March 31, 2014

Monday's Reading Recap

Last month I posted more than one review each week because my reviews have been getting super backed up! I think I'm going to continue to do that in April to move through some of these great books I want to share with you because seriously, it's out of hand how many book reviews I have scheduled! I know I'll be happy for the buffer someday (like during wedding week and my honeymoon 6 months, eeeek!). But for now I hope you don't mind the extra reviews...

Last Week I Finished Reading: Firstborn by Lorie Ann Grover, Getting the Pretty Back by Molly Ringwald (audio book), and Legend by Marie Lu (finally!)

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This Week I Plan on Reading: I'm not sure what I'll actually end up reading, but here are my options: Prodigy and Champion by Marie Lu, Just One Year by Gayle Forman, Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott and The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle

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This Week I'm Sharing a Review For: Losing It and Faking It by Cora Carmack

March 28, 2014

Where She Went (If I Stay #2) by Gayle Forman

Her voice jolts me back to reality. Back to the reality of the past three years. There are so many things that demand to be said. Where did you go? Do you ever think about me? You've ruined me. Are you okay? But of course, I can't say any of that.
-from Where She Went by Gayle Forman
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A Note: You're probably thinking, "Wait, where was your review for If I Stay, the first book in this series?" Actually, you probably aren't, but in my perfect world you pay enough attention to my blog to have totally noticed the missing review. Here's my predicament: I listened to If I Stay on audio book during a road trip and I liked it well enough, but I didn't entirely understand all of the hype surrounding it. I think it was a classic case of audiobook disconnect, where you're separated just enough from the language to miss the connection the author aims to make with their use of language. I didn't feel like re-reading the book and I didn't feel that it was fair to write a review, so I just dove straight into the next book. Where She Went confirmed my suspicion of audiobook disconnect because actually reading it helped me connect with the words and characters so much more deeply that I have no doubts of Gayle Forman's talent as a writer.

This review contains spoilers for If I Stay.

Where She Went did not begin as I expected: instead of chronicling the life of Mia after she chooses to live after barely surviving a car accident that killed her entire family, it catches up with her now ex-boyfriend, Adam Wilde, more than three years later. Adam is now a famous rock star and he's hating every minute of it. With fame comes lack of privacy and intense scrutiny, but that's not the only thing that causes Adam intense anxiety. Adam still isn't over Mia who broke up with him by no longer communicating with him three years ago when she moved to New York to pursue her education at Julliard. When by chance Adam and Mia's paths cross one night in New York City, Adam is able to learn where she went and they both might be able to find the closure they need to move on with their lives. 

I was really really surprised to begin this story and find it centered on Adam, but it wasn't a bad surprise. In fact, it was rather refreshing to see his perspective. I felt that the his downward spiral was realistic and well articulated. So much so, that I found myself questioning Mia, a character I trusted and enjoyed so much in the first book. Usually I dislike when authors try to incorporate a character's self-written (generally cheesy) song lyrics or poems into a story, but that was not the case with the lyrics that began almost every chapter of Where She Went. I felt that they gave insight into Adam's psyche through his heartbreak and it aided with his character development. 

I've learned from both of these books that I'm not a huge fan of books that dip in and out of past and present, developing character relationships through memories. I prefer a linear story that is always moving forward and doesn't slow the momentum down with reflections. However, if I'm going to read a book with these shifts, I trust Forman to incorporate them better than most. Each reflection had a purpose and did a lot for developing the story and character relationships. It didn't slow the story down too much because there was enough of a driving force in the main story. I think this might be why I didn't enjoy If I Stay as much because I didn't feel the momentum of the main story enough. 

Overall, I think Forman did a beautiful job of explicating heartbreak on both sides of a break up. We mostly see Adam's side, but eventually we are exposed to how Mia feels and what her motivations were for disappearing from Adam's life. I felt for both of them and appreciated how Forman was able to create something that wasn't black or white, good or bad, wrong or right; as with most break ups, there's mostly grey area and she did a wonderful job illustrating that idea. Relationships are messy and this book does a great job of showing how one can maneuver through them toward closure.

Bottom Line: Read this after you've read If I Stay and if you love heartfelt YA novels! 4/5 Stars.

