Friday, April 4, 2014

Another Year Behind Me

Here, I am, now 44. The year I just lived through was hard. Sometimes really hard! I have experienced financial problems, near homelessness, depression, illness, work stress, life stress! I have also made new friends, become closer with friends I had, reached a number of goals in life and at work, and other good things. It is always my wish that the good will balance out the bad, and though it was close this year, I think I managed to see that happen.

My Personal Reading Challenge
A year ago I set myself the goal of reading 50 books from my 43rd birthday to my 44th birthday. I didn't even come close to reaching that goal! BUT...I did read far more books than I had in the previous 3 years combined, so I consider it a success! Most importantly, I really found my reading wings again, and I am so grateful for that. This year I finished 12 books:

  1. Outlander - Diana Gabaldon
  2. The Wilder Life - Wendy McClure (MY REVIEW)
  3. The Girl in the Leaves - Robert Scott
  4. Delirium - Lauren Oliver (MY REVIEW)
  5. Pandemonium - Lauren Oliver (MY REVIEW)
  6. Inferno - Dan Brown (MY REVIEW)
  7. Requiem - Lauren Oliver (MY REVIEW)
  8. Dragonfly in Amber - Diana Gabaldon
  9. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock - Matthew Quick (MY REVIEW)
  10. Sisters Grimm Book 1, The Fairy Tale Detectives - Michael Buckley (MY REVIEW)
  11. Dorothy Must Die - Danielle Paige (MY REVIEW)
  12. Before I Fall - Lauren Oliver (MY REVIEW)
I am setting the same goal for myself again, 50 books! I will track my progress on my blog again, so stay tuned!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

If you have read my previous reviews, or at least looked at my list of reviewed books, you know I like Lauren Oliver. Her Delirium series was what got me really back in to reading and was the first series I have binge read in a long time. I enjoy her writing style. I find her characters really well developed and easy to relate to, even when they are set in a future society I have no experience with. I also like that the heroine is not the gorgeous blonde every guy drools over, it is the average girl (so far brunette), the one that most of us were in our teens. And, I like that she doesn't feel the need to cram a bunch of salacious sex in to her books--as I reader I often find such things distracting and even annoying, I am no campaigner for purity or anything, I just hate seeing it used in hopes of making the book more likable, her books don't need it!

This book has been on my NOOK for awhile. I just kept getting caught up in other things. I am so glad I finally made time for it.

The quickest and best way I think I can describe this story is to call it a cross between 2 movies--Groundhog Day and Heathers. Tempted to say Mean Girls instead of Heathers, because nobody is offing their friends...but Mean Girls just wasn't as cool as Heathers!

Sam is a High School Senior. She is part of the popular crowd, has a popular boyfriend, and the life we all thought we wanted when we were that age. You don't have to read too far in to the book to reach the part where Sam dies, so it is a good thing that her death is just the beginning of the story. Dying is what kicks her in to a week-long reliving of her last day alive. The choices she made and their consequences. The people she affected whether she realized it at the time or not. Who and what she thought was important--and then what was actually important. Can she change her fate? Change the fates of those around her? Is that really what is meant to happen? Or is she just reliving the day until she finally can be at peace with dying?

I spent so much of my time while reading this book thinking about my teenage days. Remembering the things I thought were so important, and the moments I thought were earth-shattering. Over and over I wanted to talk to Sam, to tell her how wrong she was about certain things! To a certain extent, I was that popular girl, but I was also partially so many other characters in this book. When you are a teenager, you think all of those things have to be separate. You can't be popular and unique. You can't be weird and also well liked. And so on. Sam learns in this one week what it took me decades to figure out--that all of us have all of these components in there somewhere, that we don't have to pigeonhole ourselves, and so many other things. I will say that it didn't end the way I expected--I won't elaborate on that--but, despite thinking the whole time that I would be mad if it ended this way, it totally fit when it did.

Read it! YOU MUST!

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

One of the best things about working at a bookstore is that you have access to Advanced Reader Copies sent by publishers. This book appeared at my store just a few days after I had read about it online, and I snatched it up the minute I saw it...this was after a squeal of joy of course! I am a big fan of Oz, which makes me embarrassed to admit that I have yet to read the original books. Wicked by Gregory Maguire is one of my all-time favorite books, so another book that take the backdrop of Oz and the events we are familiar with, and gives them a new twist, really appealed to me.

