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Review: The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray January 13, 2010

Filed under: Book Review,Young Adult — Michelle @ 6:34 am
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Title: The Sweet Far Thing
Author: Libba Bray
Genre: Young Adult
ISBN: 0440237777
Pages: 819
Year: 2008
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Source: My collection
Rating: 2/5

Plot summary (from The Book Depository):

It has been a year of change since Gemma Doyle arrived at the foreboding Spence Academy. Her mother murdered, her father a laudanum addict, Gemma has relied on an unsuspected strength and has discovered an ability to travel to an enchanted world called the realms, where dark magic runs wild. Despite certain peril, Gemma has bound the magic to herself and forged unlikely new alliances. Now, as Gemma approaches her London debut, the time has come to test these bonds. The Order–the mysterious group her mother was once part of–is grappling for control of the realms, as is the Rakshana. Spence’s burned East Wing is being rebuilt, but why now? Gemma and her friends see Pippa, but she is not the same. And their friendship faces its gravest trial as Gemma must decide once and for all what role she is meant for.

Plot summary (from me):

600 pages of pointlessness. 200 pages to wrap up the story. Oh, and there is some kissing. And some magic. But that’s all that sticks with me.

Other Books I’ve Read By Author: A Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels (the first two books in the series).

Why I Picked Up This Book: I started it ages ago for Seriespalooza, but basically I just needed to finish the trilogy.

My thoughts:

I’ve been pretty vocal about my dislike of this book while reading it.  I have no idea why this book was 820 pages long. I’m pretty sure I could have skipped the first 600 pages and been fine. I thought the first two books picked up toward the end, and so did this one, but there was just too much before any real action happened.  I was annoyed with the characters – I disliked Ann and her whining, Felicity and her selfishness. And Gemma and her “oh what should I do, what should I do” complaints all the time.

My biggest problem with the book was that I don’t think their world was explained well enough so I didn’t care about it or what happened to it.  Because Gemma is the story teller and she doesn’t know anything, I didn’t either. Perhaps I just don’t remember the first two books well enough, but I felt like it was all just made up as we went. I want my fictional worlds to be carefully crafted and make sense.

I also was annoyed by all the selfishness that happened in the book. I know they’re only teenagers and maybe I’ve just watched too many episodes of Charmed, but I’m a believer in the idea that the people who hold magic should not use it for personal gain. I was annoyed by all the scheming.

The only thing that kept me going (besides the need to finish the trilogy) was the Gemma-Kartik storyline. I did want to know what happened with them.

Memorable Passages:

“Peace is not happenstance. It is a living fire that must be fed constantly. It must be tended to with vigilance, else it dies out.” p. 301

Will I Read This Author Again?: Possibly, but I won’t go out of my way.



 

Hate List by Jennifer Brown December 14, 2009

Filed under: Book Review,Young Adult — Michelle @ 7:42 am
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Title: Hate List
Author: Jennifer Brown
Genre: Young Adult
ISBN: 0316041440
Pages: 416
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Source: Library
Rating: 4/5

Hate List is the story of Valerie Leftman, a girl who unknowingly and unwillingly becomes a vital part in a school shooting.  Val created “The Hate List” – a list of all the people and things she and her boyfriend, Nick  disliked. But Nick took it it a step further when he walked into their high school one morning with a gun and killed and wounded several students before killing himself.  Hate List follows Val as she deals with the aftermath of being the shooter’s girlfriend, the creator of the list he used to kill people, and the “hero” who stopped the shooting by jumping in front of a girl and taking a bullet to the leg. Val has to deal with her parents failing relationship, her younger brother who just wants a normal life, and her former friends and enemies when she returns to school for her senior year.  Luckily there are a few people in her life that help support and guide her during this crucial time.

Michelle from Gallysmith (she should feel special being mentioned two posts in a row) recommended this book to me. I don’t think I loved it quite as much as she did, but I did enjoy (if you can enjoy a book like this) it very much.  When I first started reading it, I thought the first person narrative would be too much for me. I generally don’t like the use of first person in young adult novels (something about being trapped in teenagers heads), but once I got into the story, it was fine. I did have to put up with quite a few “likes” and “whatevers” but I can live with those.  By the end of the novel, I was crying along with Val and truly wishing that she be able to move on with her life.

If this book is about any one thing, it is about relationships and how they change. Val loved Nick and still remembers all the good times they had together. She understandably has a hard time reconciling those memories with his status as a killer.  Val’s father is increasingly absent from her life and she has to deal with letting him go and not trying to change things she can’t.  Val’s mother constantly worries about her – what she might do to herself, to others, or what others might do to her daughter.  Val’s relationship with her psychiatrist, her art teacher, her guidance counselor, and a former enemy are what get her through the following year.

