Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Hallowed Ones

by Laura Bickle
Read: October 26-28, 2012
Published: September 25, 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Source: Library book
Category: Horror/Alternate History YA

Katie is on the verge of her Rumspringa, the time in Amish life when teenagers can get a taste of the real world. But the real world comes to her in this dystopian tale with a philosophical bent. Rumors of massive unrest on the “Outside” abound. Something murderous is out there. Amish elders make a rule: No one goes outside, and no outsiders come in. But when Katie finds a gravely injured young man, she can’t leave him to die. She smuggles him into her family’s barn—at what cost to her community? The suspense of this vividly told, truly horrific thriller will keep the pages turning. (from Goodreads)

I will admit that I was very skeptical about a book that combines the Amish with vampires. I think the Amish culture is fascinating and I don't mind vampire books, but I couldn't see putting them together in any way that wasn't cheesy. I'm glad I paid attention to all the great reviews and picked up this book anyway! 

Laura Bickle took time in The Hallowed Ones to introduce the reader to the Amish culture and beliefs, and I really enjoyed getting to know them. There are things that I admire about the Amish. They work hard, are not glued to technology or stimulants, crime is nonexistent and life is stable and predictable. They do not worry over things that they cannot control. Even big events like the terrorist attacks on 9/11, although acknowledged as a tragedy, did not rattle their carefully constructed world. That is because the Amish believe strongly in the concept of Gelassenheit or God's will. Whatever happens in life is because God wills it and you must submit and not worry. Despite your opinion of their religious beliefs and rules, there's a certain simplicity in the way they live. But their whole way of life is rattled when a threat comes that does shake them.

The Amish culture makes it even more frightening when something comes that these people cannot control. When a threat arrives that they can't escape. This is an insulated society with limited contact with the outside world, and the author did an excellent job at using that to increase the tension. Letting the danger creep in slowly. All along you know that something is coming, but have no idea when it will arrive or what exact form it will take. I love how well Ms. Bickle builds the anticipation

I was surprised at how many reasons I found to like reading an apocalyptic book from the perspective of someone who is Amish. For one, the people are well equipped to survive if disaster strikes, because they are hard working and essentially live life like it is the 1800s anyway. Their belief system also brings a unique perspective to the coming threat. The way their culture understands the vampires is very different than a non-religious person would see it. For the Amish the danger is spiritual in nature. It is an evil that they must not let creep inside. It is not scientific in origin, which is where most of the rest of the world would go first looking for answers. And there is definitely some ambiguity about which group's interpretation is correct. Whatever the answer, the danger they are facing is real and it is terrifying. 

Katie is the heroine of The Hallowed Ones, and she is one of my favorite parts of this story. In many ways Katie is a typical Amish girl with a stable upbringing - a hard worker who has grown up in a loving home. When the book begins, she is excited to experience life on the Outside during Rumspringa, but that is normal for someone her age. She does not have an inherent desire to be bad or break away from the Amish and everything that she knows. But Katie also wants to be her own person. She questions and is curious, two attributes that are frowned upon in their society. Katie wants to obey but also desires to do what her heart is telling her is the right thing. I really admired her inner strength. It is the quiet kind that creates a big force. 

A very sweet, slow romance is also creeps up on Katie. It develops over a short time, but still did not feel rushed. Although only a piece of the story, it felt important, especially in terms of Katie's growth and the direction that the book takes. 

Overall The Hallowed Ones is a great read, and perfect for Halloween. It ends in a way that makes me excited for what is to come next. 

Love Triangle Factor: Mild
Cliffhanger Scale: Low
Rating: 4.5 stars

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Evolution of Mara Dyer

by Michelle Hodkin
Read: October 23-24, 2012
Published: October 23, 2012 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Source: Kindle purchase
Category: Horror
Series: Mara Dyer book 2

Mara Dyer once believed she could run from her past.

She can’t.

She used to think her problems were all in her head.

They aren’t.

She couldn’t imagine that after everything she’s been through, the boy she loves would still be keeping secrets.

She’s wrong.

In this gripping sequel to The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, the truth evolves and choices prove deadly. What will become of Mara Dyer next? (from Goodreads)

The Evolution of Mara Dyer is book two in the Mara Dyer series. My thoughts contain SPOILERS for book one.

At the end of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, Mara goes to the police station to turn herself into the authorities, because she thinks she’s a danger to society. She can make people die just by thinking about it, after all. But at the station she is certain that she sees Jude, the boy who assaulted her in the asylum and whom is supposed to be dead. End of volume 1. Bang.

