Friday, July 11, 2014

Scan by Walter Jury and Sarah Fine

genre: science fiction

Tate's father is hard core.  Demanding and exacting, he's raised Tate to be strong and intelligent and not a little resourceful. McGyver-type resourceful.  And it's going to come in handy because one unfortunate choice brings to a crashing halt not just Tate's safety but also everything he's ever believed about his life.

This was an unsolicited arc sent to my house.  I almost didn't read it because it sounded a bit cheesy, but it was described as a cross between McGyver and War of the Worlds, both of which I like in a strange way. So I tried.  And I liked!  I totally want some more! There are aliens!  Bad guys!  Maybe-I-can't-trust-you good guys! Strange technologies and explosives made from Walmart junk!  I'm not kidding.  The plot grabbed me.  There are too many swears at the beginning but for a male protagonist, he felt his emotions deep enough that I believed them (ok, sometimes being in a teenage male head got annoying but I still wanted to keep reading). I just took my disbelief and suspended it, baby, and had a nice fluffy ride.

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

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

genre: young adult mystery

Cadence appears to have an idyllic life.  She has everything money could buy and she spends her summers with her extended family on their private island off the coast of Massachusetts.  Between her two dear cousins and a beloved friend, she finds a haven of acceptance.  But during her fifteenth summer on the island, something goes very wrong - but despite time passing, Cadence cannot remember what.


It might be better for you to go read this knowing nothing.  Reading any more might be a spoiler.  Beware. 

Really. If you can handle books with a serious emotional punch, don't read more of this review.

I started listening to this having no idea what it was about. I didn't know it was a mystery, a piecing together of memories.  I didn't know it was about the all-consuming power of first love or the way that money and jealousy can rip a family apart - you can't help but think of King Lear.  So much of it I just did not see coming, and maybe I should have, but the scope and tragedy of this book caught me by surprise all the same.

I have read several reviews that sang its praises to high heaven and several reviews that hated the characters and the plot.  For myself, I was just compelled by it, in its entirety. I found the family dynamic to be completely fascinating and it made me think a lot about how huge we can let small things become.  I felt the ending very deeply, my emotions were real and I didn't feel like I was being manipulated, which really matters.  I cannot forget the moment where things hit my heart, like even I, as a reader, was backpeddling, trying to undo things that cannot be undone.

It's not an easy book, but it is a well-crafted book about love and loss, mistakes and consequences.  Even though it isn't a pretty story, I'm glad I listened.

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

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman (audioboo

genre: historical fiction

Coralie's life as the daughter of an illusionist-turned-side-show-museum-operator is anything but ordinary.  Coney Island at the beginning of the 20th century was a place to escape - and The Museum of Extraordinary Things provided guests with wonders to amaze and astound, for a price, and all carefully designed and lorded over by Coralie's father.

On another side of New York lives Eddie, an immigrant living in the Lower East Side whose flight from the orthodox community of his childhood has left him with little but himself to rely on. When Eddie and Coralie's lives intersect, their story begins to flash with new meaning and a deeper longing for more than the life they'd been handed.

For the most part, I really liked this.  It was solid historical fiction and I felt completely immersed in this New York of the past, there are two significant historical events that directly affect the plot of this story and I thought the writing in these scenes absolutely dripped with authenticity, every sense was wrapped in the moment.  I had to go online and learn more after I listened to these parts.  I happen to already be very interested in New York during this time - the immigrants, the labor politics, the way of life.  And while it is definitely historical fiction, there is also, by the nature of these "wonders" that Coralie's father employs, as well as parts of Eddie's life, a certain magical quality - I wouldn't go so far as to say magical realism but just a sprinkle of something MORE than what meets the eye that can't be explained.

 This audio production had three readers - a narrator, Coralie and Eddie, so the story was constantly told from three different points of view, which I found refreshing, it kept things interesting.  I do have to say, the reader for Coralie wasn't my favorite - I wanted more emotion from her sometimes.  And the other thing I must say is that the beginning sort of drove me crazy with all the flopping between time periods and people. I'm glad I stuck it out though because there is so much beauty in this story.   There is also some hideousness, where the rank underbelly of humanity somehow finds itself in charge and the weak have to obey.  But the beauty overcomes and that's the kind of story I like.

There was so much going on and it all fell into place so well, as wonder and the extraordinary leave the stuff of dreams and grace us here in real life.  I would read more by this author.

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

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley

genre: paranormal historical romance

Eva has just lost her dearest friend:  her beloved older sister Katrina.  When it is time to spread her ashes, Eva's choice is the most logical one she can think of: an old manor house on the coast of Cornwall where they spent summers together as children.  Among familiar companions, Eva hopes to finally find some peace, but when she starts having hallucinations that appear to be from another time - peace continues to elude her.  As Eva begins to understand that these hallucinations are nothing short of time travel, her experiences in the past begin to seriously affect her contentment in her own time.

