Posts Tagged: Book Reviews

Thoughts on Robot Dreams by Sara Varon

September 19, 2014 Books 3 ★★★★½

Thoughts on Robot Dreams by Sara VaronRobot Dreams
by Sara Varon
Published by First Second
on August 7, 2007
Genres: Fantasy, Graphic Novel
Pages: 208
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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four-half-stars
Richly endearing and full of surprises, Robot Dreams follows an ill-fated friendship between a dog and robot. After a Labor Day jaunt to the beach leaves Robot rusty and immobilized in the sand, Dog, unsure what to do, abandons him. As the seasons pass, Dog tries to replace his friend, making and losing a series of new ones, from a melting snowman to epicurean anteaters. Meanwhile, Robot passes his time daydreaming, escaping to better places...Through interwoven journeys, the two characters long to recover from their day at the beach. 

Although its adorable characters and playful charm will win over young readers, Robot Dreams speaks universally to the fragile nature of friendship, loss, and redemption.

There is something magical about an effective story told with no words. Pixar, Shaun Tan, and now Sara Varon, have moved me beyond measure with their work that uses art instead of words. Looking at that cover…I don’t know about you, but my immediate thoughts are that this is a kids book. And yes, it is. My daughter enjoyed it. However, it is one of those books that is deceptive. It looks simple. It IS simple. But the story…it packs a punch.

The reason this story works for me is, even though it is fantastical (at least for me it is. Do you own a robot? A walking, human-like dog? If so, were do you get such things???), it is relatable. The dog. He is lonely. He wants a friend. So he buys a robot. He puts him together. He has a friend! So they go to the beach. And something bad happens. The pair are separated. Feelings are hurt. Actions are regretted. Through no fault of the dog, more like a lack of knowledge, the robot is hurt. Irreparably.

Kids can relate. I can relate. You can, probably, relate.

And it sounds sad. But no. No! It is beautiful!

Through this mistake, the dog and the robot learn. The dog learns from his mistakes. He comes to know himself better and changes based on the hurt he caused himself and his robot. In turn, the robot also learns. As he lays there, daydreaming is days away, he learns about himself and changes based on the hurt he received. They become better “people.” A lesson for everyone, not just children.

Again, I stand amazed at the power in this tiny book with no words. And Sara Varon has a diehard new fan. First Second is such a terrific publisher!

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Audiobook: Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede, read by Amanda Ronconi

August 5, 2014 Audio Books, Book Reviews, Books 5 ★★★★

Audiobook: Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede, read by Amanda RonconiThirteenth Child
by Patricia C. Wrede
Narrator: Amanda Ronconi
Length: 9 hours, 32 minutes
Series: Frontier Magic #1
on 06-05-13
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Pages: 344
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Goodreads
Buy the Book
four-stars
Eff was born a thirteenth child. Her twin brother, Lan, is the seventh son of a seventh son. This means he's supposed to possess amazing talent -- and she's supposed to bring only bad things to her family and her town. Undeterred, her family moves to the frontier, where her father will be a professor of magic at a school perilously close to the magical divide that separates settlers from the beasts of the wild.

If I could tell you about this book in a mathematical sentence, it would be:

Harry Potter + Laura Ingalls Wilder = Thirteeth Child.

OR, if you listen to the audiobook:

Harry Potter + Laura Ingalls Wilder + Firefly = Thirteeth Child.

To my tired and angsty ridden summer induced coma of a brain, this book was a breath of fresh air. The magical aspects aren’t really as IN YOUR FACE as they are in Harry Potter and the frontier life isn’t as IN YOUR FACE as Laura Ingalls Wilder. They come together in a brilliant way that I found highly enjoyable though.

Eff comes from a large family. So large in fact, that she is a thirteenth child and her twin, Lan, is a fourteeth child. If you know your magic, you’ll know that seventh sons are typically a powerful bunch. Lan, is a seventh son. He’s also the seventh son OF a seventh son. This makes him extra special powerful in the eyes of all the magicians around him. Also, if you know anything about the number thirteen, you’ll know it’s typically considered unlucky.

Eff is considered unlucky. Very, very unlucky.