One thing I wish I would have known when I began reading is that this is not a stand-alone book. It is The first book in a series which is also planned to include 2 other books and 3 novellas (published as ebooks). The first novella, No Place Like Oz, was released back in November and is a prequel. I have this on my NOOK and am a few pages in. For a novella, it is actually pretty long at 196 pages.

Back to Dorothy Must Die...

The book is set in the present, and the basic plot is that another girl from Kansas--Amy Gumm--is whisked away by a tornado and finds herself in Oz. She begins to find, however, that this is not the Oz she is familiar with from the movie. In the years since that time in Oz things have changed dramatically for the worse. Dorothy has returned, and the small taste of magic she's had has turned her into what can only be likened to a drug addict after they first try their chosen vice. She will do whatever it takes to have more and more of it, and the wake she is leaving behind is growing. Meanwhile, her friends from her first visit--the Tinman, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion--have become twisted versions of their former selves, and live to ensure the success of the girl they hold dear. In hopes of restoring Oz to the land it once was, a group of Wicked Witches and others have banded together to do what must be done. Will Amy join them? What will happen if she does?

I struggled a little when I first began reading this book. Yes, Amy's life in Kansas makes you want to root for her, but she also came across to me as a bit weak and caught up in feeling sorry for herself. I found this annoying. Now that I have finished the book, I know that she was presented in this light intentionally and that it sets the stage for her growth as a character and a person. So, keep that in mind. I also think I would have read this book with a slightly different frame of mind had I known it was just part of the story. I had some moments where I wondered how the story could ever be properly told with the number of pages left. All that being said, I really did like the book, just not as much as I expected to, but I think that will change once I am able to read the rest of the story and see the story to its conclusion. Amy becomes less annoying as the story progresses, and it is nice to see her begin to find herself. Her character spends some time focused on the young men she comes in contact with and I found it out of place--considering the dangerous situation she finds herself in--until I remembered what is was like to be a teenage girl, and how much attention I paid to the teenage boys around me despite just about anything that might have been going on in my life! I liked most of the supporting characters, and the plot really is a great one. I found myself unable to stop reading and am glad about that! The story is very well developed and the author has done a great job of setting the scene of an Oz that is falling apart.

The Fairy Tale Detectives (Sisters Grimm series #1) by Michael Buckley

Yes, I read children's books. I could justify this by saying that I work with children's books--which I do--but, I also just really enjoy some of them! Some of them are really well written with great story-lines, they are just usually shorter, and tamer...and that can be a good thing!

This was one of those books.

I had been eyeing this series for quite some time. The covers are really unique, and the titles all catch your attention. I watch the TV series Once Upon a Time, and reading the description of this book made me wonder if they got the general idea for the show from these books. Both feature a town where fairy tale characters live a seemingly normal existence. In this series, however, the 2 main characters are little girls--Sabrina and Daphne Grimm--who have been orphaned and are sent to live with the grandmother they had been told was dead. Their grandma lives in the town of Ferryport Landing in New York. Once there the girls begin to realize their grandma is a little unusual, as is the house, and the other people they meet. The story unfolds from there.

Michael Buckley does a really good job of combining adventure with whimsy to keep things driving forward yet light and fun. Even the "bad guys" in the story are given likable qualities and/or back-story that keeps them from falling entirely into the category of villains, and I liked that. The sisters are good strong characters, not relegated to being frilly and girly like some others feel required to depict little girls.

Overall, just a great fun story, set in a wonderful and well-developed world. I look forward to reading the remaining 8 books in the series!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

Amazing, amazing, amazing book! Did I mention I thought this book was amazing?

This book was not what I had planned to read next, but I had to read it immediately once I discovered it. I had been doing some research in to likely winners for the soon to be announced ALA awards for 2014 and this one was mentioned numerous times in association with the Printz Award (it didn't win). Then, I realized it was written by the author of Silver Linings Playbook, the basis for a movie that had magically jumped its way in to my top 10 favorites of all time recently. Matthew Quick just understands depression, he portrays it  clearly, painfully and yet somehow beautifully. So, I grabbed this book and tore in to it.

