This is a Five Star Review: The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley

The Carnival At Bray by Jessie Ann Foley

Released: January 2014
Publisher: Elephant Rock Productions, Inc.
Age Group: Young Adult
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★★★★★

Synopsis: It’s 1993, and Generation X pulses to the beat of Kurt Cobain and the grunge movement. Sixteen-year-old Maggie Lynch is uprooted from big-city Chicago to a windswept town on the Irish Sea. Surviving on care packages of Spin magazine and Twizzlers from her rocker uncle Kevin, she wonders if she’ll ever find her place in this new world. When first love and sudden death simultaneously strike, a naive but determined Maggie embarks on a forbidden pilgrimage that will take her to a seedy part of Dublin and on to a life- altering night in Rome to fulfill a dying wish. Through it all, Maggie discovers an untapped inner strength to do the most difficult but rewarding thing of all, live.

My Thoughts

I finished reading the Carnival at Bray by Jessie Anne Foley last week, and I forced myself to not write a review immediately or even think too hard about star ratings because this book, my friends, was teetering on the fence between four stars and five stars. Let me be clear, this almost NEVER happens, so I needed the decision to be organic instead of one fueled by a book high. A week later, I find myself thinking that this book, without a doubt, is a five-star book. However, when I sat down to write the review, I was at a loss for words.

I can tell you that you should read this book because it takes place in Ireland, and all books that take place in Ireland are instantly on my wish list. I can tell you that this book rocks a pretty great playlist because 90’s alternative music was boss. I can tell you this book tackles some pretty heavy issues like mental illness and divorce and sex and totally uprooting a family and flying it clear across an ocean for a fleeting moment of love. I can tell you that the prose is poetic without slipping into the realm of “purple prose”, that the author made a good choice by writing it in third person because it would probably become too melodramatic otherwise, that the narration seems stoic sometimes understated, which somehow only plays up the gravity of the conflicts Maggie, our main character, faces. I can tell you that every character is wonderfully developed and charming and utterly flawed. And…did I mention it takes place in Ireland?

But, what I’m truly struggling with is verbalizing all of the abstract feelings I have about this book. I can’t adequately explain the light I felt emanating from me every night Maggie visited Dan Sean, an elderly Irishman, who somehow understood Maggie better than anyone else. Or when Maggie tasted freedom when chasing after Italy or Nirvana tickets or a boy she loved. Nor can I adequately explain how heavy my heart-felt when she was uprooted and transplanted in this foreign country where she was always the outsider. Or every time she was with that skeevy fellow, Paul. Or as she watched her uncle disintegrate. The Carnival at Bray is a fairly short novel at only 230 pages, yet it took me nearly two weeks to read because it was such an emotional novel; it’s like it knocked the wind right out of me every day I read the book.

I only wish this book was around when I was 17 and not 27. It’s a coming of age novel I would have carried with me always like Stephan Chbosky’s the Perks of Being a Wallflower or Joe Meno’s Hairstyles of the Damned or Ellen Wittlinger’s Hard Love.

Read this book. Read the Carnival at Bray because it’s real and it’s raw and Maggie’s story matters.

[On an unrelated matter, I wasn’t really sure how to categorize this book. Is it contemporary fiction? Is it historical fiction? It’s pretty strange to think my childhood happened long enough ago that it could now be considered “historical”.]

These Broken Stars is Outta This World!

these broken starsThese Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner
Released:
December 2013
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
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★★★★☆
Synopsis: Luxury spaceliner Icarus suddenly plummets from hyperspace into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive — alone. Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a cynical war hero. Both journey across the eerie deserted terrain for help. Everything changes when they uncover the truth.The Starbound Trilogy: Three worlds. Three love stories. One enemy.

This is what I loved about These Broken Stars:

1. Lilac LaRoux. So often are female characters written into un-flexible molds. They are princesses and tomboys and bookworms and the girl next door, but rarely do they cross over. That is not the case for Lilac LaRoux, who has an appreciation for jewel-toned dressed and designer shoes, but can also navigate around printed circuit boards and electrical wiring. Heart-throb Tarver Merendsen may be a hero in the headlines, but Lilac LaRoux is the true hero in this story, driven by her brilliance and bravery.

2. Soft Science Fiction. I love science fiction movies, and I love science fiction video games, but I do not often read science fiction books. It seems silly, but I’m intimidated by science fiction books because I’m afraid that the ideas will fly right over my head. Soft science fiction makes the genre more approachable though. Even though the ideas may be a little more fantasy than fact, the backdrop is fascinating nonetheless.

