Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Mind's Eye by K. C. Finn

genre: young adult paranormal

Even if Kit wasn't able to put herself into other people's minds, she would still be different.  She spends her days in a wheelchair and when Kit is sent from London to the Welsh countryside for the duration of the war, she has a hard time believing there will be anything to look forward to.  But soon Kit finds herself in a stranger's head by accident, and this Norwegian boy is in a city on the cusp of occupation and Kit isn't able to forget him or the danger he's in.  With her psychic powers, the war is suddenly at Kit's feet and even without the use of her legs, she knows she has the ability to help.

This was engaging.  I'm not a huge paranormal fan so the psychic thing took me a while to get into but I liked how Kit's story was interwoven with real world war intrigue.  Some of the plot was a little hard for me to believe (SO many coincidences!) - I had to decide to suspend my disbelief instead of it naturally happening but I liked Kit and Henri enough that I wanted to follow their story through.  The at-home-in-Wales plot was as well done as the bits of actual war action and I thought the secondary characters were well fleshed out.  Kit's disability and struggle to be at peace with her best self is a nice twist.   4 stars worth of enjoyment.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers (His Fair Assassin Book 3)

genre: ya historical fantasy

In book three of the His Fair Assassin series, we continue forward in time with our story only in Mortal Heart, we are in the mind of Annith, the third of three friends at the Convent of Mortain.  While Ismae and Sybella have been sent out on assignments at the will of Mortain and direction of the Abbess, Annith has been assigned a most unwished for role: that of seeress.  Being seeress means that Annith will never leave the convent, and based on Annith's history at the convent itself, this feels like the worst of all punishments.  How can she spend her life there when she has been honed into one of Mortain's own assassins?  When whispered conversations reach her ears and the questions begin to weigh heavy, Annith makes a decision that will send flying a web of lies and secrets - and the future of Brittany hangs in the balance.

Again, I couldn't put this book down - three for three in the series in terms of tight plot development and an engaging storyline.  I think I liked Annith the least of all three main characters - her inner monologue was far more circular and almost repetitive.  I never did find as much sympathy for her as I did for Sybella.  However, I loved her romantic storyline and I really liked how the plot twists were woven into the history of France and Brittany.  This felt by far the most "fantastical" of the three, also, which took me some getting used to - and once I did, I loved the depth that it brought to the series.  I have to also say, because I'm like that, that I found at least three serious editing mistakes that jarred and annoyed me.  What is up with that?  But because I couldn't put this down, it still gets 4 stars.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers (His Fair Assassin Book 2)

genre: young adult historical fantasy

When Sybella leaves the convent to return to her father's house, she has been trained as an assassin but she is still broken inside.  After years of being abused, she has learned how to survive but not how to love.  As a servant of Death, she wants more than anything to send her father, D'Albret to his underworld but instead, she is given a most unwelcome assignment that, in the end, will change everything.

This was better than the first, I think because the ending felt more solid to me in this one.  I loved how the story continued on but just from the point of view of another character - a nice twist on the usual trilogy.  It completely absorbed me and while Sybella's story is very harsh at times, the historical period and the romantic plotline are engrossing.  I love the mix of the otherworldly gods and the solid historical footing, and even though we really delve into the two main characters (everyone else is fairly two dimensional) those two main characters are incredibly complex and I loved Sybella's arc.  The way she grew and changed felt very realistic.  I loved the idea of us finding our strength in our love for others.

Now I have to go read the last one.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Texts From Jane Eyre (and Other Conversations With Your Favorite Literary Characters) by Mallory Ortberg

genre: humor

Imagine that Jane Eyre had a cell phone and so did her beloved Mr. Rochester.  What would they say to each other? What about the girls from the Babysitter's Club?  Or Scarlett O'Hara and Ashley or Rhett?  This book imagines such conversations, stretching many characters to their snarkiest and most obnoxious or contrasting that to another character's mild disbelief and discomfort at someone's ranting.  To set the stage, the book's format even looks like the sort of text bubbles you see on your cell phone.

