Friday, March 30, 2012

“Anyone can grow into something beautiful.”

The Language of Flowers – Vanessa Diffenbaugh
 
322 pages
 
Genre:  Contemporary; Coming of Age
 
Summary:  Eighteen-year-old Victoria Jones has just aged out of the foster-care system.  Having neither money nor friends to speak of, Victoria is forced to become self-reliant as she tries to establish a life for herself.  While she doesn’t have any work experience, Victoria has one very unique skill:  she has memorized the meaning of every flower in existence.  After she meets a florist who is willing to give her a job, Victoria helps customers determine what kind of bouquets they would like based on what the various flowers symbolize.  Even though life has been hard so far, can Victoria finally settle into a normal routine?
 
Review:  Oooh look, I’m behind on reviews again.  While sitting in my shame corner, I decided that this business will be stopped right now…and by right now, I mean over the course of the upcoming week because I am easily distracted by the interwebz, food, and shiny things.  Wah wah.
 
Anyway, here is my review:
 
The concept of this book, a young woman’s quest to extract meaning from flowers and establish a life completely on her own, was a rather fascinating one and is what initially drew me to The Language of Flowers.  In the past, I remember reading somewhere that all flowers have meaning, and when combined with a coming-of-age tale, The Language of Flowers promised to be incredibly interesting.  On the whole, I really enjoyed this book and found it to be a rather absorbing read.
 
The greatest strength of The Language of Flowers was definitely the writing itself.  Diffenbaugh is an incredibly skilled writer, and it was easy to become engrossed in the novel while reading such smooth, effortless sentences.  The descriptions therein were really well done, and I could easily imagine the scenes she was describing.  I also loved that Diffenbaugh included the meanings of different flowers both in the text and as a glossary near the back of the book; it was fun to discover what each one meant, especially those that have always been favorites.
 
As far as characters go, I’m still not sure how I feel about Victoria.  It was hard to get to know her because she was so closed off and distant, even in her own story.  I oftentimes felt a lot of sympathy for her lot in life, though, and I could completely understand where her coldness came from.  Some of her actions, however, were inexcusable to me, especially towards the latter part of the book, and my sympathy really started to wane. 
 
As for other characters, Renata was a standout for me, and I really liked her no-nonsense attitude.  I thought it was great that she gave Victoria a chance, even though she didn’t really have to.  I also really liked Grant, and found him to be incredibly sweet and sincere.  A lot of the events he was forced to endure at the hands of a certain other character really made me sad for him.
 
Warning:  this little section is going to be a bit of a spoiler, so avert your eyes if you haven’t read the book yet:  I hate posting spoilers, but I feel like I have to mention this.  The portion of this book dedicated to breast feeding really made me squeamish.  Perhaps it’s because I’m not a mother and can’t really relate to it at all, but I thought it was just a bit overdone.  This part is what actually dropped my initial rating of 4 stars to 3.5 because I just didn’t enjoy it at all.  While I do understand that it was a deciding factor in Victoria’s decision about the baby, I just didn’t think it needed to be as prolonged as it was.  End of spoiler.
 
The Language of Flowers moved along at a nice pace, and was a rather absorbing read.  If you enjoy contemporary literature that’s a bit on the sadder side, you may enjoy this book, too.
 
Rating:  3.5/5 (I oscillated between 3 and 4 for awhile, so I thought 3.5 would be the best choice).

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Because I was a child myself when I began to take care of other children, I saw them from the start as only a part of my realm, and saw my ascendance as a simple matter of hierarchy-- I was the oldest (if only by a year or two) among them, and as such, I would naturally be worshiped and glorified. I really thought no more of it than that. And when they clung to me and petted me, when the boys, lovesick, put their heads in my lap and the girls begged to wear my rings or comb my hair, I simply took it as my due. I was Titania among her fairies."

Child of My Heart – Alice McDermott

256 pages

Genre: Coming of Age; Friendship


Summary:  Fifteen-year-old Theresa is the most requested babysitter among the wealthy families in her town.  When her younger cousin, Daisy, comes to town to spend the summer with her, Theresa and Daisy form a solid bond as they make their way through the events that the season has to offer.  While the journey is sometimes tumultuous, especially when dealing with growing, feisty children, Theresa does some growing of her own as she transitions into adulthood.


