Saturday, January 31, 2015

Short Story Saturday: Defy the Dark, Stillwater

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 Defy the Dark.

Story: Stillwater
Author: Valerie Kemp
Summary: Pruitt and Delilah have nothing in common except an ancestor, some land, and a mutual hatred of their town of Stillwater, but things get even stranger as Pruitt starts seeing things and people that shouldn't be possible.
Thoughts: This one was a little strange and a weird and wonderful Doctor Who sort of way. The idea of certain things being forgotten when characters go to sleep was really interesting, and while this story didn't have a particulalry tidy ending (open endings are a frequent feature of short stories, I'm finding), I didn't really mind this time.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Twisted Sister: Fairest

Fairest by Marissa Meyer (Lunar Chronicles Prequel)
Feiwel and Friends, 2015

Yes I know this book just came out yesterday, but I already inhaled it and can't contain my excitement!! Cinder may be the first book in Marissa Meyer's epic Lunar Chronicles series, but the events that set our favorite cyborg's story in motion actually started long before she was even born and far away from New Beijing. It starts with an unhappy princess who hides from mirrors and is desperate to be loved, something she's never had before. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Levana.

Fairest is the story of Levana, the woman readers have come to know as the evil queen who has quite a twisted past. While this story is not long by this series' standards - 220 pages - it breathes a whole lot of insight into what made Levana into the horrible woman she is. The novel holds a classic question at its core: was Levana always evil, or did circumstances make her that way? It is my firm opinion after reading that it's a little of both. At times I was sympathetic to this young girl. Her older sister Channery is careless and heartless towards her and she has no friends, and these facts contribute to the choices she makes for the rest of her life, choices that she sees as justified and necessary, but any sane person can see are certifiable.

This novel is a welcome addition to the Lunar Chronicles universe, adding a lot to it. Though it is a prequel, especially given the first three chapters of the final book in the series Winter that are included here, I wouldn't recommend reading this book until after reading Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress. Doing so would mean spoiling some wonderful surprises that comes in those books. However, tucking Fairest in between Cress and Winter feels like perfect placement if you're reading this series for the first time.

I know this review is short and incredibly vague, but as a devout lover of this series, I don't want to spoil anything, it's that good! And now I'm even more excited for Winter, which I didn't think was humanly possible! Like I've been saying for years now, if you haven't read the Lunar Chronicles yet, what the heck are you waiting for?

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Marissa Meyer's Website
Marissa Meyer on Twitter

Sunday, January 25, 2015

All You Need is Love: We Can Work It Out

We Can Work It Out by Elizabeth Eulberg (The Lonely Hearts Club #2)
Point, Expected Release Date: January 27, 2015

*ARC provided by the publisher via Liza Wiemer's Novel Cuisine Luncheon - thank you! This in no way impacted my opinions of this book.*

Elizabeth Eulberg's debut novel, The Lonely Hearts Club, was a love letter to two things: friendship and The Beatles. Penny Lane Bloom was a girl who had given up on guys and love, and found incredible strength and family in The Lonely Hearts Club, an all-girl group dedicated to the idea that you don't need a boyfriend to be happy. The girls are back in this adorable sequel, and Penny is as busy as ever. Not only does she still have the club to run, but a romance with Ryan, a completely wonderful guy. Penny wants it all, and she seems to have it for now, but can she really juggle this much for long?

While it's been a while since I read book one (a novel that easily stands on its own in case you're not one for series) and I was rusty on more than a few characters and relationships, I had no trouble getting back into the swing of Penny and her world. Eulberg crafts a story around a classic problem - taking on too much. I could completely identify with Penny in that she constantly spreads herself just a little too thin. She doesn't mean to, and she has good intentions, but people can only keep up that kind of pace for so long before crashing becomes inevitable. While at times she made choices that made me cringe, I could understand them. Heck, when I was 16/17, I probably did a lot of the same things, and I have no doubt that today's teens will also have no trouble seeing the world the way Penny does.

There were a few moments in here where things felt like a smidge bit too much - how many times can one girl seriously put her foot in her mouth or make the same mistake over and over? Also, like with the first book, I'm a bit concerned at how seriously the girls in the LHC must live by the rules they've set up -  lunch every day, meetings every Saturday night (no exceptions except for emergencies) - or maybe that's just Penny because she's the leader so she feels like she has to set the example. However, but the end of the novel, I was less worried. Here is a girl who grows, who learns the hard way that life is about balance. We give and we take and if we care about someone, we need to show it. That's how relationships work - not just the romantic ones, but the platonic ones too.

