‘Stargirl’ by Jerry Spinelli

(186 pages).

22232

4 stars.

I never had to read this book in school, but I remember my siblings reading it for class. I feel as though I would have loved it as a young reader and I stick by my four-star rating, because I do see the potentially strong impact this story could have on readers, and I like when books are able to carry important messaging with them for that age group. In the awkward stage of when everyone is growing into who they are as individuals, stories such as ‘Stargirl’ serve as a nice reminder that we don’t need to worry about pleasing anyone but ourselves. With that being said, I believe Spinelli’s writing style and addressed topics in ‘Stargirl’ are timeless in their own right, and I will recommend this book to young readers for years to come.

Stargirl’s ability to be true to herself, accept her quirks, and maintain such a positive energy are truly empowering. That nonconformity is probably the single biggest challenge for anyone during those years, and Stargirl’s genuine nature and kindness leaves readers rooting for her until the end. In a way, she’s the type of person I’d say all people wish they could be: carefree, sincere, and passionate.

‘Dear Mr. Knightley’ by Katherine Reay

(328 pages).

17657649

2 stars.

I really hated this book, and I only skimmed the second half of it.

To be fair, I had no idea that it was a Christian novel, or that it carried the holier-than-thou err. The 100% truth about why I ever purchased this book was because of the beautiful cover and my love for a good Jane Austen novel. I’m a sucker, I know.

Samantha Moore is a product of the foster care system, and she doesn’t have the money to pursue her graduate degree, until the mysterious, never-met-him, Daddy Warbucks-esque man offers to cover the full cost of her tuition and anything she needs. He asks only that she regularly write to him in order to keep him updated on her progress, in exchange for his charity. She accepts, and through her letters, she’s able to do a lot of self-reflection and discovery about who she really is and what she wants out of life.

I know that it sounds like a somewhat interesting premise, but the story is so overloaded with references to classic novels that it was distracting at times and made the story seem all that more unrealistic and irrelevant. I feel as though it’s one thing for our character to love the classics, but to live her life around them is excessive. I get the impression that her character was written to be a sweet, charming, innocent girl who’s trying to figure out what she wants in life. Someone who we’d be rooting for at the end and proud of all she’s done. Instead, in my opinion, it came across as a completely unrelatable, naive, and consistently overdramatic girl who’s always finding something to be unhappy about.

Ugh. I wasn’t a fan at all.

I hope this doesn’t speak to all of Katherine Reay’s work… I gave the book its 2-star rating simply because the writing itself was very smooth and enjoyable. If we could’ve cut the classics references by about 50%, I really would’ve loved Ms. Reay’s writing. That alone was this book’s saving grace.

Until next time!

‘Gone’ by Michael Grant

(559 pages).

2536134

5 stars.

This was another book recommended to me by a student this month, and I must say, I went out and bought the rest of the series as soon as I finished this one! It’s so…strange. And GOOD.

Basically, everyone aged 15 and up just instantly vanishes one day. The kids that are left behind are scrambling to try to maintain order and figure out where everyone went. Bullies ultimately rule, and their ideas for keeping everyone in line are extremely barbaric and absurd. As time goes on, some kids are beginning to develop special powers (reading minds, producing light, etc). They “make things happen”. Some of the bullies are determined that these ‘Freaks’ have had something to do with the disappearance of all adults, and they begin treating them poorly because of it. Eventually, rapid evolution and crazy developments have become the norm, and it becomes a full-on battle of no longer us-versus-them, but moreso a determinant in whose power reigns supreme.

There is a very heavy sci-fi element to this world, and I can only imagine that the strangeness and paranormal events will only grow more extreme as the series continues.

Ultimately, the kids are very vicious and becoming extremely violent, but it’s all out of fear. They all want to know what’s happening to everyone that’s disappeared and them as they turn 15, and they are determined to figure it out, regardless of the price they’ll pay.

Love the characters, love the world, and the mystery is really engrossing. Must. Read. More. !!!

‘The Screaming Divas’ by Suzanne Kamata

(208 pages).

18442148

3 stars.

If you’d like more information about the inspiration for this story, check out the author’s guest post on my blog from 4/15! Ms. Kamata graciously offered me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Truthfully, I just felt like I was too “old” for this story, but I feel as though I would’ve really enjoyed it as a teenager. I appreciate the empowerment and friendship that these girls are able to find through the making of their all-female rock band, and the growth and happiness that they are able to find within themselves as well as with the success of the band is exciting. The story brings together four girls from different walks of life who are all facing their own challenges. Learning about the characters’ pasts and what shaped them into who they are as individuals was very evident, as the personalities were extremely different. I think the characters alone were likable and relatable enough to “make” this book; reading to learn about their life experiences and growth was interesting, and it kept me until the end.

