Thursday, July 23, 2015

Paper Towns

Paper Towns
by John Green

Genre:  Young Adult
Published: 9/22/09 by Penguin Young Readers
Pages:  336
Format:  Paperback

My Rating:
4 out of 5 Stars

It's been at least five years since I first read Paper Towns, and I decided to re-read it before the movie is released this weekend.  Paper Towns was the first John Green novel that I ever read, and I immediately became a fan of John Green's writing.  Green has a distinct formula and writing style, and I've found that people seem to either love it or hate it.  I love it.  I enjoyed Paper Towns quite a bit (both times I read it), although it still falls third on my list of favorite John Green novels (after The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska).

Paper Towns tells the story of Q, a teen boy who has long been infatuated with his neighbor, the infamous Margo Roth Spiegelman. One night, Margo enlists Q's help in conducting an adventurous night of pranks and payback. The next day, Margo disappears, leaving a trail of clues for Q to follow to find her, that is, if she wants to be found.

Even though John Green's teen characters talk with more wit and sophistication than any teen that I know, I still find his characters to be refreshing and believable.  While they are teens who make mistakes and bad choices at times, and teen boys who are full of dirty trash talk, they are also thinkers who seek answers to life's biggest questions.  I think John Green writes these teenagers better than most young adult authors.  His characters are authentic and thoughtful, fun and good natured, like teens I would have wanted to hang out with in high school, or like teens I will want my kids to hang out with when they get older.  Green has a great talent for combining witty writing with thoughtful insight, and that formula works great throughout Paper Towns.  It will make you smile and laugh, but it will also make you think.

Paper Towns is definitely not an original novel; it shares many striking similarities in both plot and style with Green's first two novels: Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines. But who cares?  It is fun to read.  The road trip at the end of Paper Towns was probably one of my favorite parts.  While reading it the second time, I kept thinking, how fun and crazy would that have been to go on a sporadic 20 hour road trip with my high school friends?  (I never would have done it, but still it's a fun thought!)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Luckiest Girl Alive

Luckiest Girl Alive
by Jessica Knoll

Genre:  Fiction
Published: 5/12/15 by Simon and Schuster
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover

My rating:
3.5 out of 5 stars

TifAni FaNelli knows what she wants...a successful career, the perfect skinny body, a rich husband with a new last name.  And she knows how to manipulate people and her body to get what she wants.  With just a few weeks until her wedding, TifAni is close to reaching her ultimate goals. Yet, TifAni is haunted by a secret, tragic past.  With a documentary movie being made to tell her story, TifAni is forced to come face to face with the past and her secrets.

First, I must address the name:  TifAni FaNelli.  Has there ever been a more obnoxious name in the history of literature? Every time I read her name, I was immediately just annoyed.  Perhaps this was purposeful on the author's part; maybe she wanted the readers to be annoyed every time they read her name.  In addition to the name, there are many other things about Ani (she wisely chose to drop the TifAni as an adult) FaNelli that make her unlikeable.

At least at the beginning of the book, she was unlikeable.  As more is revealed about Ani  and her past, I did grow more sympathetic to her character.  I really just felt incredibly sad for her.  I was sad for her superficiality and the immense way that she cared  about what other people thought of her.  From as early as middle school, she was obsessed with altering who she was in order to fit in and be what other people wanted her to be.  And that led to some tragic events and a very miserable existence.  This was a theme with a lot of characters in the story.  Are people really this superficial and shallow?  It felt stereotyped to me, but perhaps there are people who really live this way.  If that's true, I'm sad for them too.

It was also sad to read about the tragic events that happened to TifAni in high school.  What she experienced then helped me to understand why she was the way she was as an adult, thus increasing my sympathy for her character.  I still can't say that I liked her, but I did feel sorry for her at times.  Many other characters in the book suggested that TifAni deserved what she got due to some bad choices that she made.  I disagree with that.  Despite her bad choices, TifAni did not deserve what she got.  The teens at this school were so very vicious.  Are teens really like this today?  Every time I read a book about high school kids today, I am terrified for my own children to ever become teens.

