Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday Favorites: How I Live Now

On Fridays I post a little shout out to one of my favorite books and explain why I love it so much. It gives me the chance to fangirl over books I never reviewed on this blog and lets me post about some not-necessarily-YA books I love.


Which book?
How I Live Now, by Meg Rosoff

Genre?
YA

Summary? (from GoodReads)
Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy.

As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary. But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way.

When did I first read it?
Two years ago?

Why did I first read it?
It was a recommendation off a blog. Plus, that cover. Who could turn down that cover?

What did I think about it then?
“Strangely attracted” are the words that first come to mind. There are a few things going on in this book that would normally turn me off, not the least of which are Daisy’s eating disorder and the fact that she falls in love with her first cousin. But, I don’t know, those things somehow work in this story. They make it what it is. So while I was a little wary when I was reading this book the first time, by the end I was in love with the characters and feeling some intense admiration for how they pull through the hard things that get thrown at them.

What do I think about it now?
This is not a book I've been successful at recommending to other people. Most can’t seem to get past the whole fall-in-love-with-your-cousin bit. But this story is so much more than that. I mean, Piper, the little sister, is all kinds of awesome, and she alone would make this book worth reading. And yes, this isn’t the most perfectly constructed book ever—I think it can get a little rough and messy at times—but who the heck cares? This is one of those miraculous books that somehow manages to add up to more than just the sum of its parts. Not to mention it has one of the most perfectly bittersweet endings that I know of.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Review: “Ferragost” and “Molasses”

It should come as no surprise to you by this point how obsessed I am with Melina Marchetta. And with her Lumatere Chronicles. So when I found out that she wrote a short story as part of the Lumartere Chronicles, taking place between the second and third books, I was a woman on a mission tracking it down. I found it in Review of Australian Fiction, which does short stories by Australian authors. And when I found out that the other author in this volume was Kirsty Eagar (“Raw Blue”), there was no stopping me from reading it, even though it meant hunching over my computer to read the online edition.

“Ferragost” is Marchetta’s story. Being written by Marchetta, it was of course wonderful. I struggled with it a little initially, just because it’s a short story and thus didn’t have the depth and intensity that I’m used to in her work. But once I got over that, I came to like the story on its own merits. It’s about Lady Celie, who we meet in the first two books but who doesn’t get that much page time there. In this story, she’s off on a Belagonian island trying to solve a murder mystery. Through most of the book I was worried that the solution to the mystery would prove too simplistic, but I should never have let my trust in Marchetta waver. She carried it off brilliantly. And the prickly relationship between Celie and Banyon has me desperate for the third book in the series to come out. I’m dying to see the resolution of their relationship.

Kirsty Eagar’s story is called “Molasses.” It’s about a teenager named Amelia, whose crappy home life is finally reaching the breaking point. It was written in that way I became familiar with in “Raw Blue”—sparse but with a power that goes straight to your gut; heartbreaking but with an underlying sense of hope and victory. It was really well done and felt complete despite being a short 68 pages.

Overall, a great collection of stories that showcases two very talented Aussie authors. If you’d like to read them, you can purchase the collection here.

"Ferragost" rating: 4 / 5
"Molasses" rating: 4 / 5

Monday, September 24, 2012

Review: Ashes

Ashes, by Ilsa Bick. The GoodReads summary:
An electromagnetic pulse flashes across the sky, destroying every electronic device, wiping out every computerized system, and killing billions.

Alex hiked into the woods to say good-bye to her dead parents and her personal demons. Now desperate to find out what happened after the pulse crushes her to the ground, Alex meets up with Tom—a young soldier—and Ellie, a girl whose grandfather was killed by the EMP.

For this improvised family and the others who are spared, it’s now a question of who can be trusted and who is no longer human.

Author Ilsa J. Bick crafts a terrifying and thrilling novel about a world that could be ours at any moment, where those left standing must learn what it means not just to survive, but to live amidst the devastation.
So here’s the thing. I’m not much of a post-apocalyptic/dystopian fan, in general. There are one or two (i.e., Divergent) that I really like, but in general, they’re usually kinda meh for me. And at first I thought “Ashes” was going to prove me wrong. The first half or so of the book is awesome. Super intense and super suspenseful and, yes, super gory. And I was really diggin’ it. It was gruesome, but in a way that I weirdly admired. It fascinated me how possible it all seemed (well, minus the paranormal bit, obviously). I thought the way the world changes after the disaster came across as pretty realistic, and that made the story even more gripping. I really liked Alex and Ellie and Tom and how they become a family, and though I’m not much of an action fan, the fight scenes had me glued to the page.

