Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I'm off to see the wizard...I mean, I'm going to BEA

I'm off to NYC to experience BEA or Book Expo America for the first time! 

What is BEA?
It's a three day book and publishing extravaganza, where participants meet authors, publishers, other bloggers, attend panels and learn all about upcoming releases. Yes, that means free books! Maybe I'll have a completely different answer to this question after I've attended.

Last year, I wasn't blogging, and I'd never even heard of BEA. 
I feel incredibly excited and honored to be able to attend this year. 

I cannot wait to meet all of you who are going.
I already miss those of you who cannot attend.  

I also want to apologize for being slow to reply to comments and visit other blogs in the past few weeks! I'll be back at it soon. Planning for this trip has been time consuming, but a lot of fun!

If you've attended BEA before, what's your number one tip?
If you're going for the first time, what are you most looking forward to about it?
If you're not able to go, what's one thing you want to know about the event?

After BEA, the Summer Series Challenge begins on June 1. 
I hope you can join the fun!

Born of Illusion by Teri Brown

Born of Illusion
by Teri Brown
Read: April 29 - May 1, 2013
Published: June 11, 2013 by Balzer & Bray
Source: Around the World Arc Tours 
Category: 1920s Historical Fiction with Fantasy elements

Anna Van Housen is thirteen the first time she breaks her mother out of jail. By sixteen she’s street smart and savvy, assisting her mother, the renowned medium Marguerite Van Housen, in her stage show and séances, and easily navigating the underground world of magicians, mediums and mentalists in 1920’s New York City. Handcuffs and sleight of hand illusions have never been much of a challenge for Anna. The real trick is keeping her true gifts secret from her opportunistic mother, who will stop at nothing to gain her ambition of becoming the most famous medium who ever lived. But when a strange, serious young man moves into the flat downstairs, introducing her to a secret society that studies people with gifts like hers, he threatens to reveal the secrets Anna has fought so hard to keep, forcing her to face the truth about her past. Could the stories her mother has told her really be true? Could she really be the illegitimate daughter of the greatest magician of all? (From Goodreads)


I have a confession to make about Born of Illusion. I got almost 90% into this story and did not care what happened to any of the characters, so I just skimmed the rest of the book. That almost never happens to me. I probably would not have even made it that far if I hadn't been reading it for a a book tour. 

The 1920s are a fascinating time period to read about, and thankfully many authors are exploring it these days. With the spiritualist movement, magic, prohibition, speakeasies, silent films, revolutions in women’s fashion, and general prosperity, it was an exciting time in America. Although Born of Illusion features many of these elements, the book fell flat for me, largely because I did not find any of the characters compelling, or actually the story either. My favorite character by far was Mr. Darby the crotchety neighbor downstairs, who was a lower level secondary. 

Anna is our narrator, and she is the daughter of the renowned medium Marguerite Van Housen. Anna assists her mother in her stage shows and séances, although Anna herself prefers magic to spiritualism. While Mrs. Van Housen is more of an actress than a real medium, Anna has her own mental gifts that she keeps hidden from her mother, whom is more interested in her career than her daughter. Anna's mother has been performing as long as Anna can remember, and together they have traveled widely. But despite all of her life experiences and psychic talents, Anna came across as dense and overly naïve at times. The book description above made Anna sound way more badass than she ever seemed to me. It is also clear that the reader is supposed to sympathize with Anna's struggle to live with her ambitious and neglectful mother. However, Anna and her mom both treated each other terribly. They had an awful passive aggressive relationship, each constantly undermining the other. It was childish, annoying and didn't ring true to me. I hoped for better from Anna at least. 

Then there was the uncomfortable pseudo love triangle that popped up in this story. One guy I liked from the beginning, though I thought he was overly mysterious for no real reason that I could understand. Even when he told Anna why he'd kept information from her, I didn’t buy it. As for the other guy, I cringed whenever he came onscreen. It was clear that he had ulterior motives, or at least wasn’t a real option on any deep level. I was mystified why Anna kept saying she was into him. For all of Anna's abilities to sense other people’s emotions she was terrible at reading people. Or at least she was overly naïve around guys, despite all of the traveling, living and breaking her mom out of jail that she’s done.