Overall, this was a dark story.  It was a bit too vulgar for me at times, but I did get caught up in the story and wanted to keep reading to find out what happened to TifAni as a teen and what was going to happen to her as an adult.  I thought the end was a little anti-climactic, as I was expecting something bigger to happen.  I don't know that I would recommend this book to everyone, but if you like dark stories with cold, shallow characters, this could be a book for you.

Saturday, June 13, 2015


by Marissa Meyer

Genre:  YA Fantasy
Published:  1/3/12 by Fiewel and Friends
Pages:  400
Format: Harcover

My rating: 
4 out of 5 stars

I have seen this book around a lot the past couple of years, but for some reason never read it until now.  I'm glad I picked it up; it was a fun read!  And now I have to read them all.

I always enjoy re-imagined fairy tales and also YA this one was right up my alley.  Set in the future, it is about a girl named Cinder, a cyborg who can't remember what her life was like before she had her mechanical parts.  She must deal with the injustices of her cruel stepmother and also her society, as cyborgs are not socially accepted. And right before the annual ball thrown by the royal family, Cinder meets Prince Kai and discovers he has some big problems of his own.

While there are variations from the traditional fairy tale, if you know the story of Cinderella, then you know the basic plot of this book.  The twists in the story are very obvious and heavily foreshadowed.  I'm not sure that the big twist at the end was really supposed to be a surprise at all.  I felt like the fun part of reading this book was not guessing what was going to happen in the end but instead seeing how the story would get to that point.  

Now, I'm off to start Scarlet...

Monday, April 20, 2015

Where They Found Her

Where They Found Her
by Kimberly McCreight

Genre: Fiction/Mystery
Published:  4/14/15 by Harper Collins
Pages: 336
Format: Hardcover

My rating:
3.75 out of 5 stars

I'm debating between 3.5 and 4 stars on this one.  It was an easy and entertaining read.  Perhaps more predictable than some mystery thrillers, but still I enjoyed reading the story and trying to figure out where it was going.

Journalist Molly Sanderson is still grieving over a recent miscarriage when she is called to report on a case.  The case centers around a baby found dead near a creek bed.  The case brings up not only old issues for Molly and her grief, but also reveals an old death case that happened at the exact same location and raises new questions.

I found this one to be similar in style and story to McCreight's first novel, Reconstructing Amelia.  There are newspaper stories (written by Molly Sanderson) and online response comments interspersed throughout the narrative.  I loved reading the comments in response to the newspaper articles.  They were ridiculous, but that is exactly what the comments sections are like in real life. 

There are quite a few characters in this novel, and they were all a little too conveniently connected to each other.  It didn't feel completely plausible.  But I'm not really in the mood to pick apart all of its flaws.  I thought it was a fun book to read, and I would recommend it if you are in the mood for a quick and light mystery.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Inside the O'Briens

Inside the O'Briens
by Lisa Genova

Genre: Fiction
Published: 4/7/15 by Gallery Books
Pages:  352
Format: Hardcover

My rating:
3.5 out of 5 stars

I have read all of Lisa Genova's novels, with Still Alice being my favorite by far.  Genova has a talent for shedding light on brain diseases and conditions through fictional stories.  While her writing is not the most beautiful or prolific, she is always able to bring a human side to the science behind the disease.

In Inside the O'Briens, Joe O'Brien is a Boston cop who receives the devastating news that he has Huntington's Disease.  Huntington's is a genetic disease with no cure and no treatment and a guaranteed death sentence.  Each of Joe's grown children have a 50/50 chance of having the disease themselves.  This story explores how Joe and his wife deal with the disease as it progresses, as well as how his children deal with their dad's disease and the possibility that they may face the same fate.

