Saturday, March 29, 2014

Short Story Saturday: Foretold, This is a Mortal Wound

Welcome to Short Story Saturday! Each week, I'll talk about a different story from the collection I'm working my way through and offer up some thoughts. I'm currently reading Foretold: 14 Stories of Prophecy and Prediction.

Story: This is a Mortal Wound
Author: Michael Grant
Summary: Tomaso thinks he's done with his horrible teacher Ms. Gill when he moves across the country, but two years later she's back in a way he never expected.
Thoughts: This story was very short and very fast. Due to a fairly long tangent about Alexander Hamilton and a lot of details that didn't end up being terribly important, I was a little lost about its direction for a while, but things mostly came back together. This story read more like an anecdote - not terribly deep or thought provoking - and I'm not sure how it really fit in with the anthology's theme of prophecy and prediction, so this installment was just okay to me.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Short Story Saturday: Foretold, One True Love

Welcome to Short Story Saturday! Each week, I'll talk about a different story from the collection I'm working my way through and offer up some thoughts. I'm currently reading Foretold: 14 Stories of Prophecy and Prediction.

Story: One True Love
Author: Melinda Lo
Summary: When Esslyt is born, a prophet has a vision that she meets her true love, she will be the down fall of her father, the king so he locks her away in a tower away from men for years, never considering the idea that Esslyt's true love would be the latest girl he is to marry.
Thoughts: This story was a sweet, lovely fantasy. Sword fights, tender moments, revelations and wrong-doing, and seeing love in its many forms. This story was also the absolute perfect length - while I have no doubt Lo could probably make a whole novel out of this if she wanted to, the pacing was perfect for a short story, with just enough to keep me on my toes. I got through this story quickly and it left me with a smile on my face.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Hello?

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week I'm waiting on: Hello? by Liza Wiemer
From her agent's website:
Late one night, in a moment of deep grief, Tricia places a call to her deceased grandmother’s old phone number. She expects the click of a dial tone, a disconnect notice, an empty void, but she is thrown when another teen–too, up late and desperate–answers. It’s Emerson, and though the two are perfect strangers, Tricia senses a connection that runs deeper beyond the cross of telephone wires. 

Emerson expects to hear the voice of Angie, his overeager girlfriend, but is transfixed by Tricia’s tenderness and heartache. The two make a pact, thus setting the events of HELLO? in motion. HELLO? is the story of five small town Wisconsin teens who live on the shores of Lake Michigan: Tricia, who has lost her family, and trying to find her way; her over-protective boyfriend Brian, a potter; the perfectionist Emerson; the insecure and unpredictable Angie; and her impressionable best friend Brenda, an aspiring actress and screenwriter. 

Told from all five viewpoints: narration (Tricia), narration (Emerson), free verse poetry (Angie), screenplay format (Brenda), narration and drawings (Brian), HELLO? offers a textured account of five lives, and weaves together the stories of these teens into a compelling narrative of serendipity, fortune, and a whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts.

In the interest of full disclosure, Liza is a friend of mine. We met at a book signing probably three years ago when this blog was in its infancy and I had no idea what I was doing or that a book blogging community even existed. Liza didn't care, though. She was immediately warm and welcoming, following me on Twitter within ten minutes and engaging me in a conversation about what I knew about the YA world from a librarian's point of view. She's been gracious enough to invite me to her Novel Luncheon the past 2 years, we hung out at ALA last summer, have gotten lunch, and she's been holding my hand through my own writing journey, cheering me on every step of the way. I'm so excited for this book of her's finally being published - She's a completely deserving person, and I'd want to read this book even if this woman hasn't fed me the world's most amazing risotto :) Hello? is currently slated to come out in 2015 from Spencer Hill Contemporary. Congratulations, Liza!

Liza Wiemer's Author Website
Liza Wiemer on Twitter
Liza Wiemer on Tumblr
Liza Wiemer's Book Blog

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Lovely Sort of Dark: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
William Morrow, 2013

It's not often that I sit down to write a review and have no idea what to say because I've encountered a story so exceptional that any words I provide will surely fail it. But this is one of those times and it's a great problem to have. In this book, readers learn the story of an unnamed man in his 40s who has returned to his childhood home for a funeral. While there, he finds himself drawn to the old house where the Hempstocks lived and where his life was altered forever when he was seven years old. That was when a man killed himself and set off a chain of events leading him to become friends with 11 year old Lettie Hempstock, her mother, and her grandmother, and encountering things so dark and strange and terrible and magical that few people should ever have to face, let alone a little boy.

