Monday, December 31, 2012

Book Review: The Alchemist

I have intended to read Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist ever since the summer of 2001, when a copy of it was delivered to my younger brother at my parents' house.  It was the "assigned reading" for his freshman class at Butler University, and I wanted to steal it and read it (but figured that wouldn't be a good start for his academic career).  It's been on my monstrously long "to read" list ever since then, but it got bumped to the top when my old book club read it and my friend Kristin told me that the introduction (about following your Personal Legend) made her think of my family and our move out of the corporate world and into the world of Christian camping.

When I checked The Alchemist out of the library, my husband actually got his hands on it before me (since I was distracted by a two-week flu epidemic than spread through me and all four of our kids).  He absolutely loved it and has requested that we purchase a copy so he can re-read it over the years.  The idea of following a Personal Legend really resonated with him.

I, on the other hand, really liked the basic idea but did not so much enjoy the book.  Maybe I'd had just mentally hyped it up for too long (11 years), but it just kind of fell short for me.  It is the story of Santiago (mostly referred to as "the boy" throughout the book), a simple Spanish shepherd who has a recurring dream of finding treasure.  He then meets a "king" (who is actually more like an angel or messenger of God) in a marketplace and learns that his dream is urging him on toward his own Personal Legend (or calling).  Coelho writes that "to realize one's Personal Legend is a person's only real obligation" and that "when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."

The boy decides to follow his Personal Legend, so he sells his flock of sheep and sets out for Africa.  Along the way, he is robbed, works in a crystal shop, travels in a caravan across the desert, falls in love, meets an alchemist who knows the secrets of the Elixir of Life and the Philosopher's Stone, and learns to speak to his own heart.  And yes, he does find his treasure in the end.

While the story can be read on a surface level of the boy's adventures, it's also thick with philosophizing on Personal Legends and the Soul of the World.  Metaphors abound, and for a slim book, it holds a lot of ideas.

I liked the idea of a Personal Legend, but I'm clearly not as wise or as patient as the boy, because when I read the ending, I was like, "Seriously?  I'd be so pissed if that was me!"  So obviously I am not as deep as the author (or my husband, or all my other friends who enjoyed it).  I was also put off by some of the religious talk, which seemed, in turns, both rather Transcendental and rather New Age, while vaguely referencing many Christian stories.

So, in short, I didn't love it, but I am glad that I read it, and it was a good way to round out 2012 and welcome in the New Year, with thoughts of Personal Legends and what I'm meant or called to do in this life.

As a side note--my library had The Alchemist shelved in the Young Adult section.  I presume this is because the hero starts the story as a teenager, and because Coelho explains that we dream more when we are young (and tend to lose those dreams and hopes as we grow older).  However, I would in no way limit its reading to teens, and in fact think that adults would both enjoy and benefit from it more than the younger set.

Book Review: Keeping the Moon

I’ve read a lot of Sarah Dessen in 2012, and I’ve loved most of it.  Keeping the Moon was no exception.  It was Dessen’s third book (after That Summer and Someone Like You) and, in my opinion, the best to that point.

 The story centers around Nicole “Colie” Sparks, an awkward teenager with very little self-confidence.  She gets sent to live with her Aunt Mira (who she barely knows) in the seaside town of Colby (a frequent setting in Dessen’s books) for the summer.  She shows up as this girl dressed all in black, with unevenly dyed black hair and a lip ring.  And while her exterior changes over the course of the book (including a new hair color and some adventures in eyebrow plucking), her interior changes even more.

 Colie unexpectedly gets a job at a local restaurant (Last Chance, also mentioned in many of Dessen’s books), where she gets to know two twentysomething best friends named Morgan and Isabel.  These girls reminisce about their own awkward high school years and, while dealing with their own problems, teach Colie how to be “one of the girls.”

Meanwhile, Colie initially pities her eccentric Aunt Mira, who lives in a house full of broken objects, loves to watch wrestling on television, and rides an ancient red bicycle everywhere.  At first, Colie is mortified by how the townspeople make fun of Mira—much like how her classmates have always made fun of her.  But Mira isn’t bothered by any of it, and Colie eventually catches this attitude and learns, for the first time, to feel comfortable in her own skin.

 Of course, it wouldn’t be a Sarah Dessen novel without the guy—one of whom the girl is initially skeptical, but once she gets to know him, discovers that he’s exactly right in ways she didn’t even know she needed.  In Keeping the Moon, this guy is Norman, an aspiring young hippie artist, who also flips burgers at the Last Chance, does odd jobs for Mira, and takes a more mature view of his estranged relationship with his father than the father does.

Altogether, Keeping the Moon was a delightful read.  I think that most teenage girls could easily relate to Colie and her insecurities, love the diamond-in-the-rough Norman, and appreciate Morgan and Isabel's mix of wisdom and mistakes.  Keeping the Moon is shorter than some of Sarah Dessen's more recent novels, but captures that same spark that keeps me coming back for more.

Book Review: Every Day

I had been waiting anxiously to get my hands on a copy of David Levithan’s new release, Every Day.  I’m not sure if my library didn’t have one at first, or if someone else got to it before me, but I practically did a happy dance the day that I finally found a copy on the shelf.  My dear friend Tracy read it as soon as it came out and highly recommended it to me.  Then, once it was on my radar, it was like I saw reviews of this book everywhere.  And everyone that read this book simply raved about this.  I read reviews where people declared it was the best book they had read all year, or even the best book they had read EVER. 

 So by the time I got my hands on a copy, I had pretty high expectations for Every Day.  And it definitely did not disappoint.  This book was simply fantastic.  The basic premise is fascinating: A is a soul without a body.  Every day, s/he wakes up in a different body.  S/he never jumps large geographic distances or age groups—s/he is pretty much always in a 16-year-old (which is how old s/he is) and seems to stay in about a four-hour radius (unless the host body travels a long way that day).  But there are no limitations of sex, socioeconomic status, health…. Or anything else.  A is in each body for one day, no more or less.  So s/he lives drastically different lives, every day.  I was just fascinated by some of the different lives that A enters…. a younger sister who A inspires to stand up to her big brother, or an addict that A struggles to keep from drugs for just that one day, or a deeply depressed girl that A intervenes to save.

 So just the premise of the book had me hooked.  Then we get to the actual storyline: while in the body of a boy named Justin, A meets Rhiannon, Justin’s girlfriend, and falls in love with her.  In the following days, A cannot stop thinking about Rhiannon.  And for the first time, A decides that living his own life might be more important than maintaining the status quo in the lives he inhabits for a day.  So every day, in different bodies, he tries to find his way back to Rhiannon.