All in all, I really liked this book. It was great to get back into the lives of these characters and while there's plenty of drama in Penny's world, there's also a lot of humor and love. If you're looking for a book with colorful characters determined to take this thing called life head-on, look no further than the novels of Elizabeth Eulberg. You'll be in for a fun ride.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Elizabeth Eulberg's Website
Elizabeth Eulberg on Twitter

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Short Story Saturday: Defy the Dark, Eyes in the Dark

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 Defy the Dark.

Story: Eyes in the Dark
Author: Rachel Hawkins
Summary: Sam knows that spending time with her crush Kelley Hamilton is a bad idea, but she doesn't really question her decision to hang out with him one night until he takes her to the Cater Creek Bridge.
Thoughts: Scary! Granted I am a super huge pansy, but this was a so scary (and well written)! Horror and thriller are not my fortes, but if you like tales that will terrify you, then I'm sure you'll love this one.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Fantastic Series Starter: All Fall Down

All Fall Down by Ally Carter (Embassy Row #1)
Scholastic, Expected Release Date: January 20, 2015

*ARC Provided by the publisher as part of their #AllyAmbassador program - thank you! This in no way impacted my opinions of this book.*

I've been a fan of Ally Carter's YA books for quite a while now. I think Heist Society is so fun and Gallagher Girls is a wonderful addition to the many boarding school books I've always adored. Yet All Fall Down, the first book in Carter's new Embassy Row series, is her best work yet. And for me to say that, that's saying something.

Grace's life has never been normal necessarily, but at least she used to be happy. Normal is hard to come by when you're an Army brat and your grandfather is the US Ambassador to Adria and one of the most powerful people in the world. But for the last three years, life has been hell because Grace knows that her mother didn't die in a fire. She saw her get shot. She saw the man with the scarred face. With her father being deployed back overseas, Grace is now 16 and back living on Embassy Row, still seen as crazy, and still determined as to make whoever is responsible for her mother's death pay.

Carter states in a letter to the reader that came with the ARC that she set out to write a story that combined life in the foreign service with a sort of YA version of the tv show 24, and let me tell you, she hit the nail on the head. Grace was a character I could immediately relate to. She feels alone. She's never had any special training on how to do what she wants. She's struggling and afraid, and yet fearless (or is it really just reckless)? Supporting characters are just as well thought out. I'd love to have a group of friends like Noah, Meagan, and Rosie. And Alexei, the Russian boy next door, is a great supporter of Grace once she's ready to let him in (not to mention I was doing some serious swooning!).

The pacing of this novel is brisk while the plot was full of twists. Some I saw coming (anyone who isn't Grace probably would, too), but more often than not I was shocked, especially with the ending! I know I was lucky to read this book before it came out but I was immediately in need of the sequel!

If you're looking for an action packed read with a worldly flare, All Fall Down is the book for you. Ally Carter continues to raise the bar and I can't wait to see where this series goes!

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Short Story Saturday: Defy the Dark, Ghost Town

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 Defy the Dark.

Story: Ghost Town
Author: Malinda Lo
Summary: McKenzie takes Ty - a California native -  on her first ghost hunt in their small town of Pinnacle, Colorado, but both of the girls get unexpected surprises when they investigate the long abandoned boarding house.
Thoughts: I enjoyed this story in how it is a great example of people being awful to each other can be so much darker than hauntings or the supernatural. My only criticism is that the story is essentially told backwards - I'm more of a chronological-order person myself, and I think I would have had a clearer understanding of the plot points. However, I respect Lo's choice and can totally see why she structured it this way.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Video Review: All Fall Down

In which my first video review and 5-star rating of 2015 goes to Ally Carter's All Fall Down, the first book in her Embassy Row series.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A New Kind of Night Life: Dream a Little Dream

Dream a Little Dream by Kerstin Gier (The Silver Trilogy #1)
Henry Holt, Expected Release Date: January 6, 2015

*ARC provided by the publisher - Thank you! This in no way impacted my thoughts on this book.* 

Liv Silver and her little sister Mia are used to an unstable life. Ever since their academic parents got divorced, they've been passed back and forth between them while they go to and from different jobs around the world. But when Mom gets a job at Oxford, it looks like they'll finally get to settle down and have a life they've only been able to dream of: a house with a yard in the English countryside. Except when they land in London, they're in for a shock. They'll be living in the city with Mom, her new boyfriend, and his two kids, one of whom is a boy Liv not only recognizes from school, but from the strange dreams she's been having. Suddenly thrust into the world of dreams where the regular rules don't apply, can Liv - a sucker for mysteries - figure out what's going on?

