Friday, August 31, 2012

Let's Talk: Issue Driven Books

Let's Talk is a weekly meme hosted by Melissa at i swim for oceans

Do you like issue-driven books? Why, or why not?

As is typical with me, this is not an easy Yes or No question. Though I guess my initial answer would be YES I do like issue-driven books. Most contemporary fiction includes a main character with an issue that s/he is dealing with. I read and like a lot of these books, so I guess that in itself answers the question pretty simply. Although, I do understand that there is a difference between a contemporary romance with a side of issue and a true issue-driven book (where the story is more about a character facing something than it is about her finding someone).

But even when I read a true issue-driven book, I want to get something good out of the struggle and pain that my character is facing (It's not worth the pain, unless I gain. Yes, I realize that's super cheesy.). Usually the gain comes in the form of a romance. I like when the MC meets someone while s/he works through her issues (let's face it, it's usually a "her" narrating the story) - and a love story develops in the process. I'm also going to admit here that I prefer positive endings. That means that I want my characters to face their issues and move beyond them by the end of the novel (and often fall in love in the process). Thankfully, this is what happens in most issue books. I will admit, though that there are always exceptions to the rule. Sometimes a love story or happy ending isn't necessary or appropriate.

Honestly, though what bugs me most about issue-driven books is the standard plot line that regularly accompanies them. Let me lay it out for you: 

When the story begins, we meet a girl. This girl has some issues that need to be dealt with before she can get on with her life. As she starts to face these issues, she meets a guy. Sometimes he has issues too. Through her interactions with said guy, she starts to deal with these issues of hers. But as soon as their relationship begins to click into place, something happens that tears them apart. Usually this Thing happens about 80% of the way (give or take a few percentages) into the story, and involves someone doing something stupid or a big misunderstanding. Although it breaks up the happy couple, this Thing is most often used as a catalyst for the heroine finally dealing with her issues. And after that happens, the couple gets back together again = happy ending. 

Guys, I can see this plot line coming from a mile away. I've gotten to where I get nervous half-way through a book, because I'm just waiting for the Thing to happen.  And I'm constantly looking for authors who create conflict or resolve their stories in different ways. But it's not easy to find that, especially since this plot is featured in a lot of other types of books as well - straight romance and some paranormals, too. 

In its defense, I will admit that this storyline works, which is why it is used so much. But I've become exhausted from it. I think the root of the problem for me, is that when I recognize this well used plot, I start seeing the book as a formula and less of a story. Does that make sense?

Is there anyone else who feels this way, or am I a crazy person? (Maybe don't answer the crazy part...)
I apologize for getting a bit off topic this week!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Shadow and Bone

by Leigh Bardugo
Read: June 2012
Published: June 5th 2012 by Henry Holt and Co.
Source: Library book
Genre: YA - fantasy

Alina Starkov doesn’t expect much from life. Orphaned by the Border Wars, the one thing she could rely on was her best friend and fellow refugee, Mal. And lately not even that seems certain. Drafted into the army of their war-torn homeland, they’re sent on a dangerous mission into the Fold, a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh.

When their convoy is attacked, all seems lost until Alina reveals a dormant power that not even she knew existed. Ripped from everything she knows, she is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. He believes she is the answer the people have been waiting for: the one person with the power to destroy the Fold.

Swept up in a world of luxury and illusion, envied as the Darkling’s favorite, Alina struggles to fit into her new life without Mal by her side. But as the threat to the kingdom mounts, Alina uncovers a secret that sets her on a collision course with the most powerful forces in the kingdom. Now only her past can save her . . . and only she can save the future.

In some ways the plot and characters in Shadow and Bone are very conventional within young adult fiction. There’s a plain girl who feels like she doesn't fit into her world. She has a best friend who is a boy. She realizes that she has a unique magical talent much later than she should have figured it out. She goes to a boarding school where there are mean girls, gossip and makeovers. She meets a mysterious hot guy. Throughout the course of the novel she struggles, but finds confidence and grows as a person.

What I really love about this book is that it completely surprised me. I’m not going to say anything more specific about this, because I want you to be surprised as well.

The cast
The Villain: It took me a long time to figure out who the antagonist in the story was.
The Narrator: Alina Starkov. I didn’t dislike her, though I didn’t feel that there was that much that was remarkable about her (she is different from the other girls in the book, but in a way that is similar to a lot of other YA heroines). But I did enjoy seeing her struggle, own up to her mistakes, and find her own strength and will. And she did have some good moments.
The Best Friend: I disliked Mal in the beginning of the story, because he took Alina for granted. But I also saw him as the conventional/obvious choice for Alina, and I wanted something different for her.
The Darkling: Oh I LOVED him. He was by far my favorite character. It is worth reading this book just to experience him.
The Apparat (priest): With his scraggly beard, yellow teeth and the way he followed and watched Alina, he was one creepy guy.