The prejudice surrounding Eff in the town and her own aunts, uncles, and cousins, who are certain she will “go bad”, aids in prompting her parents to move out to the frontier with the children who haven’t left the family home. Here is where “Laura” meets “Harry”; Eff’s father takes a job as a professor of magic, at a frontier school. For magic. So the family heads off to the wild frontier where mammoths roam, steam dragons soar, and where Eff will learn just who she is and what she will become. I loved the way Wrede played with prejudice and preconceived notions and how the ideas of others can interfere with the idea one has of oneself. Poor Eff. She’s called unlucky, evil, and even told that her parents should have killed her as a baby before she can barely talk. She has no confidence in herself or in her abilities. She’s terrified to let anyone know what she really is. What happens in the course of the story, which is basically a coming-of-age-story for Eff, is, well, I can’t exactly tell you that, can I? Do you want to know if Eff finds the courage to accept herself and to see if she tries to find out what she can become?

You know the drill. Read it!

Or better yet, listen to it! Amanda Ronconi was the PERFECT choice for reading this novel. Her voice had the perfect amount of midwest twang. I swear, she reminded me so much of Kaylee from Firefly, which, yeah, made me love it more. Just a fantastic read and I can’t wait to listen to the next one.

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Mini Reviews: I Shall Be Near to You, The Rosie Project, The House Girl

May 2, 2014 Books 4

by erin lindsay mccabe, graeme simsion, tara conklin
Published by Crown Publishing Group, Simon & Schuster, William Morrow
Fotor0430163434

I Shall Be Near to You
Erin Lindsay McCabe
Published by Crown, 304 pages
Library

Rosetta finds herself in a pretty common situation at the beginning of the Civil War. Newly married, with her man going off to fight in the war. Tomboy Rosetta finds herself quickly stifled by the task of being a housewife to a man no longer home and chaffing under the bit of her mother-in-law. Instead of tolerating it however, she up does what few women did during the Civil War. She up and cuts off her hair and joins in with her husband’s regiment.

She sees first hand the struggles soldiers went through during the war. Fighting for the Union isn’t all the men thought it would be. They all hope for glory and power; but mostly get sickness, loneliness, and sometimes death. She does things women at that time never dreamed of doing; camping on the ground, firing guns, and pretending to be a man when surrounded by rough and tumble men all around. And she learns that they aren’t only fighting for glory or power, but for the very freedom of a whole race, and perhaps herself.

“But don’t you see? We’re all tied up together in this. It is for the betterment of each of us if this war earns the slaves’ freedom, if the evil of slavery is wiped clean from this country. And then surely no one can say women ought to be property as well and we will have our freedom next.”

Jennie Chalmers said that making slaves free will help women, but I don’t know how she can be right when there’s still most men who can’t see the things a woman does, even when she’s doing them right under his nose.

The Rosie Project
Graeme Simsion
Published by Simon & Schuster, 295 pages
Bought

This one was all over the book blogs just a few months ago and I couldn’t resist. At the time I was needing something light hearted and fun. The protagonist has Asperger’s and doesn’t seem to have any idea and he decides it’s time to find himself a wife. So he creates a questionnaire for women to fill out to see if they meet with his stringent criteria. By mistake, Rosie walks in and she has none of the attributes he finds most desirable. So why does she keep popping up in his thoughts? The writing was sharp and witty, the characters charming…well, except one, but he couldn’t help it, he was just written that way, and the whole thing just plain fun.

Just plain fun, y’all.

Favorite bits:

I diagnosed brain overload and set up a spreadsheet to analyze the situation.

I had a great deal of valuable knowledge-about genetics, computers, aikido, karate, hardware, chess, wine, cocktails, dancing, sexual positions, social protocols, and the probability of a fifty-six-game hitting streak occurring in the history of baseball. I knew so much shit and I still couldn’t fix myself.

The House Girl
Tara Conklin
Published by William Morrow, 370 pages
Bought

I could just quote this one and I’m pretty sure I could get my feelings across. Seriously, I have pages of quotes that I noted down. I really enjoyed Conklin’s writing. She lost me a couple times; this another one of those books that change to several different viewpoints, but in the end, it mostly worked for me. I loved the character of Josephine and found her conflicting emotions over her owners to be believable and moving. The ending though, it sort of pretty much basically broke my heart.

Favorite bits (and I’ll try to contain myself):

Over the years she had learned to fold down rising emotion just as she would fold the clean bedsheets, the sheet growing smaller and tighter with each pass until all that remained of that wide wrinkled expanse of cotton was a hard closed-in square.

