Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs… for now.

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

Okay, deep breath. This is a hard one to write about.

Normally, if a book makes me cry, I know that it was a good book. I mean, it takes a lot to get me there so if I’m wrapped up in the story enough and I care about the characters enough to shed a tear than I generally know it’s a keeper. But this one’s a little different. You kind of go into a book about kids with cancer prepared to cry, so it becomes less of a form of measurement. Illness is sad. Young people dying is sad. But the thing about this book is, it made me cry more over their moments of life, and that’s why I knew I liked it.

I loved the characters.

I know people have said that Hazel and Augustus sound nothing like actual teenagers do, and I can understand that, but I disagree. I really connected with each of them and the way they viewed the world. There was something so real and relatable about the way Hazel describes things. Not just things to do with cancer, but with life in general.

Reading this book felt like getting to peak in at a slice of someone’s life. Once I got to a certain point I forgot I was even reading, forgot there was an author who was not Hazel, forgot these were not real people. It’s hard to write about a sad book in a way that is not overly mushy or builds it up to be something it’s not, but I can’t help but want to try. It was this review that made me decide to read the book, and I think it sums up my feelings better than this rambling is managing to do. This one too.

This book is sad, yes. It is also funny, engaging, descriptive and very romantic. In the end I was so wrapped up in it that I was caught of guard by my sadness, just as I am with any book I love.

The Fault In Our Stars on Goodreads & Amazon

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The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

When her widower father drowns at sea, Gemma Hardy is taken from her native Iceland to Scotland to live with her kind uncle and his family. But the death of her doting guardian leaves Gemma under the care of her resentful aunt, and it soon becomes clear that she is nothing more than an unwelcome guest at Yew House. When she receives a scholarship to a private school, ten-year-old Gemma believes she’s found the perfect solution and eagerly sets out again to a new home. However, at Claypoole she finds herself treated as an unpaid servant.

To Gemma’s delight, the school goes bankrupt, and she takes a job as an au pair on the Orkney Islands. The remote Blackbird Hall belongs to Mr. Sinclair, a London businessman; his eight-year-old niece is Gemma’s charge. Even before their first meeting, Gemma is, like everyone on the island, intrigued by Mr. Sinclair. Rich (by Gemma’s standards), single, flying in from London when he pleases, Hugh Sinclair fills the house with life. An unlikely couple, the two are drawn to each other, but Gemma’s biggest trial is about to begin: a journey of passion and betrayal, redemption and discovery, that will lead her to a life of which she’s never dreamed.

Set in Scotland and Iceland in the 1950s and ’60s, The Flight of Gemma Hardy—a captivating homage to Charlotte BrontË’s Jane Eyre—is a sweeping saga that resurrects the timeless themes of the original but is destined to become a classic all its own.

I have a confession to make. I have never read Jane Eyre. I have a rather complicated relationship with classics. I dearly love some of them but others I’ve never been able to like and I’m afraid the Bronte sister’s works fall into that category. I started Jane Eyre ages ago and made it through the first chapter before giving up, realizing that I was going to have a difficult time getting through a book with such unlikable characters. I’ve seen several movie versions and enjoyed the setting and acting, but the story itself has never been my cup of tea (though I will say that the latest Jane Eyre movie was absolutely gorgeous to watch). So why then did I pick up this modernized version of the story?

Er, I don’t know really. I guess I was just looking to branch out from the YA section at my library. This one caught my eye and I  remembered a fairly favorable review so I decided to see what changed when you put Jane into a different time period. Turns out, not much.

Instead of Jane we have Gemma, a lonely orphan who is taken from her home in Iceland to go live with her Uncle and his family after both her parents die. Gemma grows to love her Uncle but unfortunately he dies as well. This leaves Gemma in the care of her Aunt, a woman who wants nothing to do with her and treats her quite terribly. Despite the warnings of one of her schoolteachers, Gemma jumps at the chance to leave her Aunt’s house when she receives a scholarship to a girl’s school. It doesn’t take long for her to realize that this is far from the school of her dreams when she becomes one of the “working girls”. Gemma is bright and studious, but she spends most of her time scrubbing floors and peeling potatoes. With no other options she makes the best of it for years, though her stubborn streak and habit of telling the truth often get her into trouble. Once free of the school Gemma seeks a job as an au pair, which leads her to the remote Orkney Islands and Hugh Sinclair (Mr. Rochester).

