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!