Review: Looking For Alaska by John Green

Wow! I just really love John Green. I read and reviewed Paper Towns a few weeks ago and I just didn’t think anything could top my love for that book…but this one did! I wholeheartedly, from the bottom of my soul, loved this book. I wanted to hug it, implant it in my brain for forever, prance around in sunflower fields with it, etc. etc. But seriously, this is one of those books that I can feel in my soul and so many things about it resonate with my own teenage experience and my life 7-8 years out from my teenage life.

Looking For Alaska was so hard to put down, not only because of the characters and the humor, but because of the unique structure. Each start to a chapter or a section is a timeline counting down to some unknown event that we are just waiting to happen. You know it has to be earth-shattering or something and that anticipation doesn’t wear at all as we get to know the characters and the setting of their boarding school. The “after” just rendered me a lifeless little rag doll.

I really enjoyed the characters in this one– such a fun group of friends that seemed real — they didn’t always treat each other right but they had each other’s back. They all had their flaws – real flaws..not things that just are made to seem like some flaws but then are all cleared up by the end of the novel. While I think Alaska could be really selfish and impulsive, I really understood her quite a bit. I identified so much with her on so many levels (although I’m not at all that quirky and eclectic) and found myself a deeper connection with this character that I typically come across in YA. I feel as though if you ask some of my high school and college boyfriends, they’d find some similarities in Alaska and I. It’s funny how I connected so much more with her than with the Pudge. I did like him though.

My only gripe? Sometimes I felt like the dialogue was a little too contrived. I didn’t really know anyone who talked like that in high school. I think we all wanted to believe we sounded that mature and poignant but we never did. I mean, I had some pretty “deep” conversations but in my dreams could I spout witty, intelligent things all the time. I think it’s like the same way that I always wanted to emulate the witty banter of Gilmore Girls. I totally imagine that I sound that way. But nonetheless, I loved this book but I just thought that should be noted because it crossed my mind a few times. That aside, I really appreciate that John Green knows and appreciates the fact that teens DO think about the bigger pictures and really do want to seek understanding. Teens can HANDLE the stuff he presents and he treats them as competent individuals who can handle the message and the deeper thought in his books.

My final thought: It’s hard to really put all the raw feelings and emotions that this book unearthed from within me. I know that sounds dramatic but it was one of THOSE kind of experiences for me. John Green does it again with memorable characters whom I swear have a real & audible heartbeat, the kind of thought-provoking life questions that keep me up at night and the kind of humor that makes me giggle. Oh and did I mention that I cried a lot at different points but especially when I realized what the answer was to their little “investigation” before they did. I understood that all too well.

Warnings: It IS a more mature YA read — drugs, sex talk, cursing. Just so you know. If that sort of stuff bothers you or if you are of a very young age, you might want to skip this one for now.

Review On A Post-It
five-stars

Top Ten Contemporary Young Adult Books – Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted over at my other blog — The Broke and the Bookish!

Today is FREEBIE week for Top Ten Tuesday — you can post a top ten bookish list about anything you wish! I decided to list my favorite contemporary YA reads. Sorry for all my readers of adult fiction! I’ve just been reading some really good contemporary YA lately!

1. Lola and the Boy Next Door – Um my review for this is almost embarrassing as I reread it. I never really write “OMG fangirly gushfest” reviews because I’m just NOT good at it. But for Stephanie Perkins…it happened. Lola is honestly incredible — one of the best contemps ever. Real issues that felt authentic of the teen experience..not something overly contrived. Great parents involved (she has two dads!) and she and Cricket are amazing characters!

2. Anna and the French Kiss — Ok, folks. It’s like this….Stephanie Perkins seriously is my go-to for contemporary YA fiction so I had to put her on here twice because both of her books were 5 star reads for me! Anna and the French Kiss had the perfect amount of drama and the allure of Paris was undeniable. Oh, and St. Clair…begin swooning NOW!