I recently read another novel about Huntington's disease, Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer.  In my review of Five Days Left, I commented that the main character Mara reminded me a lot of Alice from Lisa Genova's Still Alice.  So it was kind of ironic to read this book written by Lisa Genova and also about Huntington's disease.  Because I had read the other book, I was familiar with the symptoms of the disease.  So Inside the O'Briens was not quite as enlightening as some of Genova's other novels.

Inside the O'Briens is told from the perspective of Joe and his daughter Katie.  While I appreciated hearing from the daughter's perspective, I really didn't think Katie was a great character.  I definitely enjoyed Joe's portions of the story more.  It was interesting to see how the physical symptoms played such a big role in his occupation and identity as a tough city cop.

 There were times when the story felt more like a research lecture than a novel.  I think that is one issue I have with Genova's style.  It seems like she finds a disease and then comes up with a story and characters that will help to teach about the disease.  While I do enjoy being able to learn more through her stories, I feel like the actual plot and characters suffer from feeling a little contrived.  

In summary, I would recommend this book to most people.  While not my favorite novel by Genova, it is an interesting look at a fascinating and terrifying disease and how it affects one family.

Friday, April 3, 2015

All the Bright Places

All the Bright Places
By Jennifer Niven

Genre:  Young Adult
Published:  1/6/15 by Random House
Pages:  400
Format:  Hardcover

My rating:
5 out of 5 stars

The book summary for All the Bright Places begins with "The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park..."   I'm always annoyed when new books are compared to books that I loved, because I think it sets up unfair expectations for the new book.  However, in this case, I'd say that a cross between those books is a fair comparison.  All The Bright Places does have a lot in common with the plots of Fault in our Stars and Eleanor and Park (and a little bit of Papertowns by John Green too), and it is written with the same wit and sharp dialogue found in the writing of John Green and Rainbow Rowell.  Like Eleanor and Park, Finch and Violet don't quite fit in with the rest of the kids at their school.  Like Gus and Hazel, Finch and Violet both are plagued by a similar affliction.  In The Fault in our Stars it is cancer; in All the Bright Places it is mental illness/suicide.

There are definitely similarities between these stories, but even though it may not be wholly original, I still loved the story found in All the Bright Places.  I read the entire book in almost one setting, even with a horrible migraine.  I could barely keep my eyes open but I did not want to stop until the story was over.  Jennifer Niven said in the notes at the end of the book that she wanted to write a story that was edgy, tough and sad but still funny.  And I think she succeeded.  She also said that this story was based on an experience she had in real life, which I think makes it more touching and real.

The story begins when Finch and Violet first meet.  Both are standing on the ledge of the school bell tower, and both are considering whether or not to jump and end their life.  Finch talks Violet off the ledge (literally) spouting off witty, sharp dialogue that is unexpected given the seriousness of the situation.  Immediately it had my attention.  I am such a sucker for fun, smart dialogue.  Even if teens don't talk this way in real life, I just love reading about them in fiction.  (Reason #1 why I am such a big John Green fan).  I've read other reviews (of both this novel and John Green) that call this pretentious, but I find it fun to read.

Violet is grieving over the death of her sister, feeling responsible for her sister's death and unable to move on with life.  Finch is forever an outcast, plagued by mood swings that range from high to low and obsessed with death and the possibility of taking his own life.  When these two meet, Violet finds a reason for living again while Finch continues to struggle.

I feel like maybe I should include a spoiler alert for the rest of this review.   Although I think it is pretty obvious what is going to happen just from reading the summary on the back cover of this book.  So I'm not sure that I am really spoiling anything that anyone doesn't already know, but if you want to go into this story blind, then stop reading now!