In The Evolution of Mara Dyer, Mara wakes up in a psych ward having no knowledge of what happened after she saw Jude. Apparently it wasn't good because she is now on her way to being committed to a psychiatric facility for claiming that Jude is still alive and that she can kill people with her mind. Mara's family is understandably freaked out about the state of her mental sanity, and Mara quickly learns that there's no way they'd ever believe what she's certain is the truth. Thus begins a book that I would like to re-title "Mara Dyer's descent into madness." 

In Unbecoming Mara was confused and disoriented, questioning whether she had a supernatural ability or if it was all in her head. In Evolution her distress increases and morphs into feelings of complete powerlessness, lack of control and acute fear. I don't like the feeling of being out of control, so it was unsettling and frightening to read everything Mara faces in Evolution. But it was very effectively done, and I applaud Michelle Hodkin for affecting my emotions so well. I felt Mara's madness creeping in as she comes to the overwhelming realization that she can't do anything to stop what is happening. Or tell anyone. The only person that she can confide in throughout this book is Noah. 

Noah is really Mara's only link to her sanity in Evolution. He will do anything for Mara. But even so, Noah is not perfect. He has his own problems and secrets. We learn a lot more about him in this story, and find out that he is not just a hot bad boy with a british accent. Both Noah and Mara are complicated, and each has their own psychological issues. But they really work well together. I love how their relationship develops in this book. Throughout the chaos of the story, the development of Mara and Noah's relationships is the one shining light. I didn't dislike Noah in Unbecoming, but for those of you who did, I fell much harder for him in Evolution.  

Mara's family remains a big part of her life, and that is still one of my favorite things about this series. It is clear that they love her and want her to be whole and better. I completely understand all that they try to do for Mara. But they don't know the whole story of what is going on with her, and though they mean well, they really cannot help her. That makes what Mara faces even more unsettling. 

This book answers several questions that I had at the end of Unbecoming. You'll be happy to know that there is resolution to the kissing problem. We also find out more about Mara's mysterious grandmother. We see Jamie again (Mara's only other friend from school). And of course we find out whether Mara really did see Jude in the police station. Let's just say that Jude freaks me out. 

Despite the answers we do get, I really had no idea what was going on during a majority of this story. And I felt like the questions were piling up with very few answers coming. I became desperate for them. But that all fed on my anxiety for Mara and her powerlessness throughout this book, so it was very affective and well executed. And the story does sort itself out. Mostly. Enough to make me eager for book 3.

I thought Evolution was a lot scarier than Unbecoming. Not only were Mara's emotions even more out of control, but she is put in some genuinely frightening situations. There were times that I felt like I'd entered a horror film. I don't know if it was done on purpose, but this book seemed to reference many different horror movies - creepy dolls, birds falling from the sky, crazy psych patients and more. For the most part I was surprised about the direction that the story took, and I didn't expect the ending. At all. But there were a few plot points along the way that were predictable. Thankfully, not enough to outweigh what I didn't see coming. 

Evolution was really nothing that I expected, and I am looking forward to the third book in the series - The Retribution of Mara Dyer. I am anticipating big things for Mara. She is still a very unreliable narrator so I'm certain she will continue to surprise me. 

Love Triangle Factor: Still NONE!

Cliffhanger Scale: Medium (despite this, my stress level was low, because I expected this type of an end)

Rating: 4 stars 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

In My Mailbox: Library Edition (2)

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

I've mentioned this before, but I live in a town with an excellent library network. Most of the books I read come from the library. Though with heavily requested books, I can't always predict when they'll arrive. This week I received a lot of them. 

I've comed up with a carefully honed system whereby I request anything that looks interesting as soon as it is put in the library network (as soon as the library pre-orders a book it can be reserved), and then wait for it arrive. When it comes, I'll decide whether I'm still interested or not. 

On the Left: Books I received but have yet to read: 

1) The Heroes of Olympus: The Demigod Diaries by Rick Riordan
2) What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton
3) Valkyrie Rising by Ingrid Paulson
4) Defiance by CJ Redwine 
5) Ironskin by Tina Connolly 
6) The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

On the Right: library books I've read this week. 

7) The Evolution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin - look for a review tomorrow. 
8) The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson - see my review HERE
9) The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle - I'm reading this right now. 

Which of the books in the first list are must reads? Which are okay to skip? 
I'm starting The Ask and The Answer after The Hallowed Ones.

Don't miss my SPOOKTACULAR Giveaway for a chance to win a 
Halloween inspired book of your choice. (US only)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Feature and Follow Friday (3)

Feature and Follow Friday is a weekly meme hosted by 
Parajunkee's View and Alison Can Read

Q: What writing device or trick most irritates you when reading a book? For example, if an author employs an omnipotent narrator that is sometimes considered bad form.