The story follows along a very similar path to the original, yet the updated voice made it much easier for me to read. I was quickly drawn along with Gemma’s narration and found myself flying through the pages. I’m not quite sure why these changes made me like the story so much better since all the cruelty is still there. Give me a true villain over the small and petty meanness of normal people any day… at least in books. EVERYONE seems to hate Gemma. She’s a child who has a hard time not voicing her own opinions and the adults around her use this as an excuse to punish her at every turn. At times it seems like her life is a series of out of the frying pan into the fire incidents. Each time things can’t possibly to get any worse, they do.

When she turns eighteen and gets a job on the Orkney Islands things finally seem to be looking up for Gemma. It’s remote and lonely at times, but she works slowly at forming a bond with her young charge and manages to make some friends. And then there’s the handsome Mr Sinclair who Gemma can’t help but fall for.

Dude, I’ve never liked Mr Rochester and I didn’t like Mr. Sinclair any better. Brooding and mysterious only gets you so far in my book. I don’t understand his appeal in the slightest. I’m willing to make some allowances because they did have a certain chemistry, unfortunately in this version of events the circumstances keeping them apart are FAR less compelling than the reasons Jane left Mr. Rochester. I don’t want to give anything away, but I was left scratching my head. I felt that this change was the book’s biggest failing, though I wasn’t sorry to leave Mr. Sinclair behind for a time.

Despite my dislike of many of the characters and some of the plot, I found myself liking the book overall… strange and contradictory as that may sound. It was an easy read and surprisingly fun, considering how depressing some of the content is. It was nice to read something outside the YA genre for a change and this book has convinced me to pay more attention to the adult fiction shelf.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy on Goodreads & Amazon

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Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl… Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

Ah! I’ve fallen behind on my reviews! I blame being sick this past week. It’s hard to read or write when your head feels like mush. But at least I get to jump back in with a book like Cinder. I’ve wanted to read this book ever since I got a glimpse of the cover, way before it was due to be released. I’ve always been a fan of fairy tale retellings and this one certainly doesn’t disapoint.

The premise for Cinder is familiar and yet completely new. There is a girl and a prince and a really mean stepmother, but there are also moon people, cyborgs and androids. Did I mention the MOON PEOPLE?

In this version of events our Cinderella is Cinder, a teenage girl who happens to be the best mechanic in New Beijing. Her life is far from perfect. In addition to being a cyborg (cyborgs are looked down upon as less than human in this society) Cinder also has to deal with her nasty stepmother, who claims all her earnings and pretty much controls her life. But Cinder’s world begins to change when the dashing Prince Kai enters her shop.

This is a Cinderella story, but it’s also so much more! Not only to you have the handsome prince and the ball, you’ve got a deadly plague, an evil queen, and futuristic world politics. I’ll admit that I saw the big plot twist coming from a mile away, but I’m okay with that. I don’t really expect any big surprises when a classic is being retold.

You also get to spend some quality time with Prince Kai, which I really liked. There’s not a lot of time for lead up to the romance aspect (though that’s really not the only focus), so getting to know him beyond just Cinder’s viewpoint makes it feel less sudden.

This was a really fast read for me. It’s over 300 pages and I read it in the span of one afternoon. I think it went so quickly because the story itself moves along very fast. Though I didn’t feel like the plot was lacking, I wouldn’t have minded the book being longer to flesh our a few more details. It’s an interesting world to spend time in.

I wish I’d been able to get to this review sooner because I feel like there was more I wanted to say, but I can’t remember now. In any case, I can’t wait for the next book!

Cinder on Goodreads & Amazon

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A Million Suns by Beth Revis

Godspeed was fueled by lies. Now it is ruled by chaos.

It’s been three months since Amy was unplugged. The life she always knew is over. And everywhere she looks, she sees the walls of the spaceship Godspeed. But there may just be hope: Elder has assumed leadership of the ship. He’s finally free to enact his vision – no more Phydus, no more lies.
But when Elder discovers shocking news about the ship, he and Amy race to discover the truth behind life on Godspeed. They must work together to unlock a puzzle that was set in motion hundreds of years earlier, unable to fight the romance that’s growing between them and the chaos that threatens to tear them apart.

