June 28, 2013

Crossed by Ally Condie

If you loved someone, if someone loved you, if they taught you to write and made it so you could speak, how could you do nothing at all? You might as well take their words out of the dirt and try to snatch them from the wind. 
Because once you love, it is gone. You love and you cannot call it back.
-from Crossed by Ally Condie

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Please keep in mind that this review will have spoilers for the first novel in this series, Matched. If you haven't read Matched, I highly recommend you read it before you read this review.

After The Society has separated Cassia and Ky, sending Cassia to live with her family in the Farmlands and Ky to the Outer Provinces to fight the war against The Enemy, their love story seems hopeless. But Cassia is motivated to do whatever it takes to get to Ky, including sneaking onto a plane headed right for the front lines. When she miraculously gets close enough to where Ky has been, she learns that he has escaped to go search for her. As Cassia chases after Ky, she learns new things about Xander that further complicate this love triangle. Told in alternating perspectives of both Cassia and Ky, this installment of the Matched trilogy is full of adventure and helps the reader gain insight to Ky's perspective. 

I was surprised to find so many negative reviews for this book after I read it and thought it was better than the first in the series! So let me defend my rating, because I stand by it. I didn't quite believe Cassia's love for Ky in Matched which made it difficult to appreciate the story overall. In Crossed, however, Cassia and Ky are the central story and, as much as Condie tries to keep Xander in this love triangle, I don't feel that her efforts were enough to make him relevant to this book until the end. This helped me digest Cassia and Ky as a unit and get past my complaints about their relationship. 

Furthermore, despite Cassia and Ky almost literally going to the ends of the Earth for each other (at least from their limited perspective of the Earth), both experience doubts and see the limitations of their relationship in this book. This is refreshing compared to their teenage love phase. Both are maturing quickly and are looking further into the future than they had before. I thought that Condie was brave to give them an impasse that is difficult to compromise to prove how mature they are in their love for each other. It also gives a little faith that Xander might have a fighting chance!

This book is full of adventure and exploration of a new world never before seen or experienced by Cassia. It also includes new characters that help uncover new sides of both Cassia and Ky that we haven't previously seen before. I guess some readers may perceive the Cassia and Ky's journey to find each other to be a bit slow, but I definitely didn't. I thought Condie did an excellent job moving the story forward with the landscape in addition to the poetry used in the first book. I only wish there were more illustrations of The Carving to help me better imagine what Condie was illustrating. 

Bottom Line: I loved Crossed more than I loved Matched, so if you read Matched, I consider this a must-read!! Full of adventure, love and teenagers maturing into adults. Good for high schoolers and advanced junior high readers! 4.5/5 stars - but I'm rounding up!

Next week's book is Reached by Ally Condie

June 25, 2013

Top 10 Books I've Read in 2013 {So Far}

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The year is already halfway over, can you believe that? It seems like as good of a time as any to evaluate the books I've read and tell you what my favorites have been thus far (in no particular order). Please comment and let me know what your favorite book has been so far this year!
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Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn {my review}
The Second Daughter by J. Jeffrey {my review}
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
Trail of the Chupacabra by Stephen Randel {my review}
Fire by Kristin Cashore {my review}
Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore {my review}
Divergent by Veronica Roth {my review}
Insurgent by Veronica Roth {my review}
The Selection by Kiera Cass {my review}
6 Verses That Can Change Your Life by Joe Barnett {my review}

What books have you read this year that are your favorite?

June 21, 2013

Matched by Ally Condie

All of the things that were shown in early studies to be good for longevity- happy marriages, healthy bodies- are ours to have. We live long, good lives. We die on our eightieth birthdays, surrounded by our families, before dementia sets in. Cancer, heart disease, and most debilitating illnesses are almost entirely eradicated. This is as close to perfect as any society has ever managed to get.
-from Matched by Ally Condie

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In Cassia Reyes' world, The Society plans out everything to give Citizens optimal lives. With spouses and careers matched precisely to give each Citizen fulfillment, lack of disease and a known death date, most members of The Society are content, including Cassia. In fact, after she is Matched with her childhood best friend, Xander, and shows potential for a good permanent job, it looks like things can't get much better for Cassia. But when The Society mistakenly matches her with a second boy, Ki, giving Cassia fresh eyes for him and for the lifestyle in which she is living. Cassia soon recognizes that every choice in her life has been decided for her by The Society. As she falls deeper and deeper in love with Ki, Cassia must decide if she's brave enough to fight for her freedom, if she's able to fight at all.