I was not sure what to think about Finch at first.  He is a bit over the top and all over the place.  However, as the story progressed, I grew more sympathetic towards him.  And by the end, I wanted to scream, "Why doesn't someone help this kid??!!"  It was frustrating to read about the people in Finch's life who seemed either ignorant or unwilling to help him...his family, his guidance counselor, even Violet. But at the same time, I think it's probably realistic too.  For many people, especially family, it is probably easier to ignore the problem and just hope it goes away than to deal with it head on.  I felt like the guidance counselor was more interested in protecting himself legally than in truly helping Finn.  In the case of Violet, she is a 17 year old girl with problems of her own and also "in love" with a confusing boy.  It makes sense that she wasn't fully able to understand the seriousness of what was going on with Finn.

While sad and hard to read, Finn's struggle was intriguing to me.  His attempts to stay "here", his refusal to seek help or be labelled, his continued thoughts of death even after meeting Violet, who made him so happy.  I appreciated seeing things from his perspective even though I was so very sad for him and the loneliness of his struggle.  I wanted Violet to be able to "fix" him but his struggles here were far deeper than the ability to be solved by simply falling in love with a girl.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Gone Girl

(I added a new tab at the top called Five Star Reads, a place where I can link to the reviews of some of my favorite books.  However, I've realized that I haven't posted a lot of reviews of my favorite books on this blog, so I'm going to try to catch up on some of my favorites and share them here).

Gone Girl
by Gillian Flynn

Genre:  Mystery/Thriller
Published: 6/5/12 by Crown
Pages:  432
Format:  Hardcover

My rating:
5 out of 5 stars

Wow, I loved this book. I can see how it may not be for everyone. The plot is really crazy, and the characters are not always likeable. But I thought it was so good. I could not put it down, and I neglected much needed sleep and my family in order to read it. I can't explain too much without giving away any spoilers.

The story is told through alternating chapters with two narrators, a married couple named Nick and Amy. In some novels, the constant switching between characters can be annoying, but it was perfectly executed here. It was obvious early on that these narrators were not going to be completely reliable, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading their points of view and seeing the story unfold.

This novel was so well-written. I love Flynn's tone and style. It was smart and witty, totally twisted and even a bit humorous at times. The plot was pretty far-fetched, but that is what made it so great. It was totally crazy and psychotic and often unbelievable, yet Flynn still managed to connect points to a reality that we all can relate to.

I have read a few reviews critiquing the ending as being unsatisfying. I read a few who thought Flynn did not know how to end the novel, so she just stopped writing. I totally disagree. I felt like the ending was the perfect fit to this whole story. I'm not sure if this qualifies as a spoiler or not, but I felt this was much more of a love story than a thriller, albeit a twisted and demented love story. And in a twisted and demented way, this story ended exactly as it needed to end. I think the ending was very purposeful and in connection with the entire storyline.

(For any of my friends who may read this review, just a warning: there is a lot of vulgar language in this book. It may not be for everyone)

I Am Pilgrim

I Am Pilgrim
by Terry Hayes

Genre:  Thriller
Published:  5/27/14 by Atria
Pages:  624
Format:  Hardcover

My rating:
4 out of 5 stars

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes is a spy thriller about a super secret government agent who is trying to stop a terrorist from releasing a deadly virus in America.  It's a wild and crazy ride as the agent, who goes by the alias Pilgrim, meets his intellectual match in the Muslim terrorist nicknamed the Saracen.  It seems like the Saracen is always able to stay one step ahead of Pilgrim, and it is such a fun ride to follow them both around the world. I really enjoyed this story, and it kept me turning pages (all 600+ pages!) until the very last page.  The idea of a virus being released in our country is also a bit terrifying, which added to the suspense and intrigue of the story.  I don't read a lot in this thriller genre, so I'm probably not the best judge as to how this novel holds up next to other thrillers.  But, as a stand alone novel, this was a great read, and one that I will recommend to others!

I did have a few minor issues with the novel, which kept me from giving it a full five star rating.  This is definitely not the next greatest piece of literary fiction, but I don't think it is really trying to be that.  The writing was far from perfect.  I had to be willing to accept some big coincidences, one in particular that served to set up a big part of the plot and left me questioning how this could ever be possible.  But I was willing to just go with it for the sake of an entertaining story.

