Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Top Ten 2014 Releases I Meant To Read But Didn't Get To

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the lovely ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish

THIS WEEK'S PROMPT IS TOP TEN 2014 RELEASES I MEANT TO READ BUT DIDN'T GET TO
There are seriously so many books that I wanted to read but didn't over this past year. A selections of ten is hardly enough to cover them all, but here are a few that are high priority for this year. Hopefully I'll manage to read most of them.

1. Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater (Goodreads)
I own Blue Lily, Lily Blue and I've loved the other books in the series. In fact, as soon as I finished Dream Thieves I was dying to read this one. However, it remains sitting on my shelf. I should really fix that soon. 

2. Landline by Rainbow Rowell (Goodreads)
I love Rainbow Rowell and just finished Fangirl and basically devoured Eleanor & Park on trains while travelling. I want to read Landline and the premise sounds fantastic, plus I haven't read Rowell's adult fiction yet which seems like an absolute shame. 

3. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (Goodreads)
I actually know very little about this book as the blurb is purposefully vague, but a few bloggers who I love raved about it so I clearly need to read it.

4. To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han (Goodreads)
I love Jenny Han's writing. I haven't necessarily loved every book, but I love her style.  Plus a box of love letters that are never meant to be sent are; I love that premise.

5. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Goodreads)
Post-Apocalyptic books aren't typically my style; I don't really go for the earth was ravaged and there are only a few surviving camps left. Again though I've heard such amazing things about this one that I really do want to read it eventually. 

6. Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira (Goodreads)
Name Kurt Cobain and Janis Joplin and you've got me hooked. But really, it sounds heartbreaking and oh so good. 

7. Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson (Goodreads)
Both of Matson's previous books have been close to perfect in my mind. I can't believe I haven't read this yet. 

8. I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (Goodreads)
Again, I've heard AMAZING things. This is one is only on my radar thanks to some brilliant bloggers. It's sitting on my shelf and should be read soon. 

9. The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith (Goodreads)
This sounds like a fairly light contemporary and so my style.

10. Open Road Summer by Emery Lord (Goodreads)
I love a good road trip book, I've heard amazing things, it's a contemporary and it has a musical element. Count me in!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson | Book Review

TITLE: Second Chance Summer
AUTHOR: Morgan Matson
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing/2012
SERIES: No
SOURCE: Local Library

Goodreads / Author's Website

Summary
Taylor Edwards’ family might not be the closest-knit—everyone is a little too busy and overscheduled—but for the most part, they get along just fine. Then Taylor’s dad gets devastating news, and her parents decide that the family will spend one last summer all together at their old lake house in the Pocono Mountains.

Crammed into a place much smaller and more rustic than they are used to, they begin to get to know each other again. And Taylor discovers that the people she thought she had left behind haven’t actually gone anywhere. Her former best friend is still around, as is her first boyfriend…and he’s much cuter at seventeen than he was at twelve.

As the summer progresses and the Edwards become more of a family, they’re more aware than ever that they’re battling a ticking clock. Sometimes, though, there is just enough time to get a second chance—with family, with friends, and with love.

Thoughts and Reactions
I loved, loved, loved Morgan Matson's debut novel Amy & Roger's Epic Detour and had high expectations for her follow up. I wasn't worried about being disappointed since I had heard amazing things and I'm glad to say that it lived up to all of my expectations. Morgan Matson has created a touching and heartbreaking story that really touched me on a personal level. 

Taylor Edwards loves her family even though they've never been that close. Everybody has their thing; her dad is a workaholic lawyer, her little sister a ballet prodigy and her brother a genius who's planning on going to an ivy league school. Taylor's always felt average in comparison to everybody else, but she's been mostly okay with it even if she does have a tendency to run when things get difficult. Everything changes for Taylor and her family when her father is diagnosed with terminal cancer and they only have one summer left together. The entire family packs up to spend time together at their lake house in the Poconos and Taylor is forced to face old mistakes and problems as she is struggling to come to terms with what is happening to her family. 


I'm pretty sure that from the time I opened the first page of this book tears started falling. It's not that the entire novel is sad so much as I was anticipating the ending and was remembering all too similar moments in my own life. Matson actually does a really good job finding those joyful moments mixed in with the grief; it was really beautifully done. I'm honestly not sure how I'm going to review this book as so much of it felt so real to me so please bear with me as I fumble through this one. 