When I was in a bus full of 8th graders on the way to an amusement park field trip and I just needed something fluffy to amuse me, I knew that Susanna Kearsley would not disappoint.  The slipping between centuries works well in this story and I liked Eva, especially as she tried to sort through living in a distant time with such different rules and expectations.  Her love interest is certainly dreamy, if not a little caricatured, and since I've read several of her previous books, the time period in the past was familiar.

I know I say this everytime, but it continues to be true.  I appreciate a clean, romantic and intriguing story.  Kearsley's books don't change my life but they sure do make it pleasant for a while, and the time travel elements of this one were a nice twist on the usual.  I liked it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (audiobook)

genre: young adult

When Park sees Eleanor walk onto the bus, he knows it's not going to be good.  She's overweight.  She's got huge red hair.  She's so clearly "other" that it takes about five seconds for her to be the biggest loser on the way to high school.    When he lets her sit next to him it's only so the bus can just start moving again, not because he has any interest in being near her or getting to know her.

Except, he DOES get to know her.

And when he does, it changes everything.

OH MY WORD.  If I could slurp a story through a straw, I would slurp this one.  I have never yet read a story of teenage love that hit me in the gut the way this one did.  This author NAILED IT.  She NAILED what it is to feel lonely and ugly and not-what-you-should-be and yet somehow have someone love you - and how you come to terms with that juxtaposition.  I loved what Eleanor and Park had in common and I loved how they sorted through what they didn't, especially the contrast because Eleanor's completely messed up homelife and Park's, which is so much better and yet still has Park feeling like he's not enough.

In fact, I think Eleanor's home, her horrendous and frightening stepfather and the current of fear within those walls is so tightly and expertly written I feel like everyone who works with hurting kids should read it, just to help you imagine what that might be like.

I can't stop having thoughts about this book.  I loved the 80s culture piece, especially the mixed tapes (how many of those did I make?).  I liked that it felt "period" without trying so hard to put in lots of cultural references.  One thing I must write down is how glad I am that I listened to it.  The perspective changes between Eleanor and Park throughout the book and the narrators were AMAZING.  The phone conversations between the two of them were so reminiscent of my own illicit teenage nighttime phone calls with boys that it actually gave me chills, the way the narrators almost whispered.   Also, I couldn't get enough of the guy reading in his Korean mother's voice. Oh, did I mention Park is part-Korean?    So, diversity is abounding but it was never shoved in my face like, LOOK!  We have fat characters!  We have half-Korean characters!  We're totally diverse!   It just felt like life, life in all its tragedy and its stolen moments of glory, like the inside parts of us just really want the same thing: to love and be loved, for exactly what we have to offer in this moment.

This book is a painful treasure.  It hurts because there is so much HARD and HORRIBLE but it also hurts because it is so freaking good and full of a hope that maybe there really is a little sliver of happy for everyone on this planet, if we're not afraid to grab it when we find it.

fyi - The language in this book is off-the-charts, if that's something that bothers you.  The "f-word" is in it about two hundred times.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Looking For Alaska by John Green

genre: young adult

Miles's choice to leave his hometown in Florida and enroll at a coed boarding school in Alabama was guided by the thought that there had to be MORE, some kind of grand adventure out there in life that he was somehow missing.   Through his new roommate, he meets Alaska -one of those girls that get under your skin and won't ever leave.  Alaska is full of everything Miles isn't - exuberance and experience and a recklessness that can leave chaos in its wake. And of course, she's got a boyfriend and so Miles has to settle for friendly sidekick, which is enough until one night it's not. It's not enough at all. And Miles and his friends have to deal with what's left over.

I think I can appreciate what John Green is trying to say in this book (and I really like him as an author and as a person, I think he's hilarious and I like to listen to him talk).  At its heart I feel like there is a search for how to deal with things in our life that can drown us - how do we forgive ourselves for our mistakes and how do we keep living a real life when our mistakes affect people we care about?  How do we NOT drown in our own suffering?   And Green does a lovely job of writing some pretty deep ideas down, and I appreciate his wit and the the quirkiness he hands to his characters (Miles memorizes the last words of people who have died - that's awesomely quirky).  But overall, the story just didn't click with me the same way that The Fault in Our Stars or Paper Towns did.  I didn't particularly like Alaska, she felt like a moody tease.  All the time.  I didn't get why Miles liked her so it was hard for me to ever connect with him in the way I wanted to.

I need to also say that I read a lot of young adult books and I feel like I am pretty liberal with the content I can deal with in a book for teens.  But describing a porn movie and an oral sex act seems a bit extreme, even to me.  I can't UNmake it bother me, so I need to put it out there.  I just didn't feel like it was necessary to the plot or Miles' character development.  It felt gratuitous when I read it.  I did, however, afterwards, watch this video in which John Green explains the point of that scene and I do feel like I understand now why he included it.  I would still prefer my own child to NOT read that but I get what he was trying to say - that physical intimacy is meaningless without emotional intimacy.