I’ve never read a book about a school shooting before. I was a sophomore in high school when Colombine happened and I remember the fear and anxiety that took over even in my school thousands of miles away. And then we had a slew of other school shootings and somehow it became something that we legitimately had to worry about. Schools should be a safe place but because of the hatred that goes on in them, they aren’t.  This book shows us how “little” things kids do to each other can add up and intensify to a deadly level.

I read most of this novel in one day and I read it very quickly. So I want to use the words like “compelling” and “page-turner” that I’m not supposed to use because that really is what this is. If you’re looking for a quick and intriguing (but not light) book, check out Hate List.

Some other reviews of Hate List (hint: they all rave about it):

 

The Maze Runner December 5, 2009

Filed under: Book Review,Young Adult — Michelle @ 7:45 am
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Title: The Maze Runner
Author: James Dashner
Genre: YA/Dystopian
ISBN: 0385737947
Pages: 384
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Rating: 4/5*

I’m not sure where I first heard about The Maze Runner, but to whomever it was that first mentioned it, thank you.  After finishing Hunger Games and Catching Fire, I was craving another YA Dystopian novel.  While I may not have loved The Maze Runner as much as the Hunger Games (sorry, Mr. Dashner), it was a perfect book to satisfy that craving.

Publisher’s Description:

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade–a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls. Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift. Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up–the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers. Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.

The Maze Runner took me a little time to get into, but once it got going, I had a hard time putting it down. I actually finished the book on the ride from Cape Cod to Waltham despite the rapidly fading light and short time I had to spend with my dad.  The novel is full of action (action-packed?) and mystery.  Maybe a little too much mystery – sometimes I felt just as frustrated as Thomas at not knowing the answers, but then again, maybe I was supposed to feel like Thomas and maybe that was the point…  Anyway, we spend much of the Maze Runner just trying to figure it all out.  And just like the Hunger Games/Catching Fire, the Maze Runner is not afraid of killing off kids.  That impresses me (I secretly wanted Ron or Hermione to die).  I don’t like my YA books to be sugar-coated.

I really enjoyed The Maze Runner and recommend it. I’m very excited to see what happens in Book 2.  There was a nice little twist** at the end as expected (is it a twist if it’s expected). I don’t want to say much else about the book because it’s best discovered while reading.

One last random question: did the mechanical sounds of the Grievers remind anyone else of the smoke monster in Lost?

* I’m trying a new summary/rating format. Let me know what you think.

**Ben and I just recently watched a lot of 30 Rock and now we periodically exclaim “Twist!” when applicable.

 

Discovering Betsy-Tacy #5: Heaven to Betsy and Maud Hart Lovelace Challenge Wrap-up October 31, 2009

Heaven to Betsy

Knowing she looked pretty now, feeling successful and gay, Betsy smiled.
“How do you like high school?” she asked.
“I like it.  Do you?”
“I think it’s just Heaven.”
“Heaven to Betsy!” he said.

When I first considered reading the Betsy-Tacy books, Emily told me that I had to at least get to Heaven to Betsy to make my decision about them even if it meant skipping earlier books to get there.  I didn’t skip any books, but I have been anxiously awaiting the high school books.  The Earlier books are fine, but definitely meant for young readers.  Emily was right.  Heaven to Betsy was simply wonderful and could be enjoyed by anyone.

Heaven to Betsy is the first of the older Betsy-Tacy books.  I got my hands on one of the new editions that bundles it with Betsy in Spite of Herself (which I’m itching to read but making myself finish some other books first).  In Heaven to Betsy, Betsy is just starting her first year of high school.  It opens with her away from home for the summer and feeling very homesick.  When she returns, she finds out her family is moving and she will no longer live across the street from Tacy.  Tib has moved back to Milwaukee by this time.  All of these changes put Betsy in a “mood.”  But this all changes when she starts making new friends and becomes very, very interested in boys.  All of her adventures as a teenager left me grinning from ear to ear as I read.

Reading about Betsy’s high school years really didn’t seem that different than my high school years.  Passing notes, talking on the phone, gossiping, and hanging out with friends.  “The Crowd” as Betsy’s group of friends was called was similar to the group I hang out with (including the swapping of affection).  Of course, my friends and I had an even less creative name and just referred to everyone as “The Group” which was sometimes broken down to “The Boys” and “The Girls.”  Betsy experiences her first crush, her first kiss (on the cheek), and her first heartache.  Growing up in 1900s Minnesota didn’t really seem that different than growing up in 1990s Michigan was for me.

The Rays are such an amazing family.  Mr. and Mrs. Ray have the kind of marriage that must make even happy couples jealous.  And what wonderful parents they are – always listening to their children and understanding their troubles.  When Betsy and Julia want to become Episcopalians, their Baptist parents see that they are serious and allow them to make that important decision.  This book also made me wish I had a sister.  Although I love him, my brother was no Julia.