A novel full of laughs, heartbreak, and very strong characters.

‘The Hunt for Atlantis’ by Andy McDermott

(538 pages).

2445116

3 stars.

This is not a book that I would have typically picked up for myself, but one of my students (I work at a university), strongly recommended it. I knew little about the book, and I didn’t realize that it was the first of a many-book series (9 or 10, I think). I think it’s important to note that my rating is largely based on that fact that it’s unlikely I will ever, let alone anytime soon, pick up the sequels to this novel.

Let me be clear; this book was by no means ‘bad’. I actually really enjoyed the action and adventure that came with the story, and the characters kept you guessing. Eddie isn’t at all the stereotypical meathead hero, and I found him charming for that. I didn’t have him pegged as Nina’s future bodyguard, at all, and I appreciated the light-hearted, jokester character that the author made of Eddie. Nina grows a lot through the book; she becomes more level-headed and realistic as the story progresses.

Nina is convinced that Atlantis exists and has been obsessed with finding it for her entire life. She is devastated when her University’s panel rejects her proposal for the research to uncover Atlantis’ location. She is (suspiciously) offered the opportunity to work with Kristian Frost shortly thereafter. Kristian is a world-reknowned billionaire, and his daughter, Kari, is also along for the ride. They’re very bizarre characters; the Frost family.

The overall story reminded me of Indiana-Jones-meets-Tomb-Raider, in a way. It was entertaining; just not for me.

‘Something Borrowed’ by Emily Giffin

(322 pages).

42156

4 stars.

This was my first dip back into a chick-lit novel in quite awhile, and I really enjoyed it, but it honestly took me awhile to get into. I find both Rachel and Darcy to be extremely unlikeable in their own ways, but I then realized that these characters are very real people. Neither of them are anywhere near perfect, but they don’t try to be. It does kind of blow my mind that they’d be in their 30’s and still choose to be friends, when their personalities are so clearly different, but I digress.

Rachel is a sweet, sensitive, and sophisticated attorney; always responsible and does the right thing. Darcy, however, is the pretty, popular, outgoing, and always-appears-to-be-perfect type. Darcy is engaged to Dex, whom she met through Rachel (Rachel and Dex were classmates in law school). Overtime we learn that Rachel has always had feelings for Dex, and their true feelings unfold as the story goes on.

It’s a sweet story that highlights the trials and tribulations of friendship and romance. I found myself rooting for Rachel from the get-go, and I enjoyed seeing her character grow through the story, as she learned about herself, her past, and her relationships.

Also, who knew that this was made into a film? I should rent that!

‘The Assassin’s Curse’ by Cassandra Rose Clarke

(298 pages).

13533650

4 Stars.

In a nutshell,’The Assassin’s Curse’ is about Ananna, a runaway bride, who has angered and disappointed her betrothed’s family so much with her disappearance that they sent an Assassin, Naji, after her. The two come head-to-head in battle, and Ananna unknowingly activates the assassin’s curse with her magic, binding the two of them together. In order to break the curse, they are given three tasks that they must conquer, all of which seem impossible.

I have to admit that the abrupt ending of this story was a little frustrating, but when I found that it was the publisher’s decision to split the book into two, I gave the author the benefit of the doubt. While I feel like the verdict is still out on the entire world and story that Cassandra Rose Clarke has created (until I get my hands on the second installment, ‘The Pirate’s Wish’…hopefully within the next month or so!), I did really enjoy the characters and was a huge fan of the kick-ass heroine that Ananna is! And, seriously, what isn’t there to love about a story that combines magic, pirates, assassins, and romance? I ate it right up.

Ananna is tough, but somehow relatable, especially in her independent, no-nonsense persona. I can understand how her character is attracted to Naji, the assassin, only because of the sheltered life and limited interactions she’s had with others; he’s mysterious and very skilled in his craft, but something about him was lacking. For being a trained assassin, I would just expect a rough, tough, and confident man. Instead, I felt like Naji was a little bit meek and unwelcoming. I didn’t particularly care for his character, but I do appreciate the growing romance and tension between the two.

There is just so much excitement and adventure; I thoroughly enjoyed the story and look forward to continuing with ‘The Pirate’s Wish’ very soon!