The Romance: There is a bit of a love triangle in this story. (And I still liked this book! WHAT???)

I LOVED the third person narrative in the prologue of Shadow and Bone. It really did a great job at setting mysterious atmosphere of the story. This book feels both high fantasy and historical - it has it's own map and made up landscape and cities. Also, the society is uniquely structured to accommodate the magical elements in the world. But it features a Russian inspired setting and culture (which I really liked!). And there are references to societies of people that seem to mirror other world cultures, as well as to the world being on the verge of modern times. 

I can't wait to get my hands on book 2 and see what happens next. 

Rating: 4.5 stars
Love Triangle Factor: Mild-Medium

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


by Jennifer Armentrout
Read: August 19-20, 2012
Published: August 14th 2012 by Entangled Teen
Source: Kindle Purchase
Category: YA - Paranormal Romance

Being connected to Daemon Black sucks…
Thanks to his alien mojo, Daemon’s determined to prove what he feels for me is more than a product of our bizarro connection. So I’ve sworn him off, even though he’s running more hot than cold these days. But we’ve got bigger problems.

Something worse than the Arum has come to town…
The Department of Defense are here. If they ever find out what Daemon can do and that we're linked, I’m a goner. So is he. And there's this new boy in school who’s got a secret of his own. He knows what’s happened to me and he can help, but to do so, I have to lie to Daemon and stay away from him. Like that's possible. Against all common sense, I'm falling for Daemon. Hard.

But then everything changes…
I’ve seen someone who shouldn’t be alive. And I have to tell Daemon, even though I know he’s never going to stop searching until he gets the truth. What happened to his brother? Who betrayed him? And what does the DOD want from them—from me?

No one is who they seem. And not everyone will survive the lies…

Onyx is the second book in a series. My review may contain spoilers for Obsidian.

Okay guys, please don't send me hate mail, but I'm going to be the lone dissenter in the crowd of glowing reviews of this book. It's not that I didn't like Onyx, I just didn't LOVE it as much as Obsidian. The main reason for my difficulty with this story was Katy's behavior. When we met her in the first book, I loved that she was stubborn, independent and called Daemon out on his erratic behavior towards her. But these same characteristics began to get on my nerves in book two. She just kept making the same argument and excuses to herself over and over again, refusing to listen to the truth, which in turn impaired her good judgement. I seriously wanted to shake Katy a few times while reading this one. 

Katy kept worrying that Daemon only cared for her because they were connected, so she didn't want to get involved with him. I understood that argument at first. It wasn't THAT she had these feeling that bothered me. It's the fact that she couldn't get beyond them.  As a reader it was clear to me that Daemon DID care for her. And I think even Katy believed that eventually, though she refused to acknowledge it to herself. Thus it was hard for me to stand behind her argument for staying away from him (again and again). Also, even with Katy's reservations about Daemon's feelings, she continued to make out with him regularly. So actually she really was't doing a good job at resisting him at all.

It got even more confusing with the introduction of Blake. At one point Katy was essentially "dating" both of them at the same time (regardless of what she told herself), and that never sits well with me. In the end though, Blake turned out to be an interesting addition to the storyline. 

Daemon was surprisingly patient throughout this book. Maybe it was his arrogance coming through. But I still felt bad for him, because Katy's behavior became a tad ridiculous and confusing. Daemon wasn't perfect, however, and did have to work through some protective tendencies that he had toward Katy. But I understood where he was coming from (with his history and what happened to Dawson). To me, the personal issues he needed to deal with made sense for his character. 

Despite my reservations, Katy and Daemon have amazing chemistry, and I continue to be in awe of Jennifer Armentrout's ability to create tension between her characters. I also love watching Katy and Daemon work together as a team. It is clear that they are good for each other, but there is also a fragility to their relationship because of the huge outside forces converging on them. In the end, K+D do make progress individually and as a couple. I just hope it sticks and we can go forward from here. Because there are lots of outside issues that are bigger than themselves, which could tear them apart. 

Although the beginning of the story focused largely on Katy and Daemon's relationship issues, Onyx also has action, lots of revelations (some surprising, some predictable) and continues to develop the complexity - and danger level - of the world in which they live. We find out more about the aliens and the government that's attempting to control them. The end is exciting and a great set up for book 3. I'm looking forward to finding out what happens in Opal!

Rating: 3 stars
Love Triangle Factor: In this book, possibly a Medium. In the series - Mild.  

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

In My Mailbox: Library Edition

IMM is a weekly meme hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren.

Some days I go to the library and pick up way more books than I can get through in the allotted check-out time, because I just HAVE to have them. Even though these books live at the library and aren't going anywhere (but what if someone checks them out when I NEED them???). This was one of those days. 