Some my think, "Another young adult dystopian trilogy?" when they read the premise for Ally Condie's Matched series. Personally, I thought, "YAY! Another young adult dystopian trilogy!!" But I must admit that after reading The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Selection, dystopian stories have begun to feel somewhat predictable. I tried to make sure this didn't get in the way of my feelings for Matched, and, despite a few criticisms, I don't think it did. I really enjoyed this story and I'm excited to continue reading the series. Hopefully you will feel the same way!

My greatest problem with this story is that I didn't feel connected with Cassia's feelings for Ky, at least not right away. When Cassia is very unexpectedly Matched with Xander, her childhood best friend, she laments about how all the other girls get the mystique of not knowing their matches and are able to slowly unveil the mystery by getting to know them. As a girl, I can completely identify with this and recognize that this is a hugely typical feeling for teenage girls. So when Cassia instantly falls for Ki just because of the mystery of him being matched with her accidentally, I automatically did not trust her feelings. I felt she was just being a silly teenage girl and should be happy with Xander. I didn't like that Xander was pushed aside and didn't have a fighting chance. This is just one love triangle I can't get behind, as much as I love all of the characters.

There were other actions made by Cassia that frustrated me, like the way she handles the poem her grandfather gives her (no spoilers here!). In the end, I chalk it up to the author courageously writing a flawed heroine of which I shouldn't be so critical. Similarly, this book may be better suited for teenagers and, that said, they might not be so frustrated with Cassia's actions. Overall, I did end up loving Cassia (along with all the other characters), but I didn't always agree with her choices.

Despite my frustrations with Cassia's actions and feelings, I really loved this story and especially love Ally Condie's writing style. The sentences are so simple and stripped down that I feel like it presents the story with clear precision. At the same time, Condie presents these double meanings that I noticed more and more as the book progressed. For example, when Cassia and Ki are hiking, Cassia says that they "have come so far but never made it to the top", she is literally talking about their hike up The Hill; however, I think she is also talking about the state of their relationship because they are unable to choose each other as mates. There are so many statements like this which are absolutely beautiful. I love that Condie tells us how to feel implicitly, making the book read like poetry.

Speaking of poetry, this book contains a lot of external works, most prominently Dylan Thomas' poem, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. Often it annoys me when authors do this because it feels condescending, like they are trying to hard to sound more educated (*cough* Gabriel's Inferno *cough*). That is not the case with Ally Condie's usage of external poetry in Matched. I feel that she weaved poems into the story perfectly and they had a solid purpose. I also felt like I was better able to appreciate the works she used, recognizing them from college but not thinking of them again until now. She pulls out their power and uses them to drive her story forward.

Bottom Line: This is a must-read for anyone who loves The Hunger Games and dystopian fiction. I know I was a little critical, but I can assure you that I only write reviews this long for books I love and want to talk about! 4/5, but only because the love triangle was so weak.

By the way, what's with love triangles and this new wave of dystopian fiction? Maybe in the future there will be 2 males for every 1 female, someone should address this!

Next week's book is Crossed by Ally Condie

June 18, 2013

Top Ten Books on my Summer Reading List

I don't know about you, but the thought of summer makes me want to get a nice, slushy drink and lay out by the pool with a great book! I really hope I get a lot of lazy reading time this summer, because there are a lot of pages on my Summer To-Read List! Here are ten books I'm hoping to read (or re-read) this summer!

The A Song of Ice and Fire series (aka Game of Thrones):

          1. A Game of Thrones (finished)         4.A Feast for Crows
          2. A Clash of Kings                              5. A Dance with Dragons
          3.A Storm of Swords

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           Legend                                  Choosing to See              The Forever of Ella and Micha
               by Marie Lu                          by Mary Beth Chapman              by Jessica Sorensen

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                 Emma                                           Faking It                                     Catching Fire
          by Jane Austen                               by Elisa Lorello                           by Suzanne Collins
                {re-read}                                       {re-read}                                       {re-read}

What's on your summer reading list?

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June 17, 2013

Monday's Reading Recap

I really, really loved the Dynamic View layout that I had, but I found that pages weren't loading quickly or correctly on both computers I use to work on my blog. So if I'm having trouble, you might be having trouble and I don't want that! Now I'm using the same layout as my personal blog but mirrored for now and I hope you like it! I got it from The Darling Blog; Kendra makes some amazingly cute blog layouts!

Last Week I Finished Reading: A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (finally!! It was a big undertaking but well worth it!)

This Week I'm Reading: A Clash of the Kings (Book 2) by George R.R. Martin

This Week I'm Sharing a Review For: Matched by Ally Condie - I hope you'll read it and tell me how you liked it on Friday!

What are you reading this week? 

