Review: I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Book Title/Author: I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Publisher/Year: : Little Brown 2011
Genre: Contemporary YA
Series: No!
Other Books From Author: Keeper

Amazon| Goodreads | Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Website

The Story

Told from many perspectives, I’ll Be There tells the story of how one song on a Sunday morning brought Sam & Riddle Border into Emily Bell’s life and changed their lives, and those connected to them, forever.

Sam & Riddle have grown up in a poor, unstable home with a father who drinks and doesn’t believe in doing things the way everyone else does. They bounce from home to home and never have much interaction with others as per their dad’s lifestyle. Sam is very protective of his little brother Riddle — he doesn’t talk much, he draws and some might think he’s stupid but there’s a lot more behind his quiet exterior. Emily Bell is the girl who has a normal life — a good group of friends, two loving parents, a boy that really likes her and more — but meeting Sam makes her wonder if that’s enough.

What I Thought:

This is one interesting book! I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to experience based on things I had heard but I really actually enjoyed this one. It’s so, so different from what I typically read — especially in the contemporary YA genre. It was a little quirky and really quite moving (in a non-crying way for me) and beautiful — such a testament to how we all are so interconnected and weave through one anothers lives making imprints on one another in varying degrees. I just loved the little vignettes of many people’s lives that were used to tell this story of Sam and Emily.

The storytelling itself was very interesting — the dialogue is sparse, very short sentences that pack a punch, and we are told the story in the 3rd person throughout. Through some of the book you really have to suspend your disbelief for how outrageous some of the things that happen are, how it seems like some of the situations just couldn’t get any worse but then the worst DOES happen or how things certain things just HAPPENED to work out at the right time. Definitely a little bit of a more imaginative novel so if you can get past some of the more crazy things and just enjoy some of the more dramatic parts then I think it will be enjoyed for how cinematic it is. It was certainly very action packed at times when I totally didn’t expect that from this novel. In a way it seemed like this funny little modern day fairytale — the good prevailed, the baddies were taken down in somewhat hilarious ways and mostly everyone lives happily ever after but it takes a long journey to get them there. Um, let’s talk about Bobby — that guy just couldn’t WIN and I chuckled at the ridiculousness of his demise from thinking he was Hot Stuff to him getting served a big ol’ piece of Humble Pie.

Immediately you find yourself rooting for Sam and Riddle and feel so invested in their story and willing for there to be a happy ending. You just hope they can get out from the their father’s rule so to speak. You feel your heart become happy as people who were at first wary of Sam and Riddle start to open their hearts to them. Now Emily…I didn’t really feel much for her to be honest. I felt way more for Sam, Riddle and some of the other supporting characters than I did her. I don’t know what it was about her but I just never felt compelled to care for her nor did I know what to make of her. She seemed weak and I couldn’t tell what guided her in life other than Sam when she met him. Sam & Emily’s relationship really wasn’t my cup of tea and I didn’t feel strongly about it but I really thought the relationships of Sam & Riddle and then Emily’s parents and Riddle (Sam too) were so very touching and MUCH more interesting.

 

 

My Final Thought

I really enjoyed this one. I think the thing I say the most when describing is that it is just SO different than what I seem to be reading in the YA drama. It’s kind of quirky, imaginative and undeniably a moving novel. I loved so many of the characters and their relationships (especially that of Sam & Riddle) but I’ll be honest that I didn’t GET the Sam & Emily romance. Much better relationships throughout the book. If you can suspend your disbelief amidst some of the more dramatic, over the top things that happen to the characters then I think you’ll be fine and will actually enjoy the cinematic qualities of this one! There’s really tender moments, complex relationships, some compellingly written action and, at the end of the day, it’s one of those stories of how humanity is so beautifully woven together.

 

For Fans Of: Imaginative contemporary stories that feel cinematic, stories in the 3rd person, moving stories but not in an obvious sob-your-brains-out kind of way.

 

Let’s Talky Talk: Have you read this one? Heard of it? What did you think if you have read it? Did you find Emily and Sam’s relationship to be more moving than I did? Which relationship did you love the most? Favorite character? What did you think about some of the, errr, more dramatic things that happened later on in the story? Were you satisfied with the ending?