In book two of the Across the Universe trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Beth Revis mesmerizes us again with a brilliantly crafted mystery filled with action, suspense, romance, and deep philosophical questions. And this time it all builds to one mind-bending conclusion: They have to get off this ship.

Oh dear. I have such mixed feelings about these books! On the one hand, they are fairly well written and different from most others things I’ve read. Points! On the other hand, SO UNHAPPY! Maybe it’s just me, but the plot just drags me down in a major way, even more so for this book than in the first. It’s one of those books that puts its characters in difficult situations and just when they start to get happy or hope for something fate just jumps in and snatches it away while yelling “fat chance suckers!”

I may have just gotten carried away. Let me explain. WARNING! THERE MAY BE SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST BOOK HERE!

A Million Suns pretty much starts up right where the first book left off. Everyone is still trapped on a giant spaceship together except now the general population is no longer controlled by a mind altering drug, (yay!). Of course this means they’re not unquestioning sheep who blindly follow the leader, which makes things pretty tough for Elder. In fact, people are starting to get downright violent (boo!). People don’t want to work anymore, productivity is down, food is in short supply, the ship is starting to show her age, things basically suck. But, you know, hooray for free will!

While Elder is busy dealing with all these problems, Amy has discovered a trail of clues left for her by Orion. It’s all very cryptic. Supposedly there are yet MORE secrets to be uncovered. Life and death type secrets. Amy is intrigued.

This book felt choppier than the first to me, but I think a lot of middle books suffer from that. The social unrest that begins to happen on board the ship is inevitable, but I was frustrated with how it played out. I mean, these people have a lot to be upset about. They’re trapped onboard a spaceship, they’ve been lied to for years, they’ve also been drugged and have no say in who their leader is. They have valid concerns. But the only faces of this revolution are decidedly unlikable so I ended up just feeling frustrated by their actions. The two main rebels that we’re shown are a rapist and an old friend of Elder’s who kind of just comes off as a jerk most of the time. Not very sympathetic characters. I wanted to see more dimension.

When I was reading these parts of the book I couldn’t help but think of Battlestar Galactica. I’m a huge fan of that show and, while I know there is a big difference between a book and a TV show, a lot of comparisons can be drawn due to the similar subject material. One of the things I liked best about BG was how multi-dimensional the characters were. There is social unrest and rebellion and darkness, but there is also balance. Even some of the most unlikable characters have their moments of goodness. It doesn’t make them nice, but it makes them more believable and it allows a momentary reprieve from despair. I really needed that reprieve in this book. Most of the time I was left feeling that the only decent people on the ship were the two main characters.

I really missed Harley.

The relationship between Elder and Amy continues to develop in this book, but it’s complicated. I really like Amy’s reasons for reluctance. I mean, aside from the fact that Elder almost killed her by waking her up in the first book. She makes a really great point; would she and Elder be as drawn to each other if they weren’t the only two teenagers aboard the ship?

I do have other quibbles (Orion’s hunt for clues, overuse of slang, etc.), but in the end I do think it was a pretty good book. Revis hits on a lot of interesting ideas and manages to create a very unique world. It’s not one I necessarily enjoy spending a lot of time in, but I will be back to read the last book.

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In My Mailbox #3

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In My Mailbox is a weekly event hosted by The Story Siren.

I’m working hard to catch up with my massive pile of library books, but I couldn’t resist picking these two up this week. I’m a bit afraid to read The Fault In Our Stars since by all accounts it’s a MAJOR tearjerker, but everyone says it’s also amazing.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

It Chooses You by Miranda July

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The Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff

Daphne is the half-demon, half-fallen angel daughter of Lucifer and Lilith. Life for her is an endless expanse of time, until her brother Obie is kidnapped – and Daphne realizes she may be partially responsible. Determined to find him, Daphne travels from her home in Pandemonium to the vast streets of Earth, where everything is colder and more terrifying. With the help of the human boy she believes was the last person to see her brother alive, Daphne glimpses into his dreams, discovering clues to Obie’s whereabouts. As she delves deeper into her demonic powers, she must navigate the jealousies and alliances of the violent archangels who stand in her way. But she also discovers, unexpectedly, what it means to love and be human in a world where human is the hardest thing to be.