It was here that Missus had taught Josephine to read. Books brought up from the library, Cooper, Dumas, Dickens, Poe, the names written in gold, the covered cracked, pages spotted dark with mold but still Josephine touched them only with her hands clean, with reverence, savored eatery word written there, each one a small victory. Letters formed carefully, again and again, the paper burned in the grate afterward, but a few secret pages carried under Josephine’s skirts, up the stairs to her attic room. “Don’t breathe a word to your Mister,” Missus would whisper. “We’d both be in a world of trouble.”

Truth was multilayered, shifting; it was different for everyone, each personal history carved unique from the same weighty block of time and flesh.

If there is one lesson I wish to bestow upon you, one shred of wisdom I have gained from my living, dying days, it is this: let your heart lead you, do not be afraid, for there will be much to regret if reason and sense and fear are your only markers.

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Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

April 3, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 9 ★★★★★

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne JonesHowl's Moving Castle
by Diana Wynne Jones
Series: Howl's Moving Castle #1
Published by Greenwillow Books
on January 1st 1986
Genres: Classic, Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 340
Format: eBook
Source: Library
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Buy the Book
five-stars
Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl's castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there's far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the ey

“In the land of Ingary where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of the three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.”

I swore this month that I would make friends with Diana Wynne Jones if it killed me (gross over-exaggeration, but typical of me as you know). I’m happy, so happy, to report that after 3 years of trying, I have found a Diana Wynne Jones’s book I like, nay, love. I LOVE IT.

A few things about it:

  • Who is the main character? That would be Sophie, the eldest of three daughters and destined to fail. Why is she destined to fail? Because everyone knows the oldest will fail! She hides in her widowed step-mother’s hat shop, making hats all day, talking to them (as in the hats), and generally being a bit of a mouse. She has some magical abilities but doesn’t really seem to realize it.
  • Who is Howl? Howl is a wizard! And something of a dandy. Okay, more than something of a dandy, he is QUITE the dandy. And rumored to eat the hearts of all the girls who fall in love with him or something like that. There are a LOT of rumors about Howl.
  • What final gets Sophie out of the hat shop? The Witch of the Waste! Sophie somehow caught the ire of the Witch (that magical ability that Sophie doesn’t seem to know about no doubt) and she comes along and ages Sophie about 70 years completely out of spite.
  • How does Sophie deal with that? By running away and going to live with Howl in his magical walking castle of course! There she meets Calcifer; a fire demon who lives in Howl’s fireplace. They make a deal; if she will help Calcifer break the curse on him, he will help her break the curse on her. She hires herself as Howl’s cleaning lady and moves on in.
  • Also along for the ride? Michael, who is Howl’s apprentice; a scarecrow; Sophie’s two sisters; various spiders; a man-dog; and, of course, the house. Plus various other minor characters.

Oh, I love so many things about what Diana Wynne Jones did with this story. The sheer fun of it was a delight. It was just a joy to read. And I feel like I haven’t read enough books this year that were just plain old fun, joyful reads. I need more of these reads in my life.

I loved the main character of Sophie. She starts the book as such a mousy person, but becoming “old” set her free in so many ways. She started saying the things she thought, she started doing the things she wanted to do…she just became so much less inhibited. As I have aged, I have noticed that I too have started doing and saying things I want and think more often and can only assume that Wynne Jones was showing that getting old can do that to a person. I hope it continues for me! I love that she takes her destiny into her own hands, rather than staying on the path to failure as she believes because of her birth. And I loved how Sophie ended up, but of course, I can’t tell you exactly how she ends up. You’ll have to read the book for yourself.

I was surprised at how much I liked Howl. He is a different kind of immature than Sophie. Sophie’s immaturity is based on a sheltered homelife and a timid personality. Howl is a spoiled brat. When he doesn’t get his way, he throws temper-tantrums. His room is a disaster. He trolls from woman to woman, loving them until they love him back then he’s off on the next conquest. Yet, as Wynne Jones paints this picture of him, I couldn’t help but start to understand him and as I understood him, to like him.

