Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold

Barnes & Noble

The Lovely Bones is the story of a family devastated by a gruesome murder -- a murder recounted by the teenage victim. Upsetting, you say? Remarkably, first-time novelist Alice Sebold takes this difficult material and delivers a compelling and accomplished exploration of a fractured family's need for peace and closure.

The details of the crime are laid out in the first few pages: from her vantage point in heaven, Susie Salmon describes how she was confronted by the murderer one December afternoon on her way home from school. Lured into an underground hiding place, she was raped and killed. But what the reader knows, her family does not. Anxiously, we keep vigil with Susie, aching for her grieving family, desperate for the killer to be found and punished.

Sebold creates a heaven that's calm and comforting, a place whose residents can have whatever they enjoyed when they were alive -- and then some. But Susie isn't ready to release her hold on life just yet, and she intensely watches her family and friends as they struggle to cope with a reality in which she is no longer a part.

I've waited a long time to read this book.  And not in a I-can't-wait-to-read-this way.  No, it's taken me forever because the subject matter makes me sick to my stomach.  The killing of children?  No thanks.  I hear enough in the news and have no need to increase my discomfort by reading a fictional account of the same.

But I've heard so many wonderful things about the book, and the title fit in perfectly with a task for my book club quarterly challenge, so I decided to go for it.  I assumed that it would consist of me listening and crying, so I limited my listening to private moments.  Shockingly, I didn't shed a single tear.  The book is written in the POV of the murder victim, so it was a lot easier for me to accept her death and the aftermath.

My biggest complaint with the audiobook version is the choice of narrator.  Alice Sebold read this version herself.  While she's a fantastic author, her narration leaves a lot to be desired.  She spoke with a flat affect that really got on my nerves at the beginning.  I got used to it quickly--or else I would have quit--but I would have preferred a different artist.

But I do want to see the movie now, which I never expected.

Review and GIVEAWAY: Burning, by Elana K. Arnold

Barnes & Noble

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Ben: Having just graduated from high school, Ben is set to leave Gypsum, Nevada. It's good timing since the gypsum mine that is the lifeblood of the area is closing, shutting the whole town down with it. Ben is lucky: he's headed to San Diego, where he's got a track scholarship at the University of California. But his best friends, Pete and Hog Boy, don't have college to look forward to, so to make them happy, Ben goes with them to check out the hot chick parked on the side of Highway 447. 

Lala: She and her Gypsy family earn money by telling fortunes. Some customers choose Tarot cards; others have their palms read. The thousands of people attending the nearby Burning Man festival spend lots of cash--especially as Lala gives uncanny readings. But lately Lala's been questioning whether there might be more to life than her upcoming arranged marriage. And the day she reads Ben's cards is the day that everything changes for her. . . and for him.

I freely admit that my main reason for requesting this NetGalley was the cover.  It completely captivated me and is the kind of artwork I would put on the walls.  (Not that I ever could, since The Husband and I have completely different tastes in art and it's nearly impossible for us to agree on anything.  Hmph.)

I also freely admit that I know a girl named Lala.  And I can't stand her.  So I had a big ol' frowny face when I started reading.  It's unfair to the story, but I do have to say that it colored my opinion of the character.

The other reason I requested Burning?  I wanted to learn something new.

The Burning Man Festival--during which this novel takes place--is an event I didn't know too much about.  I pictured it as a place where a left-wing, alternative, radical crowd gathers for a week of drunken, naked activities.  Which it is, but it's also about art and community.  (PSA: be careful when Googling pictures, even if Safe Search is on.)

Arnold's writing is beautiful, even when it ventures into a more historical narrative than a contemporary novel.

Ben and Lala -- the protagonists and love interests -- stayed true to their characters throughout the story.  I questioned a couple of moments, like when Ben discusses not having sex with his ex-girlfriend.  What teenage boy is going to say no to getting laid the moment his girlfriend says she's ready?  But overall, the characters felt real.

I've read in other reviews that a lot of people don't like the ending.  I'm going against the grain here: I loved it.  It's not an outcome that I expected, which upped my review from three stars to three-and-a-half.  