As for the general plot, I thought that Anna’s work as a magician and illusionist was really cool, as well as the history of the spiritualist movement. It was really fascinating to get the behind the scenes of the séance and medium tricks, and see the culture of the 1920s. But without compelling characters or a story line to grab me, the social setting wasn’t enough to keep this book afloat. Also, I’m not sure what I thought about the supernatural aspect of this book. For me what’s most interesting about the spiritualists is that it was all fake, but this book throws in real supernatural aspect that never really grabbed me. I wish that the author had gone bigger with it or left it out completely (though I realize that this book would not be a book without those elements, so take that as you will).

I think the book cover is beautiful at least! 

Love Triangle Factor: Medium 
Cliffhanger Scale: I believe this is a standalone. Possible companion series. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Top Ten Books That Made Me Sob Like A Baby

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke & The Bookish

Top Ten Books That Made Me Sob Like A Baby
I don't cry a lot when I read. But all of these books are very memorable, because they all  brought out the ugly tears. For some of these, if I think too hard about the stories, I might just start crying all over again. 

Also, I'm headed to BEA tomorrow and hope to see some of you there! 

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Sold by Patricia McCormick

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

The Fault in our Stars by John Green

Marley & Me by John Grogan 

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

What books have you read that have made you cry?

Do you tear up in most books you read, or very few?

Friday, May 24, 2013

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The thing about reviewing a book that everyone has already read - or at least seen a review of - is there isn't much I can say that will be new. Thankfully, that usually make me feel like I have more freedom in what I write. The first half of this post will be safe for everyone to read. The second part is where I want to say something specific about the end of the book that is only for people who have read it. I will tell you when we get to the spoiler part.

The 5th Wave
by Rick Yancey
Read: May 14 - 17, 2013
Published: May 7, 2013 by Putnam Juvenile
Source: Library
Category: Post-Apocalyptic, Aliens, YA

The Passage meets Ender’s Game in an epic new series from award-winning author Rick Yancey.

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up. (From Goodreads)

Note: I haven't read The Passage or Ender's Game (I know! Bad me.), so I would personally call this book The Host meets Chaos Walking. 

The 5th Wave freaked me out. Big time. If I were going to stage an alien invasion, I couldn't manage it better than this one. Actually, this is much better than anything I could come up with. I'm just going to use it as my future invasion guidebook. The scariest thing is that I've seen elements of this strategy in play during some of the darkest times in human history, which only made it feel more real. Possible. But within all the action and alien created chaos, is a very thoughtful exploration of what it means to be human. Is it possible to erase our humanity? Or are the darkest moments when we prove ourselves the most? 

You know that creeping feeling of dread when you realize that something isn't right, but you can't figure out what it is? And you keep forging ahead anyway, even though you know something Very Bad is about to happen? I felt that way the entire time I was reading The 5th Wave. Although there are a few elements of the story that I figured out, they just made me more excited and nervous about what was coming next. 

The 5th Wave is recounted through four voices, Cassie, Zombie, Silencer and Nugget, and I think this book is bigger and richer because of its different perspectives. I also loved the moments when their stories converged, and fireworks happened. Cassie's voice is first and also my favorite. I found her to be relatable and and amusing even while the world was falling apart around her. Zombie gave us valuable information, but it is his moments of revelation that are powerful. Silencer and Nugget have the smallest number of pages devoted to their voices, but both of them made a huge impression on me. Silencer's POV is where some of the black and white of this book turns to grey. I struggled a lot with Nugget's role, but then I remembered that what his character faces is really happening in some places of the world today. I appreciate that Yancey took the risk to include him. I haven't come close to mentioning all of the fantastic characters. You'll just have to read the book to meet the rest. 