 Can a relationship like that work?  Can Rhiannon learn to love A, even though he’s never in the same body twice?  (See, I fell into the trap of referring to A as “he,” even though s/he’s not really either gender…. but since some of his most important encounters happen in male bodies, I tend to think of him that way.)  And what will those people remember the next day, when they regain possession of their own bodies?  In at least one case, a boy realizes that he has been “possessed” for a day and starts what amounts to a witch hunt for A.

 There are so many different threads of story and thought running through this book.  It introduces so many interesting ideas.  I could spend hours thinking about any of the various concepts in this book, yet it never feels overcrowded, preachy, or overwhelming.

 I had previously read some collaborations by David Levithan (Will Grayson, Will Grayson with John Green and both Nick and Norah’s InfinitePlaylist and Dash and Lily’s Book ofDares with Rachel Cohn), but I had never read any of his other solo works.  I simply fell in love with Every Day and wholeheartedly agree with its many rave reviews.  I will definitely be reading more of David Levithan in 2013!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Book Review: The Messenger

Last month, I re-read The Messenger by Lois Lowry.  This is the third book in her Giver sequence—until her recent publication of Son, it functioned as the conclusion of the cycle.  Reading Son led me into a cycle of my own—it inspired me to go back and re-read the other three books so that I could appreciate it more fully, and reading the other three books then made me go back and read Son (again) to make sure I had appreciated all its nuances.  Having now completed all of that reading, I can honestly say that I am wowed by Lois Lowry.  I love all the subtle ways in which she intertwines these stories, written over the course of two decades, and I love how she creates a distinct feeling of hope and joy for humanity in the midst of THE original YA dystopian society.

In The Messenger, the main character is Matty.  This is the same spunky young rag-tag adventurer who we met as “the fiercest of the fierce” in Gathering Blue, where he was a lovable but peripheral character to Kira’s story.  In The Messenger, Matty is now a young adult, dreaming of assuming his true role in the Village (and in life).  Here, it’s Kira who’s the peripheral character (though still important to the story).  Jonas from The Giver also reappears, now the Leader of Village.  Even Gabe (from The Giver) gets a passing reference, though his own story doesn’t emerge until Son.

 Matty lives with Seer, a wise old blind man (who also happens to be Kira’s father) in Village, a once-idyllic settlement that has traditionally accepted all strangers who have been rejected by other societies.  But a dark force is working on Village.  Its people are trading away the best parts of themselves in exchange for half-formed dreams or creature comforts.  The Forest surrounding the Village becomes physically darker and more dangerous, reflecting the souls of the townspeople.

 Matty serves as Villager’s Messenger, the only one who dares to venture to outlying communities.  And like Jonas and Kira, Matty has a Gift.  He has healing within his hands.  And though he is young and has not yet received his True Name, Matty finds himself called upon to restore all that is good in his world.

 The Messenger is (unfortunately) not as multi-layered as The Giver and (thankfully) not as dark as Gathering Blue.  It provides a fascinating portrait of what people think they really want in life—and what they are willing to sacrifice to get it.  Its story is only further enriched by Son, in which Gabe takes up the mantle that Matty wields in this book.  All great reads for middle school students on up through adults.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Book Review: Gathering Blue

After re-reading Lois Lowry's The Giver and reading her new release Son, I really wanted to re-read Gathering Blue and Messenger, which are both companion novels to The Giver.  I originally read them about a decade ago when they first came out (Gathering Blue in 2000 and Messenger in 2004).  During those original reads, I remember not liking Gathering Blue very much and feeling so-so about Messenger.

Well.  I was wrong.  I am SO glad that I re-read them.  My original frustration with Gathering Blue was largely because it was not the direct sequel to The Giver that I was craving.  Instead, it tells the parallel story of Kira, an orphan girl with a useless leg.  Her handicap makes her useless to her brutal,  primitive society, and therefore a group of citizens wants to leave her to the "beasts" to be devoured.  But Kira (like Jonas in The Giver) has a special gift.  Her gift is in her hands.  When she sews, something miraculous happens.  Her hands seem to move on their own, creating patterns that she was never taught.  So the Council of her society takes her to live in their Edifice.  Her first job is to repair the Singer's robe, which depicts the history of the world.  When that job is complete, she will then be tasked with filling in the blank spaces--in essence, creating the future.

The Council has also provided housing for Thomas, a skilled woodworker, and Jo, a tyke (toddler) with an incredible singing voice.  Their skills are also Gifts, and together, the three of them are called upon to recount the past.... and create the future.  But Kira comes to realize that the Council of Guardians is not just housing them, but rather imprisoning them.  And is it merely a coincidence that all the children with Gifts have been orphaned?

Kira is also mentored by an old woman named Annabella, who teaches her the art of dying thread.  Through talking to Annabella, Kira comes to realize that there is more to the world than she has ever known, and that many of the things she takes for granted may not be true at all.  Kira also has a special friendship with a young, wild boy named Matt, who eventually dares to leave the village and returns with knowledge that changes Kira's life forever.

Now that I can see how Gathering Blue weaves itself into the other three books in Lowry's collection, I am in awe of her masterful storytelling.  In Gathering Blue, Matt makes one brief reference to a man that he met in another villlage, saying that he has notable blue eyes.  This man later proves to be Jonas from The Giver.  In Messenger, the stories of Jonas, Kira, and Matt intertwine.

I did feel that Gathering Blue was definitely a darker story than The Giver.... or rather, it had a darker feel.  In The Giver, Jonas believes that he is living in a perfect society.  Everything is clean, well-ordered, and peaceful.... ultimately oppressive, of course, but serene upon first glance.  But the village of Gathering Blue is filthy, primitive, filled with pain, loss, and violence.  I wasn't expecting that on my first reading, but now that I see it in context of the full series, I find it fascinating.  These societies can then be contrasted with Village in Messenger and the seaside settlement in Son--all essentially post-apocolyptic, but all so very different.

So if Lowry drew you into her world with The Giver, definitely give Gathering Blue a chance.  It's a very different world, but one that is equally as fascinating.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Book Review: Cold Tangerines

I recently finished Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist.  I had actually been reading it for quite a long time.  I read just one chapter (each an individual essay) a day, then thought about it for the rest of the day, sometimes thinking for more than just one day.  Because Cold Tangerines is that kind of a book: one that makes you think about every story and every gem of wisdom that it includes.

