Sunday, April 29, 2012

Last Night I Sang to the Monster, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

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Zach is eighteen. He is bright and articulate. He's also an alcoholic and in rehab instead of high school, but he doesn't remember how he got there. He's not sure he wants to remember. Something bad must have happened. Something really, really bad. Remembering sucks and being alive - well, what's up with that?

I have it in my head that when we're born, God writes things down on our hearts. See, on some people's hearts he writes Happy and on some people's hearts he writes Sad and on some people's hearts he writes Crazy on some people's hearts he writes Genius and on some people's hearts he writes Angry and on some people's hearts he writes Winner and on some people's hearts he writes Loser. It's all like a game to him. Him.God. And it's all pretty much random. He takes out his pen and starts writing on our blank hearts. When it came to my turn, he wrote Sad. I don't like God very much. Apparently he doesn't like me very much either.

This was a Goodreads-recommended book, based off of my Favorites list. I liked it, but I was expecting something more along the lines of Ellen Hopkins or Laurie Halse Anderson. Which is completely unfair to Sáenz; I should be rating this book based on its own merits, not against other authors' works.

That being said, I did like this addiction/recovery book. It was a quick read, full of intrigue and YA angst (my own addiction), and was full of characters I could relate to.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lover Reborn (Black Dagger Brotherhood #10), by J.R. Ward

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Ever since the death of his shellan, Tohrment has been a heartbroken shadow of the vampire leader he once was. Brought back to the Brotherhood by a self-serving fallen angel, he fights again with ruthless vengeance, unprepared for a new tragedy. Seeing his beloved in dreams—trapped in a cold, isolated netherworld—Tohr turns to the angel Lassiter to save his former mate. The only way to rescue her is for Tohr to love another. As war with the lessers rages, and a new clan of vampires vie for the Blind King’s throne, Tohr struggles between an unforgettable past and a hot, passion-filled future. But can his heart let go and set all of them free?

Not my favorite of the BDB series. I love Tohr and I lost it when Wellsie died, so I was really looking forward to reading about his HEA. Unfortunately, it felt very forced: I don't understand why he had to fall in love with another female in order for Wellsie to go into the Fade. There are plenty of ways to move forward without being pressured into something you're not ready for.

It was nice to get to know No'One better and I think her relationship with Xhex is beneficial for the both of them. I didn't see the attraction between Tohr and No'One, though. In each of the other books, we get a real sense of they why behind the pairings. And this one just didn't seem to fit. (I also didn't like the Phury/Cormia pairing, so I'm shrugging this one off, too.)

I am really looking forward to the next book in the series; Ward has set up two fantastic romantic pairings!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green & David Levithan

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One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical.

Hilarious, poignant, and deeply insightful, John Green and David Levithan’s collaborative novel is brimming with a double helping of the heart and humor that have won both of them legions of faithful fans.

I'm SO glad that I listened to the audiobook version. This book is absolutely awesome and full of win! 

I love the singing (I need a friend like Tiny!) and the IMs (hilarious!). I would have overlooked them had I read the book instead. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver

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Scariest subject ever: school shootings.

I've often wondered how you know if your kid is going to end up a killer. Is there some sort of faulty wiring in his brain? Is she so filled with rage? How do you--as a parent--ensure that your child doesn't become the next Manson, Dahmer, or McVey?

We Need to Talk About Kevin delves into one woman's experience--written in letters to her estranged husband--in the aftermath of her son's school shooting rampage. She wonders if it's her fault. And honestly? How could she NOT think that she had something to do with it. While ultimately a person needs to be held accountable for his actions, I doubt there are many parents that wouldn't ask "where did I go wrong"?

The writing is beautiful and hauntingly descriptive, which is why I'm giving this book four stars instead of three. This is not a book I'm going to forget about.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Unbroken: A World War II Book of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand

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On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.

Wow. I just... And then... But...

How do you put into words something as horrifying as war? I can't. Thankfully, someone can. Hillenbrand did an amazing job of portraying what Louie Zamperini's life was like before, during, and after WWII.

I am a back-of-the-pack runner and will never know what it feels like to run a four-minute-and-change-mile, but I could feel the urgency and excitement in Hillenbrand's descriptions. My heart raced (no pun intended) with every PR and new record! The local races! Regionals! Nationals! The Olympics! Were I not a runner, I may not have found this part so enthralling.

I was equally enthralled with Zamperini's military training, missions, survival during a 2,000-mile journey on a raft with almost no provisions, and the eventual descent into a series of hellacious POW camps. I am a pacifist, so there were times I felt very uncomfortable with the fighting and had to remind myself that I was reading a book about war. Then I rolled my eyes at myself and continued on.

I have no idea how any Pacific POWs were able to survive at the hands of their abusers.

I'm really glad that the book addressed how hard it was for POWs to return to "normal" life. It's such a huge problem and I hope that any talk of PTSD can help current soldiers returning from deployment.

This is a fantastic book and really helped me to understand some of what happened in Japan during WWII.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

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

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It's been three years since the devastating accident . . . three years since Mia walked out of Adam's life forever.

Now living on opposite coasts, Mia is Julliard's rising star and Adam is LA tabloid fodder, thanks to his new rock star status and celebrity girlfriend. When Adam gets stuck in New York by himself, chance brings the couple together again, for one last night. As they explore the city that has become Mia's home, Adam and Mia revisit the past and open their hearts to the future-and each other.