Gier does a great job in this novel kicking off her latest trilogy of seamlessly moving between the real world and the dream world, both of which are interesting and engaging. She sets up a mythology I haven't seen before, and Liv is a girl who is both very smart for her age and is aware that she has a lot of growing up to do. I also really enjoyed that this book felt balanced in terms of the protagonist having challenges both in her own life and in the bigger picture. Sure she's trying to figure out what's going on in the dream world along with the mysterious blond boys Arthur, Jasper, Henry, and almost step-brother Grayson, but there's also her sister to think of, her mom, their longtime nanny Lottie, and adapting to another new school among plenty of other things. Just like real life, she can't just focus on one thing at a time - they all demand her attention.

I felt like the pacing was a bit slow in the first half of the book for my taste, but it picked up nicely in the second (I felt similarly about Gier's previous trilogy, Ruby Red). Gier seems to be a writer who doesn't mind taking the time to set the rules and groundwork for her world right away, that way later on readers can be more focused on the characters and the story. I also felt there were a few times where Liv was redundant in that she'd show what was going on, then tell readers explicitly what had already been clearly implied.

Readers in search of a fun fantastical/paranormal-ish read will no doubt enjoy Dream a Little Dream. Reminding me a bit of Kiersten White's Paranormalcy series, I think younger readers especially will especially gravitate towards Liv (however, be aware that as Liv is growing up in Europe, teens/people there tend to be more mature and discuss issues like sex and drinking quite frankly - I had no problem with this, but parents of a younger crowd may want to know this in advance). This was a fun one-time read for me on a gray winter day, and I'll definitely be ordering it for my school's library.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Short Story Saturday: Defy the Dark, The Dark Side of the Moon

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 Defy the Dark.

Story: The Dark Side of the Moon
Author: Dia Reeves
Summary: Cado comes to see Patricia in her quirky town of Portero, Texas a day earlier than she's expecting him, but she's only part of why he's there; the other part is the mysterious Night Trolley.
Thoughts: The pacing of this story kept it moving along nicely, but seeing as horror stories aren't really my thing, I just wasn't feeling it. Other readers who enjoy creepy-crawlies and getting scared will no doubt enjoy this one.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Light and Dark: All the Bright Places

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Knopf, Expected Release Date: January 6, 2015

*e-galley provided by the publisher via NetGalley - thank you! This in no way impacts my opinions on this book.*

It's hardly a traditional place for the seeds of a connection to be planted between two incredibly different people, but something clicks with Theodore Finch and Violet Markey when they meet on the ledge of the school's bell tower, both of them contemplating ending their lives. Finch has always been labeled a freak, is always changing who he is to cope, and he can never be still. He can go weeks at a time feeling like he's not awake, with high highs and low lows. Violet used to have a pretty normal life by anyone's standards until the car accident that killed her older sister last year. Ever since, she's been hiding behind Eleanor's old glasses and excuses. But that day on the tower, Finch and Violet save each other and from there they embark on a class project and a relationship that takes them to all the bright places, but will that light be enough to truly save them from the dark they both live with?

The first word that comes to mind when describing this book is brave. In her YA debut, Niven makes a lot of brave choices. She ventures into territory that thankfully is becoming less taboo for discussion but is still something that we don't see a whole lot of. This is not your "average" book about suicide or depression. In a lot of ways, it is about survival and what it means to be a survivor. It's about tough and terrible choices, and it's about how we respond.

Told from both Finch's and Violet's points of view, it's fascinating to see how they each see the world, themselves, and each other. They each handle the tumultuous feelings they face in very different ways, in some ways bringing out the best in each other. There were a few moments when I maybe found a line cheesy, but not more than a handful in the course of the whole book. This novel is being compared to The Fault in Our Stars and in some ways, I can see that. I have little doubt that teen readers of that book will be similarly effected by this one.

This review is purposely vague because I'd hate for anything about this book to be spoiled, so I will just end with that I found this to be a powerful and thought provoking book, and when it arrives in my library I will absolutely be recommending it to students and staff.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

Jennifer Niven's Website
Jennifer Niven on Twitter

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Short Story Saturday: Defy the Dark, Nature

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 Defy the Dark.

Story: Nature
Author: Aprilynne Pike
Summary: In a future society where dwindling birth rates left the human race in jeopardy, Kylie lives in a community where your future is determined by your body measurements, and despite her dreams of college and knowledge, her wide hips have put her in the Nature class where her primary responsibility is having babies to repopulate the planet.
Thoughts: While it took me a while to get into this story - you have to get into it a bit before the science/class structure is made clear - once that was understood, I was hooked! Kylie and Jeremy are both interesting and I loved the delicate dance of their awkward interactions. This is one of those short stories that I wish kept going.