At its core, Cold Tangerines is a book about celebration.  Shauna Niequist set out to write a book about God's goodness and faithfulness and all the gifts He gives us to celebrate.  But while she was in the process of writing the book, Niequist went through some very difficult times in her own life, the most significant of which was losing her job in a church.  So the book ends up as this beautiful portrait about celebrating God's promises even when we can't see them, even when things look so dark that we don't know how we're going to make it through.  It's a book about choosing to live joyfully, even when we don't see anything in our lives to feel joyful about.  It is full of humor and wisdom and wonderful insights.  I highly, highly recommend it to everyone.

So many times when I was reading this book, I would stop and say, "YES.  That is EXACTLY how I feel.  Shauna Niequist, you really understand me.  Except that you are infinitely wiser and more articulate than I am."  I'm not sure if everyone who reads the book feels that way, or if maybe I'm just on the same wavelength as Shauna (while reading the book, I compiled quite a lot of similarities between the two of us).  So let me just leave you with a handful of my favorite pearls from this book:

From "Shalom":
"I have been surprised to find that I am given more life, more hope, moments of buoyancy and redemption, the more I give up.  The more I let go, do without, reduce, the more I feel rich.  The more I let people be who they are, instead of cramming them into what I need from them, the more surprised I am by their beauty and depth."

From "Blessings and Curses":
"Now we're talking about celebration.  Celebration when you think you're calling the shots?  Easy.  Celebration when your plan is working?  Anyone can do that.  But when you realize that the story of your life could be told a thousand different ways, that you could tell it over and over as a tragedy, but you choose to call it an epic, that's when you start to learn what celebration is.  When what you see in front of you is so far outside of what you dreamed, but you have the belief, the boldness, the courage to call it beautiful instead of calling it wrong, that's celebration."

Also from "Blessings and Curses":
"Nothing good comes easily.  You have to lose things you thought you loved, give up things you thought you needed.  You have to get over yourself, beyond your past, out from under the weight of your future.  The good stuff never comes when things are easy."

From "Writing in Pencil":
"I just turned thirty, and I'm finally willing to admit something about life, or at least about my life, and it's this: I should have written in pencil.  I should have viewed the trajectory of my life as a mystery or an unknown, like 'maybe' and 'possibly.'  Instead, every chance I got, I wrote in stone and Sharpie.  I stood on my future, on what I knew, on the certainty of what life would hold for me, as though it was rock.  What I know now is that instead of rock, it's more like a magic carpet, a lippy-slidy-wiggly thing, full of equal parts play and terror.  The ground beneath my feet is lurching and breaking, and making way for an entirely new thing every time I look down, susprised once again by a future I couldn't have predicted."

Also from "Writing in Pencil":
"Everything is interim.  Everything is a path or a preparation for the next thing, and we never know what the next thing is.  Life is like that, of course, twisty and surprising.  But life with God is like that exponentially.  We can dig in, make plans, write in stone, pretend we're not listening, but the voice of God has a way of being heard.  It seeps in like smoke or vapor even when we've barred the door against any last-minute changes, and it moves us to different countries and emotional territories and different ways of living.  It keeps us moving and dancing and watching, and never lets us drop down into a life set on cruise control or a life ruled by remote control.  Life with God is a daring dream, full of flashes and last-minute extras and generally all the things we've said we'll never do.  And with the surprises come great hope."

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Book Review: I Hunt Killers

I recently read I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga.  This book is WAY out of my usual comfort zone.  I generally try to avoid anything that I think will give me bad dreams, and wow, this one had me utterly horrified even while I was awake.  But a group of YA afficionados through my library master's program read it and raved about it, and I've seen so many other blogs praising it as THE big thing right now, that I simply had to give it a try.

I Hunt Killers definitely did not disappoint.  The entire book was a little like watching a car accident--in the best possible way, meaning I simply could not force myself to look away, no matter how horrifying it was.

The premise of the book is this: 17-year-old Jasper "Jazz" Dent is a troubled young man.  Which is understandable, considering that he was raised by the world's most notorious serial killer--his father, Billy Dent.  During his "career," Billy killed over 120 people.  He also spent that timing grooming Jasper to carry on the "family business."  Jazz can remember being as young as 7 years old and being taken along to crime scenes with his father.  His father tutored him, in detail, on every aspect of murder, from selecting a "prospect," to breaking into their home, to torture and rape, to the actual killing, to how to cover it up afterwards.

When I Hunt Killers starts, Billy has been in prison for about four years, but he is still an ever-present voice in Jazz's mind.  Jazz struggles to be a "normal kid," whatever that means, but he can't seem to help seeing the world through Billy's eyes.  And then a dead body turns up in a field outside Jazz's town.  Jazz is convinced that it's the work of a serial killer, but the local police don't agree.  So Jazz launches his own investigation, hoping to prove to both himself and the people around him that he can use the skills that Billy taught him for good.

Reading this book was like being inside the head of a serial killer--because, after all, Jazz has all the same thoughts and skills as killers; he just hasn't killed anyone (yet).  It was very real and very, very scary.  At one point while I was reading it, I made a trip to the grocery store.  With every man that passed me in the aisles or made eye contact with me at all, I freaked out a little bit inside and thought, "Oh my gosh, what if he's a killer and regards me as a prospect?"  Scary, scary stuff.

In the end, I'm almost distressed to admit that I loved this book.  Immediately after finishing it, I went to Barry Lyga's website, where I was able to link to his prequel short story ("Career Day") and find out about the upcoming sequel, Game.  So while I Hunt Killers utterly terrified me, the character of Jasper himself was so likable, so fascinating, that I think I'm with this series for the long haul.  I Hunt Killers definitely isn't for everyone, but if you like scary books or psychological thrillers, definitely check it out.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Stacking the Shelves: November 15