Told from Adam's point of view in the spare, lyrical prose that defined
If I Stay, Where She Went explores the devastation of grief, the promise of new hope, and the flame of rekindled romance.

A perfect sequel to If I Stay. Like the first book, it's a kick-in-the-gut read from start to finish. We learn what happened after Mia woke up and how their relationship progressed and ended.

I kept wondering if -- after seeing each other again in NYC three years later -- they were going to get back together or go their separate ways once and for all. Either ending would have done this book justice.  

(Spoilers after the jump)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

If I Stay (If I Stay #1), by Gayle Forman

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In a single moment, everything changes. Seventeen-year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall riding along the snow-wet Oregon road with her family. Then, in a blink, she finds herself watching as her own damaged body is taken from the wreck...

A sophisticated, layered, and heart-achingly beautiful story about the power of family and friends, the choices we all make, and the ultimate choice Mia commands.

Big, fat, sloppy, ugly tears. I love this book HARD and finished it in one day. I can't believe I waited so long to read it!

The writing is beautiful, the story is touching, and I love how the book switches seamlessly from the present to the anecdotal past. I felt like I had been punched in the gut with every new chapter.

Where She Went is calling to me! 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Illuminate (Gilded Wings #1), by Aimee Agresti

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Haven Terra is a brainy, shy high school outcast. But everything begins to change when she turns sixteen. Along with her best friend Dante and their quiet and brilliant classmate Lance, she is awarded a prestigious internship in the big city— Chicago—and is sent to live and work at a swanky and stylish hotel under the watchful eyes of a group of gorgeous and shockingly young-looking strangers: powerful and alluring hotel owner Aurelia Brown; her second-in-command, the dashing Lucian Grove; and their stunning but aloof staff of glamazons called The Outfit.

Disclaimer: I have been friends with Aimee since we were kids, so many people might consider this review biased.

I was intrigued by the storyline from the moment I read the synopsis: a teenager out on her own in "the big world" for the first time, dealing with an unknown past, and finding herself fighting the forces of evil. AND the protagonist is a nerd? Right up my YA alley!

The writing is beautiful: Aimee understands how to make the words flow to paint a clear picture in the reader's mind. At times it distracted from the story, especially when the scene was supposed to be urgent and the prose only made for a slower pace.

I do wonder why the internship took place during the school year. Aimee and I--and our group of friends--were nerds in high school, and I can't imagine any of us taking a semester off like that.

Personally, I found it hard to immerse myself into the story simply because I do know the author. I kept imagining my former classmates and wondering who Aimee might have modeled her characters after. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Sold, by Patricia McCormick

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Lakshmi is a thirteen-year-old girl who lives with her family in a small hut on a mountain in Nepal. Though she is desperately poor, her life is full of simple pleasures, like playing hopscotch with her best friend from school, and having her mother brush her hair by the light of an oil lamp. But when the harsh Himalayan monsoons wash away all that remains of the family’s crops, Lakshmi’s stepfather says she must leave home and take a job to support her family. 

He introduces her to a glamorous stranger who tells her she will find her a job as a maid in the city. Glad to be able to help, Lakshmi journeys to India and arrives at “Happiness House” full of hope. But she soon learns the unthinkable truth: she has been sold into prostitution.

An old woman named Mumtaz rules the brothel with cruelty and cunning. She tells Lakshmi that she is trapped there until she can pay off her family’s debt—then cheats Lakshmi of her meager earnings so that she can never leave.

Lakshmi’s life becomes a nightmare from which she cannot escape. Still, she lives by her mother’s words— Simply to endure is to triumph—and gradually, she forms friendships with the other girls that enable her to survive in this terrifying new world. Then the day comes when she must make a decision—will she risk everything for a chance to reclaim her life? 

It's hard to say that I love a book that was so hard to read. I knew the subject matter going in, so I didn't expect a happy read. I also didn't expect to be crying the majority of the time I was reading. And I mean full sobs, people! My heart hurt for Lakshmi, the thirteen-year-old girl who was sold into prostitution by her step-father (though he may have done so unknowingly, expecting her to find work as a maid).

Rarely has a book affected me like this. I feel sick to my stomach and I want to fly to India right now to help save these girls. I can't help but imagine my own daughter in a similar situation, and that certainly brings on the ugly tears again.

This is a relatively short book that should be read in one sitting. It's incredibly powerful and I have no doubt that it will stay in my thoughts for a very long time.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Company of the Dead, by David Kowalski

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**I won this book from Goodreads as a First Reads giveaway**

I was really excited when I learned that I had won this book. Such an awesome premise and very timely as we remember the Titanic's sinking one hundred years ago. What would happen if someone went back in time and changed the course of history? One small change on the night of April 14, 1912 changes the world. How could I not absolutely love this book?

I'll tell you how. First of all, it was long. And I don't mean long as in "wow, there are a lot of pages" (though there ARE a lot of pages), I mean long as in "omg this book is taking me forever to read." It either should have been cut into thirds and made into a trilogy or cut by 25%.

I went back and forth between wanting to read more and wanting to stop reading completely.

This review has two parts: 1) the beginning & the end; and 2) the middle.