Review:  My friend, Christina, recommended this book to me when I was going through a serious reading slump a year or two ago.  I started reading Child of My Heart sometime last year, put it down for some inexplicable reason, finally remembered that I had been reading this book a few days ago, and polished it off quickly.  See, everybody?  This is why you should only read one book at a time instead of ten.  As soon as I picked this book back up, I remembered the plot and was drawn back in immediately, which doesn’t always happen when I set something aside for awhile.  Child of My Heart was an absorbing, well-written book with a cast of characters that I’m sure will stick with me for quite some time.


Theresa was an exceptional narrator, and I loved watching her mature and grow throughout the book.  The observations she made were often very poignant, and it was a pleasure to accompany her on her journey.  It was easy to see the affection she held for the children in her care, and I thought her relationship with Daisy was especially sweet.  While I didn’t agree with all of Theresa’s decisions, especially as it related to Daisy, she had an incredibly authentic, distinct voice and was an excellent storyteller.


While this book was really well-written, it was also heartbreaking in a number of ways.  It was very hard to read about the abuse and neglect that some of the children experienced from their parents, but it was nice to see that at least Theresa was able to give them some of the love they sought.   
Additionally, because of the creep factor, the scenes with the aging painter are etched in my memory.  Even though Theresa was grown up in a lot of ways, these scenes emphasized how vulnerable and naïve she still was.


Child of My Heart is not a happy book by any means, but it’s definitely a good read.  If you enjoy well-written coming of age novels, give this book a try.  Just keep in mind that there is an ick factor with the aging painter, so if you’re uncomfortable reading things of that nature, you might want to skip this one.


Rating:  4/5

“I think insomnia is a sign that a person is interesting.”

Notes to Self – Avery Sawyer
 
E-Book

Genre:  YA; Realistic Fiction
 
Summary:  Teenage best friends Robin and Emily decide to sneak into an amusement park after closing time, and climb up on a tall ride to get a great view of the city.  Unfortunately, the platform they’re on isn’t sturdy, they tumble from the ride, and are rushed to the hospital.  While Robin regains consciousness, Emily remains in a coma, and it’s unlikely that she’s going to get better.  Robin is devastated, but maintains hope that her friend will wake up, and since she can’t recall why they were even on the ride in the first place, she does her best to piece together what happened that night.  Can she figure it out, and will Emily ever wake up?
 
Review:  For some reason, I’m really drawn to depressing books, so when Notes to Self came up as a limited time freebie on my Kindle, I decided to give it a try.  What did I have to lose?  I wasn’t sure what to expect because I’ve been disappointed by freebie downloads before, but I like to give new authors a chance, and fortunately, this book hooked me from the very beginning and didn’t let up until the last page.
 
The story itself was incredibly thought provoking and sad, and I loved that it was told from Robin’s perspective as she struggled to figure out what happened.  Since Robin didn’t have all of the details herself, the reader could really sense her emotions, frustrations, and little moments of triumph throughout, and it made for a compelling reading experience.  I really enjoyed piecing together the clues along with Robin, and I was so happy for her when she finally figured it all out, even though the reasons why it all happened made me sad.
 
I also thought that what Sawyer did with Emily was also pretty great.  Emily could have been more of an afterthought in the story, but she was constantly brought to the front of the reader’s mind through Robin’s recollections an insights.  It was very easy to see the kind of person she was, and while she wasn’t perfect, she was definitely real.
 
Aside from a few small editing errors, Notes to Self was really well-written and the sentences flowed nicely.  I particularly liked the wit conveyed in the chapter titles, especially “I Went to Fun Towne and all I Got Was this Brain Injury.”  Sawyer was able to evoke all kinds of different emotions through her words, and it was truly a joy to read this book.
 
If you like any of the titles listed below, or if you’re looking for something really well-written and thought provoking, give Notes to Self a try.
Rating:  3.5/5
 
Read-alikes:  If I Stay – Gayle Forman, The Adoration of Jenna Fox – Mary Pearson

“That's what being crazy was, wasn't it? You thought you were fine. Everyone else knew better.”

The Summoning – Kelley Armstrong (Darkest Powers Trilogy, Book 1)

390 pages

Genre: YA; Paranormal; Urban Fantasy

Summary: Chloe, a fifteen-year-old girl, seems like your typical high school student. As we all know, however, appearances can be deceiving. Even though she just wants to make it through high school in one piece, Chloe develops an interesting skill: she can see and communicate with ghosts. Those around her think she’s crazy, send her to a psychiatric treatment center to get counseling, and she’s quickly labeled as a schizophrenic. Chloe resigns herself to the fact that she has schizophrenia and just wants to get better…but what if she really can see ghosts? Will she figure out what’s really going on?