And then, there’s Calcifer. You can’t have Howl without Calcifer. He’s described in the book as a fire demon and he lives in Howl’s fireplace. His magic and Howl’s are so intertwined, it is put forth that one cannot live without the other. The two have made a mysterious bargain. Calcifer is the one who decides to let Sophie in and in return for letting her stay, they will help each other break their respective curses. Calcifer is by far my favorite character in the whole book. He’s so grumpy and crabby and powerful and can be a bit mean. By the end of the book, Calcifer’s life is just as intertwined with Sophie’s as with Howl’s, in a sense making a family.

The main antagonist, The Witch of the Waste, is the most powerful magician around and she has her sights set on Howl, since he spited her. Howl therefore does everything he can to avoid her. I think a lot of her power comes from her broken heart and I appreciated how Wynne Jones shows how that power can be used for ill. By the end, despite all the things she has done, I was merely left feeling sorry for her.

As for Wynne Jones’s writing, it’s equal parts clever, hilarious, moving, and just plain ole fun. I love how she shows age doesn’t necessarily mean life is over, and that anyone can be family. I love that she took a dandy (Howl) and turned him into something more. And I loved how she took this timid mouse of a girl and turned her into something amazing. Gosh, I just loved this book so much. I hope it’s obvious. And I hope you’ll read it. I have left out so much! Howl’s Moving Castle is a book rich in story, characters, personality, and, like I said, fun.

Quotes:

“Yes, you are nosy. You’re a dreadfully nosy, horribly bossy, appallingly clean old woman. Control yourself. You’re victimizing us all.”

“More about Howl? Sophie thought desperately. I have to blacken his name! Her mind was such a blank that for a second it actually seemed to her that Howl had no faults at all. How stupid! ‘Well, he’s fickle, careless, selfish, and hysterical,’ she said. ‘Half the time I think he doesn’t care what happens to anyone as long as he’s alright–but then I find out how awfully kind he’s been to someone. Then I think he’s kind just when it suits him–only then I find out he undercharges poor people. I don’t know, Your Majesty. He’s a mess.”

“Really, these wizards! You’d think no one had ever had a cold before! Well, what is it?” she asked, hobbling through the bedroom door onto the filthy carpet.

“I’m dying of boredom,” Howl said pathetically. “Or maybe just dying.”

“So you were going to rescue the Prince! Why did you pretend to run away? To deceive the Witch?”

“Not likely! I’m a coward. Only way I can do something this frightening is to tell myself I’m not doing it!”

Affiliates disclosure: if you buy a book through my affiliate link, I will get 4%.

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Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

December 20, 2013 Books 7 ★★★★

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara AltebrandoRoomies
by Sara Zarr, Tara Altebrando
(Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads)
Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers
on December 24, 2013
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 224
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
Buy the Book
four-stars
It's time to meet your new roomie.

When East Coast native Elizabeth receives her freshman-year roommate assignment, she shoots off an e-mail to coordinate the basics: television, microwave, mini-fridge. That first note to San Franciscan Lauren sparks a series of e-mails that alters the landscape of each girl's summer -- and raises questions about how two girls who are so different will ever share a dorm room.

As the countdown to college begins, life at home becomes increasingly complex. With family relationships and childhood friendships strained by change, it suddenly seems that the only people Elizabeth and Lauren can rely on are the complicated new boys in their lives . . . and each other. Even though they've never met.

National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr and acclaimed author Tara Altebrando join forces for a novel about growing up, leaving home, and getting that one fateful e-mail that assigns your college roommate.

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

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Reading this book made me realize something. I missed out in college.

My first two years of college were spent at the local community college, which is less that 5 miles from my childhood home. Then I transferred to the local University and commuted. So I never left home, I never had a roommate, and I never had that unique freedom of being by myself in a new city. Not that regret my path, not really, but I do find myself wondering what that would have been like.

Roomies gave me a picture of what it would have been like. Of course, the title is a misnomer really…the two girls in this book are not roomies, yet. They are just going to be roomies once the school year starts.

Anywho.

