Sunday, June 30, 2013

Review: The Book of Broken Hearts

"Jude has learned a lot from her older sisters, but the most important thing is this: The Vargas brothers are notorious heartbreakers. She’s seen the tears and disasters that dating a Vargas boy can cause, and she swore an oath—with candles and a contract and everything—to never have anything to do with one.

Now Jude is the only sister still living at home, and she’s spending the summer helping her ailing father restore his vintage motorcycle—which means hiring a mechanic to help out. Is it Jude’s fault he happens to be cute? And surprisingly sweet? And a Vargas?

Jude tells herself it’s strictly bike business with Emilio. Her sisters will never find out, and Jude can spot those flirty little Vargas tricks a mile away—no way would she fall for them. But Jude’s defenses are crumbling, and if history is destined to repeat itself, she’s speeding toward some serious heartbreak…unless her sisters were wrong? Jude may have taken an oath, but she’s beginning to think that when it comes to love, some promises might be worth breaking.

Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: May 21, 2013
Page Count: 352
Would Appeal To: Fans of Sara Zarr, motorcycle enthusiasts, anyone with a relative with Alzheimer's
Favorite Quotes:
"His lips formed the word, each syllable sliding into my ears with a rush of white-hot guilt. Those caramel-brown eyes. Black hair curled up around the edge of that smudged bandana. He wasn't smiling now, but the dimples were still there, lurking below the surface like a dare."

"Clint Eastwood was a familiar guest in our living room, and his signature rasp and gunslinging badassery blazed a trail through my skull all morning."

"He made a face like a wounded puppy, and I abandoned the popcorn bowl and most of my good judgment."

"The mountains loomed heavy and huge, and I felt it now more than I ever had before--that cosmic insignificance, the terrible, comforting knowledge that if you stood too long in the same place, the dirt would gather at your feet, and the earth would swallow you one cell at a time, and in a hundred years you'd still be standing there admiring the scenery when the final speck of dust covered your eye."

"That was the thing about pictures. No matter how beautiful, they couldn't capture the truly felt parts of a moment...Through pictures, we cut reality in pieces. We selected only the choicest moments, discarding the rest as if they'd never happened."

Sarah Ockler has to be my favorite contemporary author. Her characters go through so much emotionally and always grow, whether it's good or bad. Her writing is real and honest. The message I take away after I close each book cover, no matter what the subject, is that life is hard, but you get through it by making each second count.

What I Loved:
-Ockler did her research. This story tackles the tough subject of early-onset Alzheimer's. Having known several old people with Alzeimer's, I recognized some of the behaviors. However, Jude's dad is only 52 years old, and he is calling Jude by her sisters' names, making scenes in public, and forgetting simple directions. One thing, Jude finds, brings a spark to his eye and his regular personality to the surface-- the restoration of a bike he owned before he was a father and a husband. Fighting El Demonio sometimes seems like moving mountains, but Jude is determined not to lose her father to this disease and spends her entire summer before college working on the bike.
The addition of Spanish words, especially pet names. It made the story of this Argentinian family more real. Papi calls Jude querida, and Emilio calls Jude princesa. 
-Jude. Right off the bat, this girl has a distinct personality. She is quite funny in her own mind and has a lot of opinions. She has a hard time letting those thoughts out since sometimes they're embarrassing and they might upset people. Still, as far as characters go, Jude is much different than any of Ockler's other main protagonists.
-Emilio. Off limits because of the sisters' blood oath to forevermore avoid the Vargas brothers. He flirts, jokes, makes Jude feel flits and flutters in places she shouldn't. They bond over motorcycles and stick shift driving. If I knew anything about either of those, I'd consider a pretty cool girl. There are a few moments throughout the book where he gets frustrated with Jude for not being herself. He calls her out on her crap, and someone needs to. It shows how observant he's been, but also how much he cares and doesn't want to see her hurt anymore, especially by her sisters. And oh, did my heart melt every time he talked to or rescued Papi.
-PANCAKE! So many doggie thoughts that mostly center around bunnies-- she nailed the doggie brain on the head. A fun addition.
-Jude's assumptions are often wrong, so her character is always growing and learning.
-The family dynamics. Jude's sisters have distinct personalities, but they are all also protective of Jude, the youngest. They bicker and work together and just really love each other. Mari, the "wrecking ball," spends the most time with Jude. Four girls. So many hand-me-downs and shared secrets. But Jude is the youngest by far, and has really had the experience of an only child for several years. I like that she wants to make her own memories, have something that is just hers and Papis to treasure forever.