Every week, Tynga's Reviews hosts Stacking the Shelves, where book bloggers share what books they've acquired this week. This year, Thursday is my designated "library day," so I'll be sharing my haul with you when time permits.
For me:
After re-reading Lois Lowry's The Giver and reading her new release, Son, I desperately wanted to go back and re-read the other two companion novels in this set.  I had Gathering Blue on my own shelf, but had to check Messenger out at the local library.
I've meant to read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho ever since a copy of it showed up at my parents' house when my brother was assigned to read it as an incoming college freshman.... way back in the fall of 2000.  Clearly this one has been on my "to read" list for WAY too long.  My motivation to finally pick it up came from my old book club (from before I moved, but I still like to read along with them whenever possible), which is reading it this month.
I've read tons of great reviews of David Levithan's newest release, Every Day, and have seen plenty of bloggers calling it "the best book of the year."  As if that wasn't intriguing enough, my dear friend Tracy also recommended it, and I'm always a fan of her recs.  I had to wait several weeks for my library to get it in, so I was thrilled to snatch it off the shelf this week!
I haven't acquired many books "for keeps" lately, but I'm thrilled to add these two to my collection.  My sweet sister-in-law Jill sent me copies of The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks and Heaven Is For Real by Todd Burpo for my birthday this week.  I've been wanting to read both of them and am excitedly adding them to my TBR pile.  Though I do hear that The Lucky One is kind of a gateway drug into Nicholas Sparks (who, shockingly, I have never read, though always meant to), so I'm anticipating a library run in the near future to check out more of his books!  (And, side note--do you have any idea how difficult it is to find an image of The Lucky One without Zac Efron's face plastered on it?)
For the kids:
A Child's Good Morning Book by Margaret Wise Brown, with illustrations by Karen Katz
A great author/illustrator combo!  Plus mornings have been pretty rough at our house lately, so I'm hoping this might make them a bit more cheery....
Goldilocks Returns by Lisa Campbell Ernst
My kids are big fans of fairy tales and also love to imagine the "what happened next?"
Cowboy Baby by Sue Heap
My little dude pulled this off the shelf at the library himself.
Velma Gratch & The Way Cool Butterfly by Alan Madison
My son has been very into "bubbaflies" lately, and this is a great story of a younger sibling coming into her own.
Peanut Butter and Homework Sandwiches by Lisa Broadie Cook
Very cute book for my first grader to log as her reading homework!
Our Library by Eve Bunting
Kids can achieve anything through the power of reading!
Owly & Wormy: Friends All Aflutter! by Andy Runton
Another nod to my son's recent love of "bubbaflies," this one is basically a graphic novel for kids.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Book Review: Son

When I used to teach The Giver in my high school English classes, I used to ask the students to project what might have happened to Jonas and Gabe after the end of the story.  My students generated all kinds of creative and fascinating scenarios for the pair.  But none of them came close to the story that Lois Lowry weaves in her long-awaited sequel.

Nineteen years after the original publication of The Giver, Lowry finally brings us its direct sequel, Son.  In the interim, she published both Gathering Blue and The Messenger, which are companion novels to The Giver, but neither answered the burning question of what happened to Jonas and Gabe (though The Messenger did indicate that they turned out okay).  To be honest, when I originally read Gathering Blue and The Messenger, I was disappointed by them.  Not because they weren't good stories in their own right, but because they only raised more questions for me, without answering the ones I had originally.

All of that changes with Son.  Finally, I can see how these three other stories weave together, creating a gorgeous and mysterious epic.  While I did re-read The Giver before reading Son, I did not re-read the others--but now I wish I had (and now have them both sitting on my bedside table).  While Son can be read and understood without have read these others, it is definitely enriched by their stories, and only together do they tell the whole story.

Son tells the story of Claire, who was Gabe's Birthmother.  Of course, in the society of The Giver, Birthmothers are never allowed to view (or have any kind of contact with) their Products.  But something goes wrong during Claire's delivery, and she is reassigned to a new career following her recovery.  During her dismissal as Birthmother, Claire learns her Product's number.  And even as she begins her new career, she feels something completely alien to her world blooming inside her: love.  It's not until later that she realizes that she is only capable of this emotion because in her reassignment, someone made an error and did not give her a prescription for the pills that stunt all emotions.

Fueled by this love, Claire finds ways to meet and interact with her Product--who turns out to be Gabe, the Newchild who is Nurtured by Jonas's father in The Giver.  When Jonas escapes the society, taking Gabe with him, Claire tries to follow, determined to be united with her son.  She quickly meets with a seafaring accident, though, and ends up in a community vastly different than the one she fled.

Son is divided into three parts, and each is essentially its own story.  In the first part ("Before"), Claire births her Product and watches the first year of his life from afar.  In the second part ("Between"), Claire is rescued from the sea by the people of a rural village.  She has lost her memory, and she seems to have never had any knowledge of things like colors, animals, or weather.  She slowly remembers her past and again becomes singleminded in her quest to find her son.  The only way out of the village is to scale an immense cliff wall, and she spends years training for the task.  In the third part ("Beyond"), Claire is transformed by a deal she strikes with the force of evil known only as Trademaster.  She finds her son, but only at a great price, and her identity remains unknown to Gabe.  This section tells of the society where Jonas once served as Leader (in The Messenger) and of Gabe's own quest.  Each section is beautifully written, and the complete work is a wonderful work of love, determination, and hope.

In short, you need to read this book.  If I haven't convinced you yet, check out these links:
* a review from The New York Times
* a Goodreads interview with Lois Lowry
* an interview in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Book Review: The Giver

I've read The Giver by Lois Lowry countless times over the years.  I read it first as a young teenager myself, then again when Lowry published Gathering Blue and then The Messenger, both of which are companion novels to The Giver.  I also had the joy of teaching this awesome book to my high school seniors.  In the district where I taught, the students originally read The Giver in sixth grade, and then we re-taught it in English 12.  The idea was to show students the joy of re-reading a good book, as well as showing them how one book can be read on so many different levels.  Most of my students told me that The Giver was their favorite book in all of English 12, and they were all shocked by how much was in it that they didn't understand when they read it as kids.

The Giver was THE first distinctive young adult (or some would say children's) dystopian novel, the yardstick by which all others are measured.  It is told from an innocent 12-year-old's point of view, and readers become so immersed in his voice that it's easy to miss the implications of the "pills," "release," and "Birthmothers."  What Lowry initially presents as the perfect society is slowly revealed to be oppressive.

In 12-year-old Jonas's world, there are no colors, no music, and no true emotions.  Family units are created when adults apply for a spouse and are assigned one by the Council of Elders.  Eventually, the Council will assign each family unit with one male and one female child.  When the children are grown and the children settled into careers of their own (also assigned by the Council), the parents then go to live with the other Childless Adults, and eventually on to the facility that cares for the Old.  Children have no contact with their parents after moving out of the homes in which they grew up.... but then again, "love" does not exist, so children really have no motivation to seek their parents out.  Every minute detail of the citizens' daily lives is determined for them, from how they spend their time to what they eat for each meal (delivered to their doors at prescribed times each day, with caloric content carefully figured for each person to keep all citizens at optimum weights).  When citizens become too Old, they are released to Elsewhere--a joyful ceremony, though no one seems to quite know where this "Elsewhere" is, as they are not permitted to travel outside their own community.