Also, Hayes was very fond of having the narrator withhold information from the reader in order to create a sense of suspense.  Pilgrim would say something like--I found something, and it changed everything.  But he did not say what the something was until later.  Obviously that kept me turning pages to find out what he found, but I have always felt like this type of plot device is a bit cheap.  Hayes used it A LOT.  Every chapter also had some sort of sentence at the end that would foreshadow what sort of gloom and doom was to come next.  Again, this got annoying after a while and did not seem necessary.

However, regardless of these shortcomings, I thought this was a good story and definitely one that is worth reading.  The opening chapter is grim and graphic and overly sexual, and I was afraid that the whole book would follow in this suit.  While it has its dark moments, the overall story was tamer than what I was expecting.  The final showdown between the Pilgrim and the Saracen is just great, an epic conclusion to an epic story.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train
by Paula Hawkins

Genre:  Mystery/Thriller
Published:  1/13/15 by Penguin 
Pages:  336
Format:  Hardcover

My rating:
4 out of 5 stars

I devoured this whole book in less than 24 hours. An easy and intriguing read. A psychological thriller that reads like a summer beach read. The Girl on the Train is told from the point of view of three women, all who are linked to the disappearance of Megan Hipwell. Rachel, who routinely rides the commuter train into London each day, witnesses something from her seat on the train that might help discover the truth about Megan's disappearance. But Rachel turns out to be a very unreliable witness, who might be even more connected to the crime than she knows. The story alternates between women and between time periods as the pieces of the mystery slowly shift into shape.

I really did enjoy reading this book. I liked the concept of the train and how it was integrated into the story. The characters are all messed up and slightly unreliable and a little bit psychotic. Which I loved. It is hard to tell whether the people telling this story can be fully trusted, and I love the mystery and intrigue that adds to the story.

The Girl on the Train has been hyped as the next "Gone Girl." I'm getting a bit annoyed with publishers advertising all new twisty thrillers as the next Gone Girl, as it sets up readers with unfair expectations. However, I have to admit that it probably is good marketing, because I tend to read all of them. And since publishers want to compare this book to Gone Girl, I thought I would do my own comparison. (The following might give slight spoilers for both Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, so beware!)

1. Psychologically disturbed female characters. Both Gone Girl and Girl on the Train feature some really messed up women. I do find this interesting, and I enjoyed reading about these flawed characters in both stories.

2. Vulgarity and Profanity. I found Girl on the Train to be much less vulgar than Gone Girl, which I thought was unnecessarily vulgar in its language and content at times. Girl on the Train is far from a squeaky clean novel, but I do think it is better than Gone Girl in this category.

3. Twists. Gone Girl wins here. The Gone Girl twist caught me completely off guard. (And I also had the luxury of reading it blind, not knowing that a twist was coming). I was expecting some major twist in Girl on the Train, but it never came. I didn't think the mystery of "who did it" or "how did they do it" was really that surprising at all, and because I was expecting a Gone Girl like twist, I was a little disappointed by this.

4. Writing. Another win for Gone Girl. I just loved Gillian Flynn's writing style. Diary Amy was written with so much wit and some of her writing about life and love and marriage was thought provoking and interesting (though I obviously didn't agree with it all). While Girl on the Train was a fun book to read, I didn't find much food for thought in the writing.

Regardless of what you thought of Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train stands on its own as an intriguing thriller. It's worth a read, especially if you enjoy stories with messed up (and often unlikeable) characters.

Friday, February 27, 2015

My Sunshine Away

My Sunshine Away
by M.O. Walsh

Genre:  Fiction
Published: 2/10/15 by Penguin
Pages:  320
Format:  Hardcover

My rating:
3 out of 5 stars

I have mixed feelings about this book.  There were parts that I liked, and parts that I really didn't like at all. 

