Sunday, September 14, 2014

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

genre: young adult fiction

This is the sequel to If I Stay - so for sure there will be spoilers here for that first book.

Mia has woken up.  When we revisit her story, it's three years later - and we're no longer in Mia's head. We're in Adam's.  Adam has hit the big time - but his fame and celebrity hasn't actually brought him the kind of happiness you'd imagine.  With Mia's cello career giving her her own opportunities, music is at the core of them both - but what in the world is finally going to bring them peace?

I can't decide if I loved it.  I didn't love being with Adam as much as with Mia.  His narrative was pretty depressing.  I think I had a hard time stretching myself to believe it - and once I was almost ready to, it ended.  Pretty abruptly, I thought.  It's good enough closure, I think I just wanted more.  I needed time to believe in forgiveness and (SPOILER!!!  SPOILER!!!) one day just didn't seem like enough for all to be right between them again.  Although the ending was abrupt, it was also well written and seemed to fit their story. Good to know how it ends, I guess.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (audiobook)

genre: young adult fiction

For Cath, the Simon Snow book series is not just comforting, not just an escape - it's a world she's more comfortable in than the real one.  When she begins her freshman year of college - sharing a room with someone other than her twin sister for the first time, meeting all kinds of new people, learning her way around campus - Simon Snow is a safe zone.   Passionate about writing and anxious to a diagnosable degree, Cath's first year in college is going to stretch her more than she'd ever imagined.

I chose this audiobook because I liked Eleanor and Park so much.  SO much.  This one has the same reader and she is, again, fantastic.  Cath's fears are portrayed so gently - we feel so deeply for her, what's she's lost and what she's so afraid to gain.  Her family dynamic is so, so well thought out.  The mental illness piece, the twin piece, the "fandom" piece.  Rainbow Rowell just nailed it.  I loved how Simon Snow stories were woven throughout the story - but, to be honest, I could have done with a little less of it.  I just didn't care as much about that as I did about Cath's.  It would have been a sure 5 star read for me if I had felt more engaged - it was just a LITTLE too Harry Potter, I wish she could've done something a bit more original. The truth is, I WAS that obsessed with HP for a while, before the 7th book came out - so I know how absolutely believable Cath's obsession is.  I loved that so much of it was about WORDS - writing them and reading them - the power that they have.  How words can make our lives so much bigger.

A real coming-of-age story, a first-real-love story, a love-letter-to-all-fans story, a mental-illness-doesn't-mean-a-horrible-life story.

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

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

genre: fantasy/historical fantasy

When Ceony leaves the school of Magic where she has been trained, she is less than thrilled to find out she's going to be a Folder.  A Folder of paper, that is.  The magic of paper Folding does little to excite our Ceony and when she arrives at the home of her Paper Folding Teacher, she has a hard time gathering any enthusiasm.  But her teacher, however, is a sly one.  His way with paper is, simply, magical and soon Ceony finds there is an entire world of possibilities in a sheet of paper.  When she is suddenly thrust into a life or death situation, she has to decide if the magic of paper will be enough to save what she cares about the most.

I had no idea where this was going to go.  It did grab me from the beginning and though it was wordy and too detailed, I had to keep reading!  There is a part in the middle of the book that hit me in the face in a way that took me a long time to recover from - it was SO fantastic (as in, dripping with a fantastical kind of fiction) that it took me a while to wrap my brain around it.  I'm still not sure how I feel about the entire middle of the book.  I liked it but it just felt a little too much somehow.  And yet, I DID like it - I feel there is a lot of imagination and creativity in Ceony's world, I loved the magical construct, the romantic thread is believable.  Did I feel really drenched in the England of the turn of the century?  No.  I don't think that was the point.  It's not historical fantasy so much as fantasy that happens to take place in the past. 

It's strange how conflicted my feelings are about it but because I just only wanted to read it today and because the ideas of this book aren't leaving my head, I'm giving it 4 stars, despite the things that didn't quite work for me.

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

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein (audiobook)

genre: young adult historical fiction

Rose is an American innocent. Young and full of life, she arrives in Britain to help in the war effort by being a transport pilot.  When her fellow pilots tell her stories - give her glimpses of the concentration camp rumors, she has a hard time swallowing them.  How could that sort of cruelty exist, really?