Review: If you’ve been keeping up with my recent reviews, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been reading quite a bit of mediocre YA that I haven’t been all that enthused about. It’s been quite frustrating, as I’m sure you can imagine, so it was with a mixture of hope and worry that I picked up The Summoning. It sounded good, but obviously I’ve been wrong before because I thought the other books would be ones  I’d enjoy, too. This one has to be good, right? Universe, throw me a bone! Much to my delight, I thoroughly enjoyed The Summoning, and I was absorbed in the tale from start to finish.

The best thing about this book for me was the plot. I thought that the core concept of the book, Chloe’s ability to see and converse with ghosts, was a really interesting one, and Armstrong did not disappoint in her delivery. There were tons of twists and turns that kept me interested throughout, and I had a very hard time putting the book down so I could take care of the pesky responsibilities that go hand in hand with adulthood. The writing itself was really fluid, and I don’t remember reading many awkward passages at all, which is always a plus. I thought sending Chloe to get psychiatric help was really believable, too, as I’m sure this is exactly what would happen if someone claimed to see ghosts, even if they were telling the truth.

The characters were also pretty well-done, and I especially liked Derek. I thought Derek was really interesting, and I appreciated that he was described in such a way that didn’t glamorize him at all. It was also fun to view the novel through Chloe’s eyes, especially as she tried to figure out whether or not she was going crazy.

If you’re looking for a fun, fast paced read that deals with psychology and ghosts, check out The Summoning. I’m looking forward to reading the next two books in this trilogy!

Rating: 4/5

Other Books in the Darkest Powers Trilogy: The Awakening (Book 2), The Reckoning (Book 3)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

“We often marvel at how introverted, geeky kids "blossom" into secure and happy adults. We liken it to a metamorphosis. However, maybe it's not the children who change, but their environments. As adults, they get to select the careers, spouses, and social circles that suit them. They don't have to live in whatever culture they're plunked into.”

Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain

333 pages

Genre:  Non-fiction; Introversion; Temperament


Summary:  In Quiet, Susan Cain, a self-proclaimed introvert, examines introversion.  Through the course of the text, Cain sheds light on how introverts are often viewed with derision in American society, and throughout the course of the investigation, she explains why this kind of thinking is wrong.


Review:  I have always been a quiet person.  When I was a child, people used to make it apparent that being an introvert was a bad thing, and I should “just come out of my shell” so I could be like everyone else.  Everyone was very well-meaning about this, of course, but because of this, I always felt like something was wrong with me; however, over the past few years, I’ve really embraced what being an introvert means.  Quiet reinforced my positive feelings on introversion, and I truly think both introverts, extroverts, and everyone in between should read it, just so they can understand the introvert mind a bit better.


Throughout the course of this book, there were many “Aha!” moments for me, and I was often nodding along in agreement as I flipped through the pages.  Sometimes I’ve felt bad that I’d rather stay at home with a book than go out and gallivant around town (probably because others say this is how I should live), but this book really made me feel vindicated.  I love that introversion isn’t being demonized for once, and it was great to see the accomplishments that many introverts have made to society highlighted so everyone can see how valuable we can be.


One of the things that really struck a cord with me was the open concept office plan.  While I (thankfully) do not work in that type of environment, I know many people who do and I honestly can’t figure out how they get anything productive done.  Even though some people may work best that way, it definitely doesn’t work for everyone. 


Similarly, the author also spoke of how schools are moving more towards group work and creating pods of three or more people.  I’m so glad that this wasn’t in place when I was in primary school, as I was always the type to reflect upon things on my own and then provide an answer; it’s how I do my best work.  I did, however, notice the emphasis on group work and small discussion groups in grad school, and my anxiety would often go through the roof in said classes as I tried to formulate something intelligent to say because my grade depended on it.  I’ve always been someone who won’t talk unless I actually have something to say, so it was nice to see that other people can relate to that, too.


Another great aspect of this book was the fact that the author highlighted the ways in which introverts and extroverts need each other.  Neither temperament type was vilified, but rather, strengths of both, especially introverts, were explored.  I thought that the inclusion of both was incredibly balanced and fair.