Review: Origin by Jessica Khoury

Book cover for Origin by Jessica KhouryBook Title/Author: Origin by Jessica Khoury
Publisher/Year: : Razorbill September 2012
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Series: No!
Other Books From Author: None  — debut!

Amazon| Goodreads | Jessica Khoury’s Website

The Story

Deep in the Amazonian jungle, hidden from the world, seventeen year old Pia has been raised by a group of scientists. She was created in their laboratory and is their hope for an immortal race as she is the only human being on the earth to be immortal. She’s trained in science and tested physically and mentally. She’s never left the confines of their gated and guarded area….until one night when she discovers a gaping hole in the fence that leads to the jungle that beckons her into the unknown.  Her night of rebellion puts her face to face with a boy her own age from a nearby village and she starts to questions everything she’s learned about the world, about her self and about her purpose.

The Review:

This book was one of my most anticipated reads of this year! I mean it just was such an interesting premise, had a great setting, the promise of some morally questionable things happening. I had pretty high expectations for it! What did I think? I liked it. I did. It was a good read but it never made it to that GREAT point that I had been waiting for. But let’s talk about what I really enjoyed about it:

The readability of this book was crazy! I read it hastily and with blinders on –nothing else seemed to matter whilst I was reading. I was drawn in from the start with this refreshing premise and Pia was such a great character who I felt was so authentic to what I thought someone in her position would be. In some books the heroine seems to ditch everything she’s ever known right away when faced with some doubts but Pia, being the scientist she was trained to be, didn’t. I thought that felt real. And I just felt so horrible for Pia at times when she started to realize what her purpose was. I also really LOVED the fact that this dealt with Big Moral Issues and science but never had a preachy air. There was also some good action in the right places that contrasted some of the more science-y aspects of the book.

The thing that was MOST outstanding was how Khoury wrote Pia’s setting. It was GORGEOUS. I could see the lush rain forest, hear the rhythms and sounds of it and feel humid air. I could feel like I was in Pia’s shoes as she tried to maneuver around the rainforest and how expansive it  must have felt and how scary and menacing it must have felt in the dark — not knowing what the sound was or what animals were lurking. She just wrote it so vividly that I feel like Khoury just HAD to have visited the Amazon.

There was SO MUCH GOOD. I’m telling you. I was expecting this to be one of my favorite reads. It started out good and then I was really starting to love it A TON and then I was waiting for it to hit this point of amazingness that I knew it could reach and I just flat out didn’t like where it went at some points. Towards the end some things felt rushed and I felt confused about some of the more scientific explanations surrounding Pia’s immortality. I just wonder if I didn’t glean the right information and it was given. I know that doesn’t make sense but I felt like I was just waiting for something maybe deeper? Something that would make me feel more? I’m not really sure that I can put my finger on it but I know it wasn’t there to transition from a GOOD book that will be wildly popular (and deservedly so because there is much to like) to a really AMAZING book that will really move me…something I think could have happened with a storyline like this!

I do have ONE element that I can actually explain that I didn’t enjoy and that was the romance. I just wish it was a friendship rather than trying to make it a romance. It was too insta-lovey (which can work for me sometimes) and lackluster. I just felt like she fell in love with the first person she saw outside her community and I never felt it. I just really thought a friendship could have meant more for me. I just never really believed in their romance and that’s important to me.

 

My Final Thought

I think this book is going to be really popular! There is a lot of really excellent things about it — it begs to not be put down, it has an incredible setting that was written well, just really great writing in general and a really intriguing plot! It was a good book and I can’t deny how I flew through it and really enjoyed the ride. But unfortunately there was something missing within the pages (something I can’t really explain plus a lackluster romance) that couldn’t ever bring the book to be an AMAZING experience. I’ll recommend it because there’s a lot of good in it but I can’t say it ever reached the potential I saw for it to become that 5 star-favorite kind of book.