I was surprised at how much I swooned while reading The 5th Wave. Personally, I am a big fan of the pairing (and potential pairing) happening in here. I thought it made the story stronger and more complex. This book has no love triangle, and I hope it stays that way in the future. PLEASE NO LOVE TRIANGLES, Mr. Yancey! 

It took some time for the story to gain momentum. Although I was very interested from the beginning, it wasn't until the third voice that I was glued to this story. Also, I had a huge meltdown about the last two pages. I literally fretted about them for 5 days after I finished reading the book, worrying that they would completely change my feelings about this series (sometimes I get dramatic). But on day 5, I had a massive epiphany, which made me feel MUCH better about everything. I'm going to tell you all about my revelation, but it's a spoiler. Look below the line only if you've read the book.  

But really, The 5th Wave is as exciting and addicting as everyone says it is. The narrative asks compelling questions and includes some excellent moral ambiguity, all while featuring lots of dangerous action. Even with all the comparisons to other books in the description above, this book feels fresh and sophisticated. I'm hoping the next one will be even more awesome.  

Love Triangle Factor: None so far - let's keep it that way.
Cliffhanger Scale: Low. LOTS unresolved, but ended on a quiet moment. 


It's no secret that I don't like love triangles, so I was pleasantly surprised that this book didn't appear to have one...until I got to the last two pages. Then all of a sudden there was a strange moment between Ben and Cassie that seemed to be foreshadowing a future triangle. I could not understand what it was doing there, because it felt so out of place with the rest of the high action, alien apocalypse story. Out of all possible choices, why would the author leave us with that moment? Even if it wasn't really foreshadowing a triangle, it felt like Yancey wanted us to THINK it was. I literally had a huge tantrum and started panicking that the whole next book would completely shift focus to Evan-Cassie-Ben relationship drama. But then I had an epiphany, and decided that maybe Yancey was saying something else entirely in that final scene.

What if those last two pages aren't foreshadowing a love triangle at all, or even about Ben hitting on Cassie. Maybe they're only saying something about Cassie. Maybe they speak to the end of something instead of a beginning. What I mean is that perhaps those final moments of The 5th Wave symbolize the end of Cassie's childhood, and life as she knew it, including her long held crush on Ben. Or at least how she always envisioned her crush would turn into a relationship with him. 

After Ben gives Cassie that weird cheek kiss (which could mean nothing more than being sweet on his part, we don't know what he's thinking), she tries to start up that conversation that she'd always imagined having with him - where they reminisce about a moment they shared on the bus in elementary school. But Ben is all "what are you talking about?" At first I thought it was a pretty harsh move on his part, showing how little he paid attention to Cassie, though he knew her for years. But perhaps that moment is really there to explain that Cassie's pre-invasion dreams don't matter any more, and it's time to move on from them.

I thought it was out of place to start something romantic at the very end of the book, especially after Cassie had just had a moment remembering how she and Evan had been one when their minds connected. That doesn't mean something won't happen between Ben and Cassie (though I hope NOT. He's much better suited for someone else.). In my mind, it just shifts the scene's focus away from teasing a relationship between them, and makes it about Cassie's growth and personal realization that life will never be the same again. Granted, I have no idea what Yancey is actually saying, but it makes me feel better to think of it in this way.

What is your impression of the final scene? Do you think it's foreshadowing a love triangle, or saying something completely different? 

If you're interested in further discussing this book, including my thoughts on the final scene. (Fair warning, that part gets ranty, especially before I had my epiphany), check the comments under my Goodreads review, HERE


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Shark Bait by Jenn Cooksey

Shark Bait
by Jenn Cooksey
Read: May 4-5, 2013 self-published
Published: June 15th 2012
Source: Kindle purchase ($.99)
Category: Contemporary YA

Previously homeschooled Camie Ramsey is being shoved into the shark-infested waters of public high school, where even helium filled, penguin bespeckled arm floaties likely won’t help keep her inexperienced, fifteen-year old head above water in that rip current of hormones and emotions.