I could ramble on and on about this, but I think I'll stop now.  If you’ve ever wondered about the inner workings of an introvert, or if you, too, are an introvert, it would definitely be worth your time to read Quiet.  For more information on different temperaments, check out anything written about the MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator).


Rating:  4/5

“Now he was staring at Prairie with an intensity you could light fires with. And she stared back. There was something between them, all right, something cracking with tension and danger, something almost ... alive.”

Banished – Sophie Littlefield 
 
304 pages
 
Genre:  YA; Fantasy
 
Summary:  Growing up in Gypsum, Missouri hasn’t quite been what sixteen-year-old Hailey Tarbell wants out of life.  I mean, when the nickname for your town is “Trashtown,” how happy can you be?  Ultimately, Hailey doesn’t really feel as though she fits in with anyone, especially her ailing grandmother who is her guardian, so she mostly keeps to herself and longs to know more about her dead parents.  All that begins to change, however, when a series of events occur that has her running for her life.  Will the information Hailey learns prove to be too much to handle?
 
Review:  On a scale from one to unicorns, I’d give Banished a solid meh.  
 
I liked the main character, Hailey, as she really embodied a typical sixteen-year-old.  She wasn’t really a hero one would expect, especially when her background is taken into consideration, but ultimately, I was rooting for her.  There was something about her that was infinitely likeable, and even though I wasn’t particularly fond of the story, Hailey was one of those characters that made me see the book in a more positive light.  In the same vein, the villains, especially Rattler, were easy to hate because they were so repugnant, and it served to make me want to see Hailey removed from that situation even more.
 
The story itself, however, wasn’t really one I could connect to.  While I thought it was great that the author chose to use a setting that isn’t normally portrayed in books, it just didn’t do anything for me.  I know the reasons for the characters living the way they do were expounded upon, but it didn’t make me like the story any more than the ambivalence I started off with.  Furthermore, even though there was plenty of action, I just wasn’t particularly drawn in.  I’m not sure why, but something about this just didn’t work for me.
 
If you like books that feature an unlikely hero, supernatural powers, and secrets, you might enjoy Banished.
 
Rating:  2.5/5
 
Sequel to Banished:  Unforsaken

“She was afraid of numbers the way some people are of spiders. The sight of them made her want to hide. What I loved about them, their clarity, was for her duplicity. Behind an innocent 2,or 5, or 9, she spied a mass of traps and pitfalls.”

The Flight of Gemma Hardy – Margot Livesey
 
464 pages
 
Genre:  Fiction; Updated Classic
 
Summary:  The Flight of Gemma Hardy is a modern retelling of Charlotte Bronte’s classic, Jane Eyre.  Orphan Gemma is sent to live with her uncle and aunt in Scotland .  While Gemma is the apple of her uncle’s eye, her aunt and cousins hate her, and after her uncle’s death, they treat her very poorly.  Eventually she is shipped off to boarding school, and while she hopes for a better life, she only faces more obstacles.  Will Gemma ever catch a break?
 
Review:  I know I’ve expounded on my love for Jane Eyre before, so I won’t do that again (Oh, Charlotte Bronte, you and your novel are magnificent!  …what?  I had to say something!).  Whenever I hear about a re-telling of Jane Eyre, I get nervous and excited, but it always end up on my tbr pile.  The Flight of Gemma Hardy was an exceptionally well-done retelling of my favorite book, and I was completely absorbed from start to finish.
 
In my opinion, one of the best things about this book was the fact that it followed Jane Eyre so closely.  Even though the two novels were set in different times and places, touches of Bronte’s original work could be found on every page, and it absolutely delighted me.  I found it really interesting that Livesey decided to have Gemma move to Scotland from Iceland.  Iceland isn’t really a place I encounter a lot in the literature I read, so it was really fun to get a new setting to explore.  In fact, the part where Gemma was in Iceland may have been my favorite part of the entire book.
 
In addition to being interesting, this book also had beautiful, lyrical language.  The sentences flowed together effortlessly, and it was truly a joy to read The Flight of Gemma Hardy.  Of particular note were the wonderful descriptions of the various landscapes, all of which were really well done.
 
I also really liked the main character, Gemma.  Like Jane, Gemma was strong and determined, and I enjoyed that she could be really stubborn about things.  It was also great that Gemma wasn’t portrayed as perfect; she made missteps along the way, some much greater than others, and it served to make her relate-able to the reader.
 
