Sunday, March 25, 2012

Ally Condie's Crossed

So, if you follow me on Twitter, you know that I've been in quite the reading slump. I went through a streak of excellent books, unfortunately I read them back to back and didn't review the books as I should've. Call it bad luck or karma, but I've gone through several books that I was less than impressed with and it made me kinda depressed.  Does that happen to you?

In hopes of finding a captivating story, I put on my "sequel shoes" and went looking for something that I knew would give me my needed book fix.

What I found was Ally Condie's Crossed, which is the second installment of the Matched trilogy.

Cassie Reyes has left her family in search of Ky Markham, the Aberration that she loves and sent to the Outer Provinces in the first novel. She works in the villages, hoping to get closer to Ky. Condie's poetic writing style is captivating, and she's able to capture this young love in such a mature manner. Cassie and Ky are just kids, but they seem so much more mature and observant than most adults I know. In Cassie's journey, she learns of a rebellion against the Society and becomes eager to join.

I predict that this trilogy will follow a similar pattern of The Hunger Games. The only thing Matched has in common with THG is that they are both dystopian and lead to a rebellion.

If you choose to read the Matched trilogy, I recommend that you read the books in close succession.  Most authors take some time in the beginning of a novel to give you some background information, and therefore refresh your memory, but Condie doesn't. I read Matched about two years ago, and I spent a large amount of time trying to remember the plot of the previous book.

Will I read Reached? I suppose I will, but I'm going to save it for when I need to put on my "sequel shoes."

Monday, March 12, 2012

Tatiana De Rosnay's Sarah's Key- Not for kids

This novel was at the book fair at my middle school campus, and I don't know why.

De Rosnay tells a story of the French roundup on July 16, 1942 at the Velodrome d'Hiver. The Vel' d'Hiv became known as one of the largest roundups of French Jews during the occupation. What's so horrific about it is that it was ran by French police, under German orders, and the Jews were treated so inhumanely.  The families were forced to stay in a large stadium for days without any food or water.  Then, they were all shipped to a holding camp. The parents were brutally separated from their children, and sent away to Auschwitz to die.  The children remained at Beaune-la-Rolande, until receiving orders to go to Auschwitz.

De Rosnay made it very clear that this novel is not to be interpreted as a historical fiction, but as a way to remember what happened to those thousands of innocent children. The author ties the past and the present together by telling the story from two perspectives: an American journalist living in Paris during 2002, and 10 year old Sarah who lived through the roundup.

The novel is a beautifully written and horrific story. I had difficulty keeping my emotions in control.  The novel stayed with me so much, that I would lie awake at night and think about my daughter and what would/couldn't do to save her.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Maggie O'Farrell's The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox- Not for kids


Iris Lockhart has always believed that her grandmother, Kitty, was an only child.  Until Iris gets a call from Cauldstone psychiatric hospital, explaining that a woman named Esme Lennox is to be released. At first, Esme is in disbelief that she has a family member that she doesn't know about.

What I like about the novel is that O'Farrell tells the story from the perspective of three women: Esme, Iris, and Kitty. Iris is a single woman, and has two married men in love with her. Esme has been in an institution for 61 years, and is free for the first time. Kitty has Alzheimer's, and her memories come to her in patches. Through Esme and Kitty's memories, their story unfolds and family secrets are revealed.

What I didn't like about the novel is the way O'Farrell organized the plot line.  The story was not broken down into chapters or sections, it's just a long and continuous story without any stopping points. Also, the way that the author chooses to switch the characters' point of view is strange.  In one paragraph, you are reading a memory from Esme's point of view.  In the next, you are reading one of Kitty's patchy memories.  The only way one can tell the point of view is by the use of the character's names.

Another thing that makes the novel harder to follow is the need to infer all the major points of the story.  The author never comes out and clearly says why Esme was institutionalized, but you can infer that it's because Esme's parents were tired of her antics. Through the telling of the story there are hints at a diagnosis, like schizophrenia or personality disorder, but I don't think there's anything wrong with her. At most, my guess is that she has Asperger's Syndrome. The reason I think so is because of the emotional outbursts, not being able to interpret appropriate social behavior, and the meticulous counting and observations she makes throughout the novel.  By today's standards, that isn't a reason to have someone committed to a psychiatric institution.