March 26, 2014

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

Regret was for people with nothing to defend, people who had no water.
-from Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

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Mindy McGinnis' debut novel, Not a Drop to Drink, is not your average YA dystopian novel. This story of survival takes place in a future where clean water is the most valuable resource. The only person Lynn has ever known is her mother and the only home she has ever known is their rural house made especially desirable because it has pond. Lynn and her mother do almost nothing but work toward survival, which includes shooting anyone who comes near their pond and threatens their home. But with suspicious smoke in the south, wildlife becoming more aggressive and the constant fear of fickle Mother Nature, Lynn must decide whether her mother's rules of survival are the best way to exist or if there is a better way.

I should have read this book the moment I read all of the great reviews when it came out last year. Not a Drop to Drink is especially fascinating because it reads more like a wilderness survival story than traditional futuristic dystopians. It reminded me more of Hatchet than The Hunger Games (even though THG has its fair share of survival content). Right from the start McGinnis shows that nothing is off limits and she's ready to send us on an emotional ride filled with the unexpected. It was an adventure that ripped my heart out more than once, but was well worth it for the message of hope and camaraderie it extends to the reader. 

There are a lot of different things to compare and analyze in this book which would make it a great book club recommendation. Mother's value system for survival versus the value system Lynn develops are important to compare. This analysis requires the reader to consider what we gain and/or lose when we help others. Similarly interesting to compare is the role of a mother and the various ways a mother takes care of her children. We see very primitive survival instincts to protect through Lynn's mother, but with other mothers in the book we see much more complicated expressions of love.

The romantic element of this book was perfect. Instead of overwhelming the story with romance, as many authors are wont to do these days, McGinnis proves that less is more by seasoning Not a Drop to Drink just right.The love story is made even more powerful by the fact that Lynn has barely interacted with people before (other than shooting them), much less been around boys her age. She doesn't even have a real understanding of what sex is at the beginning of the book because it's something her mother never needed to address. Her pure, raw innocence when it comes to romantic love and flirting makes her experience all the more fascinating and fulfilling to witness. While I would have surely enjoyed more romantic scenes, especially the flirtatious banter, I'm really pleased that McGinnis didn't sacrifice the integrity of the book by taking Lynn's main focus off survival.

My only serious complaint is fairly silly, so feel free to just skip this paragraph! But one of my biggest peeves with this book was that Lynn and Lucy shared the same first letter in their name, so sometimes I would mix them up in conversations with each other. I know this could be attributed to just lazy reading on my part, but given the fact that there are hardly any characters in this book, would it have been so hard for them to have more diverse names? Perhaps this is supposed to draw the reader into comparing them as girls growing up in their unique environment, but I think that comparison is pretty obvious without alliterative names. Did anyone else have an issue with this or am I just being silly?

Like I said, I think this would make an excellent book for a book club. The points of analysis are pretty obvious but would most definitely make for an interesting discussion. There is a lot to talk about and there is a lot of suspense throughout the book. It's also easily accessible to readers of all levels and backgrounds. I think if high schools had students read more books like this, kids might enjoy reading novels more!

Bottom Line: A must read, especially if you like dystopian adventure! Great for a book club because there's a lot to analyze and discuss. 4.5/5 stars.

March 25, 2014

Firstborn by Lorie Ann Grover

"Tiadone, remember the Mandronians believe the first living child carries the greatest strength. Can you imagine them permitting a girl to  have that power in a conquered village, or that they'd allow a family to offer only females to society?" [Father] holds his hand up to keep me from cutting into his speech. "And we can be thankful they offer us the chance to declare our firstborn girls male to avoid ekthesis on the Scree." 
-from Firstborn by Lorie Ann Grover

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 I received a complimentary copy of this book from Book Look in exchange for an honest review

Lorie Ann Grover's novel Firstborn tackles the very serious issue of gendercide through the ever popular dystopian genre. Tiadone is a teenage girl who has publicly taken on the identity of a male; her widowed father chose for her to live as a declared male to escape her death at birth. With the protection of an amulet that's supposed to squash her female tendencies, Tiadone must face the next stage of her life under terrifying Mandronian rule patrolling the Perimeter to protect where she lives. But with prejudice already coming from her in all directions and her amulet not working as planned, Tiadone must find her identity in a world that refuses to accept her or find a way out.