 

You May Also Like: Eve & Adam by Katherine Applegate, The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna

Review: For Darkness Shows The Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Book Title/Author: For Darkness Shows The Stars by Diana Peterfreund
Publisher/Year: : Balzar + Bray – June 2012
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian/Science Fiction
Series: No – standalone!
Other Books From Author: Rampant & Ascendant (killer unicorns!) & Secret Society Girl

Amazon| Goodreads | Diana Peterfreund’s Website

The Story: For Darkness Shows The Stars is set in a world that is living in the aftermath of botched genetic experiments on humankind which resulted in the Reduction — a phenomena that caused people to be “Reduced” and caused the Luddite nobility to reject all technology and want things to go back to the way they believed God intended it to be. They believed that the Reduced people were God’s way of punishing mankind for trying to mess around with science and play God. As time moved on, children were being born that were not “Reduced” and they began to reject their position as Reduced people and seek progress. Eliot North is a Luddite in charge of her Father’s estate. As a child she fell in love with Kai, a Post-Reduced that worked on her estate, but refused to run away with him when he wanted to forge a better life. Years later, as her Estate is crumbling & out of a desperate need for money, she rents out her grandfather’s home to a famous Captain and his shipbuilders who are known to be a bit more progressive than the Luddites.

The Review: GOOD LAWD. This is one of those books I went into reading knowing very little (at the insistence of Anna) and came out feeling like I found a gem amidst a very crowded market of paranormal creatures, love triangles & dystopians who promise a unique world.  Don’t get me wrong, I love all of those things. I do. But every once in a while I find something that feels wholly unique and stands out among the crowd and I want to hold it high above the rest. It was this freaking epic mix of romantical, science fictiony/post apocalytpic GOODNESS. I had no idea.

I was a little nervous to read this as it is a inspired by/kind of a retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, which I have not yet read, so I was afraid I’d be confused. Fortunately you do NOT need to read it to understand and appreciate the story but I DO feel, as I’ve talked to people who have read both, feel it would greatly enhance your reading experience.

I’ll admit in the beginning it was SO HARD TO FOLLOW. I kept getting stuck on who the Luddites, Reduced & Posts were and why they were that way. But after I kept going (which I urge you to do!) I found myself wholly immersed in the story of Eliot & Kai and desperately hungry to learn more about this world.

Eliot & Kai’s relationship was so tragic and just one of those crazy tensioned filled ones that had me just firmly gripping the book and hoping I could will them together with some crazy book lover voodoo or something. Their love was so beautiful and innocent as children but Eliot’s fear of the unknown and what would happen if she didn’t adhere to the Luddite ways held her back and it was so, so sad. I understood that, since she grew up only knowing the Luddite ways, and understood her sense of duty to her estate and all the people who worked there knowing how they would be treated if left to her sister and father. This made me love her, because she was so noble, but I hurt for her so bad. And then when Kai comes back into her life, my heart just BROKE for her and his coldness collided into my own heart. I COULD NOT TAKE IT! All that tension. All  that pent up anger. AH. But then there would be a glimmer of that love that could just make my little heart swoon. And THOSE LETTERS. They reduced me to my high school self melting into a pile of ooey gooey romantical feelings on my bed and sobbing to ALL OF THE LOVE SONGS because I want a boy who writes me letters and makes me FEEL ALL OF THE FEELINGS. I just cared so much for both of them.

The world was just so unlike anything. There’s this mix of science fiction but yet most of the world feelings like you are feeling like it’s something straight out of Amish country. The hierarchy of the Luddites and the Reduced/Posts was so fascinating. The descriptions. ALL OF IT.  I could picture the estate and the surrounding scenes of nature. It was written so phenomenally — one of those books where the world starts swirling off the pages and begins to be a motion picture in my mind. There were some things  I wished were explained a little better about the world and I thought at the end I wasn’t so sure how Eliot completely reconciled what she learned about Kai so quickly but I got over that just fine.

 

While I haven’t read Persuasion, I do feel, having read other Austen novels, that Diana Peterfruend captured all of the swoon-inducing romance and extremely layered characterization (and holla for an awesome female heroine!) that a Jane Austen novel delivers. The writing is just gorgeous and flawless and the characters are those that find their way off the pages and into your heart. So very unique! So very heartbreaking and beautiful. So utterly mesmerizing. One of my favorites of the year! Rushing to read Persuasion because I need to meet the man, the myth and the legend that is Captain Wentworth.

