October 31, 2014

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen. The first of these came as a terrible shock and, like anything that changes you forever, split my life into halves: Before and After. Like many of the extraordinary things to come, it involved my grandfather Abraham Portman.

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Amazon | Goodreads

Using (generally eerie) vintage photography, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs weaves a supernatural tale visually in addition to the traditional written word of a novel. Jacob Portman's grandfather has always been a little kookie. Grandpa Portman was sent to an island during World War II where he survived the Holocaust living amongst other child refugees, so his crazy stories have always been forgiven. However, his stories about the peculiar children with whom he grew up and the monsters who are after him only become more desperate with age. When tragedy strikes, everyone is quick to write Grandpa Portman off as a crazy old man; but Jacob is curious to find out just where his Grandpa is from and if maybe he wasn't so delusional after all.

It's difficult to review this book without alluding to spoilers, so forgive me if I'm vague and this review is short. The biggest draw of this novel is the incorporation of vintage photography used to tell the story. I really found this fascinating, creative and helpful in imagining the strange world Riggs creates. The photographs are often extremely creepy, especially in the beginning before the characters are placed into context in the story. I especially love that the characters matched with the photographs retain the original names alluded to in the photographs' titles. This made the story feel especially realistic and plausible. 

This book is full of themes of identity, true to most teen fiction. I especially enjoyed the categories of a person being "Peculiar", "Normal" or a "Monster". Similarly, the question is posed whether we are all extraordinary and how we use our abilities. These themes and ideas, coupled with the dry humor made this book more interesting and enjoyable than the darn and scary novel I was anticipating. 

Overall, this novel is not something I would ordinarily read. I'm not really into paranormal or fantasy and not knowing what to expect made the beginning particularly slow. But in the end I really enjoyed how Riggs broke apart the stereotype that "peculiar" is negative or useless. I wasn't sure if this would be a series I would want to continue after the first installment, but after finishing this book I immediately went off to find a copy of the second book, Hollow City. It may not have been anything I was expecting or thought I would enjoy, but I'm glad I read this book and that it expanded my reading horizons. 

Bottom Line: Even if you don't like fantasy, paranormal, or "creepy" books I still recommend giving this series a shot to get you into the "peculiar" mood of Halloween! 4.5/5 hearts.

October 24, 2014

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

You don't know when you're twenty-three.
You don't know what it really means to crawl into someone else's life and stay there. You can't see all the ways you're going to get tangled, how you're going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten - in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.
She didn't know at twenty-three.

-from Landline by Rainbow Rowell

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Oh Rainbow Rowell, how much I love you, especially your adult fiction! Let me tell you, I liked Eleanor and Park, I related to Fangirl to the point of loving it simply for that, but when I picked up Attachments and Landline it was like Rainbow Rowell gave me everything I love in contemporary adult fiction wrapped in a bow. She brings the warmth and wit of YA with real adult lessons and each novel makes me a bigger Rainbow Rowell fan than the last.

Landline is the story of Georgie McCool, a Los Angeles based television writer and wife of Neal, her stay-at-home-dad husband. Georgie tends to take Neal for granted and put her own needs and dreams in front of his. She's not mean, bad or vindictive, she just is really driven toward her dreams. But when Georgie bails on their Christmas visit to Neal's family in Omaha because her dream television show might get picked up, Neal goes without her and leaves Georgie alone in Los Angeles to consider her real priorities. When Georgie stays the night in her childhood home, she rediscovers her old landline phone and calls Neal. What she discovers is a portal into the past through a telephone connection with Neal before he asked her to marry him.

I didn't actually read the full synopsis before I started reading this book, so when I got to the part about the magic phone I was like, "What kind of a book is this?!" I was surprised to find this magical element involved in a pretty realistic contemporary, but I trusted Rainbow Rowell and she didn't disappoint. Georgie's internal struggle between the grey area of what's "right" is such a strong part of this book. The people we love the most are who we take for granted most of the time, so I never really saw Georgie as being bad for not going to Omaha. But I was also able to relate to Neal and why he was so upset. I actually struggled between whether or not I liked Neal through most of the book, but I also enjoy how Rowell makes her characters so complex. True to form, Rowell doesn't just color in her main characters but crafts supporting characters just as vibrantly. Georgie's ridiculous mother, from her over-the-top love of pugs to her bedazzled yoga pants, was one of my favorites. I really enjoyed the complexities of Georgie's whole family dynamic.

