Monday, December 29, 2014

Getting ready for a new year of blogging in 2015

It's funny, how back in September, I was thinking I would get right back into book blogging .... and here I am, on December 29th.  Not back yet.   But I'm thinking that 2015 might be a good year to re-start, and maybe revise a bit.

I'll be taking a class on teen literature in 2015, so I'm looking forward to reading some new books (and blogging my reviews).   I'm also vowing to read more of the books I had added to my "TBR Jar" in 2015 (instead of always reaching for the shiny, new books at the library).  And speaking of libraries, I think I might just throw in some posts about library-land, considering it's a significant part of my life.

Farewell, 2014 ---- I'm looking ahead!

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Friday, September 5, 2014

Review: Big LIttle Lies by Liane Moriarty

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  Sometimes it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal. . . .   A murder… . . . a tragic accident… . . . or just parents behaving badly?
What’s indisputable is that someone is dead.   But who did what?
  Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:   Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).
Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.   New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

And here's what I thought:  I wound up enjoying this a heck of a lot more than I thought I would.   I had read another book by this author, The Husband's Secret, and thought it was ok, but forgettable.   This book, on the other hand, was a page-turner!

I think I might have enjoyed this book partly because it felt like a voyeuristic glance into the lives of three women who are completely unlike me.  I liked how the author gave us the stories of all three main female characters, so that you get the whole story coming from their different viewpoints, with some of their own stories about their lives, as well.   Contributing to this are the different viewpoints from other characters, even if they are quite minor, which are sprinkled throughout the book.   There is a constant referring to a horrible incident on trivia night, but you don't get there until almost the end of the story, so it's a constant buildup throughout the book.   I liked the pacing, and I kept turning the pages because I was just dying to know what was going to happen (and then, when I got to it, let out a big gasp .... out loud, waking up my husband, who was sleeping next to me while I was reading in bed, staying up past my usual bedtime, and continuing to turn the pages even though my left arm was getting pins and needles).

Anyway, back to this story ----

Is it serious literature?  No.  And it's not meant to be.   But, I found it to be a really good story, with characters that I cared about, and could clearly envision.  In fact, the author does a great job with the minor characters, and I found I could clearly see them in my head, as well.   I got caught up enough in this book that I was sneaking a few pages of reading when I was supposed to be doing housework (which really, can always wait another half-hour, right?), just because I really wanted to know what was going to happen to the characters.   This was a fun read, but one that also made me think a bit about relationships --- ones between husbands and wives, and ones between friends.


First lines:  "That doesn't sound like a school trivia night," said Mrs. Patty Ponder to Marie Antoinette.  "That sounds like a riot."

Sunday, August 24, 2014

I'm back! And to begin my back-to-posting, I'm sharing this about using your Library

I got caught up in my library's Summer Read program ... and all of the other additional responsibilities that got put on my plate.   So, I let blogging slide.   But, I have read some good books lately, and plan on getting back into blogging.

Photo courtesy of Book Riot post
So, to start my back-to-posting, I wanted to share this wonderful post over at BookRiot which shows everyone 6 ways to become a Power User of the Public Library.    I'm sharing this because not only am I a Librarian (so, of course, I want everyone to use their local library), but also because even before I got my MLIS, I was a library power user.    And, so I want to make everyone who might read this aware of how much their library can do for them.

Here's an example from the Book Riot post: 3. Make use of the Interlibrary Loan System – and respect itSince the public library can only carry so much, since its focus is not on being an archive or repository for all books, and because the collection is tailored to the community being served, sometimes you want a book and it’s no where to be found. Rather than request it for purchase, ask about interlibrary loan.The interlibrary loan system (ILL) is a country-wide, interconnected system of libraries that agree to lend items to one another. The libraries within the system include public, academic/college, and special libraries, meaning the pool of available titles is massive. If you’re looking for a rare book or a specialty title, your library may be able to track it down and request it for you via ILL.
I know I posted a long time ago about interlibrary loan, but it's something that I like to remind people about.   Just because you don't see something on a library's shelves does not mean it's not available.   First, it could just be checked out by someone else.   Ask a staff member to check this -- because if something is checked out, they can put it on hold for you.   And if your library doesn't own something, ask if you can get it through interlibrary loan.    It's almost impossible for a library to own every single book, or every single CD or DVD, etc.   Unless it's the Library of Congress .... and that library doesn't work like a public library.   However, interlibrary loan lets libraries share their collections with each other --- and it's pretty easy.   And, most of the time, it's free.