June 14, 2013

Trail of the Chupacabra by Stephen Randel

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At the top of the stairs, Avery heard footsteps coming. He backed up over the bodies of two dead cartel soldiers and took a fighting stance in the doorway of the nearest room. Whipping his broom handles in a figure-eight pattern, he steadied himself. He’d been training for this his whole life.

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Warning: This review may contain spoilers to The Chupacabra: A Borderline Crazy Tale of Coyotes, Cash and Cartels by Stephen Randel. Buy that book at a great price here (I highly recommend it!).

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Publisher's Synopsis: Avery Bartholomew Pendleton is back, and he's j ust as crazy as ever. Avery is a paranoid loner obsessed with global conspiracy theories who spends most of his time crafting absurd and threatening letters to anyone who offends him. That means pretty much everyone.

Still convinced of the existence of the mythical Mexican chupacabra*, Avery enlists the assistance of the Southwest Texas Revolutionary Armed Confederate Border Operations Militia (STRAC-BOM) and their manic leader, General X-Ray, to help him invade Mexico. Accompanied by Ziggy, a burned-out hippy, and an uncommonly large iguana named Nancy, the group follows the advice of a New Orleans voodoo priestess and heads straight into the Mexican desert.

Unfortunately for the motley gang of explorers, Mexico can be a dangerous place if you cross the wrong people -- specifically, the Padre, a vicious drug cartel boss, and El Barquero, a murderous gunrunner who has crossed Avery’s path before.

What unfolds is a laugh-out-loud dark comedy of insane humor, unforgettable characters, and chilling thrills.

*No chupacabras were injured in the writing of this book.

Review:  Just like the first novel in Randel's Avery Bartholomew series, The Chupacabra, Trail of the Chupacabra had me laughing out loud one minute and on the edge of my seat in suspense the next (but mostly laughing the whole time). Most of the colorful characters from the first book resurface in this novel and it really reminded me of Randel's gift of creating characters whose personalities jump off the page. From Avery, who is hands down my favorite character, to El Barquero, Avery's polar opposite, these characters are real enough to care about. Because this book has so many characters and stories that link together, I think I might have lost interest if not for the vibrancy of every personality; they are the glue that holds all of the hilarious and intense pieces together.

While a lot of the things that happen in this book are way too coincidental or extreme, the exciting story and hilarious writing gave me more than enough reason to suspend my disbelief. Randel's juxtaposition of violent Mexican cartel murderers and self-important idiots like Avery and the members of STRAC-BOM, already make for an interesting story. Additionally, the hilarious (and often deadly) miscommunications (like members of STRAC-BOM insinuating to the cartel that they are an official military group) used to move the story forward make for even more to appreciate in its execution.

Trail of the Chupacabra included a lot more personal background to some of the key characters than in The Chupacabra, and I think this helped readers gain insight into their motivations. I especially liked the history of El Barquero and General X-Ray. Even though they have their faults, I always have had a soft spot for them both and it was good to hear about what made them who they are respectively. Similarly and without giving away spoilers, I really love Avery during the climax of this story. I feel like as stupid and self-important as he is, he's also underestimated.

Personally, I could have done without Ziggy and Nancy, although I do understand that Ziggy signifies Avery's dysfunctional ability to make and keep friends on some level and provides more comic relief. I just didn't think the story would change much if they were omitted.

I'm often asked by male friends and family if my book review blog ever reviews books that guys would like. To be honest, I do read a lot of "chick lit" and not all of my reviews are those men would read; but I'm very excited to report that this book (along with The Chupacabra) is a book that men and women would both equally enjoy. While there isn't a love story or anything sappy (unless you count Ziggy and Nancy...), I was entertained as a female and there is plenty of action and adventure for guys to love it, too. In fact, I think anyone would love this book and it really should be turned into a movie with an all-star ensemble cast (starring Zach Galifianakis and The Rock... does he still go by The Rock? haha).

Bottom Line: If you like action, adventure and love to laugh (who doesn't?!),  I highly recommend you pick up a case of Mountain Dew and start reading immediately! 4/5 stars

About the Author:  Stephen Randel, CFA, was born in Houston, Texas. He is a graduate of Texas Christian University. Steve now lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and their two rescue dogs.

Next week's book is Matched by Ally Condie 

June 7, 2013

Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux

Dougless leaned against the phone cubicle and, in spite of herself, tears came to her eyes. "So where's my Knight in Shining Armor?" she whispered. As she said the words, she looked at the man standing before her. A fading ray of sunlight struck his armor, a shadow fell across his blue-black hair, and a jewel in his sword hilt twinkled."
-from Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux

When I was much younger and books weren't readily available online (for the elite who even had internet), much less available for download, I would help my mom scour the shelves of used book stores for Jude Deveraux's romance novel, A Knight in Shining Armor. Not only was it one of my mom's favorites, but it must have been a favorite of many others being that it was near impossible to find! When we finally did find it, it felt like we had won the lottery. How silly I felt recently when all I had to do was click "Download" to get it off of Amazon and sent straight to my Kindle!