Oh, and about Esme? What the heck! All that poor girl needed was someone to love her and appreciate her quirks. Instead, she is left alone in India for days with a nanny and a brother that died of typhoid disease. She was raped in the coat closet at a party, just before being committed. Did anyone even realize that Jamie hurt her? I wonder this because his parents sent him away, but through Kitty's memories you learn that she was jealous and still pining for him after Esme was sent away.

You also have to infer what Kitty took from Esme, and that's the big secret. Plus, I'm a little foggy on how the story ends.  I don't want to reveal too much but if you decide to read the novel, I'd like to know your thoughts.

Overall, I think that the story has a great story line and a ton of potential. I just didn't like how the novel was organized, and unfortunately we can't cater books to meet our needs.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Stephen King's 11/22/63- Not For Kids

Historical fiction makes me feel tingly in funny places.  It's ok for me to say that, right?

After taking a trip to the 6th Floor Museum in Dealey Plaza, my interest in JFK's assassination had been renewed. I got the book, hoping to learn more about the assassination and the time period (I'm guessing you already know how I feel about historicals). 

Jake Epping, English teacher divorcee with a penchant for cheap hamburgers, gets a late night call from the owner of his favorite hamburger joint, Al.  Surprised to even get the call, Jake humors his friend and meets him at the diner. Once he arrives, Jake learns of a "rabbit hole" that would take him back to September of 1958.

After Jake gets a grasp on the "rabbit hole" and accepts it as truth, Al then proposes a theory to him: saving JFK from being assassinated would prevent the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, racial wars, and Vietnam War. Al convinces Jake that he could save millions by going back to 1958 with a mission to save Kennedy.

Reluctantly Jake Epping goes back in time to become George Amberson, an aspiring writer/realtor travelling on business.

In traditional Stephen King fashion, the novel is woven with intricate, smaller plot lines that ultimately lead up to November 22, 1963.

I was born in the 80's, and I have no idea what 1958 was like.  King paints such a detailed picture, down to cigarette smoke, bus exhaust fumes, and limited air conditioning; that I can imagine walking through the rabbit hole and feeling the September 1958 sun shining on my face.

Well done, Mr. King. Well done.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Jennifer McMahon's Promise Not to Tell- Not for kids

This book had been on my reading list for about a year.  Why didn't I read it sooner?

Kate Cypher has returned to her hippie village in Vermont, to care for her elderly mother.  Upon her return, a young girl is brutally murdered. Strange things start happening in New Hope, as law enforcement tries to solve this young girl's murder.  Thirty years earlier Kate's best friend is murdered the same way, and Kate must also deal with her part in Del's murder.

The author tells Kate's story of present and past, through flashbacks organized in a reader friendly way. I like how each chapter is labeled with the time period, and it's easy to switch back and forth. The author brings in a unique style of living that intrigues me, and leaves me in constant suspense.

I work in a school, with kids in the same age group as Del. I see how cruel kids can be to one another, and I hear of heartbreaking circumstances daily.  I guess this book has struck a chord with me because of what I have seen and heard in real life. I can't stop thinking about this book, and yet it leaves me without much to say.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Gareth Flood's Oil and Corruption

Upon reading the synopsis of the novel, I see that the author described it as "nefarious." In some ways it is, but in others I thought it was funny.  Like Inglorious Basterds funny. Maybe that's not what the author intended, but that's my interpretation.

The novel is about an British man, Jonathan Marshall, who is just some underdog analyst for a major oil corporation.  He completes an analysis for another coworker and people start dying, including his coworker and several attempts on his life.

I thought the novel to be funny for several reasons.  The author covers very intense and serious subject matter, but he uses words and phrases such as "The last of the coins were fed in faster than the slot machine rate of a Florida retiree with cancer in Vegas," to create images that may/may not be intentionally funny. The author also uses the same style of writing to create a character's inner thoughts.  My favorite example is "He is more slippery than a greased pig."  Hilarious, or is it just me?

Another reason I thought the novel was so funny was the way the characters were described and developed.  Most of the characters are pretty flat, with the exception of Jonathan Marshall.  That's ok, it works for this book. Let's just examine some of these other characters:

Hoot Mitchel: Oil tycoon and CEO, who is killed to pave the way for new oil pipelines. The way I imagine this guy is not very flattering. He's stupid wealthy, fat (thinks he's God's gift), and his dialect gives the impression of the stereotypical-dumbass-American that says "Amuricah" for "America."