So, if you ever wanted to know some of what your Library can do for you, go check out the Book Riot post and then go to your own library and see what kind of services they have.   :)

Monday, May 5, 2014

Review: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads): Coralie Sardie is the daughter of the sinister impresario behind The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a Coney Island boardwalk freak show that thrills the masses. An exceptional swimmer, Coralie appears as the Mermaid in her father's museum, alongside performers like the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, and a one-hundred-year-old turtle.
One night Coralie stumbles upon a striking young man taking pictures of moonlit trees in the woods off the Hudson River. The dashing photographer is Eddie Cohen, a Russian immigrant who has run away from his father's Lower East Side Orthodox community and his job as a tailor's apprentice. When Eddie photographs the devastation on the streets of New York following the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes embroiled in the suspicious mystery behind a young woman's disappearance and ignites the heart of Coralie.
With its colorful crowds of bootleggers, heiresses, thugs, and idealists, New York itself becomes a riveting character as Hoffman weaves her trademark magic, romance, and masterful storytelling to unite Coralie and Eddie in a sizzling, tender, and moving story of young love in tumultuous times.

And here's what I thought:   I am a big fan of this author's books, so I had been looking forward to this newest one.   And, I wasn't disappointed (whew!) --- I thought this was a great book.  I already had some knowledge of some of the history of Coney Island, and so I really enjoyed that the author worked in a lot of realistic, historic elements into this book. Setting the story against a real backdrop, and working in events from history, Hoffman gives us characters who feel realistic, as well.

The story alternates with viewpoints, between Coralie and Eddie.  This means that you get some of the same storyline coming from different viewpoints, which is something I enjoy.  I liked Coralie, even though she's a bit odd at times, because I felt she was a sympathetic character.  I felt caught up in her story, and then, as Eddie's story progressed, I felt caught up in his life.  The fact that I worried for both of them at different times is an indication to me of well-written characters.

Like some of her other books, Hoffman works some elements into the story that feel somewhat magical, even if it's just something that has a slight tinge of magic.  I like this, because it gives it the edge of what I like to think of as "realistic fantastical" -- that is, the idea that perhaps our own world could have little bits of magic, if you're lucky enough to see them.

If you'd like to read more about Dreamland and Luna Park, this Brooklyn Museum page has information.   And, there's always Wikipedia, which has a few images, as well.

First lines:  You would think it would be impossible to find anything new in the world, creatures no man has ever seen before, one-of-a-kind oddities in which nature has taken a backseat to the coursing pulse of the fantastical and the marvelous.  I can tell with certainty that such things exist, for beneath the water thee are beasts as huge as elephants with hundreds of legs, and in the skies, rocks thrown alit from the heavens burn through the bright air and fall to earth.  There are men with such odd characteristics they must hide their faces in order to pass through the streets unmolested, and women who have such peculiar features they live in rooms without mirrors.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

World Book Night!

My World Book Night (morning) experience was a lot of fun!   A friend of mine from work and I had decided to do it together (which makes it a lot less intimidating), and went to our local train station this morning to give away books to commuters.   She had copies of  The Perks of Being a Wallflower and I had copies of Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.    Most people were happy to receive a book, although a few seemed a little weirded out by us.   I think it's because people just aren't used to someone handing them a free book.   With a smile.

I was happy that I was able to persuade a few people who said "no" --- especially the guy who then took a copy of my book, telling me that he hadn't read a "paper book" in about 3 years.   Of course, I told him that he was in for a good read (which is true --- I've read this book and enjoyed it).   So, I hope he enjoyed his commute into Chicago with his free book this morning.

