Sunday, April 26, 2015

Someone to Watch Over Me: Saint Anything

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
Viking Juvenille, Expected Release Date: May 5, 2015

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

Sydney has spent her whole life in the shadow of Peyton, the older brother she idolizes. He's always had a way about him, something that's made him the center of everything, even when he started to get in trouble. In fact, he's still sun that their entire family revolves around when he's locked away in jail after his drunk driving left another boy in a wheelchair. Her mom acts as if Peyton was the victim, her father is barely around, and Sydney is wracked with guilt about her brother's actions, her best still never being good enough. But positive changes come into Sydney's life in unlikely places - at a new school where she doesn't know anyone and at a family run pizza place with pies too perfect for words. The Chathams are completely unlike Sydney's own family - loud, loving, and they actually look at and accept her. Someone finally seems to care about where Sydney is and how she's doing.

A voracious reader, I always have at least a book or two I'm working my way through. But that's the thing - sometimes these 200 page books have felt like work. Saint Anything's 448 pages, however, flew by far too quickly. I was completely enraptured in this story. This was one of those books where the rest of the world disappeared around me whenever I was reading it. Though I have never been in the exact same situation as Sydney, I have felt a lot of the same feelings both in my high school years and even as an adult. It's agonizing to have people looking at you for all the wrong reasons, and such a relief when it happens for the right ones.

While many are describing this as Dessen's darkest novel, I don't think I'd agree with that sentiment. In her 12 published books, Dessen has not shied away from serious topics such as abusive relationships, body image, teen pregnancy, loss, and substance abuse. This story isn't an easy one - there's a lot of anger and hurt, but it's honest and realistic and it made me appreciate this book that much more. While it's true that this author has given us plenty of swoonworthy relationships in her books, they've never just been about romance. The same can be said for Saint Anything. Did I fall for Mac, the oldest boy in the Chatham household, just as hard as Sydney? Oh yes. But I was just as in love with the friendships that make up the core of this story, especially Sydney's with Layla Chatham.

All in all, Saint Anything has to be one of my favorite Sarah Dessen books ever, which is saying something since I have such high praise for her other titles as well. Even though the the subject matter can get dark, it is also full of hope and light, and I already can't wait to reread it.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Sarah Dessen's Website
Sarah Dessen on Twitter

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Short Story Saturday: Irish Girls About Town, Soulmates

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 Irish Girls About Town.

Story: Soulmates
Author: Marian Keyes
Summary: Georgia and Joel are soulmates, always having an amazing, wonderful, awe-inspiring relationship that even when things go south, none of their friends can ever fully understand and definitely can't replicate in their own lives.
Thoughts: Hmmm. This was a thought provoking story for sure, and definitely brought up some emotions that I'm embarrassed to say I could identify with. Doesn't everyone know that one person who things just always work out for, whose star shines a little brighter and you are jealous but at the same time impressed and you can't even be mad at them because they're so nice? Yeah, this story tapped right into that side of me, of all of us.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Write from the Heart: To All the Boys I've Loved Before

To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han (To All the Boys I've Loved Before #1)
Simon & Schuster, 2014

There's a hat box under Lara Jean's bed, inside which live the deepest secrets of her heart: letters she's written to each of the boys she has loved. They're not typical love letters, though. They're letters she wrote to fall out of love with them, to spill all of her feelings out onto paper, seal them up, and move on from these crushes she's never admitted to anyone. Lara Jean's life is already undergoing big changes with her big sister heading off to college in Scotland, but things get even more complicated when someone not only discovers her letters, but mails them to the boys they're about. Now she's trying to take care of her dad and little sister along with faking a relationship with Peter - one of her past crushes - in a plan to make each of their current crushes jealous. Only is it really a fake relationship after all?

This was my first time reading a Jenny Han novel, and this world was a lovely, light story to read while on vacation this spring. Over a couple of days, I enjoyed reading about the hijinks and tight corners Lara Jean got herself into, and part of me really admired how she feels things widely and deeply. While the fake relationship plot is something that's certainly been around the block, I loved seeing how some of the various boys responded to getting their letters and how Lara Jean responded in their release. The idea of these almost reverse love letters was clever and cathartic, and fit Lara Jean's sentimental and whimsical personality perfectly.