The thing about cancer is that it's always there, but it doesn't dominate every moment until it does. There are moments when it doesn't feel real, when everything feels like it can carry on as it always has, but you also know that something has fundamentally shifted and are trying to enjoy all the time you have. It's this balance that struck such a chord with me because it was all there. The moment that Taylor's parents tell the family what's happening is the part that really struck me. It's that sit down, you know something is wrong, but don't know what and then everything changes, but you're still sitting around the table and maybe you're not reacting in the right way moment. It's a moment I know. Everything about that moment stuck with me until the end. 

So many books that deal with cancer focus on the grief, the anger, the sadness and that was at times present, but it didn't dominate the story. I tend to avoid books with parents with cancer because they can, in my opinion, turn towards the maudlin, but I didn't find that with Second Chance Summer. Taylor taking the time to really get to know her father while she still had the chance was touching and so positive. Reconnecting with old friends and trying to learn from past mistakes, even imperfectly, was a wonderful addition to the story. 

I think the thing that I love is that this isn't a book about cancer, it's a book with it. Taylor has a life; she's reconnecting with people and trying to figure out who she really is. I just love how well written this is and how well life is balanced with grief. The things that tore me apart were so real that I could not stop crying. I have not faced anything as difficult as watching my mother get sicker and sicker and I didn't always know how to deal with that or what I should be doing. This is a character who embodies that process. 

Matson deserves all the credit she's received and more for such a beautifully written and poignant story. It touched me on so many levels and while it took me back to some very difficult times I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. This was a book that that was heartfelt in its writing and provided comfort  while it inspired tears. If you haven't already read Second Chance Summer  please do. I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Million Suns by Beth Revis | Book Review

TITLE: A Million Suns
AUTHOR: Beth Revis
PUBLISHER/YEAR: 2012/Razorbill 
SERIES: Yes, this is the second book in the Across the Universe trilogy
SOURCE: Local Library 

Goodreads / Author's Website

Summary
Godspeed was once 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. Everywhere she looks, she sees the walls of the spaceship Godspeed.

But there may be hope: Elder has assumed leadership of the ship. He's finally free to act on his vision—no more Phydus, no more lies.

But when Elder learns shocking news about the ship, he and Amy race to discover the truth behind life on Godspeed. They must work together to unlock a mystery that was set in motion hundreds of years earlier. Their success—or failure—will determine the fate of the 2,298 passengers aboard Godspeed. But with each step, the journey becomes more perilous, the ship more chaotic, and the love between them more impossible to fight.

Thoughts and Reactions
It's been awhile since I read Across the Universe, probably over year (my review is here) and while I wasn't too invested in it I always meant to read its sequel A Million Suns. It just wasn't at the top of my list. I got more into Across the Universe as it went on, but it took me awhile to get into it and I remember putting it down and picking it back up days later more than once. Fast forward to now and I'm laid up at home with a cracked rib and I decide to pick a book randomly, by number, off of my Goodreads To Be Read list because why not. This oh-so scientific method led me to checking out A Million Suns and I was pleasantly surprised to find myself liking it better than its predecessor. 

A Million Suns was action packed from the start. It didn't need all the exposition of the first book and automatically had more tension since it basically just picked up from where the first book left off. I'll warn you now to be careful reading ahead in this review since there might be spoilers for Across the Universe coming up. The first book ended with Orion, the man who had been killing Frozens, frozen himself, but he's left clues for Amy to find so that she can help decide the future of the ship. There are secrets everywhere and now that Elder (now Eldest, but he's kept the old name) has taken the ship off of Phydus everybody is angry, some because Elder represents the people who kept them slack jawed and glassy eyed for so long and some because they're now horribly depressed being stuck on the ship and want Phydus back. 

The best thing that happened to this series so far is everybody getting taken off of Phydus. It's inherently more interesting to read about a group of people with varying opinions who are free to make their own choices than it is to read about a completely drugged city. The threat of revolution is what kept me turning the pages and parts of it verged on being a political thriller. It was captivated by character like Bertie who wanted to lead a revolution and how people began to turn against each other as they tried to figure out what they actually wanted. While I was rooting for Elder the entire time; some of the things that the people were saying made a lot of sense. Elder is not a strong leader; he is kind and he cares about his people, but he does not have their respect and if you lose the respect of the people, how effective can you be? It was interesting to see control slipping from the previously dictatorial ship. 