Examining the question of whether or not true love can literally pass the test of time, Jude Deveraux's A Knight in Shining Armor is a romance novel with a fantastic fantasy twist. When American Dougless Montgomery is abandoned outside a church in England by her boyfriend and his bratty daughter while on vacation, Dougless' tears transport Elizabethan knight, Nicholas Stafford, from 1599 to the present day. Originally seeing Nicholas as a knight sent to rescue her from her woes, they soon realize that Nicholas also needs help solving the mystery of who betrays him to the point of execution in 1599. Together Dougless and Nicholas work on changing history and try to make sense of the bond that has joined them so strongly that they can defy the logic of time.

I've been reading romance novels since I was in late elementary school and, considering A Knight in Shining Armor is the only title I can remember from the many I've read, I knew I had to give it a re-read as an adult once I found it on Amazon. Because of the nostalgia attached to this book, I admit my review may be a tad biased, but I really enjoyed this story and probably related to it a lot more reading it now. A Knight in Shining Armor is definitely not without its stereotypical 1980s romance dramatics and there are times when the author walks in circles over how Dougless feels; however, to her credit, Dougless is quite literally a damsel in distress! I think this book could have been compacted better if a lot of that cheesiness was eliminated, but it isn't so distracting that it prevents the story from progressing. If you're looking for a light, romantic read then you won't mind this at all.

I think what sets A Knight in Shining Armor apart from typical romance novels is the element of fantasy involved. Most romance novels are predictable, even if the reader does like reading about how the guy gets the girl or vice versa; in this novel it's difficult to imagine a happy ending for both characters since they live 400 years apart. Furthermore, the element of time travel adds a comedic element; Nicholas' reactions to cars and calculators are automatically funny and gives a new dynamic to his relationship with Dougless, his 20th century teacher. Since this book takes place in the 1980s, it would be even funnier to read an updated version with internet and iPads.

Besides the romance and themes of love surviving centuries, this book also teaches other valuable lessons about loving yourself and finding value in what others may perceive as flaws. Dougless experiences an awakening of self throughout the course of the novel and it's less superficial than other romance novels of its day. This helped me feel less guilty about indulging in this story because it isn't irresponsibly advertising that a heroine can only be a heroine if she's attached to a man. Although it definitely fits the mold of "romance novel," I think A Knight in Shining Armor can even be considered a pioneer for the more female empowered neo genre of "Chick Lit".

Bottom Line: Definitely read this if you love a good romance! If cheesy romantic books aren't your thing, you probably won't appreciate this one. 4/5 stars {5/5 stars for the Romance genre}

On a side note, I really wish they would turn this into a movie with Ian Somerhalder . . . I know, I say that about every book with a hot male character, but seriously! ;)

Next week's book: Trail of the Chupacabra by Stephen Randel
(Which I'm excited to say is totally acceptable for guys to read, too! Yay!)

June 3, 2013

The Book Barn Book Club and Monday's Reading Recap

So I'm thinking of doing things a little bit differently from now on. I kind of want to try to integrate this blog into a book club format in a way, but since I'm still a small blog it might take some time. In order to start some dialogue about the books I'm reviewing, I am going to start telling what book my next review will be at the end of each review. Since I only do one review per week, it's very manageable for you to read the book during the week and on Friday come here to discuss it after my review in the comments if you want to participate. You can also write your own review if you have a blog and link it in the comments. 

If there is a lot of participation I would love to turn this into a weekly link up. Obviously you don't have to participate every week, but it would be great to generate some conversations about books! Also, feel free to recommend some books for me to read and review in the future.

This Friday's review is on Jude Deveraux's Knight in Shining Armor, my favorite romance novel of all time! You can find it on Amazon here in both paperback and Kindle format. Later in June I'm going to start reviewing each of the books in the Matched trilogy by Ally Condie, so if you want to get a head start on that you can find the books here (also often available at your public library). I hope you will participate!

Now for Monday's Reading Recap . . . 

Last Week I Finished Reading: Trail of the Chupacabra by Stephen Randel

This Week I'm [STILL] Reading: Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

This Week I'm Sharing a Review For: Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux

What are you reading? 

On a final note, I'm participating in Once Upon a Read-a-Thon and I think you should, too!