My Sunshine Away is set in Baton Rouge, Louisiana about the rape of a 15 year old girl in the 80s.  The narrator of the story explains the events leading up to and following the crime.  Suspects are introduced, and before long, it is revealed that the narrator himself is a suspect.

I liked the way this story was structured.  Especially at the beginning.  It was obvious that the (unnamed) narrator wasn't quite telling the whole story, and with each new chapter, he introduced new information, which led to him looking more and more suspicious.   I felt like this was well written.  The question of "who did it" kept me reading as well as well as wanting to know what part the narrator would play in this story.

But the content was just a little too much for me.  I am not one to shy away from a dark story, and with the subject of a young girl's rape, I knew this would not be a pleasant tale.  But the descriptions of some of the characters' perverse and obsessive actions in this story were just more than I wanted to read.  It was not enjoyable to read and eventually it grew boring as well.  I found myself skimming through large sections just so that I could move on to find out what happened without having to read all of the details.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Nightingale

The Nightingale
by Kristin Hannah

Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: 2/3/15 by St. Martin's Press
Pages:  448
Format: Hardcover

My rating:
4 out of 5 stars

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is a historical fiction novel set during World War II.  I've read a lot of World War II historical fiction, and I don't really think The Nightingale adds any new insight or perspective or depth to this time period.  I could probably list at least 7-8 WWII novels that I thought where more complex and well written than this one.  HOWEVER, I still really liked this book and gave it 4 stars.  It is highly readable and an interesting story that maintains a level of suspense throughout the whole novel.  I think it is one of the best Kristin Hannah novels I've read.  It's just not one of the best WWII books I've read.

The Nightingale is the story of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, who live in France when the Germans invade and occupy their village. The story begins in 1939 and continues through the end of the war.  Both sisters make sacrifices and risk their lives as they try to stay alive and help others.  

I think it is interesting to read about what life was like for women during the war.  Women whose husbands were gone, possibly gone forever.  Women who were forced to provide for and take care of their children alone, in the most unfair of circumstances.  One of the most interesting parts of this story for me was the German soldiers who "billeted" with Vianne and the other women in their village in France.  Basically, these woman were forced to allow a German soldier to live in their home,while cooking for them, cleaning up after them, allowing them to use all their possessions and for some, even allowing them to use their bodies.  I cannot even imagine how horrible and terrifying that would be.  At the same time, one of the German soldiers who billeted with Vianne was not horrible.  He was actually kind and tried to help her.  I thought the complicated feelings between Vianne and this soldier were well developed, and added a different layer to the German occupation story.

While not superbly written and sometimes prone to cliches, The Nightingale is a quick read and an inspiring story about the courage of women in the midst of the many horrors of war.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Golden Son

Golden Son
by Pierce Brown

Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1/6/15 by Random House
Pages: 464
Format: Hardcover

My rating:
4.5 out of 5 stars

I enjoyed, but did not love, the first book in this series, Red Rising. I think I rated it at 3.5 stars. I thought it had some interesting moments, but it also was a little slow and boring at times for me. I ended that book thinking that I would like to continue reading this story, but I really hoped that the story would improve as it continued.

And what an improvement in this second book, Golden Son! I thought it was significantly better than the first book. I think second books in trilogies often tend to be the weakest, but this one was just great. This series is set in the future in a civilization on Mars. Society is divided into color castes, and rising above one's caste is unacceptable and prohibited. Enter Darrow, a Red born (the lowest of all the colors), who infiltrates the highest color Golds and becomes one of their leaders. In Golden Son, Darrow takes his place in Gold leadership, leading his friends (and a few traitors) into battles against his most powerful rivals. This story is full of twists and turns, as loyalties are constantly shifting and allegiances are broken. Friends become enemies. Enemies become friends. It is hard to know who can be trusted. Pierce Brown has no fear in killing off his characters, which added to the level of suspense. I really could not predict much of what was going to happen or who was going to survive through it all. 