What I didn't love about this book is that at times it seemed to be meandering a little bit. I almost got bored with Georgie's calls to Neal from the past, but fortunately Rowell would pick up the pace just when I was feeling this way. Similarly, I wasn't completely fulfilled by Georgie's best friend, Seth. I thought he was a great addition to the dynamic of Georgie's story, but I didn't feel satisfied by his presence the way I think Rowell aimed for me to feel. Neither of these things ruined the story, but maybe stalled the experience for me a little bit.

As a newly-married woman (WHAT?!) I think this book is an important story to read upon starting a marriage and maybe during the same season of marriage as Georgie. Much like What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty, I think it helps the reader reconsider the start of their own love story and evaluate the things that have happened between now and then to bring you where you are.

Bottom Line: Soak it in like every other Rainbow Rowell book! Great characters, great message and a little bit of magic! Highly recommended for anyone who is married, getting married, or in a seriously long-term relationship. 4.5/5 Stars.

October 17, 2014

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

By the time Lincoln realized that he hadn't sent a warning to Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder -after who knew how many offenses, three? half a dozen? - he couldn't remember why not. Maybe because he couldn't always figure out what rule they were breakuing. Maybe because they seemed completely harmless. And nice. [...] 

And also... Also, he kind of liked Beth and Jennifer, as much as you can like people from reading their e-mail, only some of their e-mail.
-from Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

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 You guys, I'm getting married on SUNDAY! Crazy, right?! In celebration of that wonderful day, I'm sharing my review for one of my favorite romantic novels that I've read this year! Enjoy! 


I've been trying to resist the Rainbow Rowell mania for some time now. I liked Eleanor and Park but I didn't love it the way I was told I would. I liked Fangirl a lot more, but it was really long. When I started Attachments, I figured this would settle whether I was a real fan of Rowell or not and I must say, less than 24 hours later when I finished this book, I decidedly became a HUGE fan.

Lincoln works on IT security for a newspaper, The Courier, in 1999. His main job is to read flagged interoffice emails and to prepare for the big Y2K scare. He starts becoming attached to two women in the company who email each other and get flagged all the time. Eventually he begins falling in love with one of them and begins to question his ethics with the invasion of her privacy. Bigger than just a love story, Attachments is a modern day coming of age story that also examines attachments between parents, friends and things that we depend on that might act as a crutch and prohibit us from finding out potential.

As always, Rainbow Rowell sets the bar for crafting smart, flawed, realistic characters that jump right off the page. Each character, whether a main character or supporting, has dimension to them and it's obvious the time Rowell spends developing them. Parents are never stock characters in Rowell's books, and in Attachments, Lincoln's mother (whom he lives with) can be the subject of a book all her own. Her attachment to Lincoln and the psychology of why give this story its greatest added layer that proves Rowell's superiority as a writer. I similarly noticed various characters' attachment to religion as a subtle theme throughout the book, despite most not acting "religious" or living particularly pious lives. There are plenty of examples of attachments, but these were my favorite non-obvious ones.

Another great example of how Rowell crafts her characters is how much I loved Jennifer and Beth simply based on their emails alone. The reader gets the exact same experience as Lincoln because we don't learn anything more about these women than the contents of their flagged emails. I was able to relate so much with Beth throughout the entire novel, which helped me love her and feel what she was feeling; from being familiar with an empty dead end relationship to her quirky use of sarcastic comic relief for everything and her discontent with her arms (This was one of my favorite parts of the book! Also, please God, let my arms look good on my wedding day!), Beth was so much fun. Experiencing these characters the exact same way as Lincoln really made the entire experience of this book much more fulfilling, but this method may not have been as successful without Rowell's expertise in characterization.