So, overall, we had a great experience -- and I hope we're able to participate again in 2015!    Hopefully, the commuters who got our books will enjoy them (and be the envy of all their co-workers, who may have passed up a chance for a free book).     :)

Happy World Book Night, everyone!!

Monday, April 21, 2014

First post in a while --- about World Book Night and being a giver!

I'm getting back into blogging this week, so I figured a good way to begin would be to quickly post about World Book Night.   One of my friends from work and I will be participating this coming Wednesday, giving away books at the local train station.  This is the first time I've participated, although I've known about World Book Night for ages.

So, we'll be going to the train station in the morning and seeing how many people will take our books!    Yes, I know it's World Book Night but I have to work that night until 9:00 pm and I'm in a pretty small town, with really no places that are open that late.   So, we're catching early morning commuters.   After all, why not start the day with a free book, right?

I've got copies of Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, so I'm hoping I get some takers.  My friend has The Perks of Being a Wallflower, so we've got two completely different kinds of books.   Should be fun!   I'll post on Wednesday evening on my work break with a follow-up on how it goes.    :)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Review; Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):   The extraordinary journey that began in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children continues as Jacob Portman and his newfound friends journey to London the peculiar capital of the world. But in this war-torn city, hideous surprises lurk around every corner. Like its predecessor, this second novel in the Peculiar Children series blends thrilling fantasy with never-before-published vintage photography to create a one-of-a-kind reacting experience.

And here's what I thought:  I thought this was a great second book, and was really engaging, even though it had many dark moments.  The fact that these children are caught in a time loop in London during WWII is very frightening.  And the author doesn't shy away from these dark and scary things at all --- I was pretty worried at times during the book.  But, I like that -- I'd rather be worried about characters than not care about them at all.

I like how in the very first part, we are given the photos and names of the Peculiar children (which is helpful to reacquaint oneself).  The author also gives a bit of information about what happened at the end of the first book -- which was great, since it had been a while since I had read that first book.  I was able to pick up and just go, without needing to re-read the first book.

The author has a wonderful writing style, with a really visual element to the prose, so it's easy to imagine the settings and the children.    The fact that the settings are very real (most of them, anyway) make the tension in the book very palpable - it's easy to imagine these children in the dangerous situations they find themselves in.

And of course --- there is a cliffhanger ending.  Next book, please!

First lines:  We rowed out through the harbor, past bobbing boats weeping rust from their seams, past juries of silent seabirds roosting atop the barnacled remains of sunken docks, past fishermen who lowered their nets to stare frozenly as we slipped by, uncertain whether we were real or imagined; a procession of waterborne ghosts, or ghosts soon to be.  We were ten children and one bird in three small and unsteady boats, rowing with quiet intensity straight out to sea, the only safe harbor for miles receding quickly behind us, craggy and magical in the blue-gold light of dawn.  Our goal, the rutted coast of mainland Wales, was somewhere before us but only dimply visible, an inky smudge squatting along the far horizon.

Monday, March 31, 2014

And now, our regularly scheduled programming shall resume ......

Well, somehow the entire month of March has disappeared and I haven't blogged.  At least, I don't think I have ....  that's how bad it is.  I can't even remember what I did this month.

February went by in a flash, but I figured that once I finished the online class I was taking, I'd be able to get back to my normal schedule.   But ....
Apparently, during March, what I did was: go to work, bring work home, think about work, not be able to get to sleep right away because I was thinking about work, wake up and think about work .....     and fit all of that into the rest of my life, where one of our bunnies had a bit of an emergency happen.   So, I guess you can fit "vet visits" into all the work stuff somewhere.   This is what I feel like:
This bunny is not dead.   It is actually happily flopped and most likely sleeping.  I, however, feel like this bunny looks.

