Monday, January 21, 2013

Review: Anything But Ordinary


Publisher: Hyperion Book
Release Date: September 11, 2012
Page Count: 336
Would Appeal To: Swimmers, anyone who has dealt with a family member's trauma

I'm sad this one got such mixed reviews on GoodReads!

Why You Must Read This:
  • Compelling plot. Bryce wakes up after five years of being in a coma. Everything is her different. Her once innocent twelve year old sister has become a punk rebel, her friends have graduated from college, and her boyfriend is with her best friend. Major betrayal issues from the start.
  • It makes you ask "What if?" This could happen to anyone. As Bryce is at the Olympic trials, she miscalculates her dive and hits her head on the pool, knocking her unconscious. Okay, so we're not all champion swimmers, but life-threatening accidents are very real possibilities. I found myself wondering what I would do upon waking up in her situation. Sure, a second chance at life is within reach, but could I accept the fact that no one thought I'd wake up and so everyone moved on, including the love of my life? It does make sense, thinking about how much pain the left behind family and friends went through with grief and acceptance, but that doesn't make the hurt any less. It's interesting to see Bryce navigate through all the loss she feels. She'll never get back those five years. The question is, how will she move on and start as a brand new person?
  • Carter. Carter is cute, smart, and a medical student who is Bryce's first new friend when she wakes up. He wants to be there for her if he'll let her. Not only does the reader see him in a protective role but also as a possible love interest. He is quiet in a way that many main YA guys are not and sits back rather than rushing her into a relationship. Some of the things he does for her, though little, are swoon worthy! He's got some pretty fabulous cooking skills to boot.
  • The family dynamics are realistic. Bryce's family has basically fallen apart in her absence, which is what you'd expect when a daughter and a sister has been so well loved. Without giving too much away, I enjoyed watching that dynamic again change as Bryce comes home from the hospital and figures out her new role in the family. 
  • The ending. I've been in love with endings lately. Tears will stream down your face as you read the last chapter, which says a lot about Avery's writing ability. I felt so connected to Bryce by the end of the story, and it isn't even in 1st person! Everything comes full circle in this book. I can't think of a more suitable ending. Seriously, the ending sealed this book's rating for me. 
What Bugged Me:
  • Greg, Bryce's old boyfriend. He's kind of a jerk. But knowing that I had such a strong emotional response to a character, again, reveals a great deal about the author's ability to mold amazing prose.
Final Verdict:
Anything But Ordinary reminds us that life is a miracle in which every second must count. A page turner that will rip your heart out (in the best way possible). 

Review: Unspoken

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 11, 2012
Page Count: 370
Would Appeal To: Fans of Maggie Stiefvater

Favorite Quotes:
"'Your soul is like the souls of a thousand monkeys on crack, all smushed together.'"

"'The photocopy machine overheated and broke down. I think I can still hear the sound of it sobbing and wanting to talk about its childhood.'"

"At first glance, Rusty was a masculine version of his sister--tall, dark, and incurably lazy. He had the same athletic frame, which he draped on walls and furniture as if simply too weak to support himself."

"He met her eyes, face calm. The oak leaves above him were already gilded, autumn coming to the woods like a king in a legend, touching all the trees with brightness."

