Saturday, December 31, 2011

Review: When She Woke

Author: Hillary Jordan
Publish date: September 2011
Source: Purchased 

"Hannah Payne’s life has been devoted to church and family. But after she’s convicted of murder, she awakens to a nightmarish new life. She finds herself lying on a table in a bare room, covered only by a paper gown, with cameras broadcasting her every move to millions at home, for whom observing new Chromes—criminals whose skin color has been genetically altered to match the class of their crime—is a sinister form of entertainment. Hannah is a Red for the crime of murder. The victim, says the State of Texas, was her unborn child, and Hannah is determined to protect the identity of the father, a public figure with whom she shared a fierce and forbidden love. 

A powerful reimagining of The Scarlet Letter, When She Woke is a timely fable about a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate an America of the not-too-distant future, where the line between church and state has been eradicated, and convicted felons are no longer imprisoned but chromed and released back into the population to survive as best they can. In seeking a path to safety in an alien and hostile world, Hannah unknowingly embarks on a journey of self-discovery that forces her to question the values she once held true and the righteousness of a country that politicizes faith and love.

I heard about this book a few months ago and thought it sounded really interesting. I read The Scarlet Letter in high school and HATED it. Nathaniel Hawthorne's language and writing style was really difficult for me to understand and I thought a futuristic retelling sounded pretty good. I ended up enjoying it, despite a few parts I found incredulous.

The scariest and creepiest part about the whole book for me was the setting. When She Woke takes place in the not too distant future and I am terrified that our world could someday be much like what Ms. Jordan imagined for her novel. There was an STD epidemic which rendered many women sterile and led to abortion being completely illegal, punishable by years in prison. In the book, the blame for everything is on women, which made me angry, yet I can sadly imagine people thinking that was perfectly reasonable. Drove me crazy, but I couldn't stop reading it!

As the novel progresses, Hannah grows and realizes that what she was always taught about life was not true, in terms of morals and faith. She doesn't grow as much as I wanted her to, but she gets herself out of scary situations and crazy places. I was rooting for her the whole time, although I didn't always agree with her choices. The ending happened a little too quickly for my tastes, but I would still recommend this book just for people to understand how easily the setting could become our terrible reality.

Buy the Kindle ebook here (only $1.99!)

Friday, December 30, 2011

Favorite Books of 2011

I am awful at creating lists of favorite things, but I decided to give it a try with books. The book title link will take you to my review. Here goes!

Favorite YA Dystopian/Science Fiction/Paranormal

Delirium by Lauren Oliver: My favorite book of the year. Lauren Oliver is SUCH an amazing writer. I am counting down the days until Pandemonium comes out!

Divergent by Veronica Roth: A great dystopian that takes place in Chicago. Fast-paced and excellent.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin: I'm not sure how to classify this one, but I loved it! Definitely a page turner.

Favorite YA Contemporary
Shine by Lauren Myracle: A fantastic, heartbreaking, and extremely realistic story of homophobia in small town America. I loved the voice of the narrator.

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins: I'm usually not one to go for YA romances, but this one was really cute and fun. Stephanie Perkins is great.

Paper Towns by John Green: My first John Green novel and I loved it. What a fantastic author and a male protagonist to boot!

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson: A terrifying and honest foray into the life of someone with anorexia. I'd never read a book like this before and can't believe how intense it was.

Favorite series that I discovered
The Shade series by Jeri Smith-Ready: I tried this at the recommendation of other bloggers and loved it! The first two are out now (Shade and Shift) and Shine comes out next year. It's paranormal, but was so much better than I ever thought paranormal could be!

Favorite nonfiction
The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure: It was awesome to read about someone who has a similar obsession as me. This book was hilarious and anyone who loved Laura Ingalls Wilder should read it.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot: This was the first nonfiction book I've read that felt like fiction. It was so interesting and I stayed up late for a few nights in a rush to finish it.

TGIF: First & Last

TGIF is a weekly meme hosted by Ginger at G Reads! Each Friday, she proposes a question for her followers and recaps the week's posts. This week's question is:

First & Last: What was the first book you read in 2011 and the last you finished in 2011? How do you feel about these books? Would you recommend them to other readers?

I only started blogging and really keeping track of what I read in June, so I'm not positive about the first book I read this year, but it was either American Wife by Curtis Sittenfield or The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. I loved American Wife, which is kind of a retelling of Laura Bush's life. Now, I am not a fan of the Bushes in any way, but Laura's life has been quite interesting. I bought the book for my stepmom as a gift and then borrowed it when she was done. Definitely recommended.