I've been reading a lot of contemporary YA romance/issue books, so yesterday I woke up and decided that I need to read some epic fantasy. That led me to to the library where I picked up Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. How I think I'm going to get through all those books in three weeks is beyond me. Although I could definitely read through them, I don't think my mind will be able to retain all that awesomeness. I also can't get away from the contemps, so I got The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. And to round it all off, because I just don't know when enough is enough, I grabbed Pretties by Scott Westerfield. I promised a friend that I'd finish the series by the end of the summer and we're getting down to the wire. 

BUT I still have three library books sitting on my shelf, which I have yet to open. Clearly I should have read them before I even thought about getting anything else. But I am not always logical in my library book hoarding. This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers and Wake by Amanda Hocking, might have to head back into the stacks before I've read them (this time). However, Alice Bliss is for a book group. Laura Harrington lives nearby and will be meeting our group in September, which means I'll definitely be reading that one. 

But which one should I start now? I'm feeling a bit paralyzed by my choices. 

This was the state of my library copy of Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier after I finished it. Apparently a well checked out book. I promise I didn't rip it apart - but I'm still going to have to explain it to the librarian. I also promise those little fingers that wormed their way into the picture didn't do it. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Daughter of the Forest

By Juliet Marillier
Read: August 13-16, 2012
Published: February 18, 2002 by Tor Books
Source: Library book
Category: Adult - Fairy Tale

Daughter of the Forest is a beautiful, painful fairytale retelling about the lengths that one young girl will take to save her brothers. Although I did not know the story of the six swans before I began it, it has since become one of my favorites.
This is the path. Straight ahead, Sorcha. You knew it would be hard. It will become harder still. 
Sorcha lives with her father Lord Colum and her 6 older brothers in a place called Sevenwaters, somewhere in Ireland surrounded by a forest that is enchanted. Despite her father’s constant war with the Britons and her brothers training to join the fight, Sorcha’s life is relatively peaceful and idyllic. Although she feels alienated from her father, she finds safety and protection in her older brothers, who will do anything for her. 

Then two things happen that change everything. 
Sorcha’s life will never be the same again.

That’s always how it begins, right?

The family:
Colum – The war-hardened, grieving father
Liam – the eldest and natural leader
Diarmid – the one to make you laugh
Cormack – the young warrior
Conor – the scribe and mystic
Finbar – the seer stuck between two worlds
Padriac – the inquisitive one and animal mender
Sorcha – the healer and storyteller
The first change to happen in Sevenwaters is the capturing of a prisoner by Colum's men. Sorcha and one of her brothers rescue him after a gruesome interrogation, and she becomes tasked with his healing. It's during this time that Sorcha learns that the world isn’t black and white. She loses her innocence in many ways, because she sees that her family is not perfect and realizes that those you love (and whom love you) can still do ugly things.

Second, Sorcha’s father remarries (Uh-oh, beware of stepmothers!) and her brothers are placed under an evil enchantment that only Sorcha has the power to overcome. Thus begins a journey that will break apart everything that she knows and loves. Is she strong enough to survive it?
“Why Sorcha?”…“Because she is the strongest,” said Conor simply. “Because she can bend with the wind, and not break. Sorcha is the thread that binds us all together. Without her we are leaves in the wind, blown hither and thither at random.”
When Sorcha's brothers are placed under a spell, she will do anything in her power to destroy it. Even if it means that she is unable to speak or utter any sounds while they are bound by the enchantment. Even if she has to complete a physically painful and debilitating task that will take months or years. Even if she can tell no one what she is doing. Even if she has to travel from home and come face to face with evil she cannot imagine.

Sorcha has an inner strength that is astounding. What she faces is heart wrenching and difficult to read at times. But she does not waver on her path. And amidst the agonizing trial and toil, she finds help and guidance. In the form of a beguiling fairy queen. In an unlikely savior turned protector. In her brothers who are willing to give up their wellbeing to save hers. These pockets of goodness weave throughout the story, creating a beautiful tale. 
Our love wraps you like a blanket. Our strength is yours, and yours keeps our hope alive.
One of my favorite things about this book is the relationship between Sorcha and her brothers. I love that the author took time to develop them individually and give them each strengths and weaknesses. I love that Sorcha would do anything for them and they for her. Of course I do have my favorites, and Finbar stole my heart from the beginning. I especially loved the relationship that he had with his sister. I found his story to be nearly as emotional as Sorcha's. 
“Real life is not quite as it is in stories. In the old tales, bad things happen, and when the tale has unfolded and come to its triumphant conclusion, it is as if the bad things had never been. Life is not as simple as that, not quite.”
I love this quote. It exactly sums up Daughter of the Forest for me. This is a fairy tale. But it also speaks truth about life. About how once you go forward, you cannot go back to the beginning, because things are never the same again. I felt that for Sorcha and the other characters of within the story. No matter what she accomplishes, in the end, her life and that of all the characters, is permanently changed. And sometimes that change comes in the form of wounds that will never truly heal. But underlying everything is in this story is a message of hope. To press on and not give up. That some things are worth it in the end.

