitute out Catholicism for Confucianism). And while freedom of religion is a thing in China, the churches are regulated by the state, and proselytizing is forbidden. But the people are not only searching for faith in a higher power, but in their own government as well. And the section on truth can certainly point to the reasons why.

My Verdict: It comes as no surprise to me that this book won The National Book Award for Nonfiction. Not only was it informative and eye-opening, but I found it to be fascinating as well. It was a nonfiction book that I actually could not put down, without it having been written by a celebrity. Again, as I mentioned before, I do not consider myself to be an informed person, so maybe someone who actually follows foreign news events will not be so impressed. But it was not just the information presented on China that was interesting, but the personal stories Osnos has been able to collect as well, some of which are absolutely heart-breaking. If you want to have a glimpse at what is going on with the new China, then I highly recommend this book.

Favorite Moment: When Osnos addresses the problem of reporting on only the corruption and criminals of China when there are undoubtedly good things that happen there too. But he also cannot pretend to ignore the truth in a country that constantly seeks to hide it. 

Recommended Reading: This may be a bit on the nose, but specifically while reading the section on truth, I kept thinking about George Orwell's 1984. I could not help it. The Chinese government's attempts to save themselves and hide the facts really did seem like something out this dystopian classic.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Door Stop: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

I blame Half Price Books and their low prices for this one. I have never even seen the movie, so what would compel me to pick up Margaret Mitchell's Civil War epic, Gone With the Wind, is beyond even me, and I am the one that did it! First off all, this book is long. Like Atlas Shrugged long. Second, the characters are all pretty hard to tolerate, even the "good" ones. Even so, I paid the insanely low price of $1.99 for it (I had a coupon), and went for it. 

The Situation: Scarlett O'Hara is the prize of the south. Everyone knows it. All of the young men know it, the neighbors know it, her parents know it, her sisters (begrudgingly) know it, and Scarlett knows it better than anyone. She can have any man she wants wrapped around her little finger, even if they are supposed to belong to someone else. In fact, she can hardly tolerate anyone being #1 is someone's heart if is not her. So imagine Scarlett's shock when she finds out that the man she actually loves and cares for, beyond than just seeing him trip over himself to be with her, as become engaged to someone else. Now Scarlett's world has been turned upside down, and the new appearance of Rhett Butler is not helping as he seems to have figured her out when he first laid eyes on her, and won't let her forget it. Add to this all of the gentlemen's talk of an impending war with the north, and Scarlett's simple life on a southern plantation has now become full of irritation and annoyance.

The Problem: When the war becomes a reality and men young and old begin signing up for the cause of the south, Scarlett's world goes from annoying to downright inconvenient. Not only has it taken her beloved Ashley away, a man she is convinced still loves her despite his being engaged to someone else, but soon it removes all of the small favors and benefits she has always known as a rich southern girl. And that is only the beginning. Throughout the novel, the selfish but stubborn Scarlett will have to endure war, rationing, life as a widow, loss, jealousy, hunger, greed, hard work, the Yankees, and almost worst of all, a man who won't bend to her will no matter how much she tries. As Scarlett attempts to navigate life in a south that no longer remembers the south she grew up in, readers are shown the effects of the Civil War on a small part of the United States that was nearly burned to ashes, and had to build itself back up into what it is today.

Genre, Themes, History: This is considered a historical romance novel, as Mitchell wrote about Georgia during the Civil War while writing in the 1930s. Also, many ultimately consider the novel to be a love story between Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler, even though they spend most of the novel hating each other, or at least putting up the pretense that they do. The timeline of the novel is about 12 years, starting just before the Civil War began, and ending after Atlanta and the rest of Georgia was beginning to get back on its feet. In those 12 years, Scarlett goes from rich, to literally dirt poor, and back to rich again. In most stories, hard-hearted people who have everything taken away from them usually change in some way and gain some perspective on how they have lived their lives. The only thing that changes about Scarlett is that she becomes even more hard-headed and determined to have what she wants, not caring at all for what it does to those she loves, or what people think about her as she goes about doing it. It is often said of her, by various characters throughout the book, that she can stand anything, and she does. She may be selfish and insufferable, but her story is one of survival. But of course, there is also love, loss, and the long-standing effects of war. And while Gone With the Wind is one of the most beloved stories of all time, many take issue not only with its use of the "n" word, but with its general view of southern life at this time in history. Everything is so romanticized, and other historical points are just plain wrong. However, it is supposed to be fiction after all, so perhaps holding the events in the book up against the actual events of history may not be fair.

