Saturday, October 03, 2015

Hey, it's how Dickens got started.

Carefully Everywhere DescendingCarefully Everywhere Descending by L.B. Bedford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Audrey Anderson is a bright student from a low income family. Audrey spends most of her time focused on school, with college as her ultimate goal. While she's close to her best friend, she isn't that involved with other kids at her school. However, when one of the most popular (and beautiful) girls in school, Scarlett, asks Audrey to tutor her in English, Audrey finds herself caught up in the typical drama of high school - friendship, prom, etc.

Okay, first of all, I probably bumped up this rating a bit because it was just so refreshing to read a YA LGBT novel with a nice, normal protagonist who seemed real. Most of Audrey's friends and family seem fine with her sexuality and other girls at her school go to prom together. It's wonderful to see a LGBT book where the character's sexuality is just part of her life, versus what drives the entire plot.

The book also does a good job of portraying Audrey and Scarlett's romance - Audrey's unrequited love for Scarlett seemed a bit much at first, but remembering back to the angst of teen love, it seemed right on point.

My problem with this book was some of its odd plot twists, which really didn't seem necessary. I won't spoil the book here, but I think Bedford could have stuck with Audrey and Scarlett's love story and been just fine. That being said, I didn't think they were that crazy or out of left field. I found Audrey to be a compelling and realistic character and it was great to see an author use a YA protagonist from a low income background, even if it did seem a bit overused at times. Too often these books focus on the popular kids, driving their parents' cars and living life without a care in the world. Audrey's life is probably far more realistic for many.

Frankly, the book had some holes and issues, but it was still worth the read for its portrayal of a real YA lesbian relationship and Audrey's overall situation. I enjoyed her character and read the entire book in one day - I'll certainly be recommending it to several of my friends.

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Friday, September 25, 2015

Like all the good things that ain't never coming back.

The Girl in the Spider's Web (Millennium, #4)The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book picks up, time-wise, after the last of Stieg Larsson's Millennium books ended. Mikael Blomkvist is struggling - his career is being debated in the press and his beloved Millennium magazine is floundering. He receives a tip from a source about a story. Mikael reluctantly follows up, but becomes more intrigued when it sounds like the story might involve Lisbeth Salander. Mikael immediately gets sucked into a plot of intrigue with implications far beyond his greatest expectations.

I was hesitant to read this novel, knowing the fights between Larsson's girlfriend and his family over his material. Eventually, I chose to read it, as I think of Blomkvist and Salander as dear friends and it was difficult to pass up the chance to continue to read further about their lives. I think Lagercrantz does a good job picking up with the material. No one can fill Larsson's shoes, in any way, but he does an excellent job of staying true to the characters and creating a highly suspenseful and interesting tale.

It's apparent you're not reading a Larsson novel at times - the plot is almost too quickly paced, versus Larsson's meandering writing. Lagercrantz goes into a lot of backstory, which is very interesting, but did leave me wondering how much was "true" (hard to leave behind the whole author dispute at times). But mostly, the plot was so well paced and well-written and Blomkvist seemed so like himself, that I just found myself immersed in the story. The story flips between Sweden and the USA -- bringing in an element of the NSA -- and it's exciting and fun. Lagercrantz does a strong job of bringing the series into the present day with this plotline. He also writes about an autistic child, August, so clearly, that you just find yourself rooting for the kid.

Blomkvist, as I mentioned, seems much his usual self. I love him so, so it was a little easier to overlook the lack of Lisbeth in this novel, but I do have to point it out - there's definitely not as much Lisbeth as one might want. She's around, of course, and amazing and strong (of course!), but you'll find yourself wishing for more Lisbeth scenes.

Finally, the end left me wishing for more in the series, so I figure that's a sign Lagercrantz did his job well, despite all the tumult associated with the book. I appreciate the care he took with Lisbeth and Blomkvist, and I was glad to spend some time with them again. I have to admit - I hope they'll be back. In the meantime, it was fun to catch up with them again.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Dance in the kitchen 'till the morning light.