And now for the fun stuff!

The good people over at Random House are offering a copy of Burning to one of my friendly readers!  Fill out the Rafflecopter form below.  The winner will be chosen at random and will have three days to respond with contact info.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Children of the Dust, by Louise Lawrence

Barnes & Noble

After a nuclear war devastates the earth, a small band of people struggles for survival in a new world where children are born with strange mutations.

Everyone thought, when the alarm bell rang, that it was just another fire practice.  But the first bombs had fallen on Hamburg and Leningrad, the headmaster said, and a full-scale nuclear attack was imminent.

It's a real-life nightmare.  Sarah and her family have to stay cooped up in the tightly-sealed kitchen for days on end, dreading the inevitable radioactive fall-out and the subsequent slow, torturous death, which seems almost preferable to surviving in a grey, dead world, choked by dust.

But then, from out of the dust and the ruins and the destruction, comes new life, a new future, and a whole brave new world.

There are a few things I remember about this book:
  1. It was one of my favorites when I was a freshman in high school.  I wrote an awesome book report and I'm pretty sure I got an A on it.
  2. A little girl hid under the table, which was covered with a blanket.  Dust fell down the chimney and contaminated everything in the house, and the family "knew" that the little girl was going to be the only one to live.  The little girl was left with a man who lived on a farm.
  3. A generation later, after the dust has settled, some people come up to the earth from an underground shelter and find this now-grown little girl, who is giving birth to another baby.  This baby is covered with fine white fur.
  4. One of the group members is actually the girl's half-sister.  Their father had been escorted underground when the bombs hit and then proceeded to make a new life according to the needs of the remainder of society.
I've thought about this book off-and-on over the years, so it was my first choice when--for a book club challenge--I needed to re-read a book from high school English class.  Unfortunately, the book was first published nearly 30 years ago (man, I feel old), so it wasn't easy to find.  I lucked out and bought one of a handful of copies available online.

I am happy to say that I was right about the four bullet points above!  I'm thrilled that I remembered correctly.  What I didn't remember, however, was the hope for the future that each generation showed.  Somehow, I also didn't realize that it was Christian Fiction.  So I was more than a bit surprised at all of the religious references.  And a lot surprised that this was one of my favorite books all those years ago.

I don't think this novel would stand up to modern Dystopia, but I can't help but give it five stars.  The story has stayed with me for twenty-something years, which counts for a lot.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Six Earlier Days, by David Levithan

Barnes & Noble

Every morning, A wakes up in a different body and leads a different life. A must never get too attached, must never be noticed, must never interfere.

The novel
Every Day starts on Day 5994 of A’s life. In this digital-only collection Six Earlier Days, Levithan gives readers a glimpse at a handful of the other 5993 stories yet to be told that inform how A navigates the complexities of a life lived anew each day.

Every Day, readers discover if you can truly love someone who is destined to change every day. In Six Earlier Days, readers will discover a little bit more about how A became that someone.

This was a cute prequel to Every Day, showcasing six additional days in the life of A.  Best read in conjunction with the aforementioned book.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Plain Truth, by Jodi Picoult

Barnes & Noble

The discovery of a dead infant in an Amish barn shakes Lancaster County to its core. But the police investigation leads to a more shocking disclosure: circumstantial evidence suggests that eighteen-year-old Katie Fisher, an unmarried Amish woman believed to be the newborn's mother, took the child's life. 

When Ellie Hathaway, a disillusioned big-city attorney, comes to Paradise, Pennsylvania, to defend Katie, two cultures collide -- and for the first time in her high-profile career, Ellie faces a system of justice very different from her own. 

Delving deep inside the world of those who live "plain," Ellie must find a way to reach Katie on her terms. And as she unravels a tangled murder case, Ellie also looks deep within -- to confront her own fears and desires when a man from her past reenters her life.

Jodi Picoult does a fantastic job of creating a world: the setting, the stories, and the characters are so realistic that I often forget that I'm reading (or listening to, as the case may be) a fictional account.  