The premise of this book sounded so exciting to me, but the execution just did not hit the mark. However, I will note that I can see this being someone's favorite book, just not mine. My biggest complaint was how slow and complicated this story starts out. The world-building was weak for me because there was far too much information to digest and new vocabulary that made everything confusing. Just when I thought I had a grasp, I would be introduced to something new that threw me. There also wasn't enough hope in this world and I didn't feel  hopeful as a reader. Some might enjoy the world created in this book, but for me it wasn't interesting enough to keep me wanting to sort out the details.

Similarly, the story was made even slower by its very short chapters that contributed to the pace feeling clipped. Not much happens among the pages of a 2-page chapter and that frustrated me. Another factor that made the pacing slow is the formal dialogue. I didn't feel that these characters were real. At times I didn't know if this was a middle school aged book or a YA book; the writing feels middle school but the content feels like it's suitable for readers much older.

Finally, I didn't feel that the themes and symbolism really worked. This is a book about gendercide, but I had to read so much before anything happened that made me feel like it was commenting on this subject. If this is meant to be for middle school readers then I think it's fine, but I don't like that I have to question that. Similarly, this book is published by Blink, an imprint of Zondervan, so I was anticipating heavy Christian themes. The biggest religious theme I could gather was very anti-Catholic as the evil Mandronians have priests and force everyone to eat wafers and juice. I just really didn't think that was "Christian" to slam another sect; and if this wasn't a jab at Catholics, then the wafer and juice reference was extremely misleading.

What I did enjoy about this story is that it's unique. I don't think my complaints will hold true to every reader, you might enjoy the world-building and be able to find your own connections. I like that this book went outside the box and even though it wasn't my favorite story, I can respect and understand why it might be yours. The ending was somewhat satisfying but too little too late for me.

Bottom Line: It wasn't my cup of tea, but it will still a fresh enough story that I wouldn't be surprised if someone else tells me they love it. Might be a better dystopian for younger readers to build ideas about gender equality and focus on reading comprehension by digesting this new world. 3/5 stars.

PaleyFest 2014: The Vampire Diarie's

After we got to hear the cast of The Originals talk about that show, the main cast of The Vampire Diaries came out and talked about their show. It was great to see how much chemistry all three actors have in real life, which is obvious as it translates to the screen. It's no wonder this show is so popular with some crazy dedicated fans!

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Do you watch The Vampire Diaries? Are you Team Damon or Team Stefan? 

March 24, 2014

Monday's Reading Recap

I apologize that this post is late, but I was actually working on posting over at my personal blog, daniellesque (imagine that!). The post was well worth it though, it's a recap of the Paleyfest panels I went to over the weekend for The Originals and The Vampire Diaries. Now, before you go judging me, just shut up and take in how beautiful Joseph Morgan, Daniel Gilles, Ian Somerhalder and Paul Wesley are, mmmkay? Basking in their beauty was well worth the judginess! ;)

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 Tomorrow night is the panel for The Mindy Project, yayyy!! I'm so giddy with excitement! :)

I only read two books this week, and to be honest it was because one (Just One Day by Gayle Forman) was such a long, meandering book. I'm not saying I didn't like it, but I'm surprised it's so widely loved. I almost stopped reading it because I didn't get where it was going. Hmph.

What are you reading this week?

Last Week I Finished Reading: Just One Day by Gayle Forman and Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin (audio book)

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This Week I Plan on Reading: Firstborn by Lorie Ann Grover and Getting the Pretty Back by Molly Ringwald (audio book)

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This Week I'm Sharing a Review For:
Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis and Where She Went by Gayle Forman 

PaleyFest 2014: The Originals

It's my favorite time of year: Paleyfest season! Paleyfest is a two-week long festival that celebrates television and I look forward to which shows are going to be featured each year. In the past I've been so such panels as FlashForward, Glee, Mad Men, and Modern Family, listening to cast, writers and producers talk about each respective show. This year I'm going to two panels: The Vampire Diaries/The Originals joint panel and The Mindy Project (tomorrow!).

The main reason I wanted to go to the TVD/Originals panel is because one of my online friends who lives in China is obsessed with TVD (she actually got me into watching the show). And while I'm not obsessed with either show (like the 2600 other screaming girls there are), I appreciate them (well, KLAUS) enough to venture to Hollywood in hopes of getting some autographs for my friend, Annie. And, I mean having to sit through a few hours of Joseph Morgan, Daniel Gilles, Ian Somerhalder and Paul Wesley is never anything to miss!