I have read a lot of comparisons between this book and Hunger Games, but really, Golden Son is in a league of its own when it comes to young adult dystopians. This one is much, much more science fiction and less romance than any of the other books in this genre that I have read. I don't read much science fiction, and wouldn't describe it as a favorite of mine. But this story was just so fun and entertaining. I loved following Darrow through this wild ride! 

And I have to mention the ending! Because it is one BIG ending! And one big cliffhanger. I feel like the whole game changed in book 2, so I will be eagerly waiting for book 3 to find out how Darrow's story will end.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Vivian Apple at the End of the World

Vivian Apple at the End of the World
by Katie Coyle

Genre: Young Adult
Published: 1/6/15 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pages: 272
Format: Hardcover

My rating:
3 out of 5 stars

Vivian Apples lives in America, a place where most of the population have become followers of the Church of America, an extreme cult of evangelical Christianity.  The Believers follow a prophet named Beaton Frick and his book of visions called the Book of Frick.  Frick predicts a Rapture for all believers, but Vivian doesn't believe it is real.  Until it actually happens.  When Vivan's parents, along with thousands of other believers, disappear on the predicted date, Vivian and her friends set off on a road trip to discover the truth before the world comes to an end.

This is a young adult, religious dystopian novel which almost feels a bit satirical at times.  The Book of Frick and the entire premise of the Church of America seems almost silly and complete unbelievable, except that it just manages to come close enough to reality that it made me feel a bit uncomfortable at times.  As a Christian, I would disagree strongly with the beliefs and practices set forth by the "Believers" in this book.  I found them to be somewhat humorous, and I'm not sure how much it was the author's intent to be funny with this premise or serious or a little bit of both.  I do think there is a little bit of truth about the American Christian church mixed in with the extreme religious views.   I definitely thought it was thought provoking at times, especially with the ideas of consumerism and the American church receiving special blessings from God.

The characters and the plot of this book were just okay for me.  I liked Vivian and Harp and Peter, but I don't think they are memorable characters that will stick with me for very long.  The plot felt a little lost and meandering at times, perhaps that was because the characters were a little lost on their road trip.  The book ended, and I was left feeling unsure.  Did I like it?  Or not?  I'm still not fully sure.  There are definitely some interesting ideas here and fairly likable characters.  It's an easy read, and something a little different from the other young adult dystopians out there right now.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Winner's Curse

The Winner's Curse
by Marie Rutkoski

Genre: Young Adult
Published: 3/4/14 by Firrar, Straus and Giroux
Pages: 368
Format: ebook

My rating:
3 out of 5 stars

I would give the first half of this book 2 stars, and the second half I would give 4 stars...which gives an average of 3 stars for the whole book.

This is yet another young adult story about star crossed lovers in a fantasy/dystopian type of world. I guess it is people like me who keep these authors and publishers in business, because I read them all!  

The Winner's Curse is about Kestral, daughter of the general of the Valorian army.  The Valorians conquered the Herrani people, and now the Herrani serve as Valorian slaves.  One day Kestral buys a slave at the market, a young, handsome man named Arin.  Can you guess what happens next???  Oh, and also Kestral is almost to the age where she must choose between joining the military and getting married.  Her father wants her to join the military, but Kestral would prefer to choose neither of her options.

I found the first half of this book to be fairly boring.  There is a big world that Rutkoski has created here, but I didn't find it to be all that intriguing.  There are several pages worth of "history" about the Valorians and Herrani, and I really had to force myself to read it, as I found it to be very boring.  Also, I wasn't a fan of the plot about Kestral being forced to join the military or get married.  I can't explain why, but that part of the plot just felt silly to me.

However, after a major event happens just after the middle of the book, I did think the story got more interesting.  The ending was good enough that I really am eager to read the second book now, even if the first half of this book was kind of a dud.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Best Books of 2014

Adding to the thousands of other lists out there, here is my take on the best books of 2014.