Camie’s worldly wisdom might be severely lacking (i.e., the closest she’s come to being kissed was sitting too close to the TV whilst Jake Ryan leaned in to give Samantha that fateful 16th birthday kiss), but she does understand her only hope for survival is if she’s thrown some kind of “social” life preserver before she sinks like a freaking rock. However, what will her fate be when she endeavors to flag down the only lifeguard on duty, the enormously popular and ridiculously beautiful Tristan Daniels? The most sought after and virtually most unattainable guy in school who not only makes Camie’s heart flatline on a recurring basis, he’s also the one guy who seemingly doesn’t know she exists.
Feeling like an inept piece of chum that could ultimately be swallowed by Jaws, can Camie get Tristan to rescue her from floundering in the treacherous deep, or is she destined to be Shark Bait? (From Goodreads)

Whenever I feel like I'm missing the I-cannot-stop-reading-this-book feeling, I start picking up self-published books. Although they usually have more editing and grammatical mistakes, they are often a little less inhibited and a little more indulgent. Sometimes that's exactly what I need in a book. It's also exactly what I found with Shark Bait, which quite literally swept me away (I promise no more water analogies!).

Do you remember being in high school, liking a guy and spending hours with your friends discussing and overanalyzing every move he makes? Scheming ways to get him to notice you, or even more embarrassing, covertly stalking him (driving by his house, planting yourself where he'll be sure to walk by in school)? I will fully admit to being one of these types of girls when I was a teen. Maybe that's why I thought this book was so much fun, because Camie and her friends do all those things, but in an even more extreme and larger than life way than I could have managed. They are also way more sophisticated and proficient at it than I ever was. 

Cameron "Camie" Ramsey is a 15 year old sophomore who is entering public high school for the first time. She and her sister Jillian have been happily home schooled until this point in their lives. However, in the words of Camie, "cancer sucks," and their mom's breast cancer has made it impossible for her to teach them anymore. Having never been to an actual school before, Camie is more than a little overwhelmed at the prospect of all those people and clicks and social rules. Thankfully, she's intelligent and ready and willing to make friends and fit in, but comfortable enough in her own skin that she isn't easily manipulated. She is also chatty, and prone to long inner monologues filled with music and movie references (more on that below), and though I was worried at first that her voice would bug me after a while, I actually grew to love her. 

Two big things happen on Camie's first day of school (well actually a lot if important things happen that day, but the two at the top are) 1) Camie lays eyes on hot junior Tristan Daniels and declares her undying love for him, and 2) Camie makes a new friend named Kate who also happens to be Tristan's good friend. The significance of Kate is that she knows Tristan very well, and she is willing - no, excited - to help Camie get Tristan's attention. I wish that Kate had been my best friend in high school. She is one sharp girl, both socially aware and a brilliant schemer. Nothing gets past her, and she comes up with a fool-proof plan to catch Tristan (See where the fishing pole comes in?).

What I appreciated about this book is that getting Tristan's attention is only the first step to romantic happiness. Despite Camie and Tristan's vastly different experience levels, neither of them has been in a relationship before. They have a lot of learning to do to figure it out. What I think makes this book both fun and real is that we get to see them work out what it means to be in a relationship with another person who is just as passionate and imperfect as you are. Camie and Tristan make lots of mistakes and have massive emotional breakdowns and misunderstandings. But along the way they learn about boundaries, communication, deal breakers and what each is willing to accept and put up with in a relationship. They are not the healthiest pair (at first), but I like that there is hope along the way. However, they still have a lot of growing to go, and considering this is just the start of the series, I have a feeling that there will be a lot more drama to come.  

Although Camie and Tristan are immediately attracted to each other, one of the biggest messages in this book is that you have to be yourself to make any sort of relationship work with another person. And most of all you need open communication and honesty or nothing can save you. Despite all the crazy scheming and hilarity, and Camie's over the top exclamations of Tristan's hotness, their feelings ring true, and we are able to see their connection. 

