Monday, October 5, 2015

The Rest Of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

Title: The Rest of Us Just Live Here
Author: Patrick Ness
Release Date:
Oct 6, 2015

The Gist:
What if you aren’t the Chosen One?

The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshiped by mountain lions.

Mikey is a completely normal guy; at least he seems to think so.  In his world you are a normal, or an Indie.  The Indies are the chosen ones.  When the world comes crashing down and aliens invade or vampires take over the school, it is the Indies who save the day.  It is also the Indies who die, a lot.  Mikey and his friends are just trying to get to graduation.  To get into good colleges far away from their home town and leave the messy parts of their lives behind.  However, Mikey suffers from anxiety and OCD, things that got really bad during his mother's last campaign and after his sister nearly died from and eating disorder.  He thinks he has things under control but when mysterious blue lights start showing up in town and Indie kids start disappearing he fears the worst - another end-of-the-world showdown and he and his friends may not escape this time.  
The worldbuilding here is wonderful.  Through the chapter titles we are told a parallel tale of the fight between Satchel, an Indie kid, and The Immortals, strange beings bent on taking over the world, one host at a time.  

"Chapter the Second, in which indie kid Satchel writes a poem, and her mom and dad giver her loving space to just feel what she needs to; then an indie kid called Dylan arrives at her house, terrified, to say a mysterious glowing girl has informed him of the death of indie kid Finn; Satchel and Dylan comfort each other, platonically."
There are also mentions throughout the text of things like 'that time the kids were all dying beautifully of cancer' or how Indie kids never seem to use the Internet and are always flipping through the card catalogue.  The only complaint that I have is that I wanted MORE!  Intense break up scenes in the restaurant every night, a new kid moving in once a week and falling in insta-love with the least likely person, wildly inappropriate declarations of love in public places, groups of teens obsessively waiting on the next big trend and arguing the merits of vampires vs werewolves vs zombies.    
Against this backdrop, we have the quirky, but fairly normal story of Mikey and his friends as they just try to survive the latests attack and figure out where they stand with each other as the prepare to separate for the first time.  Mike not only has to deal with his feelings for Henna, but also the arrival of a strange new kid who seems to have divided her attention.  While Mike is certainly not the kid of character we LOVE, he is the kid of character we root for and he is real.  One of my favorite parts of the novel was the exploration of Mikey's anxiety and OCD.  He speaks about getting stuck in loops, doing something over and over again until he gets it 'right' (even though even he can't say what 'right' is).  He also talks about how scared he is and how going back on medication feels like a failure.  There are far too few novels that show the reality behind mental illness and that it is not just something that can be worked through by the end of the book.  Mikey is really afraid of his illness and what it might cause him to do and he talks about it, he seeks help and he makes steps towards getting better. 

The romance between Mike and Henna is sweet, but where this book really shines is in the group dynamics. They are such a great cast of characters and they mesh so well together than they make me wish I had friends like that in high school (albeit I could skip the whole apocalypse every couple of years part).  I do wish that we had alternating narrators between the four main characters as I would have loved to see their take on this world as allow for the female characters to be fleshed out a little more as they did tend to fall a little flat compared to Mike and Jared.

Bottom Line: The Rest of Us Just Live Here has a fantastic premise and executes it fairly well.  The story it tells is not the exciting I-Saved-The-World story, but it is an interesting and important one.  Here's hoping little sister Meredith has her own story to tell in another book. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:

15 and up
Sex: Kissing, Sex between teens (not described), talk of masturbation
Violence: Car crash
Inappropriate Language: Dick, Pissed, Bastard, Shit, Fuck
Substance Use/Abuse: Smoking, Underage Drinking

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

September Round-Up and First Lines.

September was a bit of a rocky month, reading wise.  My husband left for an extended deployment and that left me taking care of my 4 year old and 9 month old without any help from family (since none lives nearby).  While that leaves me lots of time for reading in the evenings, sometimes the loneliness is more than I can take and I need to invite friends over (or at least turn on the tv so that I can hear another person's voice).  There is also the never ending battle with the Heir about bedtime and is ever growing list of "Just One Thing"s that he uses to delay my favorite part of the day - when he is asleep!

I did manage to fit in 6 books (and The Witch's Daughter was super long so that has got to count for 2); one phenomenal, and a few "meh". 

The first words you read can often set the tone for the entire story.  I thought it would be fun to keep track of the first lines of the books I read each month and share them with you.  Below are the first lines for all the books I read in September.

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy
"All the best things in my life have started with a Dolly Parton song."