Amy herself became a more interesting character. I don't remember too much about her from the first book; I remember her actions, but I don't necessarily remember my opinions on her. For me, that sums up a lot. She didn't make a memorable impression on me. Her character  picks up a bit in A Million Suns. Not only does she have more people to interact with, but she has something to do. It's understandable that a character would be entirely thrown by the circumstances that she finds herself in, but I find it's more interesting to read about somebody doing something. She has a task in this book; Orion has left her clues and she must solve them to help decide the fate of the ship. I like the mystery, treasure hunt aspect. It added to the story and helped keep me interested. 

I like that the romance in this series doesn't overpower the rest of the story. It's clearly an element and it's two teenagers trying to figure out their feelings, but there are much bigger things going on. The ship is collapsing, both the physical and social infrastructure and it's really up to Amy and Elder to figure out what actions to take. It's more of a B plot line which makes a lot of sense. I also really like that Amy is hesitant and tries to make rational decisions and despite her feelings, waits and doesn't just immediately get involved with Elder. She doesn't fully trust him and isn't willing to give up all of herself. 

The one downside for me is the focus on rape scenes. Rape is terrible and when sexual assault is dealt with in literature in a way that adds to our current discussions that can be helpful. However, too often in books and on film rape is used to show how evil a character is. There are people out there who discuss this far more eloquently than I ever can, but it comes down to asking the question isn't there a better way to show evil than using gendered violence? Is there any other way to show that this character is completely evil without using sexual assault in a way that adds to no discussions? There are very few stories that I've seen utilize rape in an effective and non-exploitative manner and I'm not convinced that the rapes were necessary to A Million Suns.

Overall I enjoyed A Million Suns and it's made me want to sit down and finish the series. It was fast paced and action packed. It kept me turning the pages as quickly as I could and despite the minor issues I had with it, I enjoyed it far more than I enjoyed its predecessor. Beth Revis has written a science fiction novel that I thoroughly enjoyed and that's a rare feat. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Top Ten Most Anticipated Debut Novels for 2015

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the lovely ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish

THIS WEEK'S PROMPT IS TOP TEN MOST ANTICIPATED DEBUT NOVELS FOR 2015
I was so excited to see so many books featuring diverse characters coming out in 2015. I tried to spread out the love and expand my horizons this year so in no particular order, the debut novels I'm looking forward to most for 2015.

1. More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (Goodreads)
I saw this book pop up in a couple of Twitter discussions a couple of months ago and I was intrigued. The discussion of intersectionality in the blurb alone makes me want to read it. The main character has grown up in The Bronx, is gay, but knows that that's not accepted within his group of friends and loved ones and therefore wants to erase his memories of who he is. It sounds like an interesting book that looks at how sexuality, class and race cross paths and I am so excited to read it. 

2. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (Goodreads)
This is another book that I've seen some rave mentions about. I've shied away from actually reading a review since I won't be able to read this one for awhile, but I'm excited by the talk I've come across so far. Here's another book featuring a queer character and I'm so happy to be able to say this is a pattern for a lot of my choices. I cannot wait to meet this particular character, a shy boy who wants to stay under the radar in high school (from what I can tell).

3. Made You Up by Francesca Zappia (Goodreads)
Books about mental illness aren't usually on my radar mainly because books about any illness tend to make me so remarkably sad. This is probably a horrible attitude that I'm working on changing. Zappia's debut novel however sounds like it might be the right book to get me to take the leap. Alex struggles with schizophrenia, but also wants to get into college and has dreams and passions despite not always being able to tell what's real and what's delusion. I've never read a book like this before and I'm looking forward to giving it a shot and maybe educating myself in the process. 

4. None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio (Goodreads)
None of the Above features an Intersex character, how great and rare is that? I am so excited that books like this are being written and representing the diversity of experiences! Kristin, the main character, doesn't know she's intersex until high school and it's not long before the whole school knows. It sounds like a book that deals with questions about identity and fitting in when your entire world is thrown and I cannot wait. This is one of my most anticipated books of the year hands down. 

5. The Night We Said Yes by Lauren Gibaldi (Goodreads)
This one just sounds like a fun, contemporary romance. It's my favourite genre and I cannot get enough of it. Parties, friendship, romance and second chances blend together to make something I'm happy to read in most cases and I'm looking forward to giving this one a shot. Plus check out the cover; it's so pretty. 

6. Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee (Goodreads)
I have an unabashed love for historical fiction, but I find there's a dearth of good, YA, historical fiction that I can really get into. That's starting to change with books like Code Name Verity and Between Shades of Grey and I'm hoping I can add Under a Painted Sky to that list. It's set in 1849 along the Oregon Trail and centers on two girls, one Chinese and one a runaway slave, who must disguise themselves as boys for safety. It sounds so good and just a little different from my usual fare! 

7. Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff (Goodreads)
I'm wary of books about suicide; I'm not going to lie. I've known far too many people who have taken their own lives and it's one of the most heartbreaking things for me. Thinking about that person's desperation, but also the pain of the loved ones left behind. It just hits a little close to home. However, Playlists for the Dead sounds incredibly moving, as a teenage boy listens to a playlist left for him by his best friend who has recently committed suicide. I don't know if I'll be able to get through this book in the end, but I want to try. 

8. Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed (Goodreads)
Written in the Stars is about a girl who is raised by immigrant parents who have let her make her own decisions for the most part, but have always stated that they will choose her husband. She falls in love of her own accord and is horrified to learn that a family vacation to Pakistan is actually a chance to marry her to a man they have chosen. It is so far away from the types of contemporary romances I usually read, but I am looking forward to reading a book that is about a culture so distant from my own. I am looking forward to a book that will show me another culture and perhaps teach me about other perspectives. The story itself is also so intriguing. 

9. The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne (Goodreads)
A book about a girl who suddenly finds out that her father is a powerful politician? Yes please! I love this kind of book. This kind of plot line always reminds me of that Amanda Bynes movie set in London, you know the one with Collin Firth? Family drama and politics; I am so excited. 

10. Unspeakable by Abbie Rushton (Goodreads)
Unspeakable is about a girl who hasn't spoken in months, but wants to, especially when a bubbly new girl arrives at school. Not much has been given away in the synopsis, but I think it will be an emotional, compelling read that I'm truly looking forward to. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Yes Please by Amy Poehler | Book Review

TITLE: Yes Please
AUTHOR: Amy Poehler
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Harper Collins / 2014
SERIES: No
SOURCE: Received as a gift

Goodreads / Book's Website

Summary
In Amy Poehler’s highly anticipated first book, Yes Please, she offers up a big juicy stew of personal stories, funny bits on sex and love and friendship and parenthood and real life advice (some useful, some not so much), like when to be funny and when to be serious. Powered by Amy’s charming and hilarious, biting yet wise voice, Yes Please is a book is full of words to live by. 

Thoughts and Reactions
I had been waiting not so patiently to read Yes Please since the moment I first saw it on the shelves in my local bookstore. It was coming up to the holiday season though so I waited. Luckily my lovely family knows me well and I was able to read it over my holiday break. It was well worth the wait. 


Yes Please was not what I was expecting; I hadn't read the summary. I just saw Amy Poehler and thought funny. It was, at times, funny, but it's not a humour book and that took me by surprise. It's not at all a bad thing, just be aware that this isn't another Bossypants and you know what, that's for the best. Bossypants was amazing; why would we need another one? Yes Please is almost more personal; it's a reflection on the events and lessons that made Amy Poehler who she is. It's not about career or family specifically and she doesn't go deep into details, but leans more towards advice and reflection on growing up, apologizing and being a woman. The book moved me. I was unprepared for that. 

Yes Please is the kind of book that I want my future daughter to read (you know, once she's an adult....and not a figment of my imagination...it's an expression okay!). I want to shove it into all my female identifying friends hands. There's some celebrity name dropping (as there should be) and some reflections on what's important in life. My favourite chapter is about women on women crime. Those little microaggressions that stick with a person long after they're said, catty comments, the I don't know how she does it. Advice like great for her, not for me is simple, to the point and wonderful. I just love Poehler's take on womanhood and growing as a person. 

I don't know that I can really sum up Yes Please like I would with any other book. There are wonderful words of wisdom and some funny real world advice (sex advice for me: if you don't eat pussy keep walking). People who are important to Poehler's life chime in. I mean, it's a wonderful, funny, moving memoir. Just read it. It brought tears to my eyes at points. Poehler didn't write a book about career or comedy, but life and I can think of so many people in my life who could appreciate what she has to say. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Bout of Books 12 Sign Up and Updates

Bout of Books

Here goes my first attempt at going through with my New Year's goals. I wanted to connect more with the bookish community and Bout of Books seems like an excellent way to do it. I think I tried to do Bout of Books 7 awhile ago, but didn't follow through if I recall correctly. This time though, I'll be participating and could not be more excited! For those of you who don't know what it is or want some more information here you are: 

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, January 5th and runs through Sunday, January 11th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 12 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

UPDATES 
Monday January 5
I didn't read as much as I thought I would today, but that's okay. I managed to read about 196 pages of Second Chance Summer and took many breaks to wipe my eyes and pretend I totally wasn't crying. 