But, my bunny is much better now.  And, the work stuff should lighten up shortly (at least, the kind-of-work-related-but-not-actually-part-of-my-real-job project that I work on at home).  I am looking forward to getting back to blogging (because I actually have been reading some books).   So, it may be mid-April when it actually happens, but it will happen.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Review: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):   One morning before school, some girl tells Piddy Sanchez that Yaqui Delgado hates her and wants to kick her ass. Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui is, never mind what she’s done to piss her off. Word is that Yaqui thinks Piddy is stuck-up, shakes her stuff when she walks, and isn’t Latin enough with her white skin, good grades, and no accent. And Yaqui isn’t kidding around, so Piddy better watch her back. At first Piddy is more concerned with trying to find out more about the father she’s never met and how to balance honors courses with her weekend job at the neighborhood hair salon. But as the harassment escalates, avoiding Yaqui and her gang starts to take over Piddy’s life. Is there any way for Piddy to survive without closing herself off or running away? 

And here's what I thought:   This book first came onto my radar when I was looking through reviews in journals (the ones I read for my job) and I thought it sounded good.  And then, I starting reading about some of the controversy that was coming up.  I decided to buy this for my library's collection (because hey, great reviews and some controversy?  That's my kind of book).   And I finally got around to picking it up for a read .... and finished it in a day.

This book is really realistic, which makes it difficult to read sometimes, but that's also what makes it a really important book.  And by that, I mean it's important to kids who read it, and also important for the grownups to read it, too.   Piddy Sanchez is a sympathetic character, with a completely authentic voice.  While I am not a Latina, I still felt that I could identify with her.  Even though the bullying I endured when I was growing up wasn't as violent as what happens to her, I still felt I could identify with her.   And I think that's what makes this a powerful book.

Not everything that happens in this book is fair, and while that's frustrating, it's realistic.  It takes a lot for Piddy to get to the resolution of the situation, which reflects real life.   The thing is, for a lot of kids who are bullied, there is no magical fairy (or magical grownup) who sweeps in and makes everything better in one amazing move.  

The author's writing style is descriptive, so it was easy for me to visualize Piddy, the people around her, and the settings.  I liked that she had a good balance of characters, as well, and that there were a few other story lines running through the main story line.  The pace is good, as well, with tension moving up and down throughout the story, which kept me turning the pages, because I was wondering what was going to happen next.

While I know that not every reader will love this book, I think it's an important book for a lot of people to read, if nothing else than to give them some insight into bullying.   For every person who doesn't feel like they've been bullied, there is someone who has.  And who just might need a book like this.

First lines:  "Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass."
A kid named Vanesa tells me this in the morning before school.  She springs out with no warning and blocks my way, her textbook held at her chest like a shield.  She's tall like me and caramel.  I've seen her in the lunchroom, I think.  Or maybe just in the halls.  It's hard to remember.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wordless Wednesday --- Bibbit

It's nice to sometimes look at a Spring photo when it's winter:

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Review: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  For the past five years, Hayley Kincaid and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own.

Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.

And here's what I thought:  I had really been looking forward to reading this book, since I've enjoyed all of this author's other books --- and this one was no exception.    Laurie Halse Anderson tackles a subject that I think is really important, and did it in a way that really made an impression on me.  I think a of the time, the focus on PTSD is on the people who are suffering from it -- but what about the people who love them?   I thought this book had a great main character with Hayley, who is realistic, and has a good sense of humor (and herself, which was nice).   There are a lot of sympathetic characters here, and even though I sometimes got a little frustrated with them, I found I felt invested in their individual stories.  This book isn't just about Hayley, but it's about her dad, as well (and also about Finn, and the family issues he has).

One of the things I always enjoy about Anderson's books is that her characters aren't perfect -- they are realistic.  Which means they might make mistakes, or mis-steps along the way.  And I guess for me, that's what makes her characters interesting, and makes me care about what happens to them.

First lines:  It started in detention.  No surprise there, right?