This was my favorite first line this month.  It just tells so much about the character in that one little line.  This was also my favorite read for the month.  I know it is super hyped right now, but if you haven't yet given this one a shot, do.  It is a great story with fantastic characters and shares a very important message, that everyone is beautiful and that everyone struggles with insecurities.  

The Suffering by Rin Chupeco
"I'm no hero, believe me."

A solid opening, if a little boring.  The Suffering is an awesome read for October, in fact I really wish it has been released next month instead of this one.  Incredibly creepy but with a bit of heart.

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore
"The feathers were Lace's first warning."

Interesting first line but not as compelling as I had hoped.  That goes for the rest of the book as well.  Good, but not great.  Disappointing for someone who is as big a fan of magical realism as I am.

The Witch's Daughter by Paula Brackston
"Bess ran."

B-O-R-I-N-G.  Worst first line of the month.  The book wasn't as bad, but for a character who had been around for hundreds of years it sure took Bess a long time to figure out the obvious. 

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
"On the day we're the last people to see indie kid Finn alive, we're all sprawled together in the Field, talking about love and stomachs."

Runner up for best line.  Loved the concept of this book, I just wanted MORE.  Even though living in a world of heroes was interesting, it didn't really impact the plot and, if it weren't for that gimmick, I'm not sure I would have bothered to read the book.

A Madness so Discreet by Mindy McGinnis
"They all had their terrors."

This book had a lot of potential but the lackluster characters just couldn't pull it off.  Trigger warning on this one - the first few scenes in the Boston asylum are pretty disturbing.


In October I have review copies of:

We'll Never Be Apart by Emiko Jean
The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow
Walk on Earth A Stranger by Rae Carson (a leftover from Sept)

I am also looking forward to the releases of:

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan
The Rose Society by Marie Lu
Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink

And I am really hoping to fit in a few books that I missed out on this summer:

Uprooted by Naomi Novik
The Last Ever After by Soman Chainani
Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas

We are expecting some serious storm weather over the next couple days so I am hoping to jump start my October list on those dark, rainy nights.

That's it from me this month.  What titles are you looking forward to? 

The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemore

Title: The Weight Of Feathers
Author: Anne-Marie McLemore
Publisher: Thomas Dunne
Release Date:
Sept 15, 2015

The Gist: For twenty years, the Palomas and the Corbeaus have been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for over a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows—the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find.

Lace Paloma may be new to her family’s show, but she knows as well as anyone that the Corbeaus are pure magia negra, black magic from the devil himself. Simply touching one could mean death, and she's been taught from birth to keep away. But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it’s a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace’s life. And his touch immerses her in the world of the Corbeaus, where falling for him could turn his own family against him, and one misstep can be just as dangerous on the ground as it is in the trees.

Cluck and Lace come from performing families that have been feuding for longer than either of them have been alive.  Each holds a touch of magic and a fear and hatred towards the other.  The families each carry with them a list of crimes committed by the other tracing back to a mysterious flood that took a member from each side.  The fued has been going on for so long that the younger generation doesn't appear to have any idea what it stems from, they simply continue to perpetrate crimes against each other as taught by their elders.  
In the middle are Cluck and Lace.  An unfortunate accident throws them together, though neither knows the background of the other, and they are forced to confront generations of hatred and misinformation.  As their love for one another grows, they seek out the truth behind the flood and an end to the violence.  
The magical families and their history was the most fascinating part about The Weight of Feathers.  Each family creates an air of mystery during their performances, but still take great pains to hide those things that are truly magical about them.  While the Paloma's dance in the water, the Corbeau's dance in the trees, each building fears and superstitions regarding the realm of the other.  Throughout the novel, we piece together parts of history to create a narrative them speaks of terrible tragedy and disasterous decisions. 
While the families themselves created an enthralling universe, unfortunately, the main characters did not.  Cluck and Lace had no real sense of chemistry and nothing in common.  Despite Cluck claiming passion and excitement at Lace's mere touch, it did not come across on the page.  I was interested in the mystery of them, in the mystery of their families and in what the future would bring for them, I just couldn't root for them as a romantic couple.
The plot is a slow and steady burn towards the truth which culminates in the families having to face the reality of their circumstances, however, nothing really seems to change for anyone other than Cluck and Lace.  I really did LIKE this book but, while the writing was lovely and the magical elements were wonderful, there was simply too much riding on a lackluster romance for me to love it.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

15 and up
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Fist Fighting, Familial abuse
Inappropriate Language: Bitch
Substance Use/Abuse: None

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Suffering by Rin Chupeco

Title: The Suffering
Author: Rin Chupeco
Release Date: Sept 8, 2015
Rating: 5/5

The Gist: It’s been two years since Tark Halloway’s nightmare ended. Free from the evil spirit that haunted him all his life, he now aids the ghostly Okiku and avenges the souls of innocent children by hunting down their murderers. But when Okiku becomes responsible for a death at his high school, Tark begins to wonder if they’re no better than the killers they seek out.