3. Of all the beautiful descriptions about stars and space, this line about Lilac LaRoux’s father is my favorite: “But who names a starship the Icarus? What kind of man possesses that much hubris, that he dares it to fall?” It’s brief. It’s simple. It’s powerful.

4. This book is equal parts science fiction and romance, but there are no traces of insta-love here. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen come from two different worlds and both are influenced by their pride. They are forced into showing each other their vulnerabilities after the Icarus has fallen, and they only have each other to rely on for survival. Watching the pair grow up and grow together revealed more about the two characters than any cliché love triangle.

5. The mysterious visions. Is it trauma? Is it fantasy? Is it an alien life form? I needed to know what caused Lilac and Tarver to hear voices and see impossible visions. The revelation at the end did not leave me feeling disappointed at all.

This is what I did not like about These Broken Stars:

1. The pacing was slow during parts of the book. I suspected that might be the case with These Broken Stars since a majority of the story takes place on a deserted planet. With the exception of the elements and one wildcat, there are very few external conflicts in this book. This can be okay, but their fight for survival became mundane after a few chapters. What kept my drive to read to the end alive was my love for the characters, the mystery of the abandoned terraformed planet, and the strange visions.

2. I was left with so many unanswered questions about humanity’s role in the universe. They’ve colonized a handful of planets, and wars and rebellions were briefly mentioned, but the authors seemed to gloss over the causes. I wanted to know more, especially what was causing the rebellions.

Overall:

Despite the pacing and the unanswered questions, I really enjoyed These Broken Stars. Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner crafted a beautifully written book with intriguing characters and mystery. The end of These Broken Stars filled me with so much wonder that I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy of This Shattered World. Even more exciting is the next installment follows two new characters and dives into wars and the rebellions that plague humanity. It’s rare that I want to read beyond book one in a series, which is why I have to give These Broken Stars four stars!

I received These Broken Stars as a gift from the splendid Kate @ Literary Kate

Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have) by Sarah Mlynowski

Ten Things We Did and Probably Shouldn't Have by Sara Mlynowski Book CoverTen Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have) by Sarah Mlynowski
Released:
June 2011
Publisher: Harper Teen
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★★☆☆☆
Synopsis: When April’s dad relocates to Cleveland, April begs to move in with her friend Vi instead of leave behind everything that is comfortable to her, especially her boyfriend Noah. April’s dad agrees to this arrangement without knowing Vi’s mom won’t be present (she’s traveling the U.S. in an off-Broadway production). The girls provide April’s dad with a fake e-mail address, and Vi responds to every e-mail as if she were her mom. Let the bad decisions begin!

My Thoughts

The plot is fast-paced but not hilarious like the book’s blurb promises. Perhaps it is a sign of my old age (is 26 old?) that I found the characters’ decisions to be unrealistic and obnoxious. When does buying a several thousand dollar hot tub with grocery allowance sound like a reasonable way to pay someone back? The characters in Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have) are kind of equally annoying. With the exception of Dean, Vi’s boytoy, I didn’t like any of the characters. Vi is bossy and rude (and Dean can do a whole heck of a lot better). Marissa, as it turns out, is a crappy friend. Noah is just gross. And April is…inept; what sixteen year old doesn’t know how to do basic chores– like washing the dishes or laundering their clothes? What kind of sheltered life does she live, and why didn’t her parents teach her this? Ultimately, I found it really hard to root for anyone or sympathize with anyone in this novel.

Amid preposterous decisions, this novel tried to break out of the contemporary fluff model by trying to explore difficult issues like divorce, feeling abandoned by family, adoption, and eating disorders. Unfortunately, there was too much to address in such a short novel (with sooooo much going on), that discussion of these topics lacked consistency– kind of like If I Tell by Janet Gurtler. The only topic that was explored fairly substantially in this novel was April and her relationship with Noah. The couple has been together for two years, and April feels confident that she wants to take their relationship to the next level. There is no beating around the bush here– we’re talking about sex. Initially, I appreciated how the author handled the subject. Both Vi and April look into and discuss birth control options– perhaps the only good decision made in this entire novel. Additionally, I liked how the author navigated April’s feelings toward sex. It explores the behavioral script of what losing one’s virginity should be like– reality rarely meets expectations, and her insecurities are also explored; she notices that Noah is distant, and she feels having sex will make their relationship more stable. Alas, sex does not equal love– a hard lesson learned, yet that kind of thought process is a very real one regardless of age, experience, and gender. Unfortunately, the outcome of this decision is awful, and I don’t think it really added anything to the story. It just made me feel uncomfortable and disappointed that the experience was portrayed in such a negative light. A very grey topic was painted black and white.

Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have) by Sarah Mlynowski was a quick read. I devoured it in one sitting, but readability does not make a book great. Honestly, I think the real reason I couldn’t put this book down was because the characters made some train wreck decisions, and I was rubbernecking. Overall, the book was okay even if there were a handful of parts that left me feeling disappointed, which is why I give this book two out of five stars.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell Book Review

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell book coverFangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Released: September 2013
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
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★★★★☆
Synopsis: Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan…But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to. Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

My Thoughts

So rare is it that I love a book that has been hyped. Usually, the higher the pedestal, the farther a book has to fall– such was the case with Divergent by Veronica Roth or An Abundance of Katherines by John Green for which there is no link here because I couldn’t make it past page 50. However, I recently read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, and the only thing I’m disappointed about is not reading the book sooner so I could fangirl along side the rest of the book blogosphere.

Freshman year of college is a test for all 18 and 19-year-olds, and it’s no different for Cath, who is a new student at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Nebraska*. At least she can rely on her twin sister, Wren, also a freshman at the University of Nebraska, to help her navigate the microcosm that is a university campus and being away from home for the first time…right? But, when Wren chooses to embrace the college life that includes the drinking and the boys and the rowdy parties, Cather slips into the fan fiction world of Simon Snow (read: Harry Potter) that’s safe and comfortable and already accepting of her. Unexpectedly, her sassy roommate, Reagan, and her sassy roommate’s attachment/unattachment, Levi, draw Cath out of her shell.

I think Cath is going to be one of those rare female characters who empowers her readers. Like the way Hermione Granger made being intelligent and a bookworm totally awesome, Cath will make reading and writing and being snarky and being nerdy totally awesome. Plus, she’s easy to relate to. She’s cynical and insecure and scared, but she’s also introverted and witty and passionate, and as I kept flipping pages, I kept thinking, “That’s me. Cath is me!”

Then, we’re finally given a love interest that isn’t a “bad boy with a heart of gold” because those don’t actually exist. Trust me, the bad boy will always be a jerk (especially in college), and you’re just being blinded by his manly sideburns and five o’clock shadow. Levi is a nice guy— the kind that offers to walk with you at night even though it’s cold outside because he wants to make sure you feel safe, the kind that will drive you home no matter the distance or the road conditions, the kind that will encourage you to embrace and ramble on about your (nerdy) passions. He’s not compared to Adonis; in fact, he’s got lines in his forehead and a bit of a receding hairline, and he probably has a farmer’s tan too from working hard out in the sun! He’s still handsome and he’s charming (of course, he’s from the midwest), but more importantly, he’s the kind of you guy you cannot wait to see or talk to over the phone because he just sort of makes awful days melt away or he makes you feel like the most important person in the room or he makes you feel like yourself again. I know someone kind of like Levi, and perhaps that is why the relationship that develops between Cath and Levi gives me butterflies in my stomach. Plus, the romance happened organically, which is refreshing in a world of love triangles that don’t make sense and instant, unfettering “love” amongst teenagers.

As much as I loved Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, I have to admit that I did actually skips parts of this book, which I don’t often do. Each chapter starts with an excerpt from the Simon Snow novel, or Cath’s fan fiction, or newspaper clippings discussing the pop culture phenomenon. Then, there were several pages where Cath was reading her fan fiction out loud, and I pretty much skipped all of that. The integration of Cath’s Simon Snow fan fiction was cool at first, but after a while I became bored by it, and I felt it was distracting from the story that I truly wanted to read– Cath’s college experience.

Still, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell earns a solid four stars from me for multifaceted, perfectly imperfect characters, a charming romance, and a realistic portrayal of college and falling in love for the first time. Thank you Rainbow Rowell for giving the world Cather Avery.

*I think it’s really cool that this story takes place in Nebraska, one of the most underrated states in the US. Who writes about Nebraska?

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick #Review

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick book coverNever Fall Down by Patricia McCormick
Released: May, 2012
Publisher:
Balzer + Bray
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★★★☆☆
Synopsis:
Based on the true story of Cambodian advocate Arn Chorn-Pond, and authentically told from his point of view as a young boy, this is an achingly raw and powerful historical novel about a child of war who becomes a man of peace. When soldiers arrive in his hometown, Arn is just a normal little boy. But after the soldiers march the entire population into the countryside, his life is changed forever.Arn is separated from his family and assigned to a labor camp: working in the rice paddies under a blazing sun, he sees the other children dying before his eyes. One day, the soldiers ask if any of the kids can play an instrument. Arn’s never played a note in his life, but he volunteers.This decision will save his life, but it will pull him into the very center of what we know today as the Killing Fields. And just as the country is about to be liberated, Arn is handed a gun and forced to become a soldier.