Detention was invented by the same idiots who dreamed up the time-out corner.  Does being forced to sit in time-out corner.  Does being forced to sit in time-out ever make little kids stop putting cats in the dishwasher or drawing on white walls with purple marker?  Of course not.  It teaches them to be sneaky and guarantees that when they get to high school they'll love detention because it's a great place to sleep.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Monday, January 20, 2014

Review: The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  I first met my demon the morning that Mum said Dad had gone. 

Alex Connolly is ten years old, likes onions on toast, and can balance on the back legs of his chair for fourteen minutes. His best friend is a 9000-year-old demon called Ruen. When his depressive mother attempts suicide yet again, Alex meets child psychiatrist Anya. Still bearing the scars of her own daughter’s battle with schizophrenia, Anya fears for Alex’s mental health and attempts to convince him that Ruen doesn’t exist. But as she runs out of medical proof for many of Alex’s claims, she is faced with a question: does Alex suffer from schizophrenia, or can he really see demons

And here's what I thought:  I so, so, so enjoyed this book.   I found I couldn't put it down, and when I did, when it was time to make dinner, I was picking it up again for just a page and then talking about the book to my husband.   In fact, I started reading something to him from the book ... and then had to take care of dinner.  I always tell myself, the book will be there, the book can wait.  Burned dinner isn't fun.

The story has some different threads running through it.  We have Alex, the boy who says his best friend is a demon named Ruen, and we have Anya, a child psychiatrist who is determined to help Alex, but who has some issues of her own.   And, we have the backdrop of not only Belfast, whose history influences its present-day, but also a play that Alex is starring in: a modern retelling of Hamlet.  You wouldn't think that has much to do with anything, but it does, especially when you think about the story of Hamlet, and how Alex has a missing father.

So let's start with Alex.  We get his perspective in the story through his diary entries, which he always starts with a joke.  The jokes tend to be darkly funny, and he explains that "I want to start every entry with a new joke so I can keep in character.  That means I can remember what it feels like to be the person I'm playing, which is a boy called Horatio." (p 7)    Alex is pretty mature for his age, but when you consider that his mother doesn't take the best care of him, and he's more in the position of taking care of himself, and of her, then that makes sense.   He first meets Ruen when he's at school, and explains that "I wasn't scared because I didn't know a demon was a thing.  I thought it was just the name of the shop near my school that sold motorbikes."   As a reader, you have your own ideas about what a demon is, however, and none of them mean that a demon is a good creature at all.  You are sure he isn't really there to help Alex.  However, Alex isn't afraid of Ruen (at least, not at first), and even though Ruen can appear in a scary manner, he sees him as a friend.  In fact, he explained "Now I'm ten I'm much older so I kind of know more about demons but Ruen's not like that.  I think everyone's got it wrong about demons, just like they did about rottweilers."

And what about Ruen?  I found him to be an interesting character.  He's dark and he is scary, mostly because there is a menace that surrounds him.  However, I found him to be fascinating. Alex states that Ruen is 9000 human years old and can speak more than 6000 languages.  And, he tells Alex that he is a "Harrower," although we don't learn for a long time what that means.  And when it is revealed, we learn that a Harrower is close to the top of Hell's hierarchy.  There's a lot about how the purpose of demons is to remove choice from humans (which is pretty bleak).  Ruen, through Alex, tells Anya, (p 143) "My job is to go in after the barriers have been broken, after the action has been taken, even after regret has sunk its fangs deep into memory.  And then I rake the soul until it is ripe for the seeds of doubt and hopelessness for which no human language has adequate lexicon."   This is written in a way I found beautiful, and haunting.   I can tell the author is a poet, as well (she is, and has won awards for her poetry).

So, is Ruen real?  The way that Alex talks about him, and what Ruen says through Alex, starts to make it seem that he might be real.  And as I was reading this, I started to wonder what was real, and wasn't real, and where this was all going.

And what about Anya?  She comes into the story as Alex' psychiatrist, called in to help him on the anniversary of her daughter's suicide (this is not a spoiler - this is up-front when we meet her).  Her struggles with her own daughter's schizophrenia have a huge influence on her, personally and professionally, and it seems to drive the connection between herself and Alex.  But, professionally, she is trying to do the right thing, and figure out how to help Alex.  When she encounters Ruen, herself, you can feel her reeling for an explanation, and actually, it feels like she is unraveling a bit, as well.