Why You Must Read This:
  • Invisible friend come to life, anyone? Right from the start, this premise had me hooked. Kami has talked to Jared in her head her whole life, and sometimes she spaces out when having conversations with him. Her mom has always hoped she'd grow out of it, the kids at school used to think she was weird-- she even lost a best friend over Jared. But she's not willing to give him up. When he becomes a real person, one of the Lynburns who moves back to the spooky manor at the top of the hill, Kami practically has a mental breakdown. She isn't crazy, and she has to figure out how to live in a world that's scarier, now that he's an actual person she must interact with. 
  • I laughed out loud, in the gym! So I tend to start new books while I'm working out...let's just say I'm glad no one else was around. Within the first three chapters, I was cracking up. Kami starts a school newspaper in a cramped office with only her best friend Angela to keep her company. Angela's really only in it for the napping couch. Soon, the mysterious Ash Lynburn appears, a perfect interviewee for her story on "The Return of the Lynburns."
  • Magic. Not only are all of Brennan's descriptions magical and unique, but she weaves magic through the storyline in ways you won't even see coming until, BAM, they hit you!
  • Fun dialogue. I can't remember being this amused by dialogue since two years ago when I read Robin Benway's The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June. The characters' speech, from self-defense instructor (and older brother of Angela) Rusty to Kami's jokester of a father, brings the story to life and makes even the most minor characters sparkle off the page.
  • Kept me guessing. On more than one occasion, I found myself right there with Kami--unsure of who to trust. She is a reporter who needs to get to the bottom of mysterious events before someone--gasp--kills her! She only seems to be a little worried about the death part, thanks to her habitually curious tendancies. If you go into this story just knowing the invisible friend part (and the book jacket does an excellent job of not providing spoilers), you will be pleasantly surprised with the plot twists! Clever work, Ms. Brennan. I will be reading all of your other books.
  • Emotional. The plot wasn't all fun and games. I enjoyed the relationship between Kami and Jared. Kami's good at analyzing gestures and deciphering thoughts, but of course, she misreads certain cues, as does Jared. There was a surprising moment when the 3rd person POV switched to Jared, but I also liked getting into his head a little. I found myself rooting for the good characters but also sympathizing with the ones who are unsure of whether they can fully cross the line to what we might call "bad guy." I also had a strong dislike for Ash's mom. She made my skin crawl.  
  • Loved the ending. For once, abrupt equals AWESOMENESS! Your emotions might go haywire, but you will be pining for the next Lynburn Legacy book. 
What Bugged Me:
  • The only thing I can think of is that Ash comes from America and uses some British phrases, like "Can I offer you a lift home?" I haven't ever heard a U.S. teen say that particular sentence. This was not nearly enough of a discrepancy to make me deduct half a butterfly on the rating scale.
Final Verdict:
Unspoken showcases a cast of cooky characters with extreme loyalties whose adventures are both hilarious and nightmarish. A memorable mystery that causes eruptions of laughter and lack of sleep.   

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Stacking the Shelves (#1)

Hosted by Tynga's Reviews, Stacking the Shelves gives bloggers the chance to talk about what books were added to their shelves over the week:)

I'm a little late this evening, but I am in the posting mood! I finally used my Christmas and Barnes and Noble gift cards. Here's what I bought (click on covers for summaries!):

What I won: 
From Julie Cross, signed

What did you get this week? I'd love to add more books to my TBR pile, so leave a comment and I'll check out your post! Have a great week (and happy Martin Luther King Day tomorrow if you happen to be in the U.S.).

Review: Meant to Be

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Release Date: November 13, 2012
Page Count: 290
Would Appeal To: Fans of Sarah Dessen, Sarah Ockler, Jennifer E. Smith
 Favorite Quotes:
 "'In this room, you will find a veritable feast for the eyes, with colors exploding like fat, ripe berries of passion all over the canvas. Taste with your eyes the juicy flavors of impressionism, paint swirling into itself like a delicious gravy of art...' My head hurts too much for me to turn and find out who's laughing at the 'berries of passion'-- or to point out the tour guide's use of mixed metaphor."

"I'm curled up in the most comfortable bed ever (seriously, it feels like sleeping in a hug)..."

"The last time I drank a latte, I decided the best way to study for the SATs would be to memorize the entire dictionary. My mom found me the next morning surrounded by multicolored flash cards that looked like they had been written by a serial killer."

"Jason's expression is hard to decipher. He looks very calm. Unfortunately, it seems like the kind of calm that comes before a tornado whips through your town and deposits three cows and a Pizza Hut on top of your house." 