3. If I Stay/Where She Went — I have to put these two together because they were both incredible and I just see them as a whole story. If I Stay made me honestly sob buckets as it handles a tragedy in the life of a young girl. Where She Went was an honest and raw portrayal of what happens after…for everyone.

4. Ten Things We Did And Probably Shouldn’t Have – OMG. I laughed so hard with this book. It was fun but also confronted some real issues but in a non-preachy way. Be on the lookout for a review!

5. Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour – ROAD TRIP! This one combined my love for mixtapes, road trips and romance. It was truly EPIC.

6. Speak – This one is probably one of my favorite books ever. Such a difficult issue and Laurie Halse Anderson dealt with it so delicately but honestly! Very powerful. Definitely should be on the top of your list for contemps you should read!

7. Crank – Such a gritty contemporary YA about an addicted teen….written in verse! I still have yet to read the sequel but I plan to soon!

8. Thirteen Reasons Why – I’ve never felt such a myriad of emotions while reading a book. This book deals with suicide in a unique and interesting way through a series of tapes planned out to be sent after the suicide was planned. Honestly, it was a heartbreaking novel — you feel bad for the girl but also feel so angry for how she sent these tapes out.

9. Raw Blue by Kirsty Eager– This is one book that more people need to know about! It’s written by an Australian author (and SET in Austrailia) and it is wonderful! It was refreshing to read some older YA characters and I found it to easily fall among one of my favorite books I’ve read this year.

10. The Perks of Being A Wallflower – All fans of YA contemporary fiction should read this book. One of the first YA books I ever read! 


Are there any YA contemps I MUST read? I really want to expand my list!

Review + Giveaway: Moonglass by Jessi Kirby

Instead of hanging out with her friends and having a great summer, Anna’s finds herself in a new town as her dad decides to transfer jobs and move he and Anna to live near the beach where he spent much of his adolescence and met Anna’s mother. The thought of uprooting her life and leaving behind her friends is horrifying but pales in comparison to the memories and emotions to be unearthed in a place where her mother, who died when Anna was young, spent her teenage years. Beach life, new friends, cute lifeguards keep Anna busy but can it distract her from the family secrets lingering in her new town?

Let’s just talk about how I’m ridiculously annoyed that when I read this it was COLD and rainy/snowy here in Pennsylvania. I wanted to read this on a beach somewhere because for whatever reason I really enjoy reading books about the beach AT the beach. Weird, I know! Either way, it was a nice vicarious romp through beach life in Cali. I could almost feel my Casper-y winter skin turning crispy under the sun. I felt as though Kirby did a really great job capturing that summertime/beachy feel without being touristy…if that makes sense…just from the lives of people who actually live in a beach town. 


I was nervous to read Moonglass because any book that deals with a daughter losing her mother always hits me pretty hard as I lost my mom when I was in college and the characters grief tends to resonate deep down within me when done well. And Kirby did this well as I found myself really connecting with Anna and the closure that she needed to find in order to move forward. I thought Kirby wrote Anna’s grief and all of the really tough guilt she carried with her with enough layers to seem realistic and she captured some of those inner moments of grief from Anna’s perspective really well.. I thought the interactions between her dad and her and how they dealt with the memories and the grief felt so realistic to me! It was really refreshing to see a parent so invested in their teen in YA lit. I feel like I’m always wondering where the parents are. Her dad had rules…just like my parents did! Imagine that…


And ok, let’s talk about the romance. CUUUUUTE! I loved Anna and Tyler together and the progression of their relationship. It felt realistic and made my little heart pitterpatter and want to start doodling hearts all over my notebook and shoes with my gelly pens. I loved how he was there for her but didn’t try to be her everything, gave her space and actually respected and was afraid of her dad’s rules. It made me laugh because I could so much of that awkward “Oh no, your dad might see us together” stuff from back when I was a teen. There were some definitely swoony (yet realistic) moments in this book.