The Cajun, The Tartan, The Nasty Arab, One Dirty Hebe- All of these are the "muscle man" for their bosses. The Cajun and The Tartan are "secret weapons," assassins that are killing machines meant for mass destruction. What's funny about these killers is that they all have a stereotypical character trait magnified. If people like this really exist, then I don't know what I'm gonna do....

Overall, the book is a good read.  If the funny parts weren't intended in this "nefarious tale," then it's an extra bonus.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sarah Addison Allen's The Sugar Queen

Until recently, I have been reading mostly thrillers and mysteries.  By today's standards, some of the violence and gruesome scenes can effect the way I see the world and myself.  Dumb, I know.  But I'm addicted to fiction and sometimes I internalize too much.  To break the spell, I have to switch genre and get an attitude adjustment.

And I have fallen under a spell, by Sara Addison Allen. I have already read Garden Spells, her debut novel, and I loved it! I didn't see myself reading another of her novels, but a friend loaned it to me and I'm glad she did.

The Sugar Queen also takes place in North Carolina, where southern belles and the romance of The South still exist. Allen mixes together ideals of southern belles, magic, and romance together to weave a tale that is certain to lift your spirits.

Josey Cirrini, daughter of famed Italian Marco Cirrini and beautiful southern belle Margaret, is trapped in her life. Living in a small town, everyone remembers her as a child, and as daughter of Marco and Margaret Cirrini. Her mother wants to force her to be caretaker, punishing her for her existence. Josey wants forgiveness and permission to leave.

Feeling trapped in her life, Josey traps herself into her closet which is stashed with junk food and magazines. What she doesn't expect to find is hardened Della Lee, who has a past and a story to tell.

Combined with Della Lee's efforts and a new friendship with Chloe Finley, Josey finds herself and everything she's ever wanted.

Veronica Roth's Divergent

Did you like The Hunger Games? I think you'll like this one better!

Roth creates a world broken into five factions, based on how they believe democracy failed. If you live in Abnegation, then you believe that the leaders were selfish. If you live in Dauntless, then the leaders were cowards. If you live in Erudite, then you believe that citizens didn't seek enough knowledge. Candor is for those who felt lying led to our demise. Amity is for those who believe that the world isn't kind enough.

When a citizen turns sixteen, he is required to take a special aptitude test to help determine which faction he will live in. The results of the aptitude test aren't the only factors in making your decision.  But you have to choose wisely.  If you decide to transfer into another faction, then you abandon your family and your old faction, adopting the new motto "faction before blood."

Beatrice Prior is sixteen, and she will be taking the aptitude along with her brother.  Beatrice's results are inconclusive, and she will have to choose her faction based on how she feels and her obligations to her family.

I recently learned that this book is part of a trilogy, and I don't even care.  I devoured this novel and will wait patiently until May, when the next installment is released.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Suzanne Weyn's Distant Waves

Weyn incorporates fiction with historical fact in Distant Waves.

An intricate tale is woven around several characters, some real and some fiction.  The Taylor sisters are from Spirit Vale, which is based on Lily Dale in New York.  They find themselves on board Titanic, having seen several premonitions of the ship's demise.

The plot is more complicated than five sisters on board a ship destined to sink.  The author weaves in back story including scientific experiments of Nikola Tesla, who historically was not on board the ship. Weyn also managed to include several of the more famous passengers into her story.

Distant Waves is geared more toward girls between the ages of 11 and 13. Aside from having a limited demographic, I really love the way Weyn wrote this novel.  This is a wonderful opportunity to get kids into reading fiction, and brushing up on a history lesson or two.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Glen R Krisch's Where Darkness Dwells

Where Darkness Dwells weaves together the folks of Coal Hollow, an old and almost destitute mining town. The story begins when two boys disappear after going on "one last adventure." One of the boys, George, is brutally murdered and the the other boy, Jimmy, can't be found.

The town offers the explanation that an animal mangled George's body, but it doesn't sit well with Ellie (George's little sister) and Jacob (Jimmy's little brother). Meanwhile, a transient with a history is drawn to an abandoned house that once belonged to the Blankenships. Cooper can't explain why he's drawn to the house, and he isn't convinced that George was killed by an animal.
Krisch weaves the characters' truths with historical fiction and myth in his thriller. There are some parts of the story that I am hazy on, and that could just be that I just missed it. These are the questions that I have:
1. How is it that the entire Harris family could be killed by The Collectors, and it seems that the town didn't take notice?
2. What is the force that fuels The Underground? Is it demonic? Or perhaps just the evil and pure hatred that Cartwright, Scully, and the triplets possess?