I got completely swept up in this book.  The combination of the beautifully crafted prose and the characters, and the steady pace, caught my attention and held it.   And then .... I got the big surprise.    And no, I'm not giving away what it is.   Suffice to say, once I finished the book, I started combing through it all in my mind, looking for clues.

And that's what made this such a fantastic read --- that as soon as I finished it, I wanted to start it over again.   I could imagine these characters in my mind so clearly, that I almost didn't want to let them go.  I found this book to be an exploration of deep personal pain, of characters who reach for any kind of comfort they can find, in the dark, when it's just themselves and their demons (whatever, and however, those demons may be).  At first, I thought it would just be a psychological thriller, but the way the author delves deeply into her characters really made this an outstanding read.

First lines:  People look at me funny when I tell them I have a demon.
"Don't you mean, you have demons?" they ask.  "Like a drug problem or an urge to stab your dad?"  I tell them no.  My demon is called Ruen, he's about five foot threee, and his favorite things are Mozart, table tennis, and rice pudding.

I chose this book from my TBR (to be read) jar ---  I'm determined to choose at least one per month.   

Monday, January 13, 2014

Review: The Brokenhearted by Amelia Kahaney

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads): A teenage girl is transformed into a reluctant superhero and must balance her old life with the dark secret of who she has become.

Prima ballerina Anthem Fleet is closely guarded by her parents in their penthouse apartment. But when she meets the handsome Gavin at a party on the wrong side of town, she is immediately drawn into his dangerous world. Then, in a tragic accident, Anthem falls to her death. She awakes in an underground lab, with a bionic heart ticking in her chest. As she navigates her new life, she uncovers the sinister truth behind those she trusted the most, and the chilling secret of her family lineage…and her duty to uphold it.

And here's what I thought:  I thought that there were some great ideas in this book, but overall, it felt like it didn't live up to them.

PLEASE NOTE - there are some spoiler-ish details ahead

I liked the setting, Bedlam City, which seemed dark and scary (and reminded me a bit of the setting for the movie, The Crow). I liked that this society seemed to be recovering from something, but in the interim, had invented some pretty dark coping methods, like some creative drugs.  I liked the idea of Anthem's heart, ticking away in her chest, and giving her some superhero qualities.  In fact, this element to the story is pretty enjoyable, and it's nice to see her evolve from how she is at the beginning to what she becomes after her new abilities become apparent.

But here's what I found a bit disappointing:  While there are some good ideas, there were things that weren't explained well.  For example, what happened in this world?  There is a crime syndicate, but it's not really explained.  There is mention of a "Hope" which makes you think there was a previous revolution, but that's not delved into.   The author has a descriptive writing style, which I mostly enjoyed, but then would notice time to time that she was falling back on certain words (like she has a few favorite words and didn't realize she was using them twice in 2 adjoining pages).    Also, as much as I found the main character to be interesting, I found her to be confusing.  She meets Gavin, who evidently isn't who he says he is, but she completely dismisses that -- apparently, he has some kind of superstrong attractive qualities that overwhelm her.  She barely knows him, and sleeps with him, and while that didn't bother me, the fact that she expects this extremely strong romantic relationship with him immediately seemed a little naive.  And maybe that's part of her story -- that she starts out as sheltered and naive, and throughout the course of the story, becomes more self-aware.  However, her reaction to what happens to him seems to be way too strong, considering that she barely knows him.   And seriously, I felt like I knew this guy right away ---- and that made the story kind of predictable to me.   But I know this might be because of my own reading background, etc etc --- other readers might not have the same reaction.

Overall, I didn't dislike this book, but I felt like it had a lot of potential that it just didn't quite live up to.   It's like an eye-candy kind of movie: lots of great visuals, but no strong storyline or characters that stand out.  I didn't feel betrayed, or super let-down, but it was disappointing.   It would be interesting to see what would happen if you gave this setting and some of the ideas to a different author, and then read their version.