All in all, I found Moonglass to be an ideal beach/summer read for me. I don’t like complete fluff for a beach read but I’ve also made the mistake of trying to read things that were far too serious on a vacation such as Night by Elie Wiesel. The seriousness of her grief and all the things Anna learns about her mother is balanced well by her relationship with Tyler, some of the really interesting people she meets and the overall setting of a laid back beach life. It isn’t too emotionally draining to read but you do find your heart breaking quite a bit for her at least by the end. I found myself connected to Anna and her story but it did take me a little in the beginning to invest. I think I would have even been more resistant, in the beginning, to care had I not felt a sort of kinship to Anna with the whole bereavement of a mother factor.

Review On A Post-It:

 



And you all are IN LUCK..the publisher is giving me TWO finished copies to give away on this blog right hurrr. You don’t have to be a follower to enter but you must have a shipping address in the US. Please leave a comment below telling me one of your FAVORITE things about summertime and a way to contact you (email, Twitter, etc) and you’ll be entered! Giveaway ends 5/11.


* I received this book for review as part of the Teen Book Scene for an honest review and was contacted by the publisher for the giveaway.

four-stars

Review: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Anna, a high school senior, is going to have the best senior year ever — prom, making memories with best friends before going off to college and quality time with the guy she is crushing on— until her bestselling author of a father decides to ship her off to a boarding school in Paris so she can have a little culture; or so he can prove that he is something big as Anna postures. Now she will be spending her last semester before college at a school with people she doesn’t know and in a city that speaks a language she can’t speak—with her friendships and crushes put on hold at home. Will the City of Lights provide her with the romance, the friends and those life-molding experiences that she doesn’t realize she needs?

Anna and the French Kiss has that certain “je ne sais quoi”an intangible quality that makes something distinctive or attractive (thanks Wikipedia!). Or, according to my boyfriend who wooed me in the beginning of our relationship with his advanced French skills from high school, that “somethin’-somethin’ that you just can’t explain.” Anna and the French Kiss sure has got that somethin-somethin I just can’t explain. I secretly judged this book when it was popping up around the blogosphere. I thought, “Please, even a  francophile who lusts over the Eiffel Tower like I do, will not give into this cover or this title. ” I really did. It was horrible of me. But, after hearing great things from those whose opinions I respect and hold highly (I’m looking at YOU Steph Su), I decided to take a chance and at least feel comforted that it was set in  Paris—a city that certainly was more than hospitable and charming to me. Anna was a book that quickly captivated my heart, despite my reservations, and I couldn’t turn back—it was like falling head-over-heels in love without realizing what was happening. It wasn’t love at first sight–it was a softening of the heart, turned sweaty palms and palpitations, turned “Oh my gosh, I think I’m in love.”

I like a good romance in a book. I’ve grown weary of some things I’ve seen in books lately– unrealistic hastiness in falling in love without knowing someone (yes, sometimes it DOES happen but I’m sick of it being in every book), unhealthy relationships, and “he’s sooo perfect” mentality that never is challenged. Yes, I do love reading about Prince Charmings but thinking that a guy is flawless and doesn’t ever act like a moron is setting yourself up for unrealistic expectations. Makes it harder to accept a guy in real life if you keep those unrealistic expectations in your head. I like my fictional boys like the rest of ya’ll but I’d like to see somebody real once in a while. Enter St. Clair. Minus the English accent that makes my knees wobbly, he’s your average guy. He’s interesting enough but certainly not Mr. Rennassaince man. He doesn’t know how to handle his feelings for Anna and he acts downright stupidly sometimes and the boy has teenage hormones. He’s normal but oh-so-swoonworthy! I love how Perkins created this romance between he and Anna. It was perfectly executed for my tastes, albeit at sometimes super drama-filled, but there was depth to their feelings for one another and I appreciated that. I liked that friendship was the cornerstone of their relationship despite their attraction to each other.