I was sucked in after the first 20 pages or so, and I thought the novel is a good read.  I also downloaded his first novel, The Nightmare Within, and I seem to be abandoning my "hit 'em and quit 'em" philosophy toward books that aren't in a series.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

CJ Omololu's Dirty Little Secrets

Omololu's Dirty Little Secrets tells the story of Lucy Tompkins, who's mother is a hoarder. Lucy's mother wasn't always a hoarder until her father abandoned them.  Since then, Lucy's life has been surrounded by trash and her fear of outsiders seeing how they live.

Lucy holds on to the fact that she only has two more years to live with her mother.  Then she can move out like the rest of her siblings and have a normal life. Lucy finds her mother dead, in the trash-stuffed hallway, of natural causes.

Then Lucy's problems become compounded: she has to call the police, letting the entire neighborhood (and media) see how her mother has made them live, or she can find a way to cover it up. One could argue that Lucy is, in a sense, also a hoarder because she refuses to ask anyone for help or confide in someone.  She holds this secret with her, and lets it decay her psyche.

After finishing the novel, I am left with one question.  What would I do in Lucy's situation?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Ellen Hopkin's Triangles- Not for kids

This is another author that I found via Twitter.  When I first downloaded the book, I thought something was wrong with the file or my Nook. There's not anything wrong with either.

The story is a narrative poem, and it makes a regular story unique. The story is told from the perspectives of three women: Holly, Andrea, and Marissa. They are middle aged, regular women that have issues such as infidelity, being a single parent, or having a child with a terminal illness.

What makes the story so unique is Hopkin's style.  The format is narrative poem, with limited dialogue. Throughout the plot, a character will make a reference to another topic or theme.  Then the author will pause on furthering the plot to further explore the mentioned topic or theme.  It sounds strange when I describe it, but it works. It's consistent through the entire novel, and it does help bring further understanding to the character's situation. The best I can do is provide an example, from pages 198-199:

"'Shane, playing David to some kid's Goliath. Only this time the Philistine conquered'.....
The Philistines
Of biblical fame were
too bold for their
er, kilts-eschewing
their lovely
Greek isle homes in a
to conquer Egypt. A
ambition, not to
irrational, iron or no

Aside from providing the reader extra insight, the rhythm and word choice is just beautiful.

Unless I get sucked into another series, I usually have a "hit 'em and quit 'em" mentality in regards to reading multiple texts by the same author. Ellen Hopkins, you are an exception and  I have added more of your work to my reading list....

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Rachel Vincent's Soul Screamers Volume One

Vincent's Soul Screamers Volume One is a collection of three different stories from the same series.  The stories all focus around one character, Kaylee Cavanaugh.

My Soul to Lose
In the first installment, Kaylee is unaware of her supernatural heritage. She sums up the episodes of grief and the unyielding desire to scream to panic attacks.  When she has a panic attack in public, she later becomes admitted into a psychiatric ward.

My Soul to Take
The second installment picks up right where the first left off.  Kaylee has left the psychiatric ward, and is trying to hide her panic at all costs to avoid a one way ticket back to the psych ward. When young, beautiful girls start collapsing to their death, Kaylee learns that she is not crazy.  She is bean sidhe. Kaylee isn't screaming in panic, but wailing for the departed's soul.  To humans around her, the scream sounds like an earth-shattering screech. To the soul, Kaylee's song is comforting and beautiful.

My Soul to Save
The last installment of the volume happens to be my favorite. When Kaylee and her bean sidhe boyfriend are at a concert, the pop star falls dead.  And Kaylee didn't feel the need to sing for her.  Instead, she learns that people can sell their souls for worldly possessions.  When the person dies, Kaylee doesn't wail because that person has no soul.

I searched all over the interwebs for a song that would represent what I think Kaylee's soul song sounds like, but to no avail. I did, however, find a brief piano riff that makes me think of the Netherworld.

Kaylee's Journey to the Netherworld

The song is from Requiem for a Dream; I'm reminded of evil's intensity and huge sacrifices people make for small pleasures.

If you choose to read Vincent's Soul Screamers, I recommend that it is done in smaller increments.  I read all three stories back to back. I enjoyed all three stories, but reading them in close succession cause me to not fully absorb the story. I also got too comfortable with Vincent's writing style, and found myself predicting events of the plot instead of experiencing them with Kaylee.