The Lost It was ok. I ate up The da Vinci Code like it was candy, but this one was just ok. I read it in just about one sitting on one of our snow days early in the year (which is one of my favorite things to do).

The last book I read this year as of 12/31 was When She Woke by Hillary Jordan. It's a futuristic retelling of The Scarlet Letter that is scarily believable. 

Posts this week
Review: Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles
Review: Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Review: Birthmarked

Author: Caragh O'Brien
Publish date: 2010
Source: Library
"In the Enclave, your scars set you apart, and the newly born will change the future. 

Sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone and her mother faithfully deliver their quota of three infants every month. But when Gaia's mother is brutally taken away by the very people she serves, Gaia must question whether the Enclave deserves such loyalty. A stunning adventure brought to life by a memorable heroine, this dystopian debut will have readers racing all the way to the dramatic finish.

This is yet another dystopian novel, but I just can't get enough of them! I can't help but love reading about these future societies that are teeming with adventure and craziness and Birthmarked was no exception. I wish I could remember where I heard about this one, but I can't. Probably a blog, knowing me.

In this future society, there are two communities of people: those inside the wall and those outside. The outside ones sometimes have to give (or advance) their babies to the community inside the wall, where the kids will be adopted by wealthy families. I found that concept terrifyingly fascinating and it was really interesting to see how the author explained the reasons for that as the story continued.  The whole concept of reproductive rights and genetics was refreshing to read about, especially in a YA. The world building was great and I found some of the little details to be quite compelling, like how certain classes of people wore specific colors, and there was code breaking, which is always a plus.

Another aspect of the book I liked was the characters, especially Gaia. It was interesting to watch her change throughout the story, as she realized that perhaps advancing the babies each month was not the right thing to do. This was definitely a story that valued the importance of family, which is nice to see in YA novels. I really enjoyed it and look forward to reading Prized, which came out in November of this year. Already on hold at the library!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Review: Leaving Paradise

Author: Simone Elkeles
Publish date: 2007
Source: purchased (ebook)
"Nothing has been the same since Caleb Becker left a party drunk, got behind the wheel, and hit Maggie Armstrong. Even after months of painful physical therapy, Maggie walks with a limp. Her social life is nil and a scholarship to study abroad—her chance to escape everyone and their pitying stares—has been canceled.

After a year in juvenile jail, Caleb’s free . . . if freedom means endless nagging from a transition coach and the prying eyes of the entire town. Coming home should feel good, but his family and ex-girlfriend seem like strangers.

Caleb and Maggie are outsiders, pigeon-holed as "criminal" and "freak." Then the truth emerges about what really happened the night of the accident and, once again, everything changes. It’s a bleak and tortuous journey for Caleb and Maggie, yet they end up finding comfort and strength from a surprising source: each other

I downloaded this in Kindle ebook form a while ago when it was pretty cheap (maybe 99 cents) and read all of it today on my new Kindle Touch, which I adore already. I have previously read Elkeles's Perfect Chemistry (review here) and mostly enjoyed it, so I figured I would like this one too.

The plot itself was pretty intriguing and entertaining. The idea that two people like Maggie and Caleb could fall for each other after such a horrific accident really interested me and I wanted to see how the author would handle such a delicate situation. The whole storyline was pretty enjoyable and there was a major plot twist toward the end that I definitely was not expecting, especially in this kind of book, so that was a plus.

This is the kind of book that I wanted to love, but just couldn't. I liked it, but just like Perfect Chemistry, I felt like the writing was a bit lacking at times. It seemed like things got forced near the end, almost like the author was tired of writing and just wanted to finish it. The characters weren't anything fantastic, but the plot saved it for me. I would only recommend this for Elkeles fans or those looking for a quick YA read.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Review: How to Save a Life

Author: Sara Zarr
Publish date: 2011
Source: Won in contest
"Jill MacSweeny just wishes everything could go back to normal. But ever since her dad died, she's been isolating herself from her boyfriend, her best friends--everyone who wants to support her. And when her mom decides to adopt a baby, it feels like she's somehow trying to replace a lost family member with a new one.

Mandy Kalinowski understands what it's like to grow up unwanted--to be raised by a mother who never intended to have a child. So when Mandy becomes pregnant, one thing she's sure of is that she wants a better life for her baby. It's harder to be sure of herself. Will she ever find someone to care for her, too?