The Rays home seems so cozy and inviting.  I want to have a home like that someday.  I love the idea of Sunday Night Lunch.  Anyone can stop by and Mr. Ray does the cooking.  A night for friends, family, and fun.  Go here to check out a real life Sunday Night Lunch.

At first, I was afraid that Tacy was getting left behind as Betsy experience high school, but throughout the book you can tell they are still close and the book ends with a touching scene of the two of them.

I can’t wait to keep reading these books.

Maud Hart Lovelace Challenge Wrap-up

By finishing Heaven to Betsy, I have completed the Maud Hart Lovelace Challenge (my first completed challenge ever!).  For this challenge, I read:

  • Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill
  • Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown
  • Heaven to Betsy

My favorite book was, of course, Heaven to Betsy, but I enjoyed them all.  Thanks to S. Mehrens of A Library is a Hospital of the Mind for hosting this challenge.  If you want to read other reviews,click here.

 

My Halloween Resolution October 28, 2009

Filed under: Chatter,Young Adult — Michelle @ 10:05 pm
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My last post notwithstanding, I have decided that I have been reading too many young adult novels lately.  I’m 26.  I’m married. I have a real job. Yet I keep reading books meant for teenage/pre-teen/even-younger-than-that girls.  Part of this is due to my Betsy-Tacy journey.  Part of this is due to my Post-War and Peace lack of attention for big books.  And partly is is just because some good young adult books have recently been released or discovered.

But I don’t want to read only YA books.  There are a lot of good grown-up books out there that I want to read.  So I’m instituting a new rule.  I need to keep at least a 1:1 ratio each month (starting in November of course).  For every YA book I read, I need to then read a non-YA book.  This will allow me to shift my focus back on some of the other books I want to be reading.

I also want my husband to respect me again. (I told him he would like this post and he asked if he was in it.  I said no and he said he likes when he is in my posts so this is me mentioning him).

But I do still have Catching Fire to read…and the Betsy-Tacys…and…

 

Shelf Discovery Challenge

Filed under: Challenges,Young Adult — Michelle @ 8:00 am
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When I first heard of Shelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnick, I knew I had to get it.  And as soon as I got it, I knew I had to return to these books.  I’m actually a little young for a lot of the books in here.  The collection is really for children of the 60s and 70s (not me who wasn’t even able to read until the late 80s), but thanks to growing up in a small town and having access to only a small town library (it was actually an old house), I did end up reading a lot of these books.  And I would pretty much read anything I got my hands on.  I have often told the story of reading Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret in second grade and having no idea what a period was the entire time (it dawned on me years later what the book was actually about).

But I missed on on a few that I really should have read.  So when I saw the Shelf Discovery Challenge hosted by Booking Mama I knew I had to join.  I’m going to use this as an opportunity to read some of those books I missed out on as well as revisit some classics I haven’t seen in years.

The Challenge  (from Booking Mama):

The Shelf Discovery Challenge will run for six months (November 1, 2009 – April 30, 2010). To join me in this challenge, all you need to do is grab a copy of SHELF DISCOVERY and pick out what six books you want to read (of course, you can read more than six!) Then, after you read a book, just write a “book report” to share your thoughts with others!

And here are my six books (subject to change):

  1. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
  2. The Westing Game
  3. Jacob Have I Loved
  4. Bridge to Teribithia
  5. Island of the Blue Dolphins
  6. Little House on the Prairie

Wish me luck as I travel back into my childhood.

 

The Hunger Games October 13, 2009

Filed under: Book Review,Young Adult — Michelle @ 9:32 pm
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Around the time that Catching Fire came out this year, I began hearing of the buzz around this series.  So I requested a copy of The Hunger Games from the library and calmly waited until it came in.  Then I devoured it (that pun might be intended).  I read it in 3 late night reading sessions last week after Husband had gone to bed forcing myself to put it down each night so that I could get a few hours of sleep.  The plot moved quickly, the premise was fascinating, and the characters came to life.  Like most young adult books, the writing may not be fantastic, but the story makes up for it..  I’m saving the sequel, Catching Fire for the read-a-thon and the wait is killing me.

For those who don’t know, the Hunger Games is a dystopian novel taking place sometime in the future in what is now the United States.  The Capitol rules the outlying Districts and to show its control and prevent rebellion, every year 2 teenagers – Tributes – from each district must take part in a competition to the death that is nationally televised.  The winner returns to a live a life of luxury in his or her district.  This year Katniss takes her younger sister’s place as a Tribute.  Peeta, a boy her age, is chosen as the second Tribute.  Together they journey to the Capitol where they must participate in the pomp and circumstance leading up to the games and then fight for their lives once it begins.

This book is sort of a mash-up of The Lottery and The Most Dangerous Game with a little love story thrown in for kicks.  I highly recommend it to those of you out there who love a good young adult dystopian novel.

[Originally posted at michellen.vox.com.  For the original post and comments, click here.]