But I thought the book lost momentum in the second half. I realize that the book can’t be all intense all the time, but I felt like the book went from full throttle to barely chugging along. And I kept hoping it would regain that momentum, but it never really did for me. Maybe it did a little the last 10 pages or so, but it wasn’t enough to win me back over. And I’d been hearing what a big cliffhanger the ending was, and in a way that’s true, but by that point I didn’t really care anymore so I was more like, “Hmm…That’s the ending?” rather than “OH MY GOSH. WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN???” like everyone else.

A kinda random nitpicky thing about this book that started bothering me was what a cynical view of humanity the book took. Yes, I believe that in an end-of-the-world situation people would get greedy and brutal, but this book took it a bit to the extreme. There was essentially no one who was ever kind just for kindness’s sake—everyone always had an ulterior motive—and I found it a little discouraging after a while.

Overall, this was a book that started off really strongly, in my opinion, but kinda ran out of steam. I know a lot of people really liked this book, but I just couldn’t bring myself to feel the same way.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday Favorites: Gilead

On Fridays I post a little shout out to one of my favorite books and explain why I love it so much. It gives me the chance to fangirl over books I never reviewed on this blog and lets me post about some not-necessarily-YA books I love.


Which book?
Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

Genre?
Literary fiction

Summary? (from GoodReads)
Twenty-four years after her first novel, Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America's heart. Writing in the tradition of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, Marilynne Robinson's beautiful, spare, and spiritual prose allows "even the faithless reader to feel the possibility of transcendent order" (Slate). In the luminous and unforgettable voice of Congregationalist minister John Ames, Gilead reveals the human condition and the often unbearable beauty of an ordinary life.

When did I first read it?
Four or so years ago.

Why did I first read it?
I used to read this magazine called the Week, and it had little blurbs about new noteworthy books as well as recommendations from famous people about their favorite books. I don’t remember which of those categories this book fell in, but I do remember reading about it in that magazine and being intrigued enough to check it out from the library.

What did I think about it then?
Have you ever found a book that makes your heart ache a little from its sheer beauty? That was me with this book. The writing and even the storyline are quiet and understated and so, so lovely. I immediately fell in love with the way the book was written, and almost as quickly I fell in love with the characters and their . . . ordinariness, I guess. They lead quiet, simple lives, yet they manage to make their lives mean something within their own small sphere. And I thought it was wonderfully bittersweet that the book is set up as a letter from a dying father to his son—it just makes everything in the book feel so much more meaningful.

What do I think about it now?
This is one of those books that I read when I need something to center me or ground me, when I need something that’ll make me think without going over my head. Religion and faith play a big role in this book, and usually that’s something I shy away from in fiction. But for whatever reason, those themes in this book are beautiful and soothing to me, rather than being preachy or grating. I’ve read the sequel, “Home,” and while it’s really good, it doesn’t hold a candle to this one, in my opinion.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Review: Wraith

Wraith, by Edie Claire. The GoodReads summary:
Seventeen-year-old Kali has always seen two sets of people: those living now, and those who lived before. But on her spring break in Hawaii, she is suddenly surrounded by more shadows than ever. Including one who, unlike the others, can see her too.

Zane remembers nothing besides surfing the monster waves of Oahu's North Shore. He doesn't even know how, or when, he died. He only knows that Kali's "gift" could be his last chance to find the light--before the mysteries of his past plunge them both into darkness.
This book was a lot of fun—I think that’s the best way I can describe it. It wasn’t too deep or too fluffy; it was just an easy, enjoyable read.

Kali is highly likeable—she’s normal, you know? Well, she can see ghosts, so maybe “normal” is the wrong word. Let’s just say she doesn’t have any annoying or strange personality quirks, and she seems like someone I could easily strike up a conversation with. And I liked the balance the author strikes regarding Kali’s ability to see ghosts—she’s not completely clueless or bitter about it, but she doesn’t fully embrace it either. It’s just a fact of life for her and something she has to deal with.

I really enjoyed Zane. He’s that hot but easy-going and light-hearted type that’s really refreshing to come across in YA fiction. And I loved his and Kali’s relationship. Although they both have these burgeoning romantic feelings for each other and whatnot, they’re friends first and foremost. And they really get to know each other, which made their relationship all the more believable. Well, maybe not “believable,” since he’s a ghost, but whatever.

Overall, a quick, entertaining read. The characters are likeable, the story is fun, and the ending leaves it open for a sequel while still giving you a sense of closure.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, September 17, 2012

I've been "persuaded"...