This isn't a surprise but LOVE TRIANGLES. I also don't care for extended flash back scenes or parallel story lines. I generally get bored of one of the stories and just want to get back to the other. BUT I do like books with each of these characteristics. So there are always exceptions to the rule. 

This isn't really a device, but I read 3 books this week that were all middle books in a three series books. In EVERY one the girl was told that she needed to stay away from her love interest or bad things would happen to him. OF COURSE it didn't go well. And now I'm DYING for book three. When I read books around the same time that all end up having similar plots, they start sounding less like natural story lines and more contrived. That really affects how I read and rate a book. 

Enter my SPOOKTACULAR Giveaway for a chance to win a Halloween inspired book of your choice. (US only)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Sky is Everywhere

by Jandy Nelson
Read: October 17-19, 2012
Published: March 9, 2010 by Dial
Source: Library Book
Category: Contemporary YA - Issue/Romance

Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister, Bailey. But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life - and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey's boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie's own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they're the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can't collide without the whole wide world exploding. (From Goodreads)

Grief is a house where no one can protect you
where the younger sister
will grow older than the older one
where the doors
no longer let you in
or out

I don't know what I can say about The Sky is Everywhere that hasn't already been said. It is beautifully written with profound statements, funny lines and gorgeous phrases. Music is also a big part of this book and it sets the mood and atmosphere for many scenes throughout the story. Both of those elements I loved. But I think what is most moving are the characters in this story, and their journey through loss and love and hope. The Sky is Everywhere deals with a lot of raw emotions - anger, confusion, grief, love, forgiveness - and I felt them hard. I continue to be amazed at this debut author's ability to capture real human emotion so well. 
How will I survive this missing?
Lennie has always been part of of a pair of sisters. It was forever and always Bailey and Lennie, until one day there was only Lennie. Bailey was the 'larger than life' one, a beautiful girl who loved center stage and was always going places. Lennie lived happily - and quietly - in her sister's shadow, although Bailey always tried to bring her forward. They lived with their Gram (and uncle Big), who took over when their mother left when they were children. Although close to their grandmother, having an absent mother strengthened the bond between the sisters. Until Bailey died suddenly and tragically leaving Lennie grief stricken, confused and without her other half. 

When the story begins Bailey has been dead for two months, but still she is a very present part of the book. I felt like I got to know and love her despite the fact that she never appears on stage, which made me in turn feel her loss acutely. I am always fascinated by books that feature characters who are gone, but still feel like a living part of the story. And who are still affecting the action and the characters - Bailey is that person. What I love especially is that this book does not contain extended flash back scenes. Scattered throughout the story are poems that Lennie has written about her relationship with and grief over Bailey. Through those notes and in other remembered details - like Bailey's favorite book, the way she wore her hair, and the orange she insisted on painting her bedroom - we get to know and love her. 

Because of the loss of her sister, Lennie no longer has a shadow to hide behind, and all of a sudden she is thrust on stage under the lights. Lennie is forced to wake up and in the process she comes to life and finds herself. Her journey through the story is difficult and uncomfortable at times, and I was more than a little angry at her at some places. But the beauty of this book is that even though there were moments that I was squirming and shouting 'NO!', I understood why she did certain things. And I think if we're honest, we all have a little of Lennie in us. 
What if as much as I fear having death as a shadow, I'm beginning to like how it quickens the pulse, not only mine, but the pulse of the whole world.
A lot of Lennie's confusion in this story centers around two very different guys. First is Toby, who was Bailey's boyfriend. He understands Lennie's grief like no one else. It makes sense that they’d be drawn to each other. But do they share anything else but their love for Bailey?
With him I’d felt like my sadness had a place to be.
Joe Fontaine is the new boy in town. He shares Lennie’s love of music. He is bright/happy/easy. Lennie’s not sure she’s supposed to be those things anymore. But she's drawn to him anyway, and he draws life out of her. 
I look up at the warmth in his face and smile at him. I think he could make me smile even while I was hanging at the gallows.
Is there a love triangle in this book? If ever there was a story that fit the description of "it's complicated," this is the book. It is always clear who the right choice is for Lennie. But she is very confused, and though it was painful to see that, I understood why the book played out the way it did. 

It's not only Lennie's emotions that I felt deeply within this story, I GOT everyone's emotions and feelings - Joe, Toby, Sarah (Lennie's best friend), Gram, Big. I could sense their pain. It all felt so real. I especially connected with Joe, and it's worth reading this book just for him. The descriptions of his smiles and those long eye lashes - Bat. Bat. Bat. - got me every time.