Guest Post: Author of ‘Screaming Divas’, Suzanne Kamata

Image

 

Image

Suzanne Kamata

Inspiration behind the story:

For a long time, I’d wanted to write a novel about an all-girl group. At first, I had the idea of writing a novel about a 1960s Motown group like The Supremes, but I figured that there would be a lot of research involved, and there was a huge likelihood that I would get something wrong.Also, someone had already written the musical “Dreamgirls.”  Then I thought it would be fun to write a book about a band similar to the ones involved in the Riot Grrl movement, which pretty much happened in the Pacific Northwest — bands like Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, and Babes in Toyland. I set my book in Columbia, South Carolina, where I went to college.

I first started writing the parts about Trudy as a novelization of the life of Courtney Love It started out as kind of writing exercise, something that I was doing just for fun while I tried to figure out how to revise another novel I’d been working on. I changed the names and the setting, of course, and some other details. Eventually, the book took on a life of its own, and Trudy did, as well.

When I’m writing, I tend to throw everything I’m interested in at the moment into the book, so you’ll find references to The Supremes, Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allan Poe, The Gogo’s, the Columbia artist Blue Sky, Joy Division, and the Capitol Cafe, where I used to hang out with my friends after a night of dancing in a club very much like The Cave.

March Wrap-Up

I said I wasn’t going to cram all books into one post for another month, yet here we are. I really need to work on being better about this!

I completely read 7 books during March and started an 8th, and I liked them all. Nothing blew me away, exactly, but I was pleasantly surprised by a few of them! See below for reviews of the 7 I finished.

all
________________________________________________________________________________

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh (384 pages)

hyperbole

5 stars.

This book is so.darn.funny. Seriously. It’s hilarious. Maybe I picked it up on a good day, but I flew through the whole thing over the span of just a couple of hours, and I was so sad to see it conclude. There were points that I literally laughed out loud with tears in my eyes; no book has ever had that affect on me. I was not familiar with this author before the book was released, but I am excited to see that hyperboleandahalf.com is not only home to the stories featured in the book, but the site also has plenty more short stories. The stories themselves are weird and funny, but the illustrations that go along with them absolutely make this the success and sensation that it has been. The facial expressions of the illustrated characters are 100% the most entertaining thing about this book for me, and I liked the comic-style or graphic novel-type delivery in which these stories are offered. I loved it, I’d recommend it to anybody looking for a pick-me-up or a light, entertaining read.
________________________________________________________________________________

Cinder by Marissa Meyer (387 pages)

cinder

5 stars.

I was beyond impressed by this story! My expectations weren’t very high going into it, only because the elements incorporated through the Lunar Chronicles that are sci-fi related are typically not my thing (cyborgs, space travel…etc). I did see how widely hyped the story was across YouTube and book blogs alike, so I decided to give it a chance, and I am so glad I did! It wasn’t anything like what I had expected, in a pleasant and exciting way. I’ll write more about overall thoughts on the book/series below when I wrap-up thoughts on ‘Scarlet’ (book #2 of the Lunar Chronicles), but this book just made me so ecstatic about this world. I’ve always been a sucker for fairytales, but “retellings” such as this seem to be so wildly creative that it’s a totally reinvented story that I adore. I am definitely going to see this series through – I’d love to see how the different characters’ stories are intertwined throughout the series. Props to Marissa Meyer on such an original piece with ‘Cinder’! I loved it.
________________________________________________________________________________

Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler (378 pages)

bittersweet

3 stars.

Honestly, I was really disappointed with ‘Bittersweet’. I was being generous with my 3-star rating if the rating is to be reflective of how I felt right as I finished the book…but I gave the story the benefit of the doubt. To be fair, it was one of my TBR Jar picks for this month, and not only was I not in the mood for a contemporary, young adult, coming of age novel, but this particular story is very wintery and is probably best read curled up next to the fireplace in the dead of winter. Had it not have been pulled from my jar this month, there’s no way I would’ve read it at this time (though I own it, because I really did want to read it eventually)! The story was cute and lovey-dovey. I just feel ‘meh’ about it.

I need help with my TBR Jar concept – If I pick a book and really don’t want to read it right then, do I just put it back in the jar and pick another? I feel like that defeats the purpose. Right?

________________________________________________________________________________

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (312 pages)

graveyard

4 stars.

Neil Gaiman does it again. This man’s writing is just so whimsical and ingenious that it’s hard to not fall in love with his storytelling. The story begins with the grim murder of an entire family, with the exception of a toddler, who wanders out of the home and into the graveyard, unknowingly sparing his own life. The boy is raised and looked after by ghosts and other odd creatures within the graveyard, all of whom fear for his safety if he were to leave, since he so narrowly escaped his death as a child. The story’s characters are all so unique and full of life; I felt invested in each of them and the development of the story. The creativity and quirks behind ‘The Graveyard Book’ make this a book I would want to keep on the shelves for my future-children to read one day.
________________________________________________________________________________

Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff (200 pages)

lemonade

3 stars.