Daughter of the Forest is one of those book where I found I had to go back and re-read the end multiple times to make sure that it didn't change. Each time I'd ache a bit and then breathe a sigh of relief. The story was an emotional read for me. I clenched my teeth a lot for Sorcha and actually cried at one point. 

A beautiful slow building romance is imbedded in this story. It is the kind of love story that sneaks up on the characters. It is quiet and confusing and lovely to watch. Although Sorcha is the storyteller, the two tales that her hero tells are by far my favorite. Pay attention to them.

The setting of Daughter of the Forest appears to be Ireland during the very early Middle Ages. I don’t know a lot about this time period (and I'm not sure the landscape is accurate), but the peoples described are real in history. And the book definitely reads as if it is an alternate history. One filled with terrible magic and the beautiful, dangerous Fey. 

Despite my love for this story, I did feel like there was a bit of an overuse of foreboding language as a transition. I think the story would have been just as suspenseful without it. 

A note on the content: Although this is a fairy tale retelling, and Sorcha is between the ages of 12 and 16 through the entire course of the novel, it is not classified as a Young Adult book. Some of the things that she faces are very difficult. Please use discretion.  

Rating: 5 Stars
Love Triangle Factor: Mild - this one's tricky because it depends on whose perspective you're considering this question from. There is really isn't a triangle, but the love story is very slow building.  

Friday, August 24, 2012

Let's Talk: three of my favorite book series

Let's Talk is a weekly meme hosted by Melissa at i swim for oceans
(Hi, Melissa! I'm excited to be joining. Thanks for inviting me, Asheley!)

What are your top three favorite book series and why?

I had a hard time answering this question, because I find it difficult to pick "favorites." Also, series are BIG in YA and I am in the middle of over 25 of them. It's a bit of a challenge to keep them all straight. I wanted to pick series that were not everyone's favorite (aka HP or THG - I love them both too!), and not include ones that I have yet to read in their entirety. I tried to stick with the first point, but gave up on the second. I picked two series that I have yet to finish (because the books aren't out), but I LOVE the first two books in each series and am confident that I'll feel the same about the third when it comes out. 

Regarding series. Sometimes I find I feel differently about individual books than I do about them together as a whole. Because often, when I see the progression of characters over a period of time, I end up loving them more (and sometimes less). It's like the saying the whole is greater than the sum of its parts - does that make any sense at all? Anyway, on to my first Let's Talk Friday.

1. Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta
Finnikin of the Rock, Froi of the Exiles, Quintana of Charyn (coming to the US March 2013)

Melina Marchetta has demonstrated again and again that she can write ANYTHING and it will be AMAZING. The Lumatere Chronicles proves that her fantasy is just as good as her contemporary. I want to eat her words with a spoon. There is a real beauty and movement to the way she writes, giving it a poetic feel that works marvelously in fantasy. 

Even though none of her books are easy - her characters tend to endure a lot of darkness and pain -  such bright light and beauty shines. Her masterful writing is such that each word-line-paragraph-chapter is important (and meaningful) to the story - I could read them again and again and never get tired of her words. She is one of the best authors that I have read who exhibits the method of showing and not telling in her writing, and it brings a depth to her books that I rarely find anywhere else. I am also constantly blown away by her characterization. The second book in the Chronicles is called Froi of the Exiles, and it is worth it to read this series just to find out where she brings Froi from when we first meet him in Finnikin to the end of the book that bears his name. 

2. Unearthly Series by Cynthia Hand
UnearthlyHallowed, Boundless (coming January 2013)

You guys aren't going to believe this, but I'm gong to highlight a series with a serious LOVE TRIANGLE. But I love these books so. And even after two novels, I'm not sure who the heroine Clara will pick. Both guys are GREAT, but different. I do have a favorite though. However, this series is so much more than a love triangle. It is about a girl who is part angel. But though she does move to a new school at the beginning of the first book, the series is different than the standard YA paranormal romance. First, Clara knows she's part angel, so we are saved the long period where the character has to figure out what it is that's Different about them. She also knows that she was put on the earth to fulfill a purpose, and that purpose is what takes her across the country. And bonus! she has a good relationship with her mother.

 Another thing I LOVE about this series is that it is extremely discussable. You know how I like to discuss books. As Clara tries to figure out what her purpose is and what it means for her, one big theme that develops is free will vs. destiny. Perhaps that doesn't sound interesting to you, but trust me, the way it plays out through the series - including how it affects the two guys - is fascinating. (you guys need to read these books so we can talk about them!) I plan on doing  a longer post on them eventually. 