The dual narration was interesting. Having never read either author before, I’m not sure who wrote what and honestly, it felt pretty seamless to me. With both girls coming from very different parts of the country, different types of families, and different world views, the dual authorship made each girl feel very separate and complete in themselves. In other words, it worked. The girls have never met, but after finding out they will be roommates in their first year of college, they start emailing each other to start the process of getting to know each other a little early. Their differences immediately start coming out. One is an only child and happy to have a roommate. The other is the oldest of 5 and wanted a single room. In typical fashion, an email note meant in jest is taken the wrong way. Yet they begin sharing things with each other they haven’t shared with anyone. One has a gay father who abandoned her as a baby. One is striking up something interesting with a black friend and she worries about what others will think. They become close confidants. But then something happens, a trust is broken, and they go to wondering if they can even live together.

I really appreciated how both authors used their characters to illustrate real world problems and would think many a soon-to-be freshman could appreciate what these two girls go through. I know it is one I would like my own children to read someday for real guidance on what it’s like to be not only embarking on college life, but to be embarking on Real Life itself. This is the first book I’ve read by both Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando and look forward to exploring their works further.

About Sara Zarr

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Sara Zarr is the acclaimed author of four novels for young adults: Story of a Girl (National Book Award Finalist), Sweethearts (Cybil Award Finalist), Once Was Lost (a Kirkus Best Book of 2009) and How to Save a Life. Her short fiction and essays have also appeared in Image, Hunger Mountain, and several anthologies.

About Tara Altebrando

Altebrando-full-300x200

Tara is the author of THE BEST NIGHT OF YOUR (PATHETIC) LIFE, and three previous books for Young Adults, including DREAMLAND SOCIAL CLUB, which was a Kirkus Reviews Best Books for Teens of 2011, THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS and WHAT HAPPENS HERE.

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Reboot by Amy Tintera

July 19, 2013 Books 4

13517455Y’all. I did something the other day I haven’t done in…oh…ages. If ever. I bought, and read, a book…in one day. In one day people. Can you believe that? I surely can’t. And it was this book, Reboot, by Amy Tintera.

Reboot is a zombie book. The word “zombie” is never used in the book, but it is a zombie book, just not in the traditional sense. The zombies in this book are exactly the way they were in life; except better. Stronger, faster, smarter, they don’t get sick, they don’t decay – they are like the ultimate soldier. And, like most YA dystopian books, it is a fast read. Obviously, since I read it in one day! The description from the book summary sums it up neatly; “…this fast-paced dystopian thrill ride…” Yet, I feel that Reboot is more than your typical YA dystopian thrill ride.

Wren Connolly died five years ago. She was dead, from three gunshot wounds to the chest. After 178 minutes, she woke up. Since Wren was dead so long before she came back, she is stronger, less emotional, and heals almost instantly, in a word, she is one of the deadliest Reboots HARC (Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation) has ever had. Her job? Capturing the sick, the Rebooted, and the criminal from the slums of the Republic of Texas.

Callum, dead 22 minutes, is just the opposite. Having been dead for such a short time left him with more humanity than the desirable, violent, and controllabe, reboots. And all his attention seems to be on Wren. Wren, confused by all this unwanted attention, is caught off guard. In a strange turn of events (for her) she takes him on as his trainer. And what starts as a challenge for both of them, becomes more than either ever dreamed. And I’m not just talking romance here, people.

Wren goes through quite a metamorphosis in this book and really presents Tintera’s skill. Before Callum, Wren is hard as nails, by the book, complete and Total Reboot. After Callum, well…Lenore (from her review at Presenting Lenore) called this the “second rebooting of Wren” which I think is the perfect description for what happens here. Wren learns, or relearns, things long forgotten about herself and, quite possibly, begins to redefine what being a Reboot is. Like most typical YA, there is a central romance, and yes, I was pulling for the couple, but I found Tintera’s play with her characters far more interesting, especially Wren; a delightfully conflicted character. Tintera’s commentary on humanity and what it means to be human, not to mention our treatment of each other, was fascinating. Plus, the romance isn’t all saccharine sweetness. Tintera did a good job of balancing the “hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but gosh I think I love you” chemistry with all the lovely conflict, without making it too angsty.

In short, I really enjoyed this novel and look forward to the next in the series. Yes, you know it. It’s a series!

Reboot by Amy Tintera
ISBN-13: 9780062217073
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 5/7/2013
Pages: 365
Rating: 4/5

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The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

June 6, 2013 Book Reviews, Books, eBooks 10

13326831Remember how I said a few weeks ago that book comparisons make me nervous?

Well, I’m about to make one. And yes, this makes me nervous.