Recommends For Lovers Of: Austen retellings, unique & slow building stories with gut-wrenching romantic tension, beautiful writing, a mix of science fiction/post-apocalyptic/dystopian goodness

 

Let’s talky talk: Have you read this book? Is it on your radar? If you read it and also have read Persuasion, what do you think I missed from the experience having not read it? Any other Austen retellings I should know about?

Review: Bunheads by Sophie Flack

Bunheads by Sophie FlackBook Title/Author: Bunheads by Sophie Flack
Publisher/Year: : Little Brown, 2011
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Fiction
Series: No.
Other Books From Author: None as of now. It’s her debut novel!

Amazon| Goodreads | Sophie Flack’s website

 While most of her peers are navigating their way through living on their own in college, 19 year old Hannah Ward has lived on her own in Manhattan for years to live her dream to make it into the ultra competitive Manhattan Ballet Company. Her peers go to classes and parties; Hannah enjoys hours of workouts, rehearsals, & performances which is all part of the strenuous life of a professional dancer just waiting to be noticed for a soloist position. It’s all part of her plan — every single blister, every diet, every sore muscle means she’s coming closer to making it and stepping out from the crowd of other dancers vying for the same parts. Her dedication to her dream never wavers until she meets Jacob — a musician and college student who introduces her to the possibilities of a life unbound from stringent schedules and very little free time outside the ballet and makes her start to question what’s important to her in her life or if she’s okay with giving up  “normal life” for a life trying to make it to the spotlight.

Bunheads was a thoroughly enjoyable novel that gives a darker (not Black Swan dark!), somewhat  grittier picture to the world of professional ballet — a world that,  from the audience, is nothing short of graceful, beautiful  & elegant. Sophie Flack succeeds in portraying the captivating beauty of the ballet while balancing it with the ugly and cutthroat reality that happen at that level of success. Eating disorders, backstabbing, excessive exercise & exhaustion is the norm. Sophie Flack writes this world all in a way that pulls you in to this unfamiliar lifestyle — at least for me — as the extent of my dance career was three years of tap class.You can tell that the author was in fact a professional ballet dancer as she lends her knowledge of the world of ballet that really seems quite realistic in her descriptions — from the technical aspect to the magical feeling and rush a dancer gets in being on stage and performing these movements so gracefully and in sync. I really felt like I was getting the inside scoop on life behind the curtain. Like an E! True Hollywood Story.

I was nervous at first, as I am with any fiction that delves into a “specialty”, that it will be too technical or that it will lose me because the author can’t make the lifestyle accessible to the average reader who hasn’t lived a life like that. Thankfully Bunheads was not overwrought with too much technical detail that it went over my head and never did I feel too distant from Hannah’s lifestyle that I didn’t connect with her. In fact, I really connected with Hannah in a way that I haven’t with another character. Her struggle to find balance in her life, figure out who she is and who she wants to be, her sacrifice for her dreams — they resonated with me and felt extremely real. I loved Jacob’s role in this but I loved that he didn’t instantly come into her life and help “save her”. It was HER figuring out what she wanted. SHE struggled to try to balance her dreams with wanting to be a normal girl with a normal life.  He just helped perpetuate that. It was a very sweet romance — one that I really enjoyed to watch develop — even when I wanted to body slam Hannah for ditching him. But it was SO realistic. No girl with dreams so high would immediately leave it all for a boy.

Bunheads by Sophie Flack truly was one of my favorite reads this year! It wasn’t a fast-paced nor an overly dramatic portrayal like you might see in a tv show or movie but the world of ballet portrayed in Bunheads was even more captivating, in my opinion, because it seemed REAL as opposed to a drama-rama, hair pulling, scandalous story . It was gritty and a tinge shocking (like from how the “hide” their breasts to how they make their shoes fit to their crazy schedules) but it was also subtle, beautiful and magical and you can feel why it is someone’s dream. You’ll root for Hannah and Jacob but even more you’ll root for Hannah as she struggles to figure out what she wants — a plight we all can sympathize with.  Bravo, Sophie Flack, bravo. I can’t get this book out of my mind.

 

PS. Also loved this book because it seemed to be a bit of an “older” YA!

