Thursday, July 24, 2014

Book Bingo: Sea of Shadows

Sea of Shadows is the first book in a new YA fantasy series by Kelley Armstrong, Age of Legends. Twin sisters are the main characters, and they are the Keeper and the Seeker--communicators to the spirits of dead ancestors as well as to those who were excommunicated for crimes to their village and country. Together, the girls (Ashyn and Moria) help the dead to find peace and protect their village from those who have no peace to find. Their jobs never seemed too difficult until the night of Ashyn's first Seeking. As everything they've ever known crumbles around them, the girls are separated and forced on a journey to find each other and protect their land from creatures that once only lived in stories.

 (picture taken from Goodreads)

The characters in this book were awesome! They had primary characteristics but were still well-developed, with plenty of depth and change throughout the book. Gavril Kitsune (a soldier and sometimes-friend of Moria's) was probably the most intriguing character--he was a mystery, and yet, he felt deeply and followed an honorable code obvious to the girls. The relationships between Moria and Ashyn and their spirit animals, Daigo and Tova, were beautiful. I just wished the girls would speak more directly to the spirits. Maybe Armstrong did this on purpose, so the girls would not have extra advantages in the crises they come across? It was interesting, too, how the author used animals and mythical creatures to convey meaning about each character or event. The differences in the girls' reactions to the first personally tragic event in the story, for instance, revealed Moria's bravery and strength as well as Ashyn's steadfast hope and cunning. Armstrong chose the perfect creatures to put in the characters' ways, as well. They were unique and strange--not too similar, so you knew they were not directly connected, but not too different, so they would fit well in the same book. And the ending of this book was crazy! I didn't realize when I was reading it that this was the beginning of a new series, so I thought the plot would wrap-up by the end of the book. Boy, was I left hanging! One of my favorite characters is mixed-up in all of the bad events of the book--more than I expected, although less, I suspect, than the other characters think. I thought of some alternate ways to have told this story if Armstrong wanted it to be fiction or science-fiction, but I think Armstrong made the right choice going with fantasy--her use of those cool, mythical creatures really made the story. In conclusion, I would definitely recommend reading this book, but maybe not until the next one in the series comes out. I don't usually read series as they're being published, and the suspense is driving me crazy! It's so good!

This book was my third New Releases Choice for the 2014 Book Bingo Challenge. Still making progress! And I'd love to hear how far you guys have gotten with this!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Lots of Love, Other Blogger Giveaway

I know, I know--I promise lots of posts, I disappear again. Suffice it to say, when your two-year-old gets really sick for two weeks and then you fall ill for a week, even the computer does not seem like an interesting option. You know what does? Sleep. So that's what I've been doing. Posts to come, but for now, a link to a Jane Austen giveaway (and you know those are my favorite kinds)!

This giveaway is being held by Miss Laurie over at Old-Fashioned Charm, and it seems worth some of your time! Good luck to all my faithful readers!

Update 7/22/14: I found another Austen-related giveaway! I seem to be stumbling upon them without even trying now. Anyway, this one is hosted by Tamara, and the post is called My Austenesque Birthday Gifts & Giveaway!!! Good luck again!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Book Club: Looking for Alaska

In Looking for Alaska by John Green, loner Miles convinces his parents to send him to a boarding school in Alabama--Culver Creek. Once there, Miles instantly makes friends, but not the ones he ever expected. The Colonel, Alaska, and Takumi re-name him "Pudge" and teach him the ways of Culver Creek life, constantly getting in and out of trouble with teachers and other students alike. The newly-deemed Pudge quickly becomes an integral part of the group and starts to fall for Alaska, and the rest of the story is in the book.

(picture taken from Goodreads)

First Impression: This is a little weird. I haven't read any contemporary books set in a boarding school in America, so I have very little idea of how that setting is usually included. I like Miles, the Colonel, and Takumi, but I'm on the fence about Alaska. I guess she's just like any other attractive, teenage girl who hangs out with a group of guys.