When bad luck and Rose's own choices lead to tragedy, our innocent Rose is plunged headfirst into that reality.  Finding herself detained in the Ravensbruk concentration camp, she manages to make a place for herself among a diverse group of women whose spirit will buoy her up almost as much as the poetry in her mind.

I am so, so glad that I listened to this amazing story.  My husband can't understand how I can keep reading books about the horrors of World War 2, but for me - every story is different.  Yes, I KNOW there is going to be horrible, horrible things.  But our world is actually full of horrible things that have really happened.  And every character (or real person) has such a unique story to tell and nearly always there is so much for me to learn about perseverance and humanity in the face of horror and, most of all, hope.   I really liked that this story didn't end when the war ended - I liked that it took us to that horrible place of AFTER - the essential PTSD that these women suffered after finding freedom.  It felt so real to me - and their relationships with each other were so inspiring.
Yes, listen to (or read, but I HIGHLY recommend listening to) Code Name Verity first.  It's not essential at all to appreciate the book but it is SO DANG GOOD and I liked this one even better, I think, if that's possible.  I loved the themes of flying and hope, I loved the supporting characters in the camp and their voices are so well done on the audiobook. I love that this story reminds us that we can be strong when we need to, that we can find beauty and friendship even in a place like Ravensbruk, and that there are things so morally wrong that we just cannot do them, even if we know we'll be punished, so that we can at least have the peace of knowing we did right.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Great New Children's Book Idea - I'm supporting a kickstarter campaign!

Come check out This Kickstarter Page.

The author and her husband have created "an activity-driven picture book for young kids called Pictivities."  It's designed to get kids and their caregivers to interact and pretend together while experiencing text and pictures.  

I think it's a great idea - check it out!!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

genre: young adult fantasy

In a world where dragons can take human form and only a precarious peace keeps hostility between humans and dragons at bay, Seraphina feels very alone.  As a talented musician with a desperate secret, she arrives at court just as a murder threatens undermine whatever strength the treaty had left. With very few allies but an incredible knack for ending up at the wrong place at the right time, Seraphina begins to unravel the threads of deceit in the palace - as well as her own history.

What a unique dragon world!  I was entranced by the plot, the romance, Seraphina's very unique self as well as the very intriguing differences between dragons and humans.  I really liked the way that the author delved into what makes a human HUMAN, and how that humanity and our dependance upon our emotions can both help us and hinder us.  The pacing was quick and although I did guess one major "ah-ha!" it didn't spoil the rest of the action.  I LOVED how much music is a part of Seraphina's life - the verbal descriptions of how she felt when she played and how she imagined the sounds she was making were almost breathtaking.  So gorgeous.  Lovely writing style.

 I liked it until the last third and then I was dying to see how it ended and, hurrah, there is to be another one!  Not a trilogy (yay!), just one more book to find out about how Seraphina's people are going to work things out. I must read it.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley (audiobook)

genre: adult mystery

This is Flavia's sixth novel that I have listened to, and I am still just as smitten with her as I was in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  This book takes us even further in the past of Flavia's family and the secrets are deeper than even our precarious nearly 12-year old chemistry enthusiast could imagine.  I feel like the characters we've loved were more fleshed out, given more purpose and depth.  Based on the cliffhanger of the last book, I wasn't sure how things were going to move forward and I was surprised by several of the plot twists.  There were a few threads that hung awkwardly for me for a while and that distracted me, but they did get resolved eventually.

This is going to be a spoiler, for those who care:

I just want to note that I find the whole plot with Flavia's mother very interesting.  It took me a minute to wrap my head around the intrigue, I had to shift my thinking in a way that moved my brain beyond Buckshaw and the surrounding towns, which took a little getting used to.  Sometimes I forget how very recently an enormous war had been fought and so its fitting - I just had to get used to it.

I will be so disappointed if this is the last book.  I love Flavia.  Love.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling by Lucy Frank

genre: young adult fiction

This is a book about two girls - two girls who know pain and who end up being in the same hospital room - a flimsy curtain their only way to get privacy.   During the time that they share in that sterile, horrible room, they slowly find a way to give each other some comfort.