The Testing seems to be the latest dystopian YA “IT” novel, heir-apparent to The Hunger Games. Cia Vale lives with her family in the Five Lakes Colony, one of the few colonies left in what was America after the Seven Stages War. The Seven Stages War left the country is ruins, the land almost completely barren, and the water mostly undrinkable. The few who remain struggle to get the things they need from the ravaged land. Cia’s father and brothers are some of the citizens who work with the land, developing new crops that can flourish and sustain their colony.

Cia, who is graduating from high school, seems to be living her life to go to university, so that she can be like her father. To go to university, however, one must go through a process called Testing. It has been 15 years since anyone from Five Lakes Colony has been picked for testing. She’s hoping this year will be different.

At first, it appears it’s not.

But later, she finds out she has been picked. I’m not going into the politics of what happens with that, as it would be giving away tooooooo much. Let’s just say she gets picked. She goes to Testing.

All of this, before the shift to the Testing, was fascinating to me. I loved the world building, the way the colony worked, the interaction between Cia and her family. It was just too brief. Because this is YA dystopia, and YA dystopia doesn’t take long to GET TO THE POINT.

The point is to get to the Testing. Once there, the book begins to feel suspiciously familiar.

The Testing consists of 4 parts. The first three test basic skills. The fourth. Well. The fourth is where things begin to feel very, very familiar.

Spoiler alert:

It felt like a complete rip off of The Hunger Games. Except with a gun instead of arrows.

Spoiler over.

There is a lot of politics, and of course the environmental message (which actually didn’t bother me), and OF COURSE the romance between the two hometown friends. Which felt very forced and unnecessary to me. Actually, most of it felt forced to me. And derivative. The beginning was so good, I was so into it and all, and then it just went down hill. But, that is too me. I think I’ve read too much YA lately.  But, let me be blunt. If you are looking for another Hunger Games, as much as it makes me nervous to say it, this book is for you. If you’re tired of the formula, but think it sounds good, give it a try! You’ll probably like it (I did LIKE some of it, I’m just disappointed I didn’t LOVE it). If you are really tired of the formula, I’d keep on moving. To me, the book had a lot of potential it just didn’t live up to. I may read the next in the series (because of course, it’s a trilogy). I’m going to wait to read the description before I decide though.

The Testing
By Joelle Charbonneau
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (June 4, 2013)
336 pages (hardcover)
Acquired from NetGalley
Rated 3/5

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Splintered by A. G. Howard

June 5, 2013 Books, eBooks 5

9781419704284_p0_v1_s600 Before I get into my thoughts on this book, let me just say, I think it’s very ballsy to put “Welcome to the real Wonderland” on the cover of this book, as if the Wonderland Lewis Carroll created wasn’t the real one. Really ballsy. Especially when you’re taking a classic, beloved by many book, and, well, making it your own.

Lucky for Amulet Books and Ms. Howard, I loved the book. With a few reservations. Number one: That Cover. I mean, really.

Anyhoo.

Alyssa Gardner hears things. Not just any things, but voices. The voices of bugs and plants. It’s the family disease. A descendant of Alice Liddell, THE Alice Liddell of Alice in Wonderland fame, all the women of her line have heard voices. Her mother is in an institution. Her grandmother leapt from a window shortly after Alyssa’s mother was born, believing she could fly. Alyssa lives in the shadow of these events and dreads her own future. But when her mother takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that it may not actually be a disease. It may actually be a curse.

Okay, so you probably all know by now that I love it when authors take classic stories and turn them on their ear, at least when the do it well. Howard, in this case, does it pretty well. I loved this premise. And I loved, loved, LOVED the way she took it and made it darker. More sinister. And infinitely more twisted that Carroll ever did. And I loved Alyssa’s journey through Wonderland, undoing all the “mistakes” Alice made originally. The cast of characters was great. Alyssa was great. I love a flawed protagonist in a coming-of-age story. You could say I’m a sucker for them.

My few reservations. Mostly, YET ANOTHER LOVE TRIANGLE. And yet another perfect perfect boy who loves the girl. From Edward Cullen on down, I am sick of the beautiful perfect boys. And of COURSE, to balance him out, the other guy is the dark, mysterious, slightly dangerous type. OF COURSE. And damn it, I still like it. It’s a love/hate relationship; me and these characters. Always has been, always will be.