What Bugged Me:
-I couldn't get a clear picture of Emilio's face in my head. He was Puerto Rican, rocked a bandana, had dark hair and scars. But I wanted more about the curve and shape of his face. This could be just a personal problem!
Final Verdict: Addictively entertaining and laced with lessons in love, The Book of Broken Hearts will force you to root for doomed relationships, cheer out loud for small victories, and sigh in appreciation of heart-grabbing prose.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Review: Heaven is for Real

"Do you remember the hospital, Colton?" Sonja said. "Yes, mommy, I remember," he said. "That's where the angels sang to me."

When Colton Burpo made it through an emergency appendectomy, his family was overjoyed at his miraculous survival. What they weren't expecting, though, was the story that emerged in the months that followed--a story as beautiful as it was extraordinary, detailing their little boy's trip to heaven and back.

Colton, not yet four years old, told his parents he left his body during the surgery-and authenticated that claim by describing exactly what his parents were doing in another part of the hospital while he was being operated on. He talked of visiting heaven and relayed stories told to him by people he met there whom he had never met in life, sharing events that happened even before he was born. He also astonished his parents with descriptions and obscure details about heaven that matched the Bible exactly, though he had not yet learned to read.

With disarming innocence and the plainspoken boldness of a child, Colton tells of meeting long-departed family members. He describes Jesus, the angels, how "really, really big" God is, and how much God loves us. Retold by his father, but using Colton's uniquely simple words, "Heaven Is for Real" offers a glimpse of the world that awaits us, where as Colton says, "Nobody is old and nobody wears glasses."-Goodreads

Publisher: Thomas Nelson Publishers
Release Date: November 2, 2010
Page Count: 163
Would Appeal To: Fans of 90 Minutes in Heaven and The Shack

I'm going to deviate from my typical YA reviews and write a book that's appropriate for most ages, from teen to adult. 

I read this book on a plane ride. It was fast, touching, and incredible-- a gift from my husband's grandmother that I'd put off reading for two years. I'm sad I did but glad I finally picked it up. If you've ever wondered about the probability of an afterlife, this story is very convincing without being preachy or in your face.

Colton's father Todd, a preacher, narrates the family events that surrounded Colton's experience. Although there was no evidence of Colton's heart stopping during his emergency appendectomy, he slowly tells his parents of being with God and Jesus in heaven. Coming from the mouth of a four year old, this is at first unbelievable. However, for a little boy who'd never been exposed to a crucifix, he knows where the "marker" is on Jesus' hands and feet. He describes that Jesus will return to earth. He tells of a war that he saw his dad fighting in, the one described in the book of Revelation. And he met all kinds of people there, including a deceased sibling he'd never known about. 

One of the best parts of this book is that often, after Colton describes something he saw, like Jesus sitting at the right hand of God, Burpo throws in an element of scripture that confirms the boy's words. Even if you're not religious, this is worth reading. Colton is lovable and forever changed by his visit to heaven. Sonja, Tom's wife, is caring and an amazingly busy woman, and Todd himself has a good heart and believes in his son. He goes through so much before they almost lose Colton that the congregation begins to refer to him as the Preacher Job. I can only help but think their story of suffering and Colton's experience is impacting people around the world. And it definitely drives home the point that children are special to God and see things in ways that adults cannot.

There are also pictures of the family in the middle of the book, which helped me imagine the family as I read. My husband's not a reader and he read some parts over my shoulder. Then he asked to borrow the book when I was done.

I can see why it's a New York Times bestseller; it gives the gift of hope. 

Also see, "The True Heaven: Not What You Thought, Better Than You Expected," by Joe Beam.

Review: The Moon and More

"Luke is the perfect boyfriend: handsome, kind, fun. He and Emaline have been together all through high school in Colby, the beach town where they both grew up. But now, in the summer before college, Emaline wonders if perfect is good enough.

Enter Theo, a super-ambitious outsider, a New Yorker assisting on a documentary film about a reclusive local artist. Theo's sophisticated, exciting, and, best of all, he thinks Emaline is much too smart for Colby.

Emaline's mostly-absentee father, too, thinks Emaline should have a bigger life, and he's convinced that an Ivy League education is the only route to realizing her potential. Emaline is attracted to the bright future that Theo and her father promise. But she also clings to the deep roots of her loving mother, stepfather, and sisters. Can she ignore the pull of the happily familiar world of Colby?