Why You Must Read This Book:
  • Cuteness factor is through the roof. Seriously, I sighed at the end. I am not wanting for more because the ending was that perfect.
  • Jason, Julia's buddy on their junior class trip to London, is positively annoying. But...he has a ton of redeemable qualities. Let's face it-- most girls go for the bad guy. And Jason's not bad; he's the class clown (with a multitude of female admirers). He has a "rusty mop" of red hair, says the most embarrassing things in public, and continuously calls Julia "Book Licker." He breaks the rules, makes adults cringe, and blows off school (but is secretly smart). Plus, he sees Julia at her lowest points, mostly when she's tripping and/or falling into things, which she does a lot. Despite this, he displays little hints of humanness (like a love of the Beatles) and genius ideas for fun that allow Julia to loosen up and crash through the concrete concepts she's had of how life and love should go. 
  • Poor Julia--you've just got to root for her. Imagine if you lived your most embarrassing moment over three times a day for a week. That's pretty much Julia, klutz and social outcast. What's great is that she only slightly cares what the more popular girls think, and that's because one of them is the gossip queen of the school; however, she's not afraid to be on her own in another country. Julia's practically an organized adult living in a high school world, a history buff who highlights and tags the crap out of more than one edition of an English guidebook. This is why it's so fun for Jason to see how far he can push the boundaries. She over analyzes little actions, but for good reason. All the misunderstandings between her and Jason--and there are a ton-- are realistic and hilariously confusing. So many things go wrong, you just want her love life to go right! She carries on with virtually no friends and an antagonizing partner, just for the sake of experiencing London, the place where her parents fell in love.
  • Julia's one step away from being 3-D. She believes each person only has one MTB (Meant to Be). She buries her nose in Pride and Prejudice and dreams of perfect Mark with the slightly crooked tooth sweeping her off her feet because they had a backyard wedding at six years old. These elements brought Julia to life for me. All of her rule following made more sense because of her fantasies about love.
  • Clever plot. A loveless Julia suddenly has three boys to keep her on her toes in London. And there's a great twist that I never saw coming... 
  • Lauren Morrill knows how to write a kissing scene. 'Nuff said.
  • Descriptions of England are gorgeous. From the London Eye to Shakespeare's birthplace, this author flawlessly executes the "show, don't tell" rule when it comes to both scenery and characters.
What Bugged Me:
  • Slow start. Honestly, after the first three chapters, I couldn't figure out what all the author hype on the back was about. I thought Julia was annoying (she put asides in parentheses like this that interrupted her sentences) and that the similes were too frequent and trying too hard. Pretty soon, though, the ( ) dwindled and the similes were more natural, just another part of her personality. As soon as Jason dragged Julia to a house party, plot events turned interesting.
  • One character's motives predictable. It was a boy. Something he said tipped me off. But who's to say a little dramatic irony doesn't help the story? You're just left screaming at the pages, going, "Why didn't you read into that statement if you read into everything else?"
  • A couple of repeated words/phrases. "Distressed" was repeated three times in the span of a few pages to describe various objects (before page 28). Also, I love the phrase "like sleeping in a hug," but that was repeated as well. Maybe it was meant to show her character? The thankyouverymuch that Julia often thought and once said did not get on my nerves because it became very much a trademark slogan. 
Final Verdict:
Lauren Morrill's debut is a spunky, comedy-of-errors romance that leaves you laughing and sighing in the same breath. Warning: impossible to put down.


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Review: Love and Other Perishable Items

Love and Other Perishable ItemsStats:
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: December 11, 2012
Page Count: 256
Would appeal to: Anyone who's worked retail
Favorite Quotes:
"I wonder briefly if I could somehow broker a deal with God whereby if I put both my arms around Chris, his suffering would be transferred to me via skin-to-skin osmosis at a rate directly proportionate to how much I love him."
"'Come on, you're a big girl now.'...I hate it when she makes these comments-- they are the adult version of her childhood taunt 'Don't be such a baby.'"

