Thursday, February 28, 2013

Hate List, by Jennifer Brown


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Five months ago, Valerie Leftman's boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saved the life of a classmate, but was implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create. A list of people and things she and Nick hated. The list he used to pick his targets.

Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.



I know that a book is good when it hurts my soul. And Hate List? It does, my friends. It hurts. I was unable to stop crying--Ugly Crying--for the last 20% of the book.

Jennifer Brown does an amazing job of portraying what life is like for Valerie, her family, and the town after a school shooting. An event that occurred because Valerie and her boyfriend Nick were bullied. They kept a list of people who hurt them and things to which they took offense. And on one fateful day, Nick used that list to change the lives of an entire community.

Brown's writing is so raw and real. I felt like I was a part of Valerie and I had no idea how to stop the hurt.

Because who you are is supposed to be the easiest question in the world to answer, right? [...] [N]ot having a clue who you are hurts way too much. And one thing I did know for sure: I was tired of hurting.
The characters in this book aren't necessarily likeable: bullies, outcasts, absent parents, and adults who want everyone to just "move on." And yet, it's impossible not to root for nearly all of them.

There are a couple of exceptions to the unlikeable people: Dr. Hieler and Bea. Dr. Hieler is the kind of therapist a teenager can relate to. And Bea is an extravagant artist who is so full of energy and life that you can't help but love her quirkiness.
"Oh, dratted technology," Bea muttered as I answered. "Why can't we communicate by carrier pigeons anymore? Beautiful feathers with a lovely note attached. I could use some pigeon feathers around here. Or peacock. Oh yes, peacock! Only nobody ever communicated by peacock, I don't think..."
I highly recommend this book to both parents and teens.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Review: Love, Stargirl


Love, Stargirl
Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

My rating: 2 of 5 stars



Life is too short to read books that are just "meh."



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The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win, by Gene Kim


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Bill is an IT manager at Parts Unlimited. It's Tuesday morning and on his drive into the office, Bill gets a call from the CEO.

The company's new IT initiative, code named Phoenix Project, is critical to the future of Parts Unlimited, but the project is massively over budget and very late. The CEO wants Bill to report directly to him and fix the mess in ninety days or else Bill's entire department will be outsourced.

With the help of a prospective board member and his mysterious philosophy of The Three Ways, Bill starts to see that IT work has more in common with manufacturing plant work than he ever imagined. With the clock ticking, Bill must organize work flow, streamline interdepartmental communications, and effectively serve the other business functions at Parts Unlimited.

In a fast-paced and entertaining style, three luminaries of the DevOps movement deliver a story that anyone who works in IT will recognize. Readers will not only learn how to improve their own IT organizations, they'll never view IT the same way again.



I know what you're thinking.

Wow.  A fictionalized account of ITIL and Agile methodologies.  That sounds so...exciting.


Tommy Lee Jones is skeptical
But it is!

Imagine my surprise when I was completely sucked into Bill's world.

IT Operations isn't always a fun place to work: servers crash; applications freeze; vulnerabilities are everywhere; and customers--both internal and external--scream for support.

So how do you manage all of the Work in Progress (WIP), emergencies, and planned work?  It's enough to give any professional geek a panic attack.

Enter our heroes: ITIL and Kanban. 

These Best Practice methodologies will help Bill and his team revolutionize how IT functions and contributes to the business at large.

The Phoenix Project takes a dry subject and turns it into an understandable narrative.  Certain concepts that I didn't quite grasp when I studied for my ITIL certification became crystal clear during the course of this book.

I'm really looking forward to implementing a Kanban board with my team at work.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Stargirl (Stargirl #1), by Jerry Spinelli


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Stargirl. From the day she arrives at quiet Mica High in a burst of color and sound, the hallways hum with the murmur of “Stargirl, Stargirl.” She captures Leo Borlock’s heart with just one smile. She sparks a school-spirit revolution with just one cheer. The students of Mica High are enchanted. At first.

Then they turn on her. Stargirl is suddenly shunned for everything that makes her different, and Leo, panicked and desperate with love, urges her to become the very thing that can destroy her: normal. In this celebration of nonconformity, Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli weaves a tense, emotional tale about the perils of popularity and the thrill and inspiration of first love.



Well, that was unexpected.

I found myself dealing with my own discomfort and prejudices as I read this novel: like the "normal" kids in the story, I wanted Stargirl to be less...weird.


(And can't you just picture Luna Lovegood as the quirky girl who does her own thing and doesn't care about what others think?  Oh, wait...)

 
Even though I wanted her to be normal, I was really sad when Stargirl changed who she was, just so she could fit in.  I wanted to tell her to be herself!  That it wasn't worth it and that she was wonderful just as she was!

Spinelli did a great job portraying what it's like to be an outsider during those sometimes-awful teenage years.


I highly recommend this book for young teens who are dealing with peer pressure and popularity issues.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Dead to You, by Lisa McMann



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Some memories are better left untouched.