If you’re a Jane Eyre fan, definitely read The Flight of Gemma Hardy.
 
Rating:  4/5
 
Read-alikes:  Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte, Jane – April Linder

“We all should do a lot of things,” Tyler said quietly. “But I think, most of the time, we don’t.”

Instructions for a Broken Heart – Kim Culbertson

304 pages

Genre: YA; Romance; Realistic Fiction

Summary: Jessa Gardner’s life is going pretty well…until she finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her three days before a class trip to Italy.  Poor Jessa is heartbroken, but bravely decides to go on the trip anyway, even though her now ex-boyfriend, Sean, will also be there. Jessa’s best friend, Carrissa, isn’t going, but she sends Jessa overseas with handwritten notes to help her get over her heartache. Will Jessa be able to move on once and for all?

Review: I quite enjoyed Culbertson’s other book, Diary of a Teenage Nomad, so I was pretty excited to read this one. Unfortunately, even though I read through the book quickly, I didn’t enjoy Instructions for a Broken Heart all that much.

My primary problem with this book was with the characters. I didn’t like any of them, especially Jessa, so even though I was supposed to feel sorry for her, I just didn’t care what happened to her. Honestly, I found her whiny and annoying, and I couldn’t believe she let her situation ruin a perfectly awesome, once in a lifetime trip to Italy. I found a lot of her behavior to be extremely immature, and because of that, I could not sympathize with her at all. 

Even though Carrissa was only presented to the reader through the notes she wrote Jessa, I really didn’t like her either. Since Jessa and Carrissa were supposed to be best friends, I was absolutely shocked about some of the things Carrissa wanted Jessa to do.  Additionally, I couldn’t believe that both Carrissa and Tyler, Jessa’s other best friend, kept such an important secret from Jessa. I won’t reveal it here because that would be spoilerific, but the fact that they kept something like that hidden from her showed that the friendship couldn’t have been as meaningful as Jessa thought it was.

My other problem was the plot. I liked that the book took place in Italy, but this effort reminded me very much of Maureen Johnson’s 13 Little Blue Envelopes, and I think Johnson did a much better job with the letter writing/risk taking in a foreign country theme. Perhaps my love for 13 Little Blue Envelopes explains why I had such a negative reaction to this book. There is a possibility that I would’ve liked Instructions for a Broken Heart better if I had read it first, but alas, I can’t go back in time. I just wasn’t really drawn into this plot at all, and as I touched on earlier, I found Jessa’s antics really immature.

If you like books about break-ups, heartaches, and scheming in a foreign country, you may enjoy Instructions for a Broken Heart.

Rating: 2.5/5

Read-alikes: 13 Little Blue Envelopes – Maureen Johnson, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares – Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Friday, March 9, 2012

“Many kids, it seemed, would find out that their parents were flawed, messed-up people later in life, and I didn't appreciate getting to know it all so strong and early.”

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake – Aimee Bender
 
292 pages
 
Genre:  Contemporary; Magical Realism; Food
 
Summary:  On her 9th birthday, Rose Edelstein acquires a peculiar new skill:  she can taste the emotions a person had while preparing a dish.  It didn’t matter if it was something she had previously enjoyed; if the person was unhappy while making the food, she didn’t want to eat it.  This led Rose to eat mostly processed, manufactured food because she hated knowing too much about people’s inner lives.  Will she ever be able to feel normal again?
 
Review:  I’m a big fan of magical realism (and food), so I was pretty excited to give The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake a try.  On the whole, I found this to be a rather enjoyable read.
 
The plot was an intriguing one, and I don’t recall coming across anything quite like it before.  I thought it was so interesting that Rose could discern people’s innermost emotions through their food, regardless of her connection to said people.  If I was faced with the same burden, I may have done just what she had as a teenager and opted for processed food.  It’s not the healthiest choice, of course, but at least one wouldn’t be in a constant state of turmoil.
 
This book was primarily about family and the secrets that we keep from one another, and I thought Bender did a really great job in presenting this theme to the reader.  I enjoyed accompanying Rose on her journey as she tried to make sense of everything she was picking up from the food, and I really felt bad for her when it wasn’t a positive emotion.  Of particular interest to me was what she was able to ascertain about her mother, and the fact that she kept that hidden so well was quite commendable, indeed.
 