My Verdict: This book is an ordeal. A good ordeal, but still an ordeal. For one, Scarlett is one of the most selfish, stubborn, and just contemptible characters in all of literature. And the love story between her and Rhett often reminded me of Heathcliff and Catherine in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, another troubled couple in literature. Second, if Scarlett wasn't hard enough to deal with, the rest of the characters aren't a picnic to deal with either. Even the sweet and ever gracious Melanie can ride on a reader's nerves as she can endlessly find the good in anyone, but holds firm in her hatred of the Yankees while holding fast to her belief that the slaves should not be freed. Mitchell's characters all long for the south before the Civil War, even many of the slaves, and that is always difficult to reconcile. Overall, it is a great story, and I'll admit that it is fun watching Scarlett be disappointed and hurt time and time again throughout the novel. Any time it seems like she may redeem herself or do something not out of selfish regard, she grabs onto something else she wants and shows her true colors again. Honestly, her constant hardship and hurt feelings may be what kept me reading for 1000 pages.

Favorite Moment: Any time (and there are a lot of them) that Melanie shows absolute grace and kindness to Scarlett, even though she deserves it least out of everybody. The moments were even better when Scarlett resented that kindness, mostly because it only increased her own guilt.

Favorite Character: Try as I might, I can't pick one. Not even Melanie. I don't know if it was Mitchell's intention or not, but this book is just full of terrible people. 

Recommended Reading: I've already mentioned it, but I do think Wuthering Heights would be a great follow-up to this book. It's shorter, and it is written in a different place and in a different context. Even so, the relationship is just as caustic between Heathcliff and Catherine as it is between Rhett and Scarlett, maybe even more so.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Winners of the 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards

The results are in and the people on Goodreads have decided on the winners for the 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards. Let's see if any Door Stop Novels favorites made it all the way through to the end.

I am very pleased to announce the Rainbow Rowell's Landline beat out some extremely stiff competition to be named Best Fiction of 2014. Haruki Murakami's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage made a strong showing, but failed to make it into the top five.

I knew Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See would be a tough one to beat for Best Historical Fiction, and it turns out I was right as it took the top spot away from Sue Monk Kidd's The Invention of Wings, which came in second.

Not at all surprising is Amy Poehler's Yes Please taking home the award for Best Humor. I mean really, was there any doubt in anyone's mind that this would be so?

And the third Door Stop novel to take home a top prize is This Star Won't Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl for Best Memoir & Autobiography. This is another one that doesn't really surprise me; nonetheless, I am still incredibly pleased that this story has touched so many and was deemed worthy to be considered as the best of the best for 2014.

And for my final category, and personal favorite, I am absolutely giddy with joy that We Were Liars by E. Lockhart took the top spot for Best Young Adult Fiction.

So out of the many books read and covered for this blog that were published during 2014, four of them came out as the best in their category. Now, the fun starts all over again as I begin researching which books will be covered in 2015.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Young Adult Fiction: Let's Get Lost by Adi Alsaid

I love a good road trip. I don't mind sitting in a car for hours at a time heading towards a certain destination. I'm fairly certain the longest road trip I have ever taken was from Austin, Texas to Toronto, Canada, and it was awesome. But I think what actually makes it impressive is that I took it with my mom and we both survived. That being said, I was understandably excited about reading Adi Alsaid's Let's Get Lost, which follows Leila as she heads north to Alaska to see the Northern Lights, and ends up having some crazy adventures along the way.

The Situation: Hudson works at a garage with his father, and it's the day before a big interview with the dean of admissions at Ole Miss. The plan is to finish up at the garage, go over some sample interview questions after dinner, and then head to bed early so as to be able to get up on time and make the 50 minute drive to the interview. Bree is hitch hiking across America, with no real destination in mind. She doesn't get along at all with her sister, whom she lived with up until nine months ago when she ran away, so she has no plan to return. Elliott just confessed his love to the girl of his dreams, and she rejected him, on prom night. Conversely, Sonia has found love and happiness with Jeremiah, whose brother is marrying the sister of Sonia's ex, who died after collapsing at a basketball game. Will she ever not feel guilty for having moved on with her love life?