Then, at the Ceremony of Twelve, where all citizens (turning 12 years old) are assigned their future profession, Jonas is "selected" as the Receiver of Memory.  Neither he nor any of the other citizens really knows what that entails, just that it is a position of great honor that will set him apart from the rest of his community.  He begins lessons with an Elder who tells Jonas to call him "the Giver."  The Giver transmits memories of the past--the time before the community--to Jonas, thus teaching him about emotions, families, and colors.  And Jonas realizes that he can no longer be part of his society.  In the end, Jonas flees from the community--taking with him a Newchild named Gabriel who is scheduled for Release.

The end of The Giver is wide open for interpretation.  For years, I had great conversations about what might happen.  Do Jonas and Gabe make it to safety?  Or are the lights that he sees part of just another oppressive community?  Or is he imagining the lights, hallucinating as he freezes to death?  My only regret about the publication of Son, Lowry's long-awaited sequel, is that it eliminates some of the possibilities--but the story of Son itself definitely does not disappoint.

If you have not read The Giver, or if you haven't read it since you were a young teen yourself, do yourself a favor and get your hands on a copy.  It's a captivating read, each and every time.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door

I have mentioned before that I was hesitant to read Stephanie Perkins' debut novel, Anna and the French Kiss.  Both the title and the cover seemed too cheesy for me.  But once I got started, I tore through it in about a day.  I feel absolutely in love with it.  So when I realized that my local library didn't have a copy of Perkins' sophomore novel, Lola and the Boy Next Door, I ordered it through inter-library loan and waited anxiously for it to arrive.

But once I actually got it, I let it sit for a few days.  True, it happened to arrive during a particularly busy week for me.  But I was also a little worried.... what if the same magic wasn't there?  A large part of the reason that I loved Anna so much was because it reminded me so vividly of my own experiences studying abroad and traveling through Europe.  But Lola is set in San Francisco, and the title character is a high school student who prefers "costume" to "fashion."  (I, on the other hand, do not pay much attention to either.)

At first, this novel's characters all seemed like they were too extreme.  There's Lola, the dramatic costume designer who is never quite sure which version is her real self.  And her two gay dads, who are emotionally aware, overprotective, and supportive..  And her boyfriend, Max, 22 years old to Lola's 17, a heavily tattooed rocker who always dresses in black and has somewhat of an anger problem.  The sweet boy next door, Cricket, who has always been in love with her and will do anything to win her (and also happens to be a talented inventor).  And Cricket's twin sister, Calliope, an Olympic-hopeful figure skater, with an icy, stuck-up, impermeable personality to match.

But.  Somehow it just works.  It never feels forced or overdone.  It flows beautifully.  Remember that "really busy week" that I mentioned?  In spite of my many other commitments, once I started reading, I pretty much had to force myself to put it down long enough to show up at that other stuff.  Stephanie Perkins definitely retained her magic.

As in Anna, the setting itself heavily influences the story, almost becoming a character of its own.  While I've only been to San Francisco once, this book made me fall in love with it.

And as an added bonus, Anna and St. Clair are also in this book.  They're now both living in San Francisco, each attending a university.  Anna works at a movie theater with Lola, and St. Clair lives in the same Berkeley dorm as Cricket.  Anna and St. Clair have become precisely the couple that I hoped they would; they are just perfect together.

While Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door aren't exactly a series and can be read independently of each other, Stephanie Perkins calls them "companion novels," and they're definitely delightful together.  The third companion novel, Isla and the Happily Ever After, will be released sometime in 2013.  I highly recommend these books to any fan of Sarah Dessen or Jenny Han, or to anyone who loves a good romance.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Stacking the Shelves: October 18

Every week, Tynga's Reviews hosts Stacking the Shelves, where book bloggers share what books they've acquired this week.  This year, Thursday is my designated "library day," so I'll be sharing my haul with you each week.

For me:
Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
A companion novel to her Anna and the French Kiss.
Son by Lois Lowry
The much-anticipated sequel to The Giver, which was first published 19 years ago.
For my kids:
No T. Rex in the Library by Toni Buzzeo
We checked this one out a few months ago, and my 2- and 4-year olds liked it so much that they wanted it again.
Rhino's Great Big Itch! by Natalie Chivers
Check-out inspired by my daughter's mysterious and itchy rash last week.

The Rusty, Trusty Tractor by Joy Cowley
Great for my son during harvest time.

Please Try to Remember the First of Octember! by Dr. Seuss
It's October, and my kids always love Dr. Seuss's wordplay.

Lucky Fays with Mr. and Mrs. Green by Keith Baker
Looked great for my 6-year-old to practice her reading.

Zelda and Ivy: The Big Picture by LauracGee Kvasnosky
My 4- and 6-year old daughters have really enjoyed other stories about Zelda and Ivy.

Go, Spud, Go! by Linda Estrella
My 2-year-old son grabbed this Bob the Builder story off the shelf and refused to be partd from it!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Childhood Favorites

Top Ten Tuesday is an event hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish.  This week's topic is a Rewind, in which participants can go back and answer any previously posted question--so it's a great time to jump into the fun!

For my choice, I'm going back to the very first Top Ten Tuesday topic (of 116 currently posted).... Top Ten Childhood Favorites.

1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  I wanted to live inside this book as a child.  I don't even know how many times I read it, but I teared up when Beth died each and every time.  I can even remember, as a fifth grader, reading that chapter to my male best friend, demanding, "Isn't this just the saddest thing you've ever heard?"  (He did not agree.)  I also deeply loved Little Men.

2. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.  Again, I wanted to live inside these books.  They inspired countless hours of imagination for my friends and me.  I was totally determined to find a wardrobe, or a lampost, or some yet-undiscovered magical portal to Narnia.  And when I got a bit older and came to understand the Christian undertones, well, all the better.  Re-read this entire series over and over again (all except Prince Caspian, which I didn't really enjoy), but Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Last Battle were my favorites.

3. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner.  I remember this being the first real series that I read, and it probably came not too long after my introduction to "chapter books."  The first book was my favorite to act out, and I remember organizing neighborhood kids (who had never read the series) into various roles (then being mad when they didn't play the parts right).  I started reading this series aloud to my oldest daughter last year, when she was 5, and while that was probably a bit young for her to understand it all, she has loved it (and we just let concepts like "uranium mines" go over her head for the time being).