My Thoughts

I read Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick for very superficial reasons: 1. it was on sale the day I purchased it and 2. it was the shortest novel I owned, and I wanted a “quick read” to get myself out of my reading slump. I don’t think I even paid much attention to the blurb the day that I bought it other than it took place in Cambodia and something about the “main character”, Arn, dancing to Elvis Presley and hustling adults to bring home extra coin to his family. I mistakenly thought this was going to be a coming-of-age novel. Perhaps my obliviousness was a blessing because had I realized this book took place in Cambodia during the 1970s, I might not have picked it up on New Year’s Eve.

I only vaguely knew about Cambodia during the 1970s– the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot. It’s not something that I ever learned about in school though. All of my world history classes– high school and college– were western centric, so if America or the UK or the Soviet Union were not involved, we didn’t touch the subject– not even when 25% of a country’s population was annihilated by corrupt leaders.

Never Fall Down is based on the (true) story of Arn Chorn-Pond, who, during 1975 and 1979, survived the genocide of Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge labor camps, and the Cambodian-Vietnamese War. This book is listed as “young adult”, but every page is filled with sights, scents, and sounds of death. Everyday, the Khmer Rouge kill people who are too educated, too rich, or too supportive of the old ways. The labor camps turn into killing fields and mass graves for over two million Cambodians, but Arn Chorn-Pond survives the fields because he volunteers to learn an instrument to play the patriotic songs of the new government and he learns to manipulate the members of the new regime. On the eve of Cambodian liberation, Arn Chorn-Pond is handed a gun and made to not only fight for the Khmer Rouge but for his own life as well.

I have one reservation about Never Fall Down though, and it’s not the grim content– it’s the narration. Patricia McCormick spent two years interviewing Arn Chorn-Pond and surviving family members to learn their story, and in an attempt to capture Arn’s “authentic” voice, McCormick decided to write the entire story in broken English. Unfortunately, not only did it make this story difficult to read, I found the voice to be more like a caricature than authentic. It just seems…tacky, and perhaps I am putting that lightly. It was so unappealing and unnecessary that it turned a four-star book into a three-star book.

Still, a book like Never Fall Down needs to be read. It’s a powerful story about a time in history that I think many of us are unfamiliar with. And that’s the thing about history– we read about it or experience it first hand and (hopefully) we learn and (hopefully) we don’t let history repeat itself.

The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima Review

Book Cover for The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams ChimaThe Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima (Seven Realms #2)
Released:
September 2010
Publisher: Hyperion Books
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★★★★☆
Synopsis: Haunted by the loss of his mother and sister, Han Alister journeys south to begin his schooling at Mystwerk House in Oden’s Ford. But leaving the Fells doesn’t mean that danger isn’t far behind. Han is hunted every step of the way by the Bayars, a powerful wizarding family set on reclaiming the amulet Han stole from them. And Mystwerk House has dangers of its own. There, Han meets Crow, a mysterious wizard who agrees to tutor Han in the darker parts of sorcery—but the bargain they make is one Han may regret.

Meanwhile, Princess Raisa ana’Marianna runs from a forced marriage in the Fells, accompanied by her friend Amon and his triple of cadets. Now, the safest place for Raisa is Wein House, the military academy at Oden’s Ford. If Raisa can pass as a regular student, Wein House will offer both sanctuary and the education Raisa needs to succeed as the next Gray Wolf queen.

Everything changes when Han and Raisa’s paths cross, in this epic tale of uncertain friendships, cut-throat politics, and the irresistible power of attraction.

My Thoughts

It’s a rare occasion when I read the first book in a series and I enjoyed it enough that I consider reading the second book in a series. It’s an even rarer occasion when I actually pick up book two in a series. Remember when I declared my love for Matched by Ally Condie, The Candidates by Inara Scott, and Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel? I never actually continued those series, and I probably never will now. Then, there are these anomalous events where I find myself not just reading book two but then scrambling to get my hands on book three and four. There is the Harry Potter series (duh!) and the Twilight series (I can’t explain this one), and now there is the Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima. I reviewed the first book, The Demon King, two years ago, and believe it or not, I just finished the second book in the series. OH. MY. GOSH.

P.S. Spoilers?