Conclusion: I liked this, but I didn't love it. Parts of it were very meaningful...others, not so much. The characters in Looking for Alaska felt realistic to me, so that helped me to enjoy the book (while also providing frustration in a few key parts). Green's main characters stood apart from the others, as main characters should, but they were flawed. He wrote about human characters, not forces of nature, which is an important distinction to remember when you're reading this book. A few members of my book club thought certain characters shouldn't have acted as they did, but the characters' actions were true to their personalities. That being said, Alaska never really grew on me. I liked her better by the end, but she was a difficult character for me to actually admire. This book is defined by the climax in the middle of the story. I think most people who read it will pick half of the book as "the most important half." For me, it was the first half. The second half had its moments, though, not the least of which is Miles's essay at the end. It kept a personal connection between the main character and me up until the very end. Side note: I was very fascinated by Miles's obsession with last words. It's something I've never thought about, and now I find myself wanting to know the last words of all my favorite authors and figures in history. Green has definitely encouraged me to try something new, which I always appreciate. All in all, this was a good book. Not my favorite by John Green, but I didn't really expect it to beat The Fault in Our Stars, so I'm not disappointed.

Let me know what you think if you read this, and keep checking back for more great reads!

Monday, June 23, 2014

In Honor Of My Teachers

I've been taking a little break from my computer, as you can tell. I guess it's been about a month, which seems kind of crazy considering how much I'm usually online. That hasn't stopped me from reading, though, so there are some posts on the way. Meanwhile, I'm writing about something else: Two of my favorite teachers retired this year! It is unlikely that either of them will ever see this post, but I want to say a little something about each of them. The more I think about it, though, the less capable I feel of explaining how much they mean to me and what all I have learned from them. So, my solution is to tell you what they taught and name some books and authors to which they introduced me (links from Goodreads). Perhaps that will be enough to leave a lasting impression.

First off, my high school speech and debate coach, who we'll call Mrs. W.
Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen
"The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
A Piece of My Heart by Keith Walker
Dave Barry

Secondly, Dr. T, who taught a couple of my literature classes my junior year of college, as well as an advanced composition class my senior year.
The Iliad
The Odyssey
Confessions of St. Augustine 
Virginia Woolf
The Analects
James Joyce
They Say/I Say by Gerald Graff and Kathy Birkenstein
When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie

These are just a few of the multitudes of literary masterpieces and authors that I have gleaned from these women, but those stood out to me right now. If there are some you haven't read, I encourage you to pick them up and think of how much inspiration has been passed to others using these works. Thanks for reading, guys! I know I disappear from time to time, but I promise to let you know if I ever decide to leave for good, so keep sticking with me! Book reviews to come!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Book Bingo: The Impossible Knife of Memory

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson is the story of a girl used to being on the road with her dad. Hayley has to learn to adjust to life in a normal high school when her dad moves them back to the hometown she barely remembers. But it's not as easy as it sounds. As Hayley struggles with calculus and "zombie" teenagers, her father is struggling with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) from his time in the military, and her best friend is struggling with a broken family. As a tentative relationship begins to form between Hayley and the school newspaper editor, Finn, she must accept her past in order to face her future.

(picture taken from Goodreads;
cover design by Teresa Evangelista;
cover photo © Martin Stranka)

First Impression: I read a couple of other books by Laurie Halse Anderson when I was in high school: Speak and Catalyst. Anderson seems to have a gift for telling stories that everyone else forgets about. She places her characters in realistic, difficult situations and works through them in ways that could actually happen. Things don't fall into place as easily as they might in most YA novels, and I think that reflects the quality of her work. So far, The Impossible Knife of Memory has not disappointed me. PTSD is not a topic typically addressed in books for young adults, and by writing about it, Anderson is bringing a very relevant problem to light. Even though I am nothing like Hayley, I find myself feeling very attached to her, just by reading about what she deals with on a daily basis. Anderson's writing is at once beautiful and poignant, and I can't wait to see what happens.

Conclusion: The Impossible Knife of Memory was fantastic! The characters were very complex. I felt as though I could know Hayley, Finn, and Capt. Kincain (Andy) personally. It's so fascinating to read about Hayley's life and how she deals with school, her relationship with Finn, and her father's daily struggles. This book is not an easy one to absorb, but Anderson isn't known for tackling the easy topics. I read some reviews about this book on Goodreads while I was in the middle of it, and one of them in particular said they didn't like Anderson's portrayal of PTSD. (For those of you who don't know, the letters stand for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is self-explanatory. PTSD shows up in many different types of situations, but in this book, Hayley's dad suffers because of bad memories and inability to adapt after his multiple military deployments to Iraq, which is pretty common.) Honestly, the review made me laugh, because it said that PTSD doesn't manifest itself in the ways she describes. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder affects everyone differently, and I thought Anderson reflected Andy's pain in a very effective way. Also, there's a twist at the end of the book! I saw it coming but didn't know how it would resolve itself, and my admiration for the author continued to grow through the end of the book. The Impossible Knife of Memory is powerful, and it really touched me. I hope it means something special to the rest of you who take the time to read it.