Who Do You LoveWho Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rachel grows up the beloved daughter of wealthy parents in Florida. They are extra attention as she is born with a heart problem and requires multiple surgeries as a child. At age eight, in the ER, she meets Andy, also age 8. Waiting alone in the ER, he has a broken arm, and Rachel calms him down with stories. While it's a short meeting, the two leave a clear impression on each other, even as children.

Obviously, the premise of the novel is that Rachel and Andy will meet again, so when they do so in high school it doesn't come as a big shock. In fact, one of things Weiner does so well with this story is weaving a compelling tale, despite the reader knowing that Rachel and Andy will run into each other, over and over. It's definitely rough in some spots and jumps around a bit, but it's an enjoyable read. Rachel is an interesting character, if not always a likable one, but she comes across as human and real. Andy is a little harder to get to know, but he too is an intriguing character. The book makes a big show comparing Rachel's wealthy upbringing and Andy's impoverished childhood in Philadelphia - sometimes it seems a bit forced, but it brings up some good points about the class system. Some of the plot is a little unrealistic and it wraps up rather predictably, but I still found this a fun read and more enjoyable than some of Weiner's last couple of books. 

Summer SecretsSummer Secrets by Jane Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cat is a journalist in London, divorced, and raising her daughter. Earlier, her mother had revealed a secret about Cat's past -- the identity of her true father. When Cat journeyed to Nantucket to meet him - and her two half sisters - something bad happened, and it traumatized her. Now she's a recovering alcoholic and wondering if she can right the wrongs from her long ago meeting with her estranged family.

This was an enjoyable read - the story goes back and forth with flashbacks, which helps build up the suspense. Some of the plot is a little outlandish, but it's a fast read and fun. It's a little painful to read sometimes; Cat can certainly be a frustrating character at times, and you just want to shake her. (Also, I don't recommend reading this if you're triggered by reading alcoholism scenes.) However, present day Cat is a relatable character, for the most part, and fun to root for. Her two half sisters, Julia and Ellie, are pieces of work in themselves, and the book presents a fairly realistic look at modern day family and sisterhood. Overall, probably 3.5 stars.

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Friday, September 18, 2015

So come over here, tell me what I want to hear.

Luckiest Girl AliveLuckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ani FaNelli is engaged to a wealthy man, has a great job, and is finally about to lead the life she's always wanted. But Ani is hiding a secretive past - as a teen, she endured a traumatic event and she's kept her secrets hidden ever since. Now, as she's about to get married, Ani is struggling to contain her past and lead the life she's always wanted.

This was an interesting book - Ani is truly a despicable character in many ways, though as her past unfolds, you start to learn more about what has made Ani who she is. Her finance and her school-hood friends aren't much better. Perhaps the best thing about this book is Knoll's ability to eventually make Ani sympathetic, despite many of her faults. She's a complicated and multi-faceted character, which is a refreshing change from many novels.

The novel is suspenseful for sure, but because it was so consistently billed as the next "Gone Girl," I kept waiting for an even bigger twist, which was a bit of a letdown. I probably would have enjoyed the novel even more if I didn't have all these comparisons swirling in my head. In the end, it was a good read and certainly a fast one, but doesn't necessarily live up to its billing.

Paper TownsPaper Towns by John Green

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Quentin is a typical high school kid - watching school life from behind the scenes and adoring his neighbor and classmate Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. However, one night Margo pops up in Quentin's window and asks for him to accompany her on a revenge-seeking adventure. They have an epic night and Quentin returns to school the next day, expecting things to have changed. However, Margo never shows up and eventually Quentin realizes she isn't coming back. He finds some supposed clues that lead to her whereabouts and tries to track her down, but suddenly Margo is consuming his entire life.

I'm not exactly sure what I thought about this one. Margo and Quentin's night out was fun to read about, but the book starts to lag after Margo disappears. It seems like Quentin becomes overly obsessed with Margo - to the extreme - and his search takes forever. You never quite realize why Margo is so special. The book picks up at the end, but by then, I was a little jaded.