Finally, my most whiny complaint about Rowell's work is that often times I think the book is too long for the content. With Fangirl I still kind of hold my ground (even though I loved it), but Attachments helped me recognize that Rowell doesn't take the easy way out to end a story. She allows her characters the time and opportunities to grow (and fail), to get something right the right way. This offers the reader a more fulfilling resolution than a cheesy one. I might be happy with a cheesy easy ending, but I'll think about the book much more if a character is smart, sincere and (in the case of Lincoln) stays true to his moral compass. I'm okay with a book being a little long to get this kind of ending.

Bottom Line: This book might not hit everyone the way it hit me, but it's an absolutely fantastic romantic story with more depth than the premise lets on. I think if it sounds like something you will like, you will probably love it. 5/5 Stars

October 16, 2014

5 Books I'm Bringing on my Honeymoon

My wedding is in THREE DAYS! I can't even wrap my brain around that! All I can focus on to calm myself down is our honeymoon in Cancun where I will finally be able to catch up on my reading! As my last unscheduled post before I get married, I wanted to share with you the 5 books I'm bringing on my honeymoon!

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Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins - I have been resisting reading this since its release because I know I'll enjoy it more when I'm relaxed! I CAN'T WAIT! It's already burning a hole in my suitcase!

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein - Another I keep meaning to read, this time I hope I will really get a chance to start it!

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty - This is a great book to read after getting married. I've already read it once, but I think it will be the perfect honeymoon re-read! 

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins - I want to re-read this one in time for the movie release, and what better time to start than now!

This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper - I want to see the movie, but I always try to read the book first! 

What books are you reading right now?

October 11, 2014

YA Holocaust Literature

When I was in college I did a study on YA Holocaust literature and how important it is for young people to read stories, fiction or non-fiction, about this time in history. I feel that it's important not only for historical reasons, but also to help teens gain empathy, understanding and help them navigate through their value systems. After reading The Book Thief I decided to listen to some classic YA Holocaust audio books that I hadn't ever read or that I hadn't read in a long time and I want to share them with you. For the record, I would give them all 5 stars.

 photo 562282_zps612c7b1e.jpgNight by Elie Wiesel - One of the most popular accounts of an experience in a concentration camp, Elie Wiesel tells his own story beginning with life before the war and ending with his liberation from Buchenwald concentration camp. This memoir is written very simply so that it can be understood by young readers, but its message is universal for all ages. I especially love that when asked to turn this book into a film, Wiesel refused because it would lose its meaning without the silences between the words. I highly recommend Night, but I also stress that there is very difficult subject matter. I don't think you should avoid reading this because of that, but I think you should be aware and prepared emotionally.

 photo 438930_zps18c544ec.jpgUpon the Head of a Goat: A Childhood in Hungary by Aranka Siegal - This novel is one of my favorite books. and I even performed parts of it for a theatre project in college. Aranka Siegal fictionalizes her personal experience leading up to her time in Nazi concentration camps, but all of the events are completely real. I think I remember reading that she only wrote about the time before and after her time in the concentration camps because it was too difficult of material for her to write about for children. Even without writing about her time in Auschwitz, Siegal still captures both the terror of the Holocaust and the triumph of the human spirit through her family. If you enjoy this book, you will also love the sequel Grace in the Wilderness: After the Liberation.

 photo 47281_zpsbdedf60c.jpg  Number the Stars by Lois Lowry - This book used to actually scare me when I was little and saw it in my classrooms because I was afraid of the little girl on the cover; I didn't even know what the book was about but I never tried to read it. As an adult when I found out it was actually a book about World War II, I read it and was so disappointed I never read it when I was young. This is the only book on my list that is completely fictional as Lois Lowry did not live through the Holocaust. But that doesn't detract from the power of this story of friendship. Annemarie is ten year old in Copenhagan and her family takes in her Jewish best friend, Ellen, to hide. This is a great story of the non-Jews who fought to protect their friends and neighbors and I think it's a great perspective of the good in humanity that prevailed against the evil.

 photo 48855_zps6636e4dd.jpg The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank - This is probably the most famous out of the books I'm profiling today. I remember reading Anne Frank's diary in sixth grade and it inspired me to keep a super formal diary of my own, I was so impressed by her writing even though I don't think I quite comprehended the gravity of Anne's situation. Re-reading as an adult put things in better perspective. Even though Anne is unapologetically a stereotypically (let's be honest: sometimes annoying) teenager, her diary truly makes the events in World War II and the Holocaust so much more real than anything else I've ever read. It helps the reader connect the mundane everyday tasks of living with something so important as survival during a time of human extermination. Knowing Anne's fate makes this book so much harder to read, but I'm happy that her father kept her memory and legacy alive for many future generations to learn from.