4. The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Again, re-read the entire series countless times and acted out epic storylines in my backyard.  I totally wanted to be a pioneer girl.  I remember Farmer Boy and By the Banks of Plum Creek being my favorites (and The Long Winter and The First Four Years being my least favorites).

5. The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander.  This series consists of The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, and The High King.  I loved every last one of them.  They were one of my earliest forays into the world of fantasy novels, which remains one of my favorite genres today.

6. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin.  So, so good.  So many quirky characters and plot twists.  I never got tired of re-reading this one.  In fact, I think I'm probably about due for a re-read now!

7. Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Paterson.  Such a sad book!  I don't really know why I returned to this one over and over again, as it made me cry each time.  I just loved Leslie's imagination and seeing how the power of stories transformed Jesse's life.

8. The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg.  What an adventure for Claudia and Jamie!  Running away from home (admittedly for silly reasons), surviving on their own in such a glamorous location, and solving a mystery to boot.

9. The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.  Four imaginative kids create their own private world of ancient Egypt, but reality has a scary way of interfering....  This was another one that inspired many hours of imagination for me and my friends.

10. The Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald Sobol.  These short stories were just the best.  I loved how Encyclopedia solved all of his cases through logic and was often smarter than the grown-ups.  These inspired my friends and I to run our own detective agency as kids.

Ah,  how I loved the books of my childhood!  Just making this list has reminded me of tons of others that I want to include.....for example, A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle, which remains one of my all-time favorites (and only didn't make this list because I read it when I was a little older than the other books listed here).  I so look forward to sharing all these great books with my own kids!

Book Review: The Kill Order

I'm clearly way behind on my posting, because I finished James Dashner's The Kill Order a whole week ago and am just now getting around to reviewing it.  Warning: this review may include some spoilery.

To begin, I need to say that this book was not what I wanted it to be.  When I heard that James Dashner was going to publish a prequel to The Maze Runner, I thought, "Oh good, finally some of those unanswered questions will be cleared up."  Boy, was I wrong.  I wanted to read about the beginnings of WICKED and what Thomas and Teresa truly believed before their memories were wiped.  But The Kill Order takes place 13 years before The Maze Runner.  WICKED doesn't exist yet, and Thomas and Teresa are only mentioned in the preface and epilogue.  This book focuses on life after the sun flares, when the virus that comes to be known as the Flare is first released.  In short, this book raised even more questions for me.... and left me hoping for another book to cover the story between it and the beginning of The Maze Runner.

Well played, James Dashner.  I am hooked.

In The Kill Order, we follow the story of Mark and his friends, including Trina and Alec, as they struggle to survive in a world left ravaged by the sun flares.  Through flashbacks, we hear about the arrival of the flares and their devastating effects on both human life and the earth's climate.  Then, in Mark's present time, we witness a Berg arriving in the village of huts that he and other survivors have cobbled together in the Appalachian Mountains.  The Berg holds armed gunmen, all wearing protective suits, who open fire on Mark's village.  The darts that they shoot contains a deadly virus, later dubbed "the Flare," which mutates as it spreads between hosts.  The virus works by destroying the brain, and victims spiral into insanity.

Before their own sanity runs out, Mark and his friends struggle to find out why they have been attacked and what they might be able to do to reverse the effects of the Flare.  By the end of the book, (spoilery ahead!) they conclude that their only real hope is in the form of Deedee, a 5-year-old girl who seems to be immune to the virus.  (Contemplation: So does Deedee grow up to be Teresa?  Because WICKED changes the names of all the Immune kids they collect....  Or is she a different character entirely?  Only another book will tell....)

My feelings on The Kill Order were very similar to my thoughts on Dashner's other books.  The characters are not very well-developed.  Even Mark, the main character, is mostly one-dimensional.  Alec, his mentor, is a "grizzled old soldier" (described in slight variations of that phrase ad nauseum), and Trina is strong, brave, and beautiful, the ideal girl--yet utterly lacking in personality.  All other characters are developed even less than that.  Likewise, none of the characters have any depth of feeling.  They are "shocked" and "scared," often so much so that they "lack words to describe" any other emotions.  So if you're looking for a character to fall in love with or a book to take you through the emotional wringer, this one is not it.

But if you are looking for an action novel, well then, you've come to the right place.  I can't even count the number of times that Mark found himself hanging out a window or precariously balanced in some other ultra-dangerous situation.  As in the rest of The Maze Runner trilogy, the plot twists just keep on coming, hard and fast.  As I said, I was left with more questions than answers.... but that also left me hoping for another book to be added to the series.  A quick read without great substance, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

30 Day Challenge: Day 30

The 30 Day Book Challenge is an event happening over at In Between. There are book-related topics for every day of September. I'm playing along.... come join me!

The topic for Day 30 is "the book you're reading right now."

I am currently finishing up The Kill Order by James Dashner.  It has taken me longer to read than I expected (largely because I've been flattened by an awful cold that makes me want to fall asleep during any semi-free moment), but I should be done within a day.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

30 Day Challenge: Day 29

The 30 Day Book Challenge is an event happening over at In Between. There are book-related topics for every day of September. I'm playing along.... come join me!

The topic for Day 29 is "an author you wish was more well-known."

For this one, I'm going with an author (and a person) near and dear to my heart.... my friend of over 20 years, Melissa Raguet-Schofield.  Ever since we were kids, I have loved to read the stories she has to tell.  She is a beautiful, talented writer.  Unfortunately, her works have not been published yet.... but I am honored to be a reader of her drafts as she labors to break into the world of publishing.  Last year, I read her first novel, Waiting for Orpheus, and I am currently reading her second work, tentatively titled Girlfriend.  Let me tell you, folks, I read a lot of books, and I know that Melissa's works are far better than many that I've picked up off my library's shelves.  Publishing is a hard business to break into, but I sincerely believe that she can become a success in this industry.  Here's hoping!

Friday, September 28, 2012

30 Day Challenge: Day 28

The 30 Day Book Challenge is an event happening over at In Between. There are book-related topics for every day of September. I'm playing along.... come join me!

The topic for Day 28 is "where do you read?"  I feel like I already answered this (Day 18), but here goes.....

