Sunday, February 7, 2016

Super Average: The Rest of Us Just Live Here

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Harper Teen, 2015

These kids aren't remarkable. Well they are, but not compared to their peers. Not compared to some of the other kids at their school who are the Chosen Ones, the ones who find themselves at the middle of prophecies or catastrophes, the ones who are tasked with saving the world the way that unassuming teenagers who on the surface have no extraordinary skills always seem to do in young adult novels. Yeah, Mikey and his friends are not those kids.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a funny young adult novel very pointedly making fun of young adult novels. Imagine all the other students who went to Hogwarts while Harry Potter was a student, but who weren't friends with him. In this story, those characters are the protagonists. Each chapter starts off with a summary of whatever outrageous situation the chosen teens are up to, and that's all we ever hear of them in the story. What emerges, therefore, is a contemporary novel with just a dash of the extraordinary. Mikey is nursing a one-sided crush. One of his friends is a descendant of the god of cats (and trying very hard to ignore it). All these kids want is to get through the usual growing pains that come along with senior year without the school blowing up. Again.

My thoughts here are purposely vague because I don't want to spoil anything. I'll just say that if you like snark, if you like sass, if you like reading YA and at the same time roll your eyes at some of the more overused conventions of this category, pick this book up. It might be right up your alley.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

It'll Suck You In: The Killing Jar

The Killing Jar by Jennifer Bosworth
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2016

*ARC provided by the publisher - Thank You! This in no way impacted my opinions of this book*

Kenna has lived with a secret her whole life, something that has made her different from everybody else and something she can't fully explain. All she knows is that she's dangerous, and the best thing she can do for everyone she cares about is keep people at a distance. But when tragedy strikes her family just when it looks like her life is starting to improve, Kenna's dark power becomes the very thing to save them, but at a price. Sent to Eclipse, a nearby commune, Kenna starts to view her secret in a new way and embrace a life she never knew she could have. At least, that's how it looks on the surface - Kenna can sense that just below the serenity she feels, something far more sinister lies beneath...

Just like in her first novel, Struck, Jennifer Bosworth has again come up with a concept that doesn't remind me of anything else I've seen in the world of speculative young adult fiction. This is a big reason behind me giving this book 4 stars - I needed to keep going, to find out what happened next. I was surprised at how quickly I got sucked into the story because horror usually isn't my forte, but this was the kind of thriller in which you don't know how far in you've gotten until you're in over your head. I thought Kenna was contemplative and complex, and while I would have liked to see some secondary characters be a bit more flushed out, again, my engagement and interest in where this story was headed resulted in devouring most of this book in one evening.

If you like speculative fiction and are looking for a fresh concept, pick this one up. You'll be freaked out, but, you know, in a good way :)

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Taking on Time: Passenger

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken (Passenger #1)
Disney-Hyperion, Expected Release Date: January 5, 2016

*e-ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley - Thank You! This in no way impacted my opinions of this book.*

Etta Spencer is a violin prodigy desperate to have her moment in the spotlight. After years of practicing as well as battling horrible nerves, she knows she's ready for her solo debut. Only fate (and foes) have other plans. One minute she's performing, the next she's being sucked through time. Her mom has always been secretive about their past and she's never had family to speak of, but it turns out it's because their family is different: they're time travelers, and they've been hiding. So is Nicholas Carter, a young man currently living in pre-Revolution times and scraping together a living as a pirate of sorts. He wants his freedom more than anything, both from society's claims that a black man is worthless as well as from the vicious Ironwoods, another time-traveling family with plans that could have horrible repercussions.

From the summaries I've read, this book sounded like it was right up my alley. Time travel. Music. History. Pirates. Adventure. Sign me up! In the end, I'd say this book was more of an okay one-time read for me. The pacing was a bit slow for my taste at first, though it wasn't until after I started reading that I found out this was the first book in an intended series (that changes things). Another thing that didn't quite hit the spot for me was the romance. Given the short amount of time that these characters know each other, the depth of their feelings felt a bit rushed. I actually found myself rooting that they would just be friends - guys and girls can care about each other and not want to make out with each other! It's possible!

While this book wasn't quite for me, I'll absolutely be getting it for my school library. This is one of those times when I'm able to recognize that this is a book that will be a hit with its intended audience if not with me: teens will probably eat this up, and exactly for the reasons I wasn't wild about. Also, the author's previous novels have been a hit with my students, so they're anxiously waiting for more.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Stories and Songs: Sounds Like Me

Sounds Like Me: My Life (So Far) in Song by Sara Bareilles
Simon & Schuster, 2015

I grew up in the world of music just as much as the world of books. Being in band from 5th grade all through college had a huge impact on my life, both in terms of skills I have and the person I am. It's a challenging thing to describe how music made so many changes, which I always thought was ironic considering how universal and uniting music can be.

But recently, I was able to find some words that give voice to my thoughts in Sara Bareilles' essay collection. In these eight essays, singer-songwriter Bareilles sheds light on her childhood, various aspects of her career as it has changed over the years, and how music has been there for it all, seeing her through. A few of the pieces are stories behind some of her songs ("Gravity", "Love Song", and "Brave" all get time in the spotlight), while others cut into the pain she's endured: her parents' divorce, her struggles in high school and later in the music industry, learning to find herself while living alone in Italy. There are high points, too, such as writing the music and lyrics for the 2016 Broadway musical Waitress.

