Independent Study [Book Review]

Title: Graduation Day
Author:  Joelle Charbonneau
Genre: Dystopian YA
Pages: 304
Year: 2014
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Source: Personal Collection
Rating:  3/5

Summary (from Amazon):

She wants to put an end to the Testing
In a scarred and brutal future, The United Commonwealth teeters on the brink of all-out civil war. The rebel resistance plots against a government that rules with cruelty and cunning. Gifted student and Testing survivor, Cia Vale, vows to fight.

But she can’t do it alone.
This is the chance to lead that Cia has trained for – but who will follow? Plunging through layers of danger and deception, Cia must risk the lives of those she loves–and gamble on the loyalty of her lethal classmates.

Who can Cia trust?
The stakes are higher than ever—lives of promise cut short or fulfilled; a future ruled by fear or hope–in the electrifying conclusion to Joelle Charbonneau’s epic Testing trilogy. Ready or not…it’s Graduation Day.

My Thoughts:

Honestly, this one fell short of my expectations. I love this series and I will recommend it in a heartbeat, but I just wish the final book had been as great as the first two. (Final books almost always disappoint me though, and I have no idea what others have said, so maybe it’s best not to listen to me.)

For me, the plot was too convoluted. People were double crossing the people they were double crossing and I had no idea what side anyone was on. I also had some trouble with the plausibility. Yes, this is dystopian fiction, but why would the president of a county ever think it was a good idea to put a teenage girl in charge of a rebellion? And, two months later, I am really struggling to remember how the book actually ended.

On a positive note, the book is action-packed and Cia becomes an even stronger, independent young woman, which is satisfying in its own way. It almost becomes a political thriller, rather than a typical YA dystopian.

In short, this book was by far my least favorite in The Testing series, but the series, as a whole, is still very much worth reading.

 

Scarlet [Audiobook Review]

Note: This review assumes you’ve read Cinder, Book One in the Lunar Chronicles. If you haven’t, I strongly urge you to do so as it is fabulous.

TitleScarlet | Lunar Chronicles #2
Author: Marissa Meyer
Narrator: Rebecca Soler
Genre: Dystopian
Pages: 464
Audio: 11.4 hours
Year: 2013
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Source: Personal Collection
Book Rating: 4.5/5
Audio Rating: 4.5/5

Summary:

The second installment of the Lunar Chronicles, while continuing Cinder’s story, introduces us to Scarlet, a French teenager living with her grandmother on the family farm.  When her grandmother disappears, a mysterious man named Wolf enters her life.

Cinder, stuck in prison but not for long, teams up with Captain Thorne, an actual criminal in possession of a space ship. She must search for the truth while remaining a fugitive from the Commonwealth and Queen Levana.

The two young women are both searching for answers and their paths are destined to cross.

My Thoughts:

At first, it was a little awkward to have Scarlet’s storylie thrown in the mix.  It takes awhile for the two stories to merge, but they do eventually. And while my heart was with Cinder, I grew to like Scarlet along the way.

Scarlet has new characters and old characters, as well as the return of one of my favorites. It felt like a middle of the series book at times, but that’s what it is so I can forgive that. We learn a little more of the backstory and I am only more intrigued.

I waited anxiously for this one and I will wait anxiously for Book Three. Cyborgs and Lunar people remains a surprisingly fascinating story.

Audiobook Thoughts:

Soler continues to excel in her narration of this series. She picks up the new characters without missing a beat and really brings the story to life.

Cinder [Audiobook Review]

TitleCinder
Author: Marissa Meyer
Narrator: Rebecca Soler
Genre: Young Adult; Science Fiction
Pages: 400
Audio: 10.1 hours
Year: 2012
Publisher: Macmillan Young Listeners
Source: Library
Book Rating: 5/5
Audio Rating: 5/5

Summary:

In a futuristic Asia, Cinder, a gifted mechanic and a cyborg, is commissioned by the Emperor’s son to fix his android. Cinder is used to laying low as a second-class citizen, but her encounter with Prince Kai and the palace doctor force her into action. Cinder soon finds herself involved in an intergalactic dispute – a far cry from her days playing servant to her stepmother and stepsisters.

My Thoughts:

Oh my goodness. This book is amazing. It’s a strange premise and peppered with creatures like cyborgs and moon people but it totally works. I promise.