Are there any historical books that have impacted you strongly?

October 10, 2014

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn't already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.
-from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
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Amazon | Goodreads

Writing about World War II in Europe without living through it is a difficult task but beautiful when done properly. In The Book Thief, Markus Zusak proves that he can elegantly, sensitively and even at times humorously deliver a story that embodies the human spirit that allowed humanity to eventually prevail during this horrible time in history and the ability for books to feed the soul. 

The Book Thief is the fictional story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich during World War II, narrated by Death. Always fascinated by books, Liesel's foster father teaches her to read and ignites a hunger for books in her. Beginning even before her time in foster care, Liesel steals books and it is the only form of real control she has in her life. But Liesel's book thievery only scratches the surface of this story: from her colorful foster mother to the Jewish man hiding in her basement and the solace Liesel brings to others with her reading, this book is full of surprise that will warm your heart and make you laugh while it breaks your heart and makes you cry. This is one of those books that is difficult to articulate because there's just too much to say and my words won't do justice.
The narrative of Death is what really sets this story on a platform all its own. Death gives an omniscient narrative perspective and will often even tell the fate of a character long before necessary. This made me pay closer attention to characters I knew would not live much longer where I probably would not have paid attention to them otherwise. Furthermore, Death is not obligated to operate under the same rules of conduct as humans so he/she/it is better able to candidly speak about World War II (although, fortunately, Death is still very respectful and sincere). Having this atypical narrator set the stage for how special this book is and it provided the tools necessary to breach a sensitive topic. 

The theme of books and how Liesel stole them is easily identifiable to an avid reader, so I had no problem connecting with Liesel there. But what I also liked was how stealing gave her a sense of control amongst so much chaos. From her first book stolen at her brother's funeral on her way into foster care to all of the tumultuous changes in her lifestyle caused by the war, reading and stealing were Liesel's control. I also liked that despite stealing being "wrong", Liesel always used her books for good, reading to Max and her neighbors in the bomb shelter. 

While The Book Thief may not be a "true story", I think it does an excellent job in highlighting the human spirit during World War II and focusing on many ways, big and small, that people helped other people. Even the small act of the mayor's wife allowing Liesel to use her library and leaving her cookies was something that showed that there was still pieces of good in humanity. This book shows how books can fuel people and how people can do good, even when they're surrounded by evil. 

Bottom Line: A must read for anybody and everybody. I listened to the audio book and loved the narrative. Please pick this one up, you won't be sorry. 5/5 Stars.

October 6, 2014

If We Were Having Coffee Together . . .

I'm taking a page from The Perpetual Page-Turner and posting what it might be like if we were to have coffee together . . . even though the pictures from my bachelorette party I will litter this post with could make the title: "If we were having Dirty Shirleys Together . . . " ;)

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If we were having coffee . . . I would tell you all about how much fun I had this past weekend at my bachelorette party in Las Vegas. When I think about all that went into planning it and all the girls that traveled out there with me to celebrate, I seriously want to cry. I'm not even being dramatic, I am so humbled that my like-a-sister-cousin Jennifer and my sister-in-love Tara threw such an incredible party (the details!!) and that my friend Nicole and future sister-in-loves Allison and Deanna came out with me! Tara's mom even joined us the last day for the most fun-filled girls weekend ever! If we were having coffee I would probably go on and on about the fun for HOURS!

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If we were having coffee . . . I would tell you how surreal it is that I'm getting married in THIRTEEN DAYS. I still have a lot to do (even though I am pretty well organized), but the pressure to pull off the day is so stressful I feel frozen in place. I have such a great support system though, that I know it will all be okay. I am not at all worried about getting married, I'm worried about the epic party I'm in charge of! ;) In 2 weeks I will be getting ready to go to Cancun and I think when that time comes I will be especially relieved, happy and excited to start my life as a wife!