In The Exiled Queen, we find our two heroes, Han and Raisa, separated once more. Yet as the tides of war lap at the Seven Realms, both are traveling to boarding school, Oden’s Ford, to seek refuge and to perfect skills that may aid them in the battles to come. I don’t know why, but if a story involves a boarding school, there is a 97% chance I’m going to love the book. I am such a nerd that I’m excited to learn about my favorite characters’ school day (please ignore the notes on how to travel to Aediion that I’ve jotted down in my own composition notebook). I just get really absorbed into the surroundings. Plus, there are so many unsupervised opportunities to mingle with one’s peers, and in such close quarters, there are so many opportunities to bump into love interests. Despite taking place in a fantasy setting, the romantic elements seem more realistic in this novel than in most other YA novels I’ve read. The passion without obsession. The mind’s hesitation to start a relationship, when the heart wants nothing more than to jump in with abandon. The crushing force of seeing the person you’re falling in love with doting on another.  There were moments when my heart was screaming for two characters to kiss, but instead they were both stuck inside their own heads filled with doubt, too afraid to make the first move. Won’t we all experience this at least once in our own lives? And kudos to the author, who wasn’t afraid to write about hormonal teenagers and birth control (ie. maidenweed).

The characters continue to grow and develop in The Exiled Queen. Just when I thought I understood a characters motives, they are thrown into situations that challenge their values. I was always eager to turn the page so I could discover what caused the change of heart. Raisa continues to be my favorite character because she’s learning to become a warrior without sacrificing her femininity, and characters like that seem so rare. There are also a handful of new characters, who I don’t quite trust. Dean Abelard is introduced as the head of Mystwerk House. She holds dinners during the school year that are reminiscent of the Slug Club from the Harry Potter series– only the most gifted students are invited, and they take turns teaching each other valuable lessons. I sense Dean Abelard is loyal only to herself, and she has a few tricks up her sleeve to ensure she comes out on top (a true Slytherin!). Then there is the mysterious mage, Crow, who is a master of illusions, and I’m dying to know his true identity.

My only issue with the Exiled Queen is the pacing, and that may be more of a result of preference than anything. During the first half of the book, both Han’s and Raisa’s parties were traveling through the realms. Of course they ran into trouble and excitement along the way, but I found myself wanting to fast forward to their adventures in boarding school instead. For someone who claims she loves traveling, I’m definitely not a huge fan of it in fantasy novels. Mostly, I just view it as an opportunity for retrospection and world building, but book one was full of that and I wanted more of the plot to be revealed. This does begin to happen near the end of the book, and I found myself staying up way past my bedtime…during the work week. The Exiled Queen ended with a cliffhanger, and it left me asking a million questions that I just know will be answered in the next installment of this series.

So far, the Seven Realms series is incredible, and if it’s not on your reading list, you should definitely add it– especially if you’re reluctant to read high fantasy books. I was too, but this series made the genre more approachable because Cinda Williams Chima created the perfect balance of world building and character development.

I won this book in a giveaway hosted by Proud Book Nerd

I Finally Finished Another Series: Twilight

[Warning: this post may contain spoilers]

I’ve done it! I’ve really done it! I have officially completed two entire series in my 26 years of existence. I spent the afternoon of Labor Day power reading the last 200 pages of Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer. And this GIF of Kristen Stewart sums up my feelings over losing several hours of my life to the book:

I avoided the Twilight saga for as long as possible. I had heard too much about the bland characters, the poor writing, and the sketchy romantic relationship to know that this was one book hype I should probably avoid. And! When Twilight hit the shelves, people compared its popularity to Harry Potter. As if it were even in the same league! But somehow, someone talked me into reading the series. I went in totally prepared to hate everything about it, but if I’m honest, I don’t actually hate the series. Not all of it, anyway.

 

When I read Twilight, I was surprised. Surprised by how much I didn’t dislike Bella and Edward and Jacob. Surprised by how easily I was swept up in the fantasy of Bella’s budding romance with a sparkling vampire. Surprised by how I did not want to put the book down– not even for Fallout 3, which I had just purchased that weekend, and this is kind of big deal. I ended up reading it in two days even though I’m a pretty slow reader. I was just…hooked! I mean, obviously I could tell the quality of story telling and character development wasn’t the greatest, but for some reason that didn’t even matter. Twilight has this junk food quality about it. I compare it to cookie dough, which is unhealthy, but I cannot help gobbling down spoonful after spoonful of it anyway.

New Moon made me even weaker in the knees. While Twilight focused on Bella and Edward’s relationship,  New Moon, focused on Bella and Jacob’s friendship, and I adored that. I freaking loved Jacob Black in New Moon– in all the books. I finished book two just as quickly as the first book. I had to because the second movie was hitting theaters, and I ended up dragging both my parents along to see the film.

Then, my love for the series ended abruptly. Eclipse happened, and I fell out of love with the series. Eclipse was so boring; I actually skipped nearly an entire chapter of this book because it could not hold my attention– the one where Bella is sitting about a campfire with Jacob and his family/friends, learning about shape shifters. I consider myself Team Jacob, but not even he could keep my attention during the info dump. To make matters worse, Bella turns into a jerk– she was over-compensating her faithfulness to Edward because she finally realized she had feelings for Jacob too.