Shark Bait is written in a clear, straightforward non mysterious writing style. Most things are explained, which is good because a lot is going on. Besides Camie, Tristan and Kate, the story features a large and colorful cast that I have a feeling will become even more important as the series progresses. Shark Bait is the first in a possibly 6 book series. Book two The Other Fish in The Sea is available now, and Book 3 releases later this summer.

Three Wishes:

1) I wish some people wouldn't automatically judge these books by their covers. The covers are whimsical but also lean a bit towards cheesy. Not one fishing pole makes an appearance in these books, but the title is a metaphor that is pretty amusing and clever in this story. Please, don't overlook these books, if you are a cover judger and find these to be lacking. 

2) I wish I recognized more of the references. This entire book is filled with references to TV shows, movies and music from past 3 decades. Granted, some of you will find this to be one of the best parts of the story. But as I am not the pop cultural guru that Camie is, so many of the references went over my head. Though Camie explains everything, a reference isn't quite as fun if you have not see the show, or remember the song. I'm also not sure that most teens today would be as well versed in John Hughes, Buffy and Friends speak as Camie is. But what do I know?  However, this should not impede your enjoyment of the book, and in fact it will make it better if you can follow along.

3) I wish Camie and Kate's scheming hadn't begun so fast. Although this book is a bit of a soap opera at times, and Camie and Tristan had a messy relationship, I actually thought that it grew realistically. My only hesitation, is that Kate and Camie meet and start scheming on Camie's first day of school. It felt a tad too fast, even for impatient teens. I know that Kate is perceptive, but I'd imagine that it would have taken a bit more time for her to get to know Camie and work up to this point. 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Low 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

Siege and Storm
by Leigh Bardugo
Read: March 1-5, 2013
Published: June 4, 2013 by Henry Holt and Co.
Source: ARC leant by Asheley @ Into the Hall of Books
Category: Fantasy, YA
Series: The Grisha Trilogy Book 2

NOTE: Siege and Storm is the second book in a series, my thoughts contain spoilers for Shadow and Bone, though you're pretty safe if you skip The Set-Up. If you have yet to start The Grisha Trilogy, see my spoiler free thoughts on book 1, HERE

Darkness never dies.

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can't outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling's game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her--or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm. (From Goodreads)


The Set-Up: 
Alina and Mal are on the run from The Darkling, and they are worried that they will never be safe again. Although she is happy to be free, Alina cannot use her powers for fear of discovery, and she is weak and beginning to wither from hiding them. No longer The Darkling's Grisha, she feels purposeless, and is haunted by the deaths she caused when she and Mal escaped the Shadow Fold. Because Mal deserted the army, he can never return either, but he is far more at ease and adaptable to their life in hiding. 

However, Alina and Mal's peace - no matter how false it really is - doesn't last long. Soon they are thrust back into the action, and Alina realizes that she cannot escape from her power or from the mounting internal and external pressure that is amassing because of it. 

The Plot and Characters: 
In Siege and Storm, Alina must face what it means to be the Sun Summoner amidst an increasing number of people who want to use her ability for their own purposes. She continues to struggle with loneliness and self doubt, even while she relishes the strength and power that she feels when she is summoning light. Alina also contends with sea voyages, mythical creatures, monsters, battles, flying machines, costumes, saints and pilgrims. Oh and The Darkling of course, who has a talent of popping up when you least expect it. But is he right in claiming that he is the only person who understands Alina's power and as an extension of that, her? 

If anyone could steal attention away from the The Darkling - who somehow still succeeds in making seething darkness look sexy - it would be pirate, of course! Or rather a charismatic privateer named Sturmhond, who has an abundance of charm as well as an agenda of his own. He is hands down the scene stealer of this book, and you definitely don't want to miss him. But we also get to see old faces again and meet some additional new ones, including a kick-butt set of twins that I would not want to be caught on the wrong side of. 