The Problem: On the night that Hudson is supposed to brush up on sample interview questions, Leila comes to his garage in her bright red car, asking to have some work done. She is the type of girl that Hudson eventually realizes he'll be thinking about for months after she is gone. Now all thoughts of preparation for the interview, and his future, have taken a backseat. And when the next car to pick up Bree from the side of the road is Leila's ridiculously red car, the two girls end up having a series of adventures that eventually lands them in a situation where the only person they can reach out to for help is the one person Bree doesn't want to see. After suffering the crushing blow of having Maribel reject him, Elliott wanders drunkenly into a downtown street and is nearly run over by Leila's bright red car. She convinces him that he can't give up on Maribel so easily, but the whole thing may be futile. And as Sonia leaves the hotel in Canada where the wedding is to take place, with Leila as her getaway driver, she realizes after they have already crossed the border back into America that she has the wedding rings with her, and may not make it back to the hotel in time. While Leila always focuses on the problems on the people she ends up meeting on her road trip, she has issues of her own she is trying to sort out. She tells them all that she is headed to Alaska to see the Northern Lights. And while that may technically be true, it isn't the full story.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult fiction book that follows one character, Leila, as she heads north to Alaska to see the Northern Lights. On the way, she encounters four other people, all around her age: Hudson, Bree, Elliott, and Sonia. The book is divided into five sections, one for each of the people Leila encounters, and then the last one for Leila herself. It is a tale of the classic road trip, and the potential adventures that can happen along the way, both good and bad. And with five different sections, the reader really gets five different stories, and Leila links them all together. The book covers the always life-defining fork in the road that is life after high school, dealing with death and loss, searching for the fairy tale ending, and of course, the search to find out who you really are, and what you want out of life. In other words, it is a young adult novel that gets to cover more bases than most due to its structure.

My Verdict: The nice thing about this book is that if you don't really care much for a character, chances are you won't have to read about them for very long because the book is made up of five different stories. But the bad news is that if you do like someone, they'll probably disappear within a few pages and never show up again. And if you don't like Leila, it's really too bad since the reader is stuck with her for the entire 368 pages. It does sometimes feel more like a short story collection than a cohesive novel, but the book does steadily pick up steam, and eventually the character of Leila looks more like a fully rounded character, instead of just another manic pixie dream girl. If she had remained nothing more than a manic pixie dream girl, I certainly would not have liked the book as much as I did. But she is a fully rounded character, her story just comes after the reader gets the story of the four people she comes across on her journey. Although, I am not sure the other four characters all get the same amount of attention and detail. Overall, the book reads like a road trip. And even the somewhat hard to believe moments can be easily overlooked.

Favorite Moment: When Elliott makes another attempt at professing his love to Maribel by singing an Ace of Base song onstage at his high school prom.

Favorite Character: I definitely liked Elliott's story the best and his character the most. It is a familiar story of a boy who pined over one girl all his life and finally got the courage to say something, but Elliott's story still manages to be endearing and refreshing, which left me rooting for him to get the girl.

Recommended Reading: If you want to read another YA book featuring a road trip, then I recommend Nina LaCour's The Disenchantments. In fact, the main character of The Disenchantments reminds me a lot of Elliott, but the circumstances are very different. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Contemporary Fiction: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki by Haruki Murakami

As promised, I am covering the latest book by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. The full title of the book is Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. Readers will find many themes and elements that appeared in previous books by Murakami, such as pseudo time travel, weird dreams, and of course, cooking.

The Situation: In high school, Tsukuru and his four friends were inseparable. Consisting of three boys and two girls - Tsukuru, Akamatsu, Oumi, Shirane, and Kurono - the five of them not only went to school together, but they also volunteered together after school tutoring elementary school kids. Akamatsu, which means "red pine" in Japanese, was the one with the best grades. Oumi, which means "blue sea," was the most athletic. Shirane, which means "white root," is the most beautiful of the two girls, and a fantastic piano player. And Kurono, which means "black field," was independent and tough, with a great sense of humor, and always had a book under her arm. Tsukuru is the only one of the five friends whose name is not associated with a color. He also felt that he was the only one without anything special about him. Even so, the five remained close throughout high school, and even tried to stay together once they all went off to separate colleges. The four colors remained in the town of Nagoya, while only Tsukuru went to school in big city Tokyo. But they still managed to write to him, and he always visited them when he went home.

The Problem: On one visit home during his sophomore year, Tsukuru attempts to contact all four of his friends, only to be forced to leave messages. Eventually, after not being able to get in touch with any of them, Ao (blue) informs Tsukuru that he is being kicked out of the group. The reason? Ao simply states that it isn't something he can tell him, and if Tsukuru wants to know what happened, that he better ask himself about it. Tsukuru can't imagine what Ao is talking about, and being exiled from his closest group of friends causes him to consider suicide for the next half year or so. He eventually moves forward, but even now, at the age of 36, Tsukuru has never made a friend quite like the four he had in high school, and other than a few girlfriends here and there, he really hasn't had any significant relationships. It is Sara, his latest girlfriend, who pushes him to go back to Nagoya and try to find out what exactly happened. But at this point, is it too late?