This book is one of my "New Release" choices for the 2014 Book Bingo Challenge. Are any of you doing this challenge, too? Don't forget to subscribe for blog updates, and leave a comment to let me know what you thought of this book and what you're reading right now!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Book Club / Book Bingo: Only Time Will Tell

Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer is the first in a series called The Clifton Chronicles. When I first started it, I thought it was a stand-alone novel, and one of the girls in my book group picked it out. She promised "it wouldn't be boring," and she "really liked Jeffrey Archer." She was right. The story focuses on Harry Clifton, a poor boy from Bristol with a widowed mother and some mystery as to how exactly his father died. It begins with a segment about Maisie, his mother, and how she came to be married and pregnant, and moves on from there to the family's struggles to send Harry to a good school and a promising future.

(picture taken from Goodreads;
jacket design by David Baldeosingh Rotstein)

First Impression: I did not think I would like this at all. I figured it would jump in with some action and some mystery (it's described to bookstores as a "fiction thriller," which is hard to define), but it didn't. The first few chapters have already brought me close to the lives of the characters. Archer's writing style feels as though the narrator is speaking specifically to me and telling me interesting stories about his or her life. The narrator switches between characters every once in a while, and the author really makes it work for the book. I don't want to know just about one character; I want to know the whole story. I am a little confused about the time-period of the narration, however. Each narrator seems to tell his or her story, but I can't tell if they're talking to the narrator during the events of the book or later in their lives. This will probably be resolved as I read more. I'm certainly not dreading reading it for my book group anymore! 

Conclusion: One of my favorite things is when an author really focuses on the characters--character development, I mean--more than anything else, and Archer does that. The novel is split-up into sections by point-of-view, which changes several times. The author also tells the story of the same time period from these various points-of-view. I found it really interesting to see the same events through a completely different set of eyes each time. I also really liked the main character and the majority of the side characters, which helped me to get into the book initially. When Archer switched to my least favorite character, I was curious to see if he was as hard-hearted and cruel as he appeared to be, so that kept me intrigued as well. Overall, I enjoyed the book, but I probably won't continue the series like I thought I would initially. The story of Harry, his mother, and his friends was very interesting to me, but there's a twist at the end. It seems like the second book might be more about action and intrigue than the interconnected lives of a very diverse group of people, and I tend to prefer the latter.

Only Time Will Tell is one of my "Series" choices for the 2014 Book Bingo Challenge.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Book Bingo: An Abundance of Katherines

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green is about Colin Singleton, a child prodigy who has just been dumped by another Katherine. THE Katherine, in fact--she is both the first and the nineteenth Katherine that he has dated. Colin's best friend, Hassan, immediately sees the need for a road trip, so the two of them jump in Colin's car and take off. During the trip, Colin creates a formula that explains how (and sometimes why) he was dumped by each Katherine he ever dated. But math alone will not save or explain Colin's past and future, and he and Hassan have a lot more to learn before they can move forward in life.

(picture taken from Goodreads)

 Conclusion: I went back-and-forth a lot between liking and disliking the characters in this book. They each had their own little quirks that made them unique but, at times, frustrating. I kept going to the friend who loaned me the book saying, "Why did he do this? Why doesn't she act this way?" She just smiled at me every time and told me to keep reading. I will also say that the math Colin uses is very confusing. I got to a point where I would look over the equations without bothering to understand them. The reader doesn't need to understand Colin's equations to see what he's trying to convey, though. The most important focus is on relationships. Not just Colin's romantic relationships, but also his friendships, Hassan's friendships, Lindsey's bonds with her mother and the elderly people in Hotshot, etc. This story will not teach you anything new. Most of Colin's evolution in the story is in areas that are already obvious to us. For instance: Just because you are smart, it doesn't mean you will win at everything. You already knew that, right? However, it's a quick, interesting read from a perspective I have never had before. Plus there's a little humor mixed in. Overall, I liked it!

This book is my "Contemporary" choice for the 2014 Book Bingo Challenge. Still plugging away at the board! Don't forget to subscribe and check back for more new and interesting finds!