Where does Mal fair amidst the other two overachieving males? Mal is still the best tracker and in demand because of it. But what gives him an edge in my book, is the fact that he is the only person who has loved Alina all her life, before she became a powerful Grisha. His interest in her does not lie in what she can accomplish for him, and that makes him the only person she feels like she can trust. But the question is, can he love her now that she is a Grisha? And is there a future that ends with them together? Both Mal and Alina make mistakes in this book, that definitely don't help matters any. 

I wouldn't call this story a love triangle from Alina's point of view, because I think she' has always loved Mal. Even so, there are several people who are more than willing to step into his place. Whether or not their feelings for Alina are genuine or tied to how much they need her - or how amenable Alina is to their advances, you'll have to make your own judgements. 

The Conclusion: 
Siege and Storm is exciting from the beginning. I loved exploring more of the Russian-inspired world that Leigh Bardugo has created, as well as the waters that surround it. The story does slow down a bit in the middle, when the book becomes much more Alina introspective. But the action increases exponentially near the end. Remember in Shadow and Bone when you think everything is going one way and then, BOOM! - suddenly there's a huge explosion that completely changes the landscape? Siege and Storm had a couple of moments like that, as well as another high stakes ending. Thankfully, this plot wraps itself up well. Although there are hints of what is to come and a feeling of looming danger, this is not a cliffhanger. I cannot wait to find out what Leigh Bardugo has in store for us in Ruin and Rising.

Love Triangle Factor: Mild
Cliffhanger Scale: Low

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Top Ten Favorite Book Covers Of Books I've Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke & The Bookish

Ten Favorite Book Covers Of Books I've Read

Some general comments on my cover tastes: 

  1. I couldn't state that these are my favorite covers of all time, but they are some (mostly recent reads) that I really like. 
  2. I don't like faces on covers, because they rarely match the image of the characters that I picture in my head. 
  3. I like when the cover is descriptive of the book, either an actual theme/scene, or it captures the mood.
  4. I don't like movie tie-in covers.
  5. Prom dresses don't do anything for me either. 
  6. A "bad" cover won't stop me from reading a book, but it will influence whether or not I notice it. 

1) The Mara Dyer series by Michelle Hodkin: I LOVE these there covers together. They perfectly capture the mood of the two books and the relationship between Mara and Noah. I CANNOT WAIT for the final one. 

2) Let the Sky Fall by Shannon Messenger: This cover perfectly describes this book, from the characters to the California desert setting.

3) Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo: Graphically, these covers capture the feel of the books and the Russian setting, as well as small details about the individual stories (like the waves on book 2). This series is epic and couldn't be captured by a picture of a person. 

4) Angelfall by Susan Ee: Love the mixed media feel to this cover, and of course the angel wings. I think they should make this cover with a texture. Also, when is the next one coming out? Waaaaahhh

5) Seraphina by Rachel Hartman: I love that this one almost looks like a pen and ink drawing. The dragon and the architecture are perfect for this book. Too bad I couldn't connect with this story better :(. 

Remember when I said I liked mermaids? I like both of these sets of covers, though they have very different feels. 

6) Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama: This one is darker and more serious, like the book. 

7) Of Poseidon and Of Triton by Anna Banks: Often covers become even lovelier when they are paired with their series books. I love the flow of water shots and think they are extremely appealing.  

8) The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett: This cover captures the historical feel of the book, as well as the architecture themes. Plus this book is huge and epic, and somehow that cover fits it well. 

9) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: I think I love this one so much because of how familiar it is. It's also wonderfully descriptive of the book. 

10) The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke: Love the Arabian feel to this book. 

What are some of your favorite covers?

Have you signed up yet? 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith

Wild Awake
by Hilary T. Smith
Read: May 12 -13, 2013
Published: May 28, 2013 by Katherine Tegen Books
Source: Around The World Arc Tours
Category: Contemporary YA

Things you earnestly believe will happen while your parents are away:

1. You will remember to water the azaleas.
2. You will take detailed, accurate messages.
3. You will call your older brother, Denny, if even the slightest thing goes wrong.
4. You and your best friend/bandmate Lukas will win Battle of the Bands.
5. Amid the thrill of victory, Lukas will finally realize you are the girl of his dreams.