Ethan was abducted from his front yard when he was just seven years old. Now, at sixteen, he has returned to his family.

It's a miracle... at first.

Then the tensions start to build. His reintroduction to his old life isn't going smoothly, and his family is tearing apart all over again. If only Ethan could remember something, anything, about his life before, he'd be able to put the pieces back together.

But there's something that's keeping his memory blocked.

Something unspeakable...



WHAT!?!?

 

Let me repeat.

WHAT?



That's it? The end? Oh, you have GOT to be kidding me. I want more! I want to know what happens next!

3.5 stars. 
Hmph.



What We Saw At Night, by Jacquelyn Mitchard



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Allie Kim suffers from Xeroderma Pigmentosum: a fatal allergy to sunlight that confines her and her two best friends, Rob and Juliet, to the night. When freewheeling Juliet takes up Parkour—the stunt-sport of scaling and leaping off tall buildings—Allie and Rob have no choice but to join her, if only to protect her. Though potentially deadly, Parkour after dark makes Allie feel truly alive, and for the first time equal to the “daytimers.”

On a random summer night, the trio catches a glimpse of what appears to be murder. Allie alone takes it upon herself to investigate, and the truth comes at an unthinkable price. Navigating the shadowy world of specialized XP care, extreme sports, and forbidden love, Allie ultimately uncovers a secret that upends everything she believes about the people she trusts the most.



I thought that the premise was cool, but I just couldn't get interested in this book and did not finish reading it. The characters seemed younger than their ages would suggest, and I can't imagine parents letting their teenagers roam the streets at night.

I loved The Deep End of the Ocean, so I was thrilled to have a chance to review Mitchard's new book!  I just wish it had held my interest.

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

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Chime, by Franny Billingsley



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Briony has a secret. She believes her secret killed her stepmother, destroyed her twin sister’s mind, and threatens all the children in the Swampsea. She yearns to be rid of her terrible secret, but risks being hanged if she tells a soul. That’s what happens to witches: They’re hanged by the neck until dead.

Then Eldric arrives—Eldric with his golden mane and lion eyes and electric energy—and he refuses to believe anything dark about Briony. But he wonders what’s been buried beneath her self-hatred, hidden in Rose’s mangled thoughts, and whispered about by the Old Ones. And Briony wonders how Eldric can make her want to cry.  
Especially when everyone knows that witches can’t cry.



I really enjoyed listening to this book. Susan Duerden has a magical voice; I could listen to her for hours.

Briony. Is. Awesome.  She's a strong, kick-ass heroine in a time when women should be sweet, pretty, and silent.  I love her snarky attitude and laughed out loud constantly.  Which makes people stare at you when you're out in public.  Shopping.  With your headphones on.  That people can't see.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Notes from Ghost Town, by Kate Ellison


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They say first love never dies...

From critically acclaimed author Kate Ellison comes a heartbreaking mystery of mental illness, unspoken love, and murder. When sixteen-year-old artist Olivia Tithe is visited by the ghost of her first love, Lucas Stern, it’s only through scattered images and notes left behind that she can unravel the mystery of his death.

There’s a catch: Olivia has gone colorblind, and there’s a good chance she’s losing her mind completely—just like her mother did. How else to explain seeing (and falling in love all over again with) someone who isn’t really there?

With the murder trial looming just nine days away, Olivia must follow her heart to the truth, no matter how painful. It’s the only way she can save herself.



The first thing I noticed about this book was the cover: bleak, desolate, and haunting. Right up my alley! I don't usually read ghost stories, as I am a complete chickenshit and freak out over the slightest frights. I was intrigued by this novel, however, since it also dealt with mental illness. I'm really glad that I was approved for the galley; this is a beautifully-written story that otherwise would have lived on my TBR shelf for the foreseeable future. And it would have been a shame to miss out.

And the writing?  Sublime!
Think about a moment, a little centimeter of time you’d happily exist in forever, if time could be laid out along the spine of a ruler. Maybe it haunts you in that blue inch of half consciousness just before you’re fully awake.

The words seem to just float off the page.
 
I liked Olivia a lot--even if she did seem to know more than your average sixteen-year-old about certain (spoilery) things and not enough about others. And I love Stern. I kept hoping for a Soap Opera moment wherein he would come back to life. Grumble stupid death grumble.

Things were wrapped up nicely at the end, though maybe a little too cleanly to be realistic.

One thing that bugged me was the overuse of italics. The writing should stand on its own without needing to emphasize certain points; let the reader infer for him- or herself.

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

When Love Comes to Town, by Tom Lennon


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The year is 1990, and in his hometown of Dublin, Ireland, Neil Byrne plays rugby, keeps up with the in-crowd at his school, and is just a regular guy. 

A guy who's gay. 

It's a secret he keeps from the wider world as he explores the city at night and struggles to figure out how to reveal his real self--and to whom.