I got this as an ARC because I thought it sounded quite hilarious - and parts of it were.  A few conversations had me cackling, laughing so hard I couldn't repeat it outloud to my husband when I wanted to share.  But some of it I just didn't understand and other parts I didn't understand but they fell flat, for whatever reason.  Sometimes it was the foul language and other times I felt like the conversation just wasn't a good representation of the book she's referring to, but again, sometimes they were spot on and very funny.  It's a mixed bag, I guess.  I liked it 3.5 stars worth and if your friends don't mind lots of f-words, this would be a funny gift for a bibliophile like myself.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

genre: adult fiction

Abandoned at birth, Victoria has spent her life in and out foster care and group homes.   With no one and nothing, she ages out of the state's system and ends up on the streets of San Francisco.  Her only hope: to somehow use her knowledge of flowers to make a living for herself.  Staunchly and purposely unlovable, Victoria's only passion is for the meanings of the flowers themselves - the historical language of friendship and love that was communicated through bouquets and single stemmed blooms.  As we watch her slowly, SLOWLY, figure out how to function in adult society, we also learn about her past, about decisions that change everything and how having even just one person love you can be enough.

This isn't an easy tale to read.  Victoria is broken and (for me) it takes a while to feel attached to her as a character, she's so prickly.  Her childhood was so horrible it's almost hard to believe.  No wonder she's broken, never having been in a loving relationship with anyone her entire life.  But the relationships that she DOES end up creating, especially one that we see in her past and in her present, is very satisfying without being saccharine.  I had a hard time sometimes believing the flower-arranging storyline, it felt borderline magical realism to me which caught me in my tracks and made me have to suspend my disbelief, which was jarring.  That being said, I did LIKE it as an intriguing plot element.  I think I liked this book, even if Victoria's decisions sometimes made me just want to shake her.  It's not my usual style of book but I think it will make a good book club discussion.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

genre: ya dystopia

For all of Lynn's life she's known one thing: if you don't defend your water, you loose your water. And if you loose your water?  You might as well be dead.  Because in the world Lynn grew up in, fresh water is a commodity so scarce that it requires diligence and a heart hard enough to cold-blooded kill to protect whats yours.  When strangers lurk and the solitude is deafening,  Lynn finally looks to a neighbor for help, and in trusting one, she finds herself on the brink of letting herself be a part of a tiny community in a world where everyone needs help to survive.

This was engaging enough - a harsh world, to be sure, but a pretty believable one.  The world building I believed, the dialogue and character development I didn't.  The romance fell completely flat and ended up being completely unfulfilling.  I don't mind violence in a dystopian world, but for some reason this just felt almost commonplace.  Like our protagonist never got to the point where killing people was a problem - and maybe that's the kind of grit you need to survive in her world but as a reader, it was hard to feel like the girl was really growing as a character.  Strangely enough, I think I liked it better when I was reading it than I do know when I'm thinking about it.  Probably would really appeal to teens who love Hunger Games.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

The Sea of Tranquility: A Novel by Katja Millay

genre: young adult fiction
**note, if you are sensitive to swears, this is not the book for you**

Nastya is broken.  Tragedy in her past and an incredible loss have left her without speech and an intense loathing of just about everything.  Moving to a new school to start over, she plans to outright reject everything - until she meets Josh.  And Josh is broken too, although in a different way.  When Nastya lets down her guard, just a little bit, to let Josh in - a ball starts rolling that neither of them can stop.

I listened to the audio, and the performances are amazing. Heartbreaking, actually.  This is sort of a heartbreaking book, in the sense that these two main characters are so intensely damaged from things that aren't in their control, and they are trying so hard to protect the tiny fragile piece that's left over that all they do is hurt people.  Sometimes they hurt people on purpose because don't feel like they are allowed to hope for happiness anymore and sometimes they are just idiots and make horrible choices.  It's like watching a train wreck.  But the WRITING in this book is astonishing - I was gripped from the first chapter and the character development is so tight and deep and they are so multi-faceted that as much as this book is plot and substance its also a deep look at what happens to us in the aftermath of horrible.  How one puts the broken pieces back together into something that can still live and deserve peace.

I cannot actually recommend this book to the teens I know because the language is SO coarse - both vulgar and full of swears. I dealt with it but personally, I didn't like that, as realistic as it may be. There is a heavy amount of teen sexual activity and while I don't condone that, I will say that I feel like she is accurate in portraying how promiscuity and thoughtless sexual activity can really mess with a teen's head - as well as how much sex itself can change the dynamic in a relationship.  I'd just say that the book is just intense enough that only a very mature, older teen could appreciate it.