As the mom of 4 kids ages 6 and under, I read pretty much whenever and wherever I get a spare minute.  I carry a book with me pretty much everywhere.  That way, if I have 2 spare minutes before preschool pickup or while waiting for my first grader to get off the bus, I can get in a couple of pages.  When I read with my kids, we're usually cuddled up in a rocking chair (if it's just one of them) or on the couch or in my bed (if it's 2 or more kids).  When I was younger, I loved to just sit at the library  or in a bookstore and read, surrounded by other people who loved books--but now time away from the kids is rare, so I don't do that very often anymore.  As I said on Day 18, I'm not too picky about the places that I read, but if at all possible (which is rare in my life), I do prefer for it to be quiet so I can read uninterrupted.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

30 Day Challenge: Day 27

The 30 Day Book Challenge is an event happening over at In Between. There are book-related topics for every day of September. I'm playing along.... come join me!

The topic for Day 27 is "your reading playlist."  That's easy for me to answer--I don't have one.  I prefer not to listen to music (or anything else) when reading because I don't like to be distracted--I'd rather focus completely on the story.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

30 Day Challenge: Day 26

The 30 Day Book Challenge is an event happening over at In Between. There are book-related topics for every day of September. I'm playing along.... come join me!

The topic for Day 26 is "favorite book boyfriend/girlfriend."

Well.  Often, books thrive on the conflicts in the relationships between the main characters.  Either of the "should I pick Boy A or Boy B?" variety, or the "can we work out all the problems that the world throws at us and be together" kind.  And while those conflicts make for good reading, they don't often make for good couples.

Ann Brashares' Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series had some couples that I really rooted for (Bridget and Eric, Tibby and Brian, Lena and Kostos), but since the series was more about the friendships between the girls, none of those stick out as better than the others.  I think Samantha and Kent in Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall could have been really good together, but their relationship was clearly doomed before it started (since she was dead and all).  I do like a lot of the couples that develop in Sarah Dessen's works--Eli and Auden in Along for the Ride, Remy and Dexter in This Lullaby, and Annabel and Owen in Just Listen.  I think that Etienne and Anna from Anna and the French Kiss would be a good real-life couple, since their relationship was so deeply based in their friendship, but have a hard time getting behind them as "best" because of the whole Ellie thing.  Augustus and Hazel from John Green's The Fault in Our Stars were also great, in spite of the fact that they were also doomed from the beginning, since they met in a cancer support group.

So there you go--kind of like real life, no actual 100% perfect couples, but several that I feel affection for.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Series I Haven't Finished

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly event hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. This week's topic: 10 series that you have not finished for one reason or another.  For some, I haven't finished because I didn't enjoy the first book.  With others, I just haven't gotten that far yet.  Here we go:

1. The Delirium trilogy by Lauren Oliver - I've read Delirium, Hana (book 1.5), and Pandemonium, and I'm looking forward to finishing up the series when Requiem is released (March 5, 2013).
2. The Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson - I read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and I was really turned off by the violent, graphic, disturbing nature.  I have no plans to ever read The Girl Who Played With Fire or The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest.
3. The Seeds of America Trilogy by Laurie Halse Anderson - I read and enjoyed Chains and Forge, and I look forward to the release of Ashes (October 1, 2012).
4. The Modern Faerie Tales by Holly Black - I read Tithe and didn't like it all that much.  It was fine, nothing wrong with it, but I don't plan to pursue Valiant or Ironsides when there are so many other books on my TBR list.
5. The Lorien Legacies by Pittacus Lore (James Frey and Jobie Hughes) - I read I Am Number Four and The Power of Six, but I haven't managed to check out The Rise of Nine yet (it was released last month).  I do plan to read it, though I'm not sure I'm crazy enough about the series to pursue all the supplemental books.
6. The Clockwork Angel trilogy by Cassandra Clare - I haven't started it yet, but I've heard nothing but good things about it.  It's on my TBR list.
7. The Matched trilogy by Allie Condie - I'm purposely waiting to start this one until the final book is released (Reached, November 2012), because I know it will make me crazy to start and not be able to finish.
8.  The Maze Runner series - I've read The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials, and The Death Cure, and I'm actually working on The Kill Order right now.  So I'll be done soon!
9. The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness - I actually thought I had finished this series (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men), but now I hear there's an additional short story available (The New World) online, so I'm going to have to check that out.
10. The Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth - I'm waiting to start this one until the third book is published in the fall of 2013, because I know I'll be hooked once I start and won't want to have to wait to finish!


Children's Book Review: The Black Book of Colors

My kids recently checked this book out of the library and just loved it.  I was very pleased with its unique nature, and I loved watching my kids explore it.  Here's the description from the front flap:

"It is very hard for a sighted person to imagine what it is like to be blind.  This groundbreaking, award-winning book endeavors to convey the experience of a person who can only see through his or her sense of touch, taste, smell, or hearing.

"Raised black line drawings on black paper, which can be deciphered by touch, accompany a beautifully written text describing colors through imagery.  The text is translated into braille, so that the sighted reader can begin to image what it is like to read by touch, and there is a full braille alphabet at the end of the book.

"First published in Mexico, The Black Book of Colors won the New Horizons prize at the Bologna Children's Book Fair in 2007.  It has since been published around the world and has been universally praised for its unique and innovative approach."

For example, yellow is described as tasting "like mustard" but feeling "as soft as a baby chick's feathers."  My kids loved running their fingers over the braille words and feeling the pictures, trying to guess what they were before tilting the book to the light to see them.  This book is a unique sensory experience, and also a great way to expose kids to the world of the blind.  It can easily lead into imaginative discussions of "what do you think this color tastes/looks/smells/feels like?"  I highly recommend it as a "thinker" book for young children.... my 4 and 6 year olds loved it!

30 Day Challenge: Day 25

The 30 Day Book Challenge is an event happening over at In Between. There are book-related topics for every day of September. I'm playing along.... come join me!

The topic for Day 25 is "a book you want to like but can't get into for whatever reason.  Why can't you get into it?"

I think it is fair to just answer this question by saying "most books I have ever been required to teach."  I really want to like them--partially so that I can feel all intellectual :), but also because then the experience of reading them would be so much more enjoyable.  Not to mention the fact that it is way easier to motivate students to like a book that I actually liked myself.  Side note: I have enjoyed teaching courses where I can create my own syllabus infinitely more, and I think the students do too.

Books that I have taught but not really enjoyed include:
* Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
* The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
* The Odyssey by Homer
* The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
* Billy Budd by Herman Melville
* The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad
* Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
* Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
* King Lear by William Shakespeare
* Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
* The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
* Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
* Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Monday, September 24, 2012

Book Review: We'll Always Have Summer

I recently finished Jenny Han's Summer trilogy, which concluded with We'll Always Have Summer.  I didn't feel that either it or It's Not Summer Without You had the same magic as the debut novel, The Summer I Turned Pretty, but I did enjoy the read.