I loved being in Anna’s head. I though this was one thing Perkins really did brilliantly. She was authentically teenager to me. It wasn’t contrived and she didn’t seem like she was plucked straight from Leave It To Beaver. She was mature, had values, used common sense, a big heart but she was a high school girl– held grudges, got overly emotional sometimes and let a boy turn her into an idiot sometimes. I LOVED ANNA. She rocked. She was a good friend to St. Clair despite her feelings for him and she learned lessons the hard way. I loved seeing Paris through her eyes. Speaking of Paris, I enjoyed living vicariously through Anna and St. Clair. It reminded me of my fascination with the movie Passport to Paris (MK & Ashley Olsen anyone?) when  I was a young girl. It made me giddy and resulted in me dumping out all my pictures from Paris and sigh longingly for another Parisian adventure for myself.

My final thought: Anna was a light, romantic read that will delight readers of contemporary YA. It’s full of unforgettable characters, explores intricacies in romantic, familial and frienship relations, and is filled with a good dose of drama and fun in the City of Lights. Le sigh. If you are typically a reader of adult fiction that rarely steps into the YA territory, I’d caution you that this book does tend to read like a high school girls mind—complete with OMGs and all that jazz but definitely not nearly as annoying. I wouldn’t recommend this for someone looking for a YA read like The Book Thief or other more complex YA novels. But for all you readers of YA—this is a must read! I truly can’t explain what exactly it is about Anna but I can assure you that you will find yourself smitten. It’s that je ne sais quoi.

 

five-stars

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

Juliet, Naked
 Wasted time. What happens when you wake up one day and realize you are not quite happy with the life you are living and feel as though a good deal of it has been wasted? This stark realization hits a childless and middle-aged Annie, a curator at a small, English seaside town museum and in a stagnant 15 year relationship with Duncan, a pretentious music fan who is obsessed with an obscure singer/songwriter named Tucker Crowe who mysteriously and abruptly left the music scene ten years before. All the way across the Atlantic in rural Pennsylvania lives Tucker Crowe who faces the realization of being haunted by failures and wasted time from his past that are affecting his present relationships.  A new release, in the form of a stripped down version of his most famous album entitled Juliet, will forever change the lives of Annie, Duncan and Tucker and brings them together to face the lives they haven’t been living and make a decision about what it is they truly want for themselves.

Juliet, Naked is my first experience with Nick Hornby and I am quite pleased. I very much enjoyed his style and found him to be humorous, thoughtful and able to make very astute observations through interesting and quirky characters. The emotional aspects of the story are not overwrought and there is delicately placed humor within the pages. I found myself laughing out loud a few times–mainly at Tucker’s son Jackson. I can see Hornby becoming a favorite author if the rest of his novels are as good as this one. There were so many beautiful quotes that I wrote down from this book that I can’t even begin to share them! Such as:

“The truth about life was that nothing ever ended until you died, and even then you just left a whole bunch of unresolved narratives behind you”

I couldn’t put this book down once I had a good chunk of time to devote to it. I was reading it over Thanksgiving and it was near impossible to get into it at first with all the travel and family and general madness. The next day I curled up with this book to be drawn into such a good story. I loved Annie! I found her to be such a multi-faceted character and thought she was very real. I found Duncan to be annoying and whiny but reminiscent of some of the crowd I used to hang out with in college. I will admit that I used to be a little bit pretentious in my music and film taste and scoff at others with “lesser” tastes so I could relate in some ways.  Tucker was an interesting character for me and his relationship with his son was adorable. There was so much beneath the surface with him and at some points you wanted to hate him for his actions and failures but then you’d find other things about him that were so redeemable. I loved learning the truths about his life that Duncan and all his “Crowologists” got wrong. The little “love triangle” was pretty entertaining.

I was a little disappointed with the ending I will admit. I had to read it over a few times to try and figure out what happened because it was pretty vague and left open to interpretation. I think the thing that bugged me the most about it was that it seemed rushed towards the end so I just wasn’t happy all around with the ending. Perhaps if it would have been built up differently I wouldn’t have been so irked by an ambiguous ending.