Things that actually happen:

1. A stranger calls who says he knew your sister.
2. He says he has her stuff.
3. What stuff? Her stuff.
4. You tell him your parents won’t be able to—
5. Sukey died five years ago; can’t he—
6. You pick up a pen.
7. You scribble down the address.
8. You get on your bike and go.
9. Things . . . get a little crazy after that.*
*also, you fall in love, but not with Lukas.

Both exhilarating and wrenching, Hilary T. Smith’s debut novel captures the messy glory of being alive, as seventeen-year-old Kiri Byrd discovers love, loss, chaos, and murder woven into a summer of music, madness, piercing heartbreak, and intoxicating joy. (From Goodreads)

I loved this book so much. I'm going to do my best to articulate why I fell hard for it, but I'd like to start off by apologizing for how excessively long this review is. I also realize that not everyone will feel the same way that I did about this story, and it's possible that I liked it for all the wrong reasons. Honestly with all the drug induced shenanigans this girl gets up to, I'm surprised I enjoyed Wild Awake as much as I did. But I really, really did.

That book description above is extremely vague, what exactly is Wild Awake about? 

Wild Awake is about a girl who wakes up to the life going on around her. She discovers that it is messy and loud and not easily organized (or categorized). It's also painful and vibrant and glorious. Wild Awake is about pressure and expectations and grief and madness. It is a series of moments strung like Chinese lanterns on a wire, more vibrant when you hang them all together. 

So maybe that wasn't much more helpful. Basically, Wild Awake is about a girl named Kiri, who is home alone for 6 weeks during the summer, while her parents are on a cruise around the world. She's supposed to be practicing for her upcoming piano recital and preparing for Battle of the Bands with her hopefully-more-than-friend Lukas. While Kiri does a lot of playing, her carefully planned schedule goes completely off track somewhere along the way. She also falls in love with the wrong guy (thankfully). But it's a random phone call from a stranger who tells her that he has some of her dead sister's stuff, that really throws everything off course, or sets it in motion. 

Five reasons why I loved Wild Awake:

1) Madness. At first, Wild Awake seems to be another YA book about self-discovery. Kiri learns some information about her sister, which freaks her out, and makes her reexamine her views on a lot of things. Kiri's parents are gone, so she has a lot of freedom, and with that freedom she begins to explore and experience life and love. She does it a bit excessively at first, but she's a teen and they do that, right? But then Kiri's behavior gets wilder, and sometimes very dangerous. Her casual, experimental, drug use* becomes more excessive and frightening. And you start thinking, maybe this is more than just teenage exploration? Maybe there is something serious and not-normal going on here. I love how Hillary Smith puts us inside Kiri's head. Lets us experience along with her, the creeping madness that overtakes her. And lets us become just as confused about what is going on as Kiri is. To put it in psychological terms, Kiri suffers from hypomania throughout the course of this book, or an extended manic period. This book doesn't really go into specific terms for mental illness, but it demonstrates in clear and loud ways, what it's like to be inside of it, experiencing it. 

Kiri is not the only person in this book who has some form of diagnosable mental illness, and one of the elements about this book that I love the most is how accurate, real and personal these characters' experiences and struggles are. This book also prompted a long discussion with my husband about psych disorders (I LOVE when a book prompts a discussion). He works in mental health, and we both agreed that this book is a very accurate picture of individuals living with mental illness. I really appreciated that Smith showed the beauty and danger of someone in the midst of an episode (or Thing as Kiri calls it). Letting us fall in love with them even more because of who they are, good, bad and complicated. 