Bits I liked:

“Tearing down the rest of the world won’t make you happy. Look inside yourself. Because finding who you were meant to be? What you were put into this world to do? That’s what fills the emptiness. It’s the only things that can.”

“Do you really think these are Alice’s tears?” I ask. “That I’m supposed to make them go away somehow?”

“I’m the wrong guy to ask. I just saw a skeleton with antlers and a forest of aphid-noshing flower zombies.” (Me: I don’t know why, but this just struck me as hilarious.)

“No one knows what he or she is capable of until things are at their darkest.”

Splintered
by A. G. Howard
Amulet Books
January 1, 2013
384 Pages
ISBN-13: 9781419704284
Got it from: NetGalley
Rated: 4/5

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Anna Dressed in Blood

November 6, 2012 Book Reviews, Books, eBooks 6

Title: Anna Dressed in Blood
Author: Kendare Blake
Published: Publish mm/yyyy
ISBN:
Rating: 4 out of 5 bloody stars
Acquired: from Barnes & Noble

Introduction:

Cas Lowood kills the dead. Like his father before him, he follows stories, urban legends, folk tales, to their source and deals with the ghost, the murderous dead, and sends them where they belong.

Plot:

Cas, and his kitchen-witch mother, have moved to a new town. They came after hearing the story of a terrible ghost called Anna Dressed in Blood. The story goes that any person who enters the house where she was killed is never seen again. Because she kills them!

Cas doesn’t expect to find anything unusual. He comes in like he usually does. He enrolls in the local high school and gets himself invited to party. What better place to find out the local ghost stories than at a high school kegger? He out what he wants. Anna was murdered in 1958. In the house she haunts, in a white dress, that now drips with her blood. Anyone who crosses her threshold is brutal murdered. No one has been there in years. Until now. The local jocks, jerks, take it upon themselves to give Cas a proper introduction. They knock him out and toss him in with Anna Dressed in Blood. Who is definitely NOT at all what he expected. And who does something completely unexpected.

She spares Cas.

Characters:

The characters are great. I can’t help but love Cas. Like any typical teenager, he’s struggling to find his place in life. He takes up the mantel discarded by his father (since he was murdered doing his work, which was also killing ghosts remember) and, while he’s good at it, you can tell he has an underlying need to prove himself plus he also has this slight confidence problem, which I found endearing and completely understandable. I mean, he’s taken over the “family business” at 17 and the family business is killing ghosts? That seems a hard thing to take over at any age! I thought Blake did a great job of portraying the bravado a 17 year old boy would have, you know, around others (like his mom!), but also giving him this vulnerability and confusion. It really made me fall for Cas quite a bit! Plus, watching Cas make friends for the first time in his life was just priceless.

Anna is, just, wow. What an awesome character. One I feel I can’t say much about, I don’t want to spoil the surprise of her. Cursed in death to kill whomever crosses her threshold; how many characters can you say that about? From her first step onto the pages, Anna is such a lovely conflicted character. She can’t help doing what she’s doing, she’s been doing it for around 50 years, and you can immediately tell what it’s doing to her soul. Of course Cas falls for her. I don’t really think that’s a spoiler either; this IS a YA book. It’s what happens after that event that keeps you reading. Cas is meant to kill her. Will he?

Strengths:

  • The plot was great, very original for the genre I thought
  • The writing was great, very gripping. This book was hard to put down!
  • Strong, well written, and well rounded characters
  • Highlights are/is the blood-thirsty ghost?

Weaknesses:

  • You may not like this if you don’t like gory violence.

Conclusion: 

I was so very surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. I haven’t read much in the paranormal YA genre for awhile, because it felt like it was getting so formulaic and predictable. Anna Dressed in Blood was very much not what I was expecting. Engaging characters, excellent twist…I couldn’t help but immediately download the sequel as soon as I finish. (One thing never changes. Cliffhangers.) If you’ve been looking for something new, with excellent writing, interesting premise, and fantastic characters, look no further!

Favorite Bits:

I’ve seen most of what there is to be afraid of in this world, and to tell you the truth, the worst of them are the ones that make you afraid in the light. The things that your eyes see plainly and can’t forget are worse than huddled black figures left to the imagination. Imagination has a poor memory; it slinks away and goes blurry. Eyes remember for much longer.