As their worlds change around them, Jill and Mandy must learn to both let go and hold on, and that nothing is as easy--or as difficult--as it seems.

I won this book in a contest last month and when it arrived, I stuck it on a bookshelf and decided to wait to read it until I was in the mood. After recently finishing Clockwork Angel and Ashes, I was ready for a contemp, so I gave How to Save a Life a try. I read it over the past 2 nights and really liked it.

One of the things I liked best about this book was the two different narratives. The story is told from both Jill and Mandy's perspectives, in alternating chapters. Even though this is not a new concept, Sara Zarr did SUCH an incredible job with creating two distinct voices. The characters are two completely different people and I am impressed with how their personalities were maintained throughout the narrative. Teacher moment: This book would be a great example to show writing students when explaining the importance of voice.

How to Save a Life was also pretty emotionally hard-hitting. Jill is dealing with the death of her father and continuing life with her mother, and Mandy is pregnant and has moved to Denver to give her baby to Jill's mother Robin. I felt like I could understand with what each girl was going through, but the book wasn't TOO emotional. I didn't feel like I had to wade through any of the writing, which sometimes happens with me when reading contemporary novels that deal with heavier stuff like death.

All in all a great contemp that fans of Sarah Dessen (like me!) would definitely enjoy!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Review: Ashes

Author: Ilsa J. Bick
Publish date: 2011
Source: Library
"An electromagnetic pulse flashes across the sky, destroying every electronic device, wiping out every computerized system, and killing billions.
Alex hiked into the woods to say good-bye to her dead parents and her personal demons. Now desperate to find out what happened after the pulse crushes her to the ground, Alex meets up with Tom—a young soldier—and Ellie, a girl whose grandfather was killed by the EMP.

For this improvised family and the others who are spared, it’s now a question of who can be trusted and who is no longer human.

Author Ilsa J. Bick crafts a terrifying and thrilling novel about a world that could be ours at any moment, where those left standing must learn what it means not just to survive, but to live amidst the devastation.

I saw this book while I was perusing the YA shelves at the library last week and thought it sounded pretty good, so I checked it out. I don't remember hearing much about it on other book blogs, even though it came out fairly recently. I really liked it and am glad that sometimes I still browse the library shelves instead of putting everything on hold like I normally do.

I had a hard time getting into the book for the first quarter of it. Despite everything that happens, it still felt a little slow-moving for me, but after Tom entered the story, I was hooked. After that, everything was really fast-paced, although it did slow down again later (I know that sounds vague, but I'm trying not to spoil anything). I liked all the characters and thought Ms. Bick included a good assortment of personalities.

The premise of Ashes, that an electromagnetic pulse wipes out much of the population and causes crazy changes in the people that it doesn't kill, it pretty interesting in itself and it was fun to keep finding out more things that the pulse did or did not do. I felt like everything other chapter had more new information about its effects and implications.

Despite being shaky at times and having a VERY casual writing style, I enjoyed Ashes and look forward to reading the next two books in the trilogy when they come out!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Back to the Classics Challenge: Book Choices!

I signed up for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2012 back in November (hosted by Sarah Reads Too Much), and I finally just decided which books I am planning on reading for it! Of course, since I am the most indecisive person I know, these titles could change if I discover a new book that I just have to read and use for the challenge, but I think I'm pretty set on the following:

19th century classic: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (already own)

20th century classic: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (own)

Reread: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (own)

Classic Play: A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

Classic Mystery/Horror/Crime Fiction: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (inspired by a recent Doctor Who episode!)

Classic Romance: Persuasion by Jane Austen (own)

Translated Classic: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Classic Award W
inner: The Age of Innocence by Edith Warton

Classic set in a country/place I will never visit: The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

I'm really looking forward to reading all of these and expanding from my usual genres of choice! I will admit that I have started The Hobbit and Brave New World before, in 6th grade and high school, respectively, but did not get more than a few pages into either, so I still consider those unread. Excited for 2012 reading! :)

TGIF: Most Popular

TGIF is a weekly meme hosted by Ginger at GReads! Each week she proposes a question for her followers and recaps the week's posts. This week's question is:

Most Popular: Which blog post has gotten the most comments/activity on your blog this year?

Most commented review: The Night Circus

Most commented post: Top Ten Tuesday from September 27th (Top Ten Books I want to reread)

Post with the most hits: Top Ten Tuesday from November 1st (books I had strong emotions about)

Review this week:
Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare (loved it and am thinking about getting Clockwork Prince for myself as a birthday present next week!)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Review: Clockwork Angel

Author: Cassandra Clare
Publish date: 2010
Source: Purchased
"When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos. 

Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What's more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa's power for his own. 

Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by--and torn between--two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm's length...everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world...and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all

My first reaction after finishing this book was: WOW! I am really impressed and surprised. This was my first venture into Cassandra Clare, who has also written the Mortal Instruments series and now this series, the Infernal Devices. I found the book for crazy cheap at a Border's closing sale, so I picked it up, thinking my students would like it. After a few mentioned how much they LOVED it, and seeing love for Cassandra Clare around the internetz, I decided to give it a shot. Glad I did!

I got about 50 pages in before I put Clockwork Angel down to a read a few other books that I decided were more pressing and finally picked this one back up over the weekend. The plot really picked up and became quite unputdownable. I found the whole premise of the story to be really interesting, plus I love the time period it is set in. It's kind of a mish-mash of historical fiction, paranormal, steampunk, and sci-fi. Sounds weird, but it all worked.

One of my favorite parts of the novel was the characterization. There were definitely a lot of characters, but I feel like I got to know all of them throughout the story. I liked that the narration was third person, but didn't focus entirely on Tessa. Great way to learn more about characters and their motivations. 

I loved all the plot twists and am eagerly anticipating reading Clockwork Prince, which coincidentally just came out last week. I'm glad I took the plunge and read something that I normally would not have!

Friday, December 9, 2011

TGIF: Book to Movie

TGIF is a weekly meme hosted by Ginger at GReads! This week's question is:

Book to movie: Which is the best adaptation of book to movie? The worst?

Excellent question! I think one of the best was The Notebook. I actually liked the movie more than the book! I also loved how the Harry Potter movies turned out. I know there were parts left out, but a good job nonetheless.

The worst? The Scarlet Letter with Demi Moore was awful. I remember catching it on TV after reading the novel in high school and realizing what a terrible adaptation it was. I was also not a fan of The Time-Traveler's Wife movie, but loved the book. Also, not a movie, but let's not even mention the Little House on the Prairie TV series. Awful. Books were waaaaay better!

Reviews this week:
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin (loved it!)
Hitch by Jeanette Ingold (great historical fiction from male POV)
Looking for Alaska by John Green (excellent)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Review: Looking for Alaska

Author: John Green
Publish date: 2005
Source: Library
"Miles Halter is fascinated by famous last words and tired of his safe life at home. He leaves for boarding school to seek what the dying poet Francois Rabelais called the "Great Perhaps." Much awaits Miles at Culver Creek, including Alaska Young. Clever, funny, screwed-up, and dead sexy, Alaska will pull Miles into her labyrinth and catapult him into the Great Perhaps. 

Looking for Alaska brilliantly chronicles the indelible impact one life can have on another. A stunning debut, it marks John Green's arrival as an important new voice in contemporary fiction

I read Paper Towns over the summer and immediately decided that I needed to read the rest of John Green's novels. I'm not sure why it took me so long to read this one, but I'll definitely be getting to An Abundance of Katherines much sooner. I really enjoyed Looking for Alaska and can't believe I hadn't read it sooner.

John Green gets teenagers. I don't know how else to say it. He writes amazing, real characters that I can only wish were actual people. I loved all the characters in this one: Pudge/Miles, the Colonel/Chip, Alaska, Takumi, even the Eagle. They all had their own lovable quirks and just meshed to make the story work. I loved all the characters in Paper Towns too, so I'm thinking John Green is pretty damn good at this thing. I love that he writes from a male's perspective, which is sorely lacking in YA literature.

I thought the setting of a boarding school was one of the best things about this book. Pudge got to meet new friends, plus there is the added bonus of limited parental involvement, although his parents were in the story. The boarding school setting really helped set up the major theme of the story: the impact that people have on your life, no matter when you meet them or how long you know them. 

I'm looking forward to reading An Abundance of Katherines soon! 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday 12/6

Top Ten Tuesday is one of my favorite book blog memes! It is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is: 

Top Ten Childhood Faves! For purposes of this list, childhood will be considered elementary school and early middle school.

1. Little House on the Prairie: I can't even describe the love I felt for this books (I tried to document it here when I reviewed The Wilder Life). I adored and was obsessed with the series, the people, everything. I wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder.

2. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: My stepdad read this aloud to use when I was in early elementary school and I ate it up (har har)! Love Roald Dahl.