This was the first book I’ve ever read that’s written in free verse, so it was interesting. The story is of LaVaughn meeting, helping, and growing with young Jolly, a 17-year-old single mother of two who is struggling to make ends meet. The notes of life lessons, positivity, and overcoming biases and judgment throughout this book are very striking, and I did enjoy the overall story that was provided. I did not enjoy the writing style, and I found it difficult to follow the free verse; there were many times that I had to re-read sections or phrases, but that very well could just be my own lack of experience or interest in this type of writing. I do like that the novel challenges assumptions society seems to have about teen pregnancy, poverty, etc., but I really struggled to sympathize with the main character, LaVaughn. I didn’t find anything about her charming or appealing in any way, and her lack of character development didn’t help the fact that this book was already so depressing. I really did like the ideas behind this book; I just wasn’t crazy about how it was executed.
________________________________________________________________________________

Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano (356 pages)

perfect

4 stars.

This story is BEAUTIFULLY written and I’m very compelled to read more of DeStefano’s work. I really enjoyed the characters and appreciated that even supporting characters to the story were relatable, likable, and fairly well-developed (e.g. Morgan’s brother and his wife). While I admit that the premise of this story seems a little hokey and kind of lacks in world-building throughout the story, the believability of the characters’ passion and drive is beyond compare. I loved that the book was so action-packed and yet ends in a place where there is still so much to explore and learn of Internment and the world beyond throughout the books to follow in the Internment Chronicles series. I feel as though ‘Perfect Ruin’ only scratches the surface in what this world that DeStefano has created can offer, and I am confident that ‘Burning Kingdoms’ will solidify the greatness of the series (set to be released in October 2014)!
________________________________________________________________________________

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer (454 pages)

scarlet

4 stars.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve just never been a fan of Little Red Riding Hood, but I could NOT get behind Scarlet’s story in this book. The saving grace for me was the way in which Cinder’s life story was still connected and worked throughout. I adored everything about the first book in this series, and I’m very excited to see how ‘Cress’ adds to the story (Rapunzel as a Hacker? C’mon. That’s so neat!), but this book was kind of a buzz-kill from the high I had built up in my mind for The Lunar Chronicles series. I recognize that I probably had too high of expectations, assuming ‘Scarlet’ would give me a new perspective and appreciation for Little Red, but even some of the slight problems I had noted after reading ‘Cinder’ became glaringly evident in this one…why, at the end of the second book in a series, do we still have little to no understanding of how this world came to be, or imagery of the scene in which the story is taking place? I feel like Scarlet’s component of the story suffers from predictability issues, though I personally felt like the suspense and excitement of Cinder’s story kept the book engaging and held my interest. The 4-star rating may seem high for my sloo of complaints here, but I still see potential in the series and know that I will continue. Or maybe I just really really really love Cinder. I need to take a small break from the series and I know I’ll feel excited about continuing on at a later time.

Friday Reads!

I’ve been way behind on my reading for March, partially because I was out of town for a week at a conference for work, and partially because I’ve really struggled with starting and committing to any books this month. Today, I plan to finish reading ‘Perfect Ruin’ by Lauren DeStefano, which I’ve really enjoyed so far, but I’ve been working on it for well over a week now. Of course I’ll provide a full review/reaction when I finish it, and you can look for an update sometime this weekend on my comments about the five books I’ve actually completed in March so far (plus, hopefully, ‘Perfect Ruin’).

On the flight from Phoenix to Baltimore; first day of reading ‘Perfect Ruin’. Check out that beautiful cover!

Image

Also, the number of books that I own and have yet to read is growing to be absurd (I’m up to about 50). In order to keep things interesting and maybe pick up a book I wasn’t initially leaning towards, I’ve decided to create a “TBR (To Be Read) Jar”. I saw a few booktubers on YouTube implement this idea, and I really like the concept! I wrote the title of each book I haven’t read on a piece of paper, and for a book or two per month, I’ll draw from my jar. I won’t use the jar to guide all of my reading (sometimes I’m just really drawn to a specific book in the moment!), but it’ll be fun to mix it up every once in awhile.

Image

 

And one last announcement! I was contacted about participating in my first ‘Blog Tour’, so on April 14th, we will have a guest post by ‘Screaming Divas’ author Suzanne Kamata! I’m looking forward to it!

Until next time,

Karissa