This second novel by rising star Brenna Yovanoff is a story of identity, discovery, and a troubled love between two people struggling to find their place both in our world and theirs.

This is a bizarrely beautiful book. Though much of the subject matter is dark, the descriptions are lush and vivid. I was drawn in right away. I actually passed on this one a few times before taking it home because of the cover and jacket summary. I’ll admit that the cover is pretty, but I’m a little bit tired of all the lounging girls that are so commonly decorating the fronts of YA books these days. That plus the fact that I’d just finished a few books featuring angels and demons meant that it took me a bit longer to get around to this one. Fortunately I finally realized that this book was written by the same person as The Replacement (which I loved) and I made a point to check it out again. Good decision!

As the above description explains, Daphne is half-demon and half-angel, the daughter of Lilith and Lucifer. She has lived her whole life in Pandemonium, collecting trinkets from Earth and observing people’s actions through tv shows. While her brother Obie ventures out into the world to help others of angel/demon descent Daphne stays put, afraid that she’ll become like her sisters who feed themselves on the sorrows of humans. But when Obie goes missing on Earth she goes there hoping that she’ll be able to find him before the angel of death does. Her only link to her brother is a boy named Truman who she’s only ever seen once before.

This is kind of a hard one for me to review because it completely sucked me in until I wasn’t thinking critically at all. It’s SO atmospheric. Everything from the description of Daphne’s rug in Pandemonium to Truman’s fuzzy recollections of his hospital stay painted this world so clearly for me. The plot isn’t incredibly detailed, but the surroundings are.

I really appreciated this different look at the angels/demons idea that seems so popular right now. Here fallen angels wear suits and carry 9 mm guns. Azreal is always on the hunt for demons who linger on Earth for too long, sending his monster Dark Dreadful to finish them off. Aside from a brief retelling of Adam and Eve in the beginning, it doesn’t delve into much history, but you do get a clear sense of the roles that everyone plays.

It’s creepy, exciting, beautiful, sometimes bloody, dark and romantic. I know this is a jumbled up sort of review but it’s the best I can do.

My one complaint is that the ending was wrapped up a bit too neatly for a story that was so messy and complex in other ways, but I can overlook that because I very much enjoyed it as a whole.

The Space Between on Goodreads & Amazon

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Adventures in Nonfiction

The bulk of what I read falls firmly into the category of fiction, but I love informational books as well. Cookbooks and books about gardening especially. I don’t intend to review these books in the same way I normally do, but it seems a shame not to mention them here on my book blog. Here’s what is on my shelf at the moment.

 I was quite interested in this book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cure Tooth Decay by Ramiel Nagel

Seeing as I like to keep my dentist visits to the absolute minimum, I was very interested to read this book. Rather than repeating what we’ve been told about brushing, flossing and how sugar will rot your teeth, it delves into the impact nutrition has on our teeth, gums and enamel. I found it very interesting and I’m planning on ordering some of the recommended supplements soon.

Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It by Karen Soloman

I picked up a huge stack of cookbooks at the library last week, but this is the only one I’ve tried out so far. The book is divided up into 12 sections and focuses on things like making your own butter, crackers, pickled veggies, pasta (we did this and it came out great!), jams and much more. I would say this is more of a fun cookbook than a serious guide to preserving, but it does have a lot of recipes that I’m hoping to try out.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver is well known for her novels, but this account of how her family set out to grow as much of their own food as they could and eat locally for one year is one of my all time favorites. Now that we’re getting ready to start seeds for our garden this year  I’m thinking about giving this one a re-read for inspiration and tips.

The Story of Tea by Mary Lou Heiss & Robert J. Heiss

I love tea. It has become an everyday necessity for me and when I settle down to read it’s usually with a steaming mug close by. Lately I’ve become interested in learning about the history and ritual associated with tea and this book caught my eye. I haven’t started it yet but the pictures I saw while flipping through the pages were lovely.

Anthology Magazine : Going Global, Issue No. 5

I found a copy of Anthology on the discount table at Anthropologie and couldn’t resist buying it. This was my first time reading the magazine but now I’m tempted to subscribe. This issue focused on travel and how those with wanderlust decorate their homes. The photos are gorgeous and it had me wishing I could hop on a plane immediately!

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