Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tell the Wolves I'm Home

Book: Tell the Wolves I'm Home
Author: Carol Rifka Brunt

1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.

At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most -Goodreads


Review:  This is an emotional, well-written story about family, friends and loss. AIDS is a tough topic and as a young child in the 80s, I remember hearing many of the things expressed in this book by a few characters (what if you get it from kissing? etc). Although this book was not marketed as YA, it reads like one. The book follows June, a young high school student who has no friends except her beloved uncle. When he dies, she feels very isolated. Like most YA books, the parents much disappear in order for the characters to discover themselves. In this case, they are CPA's in tax season, which allows June and her older sister to run around town completely unsupervised. While the primary focus of the book was June and her late uncle's boyfriend Toby, I was more interested in June's relationship with her sister. It was very realistic and while many of their interactions were unsettling, I couldn't wait to see how they would end up at the end of the book. 

June's relationship with Toby was a little odd. I understand that they needed each other to heal, (and I was not creeped out by June's feelings toward her uncle although I can see how many readers would be turned off by it), but it just didn't seem realistic to me that he had ZERO friends in the city. He was with a very charismatic, famous painter for years, it seems like he would have had some friends. I also found it strange that he would give June alcohol and cigarettes. It was established that he thought she was a year older than she actually was, but for someone who sneaking around with a minor, this was strange (maybe people were more relaxed about such things in the 80s? I'm not sure).

I really enjoyed this book but the ending seemed very rushed. June's sister's storyline was especially disappointing (I thought something was happening with the theater director) and her sister driving into the city in the middle of the night with a permit was very realistic with anyone familiar with NYC. That being said, I was very emotional at the end of this book (I finished this at Starbucks one night and a random man near me asked what I was reading because I seemed so engaged with it). 

Overall, it wasn't perfect but I really enjoyed it. 

Grade: 4/5


Book: Fathomless
Series: Fairytale Retellings #3
AuthorJackson Pearce

Celia Reynolds is the youngest in a set of triplets and the one with the least valuable power. Anne can see the future, and Jane can see the present, but all Celia can see is the past. And the past seems so insignificant -- until Celia meets Lo.

Lo doesn't know who she is. Or who she was. Once a human, she is now almost entirely a creature of the sea -- a nymph, an ocean girl, a mermaid -- all terms too pretty for the soulless monster she knows she's becoming. Lo clings to shreds of her former self, fighting to remember her past, even as she's tempted to embrace her dark immortality.

When a handsome boy named Jude falls off a pier and into the ocean, Celia and Lo work together to rescue him from the waves. The two form a friendship, but soon they find themselves competing for Jude's affection. Lo wants more than that, though. According to the ocean girls, there's only one way for Lo to earn back her humanity. She must persuade a mortal to love her . . . and steal his soul. - Goodreads

Review: This is loosely based on the Little Mermaid and while I didn't read the first two books of the series, I was excited to dive into this one.  Told in alternating narratives, we follow Celia, Lo and later Naida (Naida was Lo before becoming a mermaid, kind of like two souls in one body or multiple personalities). I really enjoyed all of Celia's sections, including her relationship with her sisters (Celia is trying to establish an identity away from them and they aren't happy about it) and her budding romance with Jude (it was very sweet). The Lo/Naida sections were interesting when she was interacting with Celia, but whenever she went underwater to be with her mermaid sisters, I lost interest. Mermaids in this book loose their human memories quickly and basically float around for years until they become angels (that is what they believe anyway). I wasn't expecting a kingdom underwater, but there really wasn't too much going on down there. Other than slightly discolored skin, mermaids don't differ from my humans physically (no classic mermaid fin). Since they don't have memories and there isn't much to do other than braid each other's hair, underwater life was pretty boring.

Overall-I enjoyed this and the ending was pretty good. I plan to read the other books in the series at some point. 
Grade: 3/5

Monday, April 21, 2014


Book: Fracture
Series: Fracture #1
Author: Megan Miranda

Review: Delaney Maxwell falls through the ice into a freezing lake and is pulled out by her best friend Decker. She was underwater for eleven minutes and is dead. Amazingly, she is revived and seems fine. While she physically looks okay, Delaney knows something isn't right. She can tell when people are going to die. She meets a new boy in town, Troy, who was in a coma and appears to have the same ability as her. Delaney's is excited to meet someone like her...or is he?

Random comment-I'm originally from Maine and read two books this month based in Maine. Super cool! Anyway...back to the book. I think the premise of the book was good and Miranda did a great job with the opening scene of Delaney falling through the ice. I think the relationship between Delaney and Decker (best friends, they both have an attraction to each other but haven't acted on it) was the most realistic portrayal male/female friends I've read thus far. She nailed the jealousy and awkwardness perfectly. It was clear Troy was a shady character early on and I enjoyed seeing Delaney trying to figure out what was happening with her "about to die radar" and her relationship issues. My trouble with this book was that for a book about a girl who died and defied natures laws to come to life, it was pretty boring for most of the book. There is a companion book or sequel though written from Decker's point of view after this book ends, and I will probably read it. 