Best Book
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

It was really hard to pick a winner this year!  When I finished reading Station Eleven, I would not have called it the best book of the year.  I really liked it, and I gave it 4.5 stars in my review.  But I don't know that I loved it enough to call it the best.  Not initially at least.  However, as I think back over the books I read this year, Station Eleven is the book that stands out the most in my mind.  I am a fan of the post-apocalyptic stories, and I read a lot of them.  After a while, they all start to blend together.  But Station Eleven is different from all the others, and I still think about it often.  I loved the premise that "survival is insufficient" and how the story focused on how people really "lived" and didn't just survive after a major epidemic drastically changed the entire world.

Honorable Mention
The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacobs

I received an ARC of this book, and honestly, I wasn't that excited about reading it.  The title was interesting, but the book looked long and the story didn't sound that appealing.  My initial judgment was that it would be boring.  How surprised I was when I started reading!  The story pulled me in right away, and I was hooked through the whole book.  This is a story about an Indian immigrant family and how they have built their lives in America.  It is a  great story about family and how secrets and the past can affect present lives.  I really enjoyed all the characters, and I thought the whole book was well paced and well written.

More Good Books from 2014:  An Untamed State by Roxane Gay and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Best Chick Lit
One Plus One by JoJo Moyes

JoJo Moyes is one of my new favorites, and her book Me Before You is on my list of all time favorite books.  One Plus One was just a joy to read.  It made me happy.  In my review, I described it as the perfect summer beach read.  It had great characters, a fun road trip story, a little bit of romance, and some family drama.  Just a great read all around, and one that I would highly recommend.  Especially if you are looking for something light and easy and enjoyable to read.

More Good Chick Lit from 2014:  Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Best Young Adult
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

I just realized that I never wrote a review for this book.  It was really good, and I read it in under 24 hours.  I needed some time to process it after I finished, so I didn't write a review right away.  Then I just never got around to it.  So here's a mini review right here:  this is a captivating story in the "unputdownable" category.  I gave it 4.5 stars.  The official book summary is very intriguing ending with this:  "if anyone asks you how this book ends, just LIE."    I recommend NOT reading too much about the book beforehand.  I wish I would have followed that advice.  I read a little too much and the ending was a little spoiled for me, which probably caused me to knock it down from a full 5 star rating.  Lockhart uses unique language and story telling devices to share this story, and the end result is an intriguing and more sophisticated piece of young adult literature.

Best Nonfiction
This Star Won't Go Out by Esther Earl

I don't read a lot of nonfiction, so I didn't have a lot to choose from in this category.  However, This Star Won't Go Out left such a lasting impression on me that it was an easy choice for this category.  I really, really enjoyed reading about the life of Esther Earl through her journals, writings and the stories of her family and friends.  Esther Earl was the inspiration for one of my favorite novels, The Fault in Our Stars, and I just loved learning more about her in this publication.  It doesn't read like a typical book, as it was never really intended to be published.  However, the whole collection paints a beautiful picture of a beautiful girl who left a lasting impression on this world during her short time here.

For more good books, check out my Best Books of 2013 list.

Friday, January 2, 2015

50 books!!

In 2014, for the first time ever, I reached my goal of reading 50 books in one year!  So exciting!!  Here are a few stats from my reading this year (thanks to Goodreads for keeping track of this):

Books read:  50
Pages read:  17762
5 star ratings:  14
4 star ratings:  18
3 star ratings:  11
2 star ratings:  7

I re-read a lot of books this year, which is unusual for me.  I think that helped me to reach my goal, because I picked books that I knew I loved and would be able to read quickly (Harry Potter series, Mara Dyer series, Redeeming Love, Me Before You...).

For 2015, my goal is to read 52 books, which averages out to one per week.  Yikes!!

Now I am getting ready to work on my Best Books of 2014 list.  Stay tuned!