Given her background in songwriting, essays were a perfect choice for Bareilles to try her hand at a longer format. There's an extremely conversational style to the writing which is reminiscent of the banter Bareilles is known for in between songs at her concerts. I've been lucky enough to see her perform live once on her Little Black Dress Tour, and hear her when she was on tour for this book. The event hosted by Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, Illinois was enjoyable and I left with a big smile on my face. There's such comfort that comes with meeting another introvert! Also, I made her laugh when I met her in the signing line, which was a bonus.

If you like Sara's music, pick this book up. You'll laugh. You'll get misty eyes. You'll lose count of how many times she swears, but f-it, you won't mind (I sure as hell didn't haha). This was a quick read that I throughly enjoyed and I hope she picks up her pen again soon.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Twisting a Tale as Old as Time: A Court of Thorns and Roses

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1)
Bloomsbury Kids, 2015

*ARC provided by the publisher at ALA Midwinter 2015 - thank you! This in no way impacted my opinions of this book.*

I guess you could say that it took me a while to get my thoughts in order about this book because I read it months ago but never wrote my review. Why is that? Well, largely because I have been recommending this book to fantasy lovers left, right, and center. In the first installment of her newest series, Sarah J. Maas crafts a dark, seductive, and enchanting faerie story rooted in one of my personal favorite tales as old as time: Beauty and the Beast.

In A Court of Thorns and Roses, Feyre has no idea the trouble she's about to unleash when she kills a wolf in the woods near her home. Her thoughts are on survival, not just her own, but her father and sisters'. As she soon learns, it was no ordinary wolf, but a faerie in disguise, and one who served one of the fae lords at that. As punishment and to protect her family, Feyre is dragged across the border into the faerie lands and the estate of Tamlin, a faerie whose lands are subjected to a cruel curse. Feyre's feelings for Tamlin change from harsh hostility to pure passion, but if she's not careful, Feyre could be the one who lifts the curse as well as bring about even bigger dangers.

I flew through the pages of this novel, eager to see what happened next and desperate to keep up with the intense feelings flying between this faerie and fair human. I particularly loved how Maas twisted in aspects of the Beauty and the Beast story we know and love - I could clearly see what she was referencing in the traditional story, but she took aspects and made them her own, fitting and molding them to the world she's building. The narrative had a satisfying arc, making the book feel whole unto itself, but it also leaves a satisfactory number of questions lingering to be answered in future installments. If you're a fantasy lover and haven't read this yet, what are you waiting for?!

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

Sarah J. Maas's Website
Sarah J. Maas on Twitter
Sarah J. Maas on Tumblr

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Enchanting World We Live In: Life of Pi

Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Harcourt, 2001

Yes, I know that I was 14 years late to the party, but let's just be happy that I got there at all. Actually, a big part of me is grateful that it took me so long - I'm positive that had I read this book when I was younger, I wouldn't have fully appreciated it. So in that sense, this book was worth waiting for the right moment.

In this modern classic, Yann Martel crafts the story of Pi Patel, a man who may seem ordinary at first glance, but has actually lived an extraordinary life. Growing up in India where his family owned and operated a zoo, Pi was always a bit of an outsider. After all, how many people do you know who are Christian, Hindu, and Islamic all at once? Well, Pi is. He just loves God, simple as that. And all of Pi's faith is put to the test when a storm destroys the ship he and his family and their animals are traveling on to Canada. Somehow Pi makes it into a lifeboat, along with a fully grown Bengal tiger.

Martel's writing is rich and lush, and considering how much of this book revolves around discussions on religion and faith, I never found it to be preachy. It was conversational yet poetic prose, opening my mind and heart to a simultaneously eloquent and simple look at God, giving a much-needed boost to my personal beliefs. In the survival sections of the book, Pi's hallucinations, trials, and struggles are raw and gripping - even though the structure of the narrative meant as a reader, I knew things would turn out, I was still invested in Pi's safety and

If you are looking for a novel that will challenge you, that will you push you to look at the harsh world we live in through magical, loving, compassionate, and courageous eyes, then pick up Life of Pi if you haven't done so already. I know I'm glad I did.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Out of this World: The Martian

The Martian by Andy Weir
Crown, 2014

Imagine going to Mars. Now imagine being stranded on Mars. Welcome to what has just become reality for Ares III Astronaut Mark Watney. Six sols (Martian days) into what is supposed to be a month-long stay on the red planet, a freak storm requires the team to abort their mission and head back to Earth early. Only while they're evacuating, Mark gets hit with debris that knocks out the bio sensors in his suit. His crew mates think he's dead, so they're forced to leave him behind. Now he needs to figure out to tell NASA he's very much alive and how to survive long enough to get rescued, something that would take years.

And that, readers, is just the beginning.

What started out as a story posted by chapter by chapter on Weir's blog turned into a self-publishing and then traditional publishing phenomenon that has now taken even Hollywood by storm, These kinds of stats make me naturally skeptical, but in this case, there was absolutely no reason to be. This tale is Apollo 13 meets Cast Away, except Mark isn't exactly Tom Hanks. He is sarcastic. He swears. He thinks outside of the box and is flippant as much as he is brilliant. His is a journey that you are glad to be along for the ride. This book does a great job of balancing the science part of science fiction with the fact that most of its readers are not rocket scientists - things are explained, but you're not required to understand every little aspect of the mechanics to be engaged by this story.

This review is purposely vague because this is a book that to spoil any part of it feels criminal. I'll just say that I think this novel is properly deserving of the hype, and I've been suggesting it like crazy to teen and adult readers alike.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.