I enjoyed the passages with her brother, Joseph, quite a bit.  Joseph was a really interesting character, and I liked that he was rather elusive, an enigma.  The reader never knew what he would do or say next, and it kept the story interesting.
 
While there was a lot I liked about The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, I felt as if the story was unfinished somehow, and I wish more would have been explained.  Additionally, while I enjoyed reading it in the moment, I’m not sure how well I’ll remember it years from now.  It read more like a tasty, guilty pleasure rather than something that really had a lot of meat to digest.
 
If you’re looking for something light that’s a bit out of the norm, try The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.  Be sure to have a snack at the ready, too, because all of this food talk will probably make you hungry.
 
Rating: 3/5
 
Read-alike:  The Sugar Queen – Sarah Addison Allen

“Even the rats are drowning,' Alex said. Nah,' Kevin said. 'They've been taking swimming lessons at the Y.”

The Dead and the Gone (Last Survivors, Book 2) – Susan Beth Pfeffer
 
321 pages
 
Genre:  YA; Dystopia; Survival
 
Summary:  In this post-apocalyptic world, an asteroid impacted the moon so forcefully, it actually moved its positioning in the sky.  As a direct result of this, Earth is now facing catastrophic weather and climate events, and life as the characters know it (heh heh) is officially over.  Alex Morales, a teenage boy living in New York City, is left to take care of himself and his sisters after his parents’ disappearance during the cataclysm.  Will they be able to survive on their own, or will they succumb, like much of society already has?
 
Review:  I read the first book in this trilogy, Life as We Knew It, in a YA Resources class during grad school, and I was one of very few people in my discussion group who enjoyed the book.  To me, Life as We Knew It accurately depicted what would happen after a devastating event, regardless of scientific merit of said event, as many of the days would blend together and the focus of everyone’s life would be one of survival.  Because of this, I was excited to read The Dead and the Gone, but ultimately, I didn’t enjoy it as much as its predecessor.  Now that I’m thinking about it, I didn’t really like it at all.
 
The main problem I had with The Dead and the Gone was based around the story itself.  Haven’t we heard this story before?  We have, you say?  That must be because it was exactly the same as the first book, but with a different character in a different city.  There wasn’t really anything new here, besides the inclusion of Alex’s sisters and what happened to them, and I was very disappointed.
 
Furthermore, I did not like Alex as much as I liked the narrator in the other book, Miranda.  Yes, Miranda wasn’t my favorite narrator of all time, but at the very least, I found her interesting.  Alex, on the other hand, was dull as dishwater.  I found it rather odd that he was still concerned about stealing food and whatnot because of the religious tradition he was brought up in.  Um, Alex, you’re living through an Apocalypse; I think God will forgive you for stealing food from people who are no longer living/no longer live where you do in order to keep yourself and your sisters alive. 
 
The Dead and the Gone started picking up steam towards the end (maybe the last chapter or two), but then it just…ended.  Ahh, what happens next?  I need to know!  Even though I didn't enjoy this book, I think I’m going to have to read the next one.  Curses!
 
If you’re a fan of dystopias, survival novels, or really liked Life As We Knew It, you may also enjoy The Dead and the Gone.  This series would be especially good for reluctant readers.
 
Rating: 2/5
 
Other Books in the Last Survivors trilogy: Life as We Knew It (Book 1), The World We Live In (Book 3)

“I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once.”

The Fault in Our Stars – John Green
 
313 pages
 
Genre:  YA; Realistic Fiction; Cancer
 
Review:  At the tender age of 12, Hazel was diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer.  Fortunately for her, her tumors began to shrink when she was 14-years-old, and she was granted a second chance at life…or at least, some kind of life.  Things never really went back to normal for Hazel, now 16, and everyday still presents a challenge, as she is still bound by her oxygen machine.  When she meets Augustus, a handsome teenage boy whose cancer is in remission, her life is turned upside down.  Can they have their romance, despite all of the circumstances that may prevent them from doing so?
 
Summary:  I knew The Fault in Our Stars was going to be about cancer, so even though I pre-ordered this book (and received a signed copy; yay!), I had to mentally prepare myself to read it.  It took me a few weeks, but with a box of tissues in hand, I finally picked it up and was totally sucked in.  Ultimately, I found The Fault in Our Stars to be a completely all absorbing read, and even though the subject matter was really difficult, I read through the entire thing in just a few hours.
 