Genre, Themes, History: This is a fiction novel set in modern day Japan. Like other works by Murakami, there is a sense of having to reach across time, in this instance into the past, in order to fix something that doesn't seem quite right in the present. Tsukuru's girlfriend Sara believes that never having solved the mystery of why he was exiled is holding him back even now that he is approaching middle age. She also believes it is what is keeping their relationship from moving forward. So she encourages him to seek out his former friends and finally learn what happened between them. Throughout the story, there are also familiar elements that are often found in Murakami's other novels like weird dreams, cooking, charismatic but less than likable leaders, and a somewhat clueless male protagonist attempting to find his true purpose in life, or if he even has one. This is also the third book that I have read by Murakami that includes some instance of sex while paralyzed and/or dreaming. I can't recall if this happens in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle as well, but it is certainly in Kafka on the Shore and 1Q84. It's now just something I have come to expect with his books. And while the story mostly focuses on the present day, there is much reminiscing about Tsukuru's college years, especially the time immediately following his exile from the group, and how he eventually survived it. It is a question of how far we decide to dig for the truth before we let it go and just try to live our lives.

My Verdict: Given that this is a Murakami novel, and how much I have enjoyed his other works, I wanted to like this book much more than I did. Just the cover alone gave me high hopes. I know, I know, I really should know better than to judge a book by its cover, but it is pretty spectacular. Even so, the story is actually kind of boring. Not a lot happens, which is a shame because the premise is pretty fascinating. Having a character go back to his hometown to investigate what caused his closest friends to cut him off certainly sounds intriguing to me. And while there is much discovery and introspection during Tsukuru's "pilgrimage," and all is eventually revealed, there really isn't much in the revelation, or much that really comes out of it. The build-up felt similar to other Murakami novels I have read, but then that build up just kind of fades away with no real results. I probably would have been okay with the lack of true resolution if the story had been more interesting, but it wasn't. Thankfully, this book isn't half the size of 1Q84. Still, I expected a lot more from nearly 400 pages of story.

Favorite Moment: When Tsukuru travels to Finland to see Kuro, especially since he has never traveled abroad in his life, and he picks Finland of all places as his first trip.

Favorite Character: Out of Tsukuru and his friends, I pick Kuro as my favorite. Even after everything that has happened, she seems to have adjusted the best and really made a life for herself. She is honest, creative, protective, and sensitive. Ultimately, she is just the person Tsukuru needs to see in order to clear up the past.

Recommended Reading: I came late to the Murakami party, so I can't just pick from his entire library and recommend any of his books, since I have only read a few of them. Of the ones I have read, I will recommend The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which is a door stop at 600+ pages. But if you really want a feel for some of Murakami's more recent writing, and you've got some time on your hands, I recommend 1Q84, which clocks in at 900+ pages. Happy reading!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Goodreads Choice Awards 2014 Final Round

Well this is it. The final round of voting has begun for the 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards. Voters have until the beginning of next week to make their voices heard before Goodreads awards the best books of 2014.

I am pleased to announce that both of the books in the Best Fiction category that I have featured, or will feature, on this blog have made it into the final round. Both Rainbow Rowell's Landline and Haruki Murakami's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki have survived the stiff competition this year to make it into the finals, and I believe I will stick with my initial choice and vote once again for Rowell. 

Sue Monk Kidd has also made it into the finals for Best Historical Fiction with The Invention of Wings. I won't be at all surprised if this book ends up taking the ultimate prize for this category.

And it looks like history was not meant to repeat itself when it came to Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's The Long Mars. As I have mentioned in previous posts, last years The Long War, the second book in the duo's The Long Earth series, also made it into the Best Science Fiction category via write-in, only to not make it into the finals. But this year, The Long Mars has passed the test and fans like myself will have the opportunity to maybe get it a win. 

Both Amy Poehler's Yes Please and Christopher Moore's The Serpent of Venice have made it into the finals for Best Humor. This is another instance where I won't be at all surprised if Poehler takes home the top prize. If Moore ends up taking it, I will still be incredibly pleased, but I believe it would probably be seen as somewhat of an upset.

It seems that the story of Esther Earl Grace has made as much of an impression on the general reading public as it did on me, as it has entered the final round with some stiff competition in the Best Memoir & Autobiography category. This Star Won't Go Out is an emotional book that is more than just a story about a young girl with a terminal disease. Esther was joyful, full of hope, and most of all, just so full of love: something that easily comes through in the pages of this book.

E. Lockhart's We Were Liars survived the semifinal round and will battle it out for Best Young Adult Fiction, which is always a tough category. And just as I thought, Nina LaCour's Everything Leads to You just didn't quite make the cut.

And just when I thought I was going to be ten for ten in my predictions, I click on the Best Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction to find that Leslye Walton's The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender did not make it into the final round, which is really a shame as it is one of the most uniquely beautiful and heartbreaking stories I have read in a long time. But that is the nature of the awards. If not enough readers vote for the book, then it just doesn't make it in. 

This last round of voting is open until Monday, November 24th, and the winners will be announced shortly after that. So make sure to vote and support your favorites. And while you're there, you can also pick up some great ideas as to what to read next.