Why You Might Read This:
  • It's a love story most of us have experienced. The he's-out-of-reach-but-I-still-want-him crush. The author does a great job of painting a tortured young fifteen 15 year old girl who can't stop obsessing over her 21 year old coworker, Chris. He's philosophical, intelligent, good looking. Amelia could show him all the love he's been missing from the other stupid girls who don't appreciate his gifts.
  • It's told from dual perspectives. Amelia and Chris both get a chance to show you their lives. The majority of the novel comes from Amelia, and I found myself looking ahead to see when the next Chris bit would come. I was anxious to see if Chris would do anything romantically that might get him in trouble with the law. The way he views things is such a contrast to Amelia's views, yet they have a ton in common.  
  • Events were realistic. Because we see the life of a girl at school, work, and home, enough events happened to keep me reading. I've worked at a grocery store and could relate to the different groups of friends and the annoying heirarchy of management when kids your age are your boss. I did like that Amelia named the other 15 year old at Land of Dreams "Street Cred Donna." That gave more dimension to Donna's daring behavior. Also, while Amelia was busy spending so much time thinking about Chris, she completely missed what was going on with her best friend. Plus, there's a great example of what happens at a party doesn't always stay at a party. I mostly felt sorry for Amelia because her family life is awful, especially the way her mom is constantly exhausted and her dad has a temper. I remember that time in life when everything was the end of the world or crazy drama, and that's Amelia's life. It was nice to read about a father who was a play director, though; I haven't really seen that in YA.
  • It takes place in Australia. Seasons and the school year are different than the U.S. I learned a few new words. Tried to imagine the characters with Aussie accents but failed miserably! 
What Bugged Me:
  • I didn't sigh at the end. Normally, I enjoy a good love story, no matter what the ending. This had potential, but something fell flat in its execution. I don't think I'll remember this book for much longer, except for the fact that I put it down and wasn't satisfied.
  • The writing was only okay. The author's name is Buzo, and I was hoping to be blown away so I could spread the buzz about this story:) I was disappointed. I usually have to narrow my favorite quotes down because there are some deep, thought provoking moments or some amazing descriptions. I only found two stand out sections, and they were short.
  • Knopf published it. I'm not sure how many of you look at publishers, but I expect top-notch quality work when a Knopf agent has put his or her stamp of approval on a book. Although that didn't play a part in my choosing this book, I was kind of disappointed they took it on.

Review: The Lost Girl

Happy 2013! I hope you all got books or giftcards for Christmas and are losing sleep reading your picks because they are just that good! I'm going to try to pick up on the reviews on here (New Year's resolution). Here's my first read of the year, which hooked me from the cover.

Publisher: Balzer and Bray
Release Date: August 28, 2012
Page Count: 432
Tagline: "Her life begins when another one ends."
Would Appeal To: Fans of Jodi Meadows' Incarnate, anyone who likes a well-crafted story, anyone who has experienced the death of someone close

Favorite Quotes:
"What is this power the dead have over the ones they leave behind? It's strange and beautiful and frightening, this deathless love that human beings continue to feel for the ones they've lost."

"His voice is quiet, but it reminds me of thunder. Thunder tightly boxed. It makes me afraid of what will happen if the box is broken."

"There are tears creeping down her face, leaving glistening trails like the wet left behind by a snail."

"It's fitting that the feathers are so ragged, unformed. Fitting for an angel the gods want to tear from the sky, who must ride on a bird until her broken wings heal."

"'For someone who died,' I mutter at an imaginary Amarra, 'you've done a very good job of hanging around.' But maybe that's what the dead do. They stay. They linger. Benign and sweet and painful. They don't need us. They echo all by themselves."