The Fault in Our Stars was extremely well-written, which is exactly what I’ve come to expect from John Green.  His writing was thought provoking and emotional, and it really got the reader into Hazel’s head to feel what she was feeling.  Hazel was a wonderful main character, and I loved her wit and intelligence, even through all of the terrible things that were going on in her life.
 
The romance between Hazel and Augustus was so sweet, and I thought the two of them were a terrific pairing.  They were able to share so much because they were both forced to grow up so fast as a result of their respective diagnoses, and their affection for one another seemed so genuine.  I truly enjoyed watching their love story unfold.
 
The conclusion of this book caught me completely off guard, but after thinking about it, there were several hints laid out in the text that I just didn’t associate with the ending.  I didn’t like the way it ended at all, not because it was a bad ending, but simply because it made me sad.
 
If you enjoy thought provoking books, or if you’re a fan of John Green’s other work, grab a box of tissues and read The Fault in Our Stars.
 
Rating:  4/5
 
Other Books by John Green:  An Abundance of Katherines, Looking for Alaska, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, Paper Towns

“We cling to our fairy tales until the price for believing in them becomes too high.”

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs

352 pages

Genre: YA; Fantasy

Summary: As the title suggests, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children examines the lives of children possessing certain oddities who live together on a small, secluded island. Wanting to know more about a family member after a tragedy occurs, Jacob, a sixteen-year-old teenage boy, decides to venture to said island so he can investigate Miss Peregrine’s Home. When he arrives, he is greeted by crumbling ruins, and as he explores further, the information he uncovers may prove to be way more than he bargained for.

Review: As soon as I saw the creepy girl levitating on the cover of this book, I knew I had to read this. What can I say; I’m a sucker for creepy books. Ultimately, I really enjoyed accompanying Jacob on his journey, and I found Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children to be a rather absorbing read.

The thing I liked most about this book was probably the creepy, old photographs. Many of them had a stern, sinister quality about them, and I was sure the evil looking eyes of the people depicted would haunt my dreams. Fortunately for me, they didn’t, but I can still remember some of the images very vividly in my waking life.

The concept behind this book was also really interesting. I sometimes look to pictures for story ideas, too, and the fact that he was able to combine both into the text was rather fun. Admittedly, some pictures worked better than others in regard to the descriptions provided, but nonetheless, it was still fun to see the author’s interpretation of what he was seeing.

I rather liked Jacob as the narrator, and it was clear how devoted he was to his grandfather. The whole trip kind of came about because he felt as if he owed it to his grandfather to find out more information and separate fact from fiction, and I really thought that was great.

There was a bit (okay, a lot) of an ick factor as it related to Emma, one of the female characters, but I won’t divulge anything about that because it is, indeed, a spoiler. Still, ick.

While Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children did have flaws, it was still a really worthwhile read. If you enjoy books about superhuman peculiarities and time travel, give this book a try.

Rating: 3.5/5

Thursday, March 8, 2012

“Awww," Minho said. "That's almost as sweet as that time she slammed the end of a spear into your shuck face.”

The Death Cure – James Dashner (Maze Runner, Book 3)
 
325 pages
 
Genre:  YA; Dystopia; Survival
 
Summary:  In the final installment of the Maze Runner trilogy, The Death Cure picks up where The Scorch Trials left off.  Still in the hands of WICKED, Thomas and his friends have the opportunity to get their memories back.  Some of the friends decide that they want to remember, while others think it is best that the past stays forgotten.  With their next adventure is looming, can the cast of characters work together in order to survive?
 
Review:  I really liked the first book in this series, felt as if the second book was rather mediocre, but I was hoping that the final book, The Death Cure. would answer all of my questions and leave me feeling satisfied.  Unfortunately, it did neither of those things, and I didn’t really care for it at all.
 
One of the biggest problems for me was the plot.  Yes, there was a lot of action and whatnot, but I really didn’t care about the events therein.  I was bored most of the time, and really struggled to get through this book, but I pressed on, hoping that questions would be answered and a proper resolution would occur.  They didn’t.
 
I really didn’t like what Dashner did with Teresa, either.  Teresa was one of my favorite characters in the other books, and I hated that she was hardly in this one at all.  I didn’t even like the parts she was in because they just seemed so…out of character for her.  Brenda, the new female character in town, got on my nerves a lot, and I really didn’t care for her at all.
 
For me, The Death Cure was a disappointing ending to an otherwise okay series.  A lot of people have a different opinion then I do on this book, though, so if you were a big fan of the preceding books in the trilogy, you’ll probably like The Death Cure, too.
 