My final thought: Read this if you are looking for a really wonderful novel that deals with the rumpled nature of real life that is emotional and yet quite funny in all the right ways. This book peers into life and the loneliness that can seep into our lives. I think it is also about second chances–giving your life a second chance despite how much you’ve screwed up or no matter how much time you’ve wasted on a relationship, a job, etc. etc. I think if you are a passionate music fan, like myself, you will love this for the passion that drives these characters and the fact that this really is a book about music and the people who make it and those who consume it. There is a quote that I just can’t find at the moment that talks about this idea perfectly but it really made me think about how I interpret what I read and listen to versus the real meaning behind the art and how others interpret it.

Rating: 4 stars

Ape House By Sara Gruen

Ape House: A NovelBook/Author: Ape House by Sara Gruen
Publisher/Year:  Spiegel & Grau 2010 –an imprint of Random House
How I Got This Book: Sent to me by the publisher. I thank you so very much for it!
Why I read This: I devoured Water for Elephants so I had to pick this one up!
Rating: Between 3.5 stars & 4 stars

I will admit that the only reason I wanted to read this was because I enjoyed Water for Elephants by Gruen. That book was an easy five star book for me as it was filled with such evocative characters and portrayed the gritty life of the circus during the Depression-era. I wasn’t too thrilled with the subject matter when I read the description for Ape House but I vowed to give it a chance because I owed Gruen at least that considering what a pleasure Water for Elephants had been for me.

This thrilling novel centers around a passionate scientist whose life work is researching and working with bonobo apes and communicating with them by using ASL and a newspaper reporter whose life becomes connected to these apes as he works on a piece for the paper about them. An explosion in the lab, in an attempt to steal the apes, alters the lives and the work of each as they grapple with putting back the pieces of their personal lives and getting the apes back from those who are now exploiting them for a reality tv show.

I will admit that this book bored me for the first chapter. I thought it was going to be too heavily about the research of the bonobos but it definitely picked up and the things you learn about the bonobos ends up being fascinating! I am not, in general, an animal person so it takes a special book to elicit strong feelings towards an animal centered book. It’s not that I don’t like animals. I really do. It’s just that it takes some convincing for me to care about animals enough to read a whole book centered around them. Gruen’s passion for animals is evident in her work and I applaud her for her ability to deftly construct a compelling story, sprinkled with scientific research and contemporary issues– such as exploitation of animals, that demands me to care about the bonobos—things I’ve never given a thought to in my life. What is intriguing is that a lot of the interaction with the bonobos and the reporter John were constructed from her own experience being able to visit bonobos.

It’s never been her writing that has blown me away and this holds true for this novel as well. She writes well and in a way that is highly marketable for the average reader looking for a page turner with deeper themes and issues explored within the pages.  I have to say that I was a little disappointed with some of the characters in this novel. Some of them seemed so flat and cliched for me and others were quite good characters that I found believable. I have to say that my favorite characters were the bonobos which is an interesting statement coming from someone who typically isn’t a big animal lover. I was really a fan of the animal characters in Water for Elephants. Gruen is able to tap into the innocence and mystique of these animals in a way that most authors cannot simply do and they become the shining stars of her novels.

These bonobos were more human than most of the characters in this book and I can’t tell if that was done purposefully. I think sometimes humans act more on animal impulses than anyone would like to admit. I think it is interesting that the bonobos were more loyal and displayed genuine emotions than most of the humans in this book.

One thing that irritated me a little bit was that some of the things that happened in this book seemed SO far fetched and over the top. I know that was needed to keep this book thrilling and to make sure you were on the edge of your seat but I’d feel remiss if I didn’t mention that. Sometimes the connections between some people seemed too contrived…”Oh, what a coincidence..this random person just HAPPENS to work for this person”..things along those lines.