First published in Ireland in 1993 and compared to
The Catcher in the Rye by critics, Tom Lennon's When Loves Comes to Town is told with honesty, humor, and originality. 



I recently re-read my one-star review of a previous coming-out novel. In it, I mentioned that maybe I just didn't "get it" because I am neither gay nor guy. That is clearly not the case here; it's exactly the kind of book I had hoped to read last time.

Though this book was first published twenty years ago--and the stigma surrounding homosexuality has lessened since then--I never felt like I was reading an "old" story. Yeah, it's easier to meet people on-line or within established gay communities, but I imagine that coming out is still difficult.

Take, for instance, Neil. An 18-year-old Catholic boy in Ireland, he has always known that he was gay. But knowing and being are two completely separate states of mind. On the outside, Neil is an excellent student and star rugby player. He's happy and quick with a smile. He has a nice group of friends, nice parents, a nice house, and nice brothers and sisters. It's all very...nice.

But on the inside? Oh.so.much.turmoil. Not that you can blame him. This poor kid can't talk to anyone about who he really is.

I loved reading about Neil's journey as he discovered more about himself, opened up to his friends and family, and tested the waters of the teeny-tiny gay community in Dublin. There's no fairy tale ending, and I ugly cried during the last chapter, but you get the sense that things will work out for Neil. I do think that the ending was a little abrupt, which is why I am only giving it four stars.

I highly recommend this book for fans of David Levithan and John Green.

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

The Eleventh Plague, by Jeff Hirsch


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In an America devastated by war and plague, the only way to survive is to keep moving.

In the aftermath of a war, America’s landscape has been ravaged and two-thirds of the population left dead from a vicious strain of influenza. 


Fifteen-year-old Stephen Quinn and his family were among the few that survived and became salvagers, roaming the country in search of material to trade. But when Stephen’s grandfather dies and his father falls into a coma after an accident, Stephen finds his way to Settler’s Landing, a community that seems too good to be true. 

Then Stephen meets strong, defiant, mischievous Jenny, who refuses to accept things as they are. 

And when they play a prank that goes horribly wrong, chaos erupts, and they find themselves in the midst of a battle that will change Settler’s Landing--and their lives--forever.


This is a freaky-ass story. It's not your normal Zombie/Dystopian fiction: a sickness that could wipe out 90% of the population doesn't seem so far-fetched in the face of Anthrax, SARS, or even the flu.

The scary part? Surviving it all. Living in a world where it's every man--or group of men--for himself. Where you could be killed or captured as a slave if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time. Where you spend the rest of your life picking through debris in hopes of finding something worth enough money to buy food.

That, my friends, scares the bajeezus out of me.

So when fifteen-year-old Steven finds a home--a real house!--in Settler's Landing, I was able to relax a bit. He makes friends, helps around the town, and falls in like with Jenny. She's totally kick-ass and a great match for Steven, and I really liked their relationship.

Naturally, a shit-storm has to ruin dear Steven's happiness, and it's a doozy. I was definitely caught off guard.

It's hard to wrap-up a dystopian novel without leaving the reader depressed; Hirsch did a good job of keeping it realistic and true to the story.

Review: The English Patient


The English Patient
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

My rating: 0 of 5 stars



This was my second choice for a book challenge task: read a Man Booker Prize winner or nominee. This is also the second book I'm not going to finish.

I normally love WWII historical fiction, but this is so not my style.



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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Exposure: A Modern-Day Spin on Shakespeare's Macbeth (Twisted Lit #2), by Kim Askew and Amy Helmes


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Double, double, toil and trouble. 

Sometimes, the quest for high school royalty can be deadly!

In this emotionally-charged twist on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, a self-conscious shutterbug named Skye Kingston navigates a treacherous school year in Alaska fraught with unspoken secrets and tragic twists of fate. 

Along the way she encounters three strangely prophetic BFFs; one social-climbing, sociopathic cheerleader; and a heart-stopping hottie named Craig McKenzie: the man who would be Prom King. Can Skye save the boy she loves — and herself — before they get caught in the crosshairs?



If you're familiar with the story of Macbeth, it will come as no surprise that this book is filled with drama, tension, angst, and death.

This was a fun retelling of a story that's been around for hundreds of years.  And did you know that Shakespeare based his play on the16th century tome, the Holinshed's Chronicles?  I just discovered this little nugget of information! 



















I really like how the authors made a well-known tale of madness and murder their own: there's still crazy shit going on, but it's re-worked into a novel that doesn't require excessive study.

I do have one minor problem with the book, however:  I hate it when the word literally is used inappropriately.
My heart literally performed a double-twisting back somersault in my chest.
No, your heart is NOT twisting itself around your arteries or dancing up a storm.















MY heart hurts when authors use terms incorrectly.  Writers, please Please PLEASE remember that literal and metaphoric descriptions aren't interchangeable.


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

Sunday, February 3, 2013