Living without most modern conveniences is fascinating in a thank-goodness-it's-not-me way, but I can't say I've given great thought to the Amish way of life.  It's a complete 180 degrees from what I'm used to: getting up late, relying on electricity, and being a heathen.  So I honestly wasn't sure that I wanted to read this book.  What could I possibly find entertaining?  Since I seem to have a love-it-or-hate-it relationship with Picoult's works, I figured this would end up in the hate it pile.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I was drawn into Ellie's and Katie's lives.

Did Katie do it?  Can Ellie save her?  I couldn't decide if she was innocent or guilty until the very end.  And the conclusion left me reeling, my friends.  It's an eye-popper and a jaw-dropper; I certainly didn't see that one coming.

Waiting on Wednesday #4: OCD Love Story

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that highlights soon-to-be-published books.  This week's selection is...

OCD Love Story, by Corey Ann Haydu
Publication date: July 23, 2013
Publisher: Simon Pulse

When Bea meets Beck, she knows instantly that he's her kind of crazy. Sweet, strong, kinda-messed-up Beck understands her like no one else can. He makes her feel almost normal. He makes her feel like she could fall in love again.

But despite her feelings for Beck, Bea can't stop thinking about someone else: a guy who is gorgeous and magnetic... and has no idea Bea even exists. But Bea knows a ton about him. She spends a lot of time watching him. She has a journal full of notes. Some might even say she's obsessed.

Bea tells herself she's got it all under control, but this isn't a choice, it's a compulsion. The truth is, she's breaking down... and she might end up breaking her own heart.

My friends joke that I'm a bit OCD about certain things (grammar, using a turn signal while driving, following process & procedure in general), so this book jumped right out at me.  I love the vibrant colors and the repeating "I will not stalk that boy" background.  Hilarious!

What are you waiting on?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Me Before You, by JoJo Moyes

Barnes & Noble

Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn't know is she's about to lose her job or that knowing what's coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he's going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn't know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they're going to change the other for all time.

I had this on my super-long TBR list, but I didn't really think about when I'd get around to reading it. Not until my friend Marianne -- who has pretty much the same taste in books as I -- raved about it.  Since I trust her good taste, I re-arranged my TBR and placed this on hold at the library.

And am I ever glad that I did.

This is a heartbreakingly romantic story.  One that will tear at your heartstrings and lift your spirits, then bring them crashing down again.  Over and over.

This was me:

I couldn't rush through this book.  I wanted to savor every moment with Lou and Will.  I loved and hated the ending.  It fit the book perfectly, and goodness knows that Moyes knows how to weave a great story and tie everything together at the end. 

If you're in need of a catharsis, read this book.

Monday, May 13, 2013

This Is What Happy Looks Like, by Jennifer E. Smith

Barnes & Noble

If fate sent you an email, would you answer?

When teenage movie star Graham Larkin accidentally sends small town girl Ellie O'Neill an email about his pet pig, the two seventeen-year-olds strike up a witty and unforgettable correspondence, discussing everything under the sun, except for their names or backgrounds.

Then Graham finds out that Ellie's Maine hometown is the perfect location for his latest film, and he decides to take their relationship from online to in-person. But can a star as famous as Graham really start a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? And why does Ellie want to avoid the media's spotlight at all costs? 

Confession: I was worried about how much I would like this book.  I loved Smith's The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, but I wasn't sure about this storyline.  Hasn't the hot-famous-actor-falls-in-love-with-a-local-girl plot been explored before?  And with varying degrees of success?

Confession, Part 2: I want to be the local girl with whom the hot famous actor falls in love.  I love The Husband very much and no one could ever replace him.

You know what happy looks like?  This book.  I love the e-mails between Ellie and Graham.  Each chapter begins with a slight interaction between the two, and it sets the tone for the pages that follow.  They get to know each other as two random teenagers, not as a movie star and an "unknown girl."

This is a sweet story that I'd recommend to middle grade readers and up.  

What does happy look like to you?

Eleanor & Park Redux

Read my original review here, published on May 2, 2013.

You know those annoying people who are all ZOMG!!1! THIS IS THE BEST BOOK EVA! and who insist on telling everyone they meet that they simply MUST read this book right now right now right now?