Also, and this is just my own pet peeve, I dislike reading books after they've already been made into movies, because I can only picture the actors as I read the story, versus my own imagination. Not sure why this bothers me, but it does.

Still, this was a fun story and definitely hilarious at points (I very much love Quentin and his friends), so I think it's worth a read. However, if you're looking to feel as much emotion as say, when reading "The Fault in Our Stars," you'll be a little disappointed.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

I wanted a life that was built like a rock that would not break.

HausfrauHausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Anna is an American living in Switzerland for nearly a decade, thanks to her marriage to Bruno, a Swiss native. They have three young children and on the outside, Anna has a idyllic life - a loving husband, a nice home, beautiful children. But inside, she is wrecked with turmoil and depression. She feels isolated in Switzerland, a country where she still barely knows the language despite having resided there for so long. Anna enrolls in German classes and also embarks on a series of affairs, but nothing seems to appease what ails her.

I had read positive reviews of this book in several places and decided to give it a try. It was slow going at first, and I almost set it aside in exchange for some books that interested me more. I won't lie - I wish I had. There's just something about this book that irritated me to no end. It's true that Anna is not a particularly likable character - she cheats on her husband and doesn't seem to give much to her children - but that's not exactly it. I almost wish the book had started earlier in Anna's life, so we could potentially understand why she'd become this unstable, depressed housewife, or hausfrau, as our title indicates. We're told she hates living in Switzerland, but is that really it? She's surrounded by a stock of predictable characters - her callous husband, her socialite friend, her oblivious lovers... no one in the novel seems like a fully-formed character and, as such, I had trouble really caring about what happens to them. I probably felt the worst for Anna's three kids.

There were definitely parts that hurt me to read, but overall, the book seemed flat and pointless. The ending irritated me. I'd give it a 2.5 stars overall, but still - rather than having sympathy for Anna - I found myself annoyed with her and the entire book.

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Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Park first sees Eleanor get on the school bus, he cringes. Everything about her is wrong - her size, her hair, her clothes. He knows the other kids will pick on her immediately. But for some reason, he tells her to sit down next to him, despite knowing it will attract attention -- exactly what Park doesn't want. However, over time, Park and Eleanor forge an unlikely friendship-- attention be damned.

I feel like reviewing this book can't do it justice. This was a lovely, amazing, heartwarming, heartbreaking novel. Rowell does an unbelievable job of capturing adolescent love, relationships, and high school life. And not your typical YA cool kids, easy romance, where the protagonists "meet cute" and fall in love on Day 1. Park and Eleanor's friendship isn't easy, their relationship isn't easy: their lives aren't easy. Rowell portrays all of this beautifully, even if it's agonizing to read, without making it seem trite. Park and Eleanor are two of the most developed characters I've read about in ages. They leap off the pages, to the point where I wanted to adopt Eleanor and hug and befriend Park.

The book slowed a bit for me in the middle -- the creep of an adolescent relationship can be a bit rough -- but it's worth it. The ending is crushing, in many ways, and I would just about kill for a sequel, even though I can grudgingly probably admit it's best the way it ended. No matter what, a beautiful read-- so worth your time-- and one I'll be recommending to anyone I can find who hasn't read it yet.

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Pretty BabyPretty Baby by Mary Kubica

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Heidi lives a busy life, trying to keep up with a busy job in public service, her role as a mom to her distant 12-year-old daughter Zoe, and juggling marriage to her husband Chris, a corporate lawyer. One day on the way to work, Heidi spots a young teen holding a baby-- the two are waiting for the train in the pouring rain. Heidi is haunted by the image and when she spots them again, she reaches out and makes contact with the teen, Willow. Eventually, Heidi's life becomes embroiled with that of Willow's and the baby, Ruby.

This book certainly lives up to its psychological thriller billing. It's a page-turner, even as it gets slightly more bizarre as the plot thickens. It captivated my attention and has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. The plot is definitely a little "out there," and I'd probably rate it as 3.5 stars overall, but still a fun and intriguing read. 