Emaline wants the moon and more, but how can she balance where she comes from with where she's going?" - Goodreads

Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Release Date: June 4, 2013
Page Count: 435
Would Appeal To: Anyone looking for a light summer read
Favorite Quotes:
"'I'm sorry, Emaline. I is a big deal in my family. It arouses passions.'"

"'Emaline, I'll tell you this: Life is long. Just because you don't get your chance right when you want or expect it doesn't mean it won't come. Fate doesn't punch a time clock or consult a schedule.'"

"'But know this, Emaline. The mistakes you make now count. Not for everything, and not forever. But they do matter, and they shape you.'"

Looking at my favorite quotes, it seems like Emaline was getting lectured. A lot. That's partly true.

So my first reaction upon buying this book: YESSSSS, another Sarah Dessen book!

My reaction after I finished: Crap. Why did I just read that whole thing? :(

I am the biggest fan of Sarah Dessen; however, her last two books have fallen short of the I love you forever and ever because you're brilliant bar. If I was a younger reader, maybe I'd have enjoyed this one more. I felt like even though stuff happened, it was a whole lot of stuff I didn't care about. The ending made it bearable, but who wants to wait until the ending to get the good from a book?

I actually put this book down halfway through and read an entire other novel before picking it back up.

What I liked: You have the classic mentioning of characters from previous books. The quaint beach town of Colby. Emaline's name. Benji, Emaline's long lost brother, who's a ball of energy and just wants to be a kid. The fun friend relationship between Daisy and Emaline that doesn't try too hard.
I liked the personality of Emaline's mom because she said things that I wouldn't typically associate with a mom. And I kind of like that Theo was unconventional for a love interest, especially wearing "girl jeans," as that is kind of the style in certain groups.

What I disliked: Theo was annoying. Ivy was entitled. The preachy/moral/lesson type endings of just about every other chapter. Usually Dessen achieves great "Got it!" moments without being obvious. My biggest there was nothing extraordinary about Emaline. Emaline's working at her family's realty business. She's a local who caters to tourists. Same boyfriend throughout high school. One controlling older sister, a grandma who has a penchant for Rolos, and another older sister who changes her hair color almost daily. A dad who adopted her when she was very small and a father, a tourist himself, who wants little to do with her. It's the summer before college. For some reason she falls for Theo. They seem to have little attraction other than the fact that he's different from anything she's known. But they have hardly anything in common and in her head she seems to roll her eyes a lot at what he says and does. The rest of the story is about changes. Mending relationships.

Yes, some people's real lives are boring, but that doesn't mean I want to read about them.

This Lullaby- funny, sassy main character. The Truth About Forever- inspiring, adorable love interest. Almost every other Dessen book- great writing, fun characters, even a twist here or there.

Warning: If you are looking for a heavy romance, this isn't your book. If you've never read a Dessen book before and you start with this one, you might really like it because you haven't experienced how awesome her other stories are.

Sorry to say that Dessen is no longer one of my favorite authors after two in a row that have been bland. That's not to say I'll never pick her up again, but I felt like she was coasting on her reputation while writing this book. It lacked spark and complete uniqueness. Although I did appreciate the realism of one relationship that didn't end with a happily every after, this book didn't measure up to her past works. I wanted so badly to like it...

I really did.


Review: Forbidden

"She is pretty and talented - sweet sixteen and never been kissed. He is seventeen; gorgeous and on the brink of a bright future. And now they have fallen in love. But... they are brother and sister.

Seventeen-year-old Lochan and sixteen-year-old Maya have always felt more like friends than siblings. Together they have stepped in for their alcoholic, wayward mother to take care of their three younger siblings. As defacto parents to the little ones, Lochan and Maya have had to grow up fast. And the stress of their lives—and the way they understand each other so completely—has also also brought them closer than two siblings would ordinarily be. So close, in fact, that they have fallen in love. Their clandestine romance quickly blooms into deep, desperate love. They know their relationship is wrong and cannot possibly continue. And yet, they cannot stop what feels so incredibly right. As the novel careens toward an explosive and shocking finale, only one thing is certain: a love this devastating has no happy ending."

Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: June 26, 2012
Page Count: 454
Would Appeal To: Fans of Stolen by Lucy Christopher, But I Love Him by Amanda Grace
Favorite Quotes:
"It's horrible, being ashamed of someone you care about; it eats away at you. And if you let it get to you, if you give up the fight and surrender, eventually that shame turns to hate."