In this book, Belly is just finishing her freshman year of college.  She and Jeremiah have been dating for the last two years, and she chose to attend the same college as him.  She is very much in love with Jeremiah in the present, but after a lifetime of loving his brother Conrad, she can't seem to quite evict his memory from her heart.  She views him as just that, though: a memory.  And Jeremiah is her present and her future.

Until she learns that Jeremiah 1) cheated on her and 2) kept it a secret.  ("But we were on a break!" he argues, a la Ross on "Friends.")  She is devastated.  She thought that Jeremiah would never let her down, and now he has crushed her.  She doesn't know if she can ever trust him again.

And then Jeremiah declares that he never wants to be without her, that he will never look at another girl again.  And he ASKS HER TO MARRY HIM.  Whoa.  This is where my initial affection for the book came to a screeching halt.  Belly is 18 years old.  Jeremiah is 19 or 20.  And she says yes.  And they decide to get married that August.  Like, two months away.  Even though their families are dead-set against the idea.  And somehow, Belly manages to push it out of her head that this entire engagement has come about as a result of Jeremiah trying to get her to forgive him for sleeping with someone else (as a side note: Belly has not actually slept with him herself).

Because Belly's mother (a reasonable woman) says that she cannot support Belly in this decision, Belly has a fit (yet another sign of her immaturity and total unreadiness to get married) and moves out.  She runs off to live at the summer house--where, it just happens, Conrad is also living for the summer.  And thus the stage is set for the final answer to the question we've asked for the entire trilogy: Which brother will Belly choose?

In It's Not Summer Without You, I was frustrated that Jeremiah was painted as the all-around perfect guy.  He was kind, loving, supportive, honest, and fun, with no faults to speak of.  But that vision fades pretty quickly at the begining of We'll Always Have Summer, when he is revealed to be a cheater.  And a liar.  And kind of a drunk.  And needy.  And spoiled (at least financially).  And self-centered.  And not very supportive of Belly.  Need I go on?

Conrad is the same as always--stoic, hard to read, kind of cranky.  But this book allows him to speak for himself in a few chapters written in his voice, so he comes off as more sympathetic than in the previous books, where we only got Belly's perspective of him.  This book also gives more flashbacks and details about the time he and Belly spent dating, which made me better understand their connection to each other.  And while it still doesn't give a satisfactory reason for their original breakup, it does explain his emotional distance since then.  So in short, now Conrad is the good brother.

Depending on which brother you rooted for throughout the trilogy, you may or may not like the ending of this book.  I had a hard time getting past the ludicrous idea of an 18-year-old getting married to her cheater boyfriend, but the way Jenny Han wrote it, it was clear that she also thought it was a poor idea (and Belly was just too immature to see that).  While I didn't love the trilogy as a whole as much as I loved its first book, I did really enjoy it, and I look forward to checking out Jenny Han's newest book, a collaboration with Siobhan Vivian entitled Burn for Burn.

Happy reading, everyone!

Book Review: It's Not Summer Without You

I recently finished reading It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han.  I had been anxious to read this follow-up to The Summer I Turned Pretty and chafed at the delay while I waited for my library to order it for me.

To begin, this book definitely feels like what it is--the middle book of a trilogy.  Largely, I felt that it served as the link between the first book and the third.  I still enjoyed the book, but I didn't feel that it had the same magic as Han's debut book.

The book takes place during the summer after The Summer I Turned Pretty, although it includes plenty of flashbacks to the intervening year and even before.  After dating briefly, Conrad and Belly have broken up.  Even more devastatingly, Susannah has died.  Now it's Belly's first summer ever without a trip to the summer house.  She's stuck at home and isn't enjoying herself, in spite of her friend Taylor's best efforts.  But then Jeremiah calls, saying that Conrad has disappeared from school.  Jeremiah and Belly set out to find Conrad, and Belly finds herself caught between them.

The entire story takes place over the course of about three days, but as I said, it does include flashbacks.  One complaint that I had with this book is that Belly's current immature attitude and the flashback episodes don't make her relationship with Conrad seem very serious.  While I understand that she had loved him for her whole life, this book left me with the impression that their dating was casual at best.  So I understood that she was having a hard time getting over him, but I didn't really see why she expected him to think it was such a big deal.  More flashbacks explained this much better in the third book, We'll Always Have Summer.

My other complaint is that in this book, Jeremiah is painted as pretty much perfect.  He's a loyal friend in the first book, but here he seems to have no faults whatsoever.  Clearly the author is trying to establish him as a better choice for Belly than his brother--which, for the record, I do think he is.  But he was just portrayed as so all-around perfect that I had a hard time believing in him as a character.

Overall, a quick read and a nice story, but definitely the weak link of this trilogy.

30 Day Challenge: Day 24

The 30 Day Book Challenge is an event happening over at In Between. There are book-related topics for every day of September. I'm playing along.... come join me!

The topic for Day 23 is "you judged a book by its cover--and it was amazing. What book was it?"

Again, I'm not really a "judge a book by its cover" girl.  But I can think of two books where I was not a big fan of the cover--but read and enjoyed them anyway.

One is Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen.  I'd read several of her books before, so I expected it would be good.  Even after just the first few chapters, though, it was obvious that the cover was a misrepresentation of the book.  Auden would never wear pink, and she'd really only wear a dress for a very special occasion.  And the muscular guy on the cover doesn't fit with my impression of Eli either.  Plus it was Maggie, not Eli, that actually taught Auden to ride a bike.  So the cover doesn't really go with the book at all.

The other is Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.  While there's nothing overtly wrong with the cover, the girl doesn't look how I imagined Anna at all.  Perhaps more importantly, I think the title is kind of dumb.  I wouldn't have even picked this book up if it hadn't come recommended by a friend.... but I'm very glad that I did, because it was such a sweet story.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

30 Day Challenge: Day 23

The 30 Day Book Challenge is an event happening over at In Between. There are book-related topics for every day of September. I'm playing along.... come join me!

The topic for Day 23 is "you judged a book by its cover--and it was awful.  What book was it?"
Well, I'm not really a "judge a book by its cover" sort of girl.  And it is incredibly rare that I actually hate a book.  One book that I didn't really like very much, though, is Wicked by Gregory Maguire.  And I do like its cover (in all the different versions), although I was drawn in way more by the book description than the cover.