The basic premise--a teenager has plans for his 18th birthday, and those plans include shooting his ex-best friend and then himself. Heavy, I know. And I spent most of the book unsure how I would react if the main character, Leonard Peacock, actually went through with it. And I had many a moment when I found myself wondering if it was okay that I liked this kid, this person who might soon be a murderer, because I did like him. I understood him, at least I understood his underlying angst and anger. The author manages to give this character hateful moments, and misguided moments, and other unlikable thoughts and ideas and intentions--and yet, he manages to make you like him. I won't say how it ends. Honestly, I reached a point where I wasn't sure if I wanted him to go through with his plans or not. I worried that it would seem too anticlimactic if he didn't do it; but, I also worried that I might be really angry if he did.

Oh, a minor advanced warning of sorts--not sure if this is standard for his books, as it is the first I have read, but much of the back-story in the book is presented in footnotes. At first I found this a bit odd, but found it eventually melded smoothly in to my reading experience. I know others who found it off-putting. Don't let it stop you from reading this book! Technically, I guess you could skip the footnotes, but I think the footnotes, at least for me, are what made me want to fight for Leonard...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Requiem by Lauren Oliver

I actually finished this book a couple of weeks ago, but things have been a bit hectic!

As with the previous 2 books in the trilogy, I plowed through this book. This trilogy has truly renewed my faith in my ability to get in to what I am reading despite my barriers! YAY! Okay, on to the book...

As with Pandemonium, this book switches between two different perspectives. Though, the switches in that book were between Lena's present day and her experiences after first becoming a Invalid. In this book the story alternates between Lena's present day and Hana's present day. 

It was really nice to see things through the eyes of someone who has been cured, in fact--someone who has been cured and is about to marry someone who has become very powerful within the hierarchy of "Valid society." As Hana's portion of the story progressed I found myself very torn in my feelings for her character--she obviously has not become truly cold and heartless the way many of the "Cureds" do, BUT, despite her lingering feelings of caring for those around her she finds herself, for the most part, unable to gather enough compassion to act on these feelings. In the end, I felt very sad for her.  At least a person who fully takes to the cure doesn't realize how bad the society they live in has become. Hana can see it but lacks the love for others she needs to truly become a champion for change.

Lena's story deals largely with her struggle to master her emotions, to learn how to be the loving person she is fighting to have the right to be, and yet to have some sort of control over those feelings. To let herself embrace those feelings, but to not let them overpower her. I can't imagine going through my late teen years, and coming to terms with all of the things that entails, all while fighting for my life and my right to be who I am to the extent of it being life-or-death. Can you?? I love that her mother comes back in to play, though I struggled with their interactions at first. And I loved that we see Grace again!

My only complaint is that this is a trilogy!!!!  It is over!!  I would LOVE to see the next few years for these characters and their world.  I am definitely left hungry for more!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Inferno by Dan Brown

Well, this will be proof that I am honest in my thoughts about a book and don't love everything!

I will begin by saying that I thought the way the book ended was great, I love the premise and think that the issues the story is based on are truly worth being spoken about (not going to discuss them here though, that would be a huge spoiler!). I think it isn't saying too much to say that overpopulation plays a key role, and I like the stark reality that is used to present the situation.

That being said, the way Dan Brown got to the last fifth or so of the book infuriated me! I think the main issue for me is that despite how much I love the Robert Langdon character, how fascinated I am with his character's profession and background, and also how much I love Tom Hanks as an actor, I think Dan Brown needs to move beyond this character. That, or maybe take a break from him until he has a story to tell that better suits what the Langdon character provides to a story. I think this character is perfectly suited to the first two novels he was the focal point of, The Da Vinci Code, and Angels and Demons. But, with this book and The Lost Symbol, I felt that the inclusion of Robert Langdon was forced and a bit awkward. I think that what Langdon has to provide as a character is much more interesting when it is used to present and investigate situations presented as "ancient mystery" type situations, with clues left behind long ago. With this book, antiquities were used by the protagonist to create clues. I would love to see the author deal with other secret societies like he has before; The Bilderberg Group or Skull & Bones maybe, there are plenty sufficiently clandestine and mysterious ones left out there for him to choose from! I would also love to see him do some stand alone novels again. Deception Point and Digital Fortress were both fabulous. He is a great storyteller and I love the amount of research it would seem he puts in to his books, I guess things have just started to become more formulaic.

That being said, and this may sound surprising with what I have said, I think it is still a good read. I just think it should come with a disclaimer--"This book may make you crazy at first!"--or something of the sort. I think it is meant to be a shocking twist, and it is to a certain extent, but that becomes overpowered by the fact that it is also a relief to be done with the annoying nature of the rest of the book.