"That night, as I lie in bed, my thoughts start to look like a ballroom. It's painted the color of burnished silver, the color of a Bangalore sky after the rains. In this ballroom there are angels and monsters, and Seans, and Rays, and echoes and others...and families distorted in broken mirrors, and they are waltzing, to and fro, with one another."
Why You Should Read This Book:
  • The story is impressively creative. A group called the Weavers has created life on their own for 200 years. They've learned how to stitch life out of dust and infuse that life with bits of another person. Although it's illegal in places like India, people can order an echo of their loved one to replace that person after he or she has died. The echo's job is to study her other's life; eat the same foods, learn her favorites, love the same boys. The main character, Eva, spends her life across the world in England doing all of these things. She has guardians who look after her. She has her own thoughts and feelings, and even falls in love with a boy that her other, Amarra, might never choose. When Amarra is in a car accident, Eva has to take her place, leave behind her entire existence to replace this girl. And if she makes a mistake, she can be unstitched and Amarra's parents could be imprisoned. I'm in love with the concept. The Weavers are humans, yet they haven't perfected the creation of life, not until they learn how to change someone's soul from body to body. Adrian, the power-hungry Weaver, wants to do this, but has not yet been successful. Because echoes aren't treated like humans and are generally feared, Eva has a secluded life in the country with Mina Ma and her guardians. The author did a great job with world building. The terms were easy to grasp and I didn't find any contradictions within the plot about rules or laws. 
  • The settings transport the reader. The reader gets to spend time in both India and England. I don't know that much about India, so the sights and sounds of a busy country with markets and rickshaws riding the streets was interesting to imagine. Eva ends up traveling to different places in England, and it's also obvious the author has lived there. Her details are realistic, and the settings don't overshadow the story.
  • The outcast is the perfect point of view. Eva is such an outcast that she's even had to name herself. Because the story is from her viewpoint, readers are able to experience her up and down emotions. We also come across discoveries about laws at the same time as she does, especially since her guardians have chosen what not to share with her for the sake of protection. She's never been to a zoo. She's not allowed to leave the general area. She's homeschooled until she has to replace Amarra in India. Then there's the constanst pressure of being like Amarra so her friends don't find out and call the police, or her familiars, Alisha and Neil, don't issue a Sleep Order because they are displeased by Eva's imitation of their daughter. I appreciate that Eva is true to character; because she has been so sheltered, she doesn't have the same "street smarts" that other characters do. Although she can be quick thinking, she also is naive. She does, however, see her plight paralleled: in her dreams, from parables Mina Ma tells, in students at school, which makes her observant in a way other fifteen year olds would not be.
  • Ethical questions are presented at every turn. This is a time when humans have the ability to create life. Just because an echo isn't human, does that mean everyone has a right to act more superior and treat her poorly when she too has thoughts and feelings; but of course, that's not how the ordinary public views it, including Ray, Amarra's old boyfriend. Should Eva be punished for wishing to live her own life with her own love?
  • Characters' reactions to death are wide ranging. Just as in real life, everyone reacts differently to Amarra's death. Mina Ma is overjoyed because that means Eva will be safe living someone else's life. Eva is distraught to leave behind the only life she's known. Alisha sees her daughter in Eva and lives in a fantasy world where her daughter has not been taken from her. Ray cannot cope with his emotions.
What Bugged Me:
  • There were a few parts where the action slowed about 2/3 of the way in that made it easy to put down the book and come back. Overall, I kept wanting to read to find out Eva's fate. 
  • The ending was rather open-ended, and I'm not sure whether there are plans for a sequel.

Final Verdict:
Sangu Mandanna has crafted a gorgeous debut that addresses the tough questions about rights of the living. A fiercely independent female is forced to be what society deems her; an emotionless, humble servant who must hide her feelings to pretend to be someone she's not. Riddled with roadblocks, Eva's quest for identity continues to bring her back to those who loved her in her old life, especially one boy with green eyes who is forbidden.