I am that person.

And this is that book.

I have just finished listening to Eleanor & Park for the second time in as many weeks. I took my time and listened to certain parts twice. I paced myself so I would end each evening on a swoon. I WANTED TO JUMP INSIDE AND MARRY THIS BOOK.

Seriously. Go buy your copy NOW.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Every Day, by David Levithan

Barnes & Noble

Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.

There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.

David Levithan is an amazing writer.  I have loved the majority of his books, and this one is up near the top.

I've often thought about what it would be like to wake up as someone else: forget your own troubles for a day!  Be carefree!  Do what ever you want!  And then go back to being yourself.

But that's not how A lives.  He has been a different person for 16 years: 6,000 days.  6,000 bodies.  6,000 different people.
After he meets Rhiannon, A keeps popping back into her life as other people.

He tells her the truth of who he is.  Though it's hard to believe his story, she eventually does.  They fall in love, but it's not easy when one half of the relationship shows up in a different package every day.

Is it possible for the two of them to be together?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  You'll have to read the book to find out more!  It's definitely worth it.

The end is bittersweet and perfectly written.  It is true to the story and leaves the reader in a peaceful place.

I need to go read Six Earlier Days, a prequel to Every Day, which gives us a glimpse into A's life prior to waking up in Justin's body.

A sequel would probably ruin the story, but I'll hold out hope that I can read more about A in the future.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Happy Toastmasters Anniversary to Me!

When my mother was a member of Toastmasters, it made sense because she's always worked in Communications.

When The Husband was a member of Toastmasters, I thought that Table Topics meant that four or five people sat around a table discussing a current event.  (It's not.)

When my company started a Toastmasters club, I scoffed.  Why would anyone voluntarily put herself out in front of 20 co-workers, just to be told that her public speaking sucks?

Hell.  No.

A year later, the joke is (still) on me.

I am a charter member of our club.

I am a club officer (though I took on a role that wasn't out-of-character for me, so I didn't feel any pressure to exert myself).

I have nearly completed my Competent Leader manual.

And today?

Today, I was elected President of our club for the 2013-2014 year.

It's amazing how much can change in just a single year.

I'm still afraid of getting up and speaking in front of people.  I still prefer to let others do the talking while I do the writing.  And I will always be an introvert.

But now?

Now I volunteer for whatever is needed in our club.  I have been asked to join a District-level committee.  And our club mentor has suggested that I run for an Area office next year, after I serve as club President.

Definitely.  Better.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan

Barnes & Noble

A gleeful and exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life—mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore

The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone—and serendipity, sheer curiosity, and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey has landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.
But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. 

There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead “checking out” impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra. 

The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he’s embarked on a complex analysis of the customers’ behavior and roped his friends into helping to figure out just what’s going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore.

This poor book.  It had the bad luck to be next in line after Eleanor & Park.  So even though I liked the story, my mind kept wandering back to E&P.

A lot of what happens in this book is right up my alley: Hadoop; Big Data; a bar for bibliophiles (!); and fangirling over Google (what I wouldn't give to work there!).  It's definitely a four-star read and will interest fans of Dan Brown and Cory Doctorow.

I just wish I had paid closer attention.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday #3: Out of Play

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that highlights soon-to-be-published books.  This week's selection is...

Out of Play, by Nyrae Dawn and Jolene Perry
Publication date: August 6, 2013
Publisher: Entangled: Teen

Pitched as Gayle Foreman's Where She Went meets Miranda Kenneally's Catching Jordan, a self-absorbed eighteen year old rock star is sent to Alaska to get himself together after a drug overdose, but the cute hockey player and her grandfather who live next door challenges him to think beyond the baggie of pills he's still sneaking.

Rock star drummer Bishop Riley doesn't have a problem. Celebrities—especially ones suffering from anxiety—deserve to party, right? Wrong. After taking a few too many pills, Bishop wakes up in the hospital facing an intervention. If he wants to stay in the band, he’ll have to detox while under house arrest in Seldon, Alaska.