You may or may not remember my post from a few weeks ago where I finally came clean about my true relationship with Jane Austen's "Persuasion." And revealing my dark secret like that got me thinking about all the reasons I've never buckled down and read the actual book. And so I resolved (Again. For, like, the hundredth time) to read it for real. But I'm serious this time! So I was trying to think of what would make me really want to read Jane Austen's work rather than kicking back with the movie. And then it dawned on me. A copy with an awesome cover! One that I really love. So I bought this one via the Book Depository:


Isn't it fantastic? I'm really excited to get it now, actually. Those two weeks it takes for the Book Depository to ship are seeming a tad on the long side all of a sudden. I think this bodes well for my commitment to read the book...

Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday Favorites: Romancing Mr. Bridgerton

On Fridays I post a little shout out to one of my favorite books and explain why I love it so much. It gives me the chance to fangirl over books I never reviewed on this blog and lets me post about some not-necessarily-YA books I love.


Which book?
Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, by Julia Quinn

Genre?
Historical Romance

Summary? (from GoodReads)
Penelope Featherington has secretly adored her best friend's brother for... well, it feels like forever. After half a lifetime of watching Colin Bridgerton from afar, she thinks she knows everything about him, until she stumbles across his deepest secret... and fears she doesn't know him at all.

Colin Bridgerton is tired of being thought nothing but an empty-headed charmer, tired of everyone's preoccupation with the notorious gossip columnist Lady Whistledown, who can't seem to publish an edition without mentioning him in the first paragraph.

But when Colin returns to London from a trip aboard, he discovers nothing in his life is quite the same, especially Penelope Featherington, the girl haunting his dreams!

And when he discovers that Penelope has secrets of her own, this elusive bachelor must decide... is she his biggest threat, or his promise of a happy ending?

When did I first read it?
I’ve been trying and failing to remember. I went through two main phases of romance-novel reading: high school and my sophomore and junior years of college. So it was probably during one of those times.

Why did I first read it?
This is the fourth book in Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series, and I honestly can’t remember if I had read the ones before this book already and that’s why I picked it up, or if I just read it randomly.

What did I think about it then?
I immediately liked that it was lighthearted and funny. So many historical romance novels tend to be on the overly dramatic side, but “Romancing Mr. Bridgerton” manages to have emotional heft AND humor. Similarly, I loved that Colin wasn’t a dark and brooding hero. He’s a nice, normal guy who’s not perfect but tries his best to be a good person. I also liked that the book wasn’t all about the sexual tension between the two characters. They actually get to know each other and become friends and have meaningful (and witty) conversations. Hallelujah.

What do I think about it now?
This is my favorite romance novel. Ever. I adore all of Julia Quinn’s books, but this is definitely my favorite of hers, and I’ve reread it more times than I can remember. I love the story and the writing style a lot, but more than that, I love Penelope. That girl is my soul sister. I always prefer books where I can relate to the main character, but when it comes to Penelope, I kinda feel like I am her. We’re similar in so many ways it’s ridiculous. So if there was ever a book I could live vicariously through, this is it.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Review: Raw Blue

Raw Blue, by Kirsty Eager. The GoodReads summary:
Carly has dropped out of uni to spend her days surfing and her nights working as a cook in a Manly cafĂ©. Surfing is the one thing she loves doing … and the only thing that helps her stop thinking about what happened two years ago at schoolies week.

And then Carly meets Ryan, a local at the break, fresh out of jail. When Ryan learns the truth, Carly has to decide. Will she let the past bury her? Or can she let go of her anger and shame, and find the courage to be happy?
Dang, this was an emotionally intense read, you guys. I mean, I was expecting that a little, based on the reviews I’d read, but I wasn’t really prepared for the sledgehammer effect it would have. Because Carly has had it rough. What happened to her before the book starts is horrific, and the emotional consequences just cannot be held back any longer. It was kinda hard for me to read it for that reason—it was so painful to see Carly struggle and try and fail to keep the trauma at bay. But the book was worth it, I’ll tell you that.

The writing in the book was straightforward and to the point and so, so powerful. Kirsty Eager doesn’t mess around with her words—it felt like each sentence was crafted to pack a punch. And I feel like by keeping the writing tight and direct, the emotional impact was magnified, because there wasn’t anything extra floating around to distract you from it.

This is a book that is carried forward almost entirely by character development. Not much happens plot-wise—Carly works, she surfs, and she meets a boy. It seems like it would be a simple story. But it’s really not, all because of those emotional repercussions from her past that I mentioned earlier. They kept me riveted to the page, hoping and praying that Carly would be able to find a way out of the darkness that’s taking over her life. Because you see from page one that Carly deserves a better life than what she’s allowing herself to have.