"The first rays of dawn begin to touch the edge of the rooftops. I sit on my bed and watch the pale light dilute the inky blackness, a thin wash of color slowly diffusing the eastern sky. The air is chilled as it blows through the cracks in the window frame, and sparse flecks of rain spatter the pane as the birds begin to wake."

"...the fear that we will have no choice but to bury this night as if it never took place, a shameful secret to be filed away for the rest of our lives until, brittle with age, it crumbles to dust-- a faint, distant memory, like the powder of a moth's wings on a windowpane, the specter of something that perhaps never occurred, existing solely in our imagination. I cannot bear the thought of this being just one moment in time, over almost before it started, already retreating into the past. I must hold on to it with all my might."

"'I'll marry her, if that's what she wants. I mean, at the end of the day, what the hell does it matter who I end up with if it can't be you?'"

"Curled sandpaper leaves skim across the path, carried by a whisper of wind...High above us in an anemic sky, the white orb of the sun, like a giant spotlight, fixes the park with its hard wintry rays."

"And all at once I think: This whole time, my whole life, that harsh, stony path was leading up to this one point. I followed it blindly, stumbling along the way, scraped and weary, without any idea of where it was leading, without ever realizing that with every step I was approaching the light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel. And now that I've reached it, now that I'm here, I want to catch it in my hand, hold on to it forever to look back on-- the point at which my new life really began."

Words that sum up this book: Holy. Freaking. Wow. 

This book grabbed me from the first page and never let me go. 

Never in a million years would I have guessed I would be so completely immersed in Lochan and Maya's world. I was right there, in the grassy field, while little brother Tiffin kicked the soccer ball with his mates and begged to stay out past dark. Or when Kit turned his music up to drown out his loneliness. When even-tempered Willa clutched Maya's hand and yelled at her for not listening to her best friend dramas, kind of like their alcoholic mother.

The beauty of this book is it goes from one ordinary event to the next, but nothing is ever ordinary. In fact, I'd be amazed to find a reader who didn't connect with at least one of the characters on a powerful emotional level. Maya and Lochie, as the oldest, are responsible for taking care of their three younger siblings because their mother is often away with her boyfriend, sometimes not coming home for days at a time. They are the perfect tag-team, splitting dinner duty, homework time, cleaning the kitchen, and putting the kids to bed. Although their world was sad and they scraped money together just to pay the bills, the kids were happy, for the most part, together. And whether they were playing a game of British Bulldog or trying to keep dinner civilized, I fell head over heels for this family. Seemingly small plot points, like Willa missing after school, add tension and urgency to the pages. I worried with the oldest kids, smiled at their small victories, sympathized for their exhaustion. My new favorite book family: the Whiteleys, who overcome anything and everything with teamwork. Even Kit, who I hated in the beginning, became one of my favorite characters.

Poor Lochie. He's brilliant but petrified of speaking to anyone. This especially affects him at school because he can't give oral presentations. His heart races, he sweats, and he often has panic attacks. He is a completely different person around his siblings, including Maya. Since I knew the premise, I kept waiting for the event that would trigger crush-type feelings. And I get it. Most people would balk at the very notion that siblings could fall in love. But after all they've been through together-- mini-parents with lots of responsibility and no one else to turn to-- believing this could happen is not a stretch. A couple that must steal moments to keep their relationship a secret, they are sweet with each other, shy, and certainly soulmates.

Tensions run high when Maya and Lochie realize what could happen if their feelings for each other are discovered. They'd lose the children and go to prison. But their feelings are intense. The battle of whether to be together continues through a good part of the book. I absolutely shed tears for these characters. Their struggles were unusual but beautiful, shaping them into mature before their time young adults with an interesting view of the world. The alternate chapters of narration by Maya and Lochie tell the story in a great way. It would have been hard as a reader to only see one perspective, especially because the reader would have to guess or judge whether feelings were mutual. Lochie absolutely worships the ground Maya walks on. Maya finally feels understood. Neither is being taken advantage of, even though Lochan is the oldest and the outside world might see it that way.

I salute author Tabitha Suzuma for tackling some intense and controversial issues. Before you dismiss the topic as taboo, try this book. The flow of the writing is brilliant, and I was sad to part with the book for any length of time. A-Ma-Zing story and gorgeous prose. Check out Suzuma's website when you finish. You'll find that she was depressed growing up and those feelings helped her write her novels today, all of which deal with some sort of disorder. I'm so glad she put her thoughts to paper. This story will stick with me for years to come.