When an old friend disappears in Aokigahara, Japan’s infamous ‘suicide forest’, both must resolve their differences and return to that country of secrets to find her.

Because there is a strange village inside Aokigahara, a village people claim does not exist. A village where strange things lie waiting.

A village with old ghosts and an ancient evil – one that may be stronger than even Okiku…

We rejoin Tark and Okiku two years after the events of The Girl From The Well.  The pair are still hunting for spirits and chasing down murderers.  Their relationship has grown into something even closer than friendship but that means that Tark doesn't have much of a social life either.  Okiku has agreed to hunt by his rules, until she decides to prevent a murder rather than punishing one.  This leads Tark to question whether they are the good guys after all.

When I saw this title come up for review I clicked right away and didn't even read the synopsis.  As such, I had no idea that it was going to be about Aokigahara - Japan's "Suicide Forest".  That fact alone sets us up for some serious terror.  If you haven't heard of this place go ahead, google.  I'll wait.

Done? Right, so just the name gives me the shivers and I don't think I would ever be one of those brave souls willing to enter.  Of course when their old friend, Kagura, goes missing, Tark has no other choice but to walk into one of the most haunted places on the planet.  To make matter worse, the spirits in the forest are connected with Earth, which has a serious advantage over Okiku's water based ones.  Tark has to take on a much stronger role in order to compensate for the fact that Okiku is often out of commission.  

Inside the forest we find the mysterious lost village.  Something dark and horrifying has happened to the residents of the town and one man's greed has led to some of the most terrifying ghosts that Tark has ever encountered.  The story itself is very fast paced and creepy in a way that will definitely appeal to horror fans, especially those who love the Japanese take on the genre.  There are terrifying ghosts, heart-pounding scenes, and a mystery which all add up to a read that you won't want to put down (unless it gets dark out and you are home alone and you can't take it anymore - I mean, I wouldn't know anything about that......)

The Suffering also holds an underlying thread of love and friendship.  In the years since the events of the first book, Tark and Okiku have grown closer and have built a life together.  Through the ending of this novel, we get to see just how dedicated Tark is to their relationship and just how far he will go to maintain their connection.  It really develops the characters and their relationship and gives me high hopes for their being another book in this series as I am just not ready to let them go yet!    

Bottom Line: I liked it even better than the first.  Give me more!

Teaching/Parental Notes:

13 and up
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Fist fighting, Ghost attacks - sometimes bloody, 
Inappropriate Language: Asshole, Bitch, Whore, Shit, Bastard, 
Substance Use/Abuse: Underage drinking

Great For Readers Who Loved:

Monday, September 21, 2015

Interview with Julie Murphy and a chance to win one of three copies of Dumplin'!

What's that?  You've read and loved Dumplin'?  Or you heard about it and want to see what the hype is about?  Or maybe you just love free stuff and would kill to have your very own copy of Dumplin?

Well seek no further.  Over on Young Adult Books Central, you can check out my interview with Julie Murphy AND have a chance to win one of three copies of Dumplin that we are giving away.

Check out my interview HERE!

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy

Title: Dumplin'
Author: Julie Murphy
Balzar and Bray
Release Date: Sept 15th
Rating: 5/5

The Gist:
Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked . . . until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine— Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

Dumplin' is one of those books where I feel woefully unqualified to write a review.  How can I possibly do justice to the brilliant, sweet, heart-wrenching and, ultimately, triumphant book that is Dumplin?  Julie Murphy has created a cast of characters that are so real and well-developed that I often felt they could walk right off the page.  Every character is shown as being multi-faceted.  Ever. Single. One.  I loved watching their hidden sides emerge alongside Willowdean, especially the girls who joined the pageant with her.  Aunt Lucy plays a fantastic role, even though she has passed on before the events of the book, and it is heartbreaking to watch Will struggle to find her place in the world without Aunt Lucy in her corner.  This plays into the incredibly realistic relationship that she has with her mother, and while it is clear that they love each other, neither seems to quite understand the other. 