I didn’t think it were possible, but I started to like Bella even less in Breaking Dawn. Edward too. Because they were just so, so mean. Their attitudes were so unappealing that I ended up putting the book down for two years. I regret doing that because the last 200 pages of the book were such a doozy; attempting to finish the book became a challenge. I ended up skim-reading to the end, but nothing really happened anyway. I thought it was going to be this battle royale– Cullens and Co. vs. the Volturi. I thought that’s what New Moon and Eclipse were building up to, but they just talked through their differences, and everyone lived happily ever after. It was anti-climactic. [Note: I actually saw Breaking Dawn part II in theaters before finishing the book, which was also a mistake because, while I liked the movie’s ending a little better than the book’s ending, it was still a “cop-out”, and this affected my attitude towards the book.]

I of course dragged my mom to see all the movies, and I think I preferred them to the books despite Kristen Stewart’s emotionless acting and all of the cheesy fight scenes. I liked the scenery and I loved the music. Also, I liked this guy and his abs:

Taylor Lautner, you are so dreamy.

 

Have you ever read the Twilight saga? Did you love it or did you hate it? Or, do you fall somewhere in the middle like myself?

Book Report: Dark Parties by Sara Grant

Dark Parties

Dark Parties by Sara Grant
Released:
March 2011
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
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★★☆☆☆
Synopsis:
Sixteen-year-old Neva has been trapped since birth. She was born and raised under the Protectosphere, in an isolated nation ruled by fear, lies, and xenophobia. A shield “protects” them from the outside world, but also locks the citizens inside. But there’s nothing left on the outside, ever since the world collapsed from violent warfare. Or so the government says…

Neva and her best friend Sanna believe the government is lying and stage a “dark party” to recruit members for their underground rebellion. But as Neva begins to uncover the truth, she realizes she must question everything she’s ever known, including the people she loves the most.

My Thoughts

Inside the electrified walls of the Protectosphere is a community cut off from the rest of the world. The government says they’re better off because beyond the Protectosphere lies a wasteland. Citizens may notice luxuries like blueberries, chocolate, and new clothes are disappearing, but at least they are alive.

But, are they really living when the government determines what job an individual holds? Or tries to brainwash the youth into reproducing at a younger age to save a dwindling population? Are they really alive when troublemakers are injected with tracking devices? Or worse, when family members and friends suddenly disappear during the night? Only the government knows where to, but to question them might create for you the same fate.

The teens hold Dark Parties to start underground rebellions, to join celibacy pacts, to spray paint anti-government propaganda on city walls. But, when their friends start disappearing, their rebellion fizzles out. Of the youth that attended the Dark Parties, three fighters remain– Neva, Sanna (her friend), and Braydon (Sanna’s boyfriend). Without the support of their peers, the three dig into their government to discover the history of the Protectosphere, and they begin to learn the atrocities their government is capable of.

Dark Parties by Sara Grant could have been a great novel, but like most of the other books I’ve read in 2013, it fell short of amazing. “Decent” and “all right” are more fitting adjectives. Perhaps my opinion would have differed if I hadn’t read two, awesome dystopians prior to Dark Parties. Already, the novel had some pretty big shoes to fill, and I approached reading it with a more critical eye. At first many of the elements of the society in Dark Parties seemed generic, but as I read on, they started to seem similar. Dark Parties by Sara Grant is to Young Adult as The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau is to Middle Grade. I’m not implying Dark Parties is a rip off because there are a few elements unique to its storyline. I am saying that because I’ve experienced a similar story already, Dark Parties failed to excite me. Besides, I liked Lina and Doon better than Neva, Sanna, and Braydon.

Neva, the main character, lacks passion and personality. Her ability to lead a rebellion seems more a result of circumstance than her own drive. Then there is Braydon, the love interest. He’s dating Sanna, Neva’s best friend, but Braydon is trying to become intimate with Neva, too. And Neva falls for it! As I read the story, I kept wondering how Neva could be attracted to a guy, who is two-timing her best friend. Hoes before Bros, amiright? Even worse, Neva is barely remorseful about it. I mean, she keeps saying she feels bad, but she still pursues Braydon. Aside from his teenage infidelity, Braydon lacks a personality, like Neva. (Perhaps they are meant for each other after all.) He’s pseudo-mysterious. He appears to be brooding, but that’s only because he doesn’t have anything valid to offer in a conversation. He does drive a motorcycle though, and everyone knows the ladies find motorcycles sexy or something. Braydon seems to exist merely as a plot device– Neva’s temptation to break her celibacy pact. But, I feel like the author should have given Neva someone more worthwhile and convincing. Sanna is about the only character in the story that is interesting, though at times she seems artificially sweet. Regardless, she has more passion, she has more challenges to overcome, and she has more life-altering decisions to make. Why couldn’t the story have been about Sanna?