Rarely have a read a book written for teens that delves into such painful territory with such grace and compassion.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

genre: young adult science fiction

Em is alone, imprisoned in a cell. With the exception of the boy next door and painful visits from The Doctor, her life is just waiting for more horror - until she finds the note.  The note that she wrote to herself - telling her she must do something unthinkable.  And while in a different time a girl named Marina is worrying about fancy dinners and the beautiful boy across the street, Em knows that if she doesn't do what is written on that note, the world that she and Marina know will end in a raging war with The Doctor at the forefront.

Yes, it is MIND BENDING!  A story of time travel and first love.  A story of the lengths we can go to to right a wrong.  A story of how a person can become so broken that they are unrecognizable.   A story of the willingness to give up anything in order to make a different future.  There are twists and turns and I liked not knowing where things were going.  I appreciate that it's a stand alone novel - with a proper arc and climax, with a believable ending that wraps things up without getting sappy. Intense and thrilling, I didn't want to put it down.  I liked that it made me think a little harder than usual for this type of book and suspending my disbelief wasn't half as challenging as it could have been with a less proficient author.

Quite enjoyable and worthy of the praise its been given.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

genre: film memoir

Here is a little memory for you.  I am 8 or so years old.  My parents have rented a VCR for the first time and my father has hooked it up to our television.  Our wonderful friends the Keddingtons came over and we all sat down in my living room to watch our first rented video tape: The Princess Bride.  I remember, even at that age, how much I loved the story.  When I became an adult, I still enjoyed the film and then I read the book that the film is based on  - WOW, I loved that even more.

When I was looking for a new audiobook, this one popped up and caught my interest, because of that early introduction to the film. This book is a memoir of Cary Elwes's (Wesley's) experience making the movie.  He includes anecdotes and quotes from other actors and directors to flesh out his own memories.  He does some of his own voice acting (speaking for Andre the Giant, for example) and it wasn't annoying.  I liked having the other actors speak on the audio also, that was really fun.

Frankly, this WAS just that: fun.  Was it well written?  Unfortunately, I'm going to give that a no.  It's repetitive, the language isn't fresh and there is a LOT of patting ones' self on the back for a job well done.  BUT, it's a whole audiobook that's sort of like a People Magazine article or a fun ComicCon session.  It's the behind-the-scenes, the inspiration and the outtakes. It's getting a sense for the enormous amount of effort that goes into producing a film of quality.  Elwes is in earnest and he doesn't take himself seriously, which I appreciated.  As with any memoir, I get frustrated when there is actual dialogue because I have a hard time believing people actually remember conversations word-for-word, but I had to let that go.  His appreciation for the vast amount of talent beyond his own (especially the director's) is every evident.

As You Wish is a love letter to a film that really has stood the test of generations - and as a fan myself, that made this audio a great listen.  Knowing what I know now, I have to go watch the movie again.  Darn :)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba

genre: non-fiction memoir

Malawi is William Kamkwamba's home.  He grew up working in the fields with his father, living off the land and at the whims of nature.  He went to bed with the sun in his small African village but his dreams were as big as the sky.  As a child and as a teen, William is curious.  William wants to know about how things WORK and WHY.  Even though famine plagues his land and his family cannot afford to send him to school, William finds a way to learn - and the things he teaches himself allows him to use junk-yard parts to build one thing that can change everything: a windmill.

When I noticed that this book was narrated by an African, I went for the audiobook and his voice was a dream.  Sometimes the accent was thick enough to make it a little tricky to understand but mostly I loved hearing the inflections and the correct pronunciations of all the names and places.

This book is beyond inspiring.  I will admit that the beginning was slow for me, I wanted to hurry up and get to the windmill part, but soon I realized how important it was for me to understand where he came from - the culture he was growing up in and the barriers in the way.  The famine was heartbreaking - I mean, HEARTBREAKING.  I am ashamed to think that I was a mother already when William was actually starving to death, at the age my son is now, and I had no idea there was famine decimating Malawi.  I appreciate that in the text, William never preached at me, he never even really complains, he just tells what his life was like then and OH it was horrible.  Besides the famine, life is just so different - so very different than the life I live.  The joy of electricity, the idea that school is not a choice for you if you can't pay expensive school fees, the appreciation for clean and accessible water and fuel - we just don't understand it here.

While being very accessible, it also does go into some scientific matters, of course.  I loved the trial and error of his building process.  I loved how his friends helped him.  I loved his mother and father and how hard they worked. I felt frustrated with his government for doing so little to help his village. This book made me feel things, and that's important.
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