Hockey player Penny Jones can't imagine a life outside of Seldon. Though she has tons of scholarship offers, the last thing she wants is to leave. Who'll take care of her absent-minded gramps? Not her mother, who can’t even be bothered with the new tenants next door.

Penny’s too hung up on another guy to deal with Bishop’s crappy attitude, and Bishop’s too busy sneaking pills to care. Until he starts hanging out with Gramps. If Bishop wants a chance with the fiery girl next door, he’ll have to admit he has a problem and kick it. Too bad addiction is hard to kick…and Bishop’s about to run out of time.

Squee!  I absolutely love Nyrae Dawn and I'm really excited about her new book! 

What are YOU waiting on?

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Midsummer's Nightmare, by Kody Keplinger

Whitley Johnson's dream summer with her divorcé dad has turned into a nightmare. She's just met his new fiancée and her kids. The fiancée's son? Whitley's one-night stand from graduation night. Just freakin' great.

Worse, she totally doesn't fit in with her dad's perfect new country-club family. So Whitley acts out. She parties. Hard. So hard she doesn't even notice the good things right under her nose: a sweet little future stepsister who is just about the only person she's ever liked, a best friend (even though Whitley swears she doesn't "do" friends), and a smoking-hot guy who isn't her stepbrother...at least, not yet. It will take all three of them to help Whitley get through her anger and begin to put the pieces of her family together.

Filled with authenticity and raw emotion, Whitley is Kody Keplinger's most compelling character to date: a cynical Holden Caulfield-esque girl you will wholly care about.

I liked this book, but I didn't love it.  Which sucks because I like Kody Keplinger: her writing is real and full of showing-not-telling; she has great YA appeal; and she wrote The DUFF!

It was a nice touch to set this book in Hamilton, the same town where The DUFF takes place; I was happy to see Wesley and Bianca again, but the other characters didn't act the same (in their bit parts) as they did in Keplinger's previous novel.  Harrison, in particular, didn't stand out as being a flamboyant homosexual in The DUFF, but he acted like a stereotypical gay guy in this book.

If that been the only thing that irked me, I would have given this book a higher rating, but there was one major flaw in the book: I disliked almost all of the characters.  Whitley is someone I would have hated in high school.  (And college.)  (And now.)  Nathan is a hypocrite.  Whitley's parents are both major douches.  Bailey is needy and clingy.  The only person I really liked was Sylvia, Whitley's stepmother-to-be.  

It was nice that everyone grew up in the end, but it all happened so quickly.  It really should have taken more than a few conversations/situations for everyone to see the error of their ways.  This was a quick read, but it would have been nice if it had been fleshed out more.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Barnes & Noble

"Bono met his wife in high school," Park says.
"So did Jerry Lee Lewis," Eleanor answers.
"I’m not kidding," he says.
"You should be," she says, "we’re sixteen."
"What about Romeo and Juliet?"
"Shallow, confused, then dead."
''I love you," Park says.
"Wherefore art thou," Eleanor answers.
"I’m not kidding," he says.
"You should be."

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.

This was me throughout the book:

You guys.

I love this book.  HARD.

There aren't many books that I will borrow from the library, then go out and purchase in multiple forms.  This book is right up there with The Fault in Our Stars, Sea of Tranquility, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: it will have a spot in my permanent collection.

 Spoilers after the jump.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday #2: The Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that highlights soon-to-be-published books.  This week's selection is...

The Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Robin Palmer
Publication date: June 27, 2013
Publisher: Speak
Barnes & Noble

Gilmore Girls meets Postcards from the Edge crossed with L.A. Candy!

Sixteen-year-old Annabelle Jacobs never asked to be famous, but as the daughter of Janie Jacobs, one of the biggest TV stars in the world, she is. Growing up is hard enough. Having to do it in public because your mother is a famous actress? Even harder. When your mom crashes and burns after her DUI mug shot is splashed across the internet? Definitely not fun. Then your mom falls for a guy so much younger than she that it would be more appropriate for you to be dating him? That’s just a train wreck waiting to happen.

From Robin Palmer, author of
Geek Charming and Wicked Jealous, this is a novel about the most complicated relationship a girl ever has: that with her mother.

What are you waiting on?