I also participated in the Twitter chat for the first time and I got to talk books with some really fun people so I'm counting Day 1 as a success.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Ink is Thicker Than Water by Amy Spalding | Book Review

TITLE: Ink is Thicker Than Water
AUTHOR: Amy Spalding
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Entangled Teen / 2013
SERIES: No
SOURCE: Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Goodreads / Author's Website

Summary
For Kellie Brooks, family has always been a tough word to define. Combine her hippie mom and tattooist stepdad, her adopted overachieving sister, her younger half brother, and her tough-love dad, and average Kellie’s the one stuck in the middle, overlooked and impermanent. When Kellie’s sister finally meets her birth mother and her best friend starts hanging with a cooler crowd, the feeling only grows stronger.

But then she reconnects with Oliver, the sweet and sensitive college guy she had a near hookup with last year. Oliver is intense and attractive, and she’s sure he’s totally out of her league. But as she discovers that maybe intensity isn’t always a good thing, it’s yet another relationship she feels is spiraling out of her control.

It’ll take a new role on the school newspaper and a new job at her mom’s tattoo shop for Kellie to realize that defining herself both outside and within her family is what can finally allow her to feel permanent, just like a tattoo.


Thoughts and Reactions
Ink is Thicker Than Water is the first book I've read by Amy Spalding. I kept meaning to read The Reece Malcolm List after hearing amazing things about it when it first came out, but somehow never got around to it. I'm regretting that now because I thoroughly enjoyed her second novel. 

Ink is Thicker Than Water delves into non-traditional family dynamics and what it's like to slowly start to grow up, change and maybe grow apart from things that had always been a constant in your life. Spalding's writing doesn't glamorize or making anything more dramatic; it holds a mirror up to a lot of very common experiences. Kellie is a middle child in a fairly non-traditional family. Her parents are divorced, her mother remarried, her older sister is adopted and her mother runs a tattoo shop with her stepfather. It's messy and loving and Kellie is just kind of floating along. She's one of those teens who doesn't want to appear to try to hard and doesn't think she's that great at anything, but when her sister starts pulling away in favour of her biological mother and her best friend starts ditching her for the popular girls Kellie feels completely un-tethered and needs to find herself again. 

I enjoyed reading about Kellie's experiences specifically because nothing seemed that unusual or out of the ordinary. There was a story arc and some drama, but it felt real, like this was just Kellie's life and not a soap opera. The family dynamic in this story was messy and beautiful and real as it should be. You can tell all of her parents care about her, even if she can't always see it and despite the hurt they can cause each other at times there was always love beneath it. I sometimes love reading about positive family dynamics; they can be rare and you're so lucky if you have a loving and supportive family and I can get behind a book that shows them, mess and all. 

There were times in the book I wanted to shake all the characters. Kellie made some poor choices and her sister Sara at times was downright mean. However, just because I didn't support every decision made in the book, doesn't mean I didn't understand where each one is coming  from. These characters often did not make the best decisions, but they always made sense for the character and I could see their reasoning. 

The relationships in this book were what made it for me. The relationship between Kellie and her family was supportive and you could sense the love, the worry, the hope, but Kellie's friendships and relationship with Oliver, the cute college boy were also pretty spot on. Friendship is high school can be hard; people are changing and growing apart and finding new interests and sometimes it's hard to maintain friendships that you once valued so much. It's this kind of problem that Kellie faces and her struggle to find her place and make new friends was so relatable for me. That sort of in between time when you feel like you don't have any close friends and aren't sure where you're supposed to sit at lunch or how you're supposed to act? Been there. I think a lot of people could relate to Kellie's experiences in that way. 

I didn't think Kellie's relationship with Oliver was the most well drawn relationship, but I can also forgive a lot since we're getting the story from Kellie's perspective. For her having a boyfriend is more about having somebody to make out with and talk to a little after. It's not the most mature relationship, but it made sense. She likes him and likes hanging out with him, but finds him a little intense (which he totally is). Plus she's got so much going on in her life she can't really get that emotionally invested in anybody. Also. She's sixteen. Hanging out and making out with somebody you're pretty into, but maybe don't love makes sense to me. 

Ink is Thicker Than Water wasn't the most fast-paced or exciting book I've read this year, but I found it a touching and realistic portrayal of family, friends, growing up and finding your place in the world. It doesn't speak to a universal teenage experience, but it does speak to one type of experience that I found captivating. I would re-read this book and am looking forward to reading the rest of Amy Spalding's works.