3. Matilda: Read this one on my own after Charlie and decided that I needed to be Matilda. I already loved books; all I needed was super powers!

4. Baby-sitters Club: I basically devoured all of these starting in second grade. My mom refused to buy them because I would read them so fast, so periodically, we'd just go to Barnes and Noble for a couple hours so I could read some. I loved those trips.

5. Bunnicula: My stepdad also read this one to us, which I loved. I think I read the sequels on my own.

6. Berenstein Bears: I loved the picture books when I was small, then moved on to the short chapter books. Loved that family.

7. Sweet Valley Twins: Loved all varieties of these series.

8.The Giver: I read it in 4th grade and really enjoyed it. 

9. Tuck Everlasting: Read this in school for 5th grade and fell in love. Movie wasn't bad either.

10. HARRY POTTER: Not sure if this would be childhood, since I started reading them in middle school, but they for sure are my favorite books of all time. I can't even express my love for them. When I finished Deathly Hallows, it was like something in my heart had come to an end. Bittersweet happiness.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Review: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

Author: Michelle Hodkin
Publish date: September 2011
Source: Library
"Mara Dyer doesn't think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.

It can.

She believes there must be more to the accident she can't remember that killed her friends and left her mysteriously unharmed.

There is.

She doesn't believe that after everything she's been through, she can fall in love.

She's wrong
." (image and blurb from Goodreads)

I heard a lot of buzz about this book, so I was a bit wary going into it. I knew I would like it, but I didn't want my expectations to be too high because of all the positive reviews I'd read. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer definitely did not disappoint me and I get the feeling this review is going to be a little gushy.

First of all, I loved all the characters. I liked Mara and I enjoyed that the story was told from her point of view. Her family members were all likable, even her mom, who was quite a mom at some points. Mara's friends were great too, especially Jamie. I wanted more of him! And Noah. Noah Noah Noah. At first I thought he was going to be too cliche, but he turned out to be much more interesting and pivotal than I had imagined.

This book was definitely unputdownable. The chapters were pretty short, which was awesome, and while it wasn't all action-packed, I still wanted to keep reading to find out what happened to Mara. With the first person narration, the reader knows as much as Mara does, so we discover things about her as she does. I liked this technique. Also, the ending? HOLY WOW. I need book number 2 now!

This book isn't for everyone, but if you are a YA fan and don't mind cliches that become uncliche with a hell of an ending, give Mara Dyer a shot!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Review: If I Stay

Author: Gayle Forman
Publish date: 2009
Source: Library
"In a single moment, everything changes. Seventeen year- old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall riding along the snow-wet Oregon road with her family. Then, in a blink, she finds herself watching as her own damaged body is taken from the wreck...

A sophisticated, layered, and heartachingly beautiful story about the power of family and friends, the choices we all make -and the ultimate choice Mia commands." (blurb and image from Goodreads)

I've heard a bit about this book online and from a few students at school, so I decided to give it a shot. I knew that a sequel had come out this year, but that's about it. I started and finished the novel last night, so it's a quick but sad read.

This book is sad! You essentially gather that from the inside cover blurb, but I was still surprised at how gently sad it was. Most of the story is told in flashbacks, taking us back to memories of Mia with her family, friend Kim, and boyfriend Adam. The flashbacks were essential in learning more about Mia, but it was sad to remember that they were only flashbacks.

The book was really short compared to what I've been reading lately, less that 200 pages. It was pretty unputdownable, as I wanted to find what Mia was going to decide, but it wasn't as excellent as I had hoped it would be. I wasn't a huge fan of Adam, for some reason, so I'm not sure if I will read Where She Went, which was published in April of this year. Thoughts?

TGIF: Writing Reviews 101

TGIF is a weekly meme hosted by Ginger at GReads! Every Friday, she proposes a fun and interesting question. This week's question is:

Writing Reviews 101: What is your process for writing reviews? Any tips or suggestions you would recommend to other bloggers?

I try to write reviews the day I finish or the next, so everything is still fresh in my mind. I think I have a fairly standard/boring method for writing them. I like to include a synopsis of the book (usually taken from Goodreads), why I wanted to read it/how I heard about it/how I acquired it, what I liked about it, and in some cases, what I didn't like about it. Sometimes I also include who I would recommend it to, since some books have very specific audiences.

This question is pretty timely, actually, since I just finished If I Stay by Gayle Forman last night but haven't written a review yet. Look for one later!