Grade: 3/5

Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone

Book: Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone
Author: Kat Rosenfield

Review: Becca is a small town girl leaving for college in a few months, but reluctant to leave her boyfriend behind. Amelia Anne just graduated from college and is found murdered and beaten on a road in Becca's town. Told in alternating narratives, we see how the murder is affecting Becca as well as her conflicting feelings about leaving for college and staying behind. Meanwhile, we follow Amelia Anne as she graduates from college and finds her passion, only to have her life cut short. 

This was well written and Rosenfield really nailed what it's like to live in a small town. I identified with Becca, especially how she was looking forward to getting out so bad she wasn't able to fully embrace her time there. My town was not as small as Becca's small Maine town, but I 'got' her.  While I'm normally a huge fan of alternating narratives, I don't think it worked here because it eliminated the suspense regarding the murderer. The culprit was rather obvious (there was a small twist I didn't expect) but I feel like there could have been more to the mystery aspect. 

Small town girl getting ready for college, conflicting feelings about leaving: A
Murder mystery: D

Overall-3 stars. I still enjoyed this one. 

Grade: 3/5

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief

Book: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief
Author: Lawrence Wright

Review:  L. Ron Hubbard, a man with an active imagination and a penchant for writing, claimed he healed himself of war injuries. He wrote a book called Dianetics and he eventually found himself at the helm of a new religion called Scientology. Wright, an award winning journalist does an expose on the religion. Wright and his publisher are very brave, several few countries aren't publishing the book because they are very, very afraid of lawsuits. If there is one thing Scientologists LOVE, that is to sue if anyone says anything negative about them. 

This book is so disturbing on so many levels. Wright and his team did a very thorough job researching Hubbard, Miscavage (current head of the church, a vile, violent man by all accounts), the Sea Org (clergy who sign billion year contracts, work insane hours and get paid $50/week), Tom Cruise (megalomaniac) as well as the people who have defected from the church. He details their work camps, child labor practices, the fact that parents are separated from children, the lack of schooling for children, people being held hostage. What happens when people try to escape and are taken back or people who are followed by private investigators hired for the church for YEARS in some cases. If someone questions the church they can be labeled a suppressive person and they are cut off from you-including family members. There are so many crazy things you really have to read it to believe it. 

Disturbing and I loved it. 5 huge stars. 

Grade: 5/5

Eleanor & Park

Book: Eleanor and Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell

Review:  It's 1986 in Nebraska. Park is half Korean in a predominately white town. He has a great family and while he isn't exactly popular, he gets along fine. On the way to school one day, the new girl Eleanor (big with bright red hair and seemingly unique fashion sense) sits next to him. They develop a friendship that evolves into something more, but they must deal with many outside pressures including Eleanor's family and school bullies. 

This book was recommended to me by several people that assured me I would love it and that I would need a box of tissues at the end. While I enjoyed the book, I couldn't help feeling somewhat disappointed by it. The book started off fantastic-I absolutely loved how the friendship between Eleanor and Park developed. It felt real and very sweet. When their friendship took a quick turn to romance, it just didn't seem believable to me. I could buy them being best friends, but that's it.  While I felt sorry for the circumstances Eleanor and her siblings were in, I never warmed to her as a main character. On the other hand, I loved Park and his family (his mom was especially awesome).  I'll avoid spoilers but while the ending elicited no tears for me (I kept waiting to cry...but I just wasn't invested in them as a couple to generate any) I did like the book did not end tied up with a perfect red bow. Life isn't perfect, especially for Eleanor and I thought the ending was fitting. Also- I give the author kuddos for tackling a lot of issues including domestic abusive, poverty, alcoholism, bullying and racism. 

If you are a high school student-you will probably love this. 

Grade: 3.5/5

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Goldfinch

Book: The Goldfinch
Author: Donna Tartt

Review: When Theo's mother is killed in a bombing, he becomes a child without a home. His adventures begin when he is taken in by a classmates wealthy family and then moving in with his father (who previously abandoned him). 

This is a long book (almost 800 pages) and I'll review it in 3 sections. **this contains spoilers**

New York
In the opening section, young Theo describes the events leading up to his mother's tragic death and how he comes into possession of a valuable painting called The Goldfinch. He is taken in by his friend's wealthy family, who have their own quirks.

