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.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to http://ratedreads.com

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.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Books I've Given Up On

This is just a new list, for my own reference.   Ever since I had the twins, I have found that I am WAY more able to put a book down that hasn't grabbed me.  My time is just WAY to precious.   Things I might normally slog through and just give 2 stars to are now getting put right back into the library drop off box :)

Books That I've Given Up On

BZRK by Michael Grant - Sci-fi with way too many characters introduced at once and after 70 pages I just didn't care. Too bad because it's a cool idea.

Ash by Melinda Lo - This Cinderella retelling was just going too slow and doing nothing for me.

Tsarina by J. Nelle Patrick - I just can't care about your magical egg.  I'm sorry.

The Moonlight Palace by Liz Rosenberg -  I wanted to read this because it takes place in Singapore in the 20s - how awesome is that? Except it felt like I was reading something from today - I read 20% of the book and I might as well be in England right now for all it made me feel like a foreign story. Boo.

Journey of Hope: A Novel of Triumph and Heartbreak on the Oregon Trail in 1852 by Victoria Murata - I wanted to immerse myself in some pioneer trail story but this was really bad - after two chapters I knew that this author, while probably a nice person, could not transport me to the pioneer trail I wanted.

Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky - I like the premise, about teens wanting to log back into real life after society is uber online but the execution was so blah blah blah

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Entwined by Heather Dixon

genre: ya fantasy

Azalea is the eldest of twelve sisters - and a princess.  Living in a run-down castle with pockets of magic still lingering, she loves two things: her family and dancing.   When her mother dies and the dancing must stop, Azalea is hard pressed to find anything to be happy about.  Then: she finds the door, the steps leading down to a magical ballroom, a handsome man who can make her dancing dreams come true. But at what price?

This was delightful.  The banter between the sisters, the love between a girl and her parents, the romance, the dancing, the fairy tale re-telling (this is my favorite fairy tale!).  A wonderful twist on an old story with magicked objects and multiple lovely moments.  I can't say it was life changing but it begged to be completed and certainly rang true to the story I love.  Huzzah!

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to http://ratedreads.com

Sunday, October 5, 2014

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

genre: fiction


Boo Radley.

Atticus Finch.

These names have been in my head since middle school but I realized lately that I had no memory of what their story was about at all - and that bothered me. I'd been watching for an audio version on Audible that had a narrator with a southern drawl.  I've found that listening to books with authentic narrators really helps me to get my head into their space.  This summer, an unabridged copy was released narrated by Sissy Spacek and from the sample, I was hooked.

This novel is a marvel. A master piece. Its plot is compelling - that of a small southern town in the 1930s and one particular family that lives there. Lawyer Atticus Finch and his two children Jem and Scout, along with their African American cook, have to navigate a world where black is less than white and any white that finds sympathy for black is just as hated.  When Atticus becomes the defense attorney for a black defendant, his family becomes the target in a world where you have to take sides on any issue that has to do with race.

But what's miraculous about what Harper Lee has done here, is that she's telling us the story from the point of view of a young child - by a girl who has been raised by a tolerant, loving and, above all, upright father. So through her eyes we are forced to see how abhorrent and upsetting racism is - how against nature. We have to look at the evidence and cry out for justice.   We watch the way she feels about a reclusive neighbor when she is young and then see her taught by that same father, finding not just gratitude for Boo Radley but compassion.  Can you overrate compassion in the set of qualities you want your children to learn?  Jem, her brother, is just as good of an example of looking at the world through fresh and guile-less eyes - his hatred for what is unfair rings so true and so optimistic.  It makes me feel like that way we teach our children DOES matter.  Like standing up for our beliefs in the face of danger and hatred can create an atmosphere in our home where our children dare to do the same. What we need is a planet full of Atticus Finches because men like Atticus Finch, who do not shy from what their gut says is right, can change everything.  And you can watch a town slowly reveal individuals who just need someone like Atticus to stand up first, then they can be brave enough to do the same.

Yes, there is some harsh stuff in here. There is talk of rape. There are racial epithets that might bother some readers.  But oh, the REDEMPTION.   The hearts of people trying to protect the weak.  The childhood experiences of a time long past in a culture that no longer exists in the same way.  The sprinkles of comic relief and the pride in one's home county.

Books like this are why I read.  Books that make me feel things so deeply about things that really matter that I weep.

I could not recommend it more.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Death Sworn by Leah Cypess

 genre: young adult fantasy

When Ileni enters the Assassian's cave, she knows there is no turning back.  The one thing she valued, her magic, is slowly draining away and all that is left for her is a life among killers.  And while one part of her is supposed to be teaching magic skills to this all-male group of assassins - the other part of her is determined to figure out what happened to her predecessor, all while somehow managing to stay alive herself.

So, its got magic (some of which mysteriously is disappearing for unknown reasons and which was super frustrating, even to me as a reader), its definitely got mystery and there is some romance too.  I liked it!  I was intrigued by the Assassin culture and Ileni is an interesting character because she is put in such a tough position.  I felt almost anxious for her sometimes, which makes for uncomfortable reading -but I also think that's the sign of a good plot, I had to imagine myself in a really lame situation without my usual skills to get myself out.  What would I do?

I was surprisingly annoyed by how it ended - clearly another book is in order.  I just was having such a fun time being engrossed in the story that I was wanting some closure.  Yeah, none.  I will read the sequel but I wish I'd just waited to read this first one until it came out, dangit.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to http://ratedreads.com

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

genre: young adult

Prenna is an immigrant - but not in the usual way that we think of "immigration."  She is living in 2014 but she is from the future - a future that is rapidly becoming uninhabitable for a myriad of reasons.  Living in the past requires following strict rules - those rules are designed to keep Prenna and everyone else safe and to keep as much of the future intact as possible.  But then she meets two different people who make Prenna question everything - and she has to choose whether or not to continue to follow those rules, even if it means unhappiness for herself.  

A page turner, finally.  It's been a while.  This one grabbed me from the start - Prenna's very plausible future world, the idea of going BACK in time and just sliding yourself in there to keep yourself safe. I loved the writing style - sharp and lyrical, not a lot of wasted words.  I really loved this, actually, the romantic thread is great but there were several points where I could just SEE what was going to happen and I wanted to tell Prenna to turn her brain on!  Don't go in there! etc. but there were also enough surprises that I just had to finish reading it in a day.  The romantic interest is too perfect for real life but also so just right that you want to believe a boy can be that good.   The ending was enough closure that I'm not annoyed but I can see that maybe there could somehow be more.  I'd totally want more.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to http://ratedreads.com

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 http://ratedreads.com
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