3. Elemental Mysteries Series by Elizabeth Hunter
A Hidden Fire, This Same Earth, The Force of Wind, The Fall of Water

Beginning with A Hidden Fire, the Elemental Mysteries is my favorite adult paranormal romance series (and it's self-published!). I started the first book after reading a lot of YA books, and it was refreshing to read a story about people my age, with adult problems. Beatrice is also a historian and librarian, basically she has my dream job. Giovanni is a vampire, who has lived a lot of history, and together they are amazing. I love the progression of both of their characters through the entirety of the series (individually and as a couple), and being in both of their heads enabled me to understand and sympathize with each of them. It is clear that the characters and their story arc were well thought out by the author. Plus the books feature awesome side characters, humor, and lots of travel (Texas, Greece, California, Brazil, China, Italy). 

BONUS! A Hidden Fire is FREE this month on Amazon and Smashwords. GO get it NOW!

What are your favorite book series?

A Dual Review: Hunting Lila and Losing Lila

by Sarah Alderson

Hunting Lila
Read: October 2011
Published: August 5th 2011 by Simon & Schuster UK 
Source: Purchase from the Book Depository
Category: YA-Paranormal/Action

I don't buy a lot of books these days. Mostly because I can get them at the library, and I don't have a lot of space to store them. And if I do buy them, it's almost always the e-book. But I remember seeing Hunting Lila pop up on blogs about a year ago, and it caused a major I'VE GOT TO HAVE THAT moment. Of course the book wasn't published in the US - even in e-book format, which is when I discovered the wonders of the Book Depository. I decided to buy it for myself as a birthday gift. It was a good decision.

Hunting Lila introduces us to Lila who, when the book begins, has just flown from London to her brother's home in Southern California, after an attempted mugging gone wrong. She's not so much concerned about the fact that she was mugged, as most normal people would be. No, Lila's freaked out because she has this little quirk where she can move things without touching them. And that's definitely not normal, right?? It's the fact that she employed this "talent" against the muggers that has her so freaked. Worried that there's something seriously wrong with her, Lila makes the rash decision to get away as fast as possible. Lila is prone to impulsive decision making, so this isn't completely abnormal for her. At least that's how her brother Jack and his best friend Alex justify her sudden appearance. 

Lila is excited to see Jack, but even more thrilled that Alex is there too, because she's secretly been in love with him since she was a child. But Jack and Alex are not really happy about Lila's sudden arrival. They are part of an elite group of Marines that work for a secret organization called The Unit. Of course they won't tell her anything about what they do. But she soon discovers that their job is dangerous, and that they are trying to track down the people who killed her mother. 

Hunting Lila is filled with action, suspense and mystery. Nothing is truly what it seems, and the reader uncovers revelations right a long with the characters. There wasn't a moment that I was bored while reading this story and it kept me guessing until the end. Are there others like Lila out there? Will she learn to accept herself and start to see what she can do as an ability (instead of something to be afraid of)? What will Jack and Alex think when she tells them what she can do?

I loved following Lila, Jack and Alex, and seeing Lila finally, possibly, get a chance with Alex. She does do a fair bit of pining for him during this book, but honestly (and embarrassingly), it's probably pretty close to how much I obsessed over my first crush. Alex's job for The Unit has hardened him (yes, physically, though I'm not talking about that here!), and it's not always easy to read him - because of the controlled mask he presents to the world. Does Alex feel the same about Lila as she does for him? How will Jack take the news of Lila's feelings for Alex? 

Jack is a great character as well. He is a typical older brother - protective and thinks he knows best. He was a great counterpoint to both Lila and Alex. There are many other great characters in Hunting Lila - a few hilarious ones as well. But most of the good ones are too spoilery. So you'll have to read the book to meet them.

Hunting Lila was published in England and is written in British English. Words and phrases are said differently than they would be in America (the boot, bonnet and windscreen of a car etc.). And though I LOVE British English and a forgave it in Lila, it was a bit difficult to believe the very American Marines would talk that way. Though that's probably also what English people think when they read American books that take place in Britain. 

Rating: 4 stars
Love Triangle Factor: None

I'm going to try to keep the Losing Lila review as spoiler free as possible. I tried not to include anything that is a spoiler for Hunting Lila that wouldn't already be inferable if all you've done is read the HL book description. But if you don't want to know anything at all, don't read further.

Losing Lila
Read: August 6-12, 2012
Published: August 2nd 2012 by Simon & Schuster UK
Source: Purchase from the Book Depository
Category: YA - Paranormal/Action

Picking up about a week after Hunting Lila ends, Losing Lila starts with an awesome chase scene through the streets of Mexico City, à la Jason Bourne. The story is filled with even more action than the first book, as well as Mexican drug lords, getaway cars, stolen cash, large yachts, coffins and beach front villas (don't forget guns and explosives). New powers are discovered, betrayals are uncovered and more revelations come to light. 