Cinder is a completely likable protagonist, with an adorable android sidekick. Prince Kai is totally crush-worthy and Cinder’s stepmother is cringe-inducing. I figured things out sooner than they were revealed, but it didn’t lessen my enjoyment of this book one bit.

While inspired by Cinderella, this is only slightly related to the original tale. Meyer has created something unique here – I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Audiobook Thoughts:

Definitely give this one a listen. Rebecca Soler did a fantastic job narrating this one. I was almost thankful for Evan’s nighttime feedings and subsequent insomnia so I could keep listening.

The Next Best Thing [Book Review]

TitleThe Next Best Thing
Author: Jennifer Weiner
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Women’s Fiction
Pages: 400
Year: 2012
Publisher: Atria Books
Source: Review copy via Netgalley
Rating: 4.5/5

Summary:

When Ruth Saunders graduated from college, she packed up her life – and the grandmother who raised her – and moved to Los Angeles to be a writer. At 28, she finally gets her big break when the television pilot she wrote – a coming of age story about a young girl and her grandmother loosely based on her life – gets greenlit. But when her boyfriend dumps her and the she starts losing control of the show, her life seems anything but perfect.

My Thoughts:

I’m so happy to be back in love with Jennifer Weiner. I adored her first four books, then fell behind, and then had a rough experience with Best Friends Forever. But I can say I’m a fan again. The Next Best Thing was everything I wanted from a novel of hers: a lovable, flawed main character, an uncommon romance, and a happy ending (pretty sure that’s not a spoiler).

Ruthie was a great character. She’s been hurt – both physically and emotionally – and I couldn’t help but cheer for her. Even though I knew she would succeed in the end, I felt her frustration as I watched her struggle. The peripheral characters were also good. From her grandmother’s boyfriend, Maurice, who used to buy his suits in the boys department to her boss, Big Dave, who never takes anything seriously. And of course, her grandmother and her love interest.

This book was also an interesting look at how a television series gets made, from the first draft of a pilot through its premiere. Any one who watches a little television should find that part fascinating.

I can’t say much about Jennifer Weiner’s more recent books since I haven’t read them, but if you were a fan of her earlier books – like Good in Bed and In Her Shoes – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with The Next Best Thing.


Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close [Book Review]

Title: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Genre: Literary Fiction
ISBN: 0618329706
Pages: 368
Year: 2005
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Source: Personal Collection
Rating: 4.5/5

Summary:

9-year-old Oskar Schell lost his dad on 9/11. One day, he finds a key in his father’s closet in an envelope marked “Black.” He decides to go on a mission and speak to every person named Black in New York City to solve the mystery in the hopes of learning something about his dad.

My Thoughts:

I am kicking myself for waiting this long to read Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. I am a big fan of Jonathan Safran Foer (Eating Animals literally changed my life) and this book only solidifies it.

Precocious and socially-awkward, Oskar is immediately lovable. He’s one of those characters you just want to hug. He is so sad without his dad and he can’t seem to find a way to move on with his life. Until he finds this key and suddenly he has A Plan. Along the way he meets all kinds of people, befriending many. In the end, he is different, though maybe not in the way he imagined.

The book jumps between Oskar’s story and the story of his grandparents, who fled Dresden during WWII and found each other again in New York. This is where Foer takes liberties and plays with different writing techniques. It is ambitious, but works. Yet even during these wonderfully-written passages, I was drawn back to Oskar and longed for his story.

The story happens because of September 11th but it is not a book about September 11th. It is a story of survival, loss, love, and life. I highly recommend it to those of you who, like me, have let it linger on your shelves.

Others’ Thoughts: S. Krishna’s Books; Erin Reads; Take Me Away;

Buy It Now: IndieBound

Mini-Review Madness: The Readathon Edition

I read all three of these books during the fall readathon. So why not review them all at once?

The Phantom Tollbooth
Norton Juster
4.5/5

10-year-old Milo is bored with life. Until one day, when he discovers a large package has arrived for him. Inside he finds a tollbooth. When he drives through, he finds himself teamed up with a watchdog named Tick on a rescue mission through new lands.

This was, perhaps surprisingly, my first experience with The Phantom Tollbooth. What I found inside was both silly and smart. I enjoyed the adventure and would gladly pass it on to any reader of any age.