While most of the characters lacked substance, the world didn’t. About 16 chapters in, the reader learns the founding fathers of the Protectosphere were xenophobic. The Protectosphere was developed to keep the effects of globalization out– no sharing religion, no sharing language, no sharing culture, no sharing ideas. I think this is an interesting idea given the shrinking world we live in, but I don’t think the idea was explored as well as it could have been. In fact, it caused a few holes in the world building. Earlier in the story, Neva laments over blueberries, which are no longer available in her world. Except, chances are, if she’s living in America or Europe, blueberries probably grow…naturally. Things like coffee and gas for cars still exist in Neva’s world though, and both of these most definitely would have to have been exported from the outside world. Unfortunately, I didn’t sense any irony or hypocrisy here, which makes this aspect of the world seem underdeveloped.

Even though I didn’t find the storyline compelling for the most part, I continued to read because I kept hoping the story would improve. And improve it did. Things took a turn for the better when Neva infiltrates the Women’s Empowerment Center. For the first time, the reader and Neva understand the grotesque and horrible things the government does to its people, its women. Finally,  a fire sparks in Neva; she realizes what she’s fighting for and fighting to get away from. Then, Grant leads us through a series of twists and turns and twists that had me at the edge of my seat. And just when I thought things could get any more satisfying, the last few pages happened. The end. OH MY GOD! I mean, I can’t tell you what happens because spoilers, but trust me when I say the ending was perfect. Unexpected. Thought-provoking. Grant doesn’t wrap up Dark Parties neatly with a nice little bow. As many answers are provided as questions are created in those last few pages. I guess you could say the story ends on a cliffhanger, which I understand is an acquired taste. I’m obviously a huge fan of them. I like it when a little is left up to the imagination, and since this book appears to be a stand-alone, all I will have is my imagination. I loved that the ending of Dark Parties filled me with as much wonder as it did Neva.

Read Dark Parties if you enjoy dystopian novels but haven’t read too many stories that fall into that genre. The character development and world building seemed worn out at times, but Grant’s storytelling shines during the second half of the novel. I’m not even being cheeky when I say the ending of Dark Parties makes it a book worth reading.

Giveaway hosted by Khy @ Frenetic Reader

Book Report: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Beautiful Creatures

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (Caster Chronicles #1)
Released:
December 2009
Publisher: Little Brown and Company
Add to Goodreads
★★★★☆
Synopsis:
Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.

 

 My Thoughts

You guys, why didn’t you tell me how amazing Beautiful Creatures was? Oh wait, You did! I often talk about how book hype usually ruins books for me, but on this rare occasion it didn’t! In my opinion, Beautiful Creatures deserves all the rave reviews it’s received so far.

There is something so satisfying about Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. It was the setting that sucked me in first. The fictional town of Gatlin, South Carolina reminded me of hot and soggy summers spent in the woods and creek behind my house in northern Georgia. I half expected kudzu to creep and crawl from the pages of my book. Had the transmission in my car not gone kaput a month prior, I may have jumped in to my dodgy Ford Taurus and drove south for the winter. Next, I was immediately preoccupied by the lives of the people in small-town Gatlin. I wanted to stand in line at the corner store sipping sweet tea while nonchalantly listening in to gossips air their neighbor’s dirty laundry.

The characterization in Beautiful Creatures was near perfect. They all came alive almost effortlessly. The southern belles and their jock counterparts were a cause of friction that was written well. The mean girls/jock conflict might be overdone, but Garcia and Stohl’s approach is surprisingly refreshing. Perhaps because it reads more like a small town versus an outsider threatening what is comfortable rather than the mean, preppy girls versus the goth. The Sisters, with their batty ways were hilarious! But Amma, with her crossword obsession and her voodoo superstitions stole the show for me.

If the characters and the setting don’t suck you in, perhaps the point of view will. What a surprise it was to discover that this paranormal romance  was written almost entirely from a male’s point of view. When was the last time you read a book dealing with romantic elements from a guy’s perspective? It’s just not usually done, which makes this book even more outstanding. Ethan is more complicated than some high school horn dog. He struggles with parting himself from the small town mentality that his friends are trying to shove down his throat as he realizes he’s falling for mysterious and eccentric looking Lena. The romance that develops between the two is sweet and so reminiscent of what I remember of high school romances—holding hands and almost-kisses and wondering if you’ve really just fallen in…well, the “l-word”(because who knew saying “love” would be so anxiety inducing even though it’s kind of invigorating?). It’s such a nice break from overly dominant and manly teenage boys and submissive teenage girls.