Lila steps it up as well. She is no longer the frightened girl we met in the first book, but steadily gains confidence in herself and her power. However, she is still impulsive and headstrong, which causes some problems for Alex, whose careful plans keep getting thrown off course. 

I love Lila and Alex together. They are an excellent team and compliment each other well, because they have very different strengths (and weaknesses). As someone prone to jump headlong into danger, Lila has to learn to trust Alex's wisdom and planning. As the ultimate protector - something he's been doing for Lila since she was small, Alex has to learn to let her step out front and take action. I enjoyed watching them both grow individually and as a couple. 

All the characters that I LOVED (and hated) from Hunting Lila are back. Including, Lila's brother Jack, who is still not thrilled about the idea of Lila and Alex. He has a bluntness in the way he speaks that I adore. I love the banter between him and Lila. There are also some new faces, including a proper southern lady who likes to put everyone in their place, and plenty of hilarious moments.

The end of Losing Lila does not disappoint. I felt satisfied when I finished it, but the story also leaves enough questions open for a third sequel. (Please write one Sarah!)

Rating: 4 stars
Love Triangle Factor: None

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Summer of No Regrets

by Katherine Grace Bond
Read: August 6-8, 2012
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Source: Library book
Category: YA

This was the summer that would change my life.
No more being what everyone expected. No more doing what everyone else wanted.
So when Luke came into my life, I decided to keep him a secret. Maybe he as a dead-ringer for notorious Hollywood bad boy Trent Yves. And it was possible that everything he told me was a lie. And yes, I was probably asking for trouble. But all I saw was Luke--sweet, funny, caring--someone who would let me be the real me.
But which was the real him?

Brigitta lives with her hippie parents in the woods of the North West in a spiritual retreat center that caters to everyone from nuns to children with psychic abilities. The Center, or Earthship, is made out of materials such as tires and soda cans. Brigitta is surrounded by people of varying faiths and belief systems. Her grandparents were Christians, her mom believes in fairies, her father is a former atheist turned shaman, and her sister Mallory has put her hopes in psychology. Not surprisingly, Brigitta’s not sure what to believe. She’s also still dealing with grief from the death of her grandparents – Nonni and Opa – that she doesn’t know how to handle.

While in town one day with her celebrity obsessed friend Natalie, Brigitta literally runs into a boy named Luke. Her friend immediately suspects he is the actor Trent Yves. Brigitta rolls her eyes at this, but secretly also thinks he looks a lot like Trent. 

It turns out that Luke has moved into the mansion next door, and Brigitta starts to get to know him with him after they share an encounter with a cougar. The problem is that Luke keeps disappearing for days on end, with no explanation. And he still looks suspiciously like Trent. But Trent the celebrity is a jerk and Luke seems like a really great guy. So who is he? And where does he go when he disappears? 

The cast of characters in The Summer of No Regrets are quite eclectic. And with so many different messages coming at her, I can definitely understand why Brigitta is trying to figure out who she is and what she believes. She also wants other people to know the real her. I really enjoyed these coming of age themes. It also makes Brigitta's relationship with Luke all the more interesting, because as she begins to feel like he knows and gets her – she starts to more fully question whether she knows him at all.   

Amidst Brigitta's quest to figure out who Luke is, silly blog posts and some cute baby animals too, this story asks some really great life questions that many teens (and adults) ask themselves. 
  1. How do you go on after the death of a loved one who knew you as no one else does?
  2. When everyone around you believes something different, how do you decide what you believe? How do you make your faith your own?
  3. What does it mean to be a good friend?
  4. What happens when you realize that some things can't be saved?
  5. How do you decide how far to go in a relationship? (I really appreciate what Nonni told Brigitta: "Treasure your virginity, Brigitta. It's a gift you can only give once." So few YA novels have any sort of message like that)
  6. How do you relate to your parents when you realize they're not perfect, and you're not sure they Know you? Or you them?
  7. How do you know whether to trust someone's telling you the truth about themselves? 
This story isn't always realistic, and I think its scope may have been a tad large (a bit ambitious in the number of questions it asks). Also, Brigitta "could" have figured out who Luke was earlier in the book - but perhaps she didn't want to know. Because it might have changed everything - I get that fear. 

There's a scene in the book during the time that Brigitta doesn't know whether Luke is Trent or not, when she has access to his wallet. She has to decide whether to look and see for herself who he is, or trust that he's telling her the truth. What do you think you'd do in the same situation?