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Superfluous flummery.

The Guilty OneThe Guilty One by Sophie Littlefield

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The advertising for this book states that a man is on a bridge, waiting to jump, if the woman on the other end gives him the go ahead. That woman is Maris, whose life fell apart when her daughter, Calla, was murdered. Allegedly, Calla was killed by her boyfriend, Karl. It is his father, Ron, who stands on the bridge, calling Maris.

However, said advertising for this novel is rather misleading. I don't think it gives much away to say that the bridge scene leads off and takes about 2 seconds of the novel. The rest of the book alternates between Ron's story and Maris'. It's interesting, seeing the story unfold from their perspectives, but lags a bit, and Ron's sections drag somewhat. There isn't much that pushes the plot forward -- while billed as a thriller, there doesn't seem to be much mystery here, just psychological issues. I enjoyed Maris' scenes, for the most part, and the people she met along her journey, but perhaps didn't grasp the entire point...

Anyway, this one didn't really do it for me. It had its good moments, but overall wasn't my favorite.

(I received a copy of this book via Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.)

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You could help me down the rabbit hole with you.

The Good NeighborThe Good Neighbor by Amy Sue Nathan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Recently divorced, Izzy finds herself right back where she started -- literally, she's living in the house she grew up in (her parents have moved on to retirement), struggling to take care of her young son Noah, and dealing with the fact that her ex, Bruce, is dating again. A school counselor by day, Izzy finds solace in blogging about her woes and dating life online at night. But when she starts writing about an imaginary boyfriend, "Mac," to make herself feel better about Bruce's new girlfriend, things go south quickly, especially when Izzy's blog takes off after her friend hires her to write for her up and coming "Philly Over 40" site. The only person Izzy can confide in is her next door neighbor, Mrs. Feldman, but her sweet 80-something neighbor may have a few secrets of her own.

I must confess, I almost gave up on this book in the beginning. It just seemed to start slowly for me. There is a lot of hand wringing from Izzy about her life and her blog. Eventually things take off and the plot gets more exciting. My biggest issue is that, in many ways, Izzy's fabrication of "Mac" doesn't really seem to be the huge deal that she makes it out to be. Sure, she shouldn't be lying to everyone, but really, her lie is going to supposedly bring down her friends' business, destroy all her friendships, and ruin Izzy's life? It is just a blog after all. Some of that just seems to be a stretch. Compare to the heartwarming and heartbreaking storyline with Mrs. Feldman -- it truly can't compare.

However, because I'm a total sucker, I kept imagining this movie as a romantic comedy or sitcom. I was sort of tense reading this novel, because you knew eventually the lie would be revealed, everything would get crazy, and all would be for naught... but you hoped like any "good" romantic comedy or sitcom, it would still tie up pretty neatly with a bow at the end, right? (And I won't lie, I sort of like that sometimes. There's enough uncertainty in real life.)

(Note: I received an advanced copy of this book via Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.)

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Thursday, September 03, 2015

AwakeAwake by Natasha Preston

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Scarlett doesn't remember anything before the age of four, which she doesn't find too unsettling, until, as a teen, a car accident jars her memory and makes her start wondering what happened to her as a kid. Around the same time as her accident, Scarlett meets Noah, a new kid to town, and falls for him immediately. Noah tries to help Scarlett remember her past, but does he have her best intentions at heart?

Not really sure how to explain this book. The story itself is odd - another quick teenage romance, with a cult thrown in! However, it is oddly compelling in its own strange way - I read the book in about a day or so. The writing is rather silly and disjointed at times and the plot seems unbelievable. It's not even the cult aspect, per se. It seems weird that Scarlett focuses so much on not being able to remember things before the age of four (is that really so strange)? The end of the book ties up awfully easily, without much semblance or adherence to legal niceties. All in all, while the book moves quickly, not sure it's worth that little amount of time.

(Note: I received an copy of this book from Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.)

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