2) Music. I am not musically inclined, although I love to listen. But my best friend growing up is a professional musician, and throughout high school she practiced at least 3 hours a day and felt guilty and incomplete if there was a day that she didn't pick up her instrument. As she grew up, she grew out of the feeling of being lost when she wasn't playing, and I really loved watching Kiri do the same. Kiri is even more hard core than my friend. Three hours is nothing to her, and though it made her dedication to her art seem excessive at times, it really wasn't that odd for a Serious Musician. It is clear that Kiri is a musical genius, but as the book went on and her mania continued, she got a little crazy about it. Did you know that creative brilliance is sometimes combined with manic disorders? That is clear in Kiri's case, and also some of the other characters. But I really love how the author used the evolution of Kiri's musical focus to show both her personal awakening and self-discovery, but also the good and bad ways in which creative talent is affected by mania.  

3) Kiri. I don't know if Kiri and I would be friends in real life. I think she would have been way too much for me to handle. I've never done drugs, or drunk excessively, or even stayed up all night (I'm a wimp. I need my sleep!). But I really enjoyed being inside her head. She is amusing, a little self-depricating, brilliant, and at times really out there. But even when she was making terrible decisions, and marching right off the deep end, I loved her. It was absolutely fascinating to be inside the mind of someone experiencing hypomania. It can induce creative brilliance, but as it wears on, becomes frightening and often leads to self medication with drugs and alcohol, both of which happened to Kiri.

4) Skunk (aka Love-Bison). At first, Skunk did not seem like much of a catch. He smokes (that's an automatic turnoff for me), and Kiri doesn't make him sound all that appealing physically. He doesn't appear to have a job, and his biggest ambition is to fix bicycles. Then I got to know him more and was quite intrigued. By the end of this story, I'd fallen hard for the guy Kiri calls her Love-Bison (you will learn to swoon over that endearment too).

Skunk is not the usual YA romantic lead, but still his relationship with Kiri is one of the most compelling romances that I've read recently. They are two broken people, who are both a little left of center, but in many ways that makes them better equipped to handle each other. Their love story is written a little unconventionally for a Contemporary YA. It is not the central tension in the story, though it is an important part of this book. Like all of Wild Awake, we are shown pieces and glimpses of their relationship - bicycle rides, tea drinking, radios and dancing in the rain. It's not all the same progression that other books highlight about new love, but their connection comes across clear and strong. 

4b) Bicycles. Kiri and Skunk meet because Kiri's bicycle pops a tire, and they continue to experience several delicious moments on or around bicycles. I never knew bicycle repair could be so appealing. 

5) All the other characters. From Kiri's sister Sukey, who comes across as vibrant and larger than life, despite the fact that she's been dead 5 years when the book begins, to old and perpetually drunk Doug who has a three legged cat, the more insane the character in this book, the more I liked them. I even enjoyed Kiri's piano teacher and her Serious Piano Student Nelson. Smith has the amazing ability of writing people who are incredibly flawed, showing you all of their their warts, and still making you care about them. That is one thing I liked best about this book. Despite the painful truths that Kiri learns about her older sister, she still adores her, misses her and celebrates her.  

A little levity. As much as I loved this story, I did have a slight problem with the setup of the book. Kiri's parents leave her with no adult supervision for an excessive amount of time. Then every time she spoke to them on the phone, they were distracted and oblivious, in a strange and uncomfortable way. But thankfully at the end of the book, they actually show themselves to be Real Parents. Noticing that Kiri has something not-usual going on with her, and taking appropriate action to help her out. Even Kiri's brother and Skunk's aunt, whom I sort of wanted to vilify at first, end up being voices of reason. That is the other, more sobering side of this book: we all need a little perspective in our lives, and some people need more of it than others. Accountability is important to keeping a person from tipping past a little on the edge, to completely out of control and in need of intervention. My hope for these characters is that they continue to live life to its fullest, but also find a balance, and seek help when they need it. 

Love Triangle Factor: Very Mild
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone

*I do not condone any sort of drug use, casual or not. Nor I do think it is required for self-discovery or being a teen. 
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