First of all-I could not figure out what year this was supposed to take place. The beginning section opens with Theo in his mid-20's and then flashes back to the time of his mother's death. Theo has a cell phone, his mother references Tom Ford sunglasses that were available in mid-2000s (2004 I think) and then eventually he heads to Vegas where the housing crisis is mentioned (but that happened in 2008). Texting is rarely mentioned. A few more things that didn't make sense were some of the logistics mentioned around NY. I'm by no means an expert on NY transportation systems but some of the details were inaccurate (there are also a few restaurants in the museum Theo and his mother are in that are never mentioned, but that was probably more due to the plot). I was able to overlook this but for some readers, I can see how this would be an issue. Now, the timeline and misc NY issues aside, I loved this section. I think she did a great job bringing NY to life, the characters were vivid and I could not stop reading.  The Balfour's (wealthy family he lives with temporarily) were an interesting crew, especially the cool and aloof Mrs. Balfour and her eccentric husband. Theo also befriends a furniture and antiques dealer, Hobie, who was an interesting character. 

5 stars

Theo's father, who abandoned his mother and him several months before the tragedy, shows up with his girlfriend and takes Theo to Vegas. This section read more like a young adult novel. The first rule of YA: get the parents out of the way. Theo's father (an alcoholic with a gambling problem) and girlfriend let him do pretty much what he wants and he meets up a friend and neighbor, Boris, who also conveniently has a father who works out of town. Although this section was rather repetitive, I couldn't get enough. Theo and Boris spend most of their days drinking, experimenting with drugs and stealing. While their behavior was different from my teenager years, they had difficult home situations and coped as best they could. 

5 stars

New York
Theo eventually finds himself back in NY after his father is killed in a car accident. He moves in with Hobie, graduates from high school and starts taking college classes. The book then jumps forward 8 years, and Theo is a partner in Hobie's furniture restoration and antiquities business (how he became an art expect is anyone's guess, wish she had expanded on this). While I loved the first 2 sections, the book fell apart for me here. Theo is a complete mess. He is a cheat, swindler and drug addict. At this point in the story (there are still several hundred pages left) I was hoping I had enough sympathy/empathy for Theo to care about him. Unfortunately, while I understand why he turned out the way he did, I absolutely could not stand him.  Hobie and Pippa (girl who Theo secretly loved for years) had potential but were mostly one dimensional. Theo runs into Boris in NY (they had barely any communication since Theo left Vegas) and the story then turns into a caper of sorts focused on the elusive painting (which Theo could have anonymously mailed back to the museum at any time). They travel internationally, there is a murder, Theo is stuck in Europe due to a passport issue, he is depressed, he abuses drugs, he abuses drugs, he abuses drugs. Did I mention he abuses drugs? We ever know about the color of his vomit at times. Really, I can't tell you how many times I rolled my eyes at the ridiculousness of this section as well as how much I started skimming because it was so verbose. In case you are wondering, yes, the previous sections were also very repetitive and inflated, but it didn't bother me as much because I was enjoying the rest of the story. 

Now-my final beef was the closing exposition of the book. It was so self indulgent, I don't know how it got past the editor (I'm not even sure if there was an editor for this book, several hundred pages could have been cut out). 

1 star

Final Thoughts
I loved the first 2 sections of the book while the last section was a huge disappointment. Tartt is a beautiful writer and can craft an good story, although at times she is very repetitive. Overall, I liked it. 

Grade: 3/5

How I Live Now

Book: How I Live Now
Author: Meg Rosoff

Review: Fifteen year old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to stay with an aunt and cousins she's never met. Soon after she arrives at their remote farm, her aunt leaves the country on a business trip and London is bombed and then occupied by an unnamed enemy. The cousins bond quickly but life changes when the war catches up with them. 

I enjoyed this book. The book is written entirely from Daisy's perspective so we literally know only what she knows. Rosoff really nails the teenage psyche with Daisy. Her attitude about her father, stepmother, lack of interest in the war at hand and life in general was very believable. I loved her cousin Piper and how they survived the war together. A large part of the story is a relationship Daisy develops with her 14-year old cousin Edmund (he smokes and she likes the smell of his tobacco breath...gross). I understand the love story was critical to the story (after they are separated she must get back to him) but I'm not sure why it was necessary to make them first cousins. While it's not really considered incest in England, it's certainly not common in the US and Daisy herself noted a few times that it was wrong. I just think she could have been a family friend and the story wouldn't have suffered. 

Overall, I liked this. The author doesn't use quotation marks (apparently this is her signature style) so it very frustrating read until I got used to it. 

Grade: 3/5


Book: Stardust
Author: Neil Gaiman

Review: Tristan, an English young man (half human, half fae) tries to win his heart's desire by going to a mystical realm to retrieve a fallen star. The fallen star turns out to be a young woman and he is not the only one after her. They quickly find themselves on a journey involving unicorns, witches, and elf lords.

There was an ethereal quality to this book that I loved. It was beautiful to read. I was able to visualize the world Gaiman created vividly and couldn't put it down. The characters themselves were rather one dimensional (Tristan was a naive nice guy, the Star had little personality, the conclusion of the witch was disappointing)  but I still loved the writing. 

Overall, a surprisingly beautiful read. 

Grade: 4.5/5