Overall, I for sure recommend this one. It’s a little harder to get a hold of since it hasn’t been published in the U.S., but I ordered it from the Book Depository, and it ended up being reasonably priced. This isn’t a book to read if you’re looking for something light and fun, but it’s definitely still a book worth reading.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Monday, September 10, 2012

Review: Sempre (Forever)

Sempre (Forever), by J.M. Darhower. The GoodReads summary:
Haven Antonelli and Carmine DeMarco had vastly different childhoods. Haven, a second-generation slave, grew up isolated in the middle of the desert, her days full of hard work and terrifying abuse. Carmine, born into a wealthy Mafia family, lived a life of privilege, never having to answer for anything he did. Both now seventeen, a twist of fate causes their worlds to collide, making them question everything they ever believed.

Entangled in a web of secrets and lies, they learn that while different on the surface, they have more in common than anyone would think. In a world full of chaos, where money and power rule, Haven and Carmine yearn to break free, but a string of events that started before either were born threatens to destroy them instead. Murder and betrayal are a way of life, and nothing comes without a price — especially not freedom.

How much will they have to sacrifice? Can they escape their pasts? And, most of all, what does it mean to be free? Not everything is as it seems, and no one can possibly come out unscathed, but maybe, just maybe, it’ll be worth it in the end.
This was a long sucker. 530 pages. And if you know me, you know I’m not exactly a fan of long books. And by “not exactly a fan,” I mean try to avoid them as much as possible. But “Sempre” had such a high GoodReads rating that I decided to read it anyway.

I wouldn’t say it gripped me. I mean I read, like, three other books during the time I was trying to read this one. But neither was I bored. Probably because the story’s such a unique concept: Mafia heir falls in love with a modern-day slave. It presented all kinds of crazy dynamics and problems and issues.

And here’s the thing—for some reason, I didn’t care that I never fully loved either main character. I mean, Haven is fairly awesome—she comes so far and grows so much over the course of the book—but at the same time, I always felt kept at a distance because of something about the way she was written. So I never completely connected to her. Carmine I literally wanted to slap every other time he opened his mouth. He’s impulsive and has absolutely no filter on what he says or does, and it drove me crazy that he was such a jerk most of the time. And yet, I could see what attracted Haven to him. He’s surprisingly compassionate to her, and he’s always encouraging her to break free of the emotional scars her slavery has left.

And the secondary characters are amazing. Especially Vincent, Carmine’s father. He’s an incredibly layered character. At first, I wasn’t sure what to think about him, then I hated him, then I started to respect him . . . let’s just say my emotions were all over the place with Vincent, and I loved it.

This book does essentially have insta-love going on, but for once I was okay with that. Partly because the book acknowledges that that’s what it is, rather than trying to play it off as normal, and partly because despite the fact that Haven and Carmine get together pretty early in the book, their relationship has a lot of developing to do. I thought this book did a fantastic job at showing how much work relationships take, and how much compromise and growing each person needs to do. Both Carmine and Haven (but mostly Carmine) screw up and make mistakes and have to apologize, and I liked that this book showed that just because you’re in love, it doesn’t mean the relationship is going to be easy.

Sorry for this forever long review, but it was a forever long book, so it was hard to avoid. And honestly, I there’s a lot more I could say about it, because it was a pretty complex book. So overall, I recommend this book. It was a unique idea and the characters were impressively layered. Although, I do feel obliged to warn you that Carmine uses the F word, like, at least twice per sentence, so if excessive swearing bugs you, this might not be the book for you.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Friday, September 7, 2012

Friday Favorites: Anna and the French Kiss

On Fridays I post a little shout out to one of my favorite books and explain why I love it so much. It gives me the chance to fangirl over books I never reviewed on this blog and lets me post about some not necessarily YA books I love.


Which book?
Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins

Genre?
YA contemporary

Summary? (from GoodReads)
Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris - until she meets Etienne St. Clair: perfect, Parisian (and English and American, which makes for a swoon-worthy accent), and utterly irresistible. The only problem is that he's taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her almost-relationship back home. As winter melts into spring, will a year of romantic near - misses end with the French kiss Anna - and readers - have long awaited?

When did I first read it?
When it first came out, two years ago.

Why did I first read it?
Because all the blogs were raving about it, so I had to investigate.

What did I think about it then?
I loved it, just like everyone else. I found Anna really easy to relate to, and I thought her actions and reactions were totally believable, given her situation. But more than that, it had great romantic tension between Anna and St. Clair. I LOVED them together and thought their relationship felt really natural. I’ve always disliked that he’s dating someone else the whole time, but I like the book enough that I can overlook it.

What do I think about it now?
I still need to reread this one all the way through, but I’ve reread my favorite parts a bunch of times. I just really love that scene where they sleep in the same bed—it’s completely awkward and uncomfortable but so perfectly full of romantic tension. I adore it.

Have you read this book? What did you think?
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