The format of the book is unique - it's a read as a conversation, with a curtain in between.  When the line down the text disappears, that means the curtain has been withdrawn.  It's a novel in verse, so between the layout and the sparse text, it reads very fast.  It took me longer than I'd thought to get into - it was hard to figure out who people were and what was really happening.  I couldn't bring myself to put it down, though, as Chess, the main character, is slowly given her diagnosis.  Shannon, who is far more angry and prickly than Chess, has been dealing with Disease and in a brash way starts a dialogue to help Chess sort though the emotions of being told the word Chronic applies to you.


Something I did like about this book is the fact that it isn't a cancer book or an anorexia book - it brings to light other illnesses that aren't as discussed in the cannon.  To be sick with gastrointestinal issues, to deal with the embarrassments of being sick to your stomach all the time - that's so different than having other problems.  I think that teens who are struggling with this could really see this book as a hug hug, reminding them that they are not alone and that there is hope.

I can't say I loved it but I'm not sorry I read it either.

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

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Travels With Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck (audiobook)

genre: fiction

As the amazing author John Steinbeck sees himself getting along in years, he realizes that it has been decades since he truly spent any time getting to know the people in the nation he writes about.  His desire to reconnect with America and see it again with his own eyes leads to something I personally love: a massive road trip.  He gets a truck that he turns into a camper and he names it after Don Quiote's horse, Rocinante.  And then he leaves his New York home and embarks on a cross-continental journey.

I chose this book because I was personally embarking on an 18 journey from Maryland to Las Vegas and back, I wanted something to inspire me and get me excited.  This did that - to an extent.  It's obviously a very different journey than the one I took, he took his in 1960 and instead of traveling with five children like I did, John's companion was his standard poodle, Charley.  Charley is a main character in this story - he is John's confidant and his muse.   And other than Charley, almost everyone else we meet in this story is a stranger, a snippet of a life that John is able to glean from a few minutes or hours of conversation over a bottle of whiskey.

I really, really liked it.  I liked it because he painted a portait of 1960 for me - the ferocious pace of progress, the rise of the city and the freeway and the rest stop.  I loved, particularly, his thoughts on traveling and how it changes us.  There are parts that are hard to read, especially when he gets to the South and encounters all the tensions and hatred that were constantly boiling over.  But in true Steinbeck fashion, he is a MASTER of our language. His prose is so fluid, his images so perceptive that I love his writing for its own sake.  I have been told to be wary of considering this a literal travelogue - that it is far more "novel" than "true."  But I think I am choosing not to let that bother me - I found truth in his words and ideas, not from whether or not he really stopped at a particular truck stop or not.

I want to mention that I listened to the audiobook version of this book, narrated by Gary Sinise, and he was INCREDIBLE.  His accents were wonderful, his tone was so smooth and dreamy to listen to.  I loved having him in my headphones.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Blog Tour: Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson and Peter D. Sieruta

I read this book as part of a blog tour - welcome new readers!!

genre: non-fiction

Wild things is a book for Bibliophiles.  It's an ode to children's literature - a romp through the ins and outs and behind-the-scenes adventures of the authors, publishers, editors and yes, readers of literature for the young.  In a conversational and familiar tone, this book assumes the reader knows a little about books and wants to know MORE, more about how this book world works and more about how it came to be the way it is.

I found it to be really engaging. I particularly loved the anecdotes and background information about books I'm already familiar with.  Did I wish I could UNlearn a few things?  Maybe.  I'll never think about Shel Silverstein the same way again.   But, truth is good and several times I found myself sharing stories I'd read with my reader-sister, I was so intrigued.  A good sized portion of this book is dedicated to the sexual orientation of various authors and the emergence of books about homosexuals - since this part didn't interest me as much as the rest, it felt a little long but I know other readers would feel differently, so there you go.

As a girl who grew up reading Where the Sidewalk Ends and Dr. Seuss, Little House on the Prairie and Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret, I was always happy to pick this up and learn more about my favorite thing: books.

Disclosure: a copy of this book was given to me in exchange for an honest review

Interested in following along on the tour and getting other viewpoints on the book?    Here's the schedule!

August 5: 100 Scope Notes
August 6: There's A Book
August 8: Guys Lit Wire
August 11Book Riot
August 11: GreenBeanTeenQueen
August 14: Wendy on the Web
August 18: Into the Wardrobe
August 20: The Book Nest
August 21: Random Chalk Talk
August 22: Children's Corner

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