Today I'm going to feature some of my favorite photos from The Originals panel, which was my favorite. I adore Joseph Morgan and how he can make an evil character so endearing and attractive lol. I love the dynamic of the Michaelson siblings and seeing them in person was very fun!

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A fan got to rub Daniel Gilles' ("Eljah") head. Which only led every other fan to ask to come to the stage. #annoying. At least he was a good sport! And I love Claire's face!

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I love their chemistry!

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The serious and brooding Michaelsons we all know and love...

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Jeez, "Hayley", don't give me the evil eye lol.

I enjoyed seeing how much off-screen chemistry Charles Michael Davis ("Marcel") and Leah Pipes ("Cami") have! They were super cute and silly.

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I think my favorite part of the panel was when Phoebe Tonkin ("Hayley") was asked to play Kiss-Marry-Kill for the men her character is romantically involved with. She said Kill Klaus, Marry Elijah and Kiss Jackson because he's so cute. Daniel Gilles ("Elijah") turned his chair away from her from the insult. ;)

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Have you ever gone to Paleyfest? Which tv show would you like to see a panel for?

Tomorrow I'll post about The Vampire Diaries Paleyfest panel!

March 21, 2014

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

She was late to lunch, then late to English. And if she didn't know already that she liked that stupid, effing Asian kid, she knew it now. / Because even after everything that had happened in the last forty-five minutes- and everything that had happened in the last twenty-four hours- all Eleanor could think about was seeing Park.
-from Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
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Rainbow Rowell's extraordinarily popular novel Eleanor and Park is a nerdy love story about awkward and hopefully hopeless first love. Set over a school year in 1986, Eleanor is the weird (and poor) new girl. Park is the only Asian kid in their small town, but other than that he's an average comic-book and rock-music loving teenage boy. When Park begrudgingly allows Eleanor to sit next to him on the bus, neither of them have any idea that it's the beginning of a first love that will change them forever.

Let me tell you, I was wrecked over rating and reviewing this book! I am hovering between 4-stars and 5-stars in the best/worst way! I decided to lean toward 5-stars for a few reasons. For one, Rainbow Rowell's writing is above and beyond wonderful. She is able to articulate all the feelings of first love whether the readers experienced one like Eleanor and Park or not. Similarly, I enjoyed the parallels of Park's struggle with his identity within his family alongside Eleanor's struggle for identity amongst her family in very different ways. Where Park's greatest concern is how to get his driver's license, Eleanor's is how to take a shower in a bathroom without a door under the same house as her abusive step-father. Both characters are so different yet meld together in a way only acceptable for young love.

However, their love story is also a huge problem I had with this book: it happened too hard and too fast. And maybe that was the point: that with first love as a teenager there is absolutely no way to articulate why two people can jump into a can't-live-a-day-without-you relationship so quickly (other than maybe hormones). But this sudden head-over-heels love fest was irritating initially (then again, aren't all sixteen year old relationships at least mildly irritating?). I found myself wondering, "What is the point of all this?", especially toward the end when the action picked up and then the book ended.

With the story-within-a-story references to Romeo and Juliet, I guess the point of this novel is that first love is unique and nonsensical, awkward and obsessive, definitely one-of-a-kind. It provides hope for your own identity, usually during a period of your life that feels hopeless (whether dramatically so [Park] or seriously problematic [Eleanor]). So, while this book increased it's speed somewhat abruptly, I think it's still an important conversation about the first love that saves you, physically and/or emotionally.

Bottom Line: I agree with many 2013 polls that this book is a YA must-read. Just be forewarned at the quick escalation of love! ;) 4.5/5 Stars.

March 20, 2014

Winter Reading Recap

Happy Spring!! Winter was a wonderful reading season for me; I read 32 books despite the holiday season! And I can't even blame being stuck inside because it has only rained in southern California maybe 5 days total in the past year! I guess between cramming for my 2013 reading goal and trying to get a head start for 2014, the books really added up!

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I was going to pick my favorite, but there were just far too many wonderful books on that list!! 

Did you have any favorite winter reads?