I Heart You, You Haunt Me
Lisa Schroeder
4/5

When Ava’s boyfriend, Jackson, dies, she finds herself incapable of moving on with her life. Then Jackson comes back into her life and Ava begins to think she doesn’t have to. But, of course, life must always go on and Ava is forced to face her reality.

This is my third book of Schroeder’s and my love for her continues to grow. Written in verse, this is a beautiful story of death and grief (that only takes an hour or two to read).

Good-Bye, Chunky Rice
Craig Thompson
4/5

In Thompson’s first graphic novel, Chunky Rice, a turtle determined to see the world, must say goodbye to his best friend.

I am honestly getting teary-eyed just thinking about this book again. It is a lovely and heartbreaking story of friendship. This graphic novel is short but  the characters are rich. I dare you not to cry with this one.

Olive Kitteridge [Book Review]

Olive KitteridgeTitle: Olive Kitteridge
Author: Elizabeth Strout
Genre: Short Stories; Literary Fiction
ISBN: 0812971833
Pages: 304
Year: 2008
Publisher: Random House
Source: Personal Collection
Rating: 4.5/5

Summary (I tried to write this myself and failed. Here is the publisher’s summary):

At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town of Crosby, Maine, and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance; a former student who has lost the will to live; Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and her husband, Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.

As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life–sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition–its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.

My Thoughts:

I’ve struggled writing this review (just as I struggled writing the summary). The book is very good, but I am not sure I can adequately explain why. When this happens, I kind of want to just tell you to go read it but that wouldn’t make me a very good book blogger so I am giving this a shot.

This collection is an honest and heartbreaking look at life. It is beautifully-written but even more beautifully-developed. The characters, Olive and the rest of the town, and the keen insight into human interactions are what make this so good. Its Pulitzer is well-deserved.

Olive is woven in and out of the stories; sometimes she has the lead and sometimes she just makes a quick appearance. While the town is the obvious connection between all of the stories, naming the book Olive Kitteridge, a subtler move, makes the reader dig a little deeper.

The stories are sometimes sad, in the way that people stuck in a small town are so often portrayed as sad. People seem trapped by the lives they’ve made for themselves, but when we finally leave Crosby, we see more of the same.

If you haven’t already, I recommend picking up Olive Kitteridge. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Buy It Now: Amazon; IndieBound

The Art of Forgetting [Book Review]

Staying friends will mean that I have to let go of the misunderstandings, arguments, and hurtful comments again and again and again – maybe even forever, if Julia never fully heals. p. 280

The Art of ForgettingTitle:The Art of Forgetting
Author: Camille Noe Pagán
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Women’s Fiction
ISBN: 0525952195
Pages: 291
Year: 2011
Publisher: Dutton Adult
Source: Review copy from publisher
Rating: 4/5

Summary/My Thoughts::

After college, Melissa moved to New York City with her best friend Julia and became an editor of a diet magazine. She is dating a man she loves, even if he does work all the time, and while she does doesn’t adore her job, she’s good at it. When Julia is in an accident, suffering brain trauma that changes her personality and impair her memory, Melissa’s life changes drastically. Once she can no longer depend on her best friend, she reexamines her life, her friendships, her family, and her relationship.

Confession time. I picked up this book for two reasons: (1) the gorgeous ballerina on the cover and (2) the author lives in, and the story partially takes place in, Ann Arbor. It’s like Pagán wrote the book just for me. When running also began to play a role in the book, I got a little scared at the Michelle-ness. And by scared, I mean I thought it was awesome.

The Art of Forgetting took the friendship theme common in women’s fiction and put a little bit of a twist on it. Julia always had a little power over Melissa, best evidenced in one critical point in their past. I’ve had friendships that weren’t necessary equal – and I think I’ve been on both sides – and examining that aspect of friendship was really interesting to me.

There was also a lot of “what if” versus “what actually is.” Again, this is something totally relatable. I think that’s what I liked most about this book (besides the Ann Arbor street names that made me a little homesick). It felt really relatable even though I’ve never had to deal with anything like Julia’s accident and its aftermath.

I am so glad that this cover jumped out at me because The Art of Forgetting is definitely worth reading.

[Note: I am using the mini-review format while I am away. Fully length reviews will return in July.]