I'll admit that there were times when I was a bit frustrated with the protagonist since many of the problems she encountered could have been resolved by simply talking to someone or by reigning in her very active imagination that has a flare for the dramatic and romantic. In spite of this, I was still rooting for her, wanting to see her grow up a bit more and see that even though reality isn't as pretty or easy to navigate as her fantasy world, amazing things can still happen even when life gets messy.

If you are a fan of contemporary romance or looking for a book to entertain you for a few hours, pick up To All the Boys I've Loved Before, and keep an eye out for the sequel, P.S. I Still Love You.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Jenny Han's Website
Jenny Han on Twitter

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Short Story Saturday: Defy the Dark, This Was Ophelia

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: This Was Ophelia
Author: Tessa Gratton
Summary: When she's feeling bored with the stuffy life she leads, Phe sneaks out at night to illegal club in town, dresses as a man, and calls herself O to escape, but when she falls in love with Hal, the late-mayor's son, as O, her seemingly small life gets infinitely more complicated.
Thoughts: I'm completely intrigued by this story! The historical setting and the gender constructs that go along with it, the fact that things aren't so different today, and the characters driving the story ask complicated questions of each other and of themselves. If Gratton were to adapt this into a longer story, I'd definitely be interested in reading more.

And that's it for Defy the Dark!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Look Closer: Read Between the Lines

Read Between the Lines by Jo Knowles
Candlewick Press, 2015

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

There are some books that I will always be a sucker for, that will always peak my interest, and when I first read about Read Between the Lines, the newest novel by Jo Knowles, two of my favorite things made the list: multiple points of view and an entire book that takes place in one day. Over the course of nine chapters, readers temporarily enter the lives of nine different people. Many of them are students at the same high school, one is an alumni, and one is a current teacher. It's one ordinary day, at least on the surface, but readers can see that people often have much bigger impacts on the lives of others than we realize.

Knowles' prose is particularly strong in that each chapter could probably stand on its own as a short story, however the stories are intricately overlapped and weaved together in a realistic fabric. The villain of one chapter may be the hero in another. Point of view is powerful, and enforces the idea that truth may not be as black and white as we'd like it to be because perspective - literally and metaphorically - can change everything.

I know that this review is not terribly specific, but I don't want to give away specifics that could spoil this book for potential readers. With each chapter focusing on someone else, this was a very quick read. On the flip side of this, I didn't feel like I necessarily got to know some characters particularly well or make connections with them because I wasn't with them for a prolonged period of time. This is a good buy for libraries, and a thought provoking look at how people impact the lives of others, especially when we're not looking.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Jo Knowles' Website
Jo Knowles on Twitter

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Short Story Saturday: Defy the Dark, Where the Light Is

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: Where the Light Is
Author: Jackson Pearce
Summary: Will is a miner in a small mining town, miserable and determined to leave someday, but his boring life gets interesting when he comes across a faerie girl who lives far below the earth's surface.
Thoughts: This was lovely! Rooted in reality with a solid dash of fantasy to keep things interesting, a forbidden love, an interesting mythology and two characters who I was genuinely rooting for. I've known about Pearce's writing for years, but this was my first time reading it. This was just the push I needed to finally check out some of her books!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Have Fun Storming the Castle: As You Wish

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes
Touchstone, 2014

I'm pretty sure I was in junior high the first time I ever saw The Princess Bride. Flipping through the channels, I came across this movie that was so wildly unlike anything I'd ever seen before. Sword fighting pirates. A miracle wizard. An actual giant. A princess who can't catch a break. A prince who is a huge jerk. And True Love. I wasn't quite sure of what to make of it, but with its wonderful satire and incredible quotability, how could I not fall in love?

Such were the thoughts of so many others who have come to find this film over the years. The movie's star Cary Elwes (Westley the Farm Boy) takes readers behind the scenes of this beloved movie, one he and so many others in the production are still proud to have been a part of over 25 years later. But while making this movie was the job of a lifetime, it wasn't always smooth sailing. Elwes had a few injuries over the course of the production. The sword fighting training was grueling. And then there was the pesky English weather to contend with. But as anyone who has seen this movie can attest to, the results on the screen were pure magic.