I can feel that photo of Anna staring at me from sixty years ago, and I can’t help myself from wanting to protect her, wanting to save her from becoming what she already is.

Over the course of my life I’ve been to lots of places. Shadowed places where things have gone wrong. Sinister places where things still are. I always hate the sunlit towns, full of newly built developments with double-car garages in shades of pale eggshell, surrounded by green lawns and dotted with laughing children. Those towns aren’t any less haunted than the others. They’re just better liars.

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Every Day by David Levithan

October 2, 2012 Books 13

Every Day
by David Levithan
Published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Published: August 28, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-93188-7
Pages: 336
Ages: 12 & up

Every once in awhile, a novel comes along that defies expectation. I have never read a book by David Levithan. I’ve heard of it. Friends have recommended him. Yet, I remained stubborn (why? I don’t know!) and didn’t read anything by him. Even after he wrote a book with one of my favorite writers; Will Grayson & Will Grayson with John Green.

I am such a fool.

I happened to see Every Day on NetGalley. The premise sounded so unique, so different, and so hard to pull off. A person waking up, every day, in a different body? Irregardless of sex, race, only age? I had to see if he pulled it off.

A, our main character’s name is A, has no one. No friends, no family, nobody. He wakes up every day in a different 16-year-old body and wears it for the day. A different house, a different body, different friends, schools, lives. Every morning he is someone else. Male, female, white, black, Latino, rich, poor, smart, stupid, hooked on drugs, ready to kill themselves. It’s always different. A is used to this, A gets along fine, breezing through different lives, trying not to make too much of an impact, A doesn’t want anyone to notice. No one does notice.

But then A meets a girl.

A’s life will never be the same. It takes less than a day for A to fall in love with Rhiannon. For the first time, A wants to see someone again. A wants to talk to someone again. A wants to be with someone again. A can’t stop thinking about her, can’t stop wanting to see her again, and can’t stop wanting to talk to her again.

Does A find a way? It feels like an impossible situation. How does A convince this girl, every day, that even though the shell is different, A is the same underneath. How does A convince her to take a chance? How do you talk about A without using pronouns?

It’s a mystery, best found out by reading the book.

As I was saying, I was a fool. In the wrong hands, this book could have been a hot mess. But David Levithan obviously knows what he’s doing. There are so many things Levithan deals with in this novel; sex, race, attraction, how you can’t pick who you love, living, dying, hate, love…. This story. It is ambitious. This book made me think, it made me feel, it made me shake my head in wonder. Levithan not only pulls it off, he pulls it off so beautifully. His writing is gorgeous! And addictive. I think I’ll go out and buy everything he’s ever written now and I will never doubt him again.

Favorite bits:

I want to give her a good day. Just one good day. I have wandered for so long without any sense of purpose, and now this ephemeral purpose has been give to me-it feels like it was been give to me. I only have a day to give-so why can’t it be a good one? Why can’t it be a shared one? Why can’t I take the music of the moment and see how long it can last? The rules are erasable. I can’t take this. I can give this.

and

There is a part of childhood that is childish, and a part that is sacred. Suddenly we are touching the sacred part-running to the shoreline, feeling the first cold burst of water on our ankles, reaching into the tide to catch at shells before they ebb away from our fingers. We have returned to a world that is capable of glistening, and we are  wading deeper within it. We stretch our arms wide, as if we are embracing the wind. She splashes me mischievously and I mount a counterattack. Our pants, our shirts get wet, but we don’t care. We are carefree.

also

What is it about the moment you call in love? How can such a small measure of time contain such enormity? I suddenly realize why people believe in deja vu, why people believe they’ve lived past lives, because there is no way the years I’ve spent on this earth could possibly encapsulate what I’m feeling. The moment you fall in love feels like it has centuries behind it, generations-all of them rearranging themselves so that this precise, remarkable intersection could happen. In your heart, in your bones, no matter how silly you know it is, you feel that everything has been leading to this, all the secret arrows were pointing here, the universe and time itself have crafted this long ago, and you are just now realizing it, you are just now arriving at the place you were always meant to be.

I love that last one. I have so many more that I could share. I don’t think I’ve marked up a book like this in a long time. Such a beautiful book. In so many ways. I hope you’ll read it.

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