 

Bonobo Handshake [Audiobook Review]

Bonobo HandshakeTitle:Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo
Author: Vanessa Woods
Narrator: Justine Eyre
Genre: Memoir
ISBN: 1400167450
Pages: 278
Audio: 8.1 hours
Year: 2010
Publisher: Tantor Media
Source: Library
Rating: 3.5/5

My Thoughts:

Bonobo Handshake is a memoir of sorts. It tells Woods’ story of her time in the Democratic Republic of Congo at Lola Ya Bonobo Sanctuary, a sanctuary for bonobos – like chimps but smaller, friendlier, and…um…friskier. Woods’ boyfriend, who normally studies chimps, finds them irritating, but Woods falls in love and finally finds her place in the world.

I’d heard good things about Bonobo Handshake when I picked it up but I guess I hadn’t actually paid much attention to its content because I was surprised when the book focused so much on Woods and not the bonobos. But since it is her memoir, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised. And I can easily adapt when a book isn’t what I was expecting, so I sat back and enjoyed the story.

Watching Woods learn to love the bonobos and seeing them through her story was fascinating. I think I’ve spoken of my interest in chimpanzees and bonobos before. If I weren’t a lawyer, and I had done better in my science classes, I would have loved to find some way to work with them (it’s the alternate career I always say when asked).

Bonobo Handshake is full of humor, pain, joy, and loss. It takes you on the same emotional rollercoaster ride Woods herself was on.

During the book, I found myself learning about Congolese politics, history, wars, and the black market trade in protected animals. I can’t help but admire the things the sancutary is doing for these Bonobos by rescuing them and educating the community about these strange little apes (check our their website here).

The narration was superb. Eyre has this adorable Australian accent that I could just listen to all day, but she was able to capture the boyfriend’s American accent and the Congolese accent of the locals. I highly recommend the audio version of this book.

[Note: I am skipping the "Others' Thoughts" and "Buy It Now" sections for audiobook week only. They will return soon.]

 

Join the fun and head on over to Devourer of Books for all of the Audiobook Week goodness.

The Ninth Wife [Book Review]

“I guess I just get angry that people can have lots of relationships that no one would blink an eye at, but because mine have formal labels the get listed against me somehow, and the get lumped together as if they’re all equal, but they’re not.” p. 101*

The Ninth WifeTitle: The Ninth Wife
Author: Amy Stolls
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
ISBN: 0061851892
Pages: 496
Year: 2011
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
Source: Review copy from publisher
Rating: 4/5

Summary:

When she starts dating Rory, Bess thinks she’s finally found her future husband. But his proposal is a bit overshadowed by the news that he has been married 8 times. Naturally, she is a bit apprehensive. So she sets out on a cross country road trip with her grandparents, her gay neighbor, his dog, and a mannequin named Peace. Along the way, Bess searches for Rory’s previous wives in hopes of discovering her answer.

My Thoughts:

The Ninth Wife is a thoughtful look at marriage in today’s world. Each of Rory’s marriages were different. Some lasted longer than others. Some were the result of true love, while some were more done out of convenience. Through each story, through the 65-year marriage of Bess’ grandparents, and through Bess and Rory’s own tale, we see the worry that often goes along with marriage – will this work out? is it inevitably going to end? does s/he really love me?

But The Ninth Wife is about more than marriage, it is about friendship, family, and identity. It is about how we’re all trying to find our place in the world, whether it is next to another or not.

At first I thought this was going to be lighter women’s fiction. But the second half of the story becomes much more serious and thought-provoking. After closing the book, I found mind wandering back to it. It was like Stolls sucked me in with the promise of a lighthearted book and then held me captive when it turned more serious. And I wasn’t disappointed.

The Ninth Wife felt almost like two separate books. In part one, the story alternates chapters between a third person narrative of Bess’ life and how she is falling for Rory and Rory’s first-person tale of his many, many wives. Then, in part two, the story becomes about Bess’ road trip. Rory still has his role, but it is smaller and his first-person narrative is gone. I enjoyed this change halfway through the book – at 496 pages it’s a fairly lengthy novel and the variation kept me on my toes.

Stolls did something interesting with The Ninth Wife that is worth checking out. This book is funny, touching, and full of hope and Bess is a wonderful heroine in her own, unique love story.

Others’ Thoughts: Raging Bibliomania; That’s What She Read

Buy It Now: Powell’s; IndieBound; The Book Depository; Amazon

*Page numbers refer to the advanced copy and may differ in the published version.