Willowdean herself has a tough and confident exterior, but the author does a phenomenal job of showing how even girls that appear to have it all together can have crippling insecurities.  Throughout the novel we watch Will as she fights her own demons and struggles against the messages that the world is constantly pushing at her; that she isn't good enough, that she should be ashamed of her body, that someone her size doesn't deserve happiness.  Sometimes she falters, which makes this novel all the more relatable, but she gets back up again and comes out stronger than before. 

Dumplin' features a not-so-typical romance between Will and Bo - the last guy she ever expected to be interested in her.  There is a touch of a triangle, as another suitor tries to garner her affection, but it never actually ventures into the been-there-read-that territory of the literary trope.  The reader is never quite sure of Bo's intentions and, for most of the novel, we get wrapped up in the mystery of him right alongside Willowdean.  It is heartbreaking to watch (but oh so relatable) as Will stiffens at his touch and wonders if she is good enough or if he is being honest. 

Dumplin' is not just a story about a self-proclaimed fat girl finding her place in the spotlight.  It runs deeper than that.  Through Willowdean's internal struggle and the revelations of the other girls in the pageant, we see how everyone suffers with insecurities, no matter their shape or size.  The overwhelming message, however, is that we not allow the internal monologue of "not good enough" to hold you back from wonderful and important life experiences.

Bottom Line: Dumplin is a book that I would recommend to anyone and especially one that all teenagers should read.  It now sits on a special shelf in my classroom (at least it would if it wasn't being read so often!)

Teaching/Parental Notes:

13 and up
Sex: Kissing, Discussion of sex between teens (not described)
Violence: Fist Fighting
Inappropriate Language: Shit, Douche, Asshole, Fuck, Jesus Christ, Bitch, Dick, Whore
Substance Use/Abuse: Underage drinking

Notable Quotables:

"I sit down to eat and liberally spread salad dressing across my plate, because on the eighth day God created ranch dressing."

"It's not that I don't like new people.  It's just that, in general, I do not like new people."

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Shadow Behind The Stars by Rebecca Hahn

Title: The Shadow Behind The Stars
Author: Rebecca Hahn
Atheneum Book for Young Readers
Release Date:
Sept 1, 2015

The Gist: Heed this warning, mortal: stay far away from the three sister Fates. For if they come to love you, they might bring about the end of the world…

Chloe is the youngest. Hers are the fingers that choose the wool, that shape the thread, that begin it. The sun smiles upon her. Men love her without knowing who she is. She has lived forever and will live forever more. She and her sisters have been on their isolated Greek island for centuries, longer than any mortal can remember. They spin, measure, and slice the countless golden threads of human life. They are the three Fates, and they have stayed separate for good reason: it is dangerous for them to become involved with the humans whose lives they shape.

So when a beautiful girl named Aglaia shows up on their doorstep, Chloe tries to make sure her sisters don’t become attached. But in seeking to protect them, Chloe discovers the dark power of Aglaia’s destiny. As her path unwinds, the three Fates find themselves pulled inextricably along—toward mortal pain, and mortal love, and a fate that could unravel the world.

The Shadow Behind the Stars features the three fates of Greek mythology.  On a desolate island the sisters spin, measure, and cut, shaping the lives of humans they were sure to never meet.  Until Aglaia appears on their doorstep and forces them to once again engage with the human world.  While many books will feature encounters with the fates, this is the first time I have read one where they are the main characters.  I loved the concept and the humanization of such epic characters.  With only a handful of details written about the sisters in Greek mythology, it allows a wealth of opportunity to expand their story and imagine their world.  Hahn capitalizes on this in the best way possible, creating characters that are interesting and intricate with thousands of years of experience to motivate their actions. 

As with her previous book, A Creature of Moonlight, Hahn's writing is beautiful and haunting.  She keeps true to the spirit of the old Greek tales and also makes a nod to Shakespeare with the inevitability of death that features so prominently in Macbeth.  However, The Shadow Behind the Stars is not a particularly fast paced novel and does require a patient reader who can appreciate the beauty of the writing and forgive the sometimes slow crawl of the plot.
I loved this book almost all the way through, but it did take a downturn in the ending.  After the novel was over, nothing really seemed to have changed for the characters.  I don't think life after the story would have been all that different for the sisters if Aglaia had never shown up in the first place.  As such, I'm not sure what the point of the entire adventure was.

Bottom Line: The Shadow Behind the Stars is beautifully written and, despite some pacing and plot issues, will surely be a hit with readers who love Greek Mythology.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

16 and up
Sex: None
Violence: Rape, Murder
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse: None