The biggest problem, the reason this film was initially considered a bit of a flop was because the marketing department at Fox had the same reaction I had the first time I saw it: what kind of story is it exactly? As a result, the movie did very modestly at the box office, but it turns out it was only "mostly dead" - thanks to the rise of the VCR, the movie grew to become a beloved classic.

For fans of the movies and people who enjoy DVD extras, this book is a must-read. Elwes does a great job of including the thoughts of others who worked on the film and covers everything from his audition to the cast's reunion for the movie's 25th anniversary. This book was also a remarkable insight into Andre the Giant who unfortunately passed away in the early 90s but was an incredibly thoughtful and kind man who was often misunderstood due to his size. I read this whole book over the course of a gray winter day - the type of day usually perfect for a Princess Bride viewing. I wanted to know more about this wonderful movie, and Elwes was more than happy to oblige.

As Westley would say, "As you wish."

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Website for the book
Cary Elwes on Twitter

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Short Story Saturday: Defy the Dark, The Moth and the Spider

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 Moth and the Spider
Author: Sarah Ockler
Summary: Nothing has felt right since Cali's botched suicide attempt, and now that she's more miserable than ever, she is determined to see the act through just as soon as she can write an acceptable suicide note.
Thoughts: Hmm. This is another one of those cases where this story felt less like a story and more like a scene, a snapshot of something larger. As a result, I sort of feel like I'm missing something. I liked the gradual introduction of Cali's past and what led her to being in this room at night, but the ending leaves me scratching my head a bit.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Full Force: Heir of Fire

Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas (Throne of Glass #3)
Bloomsbury, 2014

*As this is the third book in a series, there may be spoilers for the previous books - you have been warned!*

Celaena has left everything she knows and everyone she loves behind. Devastated by the death of her best friend, she must continue in her charade of serving the tyrant King of Adarlan if she has any chance of justice. Traveling to Wendlyn, she searches for answers and faces her darkest demons. Back in Rithfold, Chaol is willing to sacrifice his freedom and inherit a title he doesn't want if it means keeping Celaena and Dorian safe. However, he's pulled into dealings with the rebels and a fight he's desperate to avoid. Meanwhile, Dorian suffers with his own secrets and a dangerous group who has also been wronged prepares to take to the skies.

The stakes continue to rise in this third installment of Maas' epic fantasy series. The biggest in the series so far, the plot continues to thicken. In regards to characters we've come to know, some get more page time than other. Celaena continues to shine as a protagonist, a fierce young woman who this time around is forced to face an enemy unlike any we've seen her pitted against before: herself, her darkest secrets, her worst nightmares. Along side her for this literal but arguable more emotional journey is a new character, Rowan, someone who I was always excited to see because he too suffers, but there's a quiet and impressive strength that I can't wait to learn more about. Her chapters were by far my favorite ones, and her growth and pain was the most inspiring and heart-wrenching I've seen yet.

What sets this book apart from its predecessors is that the characters I've come to think of as the main three - Celaena, Chaol, and Dorian - spend most of the book apart from one another. As much as I'm a fan of their interactions, the separation gave them each space to grow (in some ways I liked, in others that make me nervous but there are still three more books to come in this series, so who knows what will happen?). A fourth major point of view also came in this book from the witches who are preparing for war.  While their plight was set up from events set in motion in Crown of Midnight, I did have a bit of trouble really getting into their story because it's still fairly separate from the others.

All in all, this book was a masterful continuation of a story that got off to a tremendous start. Emotionally gripping, action packed, and full of a fantastical mythology in a land where no one is safe and everyone has something to lose, Heir of Fire was a wild ride of a read and I cannot wait for book four, Queen of Shadows, to come out later this year.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Sarah J. Maas's Website
Sarah J. Maas on Twitter
Sarah J. Maas on Tumblr
The World of Sarah J. Maas on Tumblr