My final thought: Despite the lack of stellar human characters and moments of being over the top, I’d recommend this book to readers who are looking for an entertaining story peppered with a moral commentary of some darker aspects of humanity and a bit of mystery. If you are an animal lover, I’d highly recommend this book to you, although you might be appalled at the treatment of animals but I’m assuming you already are so it won’t surprise you. If you are a fan of Water for Elephants and are wondering if you should read this, I’ll say yes, but preface it with the warning of NOT expecting Water for Elephants. For me, this novel had a lot to live up to and I don’t think it wowed me the same way but I enjoyed it nonetheless. If you are on the fence as to whether you think you’d like this, wait until it comes out in paperback or get it from the library.

An AWESOME video about Gruen and her experience with the apes:

*Bonobo image from www.PBS.org.

After thinking about this a little bit, I want to know if an author has ever moved you to care about an issue that you never thought about or knew about prior to reading their books!

Great House by Nicole Krauss

Great House: A Novel
Title/Author: Great House by Nicole Krauss
Publisher/Year: W.W. Norton/ October 5 2010
How I Got This Book: Tahleen got an ARC of it and was so kind as to let me read it since I’m a HUGE fan of Nicole Krauss.
Why I Read This Book: I’d read anything Nicole Krauss wrote–be it cereal boxes or appliance manuals.
Rating: Somewhere between 3.5 and 4 stars. Leaning towards four as I couldn’t stop thinking about it for two weeks straight.

*ALSO posted on my other blog–The Broke and the Bookish*

I have been dying to get my hands on this book as I’m a huge of fan of Nicole Krauss (and her hubby Jonathan Foer Safran). I honestly didn’t even know what this book was about but I immediately added it to my TBR list as soon as I knew about it.

In Great House, Krauss writes an interwoven novel of four different story lines of individuals and families who are inextricably bound together by a enormous desk with many drawers that bears a heavy history of its own, similar to the histories of those whose hands this desk has passed through. The people in the story are deeply affected by this desk in negative and positive ways, even after the desk has left their possession, and the mysteries and memories of previous owners echo in the deep recesses of these ominous drawers just waiting to be released.

This novel, although History of Love is still my favorite, does not disappoint. It is honest, beautiful and at times heartbreaking. It isn’t just Krauss’s ability to construct an intricate story the way a great craftsman would a building; it is also the way that her beautiful prose can resonate in the deepest caverns of your bones setting aflame some feeling that you have known that you have felt before but have never been able to put into words. It is haunting in the way that deja vu always is.

Great House, like The History of Love, contains some of the most heartfelt character development I’ve seen in novels. The observations of the human condition are spot-on and the characters just come alive in all their despairs and hopes. It is one of those books that remind you just how fragile and complex humanity is. The theme of loss is ever present in this novel–the loss of loved ones, of possessions, of the world you knew and the loss of something that might have never been at all. The desk, to those connected to it, represents some semblance of permanence as they grapple with how  how to deal with loss and how to reassemble ourselves—a process I am sure we all can relate to.

I only had a few problems with the novel. Some places were kind of slow in certain storylines. I think she did a good job weaving the stories together but sometimes I got bored with a storyline or forgot something from another. I also felt like I still had a few questions after the novel that I didn’t feel were addressed. I felt they were important so it kind of irked me. Another thing that was hard for me was that I felt like Krauss maintained the same tone throughout each story. I got a good sense of the characters and who they were but I never get a sense for the “voice” that was telling the story. I don’t know if that makes sense but it does in my head.

One thing I really appreciated about this novel is that even though the storylines were bound together by this desk, these people were not strongly linked. Sometimes you read a novel where people were bound by a person or event and then you have five random people all coming together all linked by this one thing and it seems like it was just fate for them to find each other. I liked that there were brushings with people but they were sometimes far removed from the actual person. You’ll see what I mean when you read it.

I’d recommend it to most people–especially those who already love Nicole Krauss or fans of her husband. If you haven’t read anything by Nicole Krauss, I’d recommend you reading The History of Love first and then this one.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...