In less than 200 pages, Gaiman paints a picture that packs a punch, but in a subtle sort of way. The language and sentence structure he uses is simple, but put together this prose feels much more like poetry in that it's not about using big words, but using the exact right ones. This surface-simplicity also makes the book feel like a dark bed time story, with strange evils and magical forces gently unwinding and wrapping around everything, pulling tighter and tighter almost without notice until it's too late. Only a masterful storyteller could craft a novel that is short and powerful and even a bit dangerous.

The Hempstock women are all fantastic forces and my heart quickly formed a soft spot for Lettie, a girl with gumption who makes mistakes but does everything out of the goodness of her heart. Her mother and grandmother were also spots of light in this dark story, both for myself and for the narrator who so desperately needed understanding and care. The narrator's perspective, looking back at strange events and recalling them as seen through the lens of a child was well balanced as well with its understanding of what we see when we're young and how it changes as we grow.

My only struggle with this book was an inability to understand the sort of magical 'rules' governing the forces at play - I like to know what can and can't be done - but upon thinking about this book (which I have done a lot of ever since finishing it) it makes sense that it is not defined. The narrator did not, could not know those things, and the scary pushes and pulls at work wouldn't be as strong if the truth were revealed.

This is only the second Gaiman book I've ever read, the first being Coraline several years ago, and I'm so happy that I finally picked it up. I was in the mood for a "grown up book" but nothing so long, something that would make me think but that wouldn't leave me exhausted or reaching for a dictionary. It's been a long time since I've encountered such a pure fantasy and a story I was completely lost in. I'm running out of shelf space and this isn't usually the type of book I'd buy, but I find myself not wanting to return this to the library. Not just yet.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Neil Gaiman's Website
Neil Gaiman on Twitter
Neil Gaiman on Tumblr

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Short Story Saturday: Foretold, Out of the Blue

Welcome to Short Story Saturday! Each week, I'll talk about a different story from the collection I'm working my way through and offer up some thoughts. I'm currently reading Foretold: 14 Stories of Prophecy and Prediction.

Story: Out of the Blue
Author: Meg Cabot
Summary: On their 6th birthday, twins Kyle and Kayleigh meet and are marked by an alien who says they are destined for greatness, but ten ordinary years later, a blog post has some consequences no one could have seen coming.
Thoughts: Told through transcripts of interviews the twins and a few of their friends are forced to give to the government after some bizarre events, this story started off strong, but then got just a bit to cluttered in my opinion (which is very hard for me to say as a life-long lover of Cabot's writing - I grew up with Princess Mia). I really liked seeing both of the twins' perspectives, but the romances that popped up didn't really feel necessary. All in all, I was interested since I've been warming up to sci-fi in the last few years, but no super strong feelings about this one.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Illusions of Fate

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week I'm waiting on: Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White
From Goodreads:
Jessamin has been an outcast since she moved from her island home of Melei to the dreary country of Albion. Everything changes when she meets Finn, a gorgeous, enigmatic young lord who introduces her to the secret world of Albion’s nobility, a world that has everything Jessamin doesn’t—power, money, status…and magic. But Finn has secrets of his own, dangerous secrets that the vicious Lord Downpike will do anything to possess. Unless Jessamin, armed only with her wits and her determination, can stop him.

First off, I know it's wrong to judge a book by its cover but how gorgeous is this cover?! Also, this description seems to have a lot of what I love: some history, some magic, a dash of class issues, and girl whom I suspect has gumption (as White's heroines tend to do and I adore that!). So, can it be September now please?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Back Again: Spilt Second

Split Second by Kasie West (Pivot Point #2)
Harper Teen, 2014

*Since this is a second book in a series, there will be some spoilers about book one - You have been warned!*

Kasie West brings readers back into a world where some people have exceptional powers in the follow up to her debut novel, Pivot Point. Picking up a few weeks after the first book left off, Split Second again has readers keeping track of two paths of events, only this time they're not both Addie's - instead, we have the lives of both Addie and her best friend Laila. Addie is distraught and her life having gone to hell she can't imagine what would have made her pick this life after her Search and while visiting her father in the Norm world for Christmas she runs into the achingly familiar Trevor. Meanwhile, Laila is working to enhance her ability as an Eraser to restore Addie's memories, but the price is high and the only person who can help her doesn't seem to want anything to do with her.

Now, I loved Pivot Point when I was lucky enough to win an ARC of it way back when. I gushed about it, constantly recommend it, and even named it one of my favorite series books of the year. Therefore I had really high expectations for Split Second, and I will say that this installment of the story was solid. Addie and Trevor's story broke my heart all over again, Laila's perspective and battles of stubbornness and swooning with Connor were a welcome addition, and I liked the mixed feelings all of these people have about what their abilities mean to them.