First lines:  A girl, alone.
  Legs tucked up inside a baggy black hoodie, she perches on a metal grate atop one of the tallest skyscrapers in Bedlam City.  She is watchful, still and silent as a gargoyle.  The city heaves beneath her, but all she can hear this high up is the whistling of an icy wind.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Monday, January 6, 2014

Review: The F-it List by Julie Halpern

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):   With her signature heart and humor, Julie Halpern explores a strained friendship strengthened by one girl’s battle with cancer. 

Alex’s father recently died in a car accident. And on the night of his funeral, her best friend Becca slept with Alex’s boyfriend. So things aren’t great. Alex steps away from her friendship with Becca and focuses on her family. 

So what do you do when your best friend has cancer? You help her shave her head. And then you take her bucket list and try to fulfill it on her behalf. Because if that’s all you can do to help your ailing friend—you do it.

And here's what I thought:  I thought this was an okay book.  Not great, not bad, but okay.  I liked the idea of the book, but I never really found that I liked Alex, or found her completely believable.  She seems too confident and cool about things to come off as realistic, and even if I put this all into the context that she's just lost her father, it still didn't always ring true.   She never delves into her father's death very much, even though it has definitely affected her.  And, while the story is supposed to be about Alex and Becca, it felt more slanted towards Alex reacting to Becca (what she feels like, how she looks).  Alex sometimes came across to me as being very self-absorbed, which I got a little tired of.

Alex is an interesting character, and I think that's mostly what kept me reading.  However, at times, I felt like she was a little contrived.  For example, her interest in horror movies seems like it's attached to her character as a means to convey pop culture references, instead of being a compelling part of her.  Her one explanation to another character towards the end of the book about why she likes horror movies didn't quite feel completely true to me.  

The other thing that I was a little surprised by in this book wasn't the graphic sex, but rather, how cool, casual and matter-of-fact Alex is about it.  There's no self-doubt at all, and I guess when I think about how I was with sex when I was a teen, and how my friends were, things were more a mix of trying to be casual, but feeling some self-doubt.  Alex doesn't seem to have any of that -- and maybe it's just her bravado coming through, but again, it made her just seem not as a real to me.

When I think about Alex, I think about Juno MacGuff (from the movie Juno).  There's that whole breezy, confident, kind of quirky girl thing going on.   Juno had the punk rock side to her, and Alex has horror movies (and frankly, to me, for both characters, it felt like a "I like it because I'm not supposed to like it and it makes me cool" thing going on).  A lot of the dialogue in this book also felt like it was influenced by Juno, and by Joss Whedon's Scoobie gang in Buffy -- and it sometimes felt contrived.

I think I wanted to like this book more than I actually did.  Other readers might read it and totally love it, but for me, by the time I finished it, I was more than happy to move on to another book.

First lines:   The only thing worse than having my best friend sleep with my boyfriend the night of my father's funeral would be if she killed my dad herself. Becca didn't, which was the one thing that redeemed her.  Still, I allowed myself the entire summer after the trampful event to be mad at her.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

My 2014 challenge has been chosen: the Lucky No. 14 Reading Challenge

After seeing all the various reading challenges that are out there, I've decided on my 2014 challenge.  Hosted by Books to Share, the Lucky No. 14 Reading Challenge sounds interesting, and something I can handle.  

So, I've created an updated Challenge page here on this blog, where I'll be keeping track of my reads.  I've decided to open up my TBR jar and see what might fit in these categories, which will allow me to not only find some good books, but also start actually pulling things out of my TBR jar (instead of just adding to it).

Welcome to a brand new year!!

First review of the year: The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads): Quiet misfit Rose doesn't expect to fall in love with the sleepy beach town of Leonora. Nor does she expect to become fast friends with beautiful, vivacious Pearl Kelly, organizer of the high school float at the annual Harvest Festival parade. It's better not to get too attached when Rose and her father live on the road, driving their caravan from one place to the next whenever her dad gets itchy feet. But Rose can't resist the mysterious charms of the town or the popular girl, try as she might.