 

Bunheads by Sophie Flack

 

Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez, Take A Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg, Audition by Stasia Ward Kehoe,

 

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I StayTitle/Author: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Publisher/Year: Speak (imprint of Penguin) 2009
Where I Got It: Borders–with the 40% off coupon!
Why I read it: It had been on my TBR list but after hanging out with Melanie and having her highly recommend it, I decided to bump it up.
Rating: 5 stars. I read it in 4 hours because I couldn’t will myself to put it down. Enough said.

Live can change in a moment–a single moment and everything that you once knew as your life has vanished and is replaced by a new reality. Mia, a high school senior and talented cellist, finds herself in one these moments and faces an impossible choice between leaving it all behind or forging a new life out of the pieces that are left behind. It’s either life or death. Literally.

WOW. I finished this book feeling a myriad of emotions. My boyfriend looked over to ask me how it was as he heard me close the book, in the signature way I do upon finishing a book, and saw me sitting there with tears streaming down my face. He started to ask about it and I just started mumbling incoherent things and slammed the book on the table and kept saying, “Wow. Just wow” and “I’m never going to freaking be able to wait until April to get my hands on the next book.” This book was pretty powerful for me.

I need to first point out that if you see the paperback copy of this book and notice that there is a blurb by USA Today saying “Will appeal to fans of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight”—make sure you ignore this. Apparently the person who wrote the blurb and I disagree immensely. Just saying. Yes, there is a romantic element to this book, but I did not see any sparkly vampires or Taylor Lautner-esque werewolves roaming the pages of this book. Aside from the romantic aspect, which is a part of many books, I could not really grasp that correlation. So please, I beg you to listen to ME and not USA Today. While we are on the topic of the romantic element, it is a sweet romance that isn’t annoying or over the top. I loved their relationship. It makes you love “love” and appreciate it in the rawest of moments.

If I Stay is emotionally gripping and will genuinely move you. I think that it is realistic nature of the tragedy that gets to you because we’ve all either experienced something similar or have seen it on the news. It’s one of those truly tragic stories that you know could happen to you–and that is frightening. I’m such a worrier and think about death too much anyways because of grief that I have experienced in my own life so this one hit me hard. Nobody wants to start thinking about losing loved ones but this book certainly elicits strong enough emotions to carry over into that kind of thinking. It felt authentic and real rather than contrived like the author was playing puppeteer to your heartstrings.

Gayle Forman wasted NO time in delivering the blow. It took me off guard like any tragedy does in real life–one moment life is just rolling on and BAM. When everything happened I said, outloud, “Well, SHIT.” I don’t know if I said it to my boyfriend or just to myself outloud but I couldn’t keep it in but from that moment until I finished this book four hours later, I felt completely invested in the life of Mia and her family. I felt like I was a part of this tragedy and being in Mia’s head was no easier. I kept asking myself what I would do. I couldn’t come up with a clear answer even having dealt with situations were I had to keep on trucking through life without someone.

I thought Forman did an excellent job balancing the present with memories from the past and learning more about her family, friends and Adam made it all the harder. I felt the weight and the importance of Mia’s decision. I love when an author makes me feel so connected to characters! This isn’t a book where things are happening over a span of time. It’s kind of slow-moving but this makes sense and I never found myself bored at all despite the fact that the present takes place in a span of 24 hours. I won’t say much about the ending but I’m going to cry, scream and kick to get my hands on an ARC of the next book so I don’t have to wait until April 2011. There is just no way I can do that.

My final thought: Gayle Forman has created an emotionally stirring novel that will leave you contemplating life, love and those moments that matter. There is much beauty alongside the sadness of loss and the complexity of grief; the glimmer of hope and beauty is what keeps you from having a complete mental breakdown while reading this book. It’s that real. If you are an emotional person like myself or have experienced loss, you’ll need to break out the box of tissues. Make sure it’s the extra soft kind.

Discussion: For those of you who have read it, what would you choose?

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Please Ignore Vera DietzTitle/Author: Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
Publisher/Year: Knopf — October 2010
How I Got This Books: I won it through a giveaway on Lenore’s blog! Yay!
Rating: 5 stars!