Rating: 3.5 stars
Love Triangle Factor: Mild

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


by Kirsten Hubbard
Read: August 16-17, 2012
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Source: Library Book
Category: Mature YA/New Adult (NA=high school graduate/college age)

In Wanderlove we meet Bria Sandoval, a recent high school graduate who wants to get away from her life (including an ex-boyfriend and the looming future of college), rediscover her love for art, and do something independent and exciting for once. She signs up for a guided tour of Central America, which is supposed to be filled with beautiful people her age. But she actually ends up in a group filled with middle-aged tourists. Not exactly what she's expecting.

While regretting her choice for global adventure, Bria meets Rowan, an experienced backpacker and dive instructor, and his humanitarian sister Starling. Bria then makes the possibly crazy decision to ditch her group to travel with them.

Although Bria and Rowan seem very different at first, they're both seeking a way to escape their past.  
Is it possible to move forward without ever looking back? 
How much can you trust another person when they won't share their past? 
And can Bria re-discover part of herself that she thought she'd lost?

I love when a book makes me feel things. When it draws out my emotions and memories. Wanderlove was that book for me. I can't remember when a book last made me feel such longing for a different time in my life. To be young and free and traveling. To be 18 again and able to pick up and go anywhere. This book made me remember when all these things were true for me. I LOVE when I'm able to connect to a book on such a personal level. 

Because Wanderlove brought it out of me, I'm going to do some reminiscing about my own traveling experience (you can skip ahead if this bores you). I actually was in Belize the summer after high school - when I was 18. Although the circumstances that brought me there were a bit different than Bria's. I went to Central America as part of a missions trip to help build a school.  My trip was not quite the unfettered experience that Bria and Rowan's was. But my volunteer experience enable me to get to know the community a bit. I also spent a few nights in the rainforest and saw some Mayan ruins. Next time, I'll go diving.

Me in Belize on top of a Mayan ruin. Notice the splint on my finger. I fractured it on a ceiling fan during the trip and got to experience the Belizean medical system.  

Later in college, I studied in Italy and did some independent travel (with friends) - staying in hostels and navigating foreign transportation systems, while seeing some amazing sites. Although, I was a history major, I ended up in a program with a lot of art students. I also took an art history class while there, which included a heavy sketching portion. I am nowhere near the artist that Bria is (and have done little to no drawing since that time), but I have very strong memories of sitting in a crowded piazza and sketching the scene before me. And I still have a very strong association with drawing and foreign travel. 

Finally, my father is a dive instructor, and my entire family is certified. I loved reading about Rowan's excitement about diving, and I could relate to what he feels when he's under water - the feeling of being in a different dimension, the unique creatures that you see (even the cold waters of New England have cool things to explore) and the silence. 

I think one reason I was able to connect with this book so well is because, in every detail of Wanderlove it is clear that Kirsten Hubbard is a Traveler. That she Knows the backpacking culture of Central America. I loved the personal touch of Bria's inner thoughts, observations and drawings that made her trip seem real. I could picture the people that Bria meets, from their wearable clothing, accessories, and hairstyles to the size of the backpacks they carry. And each place she described felt real. Visited. 

I could also relate to Bria. Wanting to see the world and get out of her life for a while, but not knowing how. To having been told travel horror stories and trying to be adventurous while avoiding dangerous insects and people. I try to blend in wherever I travel, with moderate success (depends a lot on where I travel - and what language they speak). So I cringed at the image of a tour group staring at maps. And I can relate to Bria wanting to fit in with the backpacking crowd. But I’m not the Traveler that Rowan and Starling are, and there was something fascinating about them. Although, I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to go off on my own with them, especially when I was 18.

At times I felt like the author pulled thoughts directly out of my head while I was reading this book. I loved the scene in which Rowan talks about thinking about the people who live their entire lives in the places he visits. That is something I always try to do when traveling. What would it be like to grow up here? To live and work in this place? I also love Bria’s comment back. About how even though her problems pale in comparison to those of a third world country, they’re HER problems and she shouldn’t have to feel less of a person for feeling them. I was right there in that discussion between them. I love when that happens. 

A beautiful slow building romance develops through this story. It is my favorite kind to watch. I love seeing two characters that seem nothing alike on the surface find their way to each other, discovering along the way that they aren't so different after all. Because of their differing life experiences, Rowan and Bria have insight to offer each other, challenge the way the other thinks, and end up working as a couple. I hope they're happy together, each doing what they love.  

However, my one complaint in this book also has to do with the love story. I felt like it fell in the trap of almost all contemporary romances. You know, near the end when one of the characters does something stupid or there is a misunderstanding, and it causes chaos. I realize this is a small thing. But it is such a used plot line that I inherently cringe when I get to it, and am constantly looking for something different to create tension and a climax in the story. I realize that I may be the only person bothered by this, and really it is a marvelous story besides.