The supernatural elements were a show-stopper as well. They were just plain, ol’ neat. I mean, we’re talking about controlling elements, shape shifting, seeing time, mind control, healing, and that’s only scratching the surface. But, that’s not all. There is also Amma who wards off bad spirits with voodoo charms and pleases dead ancestors with chicken and whiskey. There is a natural conflict that arises between the casters and Amma just as there is a conflict that arises between all of the mortals in Gatlin and the casters. It makes for some pretty suspenseful moments.

Beautiful Creatures would be perfect except for two issues that I had with the book. First, the book seemed long. I understand that it is long but so are Harry Potter books, and sometimes those don’t seem long enough! I don’t know if it was pacing or if certain events in the middle were dragged out a chapter too many or even if my anticipation for the events at the end made the book seem so long. Regardless, at some point, I lost my reading vigor because it seemed daunting. Now, on the flip side, it seemed like the ending was rushed! And it seemed like a few explanations were made up suddenly at the end to cover holes in logistics. Like, how is Ethan supposed to get from the Library back out the spooky mansion when they’re clear across town from each other? A perfectly rational supernatural explanation is offered even though no mention of such a thing was made when Ethan first visited the library.

Overall,
I LOVED Beautiful Creatures! The setting, the characters, and the point-of-view made the book a refreshing read. Especially in a genre that has exhausted shoddy love interests, vague characterization, and love triangles. Perhaps Beautiful Creatures was a little too satisfying though. I honestly felt Beautiful Creatures would have worked perfectly as a stand-alone novel. It tied things up nicely but left enough to the imagination. So, as much as I loved Beautiful Creatures, I’m not entirely convinced I want to continue on with the series. Conflicting, eh? I’m not sure book two can live up to its predecessor. If I’m way wrong, please tell me in the comments!

Book Report: If I Tell by Janet Gurtler

If I Tell by Janet Gurtler

If I Tell by Janet Gurtler
Released:
October 2011
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Add to Goodreads
★★☆☆☆
Synopsis:
“It was like watching a train wreck. I wanted to look away but couldn’t take my eyes off them.”
IF ONLY …If only I hadn’t gone to that party. I never would have seen what I did. Jackson wouldn’t have driven me home. I wouldn’t have started to fall for a guy just out of reform school. I could go back to pretending everything was normal. I wouldn’t be keeping a secret from my mom that could blow our family apart …

My Thoughts

I wanted to love this book. It seemed promising enough. I mean, at it’s bare bones If I Tell was good. The main character, Jasmine, is a bi-racial girl in a white-washed suburb in Washington. If feeling like an outsider because of her skin color isn’t bad enough, Jasmine also sees Simon, her mother’s boyfriend, mackin’ on some other girl at a party. (Do people even use the word “macking” anymore?). Jasmine struggles with how to deal with this situation: how will she keep her cool around Simon? He’s been a good friend to her, and he is one of only two black people in Jasmine’s life. She also struggles with how to approach this issue with her mom– if she even should bring it up. Because Jasmine’s mom is pregnant, and Simon is the father.

If I Tell also deals with the issue of postpartum depression, which adds depth to the storyline. Jasmine was born when her mother was a teenager and unprepared to take care of a child on her own. So, Jasmine was raised by her grandparents. Now, Jasmine’s mom has a second chance at being a parent, and all throughout her pregnancy she’s excited by the idea. But after Jasmine’s mom gives birth, the depression settles in. The moment she’s been waiting for for nine months disintegrates. It’s truly heartbreaking.

But…the rest becomes really muddled. I mean, if you’re looking for an “issue book”, If I Tell really fits the bill. Infidelity, racism, and broken families aside, this book also deals with…molestation, alcoholism, homosexuality, AIDS, drugs, psychotic ex-girlfriends, death, uh…and sexual assault. I just felt like all of these issues piled into one book that was too much for a book that has a little more than 200 pages.

I also didn’t care for the author’s approach to sex. Or maybe it’s really Jasmine’s view of sex, but sometimes it’s hard to separate the two from the message. Most of the time, whenever the topic of sex was brought up, slut-shaming was involved. Even more, the “slut” in question was an adult very capable of making adult decisions. I don’t know why this character’s sex life was blamed on her troubled past.

Overall,
This book was okay. I think there was a good story here, but all of the other characters’ problems was a distraction.

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