Good news! I’m hosting a giveaway for a personalized copy of this novel so you can read what could end up being one of your most memorable reads of 2010 AND figure out what was up with all the “this is me using x in a sentence” lines in my review. :)

When Vera Dietz’s ex-best friend and long-time crush dies unexpectedly under mysterious circumstances, she finds herself grappling with the love/hate relationship she had with him ever since he decided to betray her for a new group of friends, as well as the secrets that she’s never told anyone–secrets that could potentially shed light on the circumstances that led to Charlie’s death. Does she do what she’s been conditioned to do and ignore the truth? Does she even care about making things right for Charlie’s sake?

This is me using awesome in a sentence. 

This book was all sorts of awesome. I felt like I read this book all in one massive breath. It was utterly impossible to put down and I needed to find out what happened to Vera and Charlie along the way that lead to the present circumstances. I loved everything about this book–the writing, the style, the characters, etc. The majority of the book was written from the perspective of Vera in the time after Charlie’s death and flashbacks shedding light on what happened between Vera and Charlie. Throughout the book there are interjections from “the dead kid,” Vera’s dad and the Pagoda. At first I was skeptical when these parts showed up but they ended up working really well. I love when authors succeed in something so risky.

This is me using authentic in a sentence.

Vera is one of the most authentic and lovable characters I’ve encountered this year. I think I can say that with a degree of certainty. Vera is just your ordinary, small town girl who just wants to survive high school and figure out what she wants to do with her life—and find love along the way. She is smart, sassy and has a sense of humor that I appreciated. She thinks for herself and is certainly wise beyond her years yet her struggles ring true to the teenage experience. She isn’t perfect—she struggles with figuring out who she wants to be and has her fair share of mistakes. You will find yourself just adoring Vera and wishing you could pop in the book and be her bff so that she doesn’t have to go through everything alone. I loved the progression of her relationship between her and her dad. I felt that it was extremely real as dealing with grief and these hard issues in life really does change that kind of a relationship. I know first hand and thought King captured that really well.

This is me using evocative in a sentence.

A.S. King has written a powerful and evocative novel that deals delicately with grief, regrets and moving forward from the unfortunate things we are dealt in life. The regrets and guilt that Vera experiences are typical in any sort of grieving situation but are absolutely heart-wrenching in light of everything that has happened. The “what-ifs” and the questions can be crippling but the way Vera deals with everything makes her all the more lovable. I loved dialogue that happens throughout the novel that deals with being so conditioned to ignore things–abuse, neglect, homelessness–and Vera challenges that thinking of just turning your head the other way because nothing can be done about these things.

My final thought: If you love contemporary YA, this should be on your to-be-read list. If you are a reader, like myself, who enjoys both adult fiction and YA–this should be one you pick up for sure. It is smart, powerful and completely gripping. You’ll end up reading it in one breath like I found myself doing. It is truly unforgettable–I promise you that ignoring Vera Dietz will be near impossible.


Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Title/Author: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Publisher/Year/Pages: Vintage 2006; 228 pages.
How I got this: Bought it.
Why I read it: The College Students group (on Goodreads) that I created/moderate picked it as the August group read and I’m just now getting to it..
Rating: See my final thought below. I give it four stars.

Set in dystopian England, Never Let Me Go tells the story of Kathy, Ruth and Tommy and their experiences from childhood and adolescence at their secluded boarding school told from the perspective of a grown-up Kathy reflecting on this time in her life. It deals intimately with your typical coming of age experiences but, like all dystopian novels, there are some very strange and mysterious aspects to their school and their lives–unexplained rules and happenings and being told of how “special” they all are.


I have to say that from pretty early on I was just completely fascinated by this society and wanted to know everything there was to know! But the way Ishiguro writes this novel was very incongruous to my need-to-know-everything-now attitude. I’ve always read reviews that describe a story as “controlled” and I’ve never really understood what that meant but this novel is the epitome of a controlled story. You get bits and pieces of this dark cloud of a mystery that is just hanging over the whole story. He’ll bait you with some enticing little tidbit that lets you in on their world and then just keep reeling you along, slowly handing out clues and small fragments of the bigger picture. It was completely effective and I was on the edge of my seat screaming, “Come on Ishiguro– I WANT THE WHOLE ENCHILADA!“..but in a good way! But in the end, this method of giving you bits and pieces was effective because I felt like, at the end, we find ourselves completely up to speed with the main characters. We are finally at a place where we understand everything that they do about their lives and I felt the emotion that they did as soon as things were revealed to them about who they were. I felt their horror and sorrow.