Rating:  2/5
 
Read-alikes:  The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins, Incarceron – Catherine Fisher
 
Other Books in this Trilogy:  The Maze Runner (Book 1), The Scorch Trials (Book 2)

"Some of us came from the mountains, and had never before seen the sea, except for in pictures, and some of us were the daughters of fishermen who had been around the sea all our lives. Perhaps we had lost a brother or father to the sea, or a fiancé, or perhaps someone we loved had jumped into the water one unhappy morning and simply swum away, and now it was time for us, too, to move on."

The Buddha in the Attic – Julie Otsuka
 
129 pages
 
Genre:  Historical Fiction; Japan ; Culture
 
Summary:  The Buddha in the Attic chronicled the lives of young Japanese women as they journeyed to America about a century ago. 
 
Review:  I’m a history nerd and Asia fascinates me, so when I read that The Buddha in the Attic was a combination of both, I was thrilled.  While I thought this book was beautifully written, I didn’t care for it all that much.
 
First, the good:  the writing itself.  The language within this book was lyrical, lovely, and complex.  Otsuka is a very talented writer, and her sentences were fluid and seemed effortless.  Many of the thoughts she put to paper were insightful and poignant, and it was truly a delight to read her wonderfully crafted words.
 
My problem with this book lies with the story, or should I say, lack thereof.  While the ideas presented were really thought provoking, it was hard to linger on them for very long because the narrative would switch to another person, usually in the very next sentence.  It was very hard for me to keep track of what was going on, and impossible to get to know the characters.  While I felt awful that the people depicted in the story faced such hardships, I wish I could’ve known them a bit more so I could have really felt what they were feeling.  Perhaps that was the whole idea, though.  Maybe the reader was only provided with a glimpse into each individual so when things really started going bad, it highlighted the fact that hardship happened to everyone, regardless of personality or past circumstances.
 
I also wish there would have been more of a story.  The Buddha in the Attic seemed more like a string of thoughts rather than an actual narrative.  They were wonderfully written, astute thoughts, but thoughts nonetheless.  I really wish this would have been told from the perspective of just a few characters with very different circumstances, because I think I would have enjoyed it more.
 
If you’re looking for an extremely well-written overview of what new Japanese immigrants experienced in the United States about a century ago, you may enjoy The Buddha in the Attic.
 
Rating:  3/5

“Stories are a different kind of true.”

Room – Emma Donoghue

321 pages

Genre: Contemporary; Realistic Fiction

Summary: Imagine everything you knew about the world was contained in a small room. You’ve never been able to leave this room, and even though you watch television, you still don’t believe that anything exists outside of the room. While this may seem unbelievable, for five-year-old Jack, it’s his life. Born into captivity, Jack and his mother live together in a tiny, self-contained room and only have each other for company…that is, until Old Nick decides to make his daily visits. Told from Jack’s perspective, Room chronicles his and his mother’s life in captivity. Are they doomed to live a life of confinement forever, or can they somehow find a way to escape Room and their captor?

Review: Even though I knew Room had difficult subject matter, I had been anxious to read it for quite some time. Super depressing books seem to be a go-to for me, and I’m not really sure why that is. Room was an incredibly engaging, suspenseful read, and I was hooked from start to finish.

Donoghue did an excellent job imagining just how acquiescent children are, and it was exemplified in the creation of the five-year-old narrator, Jack. Since the story was told from Jack’s perspective, it was a bit of an adjustment to get inside of his head because his thoughts were written so simplistically, but after the first few chapters, I was completely drawn into Jack’s world, regardless of language. If it was told from the mother’s perspective, I don’t think the story would have been as good, simply because she had known the outside world. It was terrifying and heartbreaking to see how comfortable and safe Jack felt in Room, but because it was all he knew, it really made a lot of sense.

Besides Jack, the other characters were also really well done. Old Nick was definitely scary, and through Jack’s description, the reader could get a real sense of what an unconscionable human being he was. His mother was also well done, and it was evident how much she loved Jack and how badly she wanted him to really be safe.

Room was an absorbing read, full of action and drama. If you can handle stories about captivity and you’re looking for a good, engaging read, definitely give it a try.

Rating: 4/5

Read-alikes: The Collector – John Fowles, The Face on the Milk Carton – Caroline B. Cooney