I must also admit that the plot of this story didn't quite grab me as much as the first book. Almost nothing is said about the murder mystery that was so central before, instead favoring a look at the lengths the Compound will go to to keep their secrets. There were still questions I wanted answered, and while it was really interesting to see Laila's family life, I found myself missing that element of Addie's story which was more focused on her romance.

All in all did I like this book? Yes. I'm very glad that my library had it and that I was able to get my hands on it. If you liked Pivot Point, then Split Second is definitely worth picking up and reading when you have the time.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Kasie West's Website
Kasie West on Twitter

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Short Story Saturday: Foretold, The Angriest Man

Welcome to Short Story Saturday! Each week, I'll talk about a different story from the collection I'm working my way through and offer up some thoughts. I'm currently reading Foretold: 14 Stories of Prophecy and Prediction.

Story: The Angriest Man
Author: Lisa McMann
Summary: A young man who is only alive due to venom brought forth by the world's angriest man returns to the root of his problems on his 18th birthday.
Thoughts: Not the best summary in the world, but this story is difficult to describe without giving away the whole thing. The first four short paragraphs that set up the story had me immediately interested. However, truth be told, this wasn't one of my favorite short stories - it felt more like a premise rather than a complete tale with a beginning, middle, and end. I must give McMann points for quickly crafting a piece that was creepy from start to finish - while some things were lost on me, the atmosphere was incredibly strong.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Bright Message: This Star Won't Go Out

This Star Won't Go Out by Esther Earl
Penguin, 2014

Esther Earl first came into my life shortly after her's ended. On August 27, 2010, John Green posted a video sharing the news that Esther, a teenager with an incredible capacity for compassion and love, had passed away after a long road with thyroid cancer. I was relatively new to Nerdfighteria at this point - I'd only seen a handful of the Vlogbrother's videos before, but links to this one were everywhere. And so over the years, I've learned more about this incredible girl and wish I had sooner. This Star Won't Go Out is a celebration of an extraordinary yet completely ordinary young woman's life.

The majority of the book does focus on the years after Esther's diagnosis, but a life 'before' is established. From the very beginning, she was bright, precocious, inquisitive, and caring. And while she remained these things after cancer came into the picture, she was also a teenage girl with dreams and desires and mood swings and she wasn't without her flaws. Sure she had a good attitude a lot of the time, but she also shared in her diary and blog entries when was grumpy and mad and upset and in pain. She had a complicated relationship with her body, with God, with her family, and with her friends. The internet became a place where she didn't have to be A Girl with Cancer, but simply a Harry Potter fanatic. But eventually she did open up to those people about the true nature of her health and it only made her full life that much richer.

As someone who works with teenagers, I can attest that this book does a great job showing who they really are. That they are capable of doing and feeling so much more than they are often given credit for. I also appreciated the inclusions from her parents, doctors, and various other adults in her life who recognized that Esther was extraordinary for a lot of reasons. I went into this book with prior context which I think helped my reading to an extent, but basics are given for those less familiar with Esther's story. I will admit that since I was not a friend of Esther nor did I know of her before, I occasionally felt uncomfortable reading, like I was intruding on a conversation too late to ever really be a part of it.

All in all, this book is big love letter to an amazing person who was the kind of teenager I wish I had been. She had empathy and enthusiasm, embraced Internet culture and found true friendship and acceptance in an arena I had been too afraid to explore until my 20s. She wasn't a saint, though. She was, through it all, herself, and that was more than enough to change a lot of lives. And I say this is a love letter not in a romantic way, but in that platonic, familial, every-day kind of love that so few people celebrate as often as they should, but Esther was wise enough to realize at 16 we could all do more on that front.

DFTBA, Esther. Your book is an amazing testament to your life and the people you touched. I only wish I'd have "known" you sooner.

This Star Won't Go Out - Foundation set up in Esther's memory
John Green's Video Euology
Esther's YouTube Channel

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Short Story Saturday: Foretold, Burned Bright

Welcome to Short Story Saturday! Each week, I'll talk about a different story from the collection I'm working my way through and offer up some thoughts. I'm currently reading Foretold: 14 Stories of Prophecy and Prediction.

Story: Burned Bright
Author: Diana Peterfreund
Summary: Bright Child - the daughter of a prophet - and Sam - raised to be a follower of the Child's beliefs - share their experiences at what they've been told is the End of Days.
Thoughts: I'm a huge fan of Diana Peterfreund's writing, having loved her novel For Darkness Shows the Stars. She's very good at climbing inside the mind of someone I don't identify with at all and getting me to understand that point of view. That is this story's strength. I can see why Sam and Bright each believe what they do and their struggles about their current situation. While I'm not the hugest fan of religious cult aspect, it's certainly a story that made me think, which is just what good stories are meant to do.