I was really irked because I’m normally that annoying person that figures out the twist in a movie before everyone else and I couldn’t figure this out right away! My boyfriend always groans while watching CSI with me because I always figure out the killer early on. I digress. But anyways, it took me a while to kind of figure out the mystery behind everything and why these students were so “special.”


It took me a little bit to get used to the way it was written from Kathy’s memories. It was quite jarring in some ways and she’d literally be talking about something and then skip off into another memory and then realize that she needed to finish her point from before and go back to it. It wasn’t at all in a linear manner. It takes some getting used to. Not going to lie. But then I was sitting there thinking about it, about halfway through the book, and realized that that is exactly how memories are. I often find myself going from one thing and then some other memory is triggered. After that I thought about it a bit differently. The writing itself was really accessible and craftily done but don’t let that fool you..this is an incredibly DEEP and moving novel.


I really found myself moved by this story and can’t wait to see the movie but know that I’m going to bawl like a baby considering I did after watching the previews for it upon finishing the book. The ending was so heartbreaking and moving. Without saying too much, this book would be an excellent platform to talk about some ethical issues and it raises many questions that I’ve found myself asking before. This book, to me, seemed much more realistic than other dystopian novels. I caught glimpses of our society in the proverbial mirror while reading this novel. And that is scary!

My final thought: Should you read this book? That depends. If you are intrigued because it is a dystopian sort of novel–don’t expect a Hunger Games or anything fast-paced like that. This story just isn’t that. It doesn’t have a loud rebellion but focuses on quieter “rebellions” and characters who might not try to fix their destiny or the world. If you are looking for a non-brainbusting piece of literary fiction that has elements of science fiction and dystopian society full of suspense and the inner workings of human beings, then I’d say go for it!

I’m reallllly getting into these dystopian novels! Any suggestions??

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

ChainsTitle/Author: Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher/Year: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster Imprint) 2008
How I Got This Book: I bought it before I went to the LHA signing.
Why I Read This Book: My love for history, particularly the Revolutionary period, coupled with the fact that I really enjoyed Speak and reading LHA’s blog, I just had to read this one. I also, as a child, had a period where I read anything and everything I could get my hands on regarding slavery.
Rating: A well-deserved 4.5 stars!

I typically provide my own synopsis but every time I tried to write a compelling synopsis it fell short of the one written on Goodreads.

As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight…for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom. 

I need to divulge the fact that I don’t typically read Middle Grade fiction but I could not pass this one up. My fascination with history, coupled with the fact that my stepdad is a huge Revolutionary War buff (he even does the Washington’s Crossing reenactment every Christmas morning) and my childhood obsession to read everything ever written about slavery, made this novel a must read for me!

This book did not disappoint me in any way. I felt the shackles come out and bind me to this novel immediately; I knew I couldn’t put this down. What a thoroughly captivating novel with memorable characters and moments. Laurie Halse Anderson proves herself to be a masterful storyteller as she deftly weaves together an evocative fight for freedom through the eyes of Isabel, a Loyalist’s slave, and the history of a nation’s fight for freedom. The novel doesn’t openly “tsk tsk” the nation’s gross injustices on the slavery front but rather shows, through Isabel, the implications of such a practice and the glaring hypocrisy of a nation who wants to be free yet are not willing to release their slaves but want nothing more than for them to fight for their cause.

At certain points I forgot I was reading a novel meant for a younger audience. The perfectly paced adventure will hook younger readers (as I saw at the LHA event)  as well as adults but the impeccable writing and the complexities that lie within the heart of the story, as well as this period in history, will keep adults reading.  It was fun to read this book and then converse with my Revolutionary War genius stepfather  about the events that were happening in the novel only to learn even more about the particular event–e.g. the fire in New York City–not a spoiler as it is in the history books!