If we were having coffee . . . I would tell you how cute my new almost-nephew is! Tyler's sister had a baby last week (the first in their immediate family) and we were lucky enough to drive up to northern California for his birth! I can't wait to see him again at the wedding!! Congratulations to Kim and Ryan on new baby Malcolm! :)

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If we were having coffee . . . I would embarrassingly admit that I have not really done hardly any reading in almost TWO MONTHS! I listened to Lauren Graham's audio book Someday, Someday Maybe but other than that, I suck! I can't even believe my Dystopian September is finished - I realized it this morning and was blown away!! I do think I get a free pass planning a wedding, but I don't know that I'll make my reading goals for the year! I've all but given up on the TBR List Challenge. I think it's all fun, stupid, mindless books for me for the rest of the year!

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If we were having coffee . . . I would ask you to call all the people invited to my wedding who have not RSVP'd because I'm so annoyed by them (a week after the request date!) I don't even want to do it right now haha!

If we were having coffee . . . I would probably have to cut it short because I have 12 more days to get a TON of stuff DONE!!!! ;)  Until then . . . .

October 3, 2014

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

You can't stop the future
You can't rewind the past
The only way to learn the secret
...is to press play
-from Thirteen Reasons Why by ay Asher

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In Thirteen Reasons Why, Clay Jensen comes home from school one day to find an unmarked package containing cassette tapes. The cassettes are from Hannah Baker, a girl from school who recently killed herself, a girl who Clay had a crush on. On each side of the cassette tapes are thirteen individuals who gave Hannah reasons to kill herself and each recipient must listen through the tapes to find out how they play into the story. In this interesting dual narrative between Clay and Hannah via the tapes, new perspectives are revealed about Hannah Baker and the things that break a person.

First off, I want to say that I really enjoy how Jay Asher always a refreshing way to tell his stories. From The Future of Us which had an interesting spin of the future in it, to Hannah Baker's narrative through her tapes in Thirteen Reasons Why, I really like the creative direction Asher takes in his work. While you might remember I didn't love the execution of The Future of Us, I found Thirteen Reasons Why much more satisfying.

I listened to this via audio book, which I highly recommend because you get to hear Clay's voice and Hannah's voice and it makes the whole experience more realistic (even if Hannah's voice creeps me out and sounds way older than a teenager). This book is such an interesting study of the human experience, especially magnified by the emotions of teenagers. First off, it's very clear right off the bat that Clay is a responsible and trustworthy narrator. He is a good guy, he liked Hannah, he has a strong moral compass and sense for justice. As a reader I felt like Clay couldn't have anything to do with Hannah's death and that he would stand up to bullies in general. That said, Hannah shares experiences that Clay had no idea about and Clay also shares (through the narrative) his remorse for not helping Hannah more when she was alive. The layers of their narratives made me consider how each person has such unique experiences and nobody ever completely understands what is going on with another person without proper communication. Oftentimes this doesn't matter too much, but in the case of Hannah Baker, it meant her life. Had she understood how much Clay liked her and/or had Clay not been so shy and expressed his feelings to her, maybe she would have found a reason to live. Communication is a big theme in romantic books (and life in general), but Asher weaves together its importance so poignantly through this story.

As I mentioned, I couldn't understand why Clay would receive the tapes because he is such a good guy, so I was on the edge of my seat waiting for his tape to come into play. I won't spoil it for you, but I was disappointed by that part, but that's mainly my only major complaint with this book. The ending did seem to wrap up a little abruptly for me, but it's not like I was able to expect Hannah Baker to come strolling in for a happy ending. This book is tough. It's made tougher by the fact that bullying and teasing is rampant amongst teenagers and many of them don't understand the consequences. I think this is an important book to read and it has an interesting spin on the subject through the cassette tape narratives to really hold your interest.

Bottom Line: A creative way to tell a story about bullying and a strong explication on human nature and communication in general. I recommend to anyone who sounds like it's something they would like and feel like it's an important subject to read about. 4/5 Stars.