Pearl convinces Rose to visit Edie Baker, once a renowned dressmaker, now a rumored witch. Together Rose and Edie hand-stitch an unforgettable dress of midnight blue for Rose to wear at the Harvest Festival—a dress that will have long-lasting consequences on life in Leonora, a dress that will seal the fate of one of the girls. Karen Foxlee's breathtaking novel weaves friendship, magic, and a murder mystery into something moving, real, and distinctly original.

And here's what I thought:  I was completely captivated by this story.  The combination of the exotic (well, exotic to me, at least) setting and the compelling main character made for a page-turning read, that once I finished, I wanted to start all over again.   That doesn't usually happen to me in a book, which makes me glad that this is the last book of the year that I finished, letting me end my reading on a high note.

So let's start with the setting.   Rose and her father move to a small, rural town in Australia, which is described so well by the author that I could feel the humidity closing in on me at times.  Admittedly, I don't like heat and humidity at all, so reading this book sometimes made me want to fan myself (or at least step outside for a moment.  I live in the Chicago area, so it's nice and cold right now).  The town, itself, isn't described so much as some of the parts that are outside of town, like where Rose and her father live, and where the dressmaker's house is.   I've never been to Australia, so I wasn't familiar with some of the plants and animals in the book.  However, this just made me want to look them up, and hope they were all real.

And speaking of settings, the house that Edie (the dressmaker) lives in is a character all unto itself.  The author creates something that seems to be more than a house, almost, where there might just be small bits of magic happening.  It's not the loveliest house; actually, it's far from it.  "The house is falling apart.  There's a tree growing through the front stairs. Everywhere there's the detritus of the forest. The leaves drying in small piles in the corners of rooms and seedpods jammed in the floorboards.  The curtains are dappled with mildew and festooned with spiderwebs." (p. 45-46).  But somehow, despite its condition (and apparent smell, I'd imagine, considering the mildew and constant humidity), it's fascinating.  It's hard to imagine Edie living in it, but at the same time, it's completely appropriate.

The characters are well-written, and not all of them are likable (which is perfectly fine with me - I don't need to like a character, as long as I find them interesting).  Rose is a bit prickly and difficult, and a real opposite to Pearl.  Her home situation is also the opposite of Pearl, so I found it interesting that we have two teen characters who are similar and different, and we have the adults that way, as well.   I liked that not all of the adults were wonderful, and helpful, and supportive.   What I mean is: Rose's father isn't that great of a father, and I liked that he's this way, because it felt more realistic to me.

One of the things that I enjoyed in this book was that there is a story within a story going on here.  You get Rose's story, in the present (more or less), as well as the story that is going on right after someone (actually, two people) go missing.  You get the perspective from Rose, but you also get the perspective from Detective Glass.  I also liked that when Rose meets Edie and gets to know her, that Edie tells her stories of her own life.  So, it's stories wrapped in stories (like a wonderful present in a beautiful box filled with layers of colorful tissue paper).   I wasn't always sure what was going to happen, either, which made it a great read.

This is one of the most beautiful books that I've read, mostly because it's beautifully written, but also because I felt like it was intelligently written.  It made me want to look up things, and places.  It made me imagine things, and it made me feel like I wanted to know some of the characters better.  It made me wonder about what happened to some of them after the book.  It's a talent not all authors have, and one that I really appreciate.

First lines: Will you forgive me if I tell you the ending?  There's a girl.  She's standing where the park outgrows itself and the manicured lawn gives way to longer grass and the stubble of rocks.  She's standing in
no-man's land, between the park and the place where the mill yards begin.

It's night and the cane trains are still.

It is unbearably humid and she feels the sweat sliding down her back and she presses her hands there into the fabric to stop the sensation, which is ticklishly unpleasant.  She lifts up the midnight dress to fan her legs.  It's true, the dress is a magical thing, it makes her look so heavenly.
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