This was my least favorite of his so far but I do appreciate that he dealt with some pretty intense topics that teens could relate to.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (audiobook)

genre: adult fiction

We meet our narrator when he is an adult, visiting his hometown. When he lets his memory take him back to the Hempstock farm, he slowly begins to remember the happenings of a few essential childhood days.  Days in which he is taught by the women of Hempstock farm about the fragility of life's fabric how creatures from one place manage to sneak into another.  And those creatures can change everything.

I listen to Neil Gaiman books, because his voice is dreamy in the extreme. I listen to Neil Gaiman books because I never know where he is going to take me and I am surprised every time.  This story was essentially told from the point of view of a seven year old boy and his tone, his thought-processes, his actions were so totally believable.  Parts FREAKED me right out and other parts amazed me with their intricacy. Every once and a while I wanted things to happen faster but somehow, it never changed how I felt about what I was hearing.   Gaiman's words are just a magical symphony of imagination and nightmare, all rolled into a world that looks like ours on the outside.

He's amazing.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Paper Towns by John Green

genre: young adult

Quentin and Margo have been neighbors in an Orlando subdivision since toddlerhood.  By the time they are in high school, Margo's exuberance has given her an almost super-human force which results in she and the video-game playing Q existing in different social spheres.  One night at the end of senior year, however, Margo intersects Q's life for one harebrained and completely unbelievable night of revenge and well-plotted depilatory use, planting Margo even farther into Q's heart.  Except, after all that crazy, Margo disappears.


And Q becomes obsessed.  Obsessed with finding her.  Obsessed with what he sees as clues that she left him - all the while realizing how little he really knew about her, or himself.

I picked this up blind and had no idea it was a mystery.  A beautifully plotted mystery that takes a boy deep inside himself, digging into those tender places of the soul where our real knowledge of our loved ones lies.  The whole idea of this book, to me, is that all we really know about people is what they let us see and half the time, we're doing the same thing to ourselves.  On the outside we're all just the pretend visions that we want to see either in the mirror or have others see through a window instead of letting ourselves be what we really ARE and and just being okay with that.  There are some incredibly deep and thought-provoking conversations in this book, astonishingly so.  I really had to stretch my brain to wrap it around John Green's ideas of self and the falseness that can lie so thick on the surface that we forget what's real and what matters.    There is also a lot of CRASS. And language.  And talk about sex and genitalia.  This is more of a teen boy's book than I'm used to reading, probably, so it might not seem all that much from that point of view since I don't have much to compare it to.   I can't deny, though, that it pulled me right along and despite my crazy life, I read it in a day.  Good mystery, a great portrayal of friendship and first loves.  Some incredibly witty banter.

I liked.

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

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Division of the Marked by March McCarron

genre: fantasy-ish

When fourteen-year-old Yarrow wakes to find a new tattoo on his neck, he knows what it means: that he's Marked.  He's one of an exclusive entity of men and women that exist in a class apart. With special abilities and opportunities, Yarrow anticipates a life of study and peace - except that something is clearly wrong. Marked children are disappearing and Yarrow must know why.

I don't know why I'm surprised by how much I liked this.  I really did.  This is some amazing world building - the "gifts" that the Marked are given are a great twist on the old formula and the characterization is deep and believable.  I love the martial arts feel of the entire book, especially the juxtaposition of the smooth and rooted T'ai chi type of warrior and the fast and furious weapons-master fighter.  There were enough twists and surprises, the pacing felt mostly right.  Sometimes the dialogue dripped into a formality that jarred me, but that felt more like an editing oversight than a story problem and this story, with its mystery and relationship-building and Asian ambiance hit the spot for me.  I appreciated the diversity (of all kinds and across the board) and the surprisingly deep insights into what loving someone really means and the absolute worth of a soul. Fine piece of work for a first time author.

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

Thursday, May 15, 2014

O. Henry's New York

genre: fiction short stories

My mother-in-law found, in a used book bin, this 1960s collection of O. Henry's stories that all take place in New York City.   She picked it up for me and I've been nibbling away at it here and there for quite some time now.  Two of the stories were already familiar to me, The Gift of the Magi and The Last Leaf - but all the others were fresh and new.

Each character's ties to New York are unique and, for the most part, they are pawns in the great games being played out in that glorious city. Shop girls and bar tenders, actors and laundresses and piano teachers - everyone wants just one little piece of happiness.  The thing about O. Henry, and either you'll like it or you won't, is that there is always a zinger at the end, always something is turned on its head.  I happen to find it intriguing, waiting to see what isn't really what it seems, but it might come off as formulaic.  For myself, I find these a wonderful diversion - his wit is sharp and it's so clear that he has studied the human character - you can almost see him sitting somewhere and listening in on a snippet of conversation and then plotting an entire story around it.

While I was never dying to finish reading them, I enjoyed myself muchly.
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