Despite the heavy material in The Sky is Everywhere, the story has a positive message. It is through her grief that Lennie learns the importance of living every day to the fullest, a lesson that Bailey was always trying to teach her. And finally succeeded.
My sister will die over and over again for the rest of my life. Grief is forever. It doesn't go away; it becomes part of you, step for step, breath for breath. I will never stop grieving Bailey because I will never stop loving her. That's just how it is. Grief and love are conjoined, you don't get one without the other. All I can do is love her, and love the world, emulate her by living with daring and spirit and joy.

Love Triangle Factor: Medium 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Spooktacular Giveaway!

Are you ready for a TON of chances to win SPOOKTACULAR books? Over 500 participating blogs are offering a book related giveaway and we are all linked up together so you can easily hop from one giveaway to another.  The hop runs from October 24 - October 31.


*Any 1 book from Amazon with a $12 or less value* 

As this is a SPOOKTACULAR GIVEAWAY, I recommend a Halloween inspired read, but that isn't mandatory. 

For suggestions, see my Top Ten Books to get you in the Halloween Spirit HERE. All of these books are within the $12 price limit!

Giveaway is for US residents only
You must be at least 13 years old to enter
See my policies HERE

a Rafflecopter giveaway

After you have entered my giveaway, hop to another giveaway on the list:

Top Ten Books To Get In The Halloween Spirit

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

Top Ten Books to Get in the Halloween Spirit:

Halloween makes me think three things and they all start with the letter C - Creepy, Costumes and Candy. Don't you just love the alliteration!

Creepy Books - To get yourself in the Halloween mood.
1) The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson - A killer is on the loose in modern day London and he's recreating Jack the Ripper's murders. Also, the heroine of this ghost story is a southern US transplant named Rory and it's amusing to watch her try to fit into her British boarding school. I like when horror is mixed with humor, and this has a great combination of both. 

 2) Rebecca by Daphne Du Marier - Rebecca is a ghost story, that is not. Where the character the book is named after is already dead when the book begins. But beautiful Rebecca is still exerting her control over the new Mrs. de Winters in this gothic masterpiece. Lots of creepy suspense and an underlying similarity to Jane Eyre - though it's not a retelling. Alfred Hitchcock even made it into a movie. Do yourself a favor, and read this book! 
 3) The Crucible by Arthur Miller - I live next door to Salem, MA (my town was once Old Salem Village - where the witch trials actually took place). Salem has dubbed itself the epicenter of all things Halloween, and hordes of people come to enjoy its festivities every year. Of course I can't think of the holiday without thinking about the witch trials. And nothing says horror like people being wrongfully accused and hanged for simply being called a 'witch.'
4) The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin - I think what is most creepy about this book is that it is hard to tell what exactly is going on through most of the story. Is it all in Mara's head? Is this a paranormal book? Also, the sequel comes out TODAY. 

5) Anna Dressed in Blood & Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake - I have a feeling these ghost stories are going to end up on a lot of people's list. There are some very frightening scenes in here. There is also a fantastic male MC named Cas who is not to be missed. 

Costumes - Don't leave home without one.

6) Slammed by Colleen Hoover - Okay I know you're thinking that this book has absolutely nothing to do with Halloween. Well you're wrong, because there's a pretty amazing Halloween costume that is created and worn by two of the characters in Slammed, and it is one of my favorite parts of the story. However, this book is pretty emotional in places. While I seriously cannot recommend the story enough, it's possible that it will bring out the wrong emotion for Halloween.

7) Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins - Lola is a budding designer and creates a new look with a matching wig every day. She also designs a pretty magnificent Marie Antoinette costume for a school dance. Plus there's Cricket Bell. If you are looking to be inspired creatively for Halloween, this is the book for you. 

8) Harry Potter series by JK Rowling - No one should worry about what to be for Halloween with Harry Potter around. A perfect blend of witches, fantasy and pop-culture. You can't go wrong as a Gryffindore, Slytherin, Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff. This series also has a lovely fall feel to it. Okay, who am I kidding, it has an every season feel to it.

Candy - Because everyone answers "treat" when you ask Trick or Treat.

9) Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris - Really I just mean one essay in this book, which involves Halloween candy. I remember laughing out loud - and feeling ill when I read it (David Sedaris is good at that type of humor). 
10) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl - Nobody does the excesses of candy quite like Roald Dahl. But it's not all fun and sweets. Like all Dahl's books, Charlie straddles the line between childhood dream and nightmare, giving it an underlying creepiness, that is appealing to both children and adults alike. 

Enter my SPOOKTACULAR Giveaway for a chance to win one of these or another Halloween inspired book of your choice. (US only)

The four photographs at the top of the post were all taken recently with instagram. The house on the bottom right is The Rebecca Nurse Homestead. She was hanged as a witch at age 71 on July 19, 1692. 

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