I really appreciated Anderson’s dedication to keeping the novel pretty much in line with the historical facts. I loved that she focused on the struggle between the Loyalists and the Rebels in New York City as it is an area that often gets overlooked and it really is quite compelling–as I learned further from my step dad. I found the inclusion of pieces from real documents and letters from this time period at the beginning of the chapter to be fascinating and was glad that she added them.

Isabel is a character that you will find yourself remembering for a long time to come. She’s strong, resilient and entirely loyal to the ones that she loves and cares for. Reading this book felt reminiscent of the feelings that I felt while reading Little House on the Prairie or Little Women as a child. I felt myself wholly transported to another time and side by side with Isabel in her fight. There were moments where I felt like Isabel wasn’t quite true to the times, either because of speech or questionable actions, but for the most part I felt like she was convincingly written.

The only thing I found to be irksome was the incredibly short chapters. I’d get really into the story and then I was jolted into a new chapter. However, I thought about the fact that this was written for a younger audience with a shorter attention span than mine and found that it was probably perfect for them and I just needed to deal with that minor inconvenience.

My final thought: Amazing! I don’t care if you don’t read MG or YA books, if you like a good historical novel–pick this up! It isn’t a wonder that the kids at the signing I went to were hanging on to every word that Laurie uttered and were completely enamored with this novel. It is compelling and the ending will leave you rushing out to by Forge! I think this would be an awesome novel to complement a social studies lesson on this time period.

Found this AWESOME video a kid made about the novel for what I’m guessing is a school project (listen to the words!):

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!

Why I’m not going to formally review Catching Fire or Mockingjay

I finally finished Catching Fire and Mockingjay, thanks to Read-a-thon. I decided I wasn’t going to formally review either of these books because:

1. If you haven’t read from this series yet,  I’m probably more likely to convince you to read it by my review of The Hunger Games rather than my reviews of Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

2. Most readers of this blog have probably already read this so I don’t feel like I have anything new to say that you haven’t thought yourself or read somewhere else.

3. I’m too lazy to write actual reviews for them.

I’m just going to give you some thoughts about each of these books and my feelings about this series!

First I have to say–damn you, Suzanne Collins, for making me feel like I was a yo-yo. One moment I’m in love with Gale and then the next Peeta and then Gale and then Peeta. I thought this love triangle was genius and well done but drove me nuts because I couldn’t decide if I was Team Gale or Team Peeta.

SPOILERS, you’ve been warned:

Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games)Catching Fire– This was my FAVORITE out of the whole series. I didn’t think it could possibly top The Hunger Games. I loved how we got to understand the characters a little more fully and we could delve into some deeper dystopian ideas. This one was very much action packed as well and I couldn’t put it down! This was one the tides turned from Team Gale to Team Peeta.

Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games)Mockingjay– This one was good but weaker for me than the first two. It took a little bit more to get into as it was more politically charged and lacked the amount of action as the first two..which can be ok but I just felt like it was overkill a little bit. I did find it interesting though to see the political workings of the districts and whatnot. I liked the ending but I felt like I wasn’t as enthralled with Katniss as I had been before. I felt sad for Peeta because she really never ended up choosing him because she loved him..it’s just all that was left. I wanted to see Katniss grow in that way more but it makes sense that she was just so jaded after all she saw. I went back and forth from Peeta and Gale during this book. The whole Peeta gone crazy thing irritated me but ultimately I’m Teem Peeta all the way. This book had a lot of great twists and turns but ended super preachy. I know that dystopian novels should have that element but I feel like she went overboard on that. After seeing her speak at the National Book Festival, I know her position on war and that part of her inspiration came from watching the footage on the Iraq War. Knowing all that, I knew where she was going with it all. As a side note, I was really annoyed because the end seemed rushed and then freaking FINNICK (one of my favorite characters) dies and it’s just brushed aside. I would have liked to see a little more emotion involved with all that. It just seemed so sad.

The series as a whole: One of my all time favorites! While Mockingjay wasn’t as great as I thought it was going to be, I still fully enjoyed it. The series, as whole, was phenomenal and captivated me from the start. Unforgettable characters and a great start to my love for dystopian novels!

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