I LOVE LOVE Wanderlove and it's made me more seriously start planning where I want to travel next. 

Rating: 4.5 stars
Love Triangle Factor: Mild

Saturday, August 18, 2012

One year later: why I love Jellicoe Road

by Melina Marchetta
Read: August 2011 - a year ago!
Publisher: HarperTeen
Source: Library book. Then purchase!
Category: YA (older teens)

Jellicoe Road was one of my favorite reads of 2011. In fact, it's one of the best books I've EVER read (yes, you heard that right). I wish I'd discovered it sooner. In reading other reviews or talking to friends to whom I've recommended it, I've found that people either LOVED Jellicoe Road or they couldn't get into the story. The most common complaint I've heard is that it is confusing for the first 100 pages, and people lose interest. For those of you that don't get my love for this book, or want to gush along with me, I'm going to tell you why I love Jellicoe Road
Get ready.

To find the book description click HERE.

Some slight SPOILERS throughout but I warn before you get to them.

 5 reasons (for 5 stars!) of why Jellicoe Road is one of my favorite books of all time:

1. The Writing - Melina Marchetta's writing style is gorgeous and lyrical, and throughout Jellicoe Road she produces an abundance of profound statements and quotable quotes that blew me away. 
I remember love. It's what I have to keep on reminding myself. It's funny how you can forget everything except people loving you. Maybe that's why humans find it so hard getting over love affairs. It's not the pain they're getting over, it's the love.
2. Slowly Revealing Characters (or I love Jonah Griggs)- I love how the characters in Jellicoe Road were revealed to the reader throughout the course of the novel. Take Jonah Griggs for instance. I love him. He holds a very special place in my heart. But the first things we learn about Jonah are that he is a "thug" and violent. And when Taylor sees him in the book, she says,
Jonah Griggs is a tank. His face is blunter, meaner than I remember. Hair cropped. Eyes cold. Arms folded. He has perfected the art of looking straight at someone while avoiding eye contact.
What has made him that way? And how can he be all those things and still be one of my favorite male characters of all time? READ the book and find out. 

3. Melodrama - Maybe this isn't everyone's favorite thing about Marchetta's writing. But I love how well she captures the big emotions of teens - both highs and lows. Her characters say and do outrageous things. And teenagers are all about drama (or at least I was). So I love it. The melodrama also helps to balance out the serious, emotional parts of the story. (This quote may be a SPOILER:)
"This is the best night of my life," Raffy says, crying.
"Raffy, half our House has burnt down," I say wearily. "We don't have a kitchen."
"Why do you always have to be so pessimistic?" she asks. "We can double up in our rooms and have a barbecue every night like the Cadets."
Silently I vow to keep Raffy around for the rest of my life.
4. Re-Readability (is that a word?) - I could literal flip to ANY page in Jellicoe Road and start reading and get lost in the book again. It is rare - to nonexistent - when I love EVERY moment of a story. This is that book for me. 
I fall in love with these kids over and over again and my heart aches for their tragedies and marvels at their friendship. And it’s like we’ve been talking for five minutes instead of five hours. 
5. Showing not Telling - Marchetta is the master at writing scene that seem simple and insignificant, but say SO MUCH about her characters (I mentioned this about Maggie Stiefvater in my review of Scorpio Races - they both do this well). 

This is the biggest reason why I love Jellicoe Road so I'm going to spend some time on it. My example is a SPOILER (sorry!), though it does not reveal details about the plot. Read it at your discretion. 

Part of Jellicoe Road is about Taylor trying to figure out who she is and how she fits into the world.
These people have history and I crave history. I crave someone knowing me so well that they can tell what I'm thinking. 
At some point in the book, Taylor is standing in line at a café with Jonah, and she's watching the "cheerful" employees know their customer's orders before they say anything. 
And I wish they'd do the same with me. Just look up and recognize me and know exactly what I order every day.
Taylor's so depressed by this, that she's become a bit moody. And possibly isn't paying attention when it's her turn at the counter.
Griggs orders coffee and bacon and eggs for himself then looks at me. I shrug.
"White toast and marmalade and hot chocolate," he say, and it doesn't surprise me just how much he's taken in about me.
That is one of my favorite scenes of the book, because it's just one small moment in the story. But in those few lines you realize that Taylor has what she's been wishing for all along. She does have people who care about her, including Jonah. He knows exactly what to order her for breakfast without her having to say anything. I still get chills thinking about that scene.

Lest you think I'm blinded by my love for this book, I will say one thing that slightly bothered me about the story.  I did figure some things out way before the main characters did. BUT all the reasons I LOVED the book far outweighed this small detail. So it's still 5 stars for me!

What is your favorite scene or quote in Jellicoe Road?

Rating: 5 STARS!
Love Triangle Factor: None!


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